International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

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.…

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.

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: