OHM 2013 — The Joy of Geeks

ohm2013_logoHome and recovered from the rigours of the amaz­ing geek­fest, OHM 2013.

This was a 5‑day fest­iv­al in the Neth­er­lands where 3000 geeks, act­iv­ists and whis­tleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights.  And this crowd, out of all act­iv­ist groups, has a fight­ing chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increas­ingly politi­cised after all the recent assaults on the inter­net and wider freedoms.

These include all the anti-pir­acy meas­ures (inter­est­ingly, Rus­sia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-pir­acy legis­la­tion, and the Rus­si­an pir­ates are going to form a Pir­ate Church, as this will give them spe­cial pro­tec­tions and rights under the law). It also includes all the invi­di­ous inter­na­tion­al agree­ments that the US and its Euro-vas­sals are try­ing to force down the throats of reluct­ant pop­u­la­tions: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-free­dom alpha­bet soup out there in addi­tion to the spook acronyms.

Not to men­tion all the illeg­al US take-downs of legit­im­ate busi­ness web­sites, such as Megaup­load, and the pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance powers of the NSA and its glob­al intel­li­gence bud­dies, long sus­pec­ted by many and now proven by the dis­clos­ures of the cour­ageous Edward Snowden.

So it was lovely to see at OHM an increas­ing politi­cisa­tion. This was partly because of all the above recent hor­rors, but also because the OHM organ­isers had pulled togeth­er a strong polit­ic­al and whis­tleblow­ing speak­er track. The attack against digit­al civil liber­ties is inex­tric­ably linked to and reflect­ive of the full-front­al attack on our his­tor­ic real-world freedoms:  endem­ic sur­veil­lance, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, CIA kill lists, illeg­al wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many oth­er encroach­ing hor­rors that I have writ­ten about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.

sinking_shipIn my view our West­ern demo­cra­cies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our viol­ent, inter­ven­tion­ist attempts to bring “demo­cracy” to the devel­op­ing world are derided as hypo­crit­ic­al at best, and viol­ently res­isted at worst.

The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” war­fare — be it the illeg­al aggress­ive attacks of such US/Israeli vir­uses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roam­ing free in the wild and mutat­ing), or the slower wars of attri­tion against “pir­ates”, hack­ers, Wikileaks, and the grow­ing war on whis­tleblowers such as Brad­ley Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

Well, geeks are the new res­ist­ance and they have a fight­ing chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.

SAMSUNGThis was my exper­i­ence of OHM. Three thou­sand of the best and the bright­est from around the world gathered togeth­er not just to have fun play­ing with bleed­ing-edge tech, hack­ing and build­ing toys, and cre­at­ing slightly sur­real, if beloved, hov­er-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thou­sands to listen to and absorb the exper­i­ences of a num­ber of inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot top­ic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.

We whis­tleblowers had a fab­ulous time too. One is a “nat­ur­al-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in pris­on because he dared to dis­close prob­lems with his organ­isa­tion. His law­yer, gov­ern­ment law­yer-turned-whis­tleblower Jes­selyn Radack, also spoke of her exper­i­ences. Coleen Row­ley, the FBI whis­tleblower who exposed the intel­li­gence fail­ure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Per­son of the Year in 2002 also gave a fant­ast­ic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA ana­lyst and pres­id­en­tial “briefer”, Ray McGov­ern, gave the open­ing key­note speech, focus­ing on the need to speak out and pre­serve our rights. I fin­ished the quin­tet of whis­tleblowers and provided the Euro-per­spect­ive.

And of course the pat­ron saint of whis­tleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Juli­an Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Neth­er­lands four years ago, was unavoid­ably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.

OHM_Great_Spook_Panel_2013

Photo by Rein­oud van Leeuwen (http://​rein​oud​.van​.leeuwen​.net/)

The whis­tleblowers all came togeth­er for one of the big ses­sions of OHM — the “Great Spook Pan­el”, mod­er­ated by the indom­it­able Nick Farr. The pan­el was basic­ally a call to arms for the next gen­er­a­tion. This addressed the need to stand up to pro­tect our rights against all the egre­gious erosions that have occurred since 9/11.  The response was hugely enthu­si­ast­ic. I hope this goes glob­al, and the wider com­munity fol­lows up.

It cer­tainly did in one way. Ray McGov­ern announced the estab­lish­ment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the pan­el dis­cus­sion, and the dona­tions poured in for the rest of the event.

So a very suc­cess­ful fest­iv­al. How do I make that assess­ment? Well, on top of all the fun, vari­ety of talks and net­work­ing, the Dutch intel­li­gence ser­vice, the AIVD (an unfor­tu­nate-sound­ing name to most Eng­lish speak­ers), reques­ted a plat­form at the event after the Great Spook Pan­el was announced in the pro­gramme.

