Category Archives: Human rights and Liberties
Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc.
722 12th Street, N.W., 4th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
July 26, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Re: Civil Disobedience, Edward J. Snowden, and the Constitution
Dear Mr. President:
You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”
Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which “following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to clearly illegal orders.
A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.
Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.
We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.
From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation over their legality, necessity, or morality. That secrecy (combined with congressional nonfeasance) provoked Edward’s disclosures, which sparked a national conversation which you have belatedly and cynically embraced. Legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate to curtail or terminate the NSA’s programs, and the American people are being educated to the public policy choices at hand. A commanding majority now voice concerns over the dragnet surveillance of Americans that Edward exposed and you concealed. It seems mystifying to us that you are prosecuting Edward for accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done!
The right to be left alone from government snooping–the most cherished right among civilized people—is the cornerstone of liberty. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson served as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg. He came to learn of the dynamics of the Third Reich that crushed a free society, and which have lessons for the United States today.
Writing in Brinegar v. United States, Justice Jackson elaborated:
The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so
effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the
first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance
disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.
We thus find your administration’s zeal to punish Mr. Snowden’s discharge of civic duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and indefensible.
We are also appalled at your administration’s scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward.
On June 27, 2013, Mr. Fein wrote a letter to the Attorney General stating that Edward’s father was substantially convinced that he would return to the United States to confront the charges that have been lodged against him if three cornerstones of due process were guaranteed. The letter was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to discuss fair trial imperatives. The Attorney General has sneered at the overture with studied silence.
We thus suspect your administration wishes to avoid a trial because of constitutional doubts about application of the Espionage Act in these circumstances, and obligations to disclose to the public potentially embarrassing classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act.
Your decision to force down a civilian airliner carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales in hopes of kidnapping Edward also does not inspire confidence that you are committed to providing him a fair trial. Neither does your refusal to remind the American people and prominent Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate like House Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,and Senator Dianne Feinstein that Edward enjoys a presumption of innocence. He should not be convicted before trial. Yet Speaker Boehner has denounced Edward as a “traitor.”
Ms. Pelosi has pontificated that Edward “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” Ms. Bachmann has pronounced that, “This was not the act of a patriot; this was an act of a traitor.” And Ms. Feinstein has decreed that Edward was guilty of “treason,” which is defined in Article III of the Constitution as “levying war” against the United States, “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
You have let those quadruple affronts to due process pass unrebuked, while you have disparaged Edward as a “hacker” to cast aspersion on his motivations and talents. Have you forgotten the Supreme Court’s gospel in Berger v. United States that the interests of the government “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done?”
We also find reprehensible your administration’s Espionage Act prosecution of Edward for disclosures indistinguishable from those which routinely find their way into the public domain via your high level appointees for partisan political advantage. Classified details of your predator drone protocols, for instance, were shared with the New York Times with impunity to bolster your national security credentials. Justice Jackson observed in Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York: “The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally.”
In light of the circumstances amplified above, we urge you to order the Attorney General to move to dismiss the outstanding criminal complaint against Edward, and to support legislation to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed. Such presidential directives would mark your finest constitutional and moral hour.
Counsel for Lon Snowden
Do women we need a menstruation Bill to to protect their rights?
“In this period, the majority of women experience psychological and physical discomfort,” LDPR member and Moscow mayoral candidate Mikhail Degtyaryov, 32, said in a statement. “Often the pain for the fair sex is so intense that they are forced to call an ambulance.”
The disruption to working women caused by menstruation is so severe that it represents a problem for society, according to the draft bill submitted by Degtyaryov to the Duma.
“Strong pain induces heightened fatigue, reduces memory and work-competence and leads to colorful expressions of emotional discomfort,” reads a copy of the bill published on Degtyaryov’s website. “Therefore scientists and gynecologists look on difficult menstruation not only as a medical, but also a social problem.”
Obliging employers to provide a holiday for female employees will ensure “fair working conditions” for women and increase their “psychological health,” according to Degtyaryov.
It was not immediately clear, however whether the menstruation bill would have enough support to be passed by the Duma. Andrei Isayev, a member of the incumbent United Russia party and the head of the Duma’s Labor, Social Politics and Veteran Affairs Committee, said Monday that the legislation was “ill conceived.”
The nationalist LDPR party is known for its traditional, and sometimes outspoken approach to many gender
Degtyaryov is the LDPR’s candidate in Moscow mayoral elections scheduled for September 8. Less than 1 percent of Muscovites are planning to vote for him, according to a July 17 poll by the Levada Center.
I am sure the above idea would appeal to many women . Maybe females everywhere should be floating the idea with their elected representatives
When Lady Liberty Wept
By Gary Corseri
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,” she recalled,
“With conquering limbs astride from land to land””
And yet, even so, it had come to pass,
With every military base, with drones
Hovering everywhere, in the drowned dreams
Of exiles, “refuse,” “yearning to breathe free.”
And what freedom now in the Surveillance State
Where every thought was subject to review
And “newsmen” scurried to assess the threat
From hydra-headed, huddled masses–lost,
Renditioned, imprisoned, killed at the behest
Of elected, cowardly Pinocchios,–
Smiling before drug-induced amnesiacs?
They could not remember who they claimed to be;
Nor why; nor how it mattered to posterity.
Only a looming sense of dread embalmed
Them in a kind of amber ghosts might study
In the years ahead–if there were years” ahead.
And so, she wept” as some say Mother Mary weeps;
As some say Rachel wept for her lost children.
Copper-colored tears from cupreous eyes;
Copious tears from her iron skeleton.
And the wind blew the tears upon her torch.
And the light went out.
By Gary Corseri – Copyright, 2013. Permission is granted for reprint in blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title and contents remain unchanged. Gary Corseri has published novels and collections of poetry, and his dramas have appeared on Atlanta–PBS and elsewhere. He has taught in US public schools and prisons, and at US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at periodicals and websites worldwide, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library.
BOGOTA – Uprisings have grown more frequent in the large swaths of Colombian territory inhabited by indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities. Discontent is spreading among this nation’s various hunters, gatherers, herders, loggers, fishermen and seasonal farmers.
