The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face | Alan Rusbridger

From the editor of The Guardian:

[…] The detention of [Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David] Miranda has rightly caused international dismay because it feeds into a perception that the US and UK governments – while claiming to welcome the debate around state surveillance started by Snowden – are also intent on stemming the tide of leaks and on pursuing the whistleblower with a vengeance. That perception is right. Here follows a little background on the considerable obstacles being placed in the way of informing the public about what the intelligence agencies, governments and corporations are up to.

A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.

The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like “when”.

We are not there yet, but it may not be long before it will be impossible for journalists to have confidential sources. Most reporting – indeed, most human life in 2013 – leaves too much of a digital fingerprint. Those colleagues who denigrate Snowden or say reporters should trust the state to know best (many of them in the UK, oddly, on the right) may one day have a cruel awakening. One day it will be their reporting, their cause, under attack. But at least reporters now know to stay away from Heathrow transit lounges.

Obama's secret kill list – the disposition matrix

… Berjawi and Sakr both travelled to Somalia after claiming that they were being harassed by police in the UK, and were then stripped of their British citizenship. Several months later they were killed. The exact nature of any intelligence that the British government may have shared with Washington before their names were apparently entered into the disposition matrix is deeply secret: the UK has consistently refused to either confirm or deny that it shares intelligence in support of drone strikes, arguing that to do so would damage both national security and relations with the US government.

More than 12 months after Sakr’s death, his father, Gamal, a businessman who settled in London 37 years ago, still cannot talk about his loss without breaking down and weeping. He alleges that one of his two surviving sons has since been harassed by police, and suspects that this boy would also have been stripped of his citizenship had he left the country. “It’s madness,” he cries. “They’re driving these boys to Afghanistan. They’re making everything worse.”

Last year Gamal and his wife flew to Cairo, formally renounced their Egyptian citizenship, and on their return asked their lawyer to let it be known that their sons were no longer dual nationals. But while he wants his family to remain in Britain, the manner in which his son met his death has shattered his trust in the British government. “It was clearly directed from the UK,” he says. “He wasn’t just killed: he was assassinated.” [must read]

GCHQ, Tempora and Global Surveillance

The relationship between Britain (or the UK, if you wish to be properly official) and the United States has always been peculiar. Accents are mocked, styles of language derided and the occasional library burned (oh, to remember 1812 again). The older party is often treated as the superior party, that is, if you are the older party wishing to be in the good books. The future Prime Minister of Britain, Harold Macmillan made it clear as a soldier in the African campaigns of the Second World War: We shall be the new Greeks to the succeeding Romans, Britain’s wise counsel to America’s brash and vulgar empire.

If you imagine a brother wanting to burn your house and write a sweet obituary, you might get a relationship of sorts between the intelligence communities of the respective powers. They may not necessarily like each other, but romance can be a disease of convenience.

Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), has been doing rather well for itself and its cousins across the Atlantic. The trains may not run on time in the land of Pimms and cricket, transport might cost the earth, as do many services. But when it comes to suspicion, this organisation does it better than most, assuming that any view point expressed through fibre optic cable is worth noting. As far as information is concerned, it is a vacuum service, hoovering up for its masters with an efficient disposition.

As John Koetsier explains in Venture Beat (Jun 21), “Why go to Internet companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo for their data if you can just intercept it on the world’s network of fibre-optic cables?” GCHQ, according to Edward Snowden’s disclosures, has tapped 200 such cables, effectively monitoring 600 million “telephone events” a day. It can also intercept Internet users’ access to websites, what is being posted on Facebook, and intercept emails.

As always, the British prefer the names of classics, suggestion and allusion when it comes to wars of code and operations. In a true sense of fashion, if you like musty shelves and wooden desks, it is called Tempora. What is even more disturbing about the Tempora program is that it has even less restrictions than those governing the NSA PRISM program. There is even the suggestion that the GCHQ program might be more effective in gathering metadata than PRISM.

This form of circumvention has been sometime in the making. Over the course of five years, GCHQ has been making agreements with data transmission companies allowing the attachment of probes to trans-Atlantic cables that touch British soil. These companies are forbidden to disclose the very fact that they are participants in the surveillance program.