Such an act­ive and open response shows a degree of push-back against a per­ceived “threat”. No doubt the organ­isa­tion wanted to inject the estab­lish­ment anti-venom before the truth-tell­ers had their say. Any­way, on the grounds that most whis­tleblowers are gen­er­ally denied a main­stream media plat­form and/or are smeared, the AIVD was pro­hib­ited the stage.

Of course, the AIVD would have been very wel­come to buy a tick­et like nor­mal humans or pay the cor­por­ate rate to attend to show sup­port for the com­munity — its officers might have learned some­thing.…

Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting…

Also on the Huff­ing­ton Post UK, RT, The Real News Net­work, nsn­bc, and Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House:

Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, mis­rep­res­ent­a­tion and out­right hypo­crisy?

Last week the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence presen­ted this year’s award to Dr Tom Fin­gar at a cere­mony jointly hos­ted by the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety.

Thomas_FingarDr Fin­gar, cur­rently a vis­it­ing lec­turer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordin­ated the pro­duc­tion of the US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate — the com­bined ana­lys­is of all 16 of Amer­ica’s intel­li­gence agen­cies — which assessed that the Ira­ni­an nuc­le­ar weapon­isa­tion pro­gramme had ceased in 2003.  This con­sidered and author­it­at­ive Estim­ate dir­ectly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaf­firmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of provid­ing dis­pas­sion­ate and object­ive assess­ments and res­ist­ing any pres­sure to politi­cise the intel­li­gence (à la Down­ing Street Memo), Dr Fin­gar’s work is out­stand­ing and he is the win­ner of Sam Adams Award, 2012.  This may say some­thing about the par­lous state of our intel­li­gence agen­cies gen­er­ally, but don’t get me star­ted on that…

Any­way, as I said, the award cere­mony was co-hos­ted by the Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety last week, and many Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates atten­ded, often trav­el­ling long dis­tances to do so.  Former win­ners were asked to speak at the cere­mony, such as FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray.  Oth­er asso­ci­ates, includ­ing CIA Ray McGov­ern, dip­lo­mats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words.  As former insiders and whis­tleblowers, we recog­nised the vitally import­ant work that Dr Fin­gar had done and all spoke about the import­ance of integ­rity in intel­li­gence.

One oth­er pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Juli­an Assange of Wikileaks.  He spoke elo­quently about the need for integ­rity and was gra­cious in prais­ing the work of Dr Fin­gar.

All the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al media were invited to attend what was an his­tor­ic gath­er­ing of inter­na­tion­al whis­lteblowers and cov­er an award giv­en to someone who, by doing their job with integ­rity, pre­ven­ted yet fur­ther ruin­ous war and blood­shed in the Middle East.

Few atten­ded, still few­er repor­ted on the event, and the prom­ised live stream­ing on You­tube was blocked by shad­owy powers at the very last minute — an irony con­sid­er­ing the Oxford Uni­on is renowned as a free speech soci­ety.

But worse was to come.  The next day The Guard­i­an news­pa­per, which his­tor­ic­ally fell out with Wikileaks, pub­lished a myop­ic hit-piece about the event. No men­tion of all the whis­tleblowers who atten­ded and what they said, no men­tion of the award to Dr Fin­gar, no men­tion of the fact that his work saved the Ira­ni­an people from need­less war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the taw­dry alleg­a­tions eman­at­ing from Sweden about Juli­an Assange’s extra­di­tion case.  Dis­count­ing the 450 stu­dents who applauded all the speeches, dis­count­ing all the ser­i­ous points raised by Juli­an Assange dur­ing his present­a­tion, and dis­count­ing the speeches of all the oth­er inter­na­tion­ally renowned whis­tleblowers present that even­ing, The Guard­i­an’s report­er, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo out­side the event and the only three attendees she could appar­ently find to cri­ti­cise the fact that a plat­form, any plat­form, had been giv­en to Assange from his polit­ic­al asylum at the Ecuadori­an Embassy.

Amelia_HillSo this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypo­crisy of the even­ing.  Amelia Hill is, I’m assum­ing,  the same Guard­i­an journ­al­ist who was threatened in 2011 with pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  She had allegedly been receiv­ing leaks from the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police about the on-going invest­ig­a­tion into the News of the World phone-hack­ing scan­dal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with pro­sec­u­tion under the OSA for expos­ing insti­tu­tion­al cor­rup­tion? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more con­sist­ently robust in con­demning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of inform­a­tion and pro­tect all the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, and not just come out fight­ing when it is one of their own being threatened.  Such is the way of the world.…

But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same report­er who was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion in 2011 under the OSA — exam­ine your con­science.

How can you write a hit-piece focus­ing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a pub­lish­ing sys­tem to pro­tect poten­tial whis­tleblowers from pre­cisely such dra­coni­an secrecy laws as you were hyper­bol­ic­ally threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, air­brush out of his­tory the testi­mony of so many whis­tleblowers gathered togeth­er, many of whom have indeed been arres­ted and have faced pro­sec­u­tion under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legis­la­tion?

Have you no shame?  You know how fright­en­ing it is to be faced with such a pro­sec­u­tion.

Your hypo­crisy is breath-tak­ing.

The offence was com­poun­ded when the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates all wrote a let­ter to The Guard­i­an to set the record straight. The ori­gin­al let­ter is repro­duced below, and this is what was pub­lished.  Of course, The Guard­i­an has a per­fect right under its Terms and Con­di­tions to edit the let­ter, but I would like every­one to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media won­ders why they are in decline?

Let­ter to The Guard­i­an, 29 Janu­ary 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 Janu­ary art­icle in The Guard­i­an entitled “Juli­an Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Quer­ies in Oxford Uni­ver­sity Talk,” we ques­tion wheth­er the news­pa­per­’s report­er was actu­ally present at the event, since the account con­tains so many false and mis­lead­ing state­ments.

If The Guard­i­an could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence of the packed Oxford Uni­on Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence.

Many in our group — which, you might be inter­ested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Uni­on — had traveled con­sid­er­able dis­tances at our own expense to con­fer the 10th annu­al Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fin­gar for his work on over­see­ing the 2007 Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate that revealed the lack of an Ira­ni­an nuc­le­ar weapon­iz­a­tion pro­gram.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integ­rity in intel­li­gence, describ­ing the ter­rible eth­ic­al dilemma that con­fronts gov­ern­ment employ­ees who wit­ness illeg­al activ­ity includ­ing ser­i­ous threats to pub­lic safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was sup­posed to pass for a news art­icle; neither did any aspect of the accept­ance speech delivered by Dr. Fin­gar. Also, why did The Guard­i­an fail to provide even one sali­ent quote from Mr Assange’s sub­stan­tial twenty-minute address?

By cen­sor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates and the speeches by Dr. Fin­gar and Mr. Assange, and by focus­ing exclus­ively on taw­dry and unproven alleg­a­tions against Mr. Assange, rather than on the import­ance of expos­ing war crimes and main­tain­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence pro­cesses, The Guard­i­an has suc­ceeded in dimin­ish­ing none but itself.

Sin­cerely,

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Col­on­el and For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), Ray McGov­ern (retired CIA ana­lyst), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (retired CIA ana­lyst), Coleen Row­ley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intel­li­gence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA offi­cial), Craig Mur­ray (former Brit­ish Ambas­sad­or), Dav­id MacMi­chael (retired CIA ana­lyst), Brady Kiesling (former For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advoc­ate, Guantanamo Defense Coun­sel).

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jord­ani­an-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in sev­en oth­er coun­tries for ter­ror­ist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­im­um secur­ity pris­ons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand tri­al in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­ani­an dip­lo­mat­ic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retri­al there might have been obtained using tor­ture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T‑PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without tri­al with­in the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this leg­al quag­mire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any oth­er sus­pec­ted crim­in­al: gath­er the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a tri­al in front of a jury, and work towards a con­vic­tion. 

How quaintly old-fash­ioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into pris­on for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish leg­al sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yes­ter­day’s Guard­i­an about the Abu Qatada rul­ing:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bench­er Domin­ic Raab echoed Blun­kett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can­’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­ani­an justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Juli­an Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair tri­al.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the leg­al terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”.  And, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ic­an justice sys­tem?

A secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­gin­ia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can­’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-break­ing new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter oth­ers.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-mar­tialed.  The gen­er­al assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly oth­er Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US tri­al of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extra­dited.

And on the oth­er hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in anoth­er coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extra­di­tion.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­tri­al and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treat­ment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the oth­er faces being sent to an ali­en coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a leg­al laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our gov­ern­ment.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­gin­al Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolu­tion? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.

Fascism 2012 — the ongoing merger of the corporate and the state

I’m gradu­ally com­ing to after a knock-out blow last Octo­ber — the unex­pec­ted death of my beloved and only broth­er, Rich.  Words can­not describe.

But look­ing for­ward to the delights that 2012 will no doubt offer: Juli­an Assange remains trapped in a leg­al spider­’s web, but all cred­it to Wikileaks — it keeps on provid­ing the goods.  

The recent pub­lic­a­tion of the Spy­Files should have been a massive wake-up call, as it it high­lighted the increas­ing use and abuse of mer­cen­ary spy tech — all without any effect­ive over­sight, as I recently wrote in my art­icle for the Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism

Need­less to say, the issue of massive com­mer­cial sur­veil­lance cap­ab­il­it­ies usu­ally remains con­fined to a niche media mar­ket, although the Daily Mail did rouse itself to report that shop­pers were being tracked via mobile phones as they con­sumed their way around malls.  Well, I sup­pose it’s a start.