Some analysts have predicted that our own “Arab Spring” could rise up from these places, which have the highest values of water and biodiversity in the world. It would be an unprecedented environmental boiling point.
These are the areas that make up that “Other Colombia” that people in the urban centers do not understand. And now it has become a security concern. We do not have sound integration policies or a development plan adapted for a diversity of backgrounds. For the most part, these are communities that lose their adaptive viability in the face of cultural and economic changes that come with modernity.
The secular “buenos vivideros,” or good living, areas become pockets of poverty, conflict and displacement. Almost all lifestyles in transition in these distant and secluded regions constitute some sort of illegality. The use of forestry, which continues to take place, is less acceptable to the increasingly educated urban centers. The exploitation of wildlife is stigmatized, but without any alternatives. For example, continental fishing is a sector the state has abandoned.
GDP is not everything
When the government starts to heed the cry against criminal mining, which occurs without economic alternatives in some places, it begins to feed discontent. While this practice is destroying jungles and rivers, we would be entering a new conflict without having emerged from others. This issue has to do with the fact that Colombia does not have a proposal for sustainable development in the occupied border territories.
In fact, Colombia does not understand its own territory. With the rainy season of 2011, an official said with satisfaction that the “damn Niña” — as Colombia President Juan Santos called it — “had not altered the GDP.” But the “Other Colombia” does not benefit from this GDP in the same way. Our officials, with some exceptions, simply cannot conceive that these parts of the country have their own identity, and often very different benchmarks.
It will not be a peaceful Colombia if we city folk value only conservation and fail to recognize that people have lived in this vast space for a long time. The protection of natural resources coupled with local benefits could be part of the solution. And yet, the current development plan prescribes agriculture for the barren lands without offering an alternative for their inhabitants. As Professor Julio Carrizosa has said, “Our institutions are excessively simple-minded in the face of the territories’ complexity.”
We declare millions of hectares as communal lands, but we leave them in a profound, institutional abandon. The Humboldt Institute, which counts on a program for the use of biodiversity, can barely become a scientific witness to the decline of those lifestyles. A “Marshall Plan” is needed to revitalize the Colombia of the forests, floodplain rivers, swamps, rain forests, natural grasslands and extensive mountain areas. It would represent a national commitment to culture, environment and security.
The national government could create a commission of academics and locals to propose a vision. We need a recipe for integration that is sustainable and worthy of Colombia’s minorities, who hold the vast majority of the territory.
Fort Meade, MD – The United States has had, clearly, a bit of an issue with whistleblowers in recent years. The newest and biggest one, perhaps the most damaging, is still ongoing but there is still another one playing out in the courts, the saga of Bradley Manning which is rapidly coming to a conclusion.
After weeks of testimony and legal finagling, yesterday Judge Denise Lind retired to her chambers to deliberate in the remaining charges against Manning. Some of the initial crime with which he was charged Manning has pled guilty to, but others still stand and many of them are very, very serious.
Now Manning will await his fate, judge by a single person and not by a jury of his peers, this being a military court and all, which could very well result in a conviction for the 25-year old Manning. Actually, given the politically charged atmosphere of the case and there really being no other option, it’s pretty much guaranteed that he will be found guilty on all the charges, heck there’s no real reason to even bother with the deliberation, it’s going to happen.
“He’s not seeking attention. He’s saying he’s willing to accept the price. That is a whistleblower, period. That is somebody who wants to inform the American public,”said Manning’s lawyer David Coombs upon concluding his case.
Really, little of what Manning leaked mattered all that much save for a single video showing U.S. troops gunning down Reuters reporters, which was a little embarrassing.
Despite a willingness to take responsibility for his actions, it’s believed that Manning would still prefer to not go to jail for the rest of his life.
“I think it’s pretty clear what the judge’s decision is going to be since this case is what it is. I mean this is no small thing, not tiny little event that just happened to happen. Aside from the trouble that it cause, giving him release could give other people so inclined to do the same thing, and that is not something anyone wants I would think,” said Scrape TV Legal analyst Gabe Hawthorne. “This is one of those cases where the law is actually not totally relevant to the outcome, what matters is what people want and people want Manning to go to prison for a long time. Manning obviously not but he doesn’t really get a say.”
Manning has said on multiple occasions, perhaps even to the judge, that he would prefer to stay out of prison if that is possible.
“It’s really a sticky situation where what is right legally is not necessarily in lock step with what people seem to want. Often that results in people getting angry, but that is unlikely here because Manning acted against the government. Perhaps if the information belonged to a young black kid if Florida he would be okay, but the U.S. government is a different animal,” continued Hawthorne. “That is really what has gotten him in the most trouble, who he went up against. A lesser agency and everything would have been fine because what he did wasn’t really that bad, but he made the government look bad and when that happens they will seek revenge, and have it most likely.”
The judge is believed to be just waiting around to announce the decision she made before the trial started
It was the penetrating smell of Lysol, lights and stainless steel in the mortuary of the John Radcliffe Infirmary Oxford, as well as the remains of a fit husband and father. Nine police officers were in attendance, the most senior being Detective Chief Inspector Alan Young who was in charge of the investigation. He was at the scene on Harrowdown Hill where the unidentified body was found by Louise Holmes. In spite of his lead position in the inquiry into a missing person, and then a suspicious death, he was neither called to the Hutton Inquiry which started sitting 13 days later, nor did he submit a statement to it (1).
There is no obvious explanation for the presence of nine police officers at this very morbid autopsy given that the police had sprayed the word ‘suicide’ about earlier that day. The size of the squad would surely have fitted better if murder was foremost in the minds of the investigating authorities.
The examination finished just after midnight. Dr Hunt wrote up his report of his findings at the scene and of his post mortem examination the next day, the 19th of July. He would have come to preliminary conclusions as to the cause of death and been helped in that by the early findings of Dr Allan the toxicologist.
That first report has never been published; it was not referred to by Dr Hunt when he gave evidence at the Hutton Inquiry (2) The only report, and that is entitled Final Post Mortem Report – 25th July 2003, was published in October 2010, by the Ministry of Justice. The only original copy of this in existence is a very poor ‘scan’. An OCR and tidied version of this is here (3). That the findings in the first report have never been made public was one among three important concerns brought by this author to the General Medical Council in 2011, established by the Medical Act of 1858. (4) This will be discussed later but suffice to say they were dismissed.
