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Forum Post: William Blum Discusses America's Deadliest Export: Democracy

Posted 4 years ago on March 12, 2014, 4:26 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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William Blum Discusses America's Deadliest Export: Democracy

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 09:31 By Daniel Falcone, Truthout | Author Interview


William Blum is a leading expert on American Foreign Policy. He left the State Department in 1967 because of his opposition to United States action in Vietnam. Blum has been a freelance journalist in the US, Europe and South America. He is the author of the well-known book, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II. Mark Zepezauer used Blum's work as the inspiration for his well-known CIA's Greatest Hits, published in 1994. Blum's new book America's Deadliest Export: Democracy, The Truth about US Foreign Policy and Everything Else has been called "a remarkable collection that concentrates on matters of great significance" by Professor Noam Chomsky. It has also been reviewed by Professor Edward Herman who commented that the book "is brimming with wit and quotations that are both laughable and frightening."

Daniel Falcone: Thank you for having this discussion with me, today. I appreciate it. Could we just talk about the book in terms of how this book is similar and different from your other books?

William Blum: Well, they all deal with US Foreign Policy; however, this book stems largely from my monthly Anti-Empire Report, which is dealing with events of the past five, ten years. My other books deal with events much longer ago, so Deadliest Export is more up to date.

You have more contemporary themes in here. There's a section on President Obama, there's a section on WikiLeaks, conspiracies - so how do these more recent issues compare with some issues you've already studied, or is this just the tradition following along as you see it in terms of foreign policy? For example, when you write about Barack Obama in here, are you saying this is business as usual in Washington in terms of...

I go into detail about why he's very much a big disappointment to many people. Not to me, because I didn't expect anything, but to many other people.

His civil liberties record and his foreign policy can be reactionary in some instances. Is there any saving grace in his domestic policy? Is there anything we can embrace about him as an individual in terms of his presidency, in terms of the domestic realm?

There's nothing I admire about him. My main problem with him is that he doesn't have any strong beliefs. He doesn't believe strongly in anything except being President of the United States. The man is an empty shell in my opinion. He'll go with whichever way the wind blows and if he seems more liberal than the Republicans, it's only because he's in power and they're not. If Republicans were in power, their policies would be very similar to his. There's not really a big difference between the two parties except one is on the out and one is on the in. And they switch that back and forth. So, the one on the out acts in a certain way, and the one on the in acts in a certain way; which makes them appear different, but, in terms of power, they're both the same.

Could we call him a moderate Republican?

I've written that in European terms, he would be called a center-rightist. In the US, we would call him a centrist. I wouldn't even call him a liberal because, although the liberals of the modern period are not very admirable, it's not even a compliment if I said he was a liberal. He's not like Lyndon Baines Johnson, the last liberal President maybe we had.

Weren't some of Richard Nixon's policies considered liberal?

Nixon was more liberal than Obama is, definitely. He created the EPA.

You start off Chapter 21 about President Obama in mentioning "the warning signs were all there, Obama and empire." And then you start with this interesting story about the New Yorker of 2008 showing Obama "wearing Muslim garb in the oval office and the portrait of Bin Laden on the wall" and you give the scenario. It was a controversial cover. What was the idea of presenting this cartoon at the beginning of the chapter?

It is not educational. It deals with the cover of the New Yorker and discusses the public outrage over the cover, but I'm wondering why there is no outrage when Obama is called a progressive; for that is not an educational portrayal either.

You do write, "How much more educational for the American public and the world it would be to make fun of the idea that he is some kind of progressive.." I see your point. And you go on to discuss our intensified role in Afghanistan under Obama as well as his comment in the Chicago Tribune of 2004, where he supported Bush's policy in Iraq at the later stages. Furthermore, you discuss his six major military strikes in the first 26 months of his first term. You also discuss extremism in the book and, if I may paraphrase, your definition of extremism for our country - in terms of foreign policy, is any nation that shows opposition to United States' power. Is that how you're categorizing extremism?

Occasionally what some supporters of foreign policy would have you believe is that yes, to take exception to our policies is to declare yourself an extremist.

How about when you discuss the public relations industry and its relationship to producing a war machine, or propaganda in the context of this book? How does one see through the propaganda? How can we identify it and what are the skills involved?

Republicans don't want to say the US should not intervene here or there. And so, they're finding some minor little aspect of it to harp on.

Knowledge is the skill. If you know enough, you can see through it. And if your mind is open enough - I mean, there are many people who are educated and knowledgeable, but they're so invested in the idea that Obama will be the savior, if, for no other reason perhaps then desperation, to find someone who can save the left. They're willing to overlook a lot of what he does so, knowledge is not a guarantee against being propagandized. If you know enough, you won't allow your own emotions to overrule your common sense.

The media and some of the Republicans, who are being called obstructionists, seem to be dwelling on the Benghazi question in terms of United States security. The conservatives don't seem to be opposed to having United States power abroad and its ruthless forces, but they are trying to say that Obama was not being truthful in the matter. It appears to be a very non-constructive issue; have you followed that at all?

I too followed it with a bit of confusion. I'm not sure what really bothers them. The main shortcoming and big crime of Obama's intervention in Libya is the intervention itself. We overthrew the government, one of the few remaining secular governments in the Middle East. We overthrew it and with the help of Al Qaeda types; we wound up fighting on the same side as Al Qaeda for the fourth or fifth time in modern history. That is the main crime. This thing with Benghazi, it's something invented by the Republicans and not because they're upset by our intervention in Libya, that doesn't bother them. Tracking the wording of the President is something which they can make some political fuel out of since they can't argue the intervention per se, because they're committed to American Imperialism themselves. Republicans don't want to say the US should not intervene here or there. And so, they're finding some minor little aspect of it to harp on. And I'm not sure what else they have in mind, when they keep raising this issue, except they want to challenge Obama and his presidency. It might all be in an effort to spoil or challenge Hillary Clinton. They can pin it on her because they expect her to be their next opponent for the White House.

Can you comment on the activities of the Pentagon, or the aspects of how we go around the world that require the Pentagon to be invested in a way of disseminating information to the public. I assume its task is to make policy look like it's constructive foreign policy and not disastrous.

They're basically conservative, but they hide behind this thing they call objectivity. And I've taken pleasure in thinking that many mainstream journalists have read my stuff and been envious that I have the freedom to write that way and they don't.

That's the same task faced by every agency of the government which has a connection to foreign policy. The same task faced by the mainstream media. They want to make it look good. They never use the word imperialism. They never say this is a big lie or it's totally immoral, so they're all on the same side. They all have to find ways of putting it in the best light. That's the joint task of all these institutions. It's as bad as World War I. These young people, they have little idea of the extreme acts of terrorism carried out by our Al Qaeda types. I'm sure the average American shares this view that suicide bombings are inhuman, but one can raise the same questions about the average American soldier. What's been done to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan is as horrible as anything done by Al Qaeda. So, we don't have to look for Islamic brainwashing, we have American brainwashing.

Your writing style in this book is very interesting. You have a unique sense of humor in the book. You use metaphor; there's sarcasm; there are clever analogies; cite Arabic opinion polls, State Department documents, and poetic expressions and you have literary references on the history of Rome, as well as various textured and colorful stories and quotations. It seems markedly different from your other writings.

No, it's always been that way. I have to enjoy writing. I couldn't write for the Washington Post. I mean, even if they wanted me, I could never follow their style which they call objective. I call it dishonest. They're basically conservative, but they hide behind this thing they call objectivity. And I've taken pleasure in thinking that many mainstream journalists have read my stuff and been envious that I have the freedom to write that way and they don't. So, that's how I see it.



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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

What can you tell me about Orlando Bosch and is that a name that Americans even know about?

Well, we're lucky if any American knows his own name. Orlando Bosch was a baby doctor. And he was two things, a baby doctor and a mass murderer. And that's an unusual combination, I would say. Most baby doctors are not mass murderers. But he and his partner, Luis Posada, blew up a Cuban airliner in 1976 killing, I forget how many people, but many people, including the entire young Cuban fencing team - all youngsters. And he justifies this because he's at war with Cuba, total warfare. There's no conceding one inch. And such a man, if he wasn't anti-Cuban, would be reviled as a horrible person by Americans. But being he's against Cuba, the city of Miami declared an Orlando Bosch day one year back in the '70s, I think. It's an amazing phenomenon. There are brainwashed Americans. Being against Cuba is what they were raised to be, to be against the entire idea of Cuba and especially in Florida, you can't get anywhere without attacking Cuba and communism. So, it doesn't even matter what they really believe. But, there were many people who think like Bosch does. And his partner in that crime who I just described, Posada, is still walking around free in Florida. Bosch died about a year ago. But Posada is still alive and walking free - a man who is a genuine mass murderer and terrorist and as long as he walks around free, anything our Presidents tell us about our war against terror is just propaganda.

A small section in the book is dedicated to Condoleezza Rice. That was surprising to see.

I was choosing things I had written before to include and I found so many things. Well, I found enough things about her that I wanted to include her with her own small chapter. And I think each of the items in that chapter has value and merit and shows the kind of person she is.

What kind of person?

But, should we give him credit for not having invaded Colombia? Or Paraguay? Or, Australia? I mean, you can name many countries he hasn't invaded, so what is the big deal? I mean, we have really reached a bad stage if that's the best we can say about a leader.

Who knows what she really believes, there's so many like that in public office. She's a concert pianist who at the same time has an out-of-tune amount of blood on her hands for her involvement in US murderous interventions in Iraq and elsewhere due to her lies. She was in the period, in 2002 to '03, literally engaged in the build up to the war in Iraq, and the propaganda machine was in full action. She added her special touch, warning us of a "mushroom cloud," if we didn't intervene in Iraq, and she invoked the image of a mushroom cloud. We all know what that means. So, this, you have to wonder what she really believes.

How is the Obama Administration different in terms of its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan from Bush? Is there any difference?

Nothing that's worth talking about. I don't know of any.

Do you think that we should give the President some credit for keeping us out of a war with Iran?

First of all, that's far from over. He still may go to war with Iran. But, should we give him credit for not having invaded Colombia? Or Paraguay? Or, Australia? I mean, you can name many countries he hasn't invaded, so what is the big deal? I mean, we have really reached a bad stage if that's the best we can say about a leader. He didn't invade somebody. He didn't drop bombs on 50 million people who have done no harm to America. Great. And in some circles it is thought he has engaged in war with Iran since he's already caused the people of Iran great suffering with the toughest sanctions - more so than any country has ever experienced in the entire history of the world.


Iranians are suffering in many ways from our sanctions, so, he's not exactly a humanitarian in this instance.

As far as Iran's concerned, maybe we are at war with them, because if we interfere with them technologically, we...