Much of this is based on a very wide reading of the powers granted by the Regulation and Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was passed in 2000. Where there is a law, there is a will. And there is no equivalent of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to cast a keen judicial eye on the process. As one of GCHQ’s senior legal advisors told The Guardian in a confidential briefing, “We have a light oversight regime compared with the U.S.” Troubling yet hardly surprising.

The Tempora program is also a work in progress. The first part is dubbed “Mastering the Internet”, the second “Global Telecoms Exploitation”. The language of the program says it all: internet imperialism as an experiment, the attempt to control the seemingly uncontrollable. When fully established, the program will be able to pull data from over 90 percent of cables with routes through Britain (Atlantic Wire, Jun 21).

Naturally much of this data might be encrypted. Furthermore, we live in an age of surfeit of information, a sphere populated by asphyxiating infoglut. There is simply too much, much of it nonsense, much of it irrelevant. The flow of 21.6 petabytes a day is the equivalent to 192 times the British Library’s entire book collection.

But the very fact that such a massive surveillance system exists, transcending legal institutions, is highly problematic for any power professing to believe in them. The British intelligence establishment has effectively issued writs against freedom. Apart from The Guardian’s efforts, many in the British press have been slow to act on the revelations. Liberties are bound to be lost when a populace is desensitised to their worth.

These are the times, these are the curses. Germany’s Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has gone as far as to call Project Tempora a “Hollywood-style nightmare” (Der Spiegel, Jun 22). It will be up to us to change the nature of that, to combat establishment paranoia and redraft the script.

GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications | guardian.co.uk

… The mass tapping operation has been built up over five years by attaching intercept probes to transatlantic fibre-optic cables where they land on British shores carrying data to western Europe from telephone exchanges and internet servers in north America.

This was done under secret agreements with commercial companies, described in one document as “intercept partners”.

The papers seen by the Guardian suggest some companies have been paid for the cost of their co-operation and went to great lengths to keep their names secret. They were assigned “sensitive relationship teams” and staff were urged in one internal guidance paper to disguise the origin of “special source” material in their reports for fear that the role of the companies as intercept partners would cause “high-level political fallout”.

The source with knowledge of intelligence said on Friday the companies were obliged to co-operate in this operation. They are forbidden from revealing the existence of warrants compelling them to allow access to the cables.

“There’s an overarching condition of the licensing of the companies that they have to co-operate in this. Should they decline, we can compel them to do so. They have no choice.”

GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits

Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by GCHQ and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.

There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls “ground-breaking intelligence capabilities” to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.

This included:

• Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates’ use of computers;

• Penetrating the security on delegates’ BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;

• Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;

• Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;

• Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.

The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.

A briefing paper dated 20 January 2009 records advice given by GCHQ officials to their director, Sir Iain Lobban, who was planning to meet the then foreign secretary, David Miliband. The officials summarised Brown’s aims for the meeting of G20 heads of state due to begin on 2 April, which was attempting to deal with the economic aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis. The briefing paper added: “The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG’s desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it.” Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence product being passed to “ministers”.

According to the material seen by the Guardian, GCHQ generated this product by attacking both the computers and the telephones of delegates. [continue]

Britain's wars fuel terror. Denying it only feeds Islamophobia | Seumas Milne

[…] The fact that the US declared the war on terror to be a war without national borders and routinely targets unarmed or unidentified victims has fatally blurred those boundaries. The grisly, intimate killing of Lee Rigby was the absolute antithesis of high technology drone attacks. But both embody the degradation of the human spirit.

There can be no surprise, however, that such attacks take place. It’s not just opponents of the war on terror who predicted from the start that it would fuel terrorism not fight it. The intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic did the same. The perpetrators of one attack after another, from London 2005 to Boston 2013, say they’re carrying them out in retaliation for the vastly larger scale US and British killing in the Muslim world.

It’s true that all kinds of personal factors and experiences help create the mentality to carry out such attacks. But as Abdul Haqq Baker – head of the south London “counter-radicalisation” outfit Street – puts it, the tipping point that has turned people to violence has been shown again and again to be episodes in the war on terror.

There is already some evidence that torture of one of the Woolwich suspects in Kenya – after which MI5 tried to recruit him – may have been such a catalyst. Azad Ali, a Muslim community activist who has advised the Metropolitan police, says there has been a pattern of official abuse of British Muslim activists in Arab countries, apparently using British-supplied intelligence, who are then pressed to work for the British security services when they return home.