Dr Nicholas Gardiner, HM Coroner for Oxfordshire, opened an inquest as the law demands for all violent, unnatural or unexplained deaths on the 21st July. It is surprising that transcripts of coronial hearings are seldom made. The hearing would have been attended by Dr Hunt, the coroner’s officer and the police. It would have been adjourned until more evidence had flowed in. However, it can be inferred that the cause of death had been given by Dr Hunt. (5 )
Whilst this mouse of an inquest moved ever so quietly, an elephant had been trampling the undergrowth for the three previous days, starting at Harrowdown Hill. Within three hours of the body being found, my Lord Hutton had been engaged to chair an ad hoc inquiry, by my Lord Falconer as Dr Watt has already described.
Miles Goslett recently reported in the Mail that Hutton had confirmed in a letter to Norman Baker MP that he had been asked to meet Lord Chancellor Falconer in his Lord’s office around noon of the 18th July and that he agreed to serve.(6) At that point the subject, David Christopher Kelly CMG DSc had not been identified and no cause of death had been established. This fixer was a friend of Blair’s when they were in chambers studying law! He had assisted his friend the PM in bolstering the claim that there was a legal basis for a massive bombardment and invasion of Iraq rather than it being a supreme war crime as defined at Nuremberg.
It is salutary to consider that it took six and half years for the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq ‘War’ to be set up in which over one million Iraqi humans died, at least two million were maimed by customary calculation and four million were made refugees in Syria and Jordan. It took the New Labour high command, the sofa cabinet, just three hours after the death of just one man to set up Hutton with the clear intention of containing the inquiry and ensuring safe conclusions. The instruction given to Hutton was to ‘…urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances
surrounding the death of Dr Kelly’.
‘Urgently’ can be interpreted as ‘nail this promptly’, ‘consider’ as ‘without especial accuracy’ and ‘circumstances’ as equalling the ‘media furore’ which obviously drove Kelly to an inevitable suicide. It was not who the deceased was, and how, when and where he died which are the plain duties of a coroner. It was the ‘circumstances’; and if anything showed the mind and the motives of this most evil cabal, that word is the nub.
The words of the two conversations (6) between Falconer in Westminster and his pal Blair on wing to Tokyo in the hour after noon that day have not, of course, been revealed. That it was to do with an awkward corpse in a wood it is fair to assume. After all, it was a central topic at the press conference in Tokyo where blood, or other medium, drained from Blair’s face with ‘Have you got blood on your hands Mr Blair’ from a Daily Mail journalist. The obvious answer was that he had the blood of thousands upon thousands of people on his hands whereas the European only had one white man in mind at that moment.
Correspondence by Ms Albon of Falconer’s other office (he was also the Secretary of State in the Department of Constitutional Affairs – Mikado style) with the Oxfordshire coroner has a dictatorial ring to it. It was recognised he had to reconvene his inquest in law but this mouse then had to be silent until the elephant had trumpeted the findings. All this was engineered by the mechanism of Section 17a of the 1988 Coroner’s Act. It had been applied for multiple deaths of common cause – Shipman, the Ladbroke rail crash and the sinking of the trawler Gaul.
It had at its root – efficiency in investigation, thoughtfulness towards loved ones and verdict as to the common cause. There was no justification for invocation of Section 17a on top of this ad hoc inquiry other than to shackle the coroner and thus to subvert due process. With a few ‘phone calls Falconer had made certain with this ad hoc ‘judicial’ inquiry that there would be no evidence under oath, no ability to subpoena witnesses, no cross examination and no ability to call a jury. The last thing he wanted was twelve good women/men and true.
The coup de grace for the mouse was this Section 17a. There was a further hearing on the 14th of August at which an extraordinary death certificate was conjured up and registered four days later. The hearing was not publicised and again there was no transcript or reportage. This officer of the Crown whose authority and duties stretched back to the 13th Century had been made into a small creature by power and cunning. “The use of these powers to oustthe Coroner’s jurisdiction …” is how Frances Swaine of Leigh Day & Co put it an excellent memorandum to the Attorney General in October 2010. (7) (Leigh Day were initially instructed by Dr Frost; they did a large amount of excellent work without charge.)
A letter that Mr Gardiner wrote 6th of August to Ms Albon includes “The preliminary cause of death given at the opening of the inquest no longer represents the view of the Pathologist and evidence from him would need to be given to correct and update the evidence already received.”
(5 – section ONE). This was brushed aside in a letter from lawyers acting for Dr Hunt who were reacting to this long letter from the author to the GMC listing his concerns about Dr Hunt’s performance.(5) Whether his opinion had been changed or not, there was an absolute professional and legal requirement on him to reveal his initial report with its conclusions and his train of thought.
This principle has been tested in the case of Dr Kenneth Shorrock who is currently suspended for unknown reason from the Home Office list of forensic pathologists which was last updated 15th May 2013. This extract from (5 – section ONE) – “He was charged with serious professional misconduct by the General Medical Council on eight counts I believe. He had produced a second post-mortem report on a hospital patient which was indicative of negligence by the surgeon without any reference to his first report which had exonerated the surgeon.’
The surgeon was charged with manslaughter but was cleared. He complained to the Home Office whose Scientific Standards Committee of the Policy Advisory Board opined that he had not ‘maintained the standards required’ and simply issued advice, its interest ending in July 2004. The surgeon then complained to the General Medical Council. Mr Vernon Coaker, Minister of State at the Home Office, said in a letter to the author 22 November 2008 “The GMC had been considering the complaint for, I believe, many months (prior to July 2005) and had, similarly, taken no steps to restrict Dr Shorrock’s practice.”