Oh yeah, we have sabotaged their scientific work, we have assassinated scientists, we - and Israel has assassinated several of their scientists, you know, it's hardly a great feather in the cap for America.

Just flying reconnaissance missions over in their space with Israeli aircraft or meddling with their computers or their technological infrastructure in a way that we would clearly say, if happening to us from Iran, would be an act of war on their part.

Yes. Exactly.

What's your methodology in terms of your research?

I peruse the news very carefully. I spend about three hours every day reading the Washington Post, the paper edition. I spend a few hours reading stuff on the internet and other stuff and I come across something which needs to be explained to the American Public. So, I'm always looking to educate my readers and I look for such stories which can serve that purpose. And I try to bring in historical items which are seldom mentioned in the current news articles. And I have a wealth of historical items I can draw from. Because that's what I've been writing for 30-40 years.

How important is it for progressives, or radicals to investigate the usage of drone warfare and the Obama Administration's use of drones?

Well, it's being investigated by many people - it's not one of my specialties, but it's an important one and there are people like Medea Benjamin. She has written a book on that and David Swanson has written about it a lot. So, they're on top of it. I don't feel the need to do my own extensive research into that question when it's so well covered by such good people.

In Chapter Nine you discuss WikiLeaks. What are your thoughts and opinions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden?

I think they're heroes. I give about 45-50 examples of the many released State Department documents, many of which are of very great interest to the world: it's an amazing time that we live in. Well, these things were always kept secret. And the politicians and statesmen could go around spouting their usual lies and bullshit, and no one would know that they were not being honest. And now, we see, Manning has pulled the screen and when we see the Wizard of Oz, it's very fascinating. She's a real hero and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have done a lot of that. And Edward Snowden has done that as well. Although, I think the work done by Assange and Manning is even more interesting than what Snowden has done. Because it covers many more subjects. And Snowden has covered one subject very extensively - the NSA and its surveillance of the whole world. But the WikiLeak documents have covered many more subjects.

The WikiLeaks cover foreign and domestic?

Foreign and military.

It's surprising to see many liberals opposed to Snowden and others like him for instance. Are you surprised by this?

No, that's because they support the US Foreign Policies, not because they really believe that he is a traitor. If you don't support US Foreign Policy, you have to welcome what he did. The coverage has been unusual, for example, a BBC reporter asked Assange, "How many women have you slept with?" An absurd question for anyone, in almost any context; if Assange had been raised on the streets of Brooklyn, he would then have responded: "Do you mean including your mother?" But the "liberal" media treated him like this constantly. I wrote that, "American progressives should also lose their quaint belief that the BBC is somehow a liberal broadcaster. Americans are such suckers for British accents, John Humphries, the presenter of BBC Today program asked Assange, 'Are you a sexual predator?' Assange said the suggestion was ridiculous, adding, 'Of course not.' Humphries then asked Assange how many women he had slept with. Would even Fox News have descended to that level?" So, in there, you see how even the liberal progressive or the liberal mainstream elite media like BBC can be very disappointing. And I have a section on NPR in the book it's the same about them. NPR is the news portion headed by, or last I knew, a former executive with the Voice of America and other US International Stations from the Cold War which still exist. And this is the man who is in charge of NPR's news.

Eric Holder and President Obama might say that the reason why we need to find Snowden and the reason why we have to punish people like Manning and Assange is because they are compromising the security of the United States Citizens. Is this correct?

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Power hates to be embarrassed with the documents like the ones released by Bradley Manning.

But they don't say how. I don't feel any less secure because of what they did. In fact, our insecurity is a result of our foreign policy. And especially our violent acts included in the drone attacks. The terrorists of Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere have made it completely evident again and again and again, they've pointed out that this is the reason that American power is so hated. It's plain common sense. If it was done to us, we would hate the people who did that also. And it's not just Middle Eastern people - for the same thing happened in Latin America for decades. In the '50s to the '80s, the US was carrying out one bad policy after another against the people of Latin America. And what was the result? Numerous terrorist attacks against American targets, US Embassies, US Military personnel, and US Corporations. They are all targets of attacks in Latin America and for the same reason that we're "attacked" by the Middle East.

Could it be said that the security threat is not the security of the United States and the citizens, it's the insulation, the wall of insulation that power needs from its citizens. That's the crux of the matter.

Yes, that's right. It's also embarrassing. That's one way to put it, but it's also embarrassing to be exposed like that. Power hates to be embarrassed with the documents like the ones released by Bradley Manning. It shows, for example, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, - shows his memo from the US Embassy telling explicitly how they have people in their back pocket and that he is willing to help the US in anything they wanted to do concerning atomic energy or nuclear weapons. It's embarrassing to have this revealed. This supposedly independent agency with an independent head (a Japanese Director General) is simply not shy about admitting their undying loyalty to a US Foreign Policy. That's embarrassing.

You write, "In 2009, Japanese diplomat, Yukiya Amano became the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which plays the leading role in the investigation of whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons or is working only on peaceful civilian nuclear energy products. A US Embassy cable of October 2009 said Amano 'took pains to emphasize his support for US strategic objectives for the agency.' Amano reminded the American Ambassador on several occasions that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision from high level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program."

Well, that's one of about 50 examples, and then there are many more, I didn't include them all.

So, what do these cable leaks reveal in essence? How do they all relate to one another?

What they have in common is that they are things the US would not want the world to know about. It's embarrassing for the imperial establishment members of the world. And that's what they have in common.

In Chapter Ten, you mention conspiracies and say, "Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a conspiracy." And then you go on to say you believe in conspiracies . . . so do all of you. American and world history are full of conspiracies. Watergate was a conspiracy, the cover up of Watergate was a conspiracy, so was ENRON and Iran Contra, The October surprise really took place for a full year. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney conspired to invade Iraq while continually denying that they made any such decision." So, conspiracy is a by-product of our foreign policy and how we conduct ourselves historically. Can you comment on this section? You don't mean conspiracy in the sense that we can just call things conspiracy to avoid analyzing the reasoning for the intentions behind the activity?

The Pentagon learned for many years to be more secretive about what they were doing in their foreign policy and in their wars as a result of Vietnam.

Unfortunately, my readers suffer from this a lot. And they really annoy me that way. They are much more conspiracy-minded than I am. I took pains to point out in the book that I'm not opposed to the idea of conspiracies, far from it. But some people see a conspiracy in everything. No one ever dies a natural death with them. And everything that happens is related to, one way or another, to 9/11 or Vietnam or the Israeli lobby or something.

So, how are your conspiracies differentiated from the so called crazy conspiracies?

Well, I don't go crazy about it. I mean, I draw the line where it makes sense, and when I cannot present evidence, I stop. They just don't accept anything happening naturally.

What do you think people need to know about the 1960s? Or do you think the 1960s is taught correctly, or written about correctly?

I don't know how it's taught; I haven't read so much, but it was very important in my life. It changed me completely, politically and socially. And it made me a writer, too. The '60s included Vietnam, of course, and Vietnam played this major role in my life and the antiwar movement. There were a few million people like me in this country who were changed because of Vietnam. I've been in touch with them by email - many of them. The Pentagon learned for many years to be more secretive about what they were doing in their foreign policy and in their wars as a result of Vietnam. They closed up the free news dissemination a lot. And it's only in recent years that some of that's coming back. But, they're much more cautious afterwards because the anti-war movement and the underground press, which I was part of. We used everything that came out of the Pentagon, every line we used it against them. That taught them a lesson that they have to be careful what they say, because there are people out there not fully brainwashed.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

How about the Cold War in terms of the thesis of the Cold War and maybe the revisionist Cold War historians and how American Foreign Policy hasn't really changed even after the demise of the Soviet Union. So, does that tell us that all along this became a figment of our imagination?

I love certain principles, like human rights and civil liberties and the society which puts people before profits and society which practices genuine democracy.

It tells us that the excuse given by our leaders for the interventions was to fight something called communism, and it tells us that that was false. Even after there was no communism, we were still intervening in the same way all over the world. We just have to have a war for the sake of the military and the corporations, maybe even the media, they need our wars. I quote, not in this book, but in my book Rogue State, I quote a general lamenting what people like him have lost because of the end of the Cold War. We knew what we were fighting for; we had stake; our team went out there; we had a game plan and we had this and that and now we have nothing. And he was really unhappy about the end of the Cold War. He was saying this in 1992 or ‘93.

It was an industry and indication of cultural performance; the fighting of the Cold War, perhaps. You write about patriotism. What's the difference between patriotism and nationalism? Is there one?

I don't care for either one, too much. But nationalism is probably worse. Nationalism is the belief that our country is better than any other, my country right or wrong. And that leads to all kinds of bad results. Patriotism, at its best, can mean that you want to improve the country. You want to support it, but you want it to be of a certain nature before you give it any more support. I was once asked after a talk I gave, by somebody, on a campus, "Do you love America?" And I said, "No." And then there were giggles in the audience and then I explained I don't love any country. I love certain principles, like human rights and civil liberties and the society which puts people before profits and society which practices genuine democracy. That's what I love. It's not any flag or national anthem or any one country.

You mention a story about Tony Bennett in a radio interview where he said the United States caused the 9/11 attacks because of its actions in the Persian Gulf, adding that President George W. Bush told him in 2005 the Iraq War was a mistake. And Bennett came under nasty fire and you mention Fox News discussing Bennett carefully, choosing its "comments charmingly as usual using words like insane, twisted-mind, absurd." So, do you watch Fox News?

I've seen it, not a viewer but I read people who do watch it.

What does a media outlet like Fox tell us about our political spectrum or landscape? How has that altered the psyche?

You know it's funny, there was one study made which showed that people who watched Fox News regularly know less about what's happening in the world than people who watch no news whatsoever. That's quite interesting I think and I'm not surprised. Do you see RTTV, "Russia Today" ever? It's not perfect, nothing is, but in many areas, it's very good and compared to the American mass media, it's fantastic. And they interviewed me a few times, which I would never have with the American mass media except on the one odd and rare occasion when I was praised by someone like Osama Bin Laden. On such an extraordinary occasion, then I was interviewed by the mass media, Tucker Carlson, for one, and many times in the course of about 10 days or so. That was my 15 minutes of fame.

Didn't someone ask you once, "What has Israel done to the Palestinians?"

Yes that was a radio interview and in the same week. A woman asked me "what did Israel ever do to the Palestinians?" I said to her, "have you been in coma for the past 50 years?"

What is the purpose of including a section on religion?

Well, you see, look on the front cover; the end of the title, the subtitle, and everything else. So that was my publisher's idea.

Does religion help guide people's analysis of foreign policy; especially American Foreign Policy?

