Saturday, February 08, 2014

Martelly Regime Using Courts to Get at Banned Opposition

Exclusive interview with Former Lavalas Senator accused of killing Jean Dominique in Haiti

by Kevin Pina - Flashpoints

Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio Senior Producer Kevin Pina interviews former Lavalas Senator Myrlande Liberus who was recently accused by a judge in Haiti of assassinating journalist and commentator Jean Leopold Dominique in April 2000.

Also joining him is Laura Flynn, a member of the Board of Directors of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

Harper "Reform" of Elections Act: "I Can No Longer Speak About Democracy" - Chief Electoral Officer

Election reform bill an affront to democracy, Marc Mayrand says


The government's proposed overhaul of the Elections Act includes elements that constitute an affront to democracy, according to Canada's Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, Mayrand said "my reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country."

"I'm not aware of any electoral bodies around the world who can not talk about democracy," Mayrand told host Evan Solomon.

Hear Evan Solomon's full conversation with Marc Mayrand
Elections head feels benched by electoral reform bill
Election reforms would bring big changes to campaign spending
Read the Fair Elections Act

The Fair Elections Act says it "limits the chief electoral officer's power to provide information to the public."

Under the proposed bill, the only role of the chief electoral officer would be to inform the public of when, where, and how to vote.

Elections Canada would be forbidden from launching ad campaigns encouraging Canadians to vote. Surveys and research would be forbidden under the new bill, Mayrand said.

"Most of the research will no longer be published because these are communications to the public."

The chief electoral officer and the commissioner of Canada elections would also no longer be allowed to publish their reports, Mayrand said.

"These reports will no longer be available. In fact, not only not available. I don't think it will be done at all."


Voter turnout and legitimacy

At a time when voter turnout appears to have stagnated around the 60 per cent mark, this bill would take away efforts to increase voter turnout from the agency's hands and leave it to would-be politicians to figure out.

Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre, who introduced the bill in Parliament on Tuesday, said candidates are better placed to get the vote out.

"Political candidates who are aspiring for office are far better at inspiring voters to get out and cast their ballot than are government bureaucracies," ​Poilievre told the Commons on Wednesday.

Persistent and declining voter turnout could undermine the legitimacy of an election's outcome, warned Mayrand.

"Nobody owns [voter] turnout. I think it requires a collective, collaborative approach of the whole society."

If [voter] turnout continues to decline at the pace it has been declining over the last 40 years… we'll have questions about the legitimacy of our government and how representative they are," Mayrand said.

Putting limits on the chief electoral watchdog, would also mean the end of Elections Canada's participation in outreach programs for youth.

Mayrand said he would no longer be able to take part in Student Vote, a national program that allows 300,000 students who are not yet of voting age to vote in a parallel election.

All these limitations ought to give Canadians pause for concern, Mayrand said. "It's something that should be worrisome."

"I don't think it reflects a model democracy that Canadians aspire to."

Creating an independent commissioner

Polievre defended the bill, telling the Commons it would give a new independent commissioner "sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand."

Mayrand said he would have liked to see the bill give the elections watchdog the power to compel witnesses to testify, a problem Elections Canada faced when investigating robocalls made during the last federal election.

"It's a bit disappointing," Mayrand said.

He also would have liked to see the bill give the chief electoral officer the authority to compel political parties and their riding associations to provide Elections Canada with financial documentation to support their financial returns.

"It would make it easier to follow the money in the system."

"Right now we get an overall report stating expenditures of parties during campaigns... we don't have the supporting documents that attest to those expenditures, for example. So it makes it very difficult to carry a complete compliance review of those returns," Mayrand said.

Mayrand, who says he was not consulted on the bill, hopes members of Parliament will take the time necessary to study it at committee and consult with Canadians.

On Thursday, the government invoked time allocation, putting a limit on the amount of time members of Parliament can spend debating the new bill.

Mayrand publicly spoke about the bill for the first time on Thursday, when he defended himself against accusations of partisanship, following a committee meeting on Parliament Hill.

The chief electoral officer, like the auditor-general or the privacy commissioner, reports directly to Parliament and as such is independent of the government of the day and all political parties.

McGill Occupation to "Lock Out" Petrocultures Conference

Ongoing occupation at McGill: lock out of Petrocultures 2014 and Ezra Levant

by Lock Out PetroCultures

MONTREAL, Petrocultures Conference - Close to 30 protesters are currently occupying McGill University’s Faculty Club in downtown Montreal and locking out Petrocultures 2014, a conference organized and hosted by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

A banner dropped from the roof reads “Shut Down the Tar Sands: Décolonisons” and features an upside-down Canadian flag. McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier was scheduled to open the conference at 9:00am, with Sun News personality Ezra Levant slated to speak at 9:15.

Protesters denounce the platform that is being given to voices of the oil industry and its supporters.
“Rather than brainstorming solutions to get us out of the fossil fuel trap, this conference gives a platform to advocates for the continuation of colonialism and resource extraction, setting up a false debate that only serves to maintain the status quo,” said Mona, a protester.
The protesters are students, workers, and anticapitalists working from an anticolonial perspective. In a communiqué, they say they reject the framework of the conference, which positions support for tar sands extraction, or a “greener” version thereof, as one valid position among many, despite the urgency presented by the threat of catastrophic climate change exacerbated by industrial megaprojects like the tar sands.

The protesters oppose the participation of Ezra Levant, for his racist positions against Indigenous resistance movements and his leadership of the group responsible for the #IndianIgnorant hashtag.

“We believe that Ezra Levant should be disrupted wherever he is given a public platform,” said Eric, a protester, while stressing that the action was directed at the conference as a whole, over and above any one participant. The communiqué also addresses McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier's ties to industry and the 'greenwashing' perpetrated by many conference participants.

Though the conference is open to the public, there is a $150 entrance fee that the protesters argue is a significant barrier to participation.
“The speakers invited by the organizers, and the high cost of entry, exclude participation by those opposed to resource extraction, and by marginalized communities that are directly affected by these projects.”

The action is described as being in solidarity with the many direct actions against resource extraction all across Turtle Island.
“We are resisting this racist and colonial conference in solidarity with struggles against corporate imperialism,” added one protester.

The protesters also described the ways in which the petroleum extraction taking place in the tar sands is a threat to the water and health of people in Montreal, through the Line 9 pipeline reversal which is expected to soon receive approval from the National Energy Board.
“Line 9 and other tar sands pipelines such as TransCanada Energy East run through major waterways in Ontario and Quebec, and threaten to leak tar sands petroleum into the drinking water and residential areas of millions of people.”

Protesters say they are ready to stay in the building until they have confirmation that the conference has been cancelled.




Dismantling the Debate

On February 6th and 7th, 2014, McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada is hosting a conference entitled “Petrocultures: Oil, Energy, and Canada’s Future”, which brings together leading members of the fossil fuel industry, consultants, supporters of oil extraction in various forms, as well as critics of fossil fuel extraction. These critics believe that the solutions to the environmental and human crises caused by petrochemicals and their extraction lie in reasoned debate.

The framework of this conference positions support for fossil fuel extraction as one valid opinion among others, reducing massive environmental destruction, widespread death and disease, and the continued advancement of Canada’s colonial project to intellectual concerns, to be balanced against the promise of cheap energy and growth in profits. No matter their personal convictions, participants in such debate legitimate the pro-tar sands, pro-fracking, colonialist position by granting its defenders a speaking platform and a considered response.