Of the greatest importance is the fact that he was called from Sheffield to examine the remains of Jean Charles de Menezes who had been shot with six hollow point bullets in the head as he sat in a ‘tube’ carriage 22nd July 2005. Sheffield is 150 miles from London which has at least 8 forensic pathologists available. The call to attend a headless Jean Charles was in spite of the fact that a charge of serious professional misconduct was hanging over him; the first hearing by the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel was only six weeks after the killing of Jean Charles. There had been several adjournments of the GMC hearings of this charge which was first heard 5th of September 2005. The nine page summary of the final hearing 19 February 2007 found him guilty of serious professional misconduct. (8 -HALPIN website)
This author wrote to five relevant authorities before the 22nd September 2008 inquest at the Oval, Kennington about this most improper instruction given to Dr Shorrock to take this case in the summer of 2005. There were no replies from any one of the five; this included the Public Solicitor to the inquiry and Justice4Jean. Dr Shorrock’s evidence would be central at this inquest and would include the position and identity of each bullet prior to ballistic studies, and would thus indicate which weapon and which agent had injured Jean Charles beyond recognition IF the evidence had not been contaminated. The Independent Police Complaints Commission does not have a reputation for being just but it did not take possession of the scene until 48 hours had elapsed.
The final hearing of five altogether took place on the 5th of February 2007. The GMC panel found him guilty of the charge of serious professional misconduct. It found his actions “unprofessional, inconsistent, unreasonable, not based upon the medical and pathological information and likely to bring the medical profession into disrepute”.
Two professors of forensic pathology advised the panel:-
Vanezis – ‘He further stated that if a pathologist had reason to change his conclusions or opinion, an explanation should be given as to why he has deemed this necessary.’
Pounder – ‘Dr Shorrock had a duty to make reference to the existence of the first report. In addition, the second report should have given the reasons for his change of view.
Many had written in support of Dr Kenneth Shorrock. He was simply issued with a reprimand.
The reader has two forensic pathologists in examine.
One was lecturing at the Police Staff College, Bramshill, Hampshire when he was called to a corpse on Harrowdown Hill which was all about a supreme war crime.
The other was called from Sheffield to a most high profile unlawful killing at Southwell Tube Station, London.
Should the second have been on gardening leave until the GMC had considered the serious charge against him? Or did Jean Charles not deserve the best within our law?
Should the first not have fully revealed the first post mortem report he wrote up on Dr Kelly on the 19th of July? It is certain there was a FIRST report and Lord Hutton referred to it in his introduction. Were the opinions as to the causes of death different in important ways between the 19th of July and the FINAL Post Mortem Report of the 25th of July. It is clear the Coroner thought so. That this gross defect slipped through is typical of much that happened at Hutton. His professional and legal duty was made completely clear later in the case of Dr Shorrock.
We move on next to the Hutton Inquiry and its many defects.
July 28th marks the 35th anniversary of the political assassination of two Puerto Rican independence activists, Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, in the infamous Cerro Maravillai case. This case, which was widely followed among Puerto Ricans, involved an agent provocateur that led the activists to an ambush that resulted in their brutal murder by paramilitary agents within the colonial police force. The event led to two investigations, the second of which revealed a conspiracy to cover up both the assassination plot as well as the destruction and manipulation of evidence carried out by the colonial police and justice department, and well as the federal justice department and FBI. Cerro Maravilla symbolizes for many the most outstanding recent example of repressive measures, from surveillance to political assassination, unleashed by US imperialism against the anticolonial movement in Puerto Rico.
The recent revelations of NSA spying by Edward Snowden have provoked mass outrage across the globe. Much of the consternation comes from what is commonly understood as a violation of privacy. In the official media, Snowden’s actions have been framed as a debate between ‘national security’ and ‘privacy’. However, framing the question in these terms is pure subterfuge. The Puerto Rican experience shows that the true objectives of surveillance programs by intelligence agencies like the NSA, CIA, and FBI having nothing to do with ‘security’ or ‘protection’ but rather political repression. Systematic surveillance can only be understood as an essential part of state repression, the purpose of which is to intimidate those that question the status quo by promoting a culture of fear. One can never be separated from the other.
The systematic surveillance and repression of Puerto Rico’s anticolonial movement is obviously just one example of many. A brief historical sketch of US imperialism’s repressive efforts against anticolonial forces in Puerto Rico must begin with the political intrigues that preceded the 1898 military invasion as well as the martial law that characterized both military and civilian colonial governments in its immediate aftermath. This history goes on to include the surveillance and repressive attacks against the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and its followers from the 30s through the 50s, which included massacres of unarmed civilians, political assassinations and imprisonments, the harassment and attacks against labor unions and newly emergent socialist organizations of the same period, as well as COINTELPRO operations against resurgent nationalist and socialist political formations during the 60s and 70s.ii Indeed, in 1987 it was revealed that over 130,000 files on individuals and organizations had been accumulated through systematic surveillance on the island. This history is an integral part of the parallel campaigns of systematic state repression unleashed within the United States against groups such as the Black Liberation Movement, the American Indian Movement, the Chicano Liberation Movement, radical labor organizations, progressive students and antiwar activists, as well as communists.iii As such, what constitutes a scandal for the broader public is in fact part of the daily reality for those that fight for freedom and an end to oppression.
Snowden’s revelation that the United States Security Group Command’s Sabana Seca installation, located in the northern coastal municipality of Toa Baja, is part of an international surveillance network, which includes the Fornstat program, comes to no surprise to Puerto Rican anticolonial activists. From Sabana Seca, US naval intelligence monitors and gathers Internet, phone, and other forms of communication. In 1999, Duncan Campbell and Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian already highlighted the naval intelligence’s “Echelon” operations from Sabana Seca and other locations both in the US and internationally as part of joint US British surveillance programs.iv
What is critical to highlight about US imperialism in Puerto Rico is the continued military character of colonialism on the island. For the benefit of those that may be unaware or who take the position that US militarism characterized only the past history of colonialism in Puerto Rico, a few contemporary examples serve to illustrate the point. Over the past decade and a half, Puerto Ricans have mobilized en masse to oppose a proposed military radar system intended for the Lajas valley in the southwestern part of the island, to end the practice of using the eastern island of Vieques as a bombing range by the US military and its allies (It should be noted that there was also a successful campaign to end the militarization of Culebra island also off the eastern coast of the main island in the 70s), and in more recent times against a system of potentially toxic and environmentally destructive antennas used both by the military and cellular companies that have proliferated across the island. In an article in the current issue of Claridad, the spokesperson for the grassroots Coalition of Communities Against the Proliferation of Antennas, Wilson Torres, sheds light on the US military’s Full Spectrum Dominance program currently being implemented in Puerto Rico. v
Understood in the context of pervasive unemployment, which serves to ensure an ever present pool of recruits used as cannon fodder in US military campaigns throughout the world as well as the structural dependence of large parts of the colonial economy on the Pentagon, this picture constitutes the modified form of US militarism in Puerto Rico in the present context. One may add the militarization of the colonial police force in the ongoing attacks against residents of public housing and other marginalized communities to this reality.