Well, some people think it does; they think it's Christ that has all the answers to their questions. I wrote a short while ago, not in this book but elsewhere, that bad people do bad things and good people do good things, but it takes religion to make a good person do bad things. And I was raised in an orthodox religious home.

Thanks again, Bill.

Thank You.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 10:58
By Paul Jay, The Real News Network | Video Interview



Check back later for transcript.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The Iraq War: Forgotten in Plain Sight

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 15:36
By Hugh Gusterson, Truthout | News Analysis


On the 11th anniversary of the war in Iraq, the US mainstream media's decontextualized rendering of violence in Iraq fails to explain political divisions and struggles in Iraq or how this violence is a direct consequence of the US invasion and occupation.

A quick and dirty way to begin conveying what happened to US coverage of Iraq after US forces withdrew is through gross numbers. A Lexis-Nexis search of New York Times coverage in one-year slices (March to March) showed 1,848 articles concerning Iraq in 2006-07 and 1,350 in 2007-08. Once the drawdown of US troops began, New York Times coverage of the conflict plummeted to 359 in 2010-11 and continued to fall thereafter - although the political crisis within the country, and its attendant violence, ground on and on. This suggests that "the story" had always been about the American errand in Iraq, not Iraq itself, and certainly not the swathe of human misery and destruction US intervention left in its wake. When American troops left, they took the media's story with them in their baggage.

US media coverage of the Iraq War shifted in other ways, too. The celebrity war correspondents came home with best-selling books and were replaced by second-tier writers or wire service reports. The newspaper articles grew shorter and disappeared into the interior regions of the newspaper of less interest to readers. The stories were less investigative reports or attempts to make vivid narrative sense of the war, and more pedestrian factual reporting of how many people were killed where and by whom. American journalism at the height of the American presence may have been marred by a narcissistic focus on the American experience in Iraq (rather than the Iraqi experience in Iraq) and a propagandistic assumption that the United States was on a selfless, honest errand in Iraq. But at its best this reporting was narratively compelling, and it did blow open scandals such as Abu Ghraib. It has given way to a new style of reporting that has a dry, perfunctory feel. Incurious prosefill has replaced a more energetic reportage.

The limits of this now-standard genre can be seen in an article more or less plucked at random from my daily newspaper in the past few days. Titled "Suicide car bomb, attacks kill at least 42 in Iraq," it was published in The Washington Post on March 9, 2014. The first thing one notices is that it is simply attributed to The Associated Press, a signal that this is now journalistic drone work. The article is reported from Baghdad, although it describes an attack in Southern Iraq. All details in the article are attributed to "police officers" and "medical officials," and it is clear that the article's anonymous author did not visit the attack site, 60 miles south of Baghdad, but made a few phone calls from the office. This is because Iraq has become so dangerous that journalists are effectively locked down in Baghdad or because the story of incessant terrorist attack is now so routine that it can be reported in formulaic ways. A decade earlier, reporters would have rushed to the scene of the bombing, or at least sent their Iraqi assistants, and would have filled their articles with vivid first-person accounts of the attack, evoking the terrifying drama of the event and the agony of its victims. Now we get the rote scroll of numbers, a sort of accountancy journalism: "The explosion killed 21 civilians, including a woman and 12-year-old, and 15 security personnel, two police officers said." But the largest problem with this Washington Post article is that it gives a superficial account of what happened without making any attempt to explain it, or dig more deeply into the story. We are told that "the violence, which comes a few weeks before scheduled elections, is the latest by insurgents bent on destabilizing the country," and that "elsewhere" the same day "militants launched attacks just outside the capital against security forces and employees of the state-run oil company." Although the reporter does not know who undertook the attacks, "they bore the hallmarks of an al-Qaida breakaway group that frequently uses car bombs and suicide attacks to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the government."

In this formulaic reportage, the attackers are generic and without the rational goals or motives that conventionally make actors in news stories intelligible. We are encouraged to believe - without clear evidence - that they are affiliated with the one terrorist organization Americans know: al-Qaida. But there is no attempt to answer obvious questions the story brings to mind: Why attack security forces and oil installations rather than, say, mosques or buses? Are the attacks concentrated in a particular region of Iraq? What are the attackers' grievances against the government? Are their grievances in any way legitimate, even if their tactics are abhorrent? Is there a political party that articulates similar grievances?

In other words, this article normalizes the violence in Iraq. By disconnecting the violence from the Iraqi political process, it renders it politically unintelligible and somehow intrinsic to Iraqi society. Like hot summers, it just is. It is as if a journalist reported IRA bombing attacks without mentioning that Irish Republicans felt they were oppressed and disenfranchised by the British government and Anglo-Irish protestants. Once you take away the political logic of violence - which US journalists never did to US military forces in Iraq - then you are left with the illusion that violence is being carried out for violence's sake.

This decontextualized rendering of violence in Iraq as a sort of atmospheric condition of the country is, sadly, typical of much of the reporting in Iraq today. It not only fails to explain political divisions and struggles in Iraq in a meaningful way for US readers. It also fails to explain how this violence is a direct consequence of the US invasion and occupation, blaming the victim for the violence that is our sour bequest to them.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The Forgotten Coup - and How the Same Godfather Rules From Canberra to Kiev

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 09:51
By John Pilger, Truthout | News Analysis


Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a fate similar to that of the elected government of the Ukraine, usually with bloodshed, says John Pilger.

Washington's role in the fascist putsch against an elected government in Ukraine will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore the historical record. Since 1945, dozens of governments, many of them democracies, have met a similar fate, usually with bloodshed.

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries on earth with fewer people than Wales, yet under the reformist Sandinistas in the 1980s, it was regarded in Washington as a "strategic threat." The logic was simple; if the weakest slipped the leash, setting an example, who else would try their luck?

The great game of dominance offers no immunity for even the most loyal US "ally." This is demonstrated by perhaps the least known of Washington's coups - in Australia. The story of this forgotten coup is a salutary lesson for those governments that believe a "Ukraine" or a "Chile" could never happen to them.

Australia's deference to the United States makes Britain, by comparison, seem a renegade. During the American invasion of Vietnam - which Australia had pleaded to join - an official in Canberra voiced a rare complaint to Washington that the British knew more about US objectives in that war than its antipodean comrade-in-arms. The response was swift: "We have to keep the Brits informed to keep them happy. You are with us come what may."

This dictum was rudely set aside in 1972 with the election of the reformist Labor government of Gough Whitlam. Although not regarded as of the left, Whitlam - now in his 98th year - was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride, propriety and extraordinary political imagination. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country's resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to "buy back the farm" and speak as a voice independent of London and Washington.

On the day after his election, Whitlam ordered that his staff should not be "vetted or harassed" by the Australian security organization, ASIO - then, as now, beholden to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the Nixon/Kissinger administration as "corrupt and barbaric," Frank Snepp, a CIA officer stationed in Saigon at the time, recalled: "We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators."

Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap - a joint US-Australian satellite tracking station in the center of Australia - later told me a "threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. Consequences were inevitable . . . a kind of Chile was set in motion."

The CIA had just helped General Pinochet crush the democratic government of another reformer, Salvador Allende, in Chile.

In 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, very senior and sinister figure in the State Department who worked in the shadows of America's "deep state." Known as the "coupmaster," he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia - which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors and was described by an alarmed member of the audience as "an incitement to the country's business leaders to rise against the government".

Pine Gap's top-secret messages were decoded in California by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the decoders was a young Christopher Boyce, an idealist who, troubled by the "deception and betrayal of an ally," became a whistleblower. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as "our man Kerr."

In his black top hat and medal-laden mourning suit, Kerr was the embodiment of imperium. He was the Queen of England's Australian viceroy in a country that still recognized her as head of state. His duties were ceremonial; yet Whitlam - who appointed him - was unaware of or chose to ignore Kerr's longstanding ties to Anglo-American intelligence.

The Governor-General was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of The Wall Street Journal in his book, The Crimes of Patriots, as "an elite, invitation-only group . . . exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA." The CIA "paid for Kerr's travel, built his prestige . . . Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money."

In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain's MI6 had long been operating against his government. "The Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office," he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, "We knew MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings for the Americans." In interviews in the 1980s, with the American investigative journalist Joseph Trento, executive officers of the CIA disclosed that the "Whitlam problem" had been discussed "with urgency" by the CIA's director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield, and that "arrangements" were made. A deputy director of the CIA told Trento: "Kerr did what he was told to do."

In 1975, Whitlam learned of a secret list of CIA personnel in Australia held by the permanent head of the Australian Defence Department, Sir Arthur Tange - a deeply conservative mandarin with unprecedented territorial power in Canberra. Whitlam demanded to see the list. On it was the name, Richard Stallings, who, under cover, had set up Pine Gap as a provocative CIA installation. Whitlam now had the proof he was looking for.

On November 10, 1975, he was shown a top-secret telex message sent by ASIO in Washington. This was later sourced to Theodore Shackley, head of the CIA's East Asia Division and one of the most notorious figures spawned by the Agency. Shackley had been head of the CIA's Miami-based operation to assassinate Fidel Castro and station chief in Laos and Vietnam. He had recently worked on the "Allende problem".

Shackley's message was read to Whitlam. Incredibly, it said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country.

The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia's NSA whose ties to Washington were, and remain, binding. He was briefed on the "security crisis." He had then asked for a secure line and spent 20 minutes in hushed conversation.

On 11 November - the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia - he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal "reserve powers," Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The problem was solved.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Paul Craig Roberts on Crimea, US Foreign Policy and the Transformation of Mainstream Media

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 13:47
By Harrison Samphir, Truthout | Interview


The Crimean peninsula was controlled by the Russian Empire from the 18th to 20th centuries until it became part of an independent Ukraine following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now the country is fractured after months of protests, and Crimea has become the reluctant focal point of a nascent civil war dividing east and west. Fueled by aggressive posturing by the United States and a defensive-minded Russia intent on protecting the interests of Ukraine's ethnically Russian population, the situation has escalated quickly. The future of the European continent hangs in the balance.

Even to the most astute observer, the current crisis in the southeastern region of Ukraine is difficult to interpret. The view can be blurred by geographic distance, muddled by inconsistent reporting and blinded by prejudice. Because of treacherously unremitting digital and social media, an understanding of the complex sociopolitical elements is diluted; independent inquiry loses legitimacy and critical voices enter an anarchic fray. How can one make sense of this dilemma?

"What has happened in Ukraine is the United States organized and financed a coup."

Paul Craig Roberts is a former assistant secretary of the treasury and associate editor of The Wall Street Journal. He has been following the situation in Ukraine closely and spoke to Truthout about the long history of the crisis, the influence of the mainstream media (in which he worked for decades) and the dangerous provocations of Western leaders. The author of more than ten books, his most recent work is called The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism. This interview took place on March 12, 2014.