To ask whether Canada should or should not engage in fossil fuel extraction is to distract from the vital question of how we (as people living in Canada and as residents of a shared planet) will shut down fossil fuel extraction and the economy it supports as quickly as possible. Petrocultures’ choice of starting point for the conversation is a political choice with important effects.

In solidarity with blockades and lockdowns of pipelines and extractive projects across Turtle Island, we are locking out Petrocultures 2014 and the academic discourses that legitimize and facilitate the continued destruction of the atmosphere and pillaging of the planet.

The structure of the Petrocultures debate is not neutral. It presumes a position of political authority, an ability to influence policy as it relates to labour mobility, free trade, and urban design among other topics.

Accordingly, a quick scan of the speakers list reveals that participation is contingent on expertise and public status. Just as the debate structure reduces to an afterthought the lived experiences of people suffering the worst effects of resource extraction, the $150 price of admission serves to exclude any participants who might diverge from the script. Any discussion on how to relate to extractive industries must revolve around the people who will be most directly affected by extreme climate change, not paid experts, policymakers, and ivory tower academics.

To whom does Petrocultures offer a stage? Beyond outright promoters of the tar sands and fracking: a co-founder of ForestEthics, which advocates for “responsible industry”, a co-founder of Équiterre, which urges “responsible consumption”, and the president of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, which campaigns to achieve “green growth”.

The common thread uniting these speakers is a commitment to making moderate adjustments to life under capitalism, adjustments which serve to extend the lifespan of an inherently violent system without abolishing it.

Capitalist society is predicated on indefinite growth and extreme inequality. It cannot exist without the continued refinement of techniques of social control or organized violence.

Gradual reforms that leave the basic structure in tact, as pursued by environmental NGOs committed to “sustainability” and “a better future”, are not merely inadequate, they act in opposition to our struggles for lives free from domination and for a planet that will continue to sustain life.

Neither do demands for a “sustainable” Canadian future, with their presumptions of an ongoing nation-state and ongoing settler presence on Native lands, address the imperative to dismantle the colonial apparatus of this country.

Let us not forget Suzanne Fortier, who would have had the honor of opening proceedings today.

While the world’s largest industrial project displaces indigenous communities and raises the incidence of rare and fatal cancers among their people, Fortier has worked tirelessly to give industry in general and the extractive sector in particular greater control over academic research, as president of the granting agency NSERC then as principal of McGill.

Her role in cementing the complicity of universities in ongoing colonization and destruction of the earth makes it fitting that she would address Petrocultures, which, like her vaunted corporate partnerships, sees in the catastrophe of the tar sands an opportunity to generate institutional prestige.

It is not impossible that a participant in Petrocultures would utter a challenge to the systemic roots of the building ecological catastrophe. Yet the structure of the conference would have defused that challenge’s radical potential in advance, flattening it into an academic contest of ideas, opinions to be weighed against one another, prompting ever more contemplation and reasoned dialogue. Meanwhile, the pace at which tar sands projects poison the food people eat, contaminate their water supply, and annex unceded indigenous land only accelerates.

A growing scientific consensus confirms what the brutality of a petro-economy makes apparent in a million ways everyday: time has run out. Rather than wait for a political solution that will not come, we want to spread resistance to the tar sands and to all other forms that Canadian capitalism and colonialism take in our communities and daily lives. And we want to interrupt the falsely critical dialogues that legitimize the power of the people who are destroying the earth. We know that today’s action is a small one, that much more is needed. We hope that others will see in our resistance a shared call to action.

February 7, 2014


Follow: @LockoutPetroC & #LockoutPetroCultures on twitter
Source: Lock Out PetroCultures

Date: February 7 2014
Contact: Mona Luxion: (514) 224-0322

It's a Gaslands: Petroculture Shock North of 49


 by Jay Manafest

Gaslands is a visual exploration of the traumatic effects of petroculture on the Canadian experience. Released to coincide with the “Petrocultures” conference at McGill University, Gaslands is a searing indictment of the extractive industry in Canada, and the social and environmental impact of its practices.

Drone Murder Protesters Sentenced: Hancock 17 Verdict Judge: "At some point this has to stop!"

Drone Murder Protesters Sentenced, Jailed

by David Swanson - War is a Crime

Hancock 17 Drone War Crimes Resisters' Verdict Is In: All found guilty of disorderly conduct but acquitted of trespassing; Order of Protection extended 2 years; Judge decides to send a message.

On Friday, February 7, Town of DeWitt Court Judge David Gideon found twelve of the Hancock Drone War Crimes Resisters guilty of disorderly conduct, but acquitted them of trespassing. They had gone to Hancock Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, NY, on Oct. 25, 2012, to bring a Citizens War Crimes Indictment to the base and symbolically block the gates.

Their nonviolent action had called for an end to drone warfare.

Saying, "At some point this has to stop," the judge gave the defendants the maximum sentence - 15 days in jail (starting immediately) and a $250 fine with a $125 court surcharge.

He also imposed a two-year Order of Protection, prohibiting the defendants from going to the home, school, business or place of employment of Col. Earl A. Evans, Commander of Hancock's mission support group.

Considering that the defendants had never met or knew of him before their arrest, it is clear the intent is to keep people away from the base. Defendant Rae Kramer stated;

"No person on the base was intimidated by us, that is clear. But the end result is to deprive me of my 1st Amendment Rights."

In their sentencing statements, the defendants spoke from their hearts and minds. Some reaffirmed their legal duties as citizens to stop war crimes. Clare Grady said;

"We went there to stop the war crimes. That was our intent." 

James Ricks hoped the judge would "sentence us to community service to investigate the war crimes they are committing at the base." Judy Bello said, "The people suffering are so significant. It requires a persistent response," and argued that the international law argument is indeed valid. Mark Scibilia-Carver quoted the Pope saying "violence is a lie," and "Faith and violence are incompatible."

Mark Colville challenged the Court, stating;

"This court has been found guilty of stopping it's ears to the laws that are in place to protect life. This court has been found guilty of stopping it's ears to the voices of the victims of the drones."

The defendants were prepared for whatever sentence the judge imposed. In the words of Ed Kinane, "Any penalty this court can impose on me is trivial compared to the death sentences imposed on the drone victims."
Of the five defendants not sentenced, one, Elliott Adams, is to be sentenced later. Two others had their cases dismissed on technical grounds, and the remaining two had plead guilty earlier.

The defendants are part of the Upstate NY Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, which seeks to educate the public and Hancock Air Base personnel about the war crimes perpetrated in Afghanistan with the MQ-9 Reaper Drone piloted from Hancock Air National Guard Base.


Video of the sentencing and sentencing statements will be available soon at

Defendants who were sentenced:

Judy Bello Rochester, NY
Daniel Burgevin Trumansburg, NY
Mark Colville New Haven, CT
Clare Grady Ithaca, NY
Mary Anne Grady Flores Ithaca, NY
Martha Hennessy New York, NY
Brian Hynes Bronx, NY
Ed Kinane Syracuse, NY
Rae Kramer Syracuse, NY
James Ricks Ithaca, NY
Mark Scibilia-Carver Trumansburg, NY
Patricia Weiland Northampton, MA

Climate Change Realities and Fighting Big Oil's Mighty Propaganda Wurlitzer

The Embattled Climate Scientist Who Fought Back


Michael Mann: Well funded fossil fuel industry propaganda campaign responsible for shifting public opinion against the reality of climate change.

Dr. Michael E. Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

Dr. Mann was a Lead Author on the Observed Climate Variability and Change chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Scientific Assessment Report in 2001 and was organizing committee chair for the National Academy of Sciences Frontiers of Science in 2003. He has received a number of honors and awards including NOAA's outstanding publication award in 2002 and selection by Scientific American as one of the fifty leading visionaries in science and technology in 2002. He contributed, with other IPCC authors, to the award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the Hans Oeschger Medal of the European Geosciences Union in 2012 and was awarded the National Conservation Achievement Award for science by the National Wildlife Federation in 2013. He made Bloomberg News' list of fifty most influential people in 2013. He is a Fellow of both the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

Dr. Mann is author of more than 160 peer-reviewed and edited publications, and has published two books including Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming in 2008 and The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines in 2012. He is also a co-founder and avid contributor to the award-winning science website

Nearing the Ten Year Anniversary of Haiti's Coup, Tell Haitians Canadians Care

Tell Haitian coup survivors many Canadians do care

by Canada Haiti Action Network

Dear CHAN Comrades;

As some of you may recall, the years following the 2004 coup were particularly brutal for the inhabitants of Cité Soleil and Bélair. At one point the U.N. troops barricaded Cité Soleil whose residents were trapped in their own neighborhood, having only the sea as a possible escape route.

It was during this period that an extraordinary gesture of solidarity took place when equally impoverished folks cooked food and boiled water to bring to their brothers and sisters under siege in Cité Soleil. I recall this one interviewee who answered fellow radio host Dahoud André's question about what those of us from the outside can do to help Cité Soleil residents.

The sister replied: "Tell them we are human beings!"

I also recall Patrick Elie saying one of the best way Canadians can truly help Haiti is by being citizens of their own country.

A good Canadian citizen might want to let the world know there are many Canadians who do recognize and respect the humanity of our anonymous brothers and sisters who have died, who are still being terrorized, brutalized, contaminated, humiliated in post-coup d'etat Haiti.

Wanting to be the citizen of a BETTER CANADA is, indeed, a major aspiration that compels me to sign this Letter of Apology to Haiti,

I encourage you to check it out, sign it if you also agree with its content.. Then, invite friends, colleagues, fellow activists (including politicians) to also sign, either as individuals and/or organizations.

In solidarity,


Friendly reminder -- If you would like to subscribe to (or unsubscribe from) the CHAN email list, just go to:      

Friday, February 07, 2014

Hedge Fund Racketeer Ready to Take the Fall for Boss' Mommy's Monkey

Hedge Fund Hog Makes Mommy's Monkey Jump

by Greg Palast (update of story from Truthout) -

On Thursday, a federal jury found Mathew Martoma guilty of insider trading. Martoma, who's only worth a hundred million or so, is small potatoes. He's taking a fall for his boss–and his boss' mommy–and her monkey.

Martoma's boss is Steven A. Cohen, worth about $9 billion, who directs a criminal enterprise masquerading as a hedge fund called SAC Capital. The description of SAC as a crime scene is drawn from the findings of the jury, Securities and Exchange Commission charges and Cohen's own confessions.

While eight of Cohen's partners-in-crime have been convicted and Martoma is about to join them in the Big House, Cohen has performed enough ju-ju on the system to keep charges filed against him personally to civil, not criminal, counts. So far.

Why would a guy who's stuffed billions of dollars of tainted money in his pocket risk SEC charges just to get another billion? The answer: Steve needs to make his mommy's monkey jump.

The story's a lot of fun–and extraordinarily important, as Congress decides between tax breaks for "job creators" like Cohen and extending unemployment benefits for their victims.

Read more on this, the SAC and his mom, in the original story I filed for Truthout just a couple months ago.

Greg Palast's new film Vultures and Vote Rustlers was released recently.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits,The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse .

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Iraq's Escalating Civil Unrest Spooks Investors

A Month of Panic in Iraq

by Executive Report with Southern Pulse -

As we have noted on numerous occasions, despite the continued influx of investment in Iraq, the situation is untenable and each month moves closer to an all-out civil war. First, we’ll give you the security run-down, then we’ll get into the oil.

• On 30 December, the Iraqi central government moved to demolish a Sunni protest camp in Ramadi (Anbar province) and negotiated the withdrawal of government forces from the province.

• On 1 January, while those forces were pulling back, Islamic militants (under the umbrella of the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL) seized key areas of the province’s largest cities—Ramadi and Fallujah, for all intents and purposes temporarily wresting control of these key areas from the central government.

• By 3 January we were witnessing high-intensity clashes between the ISIL and government forces. Adding to the mix were local allies supporting the government forces. The death toll so far remains unclear, but over 100 were killed in Ramadi and Fallujah alone on the first day.

• There was a major miscalculation made here by the central government, which moved immediately to say that Fallujah had fallen to the ISIL, when in fact, the result of the clashes was to allow local tribes, clerics and former officers to regain control of the city. However, the central government, having itself lost control, made no effort to distinguish between these local tribes and the ISIL. Instead, Baghdad moved to call for international support under the terms of the “war on terror”, thus exacerbating the situation and creating new recruits for ISIL. The US Senate has agreed to support Baghdad with new arms. The declaration of a “war on terror” in Fallujah won Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki a long-awaited sale of Apache helicopters, among other US support. So there was an additional tactical reason for declaring Fallujah under the control of the ISIL.

• By 24 January, there were reports of some 65,000 people fleeing Fallujah and Ramadi.

• At the same time, as the fighting spread to areas near Baghdad, by 29 January, central government forces had managed to regain control of some areas west of Baghdad that had been consumed by clashes with ISIL. Fighting in this area had raged for weeks before this.

• On 30 January, militants attacked the Ministry of Transport building in Baghdad.

• January 2014 was the deadliest month in Iraq since April 2008. According to government estimates alone, 1,013 were killed in violence across Iraq during January, while 26 people were hanged on terrorism charges.

Now, what about Iraqi oil? By all accounts, Iraqi oil is still one of the biggest things on everyone’s radar. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Iraq is ramping up oil exports this year, with the draft budget anticipating exports of 3.4 million barrels per day—or a 30% increase over last year.

This is a rather amazing forecast for a country that is sliding into civil war and embroiled in political struggle with its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, which is increasingly going it alone in terms of oil and gas exports.

The bullish prognosis is largely based on new sources of production coming online in the south of the country, and the easing of infrastructure bottlenecks.

Iraq remains—for now—the third largest oil producer in the world and certainly this is the reason behind the renewed show of US support for Baghdad’s “war on terror” efforts in Fallujah and Ramadi, regardless of whether those efforts will backfire into a civil war.

Iraq is hands down the biggest force affecting global oil outlooks right now, and we understand the temptation to be bullish here: not only are the countries resources vast and new production venues coming online, but analysts believe there’s a lot more oil than we know about.

As the International Energy Agency (IEA) points out: “Almost every second barrel of world oil production growth in the next two decades will come from Iraq, with the potential to provide prosperity for all of Iraq’s 32 million people.”

We also have some updates on the Iraqi-Kurdish front

Since the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) opened up a new, independent pipeline to export oil directly to Turkey, Baghdad has hired a law firm to help deal with the issue. The Kurdish crude, as we noted earlier, has stopped in Turkey, at the port of Ceyhan, and isn’t going further to international markets as the Turks attempt to appease Baghdad a bit. Talks between the two sides have made little progress, but we do not see this descending into an actual conflict for the time being, partly because Baghdad is otherwise distracted by problems in central/southern Iraq and the disintegration of the security situation, which Erbil has been keen to take advantage of.

