Category Archives: Foreign Policy

How the Bradley Manning trial might become a tool to get NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden

[See update at bottom]

The closing arguments are over and the Bradley Manning case is in the hands of a military judge .  At the same time, Edward Snowden is holed up in Russia seeking asylum on the grounds that whistle blowers cannot receive justice in the U.S., a claim largely confirmed by the rabid mistreatment of Bradley Manning (and others before him) by the U.S. Department of Justice.

For most observers, Manning’s fate is a foregone conclusion.  He will not be declared innocent because such a verdict does not suit the government’s purpose which is to make an example of him to discourage further revelations, by others, of highly embarrassing information about the government’s abuse of power.

But, the Manning trial also presents an interesting opportunity.  While it’s the government’s three-year long abuse of Manning’s person and rights that provides clear justification for Snowden’s request for asylum in Russia, a tempered judgement followed by a light sentence for Manning could partly neutralize that justification in the eyes of many.

Governments rarely do anything for humanitarian reasons and it’s doubtful that any country offering Snowden asylum is doing so out of concern for Snowden or for human rights in general.  They are doing it because they see a benefit for themselves that exceeds the cost.   Snowden is a great propaganda opportunity for other governments to give the U.S. a taste of its own medicine, but that only works if the U.S. continues to reinforce its image as a bully toward those who would expose the truth.

Manning is old news.  Most people don’t even know his trial is going on (largely because of the blackout by establishment news organizations presumably in cooperation with government).  But Snowden has become a folk hero with a near unlimited capacity to be a perpetual embarrassment to many western governments by exposing the fact that the bulk of their surveillance efforts have little to do with terrorism and much to do with maintaining control over their own domestic populations.

It’s a no-brainer that lenient treatment of Manning could help the government advance the argument that the U.S., while far from welcoming whistle blowers, does not summarily execute them or lock them up for life.  It might not only help their case for extradition of Snowden, it might also help them to get their hands on someone else who has successfully thrown the world’s only superpower into a desperate panic: Jullian Assange.

One thing is a certainty.  The U.S. will stop at nothing to get their hands on Snowden.  It is not bound by any legal or ethical constraints, it has no respect for the sovereignty of other nations or for international law, and it certainly doesn’t hold the moral high ground.  If Manning’s verdict and sentencing reflects leniency, it is probably part of a bigger plan.  The government’s obsession with getting Snowden shows their desperation.  And far from losing the war, Snowden is actually gaining support as more people become aligned with the notion that the government really has abused its powers, thereby giving credibility to Snowden’s contention that he is actually doing a service for the country rather than trying to damage it.  That is the last thing the U.S. government wants to see.

[UPDATE 7/31/13]

Washington will use Manning’s verdict to persuade the world community to extradite other whistleblowers back to the US, since the leaker was acquitted of the capital offense of aiding the enemy, former UK MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.

A Few Friday Links

  • The New York Times blames republicans for abuses of power by intelligence agencies under the Obama administration.  Ten of the FISA courts judges were appointed by republican presidents.
  • Congress is going to invite some NSA critics to testify. If the government weren’t so busy hunting, prosecuting, and persecuting them, they’d invite a few critics with real first hand knowledge to testify. Like say, William Binney, Russell Tice, Daniel Ellsberg, Babak Pasdar, Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, Jullian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden.  One thing is certain. No one with a brain will ever be able to seriously accuse Congress of being on a relentless search for the truth.
  • Justice Secretary Eric Holder to Russia:  We promise not to torture or kill Snowden, so please turn him over to us.  One more non-extraordinary measure to get their hands on Snowden.

 

 

Snowden, the NSA, and the end of freedom

Just a couple observations regarding all this NSA stuff.

First of all, the main argument the government is using to justify vacuuming up massive amounts of personal communications is that they are only targeting communications where one party is a foreign national outside the country.  Oh, really?  Can someone please explain why I suddenly lose my 4th Amendment rights by simply talking to a citizen of another country?  For that matter, who in government made the decision that the ordinary citizens of other countries have no right to privacy?

If Snowden were a Russian spy, Russia would be protecting him.  If he were a Chinese spy, China would be protecting him.  But Snowden chose to spy for the American people and they don’t even care enough to stand up for him.  They’re more interested in what Justin Bieber is saying about Bill Clinton.

The reason European countries are not responding with anything beyond lip service to the revelations of NSA spying on its European allies is because they are all engaged in the same practice of domestic spying.  While intelligence agencies agencies may face legal restriction on domestic spying, they can circumvent those restrictions when the data is collected by an intelligence agency of a partnering country.  The last thing those countries want is for that capability to be exposed or interfered with.  So, you can be sure that Europe does not see Snowden as someone worthy of protection.

Ever since Obama proclaimed that the U.S. will not take extraordinary measures to capture or kill Snowden, he has indeed been taking extraordinary measures.  Of course, like most of Obama’s abuse of power, it is being done in secret, so we only see the clumsy outcomes after the fact.  Sending his VP to intimidate Ecuador’s president not to take Snowden was an extraordinary measure.  Telling European countries that the Bolivian President was smuggling Snowden out of Russia, ultimately leading to the forced landing the Bolivian President’s plane is an extraordinary measure.  Later today, in yet another extraordinary measure, President Obama will talk directly with Putin by phone about Snowden.  And those are only the ones we know about.  The point here is that Obama lies, as do his lackeys.

Let us understand that the war on terrorism is not a justification to spy on Americans.  It’s an excuse to spy on Americans.  Just like government is the biggest threat to liberty, an actively engaged citizenry is the biggest threat to government power.  Permitting government easy access to all domestic communications, makes effective activism virtually impossible because it subjects everyone to the potential for blackmail, a practice that the U.S. government has a history of engaging in.  It allows government advanced notice of activist activities or gatherings so as to be able to engage in countermeasures.

If the U.S. government were really interested in fighting terrorism, they wouldn’t be looking for ways to spy on American citizens.  They would target the root cause of terrorism which stems from perpetual U.S. military and espionage activities directed at other countries.  Since WWII ended, the U.S. government has conducted 29 regime change actions throughout the world.  It’s no coincidence that our government’s repeated targeting of middle eastern countries for these operations has sown powerful resentments in Muslim cultures.  The U.S. has developed a history of perpetuating corrupt despotic governments and helped to bring down legitimate democratically elected heads of state.  Terrorists don’t “hate us for our freedom”.  They attack us because they have been on the receiving end of our aggression and interference for decades.  What is surprising is not that they are retaliating.  What’s surprising is that they waited this long.  Terrorist attacks against the U.S. will continue to be a fact of life as long as the U.S. continues to engage in its own brand of terrorism around the world.  In maintaining our aggression against these countries, terrorists will continue to target the U.S. and they will eventually acquire the capacity to inflict mass casualties.  The only hope we have of avoiding that inevitability is to stop being their enemy, a strategy that neither democrats nor the republicans are willing to pursue.  Why should they, when terrorism provides them an excuse to grow their own governmental power?

How they handle security risks in Israel

There is a story making the rounds about a second secret prisoner being held by security services in Israel.  In an earlier case a Mosad agent, accused of betraying the state and referred to only as Prisoner X, was secretly held for some ten months in a “suicide proof” cell before he mysteriously committed suicide, at least according to a government investigation.  When Knesset Member (MK) Zehava Gal-On asked about Prsoner X, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told her that “there are no anonymous prisoners in Israel.”

The new prisoner, also assumed to be a member of the Mosad, revealed by the former attorney for Prisoner X, is being referred to as prisoner X2 and the accusations against him are supposedly far more sensational.

“The revelation that there is another secret prisoner is serious and worrying,” Gal-On wrote on Facebook. “In a democracy, there cannot be secret prisoners, with no outside supervision of where and under what conditions they are held.”

“Even worse,” she added, “in a democracy, ministers do not lie to the Knesset and the public.”

She sounds a little naive.  And, if there are two secret prisoners, the question arises as to whether there are even more.

“The thought that additional soldiers are being held in such conditions is frightening and disturbing. Only the State Comptroller has the tools to investigate,” [MK Nachman Shai] stated.

According to MK Issawi Frej (Meretz), “we are on the fast track to becoming a dark police state.”

This story caught my attention because of the obvious parallel’s with the U.S.- operated black sites.  Welcome to the new style of Western Democracy as practiced by the U.S. and their buddy, Israel, where due process is an annoyance to be avoided at all costs and where secrecy permits the routine abuse of power.