You have written extensively about the current standoff between Russia and the West over the situation in Crimea. How do you assess the current situation? What power struggle is currently unraveling?

Well, I think it would be a mistake to represent the events in Crimea as a power standoff between Russia and the United States. What has happened in Ukraine is the United States organized and financed a coup. And the coup occurred in Kiev, the capital. Either from intention or carelessness, the coup elements include ultra-right-wing nationalists whose roots go back to organizations that fought for Hitler in the Second World War against the Soviet Union. These elements destroyed Russian war memorials celebrating the liberation of the Ukraine from the Nazis by the Red Army and also celebrating Gen. Kutuzov's defeat of Napoleon's Grande Armée. So this spread a great deal of alarm in southern and eastern Ukraine, which are traditionally Russian provinces. Crimea was added to the Ukraine in 1954 by Khrushchev, the general secretary of the Communist Party. Both of these Russian areas have been part of Russia for longer than the United States has existed. This may have been done to water down the pro-Nazi elements in western Ukraine, because it added a substantial Russian population to Ukraine that tended to balance out the ultra-nationalists in the west. Also, Khrushchev himself was a Ukrainian. It didn't make a difference at the time because it was all part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed as a political entity and the weak authorities there - under [US] pressure – agreed to its breakup, the Ukraine became independent, but it retained the previously Russian provinces. The population in Crimea is predominantly Russian, and so is eastern Ukraine. These people said, "We don't want anything to do with this government in Kiev, which is banning our language and destroying our war monuments and threatening us in many ways." They followed the same legal steps; the same UN procedures, the same international court procedures. So everything that has occurred is strictly legal. And when John Kerry and Obama say the opposite, they're lying through their teeth. It's just blatant, shameful, bald-faced lies. This is not debatable or a question of opinion. It's a matter of law.

"So there is not an independent media. It cannot take positions on any important issue contrary to the government's propaganda."

So the Parliament in Crimea followed these procedures and has now declared Crimea to be independent. The vote that [was] given to the people on [March 16] . ... So there has been no Russian invasion. That's easily provable. The Russian troops in the Ukraine have been there since the 1990s. It has to do with the lease arrangements it has on its Black Sea naval base [Sevastopol], because when Ukraine was granted independence, Russia certainly wasn't giving up its warm-water port. The terms of the separation state that Russia has a lease there until 2042. Sixteen thousand troops were there, and under the agreement with the Ukraine they can have up to 25,000 along with a certain number of planes, tanks and artillery. All this is specified and well-known, but it is subject to lies from Washington - and they are repeated endlessly in the so-called American media. The remaining problem is in eastern Ukraine, because there the people are also in the streets demanding their local governments separate from Kiev. Having realized its incompetence in Crimea, Washington has rushed in and appointed Ukrainian multi-billionaire oligarchs [Igor Kolomoisky and Serhiy Taruta] as governors of these Russian regions [Donetsk and Dnepropetrovs]. Where the issue will be drawn is in eastern Ukraine because Putin has said he will make no military intervention unless violence is used against the Russian population in eastern Ukraine. There isn't much Kerry and Obama can do about this. But if the result is that eastern Ukraine returns to Russia, western Ukraine will be captured, subject to an IMF [International Monetary Fund] austerity plan, looted by the Western banks and stuck in NATO while US anti-ballistic missile bases will be put in western Ukraine. This is intensifying the strategic threat to Russia that Washington has been pursuing since the George H.W. Bush regime when he violated the agreements that Reagan had given not to take NATO into eastern Europe. These same agreements were violated when Washington withdrew from the ABMT [Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] in 2002 so it could construct an anti-ballistic missile defense. These are extreme provocations, and they are reckless. It's the same kind of behavior that gave us the First World War.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

In your latest writings you've discussed the failure of the so called mainstream or American media in reporting about Crimea objectively - that is, without displaying a bias toward one side or the other. Can you discuss the role alternative media has played in relation to the crisis in Ukraine?

A very important part of it has to do with something that happened toward the end of [Bill] Clinton's second term. He permitted five mega companies to consolidate the formerly independent and dispersed US media. What were once independent networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, they all became cogs in a larger media empire. The value of these big media companies is their federal broadcast licenses: They can't go against the government and expect them to be renewed. Another big change is these media companies are no longer run by journalists. They're run by corporate advertising executives and former government officials. And their only interests are protecting the net worth of the company and the flow of advertising revenues. So there is not an independent media. It cannot take positions on any important issue contrary to the government's propaganda. That's part of the problem right there.

Another part of the problem is that during the long Cold War, the Soviet Union, which is Russia in most people's minds, was demonized effectively. This demonization persists. Remember, the initial collapse of the USSR worked very much to the West's advantage. They could easily manipulate [Boris] Yeltsin, and various oligarchs were able to seize and plunder the resources of the country. Much Israeli and American money was part of that. When Putin came along and started stopping this and trying to put the country back in place, he was demonized. Also, just as Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state [for European and Eurasian Affairs], admitted when she spoke at the National Press Club last December, the United States has invested $5 billion aligning Ukraine with its interests since the failed Orange Revolution [2004]. They've probably spent many times that on NGOs inside Russia. There are at least 1,000 non-governmental organizations in the country that are financed by Washington. This has persisted for a long time, and it was only last year when Putin finally said that these organizations that are financed by US money must register as foreign agents. This is, of course, American policy. If you operate here with foreign money - unless you're Israel - you must register as a foreign agent. Yet when Putin applied the same rules, he was demonized. So you have everywhere this exposure across American generations of people to propaganda that diabolizes every aspect of Russia. So if someone tells you the Russians sent the tanks into Crimea, it just fits a pre-existing narrative.

"The Soviet Union and Communist China existed, and these were huge constraints on American power. The US couldn't go waltzing in blowing up countries throughout the Middle East for example."

I am a former editor of The Wall Street Journal and a columnist at all the major publications as well, and I personally witnessed the change in the media and the people in it. So I already know what they're going to say; I can write the scripts before they go on and mouth them. It's been going on for some time. A similar thing happened with the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It was a lie told over and over. And everyone repeated it. The New York Times didn't even go to the weapons inspector we sent to Iraq, Hans Blix! Instead, Judith Miller repeated a lie endlessly in the pages of the newspaper. It reflects a total lack of integrity. One of the main reasons for this is that many of them know they cannot tell the truth, otherwise they'll be fired. They know it's pointless to take a story that contradicts the president or the secretary of state or the CIA or the NSA to the editor. He or she will look at you and say What are you crazy? Do you want to get us both fired? So they simply don't bother. It's quite a corrupt milieu, and it must be deadening to the soul. But that's what it is to be a mainstream journalist today.

Looking back on your time as assistant secretary of the treasury under Ronald Reagan, how have the global politics of brinkmanship changed? Are foreign conflicts perceived differently now than ever before?

Oh, yes, it's changed tremendously, in two critical ways. One is the Soviet Union and Communist China existed, and these were huge constraints on American power. The US couldn't go waltzing in blowing up countries throughout the Middle East, for example. Those constraints on American power no longer exist. The Cold War is gone, and the alliances that were part of it have disappeared. When I was in the Reagan administration, the neoconservatives had not emerged as the ideological force that they are today; they had not written their position papers calling for American world hegemony. So there was not an agenda in Washington or in the Reagan administration of American hegemony over the world. Reagan's approach toward Gorbachev was not to win the Cold War, he told us repeatedly. The point was to end it. The neoconservatives did emerge first during that time, but they had nowhere near the same power or influence that they did under Clinton, George W. Bush and now Obama. In fact they caused so much trouble for [Reagan], he fired every one of them. They were behind the Contras in Nicaragua. Some of them were actually prosecuted and convicted - such as Elliot Abrams, who was assistant secretary of state. He and others were later pardoned by George H.W. Bush, but the Reagan administration itself took very strong action against neoconservatives. They were fired, thrown out of the government. Richard Perle was even thrown off of the [President's Intelligence Advisory Board]. The neoconservatives emerged with the American attacks on Serbia - what we call the NATO attacks - and the theft of Kosovo from Serbia and its setup as an American protectorate. Their influence then exploded in the first years of George W. Bush. The entire national security apparatus, the entire Pentagon, the entire State Department were all staffed-up by neoconservatives. The agenda was there. It had been set out in papers from the Project for the New American Century, and much of the government was run by its representatives. The Obama administration has many of the same people, but now they're able to go further because they have more resources to fund dissent groups like we've seen in Ukraine.

"There's no evidence that the American people support Washington's meddling in Ukraine. And they should get out and protest it, because it could mean a major war and even the use of nuclear weapons."

This is a reckless thing to do. The Russians cannot accept strategic threats of this sort; it's just too high. I think what Putin is relying on, if you read his March 4 press conference, is the Europeans. Since they don't have an ulterior agenda, they don't want to pay the cost of enabling the United States to start a war, because it will affect them. The Russians know the United States has changed its war doctrine to include nuclear weapons, which shifted in 2010 to permit pre-emptive first strikes. Well the Russians know this is not directed against Afghanistan or Iraq, but against them. When you keep telling a powerful country you are going to set it up in such a way that it must be attacked, that is purely reckless behavior.

What can average people do to voice their concerns about the issues you've raised? How will the crisis evolve from here?

They ought to get out into the streets. There's no evidence that the American people support Washington's meddling in Ukraine. And they should get out and protest it, because it could mean a major war and even the use of nuclear weapons. The US government has violated every norm of international law and almost the entirety of American law. It is tyranny. Another point: according to Obama and Kerry, and the mainstream media, Russia is to be damned for intervening in the Crimea. This we've all heard since the situation began. Well, [March 11] Obama and Kerry demanded that Russia intervene in Crimea and block the self-determination of the Crimean people. They asked Russia to stop the referendum! So now, out of one corner of its mouth, Washington is damning them Russia for an intervention they didn't make, and out of the other corner of its mouth, it's demanding they intervene and deny the people of Crimea the right to self-determination. And if they don't do that, Kerry said, We will make you pay. This is blatant. And there isn't a word about it in the major newspapers.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Snowden Docs Expose How the NSA "Infects" Millions of Computers, Impersonates Facebook Server

Monday, 17 March 2014 12:47
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Interview


New disclosures from Edward Snowden show the NSA is massively expanding its computer hacking worldwide. Software that automatically hacks into computers — known as malware "implants" — had previously been kept to just a few hundred targets. But the news website The Intercept reports that the NSA is spreading the software to millions of computers under an automated system codenamed "Turbine." The Intercept has also revealed the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. We are joined by The Intercept reporter Ryan Gallagher.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our last segment, the latest on leaks from Edward Snowden. TheIntercept.org reported last week the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process. The Intercept also revealed the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive.