It would not be difficult to draw parallels between much of what is described immediately above and the realities faced by many North Americans. Heavy-handed policing and economically depressed communities dependent upon military or prison industries are a familiar reality for many. Yet the notion that the United States of America is characterized by a repressive state is much more difficult for the average person to accept. The narrative of 9/11 provides the pretext that results in the conflation of national security and state repression in the minds of many.
Notwithstanding, the revelations about the NSA spying program have provoked the condemnation of all except the most recalcitrant sycophants of US imperialism. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to place these programs in the context of the long history of state repression and militarism. Those on the left must push to extend the public discourse beyond questions of personal privacy to a discussion of systematic political repression within increasingly militarized “liberal” democracies. The experiences of anticolonial activists and militant, class-conscious revolutionaries from Puerto Rico lend valuable insights that add to the discussion around the significance of what Snowden’s leaks reveal: systematic surveillance and state repression are two sides of the same coin.
An insightful comment by Marx, writing in the New York Daily Tribune about British imperialism in India during the mid 1800s and often repeated among Puerto Rican comrades, is a useful starting point for the US left:
“The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, moving from its home, where it assumes respectable form, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”
Carlos Borrero is a New York based writer.
“The republic that was created from the ashes of the rising was a perversion of the human rights ideals of 1916,” the outgoing Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has said.
Addressing the first evening of the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, she said people were not yet fully aware of what a real republic looked like. Delivering the 13th annual John Hume lecture, Ms O’Reilly said it was particularly appropriate that the lecture was named after the Nobel peace prize winner as he was a “pre-eminent human rights defender”.
She criticised the successors of the 1916 leaders, accusing them of franchising the State “to a private organisation called the Catholic Church, shedding in particular its responsibility for the education and health systems, and thereby allowing little actual space for the elected leaders of this republic to play their role in pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the nation”.
It was difficult for citizens to remind themselves that “we are actually the ones in charge”.
This was a difficulty, she added, that the executive and judiciary also struggled with. Referring to former attorney general Peter Sutherland, she said his core assertion made in a speech earlier this year, that the courts were “inappropriately forced to decide not alone what our values in this republic are or should be, but also to divine what the elected representatives of the people think about those values”.
She said that while the courts had too much unwanted power, parliament spent “much of its time ducking and diving and pretending it has no power whatsoever”. She accused the executive of “planting its boot far too firmly on the neck of the parliament and wielding power in a manner never envisaged by the Constitution.”
Quoting President Michael D Higgins, she said: “There is a deep-seated anti-intellectualism prevalent in Irish life,” and that our political and cultural life was marked by the false notion that one person’s ignorance was as good as another’s knowledge. She turned to the Constitution, quoting article 28.4.1 which states that the Government “shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann”.
“Quite clearly this is not the case. The nub of the problem is that parliament does not take itself seriously,” she said. “Our failures are essentially human rights failures and we should be particularly alive to the fact that, never more so than at a time of recession and austerity, are bodies such as a Human Rights Commission and an Equality Authority needed to make sure that in a decade’s time we won’t be weeping our way through another pitiful cataloguing of State-inflicted abuse, albeit with a modern twist.”
In his opening address, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he looked to 2016 and the centenary of the Easter Rising. “To be a real republic, Ireland has to be a sovereign republic,” he said. “We will strive . . . and work even harder so that we will become the best small country in the world for business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect. This will be the republic of 2016.”
Protesters, responding to calls by a loose network calling itself #stopwatchingus, braved searing summer temperatures Saturday to demonstrate in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin and up to 35 other German cities and towns.
Some wore tinfoil hats to shield themselves from the sun—and make a political statement about warding off unwanted eavesdroppers.
Others held placards showing support for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the NSA’s alleged interception of Web traffic when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Berlin last month. But German opposition parties remain skeptical of the government’s claim that it had known nothing about the surveillance.
The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
ZAGREB, CROATIA—What is often described in media, political and financial circles as the global “debt crisis” actually poses even more insidiously widespread dangers than the ubiquitous doom-filled reports commonly inform. “The greatest catastrophe threatening Greece and Europe is not the economic crisis,” says Costas Douzinas, professor of law at Birkbeck, University of London, “but the total destruction of the social bond, the way we see ourselves, the way we see our relation to the community. This is long-term. Economic crisis, fiscal deficits, can be restored in the medium term. But once you lose the social ethos, then there is no way back.”
That was the takeaway in May as scholars, writers, politicians and activists came together at Zagreb’s sixth annual Subversive Forum to plumb the depths of the current malaise, but also to propose remedies for the five years of European economic upheaval that has produced personal hardship, civic unrest, governmental instability and a general sense of paralysis.
For two weeks every year, Zagreb’s civic festival welcomes hordes of progressive lecturers and audiences to a program of films, debates, roundtable discussions and protest-planning sessions. Running past midnight in the city’s elegant 1920-vintage movie house Kino Europa, standing-room-only keynote speeches attract staunch partisans for advancing the interests of the public sphere against the authoritarian mediocracy that now prevails.
The cataclysm of human and social devastation in Europe is this generation’s defining moment. But calling it a debt crisis, as Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis explains, is like going to the hospital with advanced inoperable cancer and having the doctor diagnose your suffering as a pain crisis.