With the growth of mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies in our minds, we should be even more con­cerned about the accel­er­ated shred­ding of our civil liber­ties, par­tic­u­larly in the US and UK.  Des­pite earli­er prom­ises that he would veto any such legis­la­tion, Pres­id­ent Obama signed into law the invi­di­ous NDAA on 31st Decem­ber.  This means that the US mil­it­ary is now empowered to seize and indef­in­itely detain, with no recourse to tra­di­tion­al due pro­cess, not only poten­tially all non-Amer­ic­ans across the plan­et à la the Guantanamo/extraordinary rendi­tion mod­el, but can now also do this to US cit­izens with­in their own coun­try.

Guantanamo_BayDes­pite the pas­sion­ate inter­net debate, the issue has unsur­pris­ingly been largely ignored by most of the main­stream cor­por­ate media.  But the pre­dom­in­antly US-based inter­net com­ment­ary dis­plays a breath­tak­ing hypo­crisy: yes, the NDAA is a ter­rible law with awful implic­a­tions for Amer­ic­an cit­izens.  How­ever, people around the world have been liv­ing with just this fear for a dec­ade, with whole com­munit­ies afraid of being snatched and dis­ap­peared into black CIA tor­ture facil­it­ies.   Where was the US out­rage then?  The Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem remains as rel­ev­ant today as when it was writ­ten 70 years ago.

That said a couple of brave voices have spoken out: Naomi Wolf recently described how the US legis­lat­ors could iron­ic­ally find them­selves on the receiv­ing end of this law, if we go by all his­tor­ic pre­ced­ents.  Paul Craig Roberts was on froth­ing good form too, inveigh­ing against the war crimes of the US mil­it­ary, the per­se­cu­tion of Wikileaks for expos­ing those very crimes, and the evolving total­it­ari­an­ism of our coun­tries.

SOPAIn a digit­al mir­ror of the NDAA, the enter­tain­ment industry and their pet lob­by­ists are suc­cess­fully ram­ming through the invi­di­ous SOPA law.   As acclaimed digit­al rights act­iv­ist and author, Cory Doc­torow, described in his key­note at the recent CCC geek­fest in Ber­lin, these ostens­ibly com­mer­cial laws are in effect a stalk­ing horse for gov­ern­ments to seize con­trol of the inter­net.  As he wrote in the Guard­i­an “you can­’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  

With this in the back of our minds, the Wikileaks Spy­Files rev­el­a­tions about the increas­ing glob­al­isa­tion and com­mer­cial­isa­tion of cor­por­ate spy tech­no­logy are even more alarm­ing.  The gov­ern­ment spy agen­cies work with little effect­ive over­sight, but the mer­cen­ar­ies have a com­pletely free leg­al rein.  Intriguingly, it appears that unlike our own gov­ern­ments Afgh­anistan is alive to this prob­lem and is reportedly boot­ing out for­eign con­tract­ors. 

Yet the bal­ance of power in cer­tain west­ern coun­tries is slid­ing over­whelm­ingly towards police states —  or, indeed, fas­cism, if you take into con­sid­er­a­tion Benito Mus­solin­i’s defin­i­tion: “the mer­ger of state and cor­por­ate power”.

Our line of defence is slender — organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks, one or two politi­cians of con­science, a few remain­ing real invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists and per­haps the odd whis­tleblower.  Bey­ond that, we must indi­vidu­ally get to grips with the threat, get informed, teched up, and pro­tect ourselves, as we can no longer rely on our gov­ern­ments to uphold our basic rights — you know, pri­vacy, free­dom of expres­sion, habeas cor­pus, and all those oth­er delight­fully old-fash­ioned ideas.

If we do not act soon, we may no longer be able to act at all in the near future.…  So I wish every­one an informed, pro­duct­ive and act­ive 2012!

 

 

Keynote at Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer School, 16 July 2011

CIJ_logo_summerschool

My next talk in the UK will be a key­note at the renowned CIJ sum­mer school on 16th July. One of the major themes this year is whis­tleblow­ing, for obvi­ous Wikileaks-related reas­ons, and it appears I shall be in good com­pany.

My talk is at 2pm on the Sat­urday.  I under­stand the key­notes are open to the pub­lic, not just sum­mer school attendees, so come along if you can and please spread the word!

Frontline Club/New Statesman (FCNS) whistleblower debate with Julian Assange

This house believes whis­tleblowers make the world a safer place.”

I was hon­oured to be asked to say a few words at the recent debate about the value of whis­tleblowers in Lon­don on 9th April 2011.