Joining us now is Ryan Gallagher from The Intercept, co-wrote the piece, "[How] the NSA Plans to Infect 'Millions' of Computers with Malware." Explain, Ryan.

RYAN GALLAGHER: Hi, Amy. Yeah, and the story we wrote last week, really, the key thing about it is the extent to which these techniques have really rapidly escalated in the last decade. And what we can see and what we reported was that, since about 2004, the National Security Agency has expanded the use of what it calls these "implants," which are sort of malicious software implants within computers and computer networks, and even phone networks, to basically steal data from those systems. About 10 years ago, they had, they say, about a hundred and a hundred and—between a hundred and 150 of these implants, but within the last decade that expanded to an estimated 100,000, in some reports, and they’re building a system to be capable of deploying "millions," in their own words, of these implants.

AMY GOODMAN: The revelation around the issue of Facebook has led Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to call President Obama on Wednesday and demand an explanation. He later wrote in a blog post, quote, "I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government."

RYAN GALLAGHER: Yeah, and Mark Zuckerberg was definitely very agitated, we think, about the report and seems to have got on the phone to Obama. And interestingly, the NSA later issued a—actually claimed that they hadn’t impersonated U.S. websites. However, their own documents actually say that they pretended to be the Facebook server for this particular surveillance technique, so their denial sort of doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny when compared with their own documents. And there’s a bit of sort of a—you know, there’s questions to be asked about that.

AMY GOODMAN: So how do people protect themselves?

RYAN GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, the problem is, if you’re really in the NSA’s crosshairs or one of these surveillance agencies’ crosshairs, it’s very difficult to protect yourself against it. But there are all kinds of methods that people can use to reduce their level of risk. For instance, you know, using encryption technology can guard against all kinds of surveillance, and using certain kinds of operating systems, like the Linux operating system, can limit their ability to target you in this way. But yeah, you know, this is a problem, that they’re developing these technologies to deliberately circumvent, you know, privacy-enhancing tools, security tools that people use. And that’s what a lot of people are very worried about, because that poses a fundamental question for the security of the Internet.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this legal, Ryan Gallagher?

RYAN GALLAGHER: Well, that’s a really good question. And what’s completely unclear, even in the documents that I’ve seen, is the level of oversight on the legal framework that underpins these techniques. When you’re deploying methods like this against a hundred, 150 people, as they were maybe, you know, 10 years ago, that’s pretty easy to manage. But they have deliberately expanded their techniques by making them automated, so there’s less human oversight. So it’s completely unclear to what extent these implants, these malware tools, are actually being sufficiently overseen, the legal framework that they operate in. We’ve tried to get clarity from the NSA on these issues, and they’ve declined to comment. So, these are really vital questions that should begin to be getting asked at this time, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: And the NSA’s response to your report?

RYAN GALLAGHER: Well, they actually—as they have been doing with most of the recent reports, they have just been putting out a kind of boilerplate statement that says they adhere to the law and that they only collect intelligence for legitimate purposes. But, you know, these statements are very, very vague, and they’re open to anyone’s interpretation of what they actually mean. I think that what we really need is some clear answers about specific, substantive issues and a bit more transparency on certainly a lot of the revelations that we’ve been reporting in the last couple of weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Gallagher, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll certainly link to your pieces at The Intercept, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/03/12/nsa-plans-infect-millions-computers-malware/">"How the NSA Plans to Infect 'Millions' of Computers with Malware" and "Compare the NSA’s Facebook Malware Denial to Its Own Secret Documents." Both articles appear at TheIntercept.org, a digital magazine launched by First Look Media.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Advice Too Secret to Ignore, Col. Manners Answers Your Questions on CIA Practices, Proper Cyberwar Behavior, and Invasion Etiquette

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 11:41
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch | Op-Ed


[TomDispatch Editor’s note: Our old friend Colonel Manners (ret.) made his first appearance at TomDispatch last October. Today, he’s back for the third time. We have yet to run into anyone more knowledgeable in the mores, manners, and linguistic habits of the national security state. His CV (unfortunately redacted) would blow you away. At a time of heightened tension among the U.S. Intelligence Community, the White House, Congress, and the American people, who better to explain the workings and thought patterns of the inner world of official Washington than the Colonel? Once again, he answers the questions of ordinary citizens about how their secret government actually works. Among advice columnists, he's a nonpareil. Here's just a sampling of his answers to recent correspondence.]

Dear Col. Manners,

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he insisted that we “look forward,” not backward. While he rejected the widespread use of torture and abuse by the CIA in the Bush years, his Department of Justice refused to prosecute a single torture case, even when death was the result. (The only CIA agent to go to jail during the Obama presidency was the guy who blew the whistle on the CIA torture program!)

Jump ahead five years, and instead of looking forward, it seems that we’re again looking backward big time. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, usually the staunchest backer of U.S. intelligence, seems to have sworn a vendetta against the CIA on the Senate floor for spying on her oversight committee as it prepared its still-unreleased report on the Agency’s torture program. The CIA denies it all and claims committee staffers spied on them. Once again, the Justice Department faces the issue of charges over the Agency’s torture program! It seems like little short of a constitutional catfight.

What gives, Colonel? Shouldn’t President Obama have prosecuted CIA torturers in the first place and isn’t it time that he and his Justice Department finally take all this to court?

Tortured in Tacoma

Dear Tortured,

You’ve hit the nail on the head! When Senator Feinstein turns on the CIA, the situation couldn’t be more disturbing -- or out of hand. But believe me, the answer is not to call on the Justice Department (of all places!) to sort this out. After all, as you indicate, it was incapable of prosecuting the killing of tortured prisoners, so it’s hardly likely to adopt a take-no-prisoners attitude toward either the CIA or the Senate Intelligence Committee over possible computer spying.

Instead, as the president long ago suggested, we need to look forward, not backward. And with that in mind, Senator John McCain has, I believe, made the most useful suggestion: that an independent investigative body be empaneled to get to the bottom of the dispute between Feinstein and the CIA. As you know, over the last five years, the Senate Intelligence Committee has managed to write a still-incomplete report on the CIA’s black sites and torture campaign. Though unreleased to the public even in redacted or summary form, it is reportedly 6,300 pages long. By comparison, the first novel in history, the Tale of Genji, is only 1,200 pages, and War and Peace only 1,800 pages. (And yes, Tortured, we in the secret world do have a certain attraction to fiction.)

You can do the math. Let’s say that it takes months to empanel that committee and get it up to speed. Among other things, its members will need to read that 6,300-page report and the 6.2 million documents on its interrogation program and related matters that the CIA also reputedly turned over to the committee. (That, of course, doesn’t include the videos of its interrogations that the Agency destroyed back in 2005 because they took up too much shelf space.) Sorting through this sort of documentation will take time. Let’s conservatively estimate that the panel doesn’t finish hearing witnesses and going over documents until mid-2015. Next, it has to write up its report, which will obviously have to be more than 6,300 pages long. It, in turn, will have to be read and vetted by numerous people in the intelligence community and elsewhere before it can be made public, lest someone find blood on their hands.

A reasonable time estimate for the whole process? Perhaps a heavily edited and redacted summary of the panel’s findings could see the light by late 2017 by which time -- and here’s the great benefit -- passions will have cooled, some of the participants will be dead, and the rest of us will have other things on our minds than a panel reporting on possible crimes committed in relation to a report about possible crimes committed a decade and a half earlier. In short, this is a stellar example of effective long-term problem-solving the national security way.

Yours looking forward,

Col. Manners (ret.)

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Dear Col. Manners,

I thought you were the only one! Now, thanks to the nine zillionth document in the Edward Snowden revelations and journalist Peter Maass, I discovered that the National Security Agency has its own secret advice columnist who writes “Ask Zelda,” focusing on dear-to-the-NSA topics like what to do if your boss is spying on you.

My question is this: Were you disappointed to discover that you had company and has “Zelda” stolen your thunder?

Blindsided in Biloxi

Dear Blindsided,

Actually, despite what you might imagine, “Zelda” and I are good friends. In fact, the community of advice columnists inside the national security world is a very close-knit crew. We even have a social group we jokingly call the Redacted Lonely Hearts Club Band. We meet every Friday for happy hour at a local bar (name redacted) to exchange notes. Zelda was indeed recently “outed” in the Snowden carnage. I wouldn’t want to out other national security advice columnists, but it is a shame that most Americans don't have access to their everyday wisdom. I can tell you that the CIA’s columnist is not only smart as a tack, but hilarious as well. His offhand comments at our Friday gatherings regularly leave me in stitches. “Advice from the Dark Side,” his column in the Bush years, was a national security hit.

Believe me, living in the shadows as we all do, our community desperately needs advice. The hundreds of thousands of us (including private contractors) in the secret world often have no one to turn to. We certainly can’t talk about our problems in your world, and yet issues of manners, mores, or morals arise all the time, and we often have no one to consult. That’s why, in addition to Zelda, just about every secret outfit has an advice columnist.

I can assure you that if Edward Snowden had reached out to Zelda he would never have become a Russian pawn.

Yours advisedly,

Col. Manners (ret.)

Dear Col. Manners,

My head’s spinning and I thought you might be able to straighten me out. Vice-Admiral Michael Rogers, the nominee to be the new head of the National Security Agency, recently appeared before Congress and testified that aggressive cyberwar capabilities won’t simply be located in a single cyber command. Instead, all the major combat commands of the U.S. military will soon have their own “dedicated” cyberforces and each will be capable of launching cyberattacks.

Say it ain’t so, Colonel! I know that every service wants a piece of every budgetary and operational pie, but isn’t it crazy to spread the ability to launch an aggressive cyberattack around widely?

Head Spun in Houston

Dear Head Spun,

It’s not crazy at all. It’s the height of good sense. Recently, while testifying about the collection of the phone data of Americans, Vice-Admiral Michael Rogers said, “One of my challenges as the director, if confirmed, is how do we engage the American people, and by extension their representatives, in a dialogue in which they have a level of comfort as to what we are doing and why.” Quite right! So let me lend a hand in that process.

I understand where you’re coming from, and I’d like to explain why the ability to launch a cyberattack can’t be spread widely enough in our military (and possibly beyond). Response time on a cyberattack is everything. If you’ve ever been inside Washington's bureaucracy, you know that anything not located at your fingertips is functionally not located anywhere. Let’s say that U.S. Navy intelligence detects a North Korean plot to attack some aspect of its cyber-domains. If that service has its own cyber command, then it’s instant, preemptive obliteration for North Korea's cyberwarriors. If the Navy has to make its way through a labyrinth of military or civilian bureaucracies to get a decision on when and how to act, the North Koreans might be steering a couple of our aircraft carriers before anything gets done.