Yes there is pain, but the pain is symptomatic of bigger problems. The “debt crisis” is also a food crisis—people can’t afford to buy enough to eat. It’s a housing crisis, an education crisis, an unemployment crisis, an immigration crisis, a human rights crisis. In Greece, the New York Times reports, prostitution has surged 150 percent in the last two years as a direct result of social desperation, with supply-and-demand dynamics driving prices for sex work as low as five euros.
The Left rightly rejects austerity, despising it as collective punishment of citizens who had nothing to do with the financial collapse. Public health scholars David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu explain in The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills that such spending cuts drastically lower life expectancy due to a higher prevalence of suicide, HIV, alcoholism, heart disease and depression.
Underlying all these other crises is the steady transformation of the over-bureaucratized European Union into a democracy-free zone. Voter turnout is in decline (especially for European Parliament elections, but also in national contests), as constituencies manifest apathy or disenfranchisement. Decisions that people should be able to make for themselves and that are consequential for their lives—how much society spends on healthcare, on education, on defense—emanate instead from afar by EU administrators. A “Merkiavellian” regime, some call it; a secular empire of finance.
The principles of democratic self-determination are hamstrung by the powerful Troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (the EU’s legislative and operational council)—which a disempowered citizenry increasingly views as an automaton that squelches democracy as it protects the interests of the power elite.
A teachable moment
But as many Europeans grow resigned to the “new normal,” a passionate movement of social democrats and subversive activists aims to recast a fatalistic narrative of inevitable capitulation. From the rubble of this financial catastrophe, they are extrapolating a systemic critique of how this mess came to pass and more importantly, how to use the collapse as a teachable moment. The time is ripe—if not for the full-blown revolution, then at least for a transformative backlash to recenter the imperatives of social justice that have lately become so attenuated.
The EU had been promoted as a strong “single market” (by many reckonings, the world’s largest economy) that would defuse Europe’s centuries of conflict: shared economic prosperity would generate cooperative unity. But clearly the EU has not delivered the promised transnational harmony. Capitalism is, after all, inherently a competition, which means there are winners and losers. Labor, always a weak player in this competition, loses the most in a race to attract foreign investment. Consequently, the labor movement fears a descent into what Slavoj Žižek calls a tyrannical “capitalism with Asian values.”
“Peripheral countries,” a label that has become so prevalent in the EU discourse, typifies the fault lines in the “union.” At the Subversive Forum, I noticed how keenly language highlights these tensions and fissures. Not surprisingly, people don’t like being thought of as peripheral—a lesson that might have been learned in light of the offense that the “third world” has always felt about that similarly condescending term. They also don’t appreciate being called PIIGS, the acronym that lumps together Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (the extra “i” doesn’t soften the blow). The term is outdated anyhow as more countries slide into severe downturns. With France and the United Kingdom falling into recession and Cyprus imploding, we can expect even coarser acronyms in the future.
It’s not just about nomenclature. The discourse of “othering” reveals old and supposedly effaced neocolonialist prejudices at their worst. In the minds of those who oppose humane terms of support, the “pigs” are lazy and corrupt, unsophisticated and out of date. They have brought their troubles on themselves and forced austerity will do them good.
The idea of Europe and even the word itself, has become toxic, unstable; co-opted by the bureaucrats’ failed vision, nobody knows exactly what it means. Is the UK in Europe? What about other EU but non-Eurozone countries—like Poland or Sweden? Is Iceland, the canary in the coal mine for financial meltdown, European? Euro-Asiatic hybrids such as Russia and Turkey? Non-EU countries like Norway and Switzerland? Can a country be expelled from Europe?
“Europe” is uttered with a sneer or a spasm of abjection. “Euro,” which once denoted simply a strong cosmopolitan currency, is now a root that has spawned a more cynical vocabulary: Eurocritic, Euroskeptic, Europhobe. But if the establishment’s lexicon is becoming degraded, the radical retorts are more fiercely honed. “Union” and “unity” have been exposed as feckless in the face of European inability to sustain these, inspiring a more rousing synonym, “solidarity,” that resounds among those who are focused on social equality rather than financial technicalities. Paradoxically, the counter-rhetoric of the Left has expanded the context of the crisis by contracting the terminology. What was originally construed as “the global economic crisis” morphed into “the Eurozone crisis,” or “the Eurocrisis,” then became more tightly compressed into “the crisis,” and finally—stripping away everything else to convey simply a primordial vortex of personal agony and social decrepitude—the definite article dropped off, leaving just “crisis.”
“Crisis” has mobilized a radical critique of European capitalism. It’s not as simple as debating whether countries should leave the EU, or the euro—as bad as things are now, the alternative is probably catastrophic. But the Left has embarked upon a deep analysis of what sort of society has grown out of the EU’s financial autocracy. “Criminals, disguised as statesmen, were robbing us blind,” says Slovenian poet and critic Aleš Debeljak. “Crisis made us realize this truth.”
The radical mission is to uncover and expose the roots of this incompetence and institutional corruption, to question the motives and hidden agendas lurking beneath the “bankruptocracy” (another salient coinage), to educate and motivate suffering masses, and to reform the system.
“We can’t leave economic issues to the experts any longer,” says Maja Breznik, from the Slovenian Peace Institute. “It’s time for amateur investigations.”
These investigations, an end-run around the self-interested strategies of bankers and other EU cronies, begin from the premise that the vicious circle of debt is not the fault of immoderate spending by governments or households. Instead the primary goal of “recovery” has been a non sequitur: protecting the interests of private moneylenders and multinationals and refilling their coffers after their financial miscalculations and chicanery. The problem as it is being addressed bears little relation to the actual predicament, so society has plunged into deep recession.
As Europe tries to emerge from crisis, an exclusive focus on debt represents a class struggle designed by financiers to transfer losses from their books on to the taxpayers. Troubled countries are forced to sell off their economies to foreign investors. The Troika arranges bailouts under the harshest terms, with the heaviest burdens borne by agencies that support public welfare, because reducing social spending allows countries to pay more money, more quickly, back to the banks.
Privatization of the commons en- sues: everything that can be liquidated is sold, then rented back to the most disempowered classes. Much of the population is perpetually indebted and the idea of “permanent work” becomes a rarity, replaced by piece-work, part-time work and frequent lay-offs. The social contract has been broken.
We “amateur investigators” must ask questions about real value, as opposed to the merely monetary expressions of value that the Troika fetishizes. It seems reasonable to proclaim “bankrupt” (figuratively and literally) the discourse of valuation that culminated in the exotic, abstruse financial products that precipitated the crash.
It is our turn to open the discussion of what is valued from the perspective of the victims of fiscal malfeasance. (By “us” I refer to non-bankers, non-wealthy, non-functionaries and for good measure a healthy cadré of academic fellow travelers.) GDP itself is a subjective measure of value, a war-accounting mechanism that is not the only way to count. A euro is not just a euro: not every use of money is equally valuable. A different model of social accounting—one that focuses on the bottom, the workers, the poor and middle class, and starts with wages, taxes, social security—will produce a very different economic narrative than the one that has predominated for the last five years.
“We demand a new right,” argues Franco “Bifo” Berardi, a Marxist scholar from Milan’s Academy of Fine Arts, “The right to insolvency. We are not going to pay the tax. If I am insolvent, I don’t have money, so I won’t pay the debt.” Instead, there should be a moratorium on interest payments, some debt should be canceled and some repaid with a growth clause (as Germany did in the 1950s). Countries would pay as they grow, and as they can afford it.
Žižek—the Subversive Forum’s patron saint since its inception—warns that the radical Left has historically had a proclivity to sit on the sidelines: “They prefer sometimes not to take power so that when everything goes wrong they can write their books explaining in detail why everything had to go wrong. There is some deeply rooted masochism of the radical Left. Their best books are usually very convincing stories of failure.”
But today there is an especially high onus to take action, to engage in political reform. Leftist activists and politicians do have a concrete agenda for fixing the crisis. In Greece, defying the eulogies of democracy, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza coalition has shown impressive strength in the last few elections and stands within grasp of parliamentary victory and a majority coalition in the near future. Nearly destroyed by crisis, Greece may soon emerge as the most advanced site of resistance. “The future of Greece is the future of Europe,” Tsipras proclaims, providing a heartening reverberation for the slogan that protestors chant across the continent, “Nous sommes tous des grecs”: We are all Greeks.
The Left’s challenge is to reorganize in a more cooperative, collective way: reclaiming the commons, reappropriating the wealth that is now in the hands of the state and the banks, and reconstituting the social fabric that was destroyed by economic restructuring.
Political platforms like Syriza’s draw on a wealth of theoretical foundations and strategic visions for reform.
Erik Wright, a University of Wisconsin sociologist who wrote Envisioning Real Utopias, is one of many academic subversives who offered Zagreb audiences a sophisticated array of fresh ideas for transcending the status quo of capitalism and replacing it with an emancipatory alternative, a democratic egalitarian pathway that empowers people to take control of their own destinies. Wright described a range of innovations that can be introduced “inside of capitalism” but that embody non-capitalistic principles and more fully reflect the values of democracy: worker-owned cooperatives, participatory budgeting (where citizens help determine civic priorities), freely provided public services like transportation and libraries (which we can think of as anti-capitalist ways to give people mobility and books), and unobstructed access to the commons of intellectual property. Peer-to-peer collaborations like Wikipedia illustrate how a non-capitalist means of production can flourish within capitalism and ultimately displace capitalism altogether (as evidenced by the recent demise of the print edition of that imperialist icon, the Encyclopedia Britannica).
Urban farms organized through community land trusts can support food production divorced from agribusiness. Crowd-sourcing finance like Kickstarter sidesteps the entrenched hegemonies of cultural production. The gift economy in music from the Internet allows people to download songs for free and pay whatever they want. (Wright believes these musicians actually make more income than they would in a conventional sales model because they have created a more palatable moral economy with their fans.)
The crisis of capitalism offers, as a silver lining, the opportunity for us to reconceptualize more democratic and sustainable systems of social and commercial existence. It’s a moment that is uniquely receptive to new ideas, as the old ones have proven so worthless. A subversive smorgasbord can be created in the world as it is, prefiguring things that might be in the world as it could become. Are these just utopian fantasies? A questioner at Wright’s lecture asked whether a smattering of such small-scale interventions could really inspire fundamental social change, to which the sociologist responded sublimely: “We don’t know for sure. The day before Wikipedia was invented, it was impossible.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Dr. Randy Malamud is regents’ professor and chair of the department of English at Georgia State University. He is the author of eight books, including Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity (NYU Press, 1998) and An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He can be reached at rmalamudgsuedu.
The US government hasn’t been happy at all that there is any press coverage of the Bradley Manning trial, and seems to bend over backwards to make their lives more difficult. However, it appears that they took things to an entirely new and ridiculous level this week in actively spying on and harassing journalists covering the trial.
@carwinb, @kgosztola, @nathanLfuller, and @wikileakstruck have tweeted about armed guards standing directly behind them as they type into laptops in the designated press area, being “screamed at” for having “windows” open on their computers that show Twitter in a browser tab, and having to undergo extensive, repeated, invasive physical searches.
Even the NY Times has noted how extreme it was:
Two military police officers in camouflage fatigues and armed with holstered handguns paced behind each row there, looking over the journalists’ shoulders, which had not happened during the trial. No explanation was given.
Reading through the various tweets, the MPs were specifically trying to stop journalists from using Twitter. Kevin Gosztola was directly told not to use Twitter and was later admonished for having “a window” open on his computer. No joke. The reporters also noted that they had to go through an incredibly detailed TSA-style search before they could enter the courtroom — and that this had not happened previously in their coverage of the trial. Multiple journalists noted how “creepy” it was and how intimidating it is to have military police with guns looking over your shoulder and watching everything you do. Freedom of the press? Not at all.
In response to all of this attention, the judge apparently claims that she ordered the “extra security” because of “repeated rule violations” of rules that no one was told about. But, reading through the details, it sounds a hell of a lot more like intimidation of the press than than about any attempt to stop “rules violations.”
When former National Security Agency contractor Ed Snowden exposed the inner workings of the country’s biggest intelligence organization, he said he did so to roll back a spying apparatus that put the United States on the path to “turnkey tyranny.”