Now, Baghdad is threatening to sue over these “illegal” crude shipments, and has hired Vinson and Elkins law firm to pursue anyone who buys Kurdish crude pumped into Ceyhan. So rather than targeting the Kurds, or the producers, they are targeting buyers, hoping to stymie the process. Until now, Baghdad has not sought to take any action against smaller trading companies that were buying barrels of Kurdish crude trucked over the border into Turkey—but the launch of a new Kurdish pipeline directly to Turkey changes the balance in this equation because we’re talking about much larger volumes now. There are some 220,000 barrels of Kurdish oil now waiting to be sold in Ceyhan.

Will it deter buyers? On the legal front, we think Baghdad will have a very hard time making such lawsuits stick, but we are concerned that buyers will nonetheless think twice about purchasing this crude, just to avoid getting tangled up in a legal battle that will undoubtedly be dragged through the media.

Re-emerging: A Post-Modern, Post-Secular Islam

Reviewing 'From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization'

by Jim Miles -

In his introduction, Eric Walberg states; “The main purpose of this book is to help the reader to understand the alternative map which Islam offers.” This is both a literal and figural map, an alternative to the imperial and neo-colonial boundaries that divide the Islamic world, and an alternative viewpoint to that of the imperial driver of capitalism. This offer includes “realigning ourselves with Nature, and rediscovering humanity's’’ spiritual evolutionary path...without abandoning the vital role of reason.”

This path along this alternate view is created strongly, with an obvious sympathy for the parts of Islam that are little known to the capitalist imperial view. It is a fully comprehensive path, leading the reader through time and through not just the Middle East, but on into Northern Africa, the Sahel, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The path always interacts with the imperial capitalist landscape ranging from the original European nationalist empires of France, Britain, Spain, and Holland on through to the hegemonic empire of the United States that has subordinated the previous empires into its fold. This has been done through military backing of corporate enterprises and many financial maneuverings that have - up until now - managed to stretch this empire into a full global span.

The first chapter “Islam, Christianity, and Judaism” explains the nature of the Koran without the political prejudice brought on by imperial reaction (blowback) to occupation and creation of the ‘evil’ other. Following that, it presents a broad history of Islam up until the era of the First World War. While the interactions with Christianity were often violent, Islamic expansion eastward generally tended to be accomplished more peacefully through trade and missionaries - the latter of course being against the military corporate interests of the west.

A concise but broad history of Islam from”independence to independence” - from Ottoman independence to putative democratic-capitalist independence fills out the modern history in “The Genesis of Re-emerging Islamic Civilization.”

The third chapter, “The Theory of Islamic Renewal” examines the philosophical impetus towards renewal, as always against the backdrop of nationalism, capitalism, and militarization. Three threats are broadly outlined. The first are the ideas generated by the “accommodationists” and “nationalists” who essentially remain subject to western influence. ANother threat is seen with the Saudi Wahhabi sect that has “compromised Islam as a religion” via its collaboration and accommodation with the west, its sterile culture, and its intolerance (and concealed violence). In general Islam is viewed in contrast to “globalization” as having a “wealth of social experience” that is “a treasure to be rediscovered by the West as the emptiness of its materialism is expired.”

Imperialism and its financial controls take up a large perspective through this journey. Tunisian Ghannouchi criticizes the;

"total stripping of the state from religion [which] would turn the state into a mafia, and the world economic system into an exercise in plundering, and politics into deception and hypocrisy ... This is exactly what happened in the western experience, despite there being some positive aspects. International politics became the preserve of a few financial brokers owning the biggest share of capital and by extension the media, through which they ultimately control politicians."

From Malaysian Chandra Muzzafar;

"western powers try to maintain the ‘secular state vs Islamic opposition’ scenario to keep the umma divided, weak, at their mercy, with Muslim ruling elites "wallowing in vulgar opulence and indulging in crude extravagance—helped by their oil wealth ... They have kept huge segments of their people poor and ignorant while they feed their fantasies with all that money can buy." The global capitalist system is prejudiced against Muslims and its interests are inimical to Islamic notions of human dignity and social justice. "The world today is a whole system of political, economic and cultural relationships which have grown out of the 200 years of western domination of the planet.""

From Egyptian Bashir Musa Mohammed Nafi (b. 1953) criticizing western culture as;

"imbued with a Darwinian view of the world: the belief in the sheer value of power, domination and the superiority of western civilization.

"Imperialism inflicted profound damage, not only on the cultural, economic and social life of the colonised peoples but also, more so, on the moral well-being of the colonizers themselves."

The sum of this chapter in particular emphasizes several theoretical views. Islam is against both capitalism and communism; it is obviously anti-imperialist; it is, contrary to western mythologies, pro-democracy in relation to the voice of the umma, the collective will of the people. Despite western media presentations of Islam as irrational, it contains a strong element that is pro-education and pro-science, a much more modern outlook than many of its detractors in the west.

From this philosophical perspective, Walberg journeys into current events and what is actually occurring with Islam through the different regions of the world. in Chapter Four, Modern Islam in Practice. Here the previously explained beliefs are contrasted with the reality of what is happening within the Muslim world within current events. No surprise that oil, money, imperialism, and despotism are widely presented; along with that is the concept that current violent and militant actions are really a reaction to this imperial over-reach and suppression.

In light of current concerns vis a vis Saudi Arabia and Iran, Walberg says;

"the impulse for terrorism in the Muslim world comes not from Shia, but from Wahhabi and Neo-Wahhabi Sunnis, to say nothing of U.S/Israel instigated false flag operations fingering/targeting Muslims."

Concerns are expressed about Iran, “now the most powerful regional player”, joining with the western powers via the IMF/Washington consensus. Walberg’s argument is hedged in his own footnote,

US sanctions targeting Iran have ironically further undermined the dollar, as China, Japan, India, Russia and Turkey now are forced to trade with Iran using their own currencies, Iranian rials and/or gold. South Korea uses barter. Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and others are eager to join this non-dollar trade club.

Contemporary Issues in Islam are discussed in the fifth chapter. Four main problem areas discussed. First is the concept of jihad vis a vis terrorists. Next are the Hadd Laws - the penalties prescribed for breaking laws, which generally have “symbolic value far in excess of their practical value” - which reminded me of the effectiveness of all the U.S. drug laws, the death penalty, and the forced servitude of the largest prison population in the world (apart from Gaza).

A third area of discussion that gets much media attention in the west is that of the role of women - and thus converts - within Islam. The argument is presented that;

"The importance of the family, the careful regulation of male-female relations, the sacralization of all aspects of life, and Islam’s strong rational side "makes it the most convincing religion as compared to the other monotheistic options" for many women."

With two thirds of converts being women, there is support for the statement.

The fourth area of contention is economics, emphasizing the Islamic ideas of social justice, no usury (which would cripple the debt laden capitalist system), its innovations such as profit-sharing and shared risk which minimize the “moral hazard” of employee/ownership relations.

A mix of philosophy and the its application is presented in the sixth chapter, Postmodernism, Muhammad and Marx. In sum, Islam was the closest rival to Marxism, but with its ‘defeat’ with the collapse of Soviet communism, capitalism has risen to the fore. The view here is positive for Islam, as;

"cyber grassroots activism picking up steam in the West and with the continued renewal of Islam around the world, this will eventually lead to a coalition of forces determined to bring morality and ethics back into the world. The major stumbling blocks are the unholy pact of the Saudi/Gulf monarchies with imperialism, and the continued colonial enterprise of Israel. Overcoming these will depend on when the US dollar loses its hegemony and how the US will adapt to the collapse of its empire."

The latter reference I find very interesting, almost thrown out as a teaser for what is to come. If current reactions on the stock market associated with all the manipulations of the Quantitative Easing combined with the daily ongoing rigging of the price of gold and silver continues - and then add in the collapsing emerging market currencies which force money back into the dollar - of which there are now trillions and trillions backed up by nothing but hundreds of trillions of dollars of debt of all forms - and yes, the dollar could well lose its hegemony which means its collapse into near worthlessness and thus collapse the empire. Except for maybe a last gasp violent reaction from the military.