Spend your career in Washington and you’ll discover soon enough that these are the realities. In fact, you’ll be interested -- and now undoubtedly relieved -- to know that among the options being explored by U.S. cyber experts is the possibility of providing dedicated cyberforces to the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, the EPA, the IRS, and possibly even Head Start. (What, just to take an obvious example, if a group of disgruntled tax-paying cyberterrorists is plotting to launch a first strike on the IRS?)

"Be prepared" isn’t just a saying for boy scouts -- not any more, not on our new, totally connected, and remarkably dangerous cyberplanet.

Head straightly yours,

Col. Manners (ret.)

Dear Col. Manners,

Honestly, what gives? Since Vlad Putin sent his troops into the Crimea, it seems like every American official from the president on down has called what he did a gross violation of international law. It is, of course, but I haven’t seen “international law” invoked this often in Washington in my lifetime.

How time flies (if you’ll excuse a note of sarcasm). It seems like only yesterday that the Geneva Conventions were being called “quaint” by American officials, that we were invading another country (nowhere near our border) on trumped up weapons of mass destruction charges, and that there were all those not-so-internationally accepted acts we were enthusiastically involved in. (You know, setting up black sites, Abu Ghraib, torture, kidnappings, etc.) More recently, to offer just a couple of examples, the president has beenordering the drone killings of American citizens based on a Department of Justice legal finding so secret it has yet to be made public, and his officials, according to the New York Times, have seconded the Bush administration in claiming that a bill of rights-style international agreement the U.S. signed onto in 1995 does not apply to our treatment of anyone outside the boundaries of the United States. This is evidently an internationally unique interpretation of that document.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m a local lawyer and not especially enamored of “international law,” but really, what is it? Is the law ours to determine or is it the international community’s? Can we really have it both ways, depending on whether we’re doing the bad things or they are? You tell me.

Local Law Man from Baltimore

Dear Local Law Man,

There's a “law” you ignore in comparing Russian and U.S. actions. Call it the law of exceptionally good intentions. Manners and intent do matter, whether in our personal lives or in international invasions. I’ve noticed, for instance, that John Kerry has been taken to the woodshed by critics for supporting the invasion of Iraq in the Senate back in 2002 and then making this statement about Russian actions in the Crimea: “You just don't in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on [a] completely trumped up pretext.”

This is a typically bum rap for our secretary of state. Our invasion of Iraq and the recent Russian troop movements into Ukraine shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath. Admittedly, we launched a war that killed many on the basis of a nonexistent arsenal of weaponry, while Russian troops crossed an international border in an intervention in which, so far, no one has died. Still, the difference lies in the intentions of the invading parties. Think of it as invasion etiquette. Even when, as in Iraq, a U.S. invasion results in massive collateral damage and mistakes are made, they are honest ones taken with the best of intentions to bring freedom and democracy to peoples under tyranny. This is commendable, whatever the results, and highlights the exceptional nature of our country.

Who would claim the same for the Russians (except of course, the Russians)? In fact, when it comes to the rest of the so-called international community, it’s remarkable how seldom genuine good intentions are mixed up with aggressive acts. For them, the constraints of international law are crucial. For the United States, international law might be thought of as a luxury item. Since we can be relied on to do our best, whatever the circumstances, we can naturally be left free to pick and choose among international law, national law, and a growing body of well-thought-out secret law, depending on the situation.

Yes, we make mistakes; yes, there are bad eggs in any basket; but please, this is the United States of America! Don’t get all legalistic on us.

From the well-intentioned,

Col. Manners

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[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

No Escaping Dragnet Nation

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 11:48
By Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company | Video Interview


This week, as the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein publicly accused the CIA of spying on her committee’s computers, Bill talks with investigative reporter Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.

The book chronicles the indiscriminate tracking of our everyday lives — where government and business are stockpiling data about us at an unprecedented pace. Reporters are a prime target for Internet snooping, says Angwin, “Journalists are the canary in the coal mine. We’re the first ones to seriously feel the impact of total surveillance, which means we can’t protect our sources. But what happens next? What happens next is we’re not good watch dogs for democracy. And that’s a very worrisome situation.”

Angwin and Moyers also discuss our exposure to fraud from online data mining; why mass data collection is not making us safer in the face of terrorism and why European privacy regulations are stronger than those in the US.

Julia Angwin covered the business and technology beat at The Wall Street Journal for 13 years and is a Pulitzer Prize winner now working for the independent news organization ProPublica.


BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company: how we’ve become a “Dragnet Nation” where mass surveillance rules.

JULIA ANGWIN: Journalists are the canary in the coal mine, right? We're the first ones to seriously feel the impact of total surveillance. Which means we can't protect our sources. But what happens next? What happens next is we don't have very good stories and we're not good watch dogs for democracy. And that's a very worrisome situation.


Funding is provided by:

Anne Gumowitz, encouraging the renewal of democracy.

Carnegie Corporation of New York, celebrating 100 years of philanthropy, and committed to doing real and permanent good in the world.

The Ford Foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide.

The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society.

The John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.org.

Park Foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues.

The Kohlberg Foundation.

Barbara G. Fleischman.

And by our sole corporate sponsor, Mutual of America, designing customized individual and group retirement products. That’s why we’re your retirement company.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Just when you thought you were about to sink below the surface of the sea of mass surveillance, that bottomless ocean in which we now swim, there comes a lifeline - this book “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.” Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Julia Angwin, reviewers have praised her work as eye-opening, thought-provoking, and disturbing for its insights into how closely we are tracked by the electronic eyes and ears of not only government, but corporate spies. It was inevitable, says Julia Angwin, that these twin big brothers would become inextricably linked. Neither can exist without the other. So it is, we’re living in a “Dragnet Nation,” a world of indiscriminate tracking where institutions are stockpiling data about us at an unprecedented pace.

Julia Angwin covered the tech beat for “The Wall Street Journal” for thirteen years, wrote the book “Stealing MySpace,” and is now an investigative journalist for the independent news organization ProPublica. Welcome.

JULIA ANGWIN: It's great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: You've given me the best list of bumper stickers that I could put on my car to alert people to this digital-age surveillance. You say, it's a chilling list. “You can always be found.”

JULIA ANGWIN: Yes, right. Your phone is sending out a signal which locates you at all times, unless you don't have it with you.

BILL MOYERS: “You can be watched in your own home or in the bathroom.”

JULIA ANGWIN: Correct. Hackers are getting much better at taking over control of the camera on your laptop computer or your regular computer and spying on you in your room.

BILL MOYERS: “You can be impersonated.”

JULIA ANGWIN: Right. This is what people call identity theft. I call it impersonation, because you're still you. You've just been impersonated for fraudulent purposes.

BILL MOYERS: “You can be trapped in a hall of mirrors.”

JULIA ANGWIN: This is when everything you see online reflects your previous searches. So you see those ads for everything you just looked for, and Google is tailoring its results to who they think you are. So all you see is a reflection of yourself.

BILL MOYERS: “You can be placed in a police lineup.”

JULIA ANGWIN: This is where the police are watching everybody, and even though they're not suspects. And so essentially, they're looking for clues that you might be a suspect. So you're basically in the lineup until you can prove your innocence.

BILL MOYERS: What has happened to the Fourth Amendment? That's supposed to protect “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures” such as you have just described?

JULIA ANGWIN: Right. Well, the thing is, the Fourth Amendment protects the actual physical walls of your home. And so in fact, the police still need a search warrant to knock on the door and come in. But the problem is, technology has reached into our homes in other ways and essentially there's an exception to the Fourth Amendment for that.

There's something called the Third Party Doctrine. Which is a Supreme Court precedent that basically says once you give your data to a third party, whether it's a bank, a telephone company, then you have lost your privacy interest in it. And so the police can get it there. Well, nowadays, our papers and effects that we used to store at home, we basically store outside the home at these digital places - Google, even our online banking. And so then there's a much lower standard for the government to get this information.

BILL MOYERS: I was struck by the realization in reading your book that while Europe doesn't have a Fourth Amendment, they have stricter regulations of data mining than we do. How do you explain that?

JULIA ANGWIN: Well, Europe has a totally different approach. Which is they view privacy as a human right. And they offer everyone this baseline privacy, which is basically if there's data about you at one of these places, you have the right to see it. You have the right to correct it. And sometimes you have the right to delete it.

And it also limits the company's desire to collect that data. Because then they have to pay the cost of giving access. So-- and we don't have that law. And we're the only Western nation that doesn't have a similar type of law.

BILL MOYERS: So what's going on? I mean, has technology made Swiss cheese of the Fourth Amendment? Or is it fear of terror and terrorists? Or do we simply concede in America that corporations' interest come first?

JULIA ANGWIN: I think it's a bunch of things. Like, first of all, we can't ignore the fact that we want everything for free. Okay, so we also have to take a little bit of blame on ourselves. We want all of our technology for free. We used to pay for software. We used to buy it in boxes, they were in the store, shrink-wrapped. Do you remember that? And it cost $60.

And now we get it all for free. But we're realizing we are paying in another way. We're paying with our data. And so we have to under-- we have to maybe decide to make some different choices for ourselves. But at the same time, our laws are outdated. And all of the big tech companies have been advocating for some reforms about the fact that it's easier for the police to open up your email than your postal mail.

BILL MOYERS: What's it going to take, though, to make us move in that direction? I mean, did the Snowden revelations-- were they a real wakeup call, do you think?

JULIA ANGWIN: You know, I can't tell yet, because the weird thing about the Snowden revelations is they continue to dribble out.

BILL MOYERS: 1.7 million files and only a relative handful have come out so far, I think.

JULIA ANGWIN: Yeah, and I think what's happening is people are sort of overwhelmed by the flood of information. Every week there's a new story about what is the N.S.A. or the G.C.H.Q., which is the U.S. or British spy agencies, what are they tapping. And we've seen some pretty shocking revelations, that they're getting every single domestic call in the U.S., that they're tapping the cell phone locations overseas and sometimes in the U.S. That they are stealing people's address books, that they're breaking into Google Data Centers. So it's been a shocking amount of revelation. I feel like we're still absorbing it.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

BILL MOYERS: Did you learn something from Snowden that you hadn't come across in your traditional pursuit-- dogged pursuit of journalist revelations?

JULIA ANGWIN: I knew the government was coming to these companies with secret orders from the secret FISA court asking for data about their customers. I did not know that at the same time, the N.S.A. was coming to the front door, they were climbing in the back door, and hacking into those companies' systems.