But his revelations could end up having the opposite effect. Instead of declawing a single surveillance state, Snowden’s leaks could ironically wind up enhancing government spying around the globe.
According to experts who are advising U.S. email, cloud data storage, and social media companies, executives are concerned that foreign governments — particularly ones with fewer protections for personal privacy and free speech — are already beginning to demand that U.S. tech companies relocate their servers and databases within their borders. Under normal circumstances, companies would rarely comply with those migration demands, especially if those countries have reputations for heavy-handed internal policing. But now that the United States is being seen as a global spying power, they may have little choice.
Other governments can make their relocation demands in the name of protecting citizens from the intrusive powers of the NSA. Then those regimes can use U.S. tech to make their own law enforcement and intelligence agencies more NSA-like.
“Despite Snowden’s sensational revelations, data will not be better protected outside the U.S. in countries where privacy is aspirational at best,” said Al Gidari, a lawyer with the firm Perkins Coie who represents companies on surveillance and communications law. “Data stored locally will be the fuel for corruption, abuse and repression in most of those countries, especially in those countries that are complaining the loudest about U.S. surveillance activities.”
This week, Brazil’s communications minister said that Internet service providers may now be required to store information locally following reports that NSA has spied on communications in Brazil and across Latin America.
“The ideal thing would be for these companies to keep their data in the country so it can be available should Brazil’s justice system request it,” Paulo Bernardo Silva said in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper. Silva described local control of data as a matter of national sovereignty.
Companies that provide cloud computing services are facing particular scrutiny abroad. Their business is to store large amounts of sensitive information about foreign individuals and companies on servers that are located in United States. And there is a growing perception that this infrastructure is firmly within the grip of the U.S. intelligence agencies, several experts said. That impression is not diminished when U.S. officials, attempting to mollify domestic critics, argue that the NSA is only interested in monitoring foreigners.
Over the past few years, overseas governments have increased pressure on marquee technology companies to hand over more data about their customers and to comply with official orders that would be deemed unconstitutional in the United States.
In 2011, Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, gave the government of India access to its consumer and messaging services, in response to authorities’ concerns that they would not be able to monitor criminals and other threats communicating over the company’s networks. Officials had threatened to cut off access to the company’s services inside their country if RIM didn’t comply. The company ultimately agreed to allow India’s security agencies to intercept emails and other messages.
Last year, the Google executive in charge of the company’s business operations in Brazil was arrested after the company failed to comply with a government order to remove YouTube videos critical of a local mayoral candidate. Google, which owns YouTube, said it wasn’t responsible for the content that users post to the video sharing network.
It wasn’t the first time the company had run up against aggressive policing of information that would be protected under the First Amendment in the United States. In 2011, Google removed profiles from its Orkut social-networking system after a court order deemed them politically offensive. And another order told the company to take down thousands of photos from one of its sharing sites.
U.S. companies are required to abide by the surveillance laws in whatever country they operate. But under legal assistance treaties, foreign governments usually funnel their requests through official channels, and U.S. authorities deliver the requests to the American companies. That slows down the surveillance machine in those countries, and they’ve been looking for ways to speed up that process.
Brazil may prove an early test case for the Snowden blowback effect. According to a report in the Brazilian newspaper Folha, the government will present a “formal condemnation of U.S. data collection techniques” to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its next meeting on September 9, in Geneva. Brazil has apparently had little luck attracting supporters to its attempt to politically embarrass the U.S. government — only seven other countries on the 47-member commission have signed on.
But new information about NSA spying, disclosed by the director of the agency himself, may add some momentum to Brazil’s efforts. At the Aspen Security Conference, Gen. Keith Alexander tipped his hand and revealed that the NSA is obtaining a huge amount of communications traffic from cables that come ashore in Brazil.
Brazil is in the espionage business, too, of course, as are most countries. But the NSA revelations have tended to obscure the obvious hypocrisy in one nation feigning outrage that another country is spying on it. In an interview with Folha, Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim acknowledged that his fellow countrymen could be spied on via their connections to foreign social networks. (The implication was those in the United States.) But he said there was no evidence that the Brazilian government was using such a scheme to monitor its own citizens.
“What is known is more about the U.S. agencies,” Celso said. “To my knowledge, nothing has come out about the Brazilian agencies. But Brazilians can be [monitored], yes. It is speculation.”
Celso added that on two occasions, he believed his communications had been monitored by the United States, including while he lived in the country as Brazil’s ambassador to the United Nations. “I was responsible for three committees on the issue of Iraq. My phone started making a very strange noise, and when the commission on Iraq ended, the noise did too. There was an obvious focus then.”
U.S. technology companies’ reputations are also taking hits in Europe. Vivane Reding, the European Union’s Justice Minister, is reviewing the Safe Harbor Framework, which is intended to support transatlantic trade while also protecting European citizens’ privacy. Redding has said the agreement could be used as a “loophole” to allow the transfer of personal data to the United States from European countries where privacy rules are stronger.
Companies based in Europe also believe that the NSA scandal could be a financial boon for them. Customers may start moving their data to facilities located in countries with stricter privacy regulations — and away from American-based firms. “There’s a perception, even if unfounded, that U.S. privacy protections are insufficient to protect the data which is stored either on U.S. soil or with U.S. companies,” Justin Freeman, the corporate counsel for cloud computing provider Rackspace, told a House committee last year.
Snowden’s revelations have cracked whatever veneer of deniability U.S. companies had that they weren’t providing foreigners’ personal data to American intelligence agencies. And considering that Congress this week put its stamp of approval on a key element of the NSA’s surveillance architecture, companies may find it harder to persuade their foreign customers that the U.S. is still a safe place to keep their information.
But there may be a way, however unlikely, for U.S. companies to repair their international standing and keep their customers’ information away from the NSA: They could move their own infrastructure overseas or become acquired by majority foreign owners.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the wireless division of Verizon and T-Mobile have not been part of the spy agency’s data collection regime because they’re tied to foreign owners. Deutsche Telekom, of Germany, owns 74 percent of T-Mobile, and Vodafone Group, of the United Kingdom, owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in a joint-venture with its parent company.
Germany and England may seem a long way to go to relocate a business. But it could keep companies further from the long arm of the NSA.