Refer back to the footnote I quoted earlier. Perhaps Iran is no longer so much forced into seeking other forms of currency, but are working actively pursuing it along with China, Russia, India, South Africa (with all its underground gold) and Brazil. Whether this leads to a stronger Islamic umma, or a conversion to other powers' control remains to be seen, but it will be a journey - probably coming soon - that will be interesting to watch. As the current markets continue to tumble, the 'new world order' may not be quite what was anticipated.

The final section of the work reiterates a positive outlook for Islam and highlights its features that are in contrast to western military/financial imperialism:

  • human life and nature are sacrosanct
  • war, while ‘human nature’ is strictly circumscribed
  • usury outlawed
  • distribution must be equitable (no “too big to fail, too big to prosecute” banks
  • cultural restraint within moral ethical order
  • ends do not justify the means (no democracy from a gun-barrel)
  • umma, as a whole, must enjoin what is right

It would seem that Islam will emerge from the imperial yoke, ridding itself of the western imposed nationalism/financialism/militarism that now overrides them. Today’s violent political Islam is the product of imperialism, and a product of the collaborations of the Saudis with the U.S/Israeli empire. and their al-Qaeda affiliates through the Middle East and Northern Africa.

FROM POSTMODERNISM TO POSTSECULARISM - Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization presents many thought provoking ideas, and a well documented historical and philosophical perspective on Islam. It will be a difficult read for westerners with their isolated media view, but at the same time it is an essential perspective to look vis a vis changes that are already underway in the western world.

FROM POSTMODERNISM TO POSTSECULARISM - Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization. Eric Walberg. 
Clarity Press, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. 2013.

The Slow Lifting of the Siege of Yarmouk

Lifting the siege of Yarmouk one food parcel & one polio vaccination at a time

by Franklin Lamb -

Yarmouk Palestinian camp, Damascus  - As of 2/6/14 it’s been seven days since the first humanitarian aid, generally in the form of 56 lb. food parcels packed by UNWRA, the World Food Program, the ICRC or European aid organizations have been able to enter Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp following half a dozen aborted attempts the past few months by various militia and political groups to achieve consensus to deliver aid. The aid parcels, including two kilos of rice, two kilos sugar, three kilos lentils, three kilos dry macaroni, plus flour, jam, tea, oil, and sweet Halawi spread are intended to feed a family of five to eight for ten days. The boxes have been trickling into the South side of the Yarmouk Palestinian camp and up along Rima Street where this observer has seen crowds this past week tensely waiting and hoping for food and clean water. For some camp residents the wait for relief began in June of 2013 when all entrances and exits to Yarmouk camp were cut.

Up to this morning, approximately 5,300 food parcels have been allowed into Yarmouk or an average of 800-1,000 food packages daily. Aid has been entering sporadically and sometimes chaotically, with perceptible but slight increases over the past week.

A large yellow flat-bed truck arrived on the morning of 2/5/14 and this observer watched as food parcels were off-loaded and neatly stacked into six white pick-up trucks that were then driven into Yarmouk under the watchful gaze of pro and anti-regime forces and security agents. According to one source from South Beirut who this observer had met earlier, Jabhat al Nusra, Jabhat Islam, Daash and Jund al Cham snipers could be observed on rooftops monitoring the distribution activity with their eyes pressed against their rifle scopes. One SARCS volunteer who this observer has known for two years advised that she feared there might be a shootout between these fighters and nearby Palestinian forces allied with the government (Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-GC) suspected Hezbollah fighters with hand radio phones who were watching and seemingly discussing the events. Frankly, for this observer, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish which group is which around here given the proliferation of fighters with beards and essentially indistinguishable attire.

For many food parcel recipients, their first act is to open the jar of jam inside the cardboard box and scoop the confections into the mouths of their children or the nearby infirm refugees, usually elderly. On 2/6/14, UNWRA also started a polio vaccination program, its first in Yarmouk and which is urgently needed by thousands of trapped camp residents. Ten thousand dosages of polio vaccines are being allowed into the camp with vaccinations currently underway for the second day running.

In addition to the so far paltry amount of food allowed into the camp, approximately 1,600 people have been allowed to leave Yarmouk for medical treatment. Young Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) volunteers, wearing shirts with large Red Crosses can be seen trickling out from the besieged camp this morning.
 Invariably holding the hands, arms, or shoulders of those who could walk the 50 yards to waiting ambulances that will evacuate and transport these patients, suffering the effects of starvation including muscle atrophy and dehydration. Most will be taken to the PCRS Jaffa hospital two kilometers away. Others are being transferred to Syrian government hospitals in Mazah, in central Damascus, including al-Mujtahed, al-Muwasat, al-Tawleed and children hospital.

This observer mingled for a couple of hours among the approximately 250 family members of trapped refugees, many of whom appear daily outside the only exit from Yarmouk camp, hoping that a relative might be allowed to leave. One elderly lady, maybe in her late sixties, explained to this observer that every day for the past seven months, i.e. since the tight siege of Yarmouk began last June, she has stood in the same location waiting for her son Mahmoud to come to her from inside besieged Yarmouk. She has no idea if he is alive but she explained to me that she believes that God will deliver him safely to her.

Another view of much needed Divine assistance was articulated by a lovely young mother who had just exited Yarmouk with her two toddlers who looked, as she did, to be in fairly bad shape and in need of immediate hospitalization. A former English literature student, the lady, whose family is from Haifa, Occupied Palestine, explained to this observer that she no longer has any belief in God and as she elaborated why, she lowered her voice so as not to offend the nearby elderly believer waiting for her son Makmoud.

She told of her experience trapped inside Yarmouk: “For the past more than five months I have sold my body for one hour to whoever would give me a kilo of rice which sometimes costs as much as 14,000 s.p. (close to $ 100). I was proud to be a whore for these terrorists in order to keep my parents alive and who are still trapped and I also prevented complete starvation of my children.” She continued, “God did not help me and my family but I promise if I live and ever see one of those dogs I will kill him and he can learn if his God exists or not. None existed for me!” and she sobbed as two young lady volunteers from the PRCS held her as she and her little ones made their way to a waiting PRCS ambulance.

Given the 18,000 in need of urgent aid this cold winter morning inside Yarmouk camp, what has been allowed in so far has been a mere trickle, rather minor in a sense. But major for those getting the live saving food parcels and urgently required medical treatment.

As this observer waits to return to Yarmouk this morning, and for a promised and expensive taxi to hopefully arrive, for few cabs want to go anywhere near Yarmouk camp these days and charge five times the normal fare if they do, ones imagines that as has been the case this past week, there will be large crowds and long lines of people waiting and sometimes jostling for food. This attests to the enormous humanitarian need and to the desperation of thousands of civilians, Palestinian and Syrian, being starved and used as a weapon of war and as human shields.

After months of false starts toward reaching an agreement among fourteen Palestinian factions here in Damascus, as well as a green light from the Syrian government, and more than a dozen rebel militias, each with disparate agendas, this week’s agreement, and the 8th since early December, may or may not hold. And it may not end the carnage that criminally took 6000 more lives just last month.

If it does succeed, it will be one more half-step, to use UN Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi Geneva II term, toward lifting the siege of Yarmouk camp which achievement might then augur well for more widespread humanitarian efforts to achieve a nationwide ceasefire as a full step toward serious reconciliation work in order to save this great country.