The Front­line Club and the left-wing New States­man magazine jointly hos­ted the event, which starred Juli­an Assange, edit­or in chief of Wikileaks.  Here is the debate in full:

 

 

Need­less to say, the oppos­i­tion had an uphill battle arguing not only against logic, the fair applic­a­tion of law, and the mean­ing of a vibrant and informed demo­cracy, but also against the new real­it­ies in the worlds of journ­al­ism and tech­no­logy. 

The first more dip­lo­mat­ic­ally-minded oppos­i­tion­ist adop­ted a policy of appease­ment towards the audi­ence, but the last two had to fall back on the stale and puerile tac­tics of name-call­ing and ad hom­inem attacks.  So good to see that expens­ive edu­ca­tions are nev­er a waste.…

The pro­pos­i­tion was sup­por­ted enthu­si­at­ic­ally by the sell-out crowd, a resound­ing vote of con­fid­ence in the demo­crat­ic notions of account­ab­il­ity and trans­par­ency.

Here’s a snip­pet of my (brief) con­tri­bu­tion to a fant­ast­ic after­noon:

 

Alleged Wikileaks source, Bradley Manning, faces the death penalty

Bradley_manningAlleged Wikileaks source US Private Brad­ley Man­ning is now charged with “aid­ing the enemy”, amongst a bewil­der­ing array of 22 new charges.  This is appar­ently a cap­it­al offence, although the US mil­it­ary has cosily said that they would­n’t push for this bar­bar­ic sen­tence.

So just life without the hope of parole then.….

Put­ting aide the minor ques­tion of wheth­er the USA should even be entitled to call itself a mod­ern demo­cracy when it still has the death pen­alty on its books, let’s just remind ourselves of what Man­ning is alleged to have revealed: the “Col­lat­er­al Murder” mil­it­ary shoot-up, where inno­cent chil­dren, civil­ians and journ­al­ists were gunned down by US forces in a par­tic­u­larly nasty snuff video game that was then delib­er­ately covered up by the Pentagon for years; many oth­er hein­ous war crimes and records of daily bru­tal­ity in Afgh­anistan and Iraq; and an “embar­rass de richesses” of dip­lo­mat­ic cables.

I think “embar­rass” is the key word here, on so many levels, and goes a long way to explain­ing the USA’s des­per­a­tion to des­troy Wikileaks founder, Juli­an Assange, by any means neces­sary.

But the phrase from the list of charges against the hap­less Man­ning that leaps out at me is “aid­ing the enemy”.  If — and it’s still a big leg­al if — Man­ning was indeed the source of all this cru­cial inform­a­tion, whom was he actu­ally aid­ing?

Inform­a­tion that has appeared on Wikileaks over the last few years has been eclect­ic, inter­na­tion­al and very much in the pub­lic interest.  It’s covered such nas­ties as Trafigura, the BNP, Sci­ento­logy, Cli­mateg­ate, Guantanamo, the Aus­trali­an inter­net black­list, Sarah Pal­in, and much more.

It’s cer­tainly not just restric­ted to the inform­a­tion that hit the head­lines last year about the US hege­mony.  How­ever, there is no doubt that it was the release of the Afghan, Iraq and dip­lo­mat­ic files that stirred up this par­tic­u­larly unpleas­ant hor­nets’ nest.

As glob­al cit­izens I would sug­gest that we have every right to know what is done in our name. But, hav­ing said that, accord­ing to these new charges against poor Brad­ley Man­ning, the bene­fi­ciar­ies of Wikileaks — ie all of us —  have now become the enemy.

When did we, the people, the glob­al cit­izenry, become the enemy?  It seems that our esteemed rulers are at last show­ing their true col­ours.…

On that note, do have a look at this video of former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dear­love, speak­ing recently at the Cam­bridge Uni­on Soci­ety.  An inter­est­ing per­spect­ive on the Brit­ish Estab­lish­ment’s line on Wikileaks and Juli­an Assange:

Bleat: the assassination of dissidents

Black_sheep?OK, so I’m not sure if my concept of Bleats (half blog, half tweet) is being grasped whole­heartedly.  But so what — it makes me laugh and the Black Sheep shall perservere with a short blog post.….

So I’m a bit puzzled here.  UK Prime Min­is­ter Dave Camer­on is quoted in today’s Daily Tele­graph as say­ing that:

It is not accept­able to have a situ­ation where Col­on­el Gad­dafi can be mur­der­ing his own people using aero­planes and heli­copter gun­ships and the like and we have to plan now to make sure if that hap­pens we can do some­thing to stop it.”

But do his Amer­ic­an best bud­dies share that, umm, humane view?  First of all they have the CIA assas­sin­a­tion list which includes the names of US cit­izens (ie its own people); then those same “best bud­dies” may well resort to assas­sin­at­ing Wikileak­s’s Juli­an Assange, prob­ably the most high pro­file dis­sid­ent in inter­na­tion­al and dip­lo­mat­ic circles at the moment; plus they are already waging remote drone war­fare on many hap­less Middle East­ern coun­tries — Yeman, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan.….