What is indisputable is that there were no jihadist attacks in Britain before 9/11, itself claimed as a response to US support for Arab dictatorships, Israeli occupation and murderous sanctions on Iraq. Wars supposedly fought to keep Britain safe have been shown to do the exact opposite.

Given the bloodshed, torture, mass incarceration and destruction that US-British occupation has inflicted on Afghanistan and Iraq, and the civilian slaughter inflicted in the drone war from Pakistan to Yemen, the only surprise is that there haven’t been more terror attacks.

Europe presses US on drones – not to cease, but to share | Drone Wars UK

European countries are piling more pressure on the US to allow them to buy armed Predator and Reaper drones. As we have previously reported Germany wants to buy armed Reaper drones from the US and France too has reported this week that it ‘expects’ the US to allow it to acquire unarmed Reapers as a step towards it aim of acquiring armed drone capability.

Italy meanwhile is getting frustrated with a lack of response from the US to its request to arm the unarmed Reaper that it currently operates. According to the Aviation News article, Italy says that it is “looking for alternatives” including supporting a European black (secret) armed drone project. There are already a number of known drone programmes under development within Europe including BAE System’s Taranis, Dassault’s Neuron and EADS’Talarion (although the future of the latter is far from clear). However these are all at an early stage of development with possible in-service dates being many years off and hence the desire of European countries to purchase Reaper and Predator drones.

This week Germany also announced it was cancelling the Euro Hawk project. Unveiled with such fanfare in 2011, Euro Hawk was a German version of the Northrop Grumman’s surveillance drone, the Global Hawk. Various reasons were given this week to the press for its cancellation but German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière simply called the project “a horror without end” in his Bundestag statement. Cancellation of this project, even though it has already cost Germany 500 million Euros, apparently ‘saves’ a further 500 million Euros which can now be spent on alternative drone developments.

Meanwhile the UK continues to operate its armed Reapers acquired from the US in 2007. The UK is now testing the British-made Brimstone missile on its Reapers as an alternative to the US-made Hellfire missile. This will no doubt make it easier for the UK to continue operating its Reaper drones after the Afghanistan ‘drawdown’.

New figures from SIPRI show that Israel has been the biggest proliferator of drone technology over the past decade with just over 40% of drone exports originating from Israel. Many of these small to medium unarmed drones have gone to European countries but also to Latin America and Africa. YnetNews also reported that sales of drones now nets Israel $400 million per year.

While other countries seek to catch up with the drone wars, the US this week undertook a significant test of its new autonomous X-47B drone. For the first time an unmanned drone has taken off from an aircraft carrier, flown a pre-programmed mission and landed all by itself. As many commentators reported, this is a major step forward.

Ominously, in the same week senior Pentagon officials told a Senate hearing on drone strikes that the war on terror is one without end or boundaries and that it is expected it to continue for another ten to twenty years. [++]

Home Secretary strips two more people of British citizenship | The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

The Home Secretary has stripped at least two additional individuals of their British citizenship in recent months, the Bureau has learned.

In February, an investigation by the Bureau and published with the Independent revealed that Theresa May had signed deprivation of citizenship orders for 16 people between the 2010 election and November 2012, including five British-born individuals. That total has now risen to 18 cases. Under the Labour government, five people lost their UK nationality.

The two new cases were revealed by a recent Freedom of Information request made by the Bureau. One deprivation notice was issued late last year, taking the total number who lost their UK nationality in 2012 to six. A further case took place between January 1 and mid-March, when the Freedom of Information request was submitted.

The Home Secretary cannot remove citizenship if it will make an individual stateless, so the orders can only be made against dual-nationality individuals.

The Freedom of Information release listed the other nationality of the individuals who have had their UK passports revoked. This revealed that two new nations, Iran and Yemen, joined the list of alternate nationalities; the Bureau has established that Yemeni and Iranian dual-nationals lost their UK citizenship between June 2012 and March 2013.

However almost nothing else is known about the most recent deprivation cases. Of the six that took place in 2012, nothing at all is known about three; a further individual is known only as F2. The sole case in 2013 is similarly a mystery.

[…] Chris Woods, leader of the Bureau’s drone project, gave a presentation yesterday on the Bureau’s recent investigation into stripped citizenship at the all-party parliamentary group on drones, to an audience of MPs, peers and parliamentary staff.