Richard Silverstein, an American blogger who writes on Israeli security and political issues, provides more coverage of the secret Israeli prisons on his blog.

NSA director promises more details on surveillance

From the New York Times:

“We have pledged to be as transparent as possible,” he said after emerging from a classified briefing with House members. “I think it’s important that you have that information. But we don’t want to risk American lives in doing that. So what we’re being is very deliberate in this process so that we don’t end up causing a terrorist attack by giving out too much information.”

I think the director of the NSA is a little confused.  Providing details on NSA surveillance of Americans does not cause terrorist attacks.  I’m no expert, but my guess is that the terrorist threat stems more from our military involvement in a number of middle eastern countries, including a couple of invasions, multiple wars, trade sanctions (which themselves would constitute an act of war were they directed at any western country), support for despotic and corrupt governments, the stationing of huge numbers of troops there, and the continued killing of innocent people (including children) with drone attacks.  Apparently Muslims have a very low tolerance for that kind of thing and it makes them want to retaliate.

But, repeatedly telling people that the truth constitutes a security risk while all of the above makes us safer may just be a big enough lie that most people will believe it.

As Joseph Goebbels used to say…

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The NSA claims it only spies on foreigners. And those foreigners are pissed.

In order to defuse the huge embarrassment caused by the recent leaks about the NSA Prism program by Edward Snowden, President Obama assured Americans that the NSA’s massive communications dragnet targets only those in other countries, not U.S. citizens.  While that might sooth the concerns of most Americans, it’s of little comfort to the citizens of other countries, many of whom tend to think of the U.S. as an ally sharing similar values on things like, say, communications privacy.

From Reuters:

[R]evelations of a huge, secret U.S. Internet spying program have raised awkward questions for allies, forced to explain whether they let Washington spy on their citizens or benefited from snooping that would be illegal at home.

U.S. law puts limits on the government’s authority to snoop at home but virtually no restrictions on American spies eavesdropping on the communications of foreigners, including in allied countries with which Washington shares intelligence. That means Washington could provide friendly governments with virtually unlimited information about their own citizens’ private communication on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, this story has made enough of an international splash to cause some citizens of those other countries to have second thoughts about allowing their own governments more power to invade their privacy.

Is it possible to actually record and store that much communications data?  Apparently the answer is yes.

Former NSA employees Thomas Drake and Bill Binney told SPIEGEL in March that the facility would soon store personal data on people from all over the world and keep it for decades. This includes emails, Skype conversations, Google searches, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, bank transfers — electronic data of every kind.

Binney, a mathematician who was previously an influential analyst at the NSA, calculates that the servers are large enough to store the entirety of humanity’s electronic communications for the next 100 years — and that, of course, gives his former colleagues plenty of opportunity to read along and listen in.

Despite the role of instant communications in the various uprisings throughout the Arab world, most western people aren’t aware of the threat to all governments posed by today’s access to mass communications.  Cell phones and the internet provide the means for an unhappy populace to organize an almost instant insurrection.  A revolution that would take weeks and months to build in the past can accelerate in hours given the right trigger event.   It’s not a matter of “if”.  It’s a matter of “when”.

The CIA often doesn’t know who their drones are killing, but they are certain about them being enemy combatants

NBC News has received classified documents that apparently show that one in four of those killed in drone attacks are not necessarily affiliated with any enemy group.   Apparently, they are classified as “other militants” based solely on the fact that they were killed by U.S. drone attacks.  This harkens back to the days of the Vietnam war when the U.S. gauged its success by the number of Vietnamese they killed, classifying them all as enemy simply on the basis of having killed them.

Though the Obama administration has previously said it targets al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban officials plotting attacks against the U.S. and U.S. troops, officials are sometimes unsure of the targets’ affiliations. About half of the targets in the documents are described as al Qaeda. But in 26 of the attacks, accounting for about a quarter of the fatalities, those killed are described only as “other militants.” In four others, the dead are described as “foreign fighters.”

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.

Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none of them were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaeda leader.

Given that teh U.S. is not exactly at war with Pakistan, one would think that the CIA would be a little more careful about indiscriminate killing.  Of course, if the mission is to perpetuate the war on terror by creating as much ill will toward the U.S. as possible, then the CIA is doing a commendable job.  The beneficiaries of perpetual war are probably quite pleased.