Franklin Lamb is a visiting Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University and volunteers with the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Civil Rights Watchdog, Enviro's File Suit Against RCMP/CSIS Spying

BCCLA Files Complaint Against RCMP and CSIS For Spying on Enbridge Pipeline Opponents


VANCOUVER The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed two complaints today against the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The complaints allege that the two agencies illegally monitored and spied on the peaceful and democratic activities of community groups and First Nations opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project. These groups include ForestEthics Advocacy, Dogwood Initiative,, the Idle No More movement, and others.

The BCCLA alleges that the RCMP and CSIS interfered with the freedoms of expression, assembly and association protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by gathering intelligence about citizens opposed to the Enbridge project through a range of sources.

The complaints also claim that the spying activities potentially included illegal searches of private information. The complaint against CSIS further alleges that the spy agency broke the law by gathering information on the peaceful and democratic activities of Canadians, which it is banned by law from doing.

The documents released made clear that none of the groups under surveillance posed any threat to the National Energy Board hearings or public safety.

“It’s against the law and the constitution for police and spy agencies to spy on the lawful activities of people who are just speaking out and getting involved in their communities. That’s why we have filed these complaints,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BCCLA.
“This is bigger than an environmental debate – it’s a question of fundamental human rights. There are plenty of undemocratic countries where governments spy on people that they don’t agree with. That’s not supposed to happen in Canada, and when it does, it can frighten people away from expressing themselves and participating in democratic debate.”

“It’s intimidating for people to learn that they’re being spied on by their own government,” said Ben West, Tar Sands Campaign Director for ForestEthics Advocacy, one of the groups that was spied upon. “Regular people are being made to feel like they are on a list of enemies of the state, just because they are speaking out to protect their community from a threat to their health and safety or trying to do what’s right in the era of climate change.”

One incident recorded in the intelligence-gathering was a Kelowna, B.C. volunteer meeting co-hosted by the advocacy organization and the Dogwood Initiative, a community action group based in Victoria. Jamie Biggar, the Executive Director of LeadNow, said,

“Government spies should not be compiling reports about volunteers literally gathered in church basements to hand-paint signs – and then sharing that information with oil companies. That puts the interests of a handful of corporations ahead of the privacy rights of Canadians. It’s just wrong – period.”

Will Horter, the Executive Director of the Dogwood Initiative, added:

“We are helping Canadians engage in their communities and in public decision-making processes for Enbridge and other projects. There is something deeply wrong when holding a story-telling workshop attracts heat from spies and police forces. It’s democracy, not a national security threat.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who attended one of the meetings that was spied upon, stated:

“I was shocked and disgusted to learn that the police and the National Energy Board colluded to keep track of First Nations people who are simply speaking out, including those who participate in Idle No More. This is the kind of thing we’d expect to see in a police state, and it’s a violation of our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”

Some of the intelligence gathered appears to have been shared with the National Energy Board, including information about ForestEthics Advocacy which was an intervening party in the Board’s hearings, as well as with Enbridge and other oil and energy companies.

The complaint against the RCMP alleges that this could compromise the fairness of the Enbridge hearings. West added:

“You can’t have a fair hearing when the police secretly gather information about our activities and then provide secret evidence to the National Energy Board and Enbridge, one of the other parties.”

The activities of CSIS and the RCMP outlined in the complaints originally came to light through an access to information request filed by Matthew Millar of the Vancouver Observer. It is unclear whether covert surveillance, wiretaps or other means were used in gathering the intelligence.

More on this issue.

Additional media resources

Turning the Worm: Making Every E-mail a Message Against Mass Surveillance

Turn Every E-mail Into a Stand Against Mass Surveillance

by Jesselyn Radack - ICH - Daily Kos

In one simple step, you can turn every e-mail you send into a warning and protest against the National Security Agency's (NSA) mass surveillance programs. My organization, the Government Accountability Project, is distributing and encouraging use of a Privacy Statement for all Internet users to adopt as part of their signature line in their online communications:

This communication may be unlawfully collected and stored by the National Security Agency (NSA) in secret. The parties to this email do not consent to the retrieving or storing of this communication and any related metadata, as well as printing, copying, re-transmitting, disseminating, or otherwise using it. If you believe you have received this communication in error, please delete it immediately.

The NSA is making no effort to filter out communications that the government knows fall within the ambit of legally-recognized confidentiality, such as the doctor-patient, attorney-client, or priest-penitent privileges. Consider all of the privileged and confidential information communicated electronically: an e-mail to your therapist about an upcoming appointment, an e-mail to your doctor to refill a prescription, or to your attorney about an upcoming divorce.

These violations of privacy are not speculation. The Nation reported earlier this week that many attorney-client communications are not subject to NSA's minimization procedures:

Such calls are normally sacrosanct under the principle of attorney-client privilege, the ability to speak confidentially with your lawyer. But a leak to The Guardian last summer of National Security Agency (NSA) procedures that are supposed to protect privileged calls showed that some attorney-client privileged calls are not subject to internal rules that detail the instances when a wiretap should be turned off.

Just as Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the House Judiciary Committee that the phone records of members of Congress were not filtered out of the NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection program, there is no indication - even from surveillance state proponents - that NSA weeds out the privileged communications of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans.

The e-mail signature message serves a warning and a protest against mass surveillance. In addition to the e-mail action, next Tuesday, February 11, 2014, has been dubbed "The Day We Fight Back" against mass surveillance:

Participants including Access, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, BoingBoing, Reddit, Mozilla, ThoughtWorks, and more to come, will join potentially millions of Internet users to pressure lawmakers to end mass surveillance -- of both Americans and the citizens of the whole world.

Americans can take a stand against mass surveillance, by participating in Tuesday's "Day We Fight Back," by making every e-mail they send a protest against mass surveillance, and by calling on Congresspeople to support real reform (like the USA FREEDOM Act) and to oppose fake reforms that further empower the national security surveillance apparatus (like Sen. Dianne Feinstein's FISA Improvements Act).

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden sacrificed his career and his life as he knew it to give Americans the knowledge and opportunity to reign in the surveillance state. When Snowden answered questions from the public in January, he expressed a remarkable faith in American democracy:

Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden

Yes. What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.  (emphasis added)

If Snowden can maintain his patriotism and faith in democracy amid the near-constant retaliatory threats and smears from high-level US government officials, Americans can seize the chance to prove that American democracy can roll back an out-of-control and powerful surveillance apparatus. You can begin with two clicks of your mouse, copy and paste the message to your e-mail signature line:

This communication may be unlawfully collected and stored by the National Security Agency (NSA) in secret. The parties to this email do not consent to the retrieving or storing of this communication and any related metadata, as well as printing, copying, re-transmitting, disseminating, or otherwise using it. If you believe you have received this communication in error, please delete it immediately.

The Other Side of Spook World's Back Door

Selling Your Secrets: The Invisible World of Software Backdoors and Bounty Hunters

by Pratap Chatterjee  - TomDispatch

Imagine that you could wander unseen through a city, sneaking into houses and offices of your choosing at any time, day or night. Imagine that, once inside, you could observe everything happening, unnoticed by others -- from the combinations used to secure bank safes to the clandestine rendezvous of lovers. Imagine also that you have the ability to silently record everybody’s actions, whether they are at work or play without leaving a trace. Such omniscience could, of course, make you rich, but perhaps more important, it could make you very powerful.

That scenario out of some futuristic sci-fi novel is, in fact, almost reality right now. After all, globalization and the Internet have connected all our lives in a single, seamless virtual city where everything is accessible at the tap of a finger. We store our money in online vaults; we conduct most of our conversations and often get from place to place with the help of our mobile devices. Almost everything that we do in the digital realm is recorded and lives on forever in a computer memory that, with the right software and the correct passwords, can be accessed by others, whether you want them to or not.