He outlined the cases of Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, childhood friends from London who were stripped of their UK citizenship and went on to die in two US drone strikes a month apart in Somalia.

It is unclear yet whether there is a direct connection between between their loss of citizenship and subsequent deaths, Woods pointed out. He also explored the official opaqueness that surrounds the removal of UK citizenship, and the difficulties many of those who lose their citizenship face in appealing the orders from abroad within the tight time limits.

Has the meritocracy risen? Not really. Actually not at all. The advantages of birth and privilege are entrenched as never before. But the perception that we are all equals allows for the illusion of a meritocratic society and for the ritual blaming of those who fail. Both the failing and the blaming were hardly possible when, in principle but not in practice, the social classes were officially confined to their separate spheres. The successful congratulate themselves as never before on their own responsibility for their success and in the tabloid imagination, the formerly working class, stereotyped as ‘chavs’, have migrated from a parallel society replete with roles and expectations to an underclass existence. In a sense what we have is the Americanisation of Britain, or at least of England. A society where everybody has the sense that they can be anything they want to be, and where hardly anybody can. Just as pure luck matters more than it ever did, the stink of desert and entitlement pervades. Britain since the seventies, impressionistic thoughts

Thatcher was no longer in office but her influence lingered, and not simply within her own Conservative party. Her true legacy was Tony Blair, who matched his zeal for neoliberal policies and privatisation with a propensity for war mongering which Thatcher can only have envied. Blair built on her record. He followed her in deep devotion to US presidents and complete accord with US foreign policy. Thatcher’s legacy was warmonger Blair | Counterfire

Zero Dark Mali | Pepe Escobar

… In this Folies de Pigalle in the desert, Washington will be “leading from behind.” Wise move; shadow wars bypass quagmires. It’s the French – with typical Gallic grandeur – who will remain infatuated with the illusion of soon ruling the Mali desert. In fact they won’t even rule algae in the Niger river, because this will be a protracted nomad war. The prospect of a succession of sandy Dien Bien Phus looms.

And the minute most of Mali’s impoverished population – for the moment in favor of getting rid of AQIM, MUJAO, Belmokhtar’s gang and Ansar ed-Dine – feels the slightest whiff of neocolonial occupation, the French are on their way to meet the American fate in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s enlightening to regard all this under the perspective of President Obama 2.0 administration’s foreign policy, as (vaguely) outlined in his inauguration. Obama promised to end US wars (shadow wars are much more cost-efficient). He promised multi-lateral cooperation with allies (while Washington effectively calls the shots), negotiation (as in our way or the highway) and no new war in the Middle East.

To take the president at his word, this translates into no US war against Syria (just the shadow variety); no Bomb, Bomb Iran (just murderous sanctions); and France gets the Mali prize. Or will it? Zero Dark pulp fiction starts now. [++]

Mission creep on speed: British intervention in Mali and West Africa | Counterfire

This is mission creep on speed.

Two weeks ago we were told Britain would have no combat role in Mali and we would send just two transport planes. Now we are told the government is sending 350 British military personnel to Mali and West Africa to support French forces.

Prime Minister David Cameron is “keen” for Britain to get more involved in war on a new continent. He sent national security advisor Sir Kim Darroch to Paris to discuss what help Britain could provide. He has personally phoned French Prime Minister Hollande to offer more help and he is “keen to continue to provide further assistance”.

The British government says it is prepared to send a “sizeable amount” of troops to provide military assistance to France. This is how major wars begin. In the early 1960s, the United States started with a few “special advisors”  in Vietnam. More than a decade later it left defeated, with over 50,000 American troops and at least two million Vietnamese killed.

Forgetting historical example is one thing. Ignoring the last few years is extraordinary. The disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the attack on Libya — were presented as humanitarian operations, complete with images of cheering local populations greeting western intervention — soon replaced by the devastation of the countries and huge death toll for the people they were meant to “liberate”.

The spread of the “war on terror” to the Sahel region in Africa is a result of the chaos created by the Libyan intervention. It is also driven by the same motivations as previous wars, the desire to control vital energy reserves and other mineral resources. The region contains some of Europe’s most important energy sources.

The Mali intervention will end with the same results: destruction, loss of life and deep anger against the west.

How long before the presence of thousands of western troops in their old colonial stomping grounds inflames new violence and resistance?