According to the NYT article there are two kinds of drone attacks.  “Personality” strikes target known targets. “Signature” strikes are different:

In so-called “signature” strikes, intelligence officers and drone operators kill suspects based on their patterns of behavior — but without positive identification. With signature strikes, the CIA doesn’t necessarily know who it is killing. One former senior intelligence official said that at the height of the drone program in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, as many as half of the strikes were classified as signature strikes.

The war on terror = perpetual war

Glenn Greenwald discusses the administration position that the war on terror is expect to continue for and, in terms of importance, why that should be teh lead story in the news instead of the Benghazi, IRS, or DOJ/AP scandals.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war – justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism – that is the single greatest cause of that threat.

He makes a good point.  Attacks on the U.S. by foreign terror organizations have universally been in response to perpetual Western (especially U.S.) interference in the affairs of middle eastern countries.  The U.S. then uses that as an excuse to further ramp up and broaden that interference which leads to broader foreign support for the very terrorist organizations we claim to be fighting.  Contrary to the common belief that wars happen to the U.S., the real fact of the matter is that the U.S. pursues war.

Greenwald continues:

…the “war on terror” cannot and will not end on its own for two reasons: (1) it is designed by its very terms to be permanent, incapable of ending, since the war itself ironically ensures that there will never come a time when people stop wanting to bring violence back to the US (the operational definition of “terrorism”), and (2) the nation’s most powerful political and economic factions reap a bonanza of benefits from its phentermine continuation. Whatever else is true, it is now beyond doubt that ending this war is the last thing on the mind of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner and those who work at the highest levels of his administration. Is there any way they can make that clearer beyond declaring that it will continue for “at least” another 10-20 years?

If the past is any measure, public opposition to war is only roused by flag-draped caskets of American soldiers, the institution of the draft, and burdens that bring the actual cost of war directly to their front to in a highly visible way.  Neither political party is against war.  Blind patriotism is becoming just as widely embraced by the left as the right.

Another factor affecting the public reaction to the permanent war on terror is the stunning lack of understanding of (or interest in ) how U.S. military activities in the Middle East provoke a terrorist response.  Furthermore, Americans think that terrorism violates the ethics of war, so it’s easy to demonize the terrorists who are simply retaliating with the only methods that make sense against an opponent that could easily crush them in a conventional conflict.

The U.S. is engaged in a global war with objectives that have never been defined  against an enemy that is perpetually being redefined and with no idea what constitutes winning or losing or how to know when it’s over.  If war is the health of the state, then this state has truly arrived.

Guantánamo vs. drone strikes

Obama is seen as being a great humanitarian with his rhetoric about closing the Guantánamo prison camp.  Is that really true?  An suggests that, rather than contradict his public stand on Guantánamo by sending more accused enemy combatants there, he is instead just opting to kill them with drone strikes.

Obama’s apparent concerns about civil liberties don’t seem that sincere considering that the total number of detainees taken to Guantánamo is a mere 780 compared to the 2000-3000 people killed in U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan alone, many of them women and children.  Prisoners can be released.  Death is permanent.

It’s not hard to imagine that democrats would have their panties in a wad if a republican president were conducting that many drone attacks, but their voices get strangely quiet when it’s their guy doing it.  Such stunningly transparent hypocrisy is one reason why I could never be a republican or democrat even if I agreed with them.

 

The Biggest Source of Corruption in Afghanistan

According to a Sunday New Your Times article, The C.I.A. has been delivering bags of cash to the office of Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.  They call it “Ghost Money”.

From the article:

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

The article points out that the Iranians were also dumping cash on them, a fact that attracted the ire of American officials.  How dare the Iranians try to buy influence with bags of cash!

Like the Iranian cash, much of the C.I.A.’s money goes to paying off warlords and politicians, many of whom have ties to the drug trade and, in some cases, the Taliban. The result, American and Afghan officials said, is that the agency has greased the wheels of the same patronage networks that American diplomats and law enforcement agents have struggled unsuccessfully to dismantle, leaving the government in the grips of what are basically organized crime syndicates.

Your tax dollars at work.  It seems like the capture and killing of bin Laden has washed away decades of history wherein the C.I.A. was one of the most hated “intelligence” agencies on the planet, at least in the eyes of the American public.