For instance, breaking into the Google Data Center. Or they were intercepting the traffic that your Angry Birds app would send to an advertiser while you're playing the game. And these were things-- I hadn't envisioned them going to those lengths.

BILL MOYERS: The companies have objected, have they not? Aren't they beginning to protest--


BILL MOYERS: --this collusion that was tacitly taking place?

JULIA ANGWIN: It seems like they themselves were surprised about the amount that was being broken into and their traffic. And a lot of the big tech companies are taking measures to encrypt their traffic, to put in much bigger barricades so that it's harder for the N.S.A. to get in.

BILL MOYERS: Something of a catch 22 there, because as you write, "Government data are the lifeblood for commercial data brokers. And government dragnets rely on obtaining information from the private sector." I mean, it's a real yin and yang.

JULIA ANGWIN: Right. I mean, a perfect example of that is your voting records. So when you go to vote, you have to give a bunch of information to the government.

BILL MOYERS: Name, address, birth--

JULIA ANGWIN: Sometimes birthday, political affiliation, it can be comprehensive. And then the states sell those lists.


JULIA ANGWIN: To commercial data brokers, who add it to the list that they buy commercially, like which magazines are you subscribing to and which catalogues are you ordering from. And then nowadays, they add internet stuff, what are you doing online, because they have found ways to finally merge all this stuff. And the files that they create are very robust. And sometimes the government buys them back in order to do counterterrorism investigations or to send mailings to their campaign constituents.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

BILL MOYERS: Do you think people know that's taking place? Does your reporting suggest people know it?

JULIA ANGWIN: No, people seem to be surprised every time I mention this or write about it. And that is what is shocking about this industry in general, the data brokers in particular are the-- among the least transparent. In my reporting, I identified more than 200 data brokers who had my information. I could only-- only about a dozen of them would let me see it. And less than half of that would let me opt out. So they are one of the least transparent industries that I'd come across, actually.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of companies were collecting your data?

JULIA ANGWIN: All kinds of companies are collecting my data. In the data broker business, there are people who sell my name and address and actual voting records and all that. Those people-- there are the big ones who compile it all on the backend, like Acxiom, InfoGroup, and then there are the ones you look online with whoever's Googled your stuff. You might see them show up, they're selling your data. There's Spokeo, Intelius, all of those lookup sites. And they do a very big business in selling your data. And unfortunately, your data sells pretty cheap.

BILL MOYERS: In your reporting of government spying, did you find that all this surveillance is making us safer?

JULIA ANGWIN: No, that was a really interesting part of my reporting, which was I thought, "Okay, let's see, maybe this is really worth it. Maybe we're going to find out that we're really safe." So I looked at all the literature about government surveillance and crime and how much does it work. What I found is, it's not particularly effective.

So cameras on the street -- there are studies that show they are either as effective as streetlights or less effective than just having more streetlights. So essentially, you can have better lighting to make the criminals show up on the street, or you can have the cameras and it's not clear that it makes a difference. And in some controlled studies, the cameras made no difference to crime at all.

Then what I found is that when you move away from the street-level policing to the counterterrorism policing, which is where they take these vast data sets and try to look for clues, that in fact, the track record is even worse, right? As we have seen, after the Snowden revelations came out, the National Security Agency tried to justify the mass collection of data by saying there were 54 different cases that had contributed to thwarting. But in fact, the case that they held up as the best example was one that was really just solved by legwork of F.B.I. on the ground, trailing a guy actually in a car, like, in a very old-school way.

One thing we do know is that almost every time there has been a successful or quasi-successful terrorism incident, there has been information about those people in their counterterrorism databases, the Boston bombers, the underwear bombers, they had all been flagged at some point. And it makes you think that there's too many people being flagged because they haven't been able to follow up on all of them.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you quote one of the experts who created the computer code for the National Security Agency in the first place, Bill Binney who says the agency knows so much it can't understand what it has. That all this data is making it dysfunctional.

JULIA ANGWIN: Yes, right. And he makes a very compelling argument that they would do better to focus on the known bad guys and the people that they talk to, which is a narrower slice of data than collecting everything and then trying to figure out where are the bad guys. And I think anyone who's tried to sort through their-- even just their own email inbox would agree that data can be overwhelming.

What I'm particularly concerned about and I think actually what Bill Binney is particularly concerned about is that you have all these agents and who are spy agents, are supposed to look through this giant amount of data, but there are abuses, right? There are people who look up their ex-wives and who look up information that they're not supposed to look up about people they are just interested in. And that's unfortunately what happens when you have a secret system with no oversight. Often, abuses can be hidden.

BILL MOYERS: Well, this is true of both the government surveillance and the corporate surveillance. We all are colluding in that, are we not? I mean, when you open a bank account, you sign a document that says they can, in effect, sell the information. We know that we are buying into a system in which our data is being commercialized and commodified and sold to strangers whom we don't know.

JULIA ANGWIN: Right. But I think that there's a difference between exchanging your data for a service, right? You know, you have to give some information to the bank. That's part of the transaction. What's disturbing is how many other parts are involved that you don't know about, right? So one of the things that was shocking to me is how many parties are looking at any website that I'm going to. You can see, put software on your machine to see all the little tracking companies that show up. And even in my online grocery shopping, there were six companies watching what I was buying.

BILL MOYERS: Could they connect your name to those purchases?

JULIA ANGWIN: It depends on whether my grocer shares it with them. And once again, we don't always have insight into what is being shared about us. But what we do know is we do know that people are already being charged different prices for things online. So I did this big survey when I was at “The Wall Street Journal” of how prices are different for people based on the information that retailers can find out about them. So we found that Staples was selling its office supplies for different prices to different people even if they like, were ten miles away from each other, because they had determined which ones they thought could afford to pay more and which ones were living closer to their competitor and might be able to choose a cheaper product.

And so I think we're going to have to think about what is the future of redlining when every single company that you interact with already knows everything about you and could give you a completely tailored price and you wouldn't have that much visibility into what other people are paying for the same thing.

BILL MOYERS: You describe a system that sounds impossible to opt out of. And yet there came a moment in your own life, a day when you said, "I'm going to escape the dragnet. Or I'm going to try.”



JULIA ANGWIN: Try is the operative word. Yes.

BILL MOYERS: So describe what happened.

JULIA ANGWIN: So I tried to get out of as much indiscriminate tracking as I could. So I quit using Google, I gave up on my LinkedIn account, I got a prepaid cell phone in another name. I set up accounts with other names online so that I could mask my identity. I tried to opt out of all these data brokers that had all this information about me.

BILL MOYERS: What did you learn about yourself when you tried to opt out?

JULIA ANGWIN: Yeah, well, what I learned was that I had been accepting all this technology, you know, just taking Gmail at face value and thinking, "This is the way it has to be." Or using Google search and thinking, "This is the way it has to be." And what I learned was that by spending a little time and effort, I could change the rules of the game. I was able to find another search engine, DuckDuckGo that was privacy-protecting. And at first, I found my searches weren't as good, but when I figured out how to use it, I was able to do it. And I felt very proud of myself. Because I thought, you know, in the end, as we become more of a technology society and more machine-based, my ability to control the machines is important, because otherwise they're going to control me, right? And so I felt very empowered by my ability to switch off of these services.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

BILL MOYERS: Is it feasible? Practicable for everyday people to do what--


BILL MOYERS: --you did?

JULIA ANGWIN: Absolutely not. That was actually what I felt at the end of it was I had spent an entire year doing this. And by the end of it, I was marginally successful, but not more than 50% successful. And I had spent an enormous amount of effort. And so by the end, I really felt this was an unfair situation. People can't get out of this.

This idea that we were talking about at the beginning, which is the third-party doctrine, which is that you voluntarily give up your privacy when you give your information to third parties. It's not really true because there's not another option. When I tried to find, for instance, an email service that I could pay for that would be privacy-protecting, I couldn't find one, right? So we don't-- there's not actually a real market choice that we can make in many of these situations.

BILL MOYERS: You said you did not dislike Google, even though you said goodbye to Google. And you acknowledged that Google had tried to do right things about transparency. But still, you cut the bond.

JULIA ANGWIN: Well, yes. I mean, the thing is, Google's operating under these outdated laws that require them to hand over my Gmail in a situation where the post office would not have to hand over my actual mail. So the laws are not stacked in their favor. So they do what they can to protect their users. But they have the most data. They have the greatest data.

They had, I think, about 24,000 email conversations that I'd had ever since I opened my account in 2006. They also had stored every search I'd done, which was 26,000 a month.

BILL MOYERS: As a journalist, you're looking often for research in a story--

JULIA ANGWIN: Yeah, right, this is my job. I sit there and Google--

BILL MOYERS: So they know what you're covering if they wanted to--

JULIA ANGWIN: Yes, right. If anyone wants information about me from the government, that's going to be their first stop. And so it seemed to me that it was just not a good idea to put all of my data in one place, right? I had Google Docs, I had Gmail, I had Google Maps, I had an Android phone. I mean, I don't think there was a part of my life that they didn't have on their server somewhere.

BILL MOYERS: What does it mean that most of us cannot escape the dragnet and yet at the same time, we're uncomfortable knowing the dragnet's there even if we don't know what it is seducing from us. How do we live in such a world?

JULIA ANGWIN: I think that is where we need some assurances, right? If there's going to be a world of pervasive dragnets, which is essentially where we live right now, in order for it to not end up with a very repressive, scared society where we're afraid of how our data will be used against us, we have to have some assurances.

And if those assurances are you can see your data, you can get it back, you can take it down if you don't want it there, unless it's something that is, you know, criminals shouldn't be able to remove their criminal record. But, you know, within reason, there could be some deletion rights. Or maybe we could have some laws that said, "You know what, if you use data for these things to deny employment or insurance in these ways, then it's against the law." So if we had those kind of safeguards, we might feel better about the dragnets. But the problem is right now we don't have any of those safeguards.

BILL MOYERS: I was impressed to hear that one of the reasons for your attempt to opt out is because you wanted to protect your sources. JULIA ANGWIN: Well, it's a terrible situation for journalists, right? Because it's so hard to tell people, "Trust me with your secrets and important things that the public needs to know. And I promise not to reveal your identity." Because that promise can't be made. In a world of total surveillance, every single call or email or even if you meet in person, your phones will have appeared near each other in some location database, there's no way to really say to somebody, "There's no way that we can't be linked."

Unless you go completely old-school and somehow try to do the flower pot thing that they did for Watergate where they moved the flower pot and met in garages. Maybe that would have worked in today's world. But it's a very difficult situation. And I think that journalists are the canary in the coal mine, right? We're the first ones to seriously feel the impact of total surveillance. Which means we can't protect our sources. But what happens next? What happens next is we don't have very good stories and we're not good watch dogs for democracy. And that's a very worrisome situation.

BILL MOYERS: Are you hopeful that we can come to grips with this new phenomenon, with this state and corporate creature that hovers above us all the time?

JULIA ANGWIN: I am hopeful. And the reason is because I actually really love technology. I want all the benefits. I want my phone. I love the power of the internet to connect me with people and ideas from around the world. So I am possibly irrationally optimistic that I can keep all of that. I do think if we could minimize the risk and put some legal contours around it, which is maybe that you have some right to see your data, that you have some right to challenge it if it's used against you, those kind of measures I think would provide me the assurances. And I think that's something we could achieve in this country.

BILL MOYERS: Before my viewers read your book, what's your advice for them?

JULIA ANGWIN: Change your passwords. Okay?

BILL MOYERS: Change your passwords?

JULIA ANGWIN: The most common password is 123456. And there is so much hacking going on out there right now that you're leaving yourself exposed. So if you do one thing in your life to protect your privacy, change it to something long, like 30 characters. Pick some words from the dictionary randomly, string them all together, and do that.

BILL MOYERS: What a world.

JULIA ANGWIN: I know. It is a ridiculous world that we live in.

BILL MOYERS: But this is a marvelous guidebook through it. “Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.” Julia Angwin, thanks for being with me.

JULIA ANGWIN: It was great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: President Obama has asked his special advisor John Podesta to investigate the dangers of big data invading our privacy, and 68 percent of Americans say our current laws are too weak to help. So more than a year ago, before any of us had even heard of Edward Snowden, the President proposed a “consumer privacy bill of rights.” Congress, of course, has done nothing. But you can– go to our website BillMoyers.com to find out more. I’ll see you there, and I’ll see you here, next time.

Producer: Gail Ablow. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The Christian Right's "Religious Freedom" Wants to Elevate Beliefs Above Human Rights - and It's Working

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 12:06 By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet | News Analysis


Secular Americans and many liberal people of faith have been horrified by the Right’s most recent ploy: “religious freedom” claims that would give conservative business owners license to discriminate. Until Arizona made the national spotlight, the need for lunch counter sit-ins had seemed like a thing of the past. But in reality, advocates for religious privilege have been circling toward this point for some time.

As a legal and political tactic, Tea Party politicians and conservative church leaders have high hopes for their “religious freedom” push. What they want broadly is a set of cultural and legal agreements that elevate religious beliefs above human rights laws and civic obligations. They hope that securing sacrosanct religious rights for individuals and institutions will let them roll back rights for queers and women. They further hope that playing the religious freedom card will guarantee them access to government contracts and let them proselytize on the public dime.

Here’s the thing: for decades now, this strategy has been working.

To understand what’s going on requires a detour through American history. From the days of the pilgrims onward, the American colonies wrestled with tensions between religious freedom and the responsibilities of civil society. Finding the right balance has never been easy.

America’s founding fathers were deeply aware of the human temptation to impose our beliefs on others. Puritans fled to America because the Anglican Church said, essentially, our way or the highway. But then the Puritans turned around and did the same thing to religious minorities. Puritan persecution of Quakers was familiar colonial history when the Constitution was written. Thomas Paine said, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.” After emigrating to get away from this sort of persecution, many colonists sought to live according to the dictates of their own conscience.

And yet, America’s founding fathers were aware that the young nation could not function without agreements that to some extent acted as limits on individual freedom, including the free exercise of religion. Religious freedom questions are complicated in the way tolerance is complicated: How tolerant should we be of intolerance? What if one person’s religion dictates that he should impose his beliefs on others who may have conflicting spiritual priorities? What if religious claims or entitlements undermine public safety, public health, or national security? Religious freedom had to be balanced against other parts of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It also has to be balanced against the demands of a coherent civil society.

During the past two hundred years of American history, this balancing act has become more and more complex. Americans are more multicultural than ever, including religious diversity. The concept of universal human rights has emerged in direct contradiction of traditional Christian teachings that give women, children, and non-believers second-class status. The question of who is fully a person with equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has expanded from white male citizen landowners to include the indentured poor, slaves, Indians, women, children, foreigners, and gays.

Since religious individuals and groups have long been excused from some regulations and public duties, believers sometimes seek religious exemptions from the evolving demands of civil society, even when these demands are rooted in universal spiritual values like compassion and justice. Dogma may dictate a set of social priorities or it may provide a righteous excuse, but either way, religious doctrines and conscience claims often find their way into the debate about social change.

For example, in the lead-up to the Civil War, as pressure mounted to end the slave trade, American Christians found themselves deeply divided on the issue. Some argued for emancipation, others for slavery. The arguments against slavery seem obvious to us now, but more surprising are the sincere Christian arguments in favor of slavery. Here are a few, drawn from a longer list at Christianity Today:

Abraham, the “father of faith,” and all the patriarchs held slaves without God’s disapproval (Gen. 21:9–10).

The Ten Commandments mention slavery twice, showing God’s implicit acceptance of it (Ex. 20:10, 17).

Slavery was widespread throughout the Roman world, and yet Jesus never spoke against it.

The apostle Paul specifically commanded slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5–8).

Paul returned a runaway slave, Philemon, to his master (Philem. 12).

Just as women are called to play a subordinate role (Eph. 5:22; 1 Tim. 2:11–15), so slaves are stationed by God in their place.

Those who support abolition are, in James H. Thornwell’s words, “atheists, socialists, communists [and] red republicans.”

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

It wasn’t just that slave holding was morally permissible. Many saw it as a pro-active Christian virtue. Slavery rescued people from cultures in which they practiced devil worship and witchcraft. It brought them to a place where they were taught the gospel and the trappings of civilization. Such arguments may be wildly offensive to us now, but in the end, the secular authority of the American government had to decide whether universal human rights or these deeply held religious beliefs would take precedence.

Jump ahead a century to the 1970s. Christians once again are torn, this time by questions about women and pregnancy. Some clergy favor thoughtful, responsible childbearing empowered by contraception and safe abortion. Others emphasize humility and compassion, saying that a woman herself must decide when to bring a child into the world. Still others believe sincerely that if God wants women to have fewer babies he will make that decision himself. In this view contraception is an act of spiritual defiance, and abortion ejects a human soul.

In 1973, shortly after Roe v. Wade, a piece of legislation called the Church amendment gave medical institutions the right to opt out of providing abortions and sterilizations, while still competing on even footing for public health funds. Since the 1970s, states and the federal government have enacted a series of laws that let medical practitioners refuse to participate in procedures they find morally offensive. With the rise of the Religious Right and the anti-abortion movement, religious claims have blossomed.

Two landmark pieces of federal legislation greatly expanded religious exemption and entitlement claims. The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act restricted government entities from limiting religious freedom without a compelling societal reason and required that any restrictions minimize intrusion. The 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) limited the right of government to constrain religious land use through zoning, historic preservation laws, and so forth. RFRA ultimately was declared unconstitutional because of the impact on state’s rights. Justice John Paul Stevens stated that it created a privileged status for religion over irreligion. Nevertheless, it has spawned an array of similar laws in the states.

Religious privileges typically fall into two categories:

1) Individual religious believers and groups want to be exempt from laws and responsibilities that otherwise apply to everyone. Here are some recent examples. A religious pharmacist refuses to fill offending prescriptions.

An evangelical florist refuses to fill an order for flowers for a gay wedding.

Catholic colleges claim employees shouldn’t be allowed to join unions.

A Methodist church fights for exemption from land use laws.

A Christian prison guard denies Plan B to a raped prisoner, claiming (mistakenly) that it is an abortifacient.

Private adoption agencies win the right to shun gay prospective parents.

Catholic medical staff deny care and information to a woman who is miscarrying.

2) Religious groups demand access to public contracts, services and facilities, even if they use those public assets to advance religious teachings or priorities. Some recent examples:

Christian groups lobby for voucher programs that divert public funds into parochial education.

Child Evangelism Fellowship sues and wins the right to hold religious recruiting activities called Good News Clubs on public grade school campuses.

Evangelical and Pentecostal “endorsing agencies” use military chaplaincies as paid public missionaries.

A multi-national organization with an evangelical mission, World Vision, simultaneously obtains aid contracts and exemption from employment antidiscrimination laws.

Catholic healthcare corporations impose Bishop rules against abortion and aid-in-dying in publically licensed and tax subsidized facilities under their administration.

Religious advocates in the U.S. Senate propose FEMA disaster funding to rebuild houses of worship, even though religious institutions do not pay into the insurance fund.

A Jewish yeshiva seeks millions in higher education grants to pay for male-only Talmudic studies.

The next couple of months may see conscience creep hit a whole new level, depending on the outcome of two Supreme Court cases that mix religious freedom with corporate personhood. The cases before the court, Conestoga and Hobby Lobby, were brought by for-profit corporations with religious owners who want to be exempt from obligations of the Affordable Care Act. They claim that any health insurance that lets a woman choose pregnancy prevention violates the religious freedom of the owners and the company itself, even if it costs them nothing.

On the other side of the equation, the health and economic consequences of contraception are so enormous that the United Nations has declared access to family planning a universal human right. In other words, the cases before the Supreme Court pit religious freedom against human rights in no uncertain terms.

Can a business use religious freedom claims to get out of laws and civic responsibilities that otherwise apply to everyone? Better yet, as analyst Tom Goldstein asked it, “Do companies, not just people and churches, have religious freedom?” The Constitutional Accountability Center and Free Speech for People have weighed in with amicus briefs against the fusion of corporate and religious privilege, but the outcome is far from clear.

A decision that sides with the business owners would echo the Citizens United decision, expanding corporate personhood. It would also bring new energy and opportunity to the Right’s religious freedom strategy.

In Arizona’s recent battle, equality prevailed largely because corporations got involved on the side of civil rights. In Washington D.C, the money will be on the other side of the equation. So will the religious makeup of the Court itself, which is majority Catholic and conservative. Even so, the justices may return to the arguments made by Justice Anthony Kennedy (supported by Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas), when the court overturned RFRA back in 1997:

Its sweeping coverage ensures its intrusion at every level of government, displacing laws and prohibiting official actions of almost every description and regardless of subject matter. … Any law is subject to challenge at any time by any individual who claims a substantial burden on his or her free exercise of religion. Such a claim will often be difficult to contest. … All told, RFRA is a considerable congressional intrusion into the States' traditional prerogatives and general authority to regulate for the health and welfare of their citizens.

In this view, if religious freedom is the trump card proponents hope it is, it becomes a threat not only to the health and welfare of America’s citizens but to our democracy itself. Let’s hope members of the Court will remember their own words of warning.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.