Now -- one more moment of imagining -- what if every one of your transactions in that world was infiltrated? What if the government had paid developers to put trapdoors and secret passages into the structures that are being built in this new digital world to connect all of us all the time? What if they had locksmiths on call to help create master keys for all the rooms? And what if they could pay bounty hunters to stalk us and build profiles of our lives and secrets to use against us?

Well, check your imagination at the door, because this is indeed the brave new dystopian world that the U.S. government is building, according to the latest revelations from the treasure trove of documents released by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, The Wild West of Surveillance

The question Senator Ron Wyden asked on March 12th of last year was straightforward enough and no surprise for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He had been given it a day in advance of his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and after he was done, Senator Wyden and his staff offered him a chance to “amend” his answer if he wished. Did the National Security Agency, Wyden wanted to know, gather “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans”? Being on that committee and privy to a certain amount of secret intelligence information, Wyden already knew the correct answer to the question. Clapper, with a day to prepare, nonetheless answered, “No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

That was a bald-faced lie, though Clapper would later term it the “least untruthful” thing he felt he could say. As we now know, the NSA was, among many other things, gathering the phone “data” of every American and storing it for future use. In other words, after some forethought, the director perjured himself.

Mind you, Clapper isn’t exactly shy about charging other people with implicit crimes. In recent testimony before Congress, he demanded that whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden “and his accomplices” return all agency documents. It was a stunning use of a term whose only meaning is criminal and clearly referred to the journalists -- Glenn Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and reporters from the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among other papers -- who have been examining and writing about the Snowden documents.

It caught something of the chutzpah of the top officials who run Washington’s national security state -- and little wonder that they feel emboldened and demanding. After all, not only is Clapper not going to be charged with perjury, but he has retained his post without a blink. He has kept the “support” of President Obama, who recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper (in what passes these days for a rebuke of our surveiller-in-chief), “Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded.” More careful indeed!

I've long argued that while we, the citizens of the U.S., remain in legal America, the U.S. national security state exists in "post-legal America" because no illegal act from warrantless surveillance to torture committed in its service will ever be prosecuted. So it's no surprise that Clapper won’t even be forced to resign for lying to Congress. He's free as a bird and remains powerful indeed. Tell that to some of our whistleblowers.

In his latest post, TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee offers an anatomy of a surveillance world that grows more, not less, powerful and full of itself with every passing moment and technological advance, a national security world whose global ambitions know no bounds. Tom

Selling Your Secrets: The Invisible World of Software Backdoors and Bounty Hunters

by Pratap Chatterjee

Over the last eight months, journalists have dug deep into these documents to reveal that the world of NSA mass surveillance involves close partnerships with a series of companies most of us have never heard of that design or probe the software we all take for granted to help keep our digital lives humming along.

There are three broad ways that these software companies collaborate with the state: a National Security Agency program called “Bullrun” through which that agency is alleged to pay off developers like RSA, a software security firm, to build “backdoors” into our computers; the use of “bounty hunters” like Endgame and Vupen that find exploitable flaws in existing software like Microsoft Office and our smartphones; and finally the use of data brokers like Millennial Media to harvest personal data on everybody on the Internet, especially when they go shopping or play games like Angry Birds, Farmville, or Call of Duty.

Of course, that’s just a start when it comes to enumerating the ways the government is trying to watch us all, as I explained in a previous TomDispatch piece, “Big Bro is Watching You.” For example, the FBI uses hackers to break into individual computers and turn on computer cameras and microphones, while the NSA collects bulk cell phone records and tries to harvest all the data traveling over fiber-optic cables. In December 2013, computer researcher and hacker Jacob Appelbaum revealed that the NSA has also built hardware with names like Bulldozer, Cottonmouth, Firewalk, Howlermonkey, and Godsurge that can be inserted into computers to transmit data to U.S. spooks even when they are not connected to the Internet.

“Today, [the NSA is] conducting instant, total invasion of privacy with limited effort,” Paul Kocher, the chief scientist of Cryptography Research, Inc. which designs security systems, told the New York Times. “This is the golden age of spying.”

Building Backdoors

Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration promoted a special piece of NSA-designed hardware that it wanted installed in computers and telecommunication devices. Called the Clipper Chip, it was intended to help scramble data to protect it from unauthorized access -- but with a twist. It also transmitted a "Law Enforcement Access Field" signal with a key that the government could use if it wanted to access the same data.

Activists and even software companies fought against the Clipper Chip in a series of political skirmishes that are often referred to as the Crypto Wars. One of the most active companies was RSA from California. It even printed posters with a call to “Sink Clipper.” By 1995, the proposal was dead in the water, defeated with the help of such unlikely allies as broadcaster Rush Limbaugh and Senators John Ashcroft and John Kerry.

But the NSA proved more tenacious than its opponents imagined. It never gave up on the idea of embedding secret decryption keys inside computer hardware -- a point Snowden has emphasized (with the documents to prove it).

A decade after the Crypto Wars, RSA, now a subsidiary of EMC, a Massachusetts company, had changed sides. According to an investigative report by Joseph Menn of Reuters, it allegedly took $10 million from the National Security Agency in exchange for embedding an NSA-designed mathematical formula called the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator inside its Bsafe software products as the default encryption method.

The Dual Elliptic Curve has a “flaw” that allows it to be hacked, as even RSA now admits. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Bsafe is built into a number of popular personal computer products and most people would have no way of figuring out how to turn it off.

According to the Snowden documents, the RSA deal was just one of several struck under the NSA’s Bullrun program that has cost taxpayers over $800 million to date and opened every computer and mobile user around the world to the prying eyes of the surveillance state.

“The deeply pernicious nature of this campaign -- undermining national standards and sabotaging hardware and software -- as well as the amount of overt private sector cooperation are both shocking,” wrote Dan Auerbach and Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based activist group that has led the fight against government surveillance. “Back doors fundamentally undermine everybody's security, not just that of bad guys.”

Bounty Hunters

For the bargain basement price of $5,000, hackers offered for sale a software flaw in Adobe Acrobat that allows you to take over the computer of any unsuspecting victim who downloads a document from you. At the opposite end of the price range, Endgame Systems of Atlanta, Georgia, offered for sale a package named Maui for $2.5 million that can attack targets all over the world based on flaws discovered in the computer software that they use. For example, some years ago, Endgame offered for sale targets in Russia including an oil refinery in Achinsk, the National Reserve Bank, and the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant. (The list was revealed by Anonymous, the online network of activist hackers.)

While such “products,” known in hacker circles as “zero day exploits,” may sound like sales pitches from the sorts of crooks any government would want to put behind bars, the hackers and companies who make it their job to discover flaws in popular software are, in fact, courted assiduously by spy agencies like the NSA who want to use them in cyberwarfare against potential enemies.

Take Vupen, a French company that offers a regularly updated catalogue of global computer vulnerabilities for an annual subscription of $100,000. If you see something that you like, you pay extra to get the details that would allow you to hack into it. A Vupen brochure released by Wikileaks in 2011 assured potential clients that the company aims “to deliver exclusive exploit codes for undisclosed vulnerabilities” for “covertly attacking and gaining access to remote computer systems.”

At a Google sponsored event in Vancouver in 2012, Vupen hackers demonstrated that they could hijack a computer via Google’s Chrome web browser. But they refused to hand over details to the company, mocking Google publicly. “We wouldn’t share this with Google for even $1 million,” Chaouki Bekrar of Vupen boasted to Forbes magazine. “We don’t want to give them any knowledge that can help them in fixing this exploit or other similar exploits. We want to keep this for our customers.”

In addition to Endgame and Vupen, other players in this field include Exodus Intelligence in Texas, Netragard in Massachussetts, and ReVuln in Malta.

Their best customer? The NSA, which spent at least $25 million in 2013 buying up dozens of such “exploits.” In December, Appelbaum and his colleagues reported in Der Spiegel that agency staff crowed about their ability to penetrate any computer running Windows at the moment that machine sends messages to Microsoft. So, for example, when your computer crashes and helpfully offers to report the problem to the company, clicking yes could open you up for attack.

The federal government is already alleged to have used such exploits (including one in Microsoft Windows) -- most famously when the Stuxnet virus was deployed to destroy Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.

“This is the militarization of the Internet,” Appelbaum told the Chaos Computer Congress in Hamburg. “This strategy is undermining the Internet in a direct attempt to keep it insecure. We are under a kind of martial law.”

Harvesting your Data

Among the Snowden documents was a 20-page 2012 report from the Government Communications Headquarters -- the British equivalent of the NSA -- that listed a Baltimore-based ad company, Millennial Media. According to the spy agency, it can provide “intrusive” profiles of users of smartphone applications and games. The New York Times has noted that the company offers data like whether individuals are single, married, divorced, engaged, or “swinger,” as well as their sexual orientation (“straight, gay, bisexuall, and ‘not sure’”).

How does Millennial Media get this data? Simple. It happens to gather data from some of the most popular video game manufacturers in the world. That includes Activision in California which makes Call of Duty, a military war game that has sold over 100 million copies; Rovio of Finland, which has given away 1.7 billion copies of a game called Angry Birds that allows users to fire birds from a catapult at laughing pigs; and Zynga -- also from California -- which makes Farmville, a farming game with 240 million active monthly users.

In other words, we’re talking about what is undoubtedly a significant percentage of the connected world unknowingly handing over personal data, including their location and search interests, when they download “free” apps after clicking on a licensing agreement that legally allows the manufacturer to capture and resell their personal information. Few bother to read the fine print or think twice about the actual purpose of the agreement.

The apps pay for themselves via a new business model called “real-time bidding” in which advertisers like Target and Walmart send you coupons and special offers for whatever branch of their store is closest to you. They do this by analyzing the personal data sent to them by the “free” apps to discover both where you are and what you might be in the market for.

When, for instance, you walk into a mall, your phone broadcasts your location and within a millisecond a data broker sets up a virtual auction to sell your data to the highest bidder. This rich and detailed data stream allows advertisers to tailor their ads to each individual customer. As a result, based on their personal histories, two people walking hand in hand down a street might get very different advertisements, even if they live in the same house.

This also has immense value to any organization that can match up the data from a device with an actual name and identity -- such as the federal government. Indeed, the Guardian has highlighted an NSA document from 2010 in which the agency boasts that it can “collect almost every key detail of a user's life: including home country, current location (through geolocation), age, gender, zip code, marital status… income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.”

In Denial

It’s increasingly clear that the online world is, for both government surveillance types and corporate sellers, a new Wild West where anything goes. This is especially true when it comes to spying on you and gathering every imaginable version of your “data.”

Software companies, for their part, have denied helping the NSA and reacted with anger to the Snowden disclosures. “Our fans’ trust is the most important thing for us and we take privacy extremely seriously,” commented Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Entertainment, in a public statement. “We do not collaborate, collude, or share data with spy agencies anywhere in the world.”

RSA has tried to deny that there are any flaws in its products. "We have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘backdoors’ into our products for anyone’s use,” the company said in a statement on its website. “We categorically deny this allegation." (Nonetheless RSA has recently started advising clients to stop using the Dual Elliptical Curve.)

Other vendors like Endgame and Millennial Media have maintained a stoic silence. Vupen is one of the few that boasts about its ability to uncover software vulnerabilities.

And the NSA has issued a Pravda-like statement that neither confirms nor denies the revelations. "The communications of people who are not valid foreign intelligence targets are not of interest to the National Security Agency," an NSA spokeswoman told the Guardian. "Any implication that NSA's foreign intelligence collection is focused on the smartphone or social media communications of everyday Americans is not true.”

The NSA has not, however, denied the existence of its Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO), which Der Spiegel describes as “a squad of [high-tech] plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.”

The Snowden documents indicate that TAO has a sophisticated set of tools at its disposal -- that the NSA calls “Quantum Theory” -- made up of backdoors and bugs that allow its software engineers to plant spy software on a target computer. One powerful and hard to detect example of this is TAO’s ability to be notified when a target’s computer visits certain websites like LinkedIn and to redirect it to an NSA server named “Foxacid” where the agency can upload spy software in a fraction of a second.

Which Way Out of the Walled Garden?

The simple truth of the matter is that most individuals are easy targets for both the government and corporations. They either pay for software products like Pages and Office from well known manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft or download them for free from game companies like Activision, Rovio, and Zynga for use inside “reputable” mobile devices like Blackberries and iPhones.

These manufacturers jealously guard access to the software that they make available, saying that they need to have quality control. Some go even further with what is known as the “walled garden” approach, only allowing pre-approved programs on their devices. Apple’s iTunes, Amazon’s Kindle, and Nintendo’s Wii are examples of this.

But as the Snowden revelations have helped make clear, such devices and software are vulnerable both to manufacturer’s mistakes, which open exploitable backdoors into their products, and to secret deals with the NSA.

So in a world where, increasingly, nothing is private, nothing is simply yours, what is an Internet user to do? As a start, there is an alternative to most major software programs for word processing, spreadsheets, and layout and design -- the use of free and open source software like Linux and Open Office, where the underlying code is freely available to be examined for hacks and flaws. (Think of it this way: if the NSA cut a deal with Apple to copy everything on your iPhone, you would never know. If you bought an open-source phone -- not an easy thing to do -- that sort of thing would be quickly spotted.) You can also use encrypted browsers like Tor and search engines like Duck Duck Go that don’t store your data.

Next, if you own and use a mobile device on a regular basis, you owe it yourself to turn off as many of the location settings and data-sharing options as you can. And last but hardly least, don’t play Farmville, go out and do the real thing. As for Angry Birds and Call of Duty, honestly, instead of shooting pigs and people, it might be time to think about finding better ways to entertain yourself. Pick up a paintbrush, perhaps? Or join an activist group like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and fight back against Big Brother.

Pratap Chatterjee, a TomDispatch regular, is executive director of CorpWatch and a board member of Amnesty International USA. He is the author of Halliburton’s Army and Iraq, Inc.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Pratap Chatterjee

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Civil Rights Group Responds to Spying Revelations: First Nations, Tar Sands/Pipeline Opponents Targeted

Press Conference: Civil Liberties Watchdog Responds to Spying on Pipeline Opponents


VANCOUVER – The B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), civil society organizations and First Nations leadership are holding a press conference Thursday morning to announce a response to revelations of government surveillance and spying on environmental activists, First Nations, and other members of civil society opposed to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers project.

Announcement 9:00 a.m. PST, Thursday, February 6, 2014

@Vancouver Public Library, lower level, Peter Kaye Room

Representatives of the BCCLA, ForestEthics Advocacy, Dogwood Initiative, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs will be on hand to make statements and field questions.

Documentation on the response will be made available at tomorrow’s press conference.

For immediate release
February 5, 2014

Josh Paterson, Executive Director,
BCCLA, 604-630-9752