Oh, and now the UK gov­ern­ment seems poised to launch cov­ert spy drones into the skies of Bri­tain.  Even the UK’s most right-wing main­stream news­pa­pers, the Daily Tele­graph and the Daily Mail, expressed con­cern about this today.  Appar­ently these drones have yet to be weapon­ised.….

It’s a slip­pery slope down to an Orwellian night­mare.

 

TrebleThink: the new American hypocrisy

George Orwell is just so old-world, retro and quaintly Brit­ish.  Gone are the days of simple Double­Think.  The Amer­ic­ans inev­it­ably had to super­size the concept.

Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton was last week speak­ing at the George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity about polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and free­dom of expres­sion:


 

Now we appear to have entered the realm of Treb­le­Think.

McGovern_injuries1 McGovern_injuries2At the meet­ing Ray McGov­ern, army vet­er­an, long-term CIA ana­lyst, and now inter­na­tion­ally-renowned peace act­iv­ist chose to exer­cise his right to free­dom of expres­sion by stand­ing up and silently turn­ing his back on Clin­ton dur­ing her speech.

For his pains 71-year-old McGov­ern sus­tained pain­fully injur­ies while being for­cibly removed by name­less “secur­ity per­son­nel”, before end­ing up in a tiny police cell.  On his even­tu­al release he had to take a taxi to hos­pit­al for treat­ment.

Hil­lary Clin­ton did not even stumble over her words dur­ing McGov­ern’s arrest.

The start­ling hypo­crisy of Clin­ton’s speech is clear on three dif­fer­ent fronts:

1) She is defend­ing the rights of act­iv­ists in the Middle East to speak out against cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, while ignor­ing the bru­tal­isa­tion of a fel­low cit­izen for silently using those very rights in Amer­ica.

2) She’s doing so while speak­ing out about the vital role of inter­net freedoms — indeed stand­ing behind a podi­um with the words “Inter­net Free­dom” writ­ten on it — in inform­ing cit­izens and spread­ing demo­cracy.  Yet at the same time a secretly-con­vened US Grand Jury is frantic­ally scrab­bling around for any pre­text what­so­ever to pro­sec­ute Juli­an Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.  And yet anoth­er is invest­ig­at­ing attacks against the col­lab­or­at­ing US cor­por­a­tions that pulled the plug on Wikileaks sup­port last year.  Iron­ic­ally, on the same day as Clin­ton’s speech, Twit­ter was in court fight­ing US gov­ern­ment attempts to obtain per­son­al inform­a­tion of alleged Wikileaks sup­port­ers.  No doubt Clin­ton would con­demn the former Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment if it had done the same thing.

3) And let’s not for­get that the USA is host­ing the UNESCO World Press Free­dom Day this year too.  This was announced on the very day Juli­an Assange was arres­ted in the UK.

The hypo­crisy is flag­rant. As I said, wel­come to the world of Treb­le­Think.  You read it here first.…

 

The murder of Pat Finucane

Mov­ing swiftly past the pruri­ent, thigh-rub­bing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhib­it­ing over the alleged details of Juli­an Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks dis­clos­ures, and most import­antly the aims under­pin­ning them: trans­par­ency, justice, and an informed cit­izenry liv­ing with­in fully-func­tion­ing demo­cra­cies.  Such quaint notions.

In the media mael­strom of the Cableg­ate dis­clos­ures, and the res­ult­ing infant­ile and thug­gish threats of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked doc­u­ments refer to scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and cov­er-ups in a range of coun­tries, not just the good old US of A.

Pat_FinucaneOne doc­u­ment that recently caught my atten­tion related to the notori­ous murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights act­iv­ist, Pat Finu­cane, in North­ern Ire­land.  Finu­cane was a well-known law­yer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small chil­dren.  There has long been spec­u­la­tion that he was tar­geted by Prot­est­ant ter­ror­ist groups, in col­lu­sion with the NI secret police, the army’s notori­ous and now-dis­ban­ded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.

Well, over a dec­ade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed estab­lish such state col­lu­sion, des­pite hav­ing his inquiry offices burnt out in the pro­cess by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the invest­ig­a­tion.  Stevens fought on, pro­du­cing a damning report in 2003 con­firm­ing the notion of state col­lu­sion with Irish Loy­al­ist ter­ror­ist activ­it­ies, but nev­er did cla­ri­fy exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finu­cane.

How­ever, Finu­cane’s trau­mat­ised fam­ily has nev­er stopped demand­ing justice.  The recent dis­clos­ure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scan­dal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.

The “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land — such a quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish under­state­ment, in any oth­er coun­try it would have been called a civil war — were decept­ive, murky and vicious on both sides.  “Col­lu­sion” is an elast­ic word that stretches bey­ond the strict notion of the state.  It is well-known that the US organ­is­tion, NORAID, sup­por­ted by many Amer­ic­ans claim­ing Irish ances­try, was a major fun­drais­ing chan­nel for, um, Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, from the 1970s onwards. 

Peter_kingSuch net­works provided even more sup­port than Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya with his arms ship­ments, and the cash well only dried up post‑9/11.  As you can see in this recent art­icle in the The Tele­graph, even the incom­ing Chair­man of the House Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, New York Con­gress­man Peter King (who iron­ic­ally called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wkileaks as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion”) appears to have been a life long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin.

With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dub­lin and Wash­ing­ton kept push­ing for a full inquiry into Finu­cane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-oper­ate

How­ever, the dev­il was in the detail. Coin­cid­ent­ally, 2005 was the year that the UK gov­ern­ment rushed through a new law, the Inquir­ies Act, which scan­dal­ously allowed any depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion (in this case MI5) to dic­tate the terms and scope of the inquiry. 

Col­lu­sion by any state in the unlaw­ful arrest, tor­ture, and extraju­di­cial murder of people — wheth­er its own cit­izens or oth­ers — is state ter­ror­ism.  Let’s not mince our words here.  Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al provides a clear defin­i­tion of this concept.

As the The Guard­i­an  art­icle about Finu­cane so succintly puts it:

When a state sanc­tions the killing of cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar cit­izens who are law­yers, it puts the rule of law and demo­cracy in jeop­ardy. And when a state enlists aux­il­i­ary assas­sins, it cedes its mono­poly over state secrets: it may feel omni­po­tent, but it is also vul­ner­able to dis­clos­ure.”

Mercenaries1Indeed.  North­ern Ire­land was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: tor­ture, Dip­lock courts (aka mil­it­ary tribunals), kid­nap­pings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, inform­ers, and state col­lu­sion in assas­sin­a­tions.

The infec­tion has now spread.  These are pre­cisely the tac­tics cur­rently used by the US, the UK and their “aux­il­i­ary assas­sins” across great swathes of the Middle East.  Per­haps this explains why our nation states have been out­flanked and have ceded their mono­poly over secrets.

Will justice ever be done?  In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely.  How­ever,  cour­ageous organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks and its ilk are improv­ing the odds.

The Ghost of Daniel Ellsberg

Pentagon_papers This is an excel­lent art­icle from a European tech­no­logy strategist and futur­ist.  It suc­cinctly sums up all that is wrong with the old medi­a’s cov­er­age of the Wikileaks story over the last year, where people obsess about the tech­no­logy, the web­site and the per­son­al life of Juli­an Assange.

As the art­icle says, we should be focus­ing on the core issues: illeg­al wars, war crimes, murder, tor­ture, cor­por­ate and polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion, and dip­lo­mat­ic dupli­city.

Let’s address the mes­sage, not attack the mes­sen­ger, and cer­tainly not the medi­um.

 

 

Secrecy laws come out of the closet

Finally the true inten­tions behind the dra­coni­an Brit­ish law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act, and sim­il­ar espi­on­age-related laws in oth­er coun­tries such as the USA, have been laid bare.  All is revealed — these laws appar­ently have noth­ing what­so­ever to do with pro­tect­ing nation­al secur­ity and coun­ter­ing espi­on­age — their primary pur­pose is to stifle dis­sent and legit­im­ate cri­ti­cism of the state.

How can I tell?  Well, look at the reac­tion to the ongo­ing Wikileaks rev­el­a­tions, as opposed to today’s UK spy scan­dal involving the par­lia­ment­ary assist­ant of a hitherto unre­mark­able MP

WikileaksThe now-notori­ous Wikileaks site has been going since 2007 and, in this brief time, has shone a bright light on such nas­ties as Trafigura, the BNP, Sci­ento­logy, Cli­mateg­ate, Guantanamo, the Aus­trali­an inter­net black­list, Sarah Pal­in, and much more.

The site achieved world-wide notori­ety this year with four big stor­ies — start­ing with the har­row­ing film “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, which demon­strated clearly that the Pentagon had been lying to the dis­traught fam­il­ies of the vic­tims of this video-game nasty for years. 

Since then Wikileaks has clev­erly worked with selec­ted media oulets such as The Guard­i­an, The New York Times and Der Spiegel in Ger­many to give us the Afghan War logs and Iraq war files, which exposed endem­ic bru­tal­ity, tor­ture and war crimes (all in the name of spread­ing demo­cracy, of course), and cul­min­at­ing over the last week with the ongo­ing Cableg­ate expose.

The response?  Well the major­ity of the old media, par­tic­u­larly those that did­n’t share in the juicy scoops, has been in attack mode: con­demning whis­tleblow­ing; vil­i­fy­ing the char­ac­ter of Wikileaks spokes­per­son, Juli­an Assange; and glee­fully report­ing the wide­spread cyber­space crack­down (Amazon pulling the site, Payp­al stop­ping con­tri­bu­tions, the ongo­ing hack attacks). 

But this is just so much hot air — what about the real sub­stance of the dis­clos­ures?  The viol­ent hor­ror, war crimes, and gov­ern­ment lies?  Why is our so-called Fourth Estate not demand­ing a response to all this ter­rible evid­ence?

Julian_AssangeHow­ever, it is the reac­tion of the US polit­ic­al class that is most gob-smack­ingly shock­ing.  The half-wits call for Assange’s pro­sec­u­tion under the US Espi­on­age Act (even though he’s an Aus­trali­an); to have him executed, assas­sin­ated by drone attack, or unlaw­fully dis­ap­peared as an “unlaw­ful com­batant”; and make hys­ter­ic­al calls for Wikileaks to be placed on the US list of pro­scribed for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.  Daniel Ells­berg, the fam­ous Pentagon Papers whis­tleblower, fears for Assange’s life.

Well, you can always tell how effect­ive a whis­tleblower is by the response you engender when telling truth to power, and this is a pretty strik­ing vin­dic­a­tion.

Of course, Juli­an Assange is not strictly speak­ing a whis­tleblower per se.  He is the next gen­er­a­tion — a highly-cap­able, high-tech con­duit, using his “hack­iv­ist” skills to out-pace and out-smart those who seek to con­ceal vital inform­a­tion.

As he said dur­ing a TED​.com inter­view last sum­mer, he strives to live by the ideal that to be a man is to be “cap­able and gen­er­ous, not to cre­ate vic­tims, but to nur­ture them…”.  And this is indeed the pro­tec­tion Wikileaks offers, an aven­ue of secure dis­clos­ure for people of con­science on the inside, without their hav­ing to go pub­lic to estab­lish the bona fides of what they are say­ing, with the res­ult­ing vic­tim­isa­tion, loss of career, liberty, and pos­sibly life.

Still, politi­cians seem unable to make the dis­tinc­tion — they are solely focused on loss of face, embar­rass­ment, and shor­ing up the wall of secrecy that allows them to get away with lies, tor­ture and war crimes.  I hope that com­mon sense will pre­vail and Assange will not become anoth­er sac­ri­fi­cial vic­tim on the altar of “nation­al secur­ity”.

Katia_ZSo why did I say at the start that the secrecy laws have come out of the closet?  Well, in the wake of all this recent media and polit­ic­al hys­teria about Wikileaks, this little espi­on­age gem appeared in the UK media today.   Essen­tially, the UK Home Sec­ret­ary is boot­ing out an alleged Rus­si­an spy, Ms Katia Zat­uliv­eter who, des­pite get­ting through secur­ity vet­ting (MI5, any­one?), was really an SVR agent  work­ing as the Par­lia­ment­ary assist­ant to Mike Han­cock MP — a man who hap­pens to have a spe­cial interest in Rus­sia and who serves on the UK’s Par­lia­ment­ary Defence Select Com­mit­tee.

Now, in the old days such alleged activ­ity would mean an auto­mat­ic arrest and prob­able pro­sec­u­tion for espi­on­age under the Offi­cial Secrets Acts (1911 and 1989). If we go with what the old media has repor­ted, this would seem to be a clear-cut case.  Dur­ing the Cold War for­eign spies work­ing under dip­lo­mat­ic cov­er could be dis­creetly PNGed (the jar­gon for declar­ing a dip­lo­mat per­sona non grata).  How­ever, this young woman was work­ing in Par­lia­ment, there­fore can have no such dip­lo­mat­ic cov­er.  But deport­a­tion and the avoid­ance of embar­rass­ment seems to be the order of the day — as we saw also with the explu­sion of the Rus­si­an spy ring from the US last sum­mer).

Which demon­strates with a start­ling clar­ity the real inten­tions behind the Brit­ish OSA and the Amer­ic­an Espi­on­age Act.  The full force of these laws will auto­mat­ic­ally be brought to bear against those expos­ing crime in high and secret places, pour enour­ager les autres,  but will rarely be used against real spies. 

Proof pos­it­ive, I would sug­gest, that these laws were draf­ted to pre­vent cri­ti­cism, dis­sent and whis­tleblow­ing, as I’ve writ­ten before, but not mean­ing­fully to pro­tect our nation­al secur­ity.  One can but hope that the Wikileaks débâcle acts as the long-over­due final nail in the OSA coffin.

Would it not be won­der­ful if our “esteemed” legis­lat­ors could learn from recent events, draw a col­lect­ive deep breath, and finally get to grips with those who pose a real threat to our nations — the people who lie to take us into illeg­al wars, and intel­li­gence officers involved in tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion and espi­on­age?