Category Archives: Human rights and Liberties
Let’s be clear: Everything journalists do in the digital world is open to scrutiny by suspicious minds because that’s the way intelligence agencies work. If state eavesdroppers didn’t make use of this amazing opportunity they wouldn’t be very good at their job.
Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency‘s global monitoring should not come as a big surprise. U.S. agencies have the technology, the will, and some very loosely written laws that allow them to snoop with impunity. It was just a matter of time before someone stood up and blew the whistle.
What Snowden has told us should serve as a wake-up call for everybody in the news business because a journalist who cannot offer confidentiality is compromised, and fewer sources will trust us in the future. But the Internet has come a long way in recent years. The development of security tools, almost all of which are built by activist volunteers, can make the digital world a far safer place for journalists to operate. In this regard, journalists can learn from others who–for different reasons–have learned how to evade electronic surveillance, as I explain in my new guide, “Deep Web for Journalists,” a project supported by the International Federation of Journalists.
Here’s why you should care. Start researching sensitive subjects or visiting extremist websites, and a tracking device could be planted to follow your computer’s activities around the Internet. The tracking technology may involve an algorithm that could misconstrue your browsing activities and set off alarms inside intelligence agencies. And if these agencies become interested in you, they have the ability to monitor your online activities and read your emails. They can see who your contacts are and they can monitor them, too. Once they sink their claws in they may never let go.
All journalists are potential targets. We have contact with politicians and activists, we have our finger on the pulse and we are capable of causing all kinds of trouble, both to governments and to corporations. The key is to not draw attention in the first place, to understand how agencies operate and then figure out multiple ways to circumvent them because you cannot rely on any single security application or piece of technology.
In the final scene of the Hollywood film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Ark of the Covenant is hidden inside one crate placed among a humongous warehouse full of identical crates. The scene helps illustrate an operating principle for journalist. Simply put, if intelligence agencies do not know where to look for information they are less likely to ever find yours.
It may surprise some people to learn that there is in fact another Internet, a parallel and vast digital universe much like the one we know but that is populated by very different users. The Deep Web, as it is also known, involves hidden networks allowing people to secretly connect with each other within the broader Internet.
One way to find the Deep Web is through the Hidden Wiki. Its hidden networks are accessed via specifically configured web browsers that route users through different servers, often in different nations, to make it all but impossible for anyone to track the original location or Internet Service Provider address where someone is physically accessing the Internet including the Deep Web.
The most widely used such network is Tor, a respectable tool built by Internet freedom volunteers that is open to use by human rights activists, and also to abuse by criminal syndicates, predators, terrorists and others.
To enter Tor, you must first install the Tor/Firefox web browser to divert your traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers. This conceals your location and your activities, effectively hiding you among all the other users. Tor works by encrypting and re-encrypting data multiple times as it passes through successive relays. This way the data cannot be unscrambled in transit. (Tor is so effective, in fact, that many intelligence agencies now use it for their own secure communications.)
Now add to this a range of security tools and you can use Tor to access the conventional Internet without ever drawing attention. Rather like spies in a James Bond movie, journalists have an array of digital weapons to call upon to ensure that their research, correspondence, notes and contacts are secure. Learning the concepts and tools can take time, but you can access banned websites. You can continue tweeting when the authorities take down Twitter locally. You can scramble calls or send emails and messages that cannot be intercepted or read. You can pass on and store documents away from prying eyes. You might even hide news footage of a massacre inside a Beatles track on your iPod or smartphone while you slip across the border.
The Internet has evolved and so has its counter-surveillance tools. Now we must get smart and learn how to use them. We must safeguard our devices from intruders; we should take care that our smartphones are not used as tracking and listening devices. We need to learn how to stay beneath the radar.
Alan Pearce is a journalist who has reported for outlets including Time, The Sunday Times, Sky News, and the BBC. He is the author of the ebook “Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-surveillance, Search,” supported by the International Federal of Journalists.
As a Truth Teller, I have witnessed people who have totally had their lives destroyed by being a “Whistle Blower.” What do you think of when you hear the term “Whistle Blower?” I have had students answer that question with snitch, traitor, trouble maker, narcissist, media hound, ego maniac and many other negative terms.
I even witnessed some obscure news program that I will not give credit to say “traitor” then quickly retract to Whistleblower.
The people who are labeled with this term at the very least saved a ton of money, your money, in exposing waste in areas such as Government and Banking. In more severe cases they have given up everything and saved others lives from law enforcement to the food you eat. In either event, we may call some of them a hero, we call some the other names mentioned above, but they are labeled with “Whistleblower” on their forehead and will likely never have their life back again. A VERY small group of Truth Tellers have been fortunate enough to sell a book, or start a career in the legal field, and I applaud them for it, but remember this is an extremely small percentage of people.
So back to the original question, why can we not get the term Truth Teller used instead?
The evening news would not have a “sexy” lead story with “Truth Teller exposes” but has a great headline with “Whistleblower exposes” forever giving them a label that will turn their lives upside down. After all, if “Honest Person” or Ethical” were tattooed on someone’s forehead an employer might have a hard time explaining why they do not want to hire them, Government entities included. I came to realize this when I was at a job interview, at a place I had interviewed with before, and was told that I was not hired because I was a Whistleblower, at least they were honest about it. How would it sound if they had said, “we did not hire you because you are a Truth Teller, or a person of conscious?” It is a little harder to justify that decision. I even had the pleasure of being on the local news, telling the story of retaliation and not one single caller called the news station for an inquiry on hiring a Whistleblower. (This ran on the six and ten o’clock news as the lead story on two stations reaching well over 300,000 people. Would the results have been different if another term had been used? I recently got word a student told his professor that I took the glamour out of Whistle blowing. I am glad the student got the message, try not to be sucked into that situation in the 1st place, but be ready to be a Truth Teller when the time comes, not for glory, money, or fame, but because it is the right thing to do.
I am proud to be a Whistleblower, but understand that society uses that term with a horribly negative connotation. I hope that the media and society in general, will come to call us Truth Tellers, People of Conscious, or an Ethical Persons, as sadly right now Whistleblower is getting as negative as some racial slurs.
I’m shocked — shocked! — that Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge who ruled in February that Bradley Manning could be tried on various charges even after being held prior to arraignment for more than five times the absolute longest time specified in the US Armed Forces’ “speedy trial” rules, has now also ruled that Manning can be convicted of aiding an enemy that does not exist.
Yes, you read that right: There’s only an “enemy” to aid, in any legal sense, if the United States is at war, a state created by a congressional declaration. There’s been no such declaration since World War II.
Lind had only one legal duty as judge in this case: To dismiss all charges due to the government’s failure to meet the “speedy trial” deadline. If the United States was, as John Adams put it, “a government of laws, not of men,” that’s exactly what she would have done.
“Any person subject to this chapter who –
“(1) is responsible for unnecessary delay in the disposition of any case of a person accused of an offense under this chapter; or
“(2) Knowingly and intentionally fails to enforce or comply with any provision of this chapter regulating the proceedings before, during, or after trial of an accused; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
No, I’m not really shocked that none of this happened. It’s par for the course. Laws, including the “supreme law of the land,” aka the US Constitution, are for us little people. The US government doesn’t need or want them, except for use as camouflage. It does whatever it wants to do (or rather whatever the ruling members of the American political class tell it to do).
The only reasonable takeaway from the Manning trial is that American “rule of law” is a sham. The US government doesn’t operate within the Constitution’s constraints on state power, nor does it honor that Constitution’s list of enshrined individual rights. It never has done so absent extreme compulsion and it never will do so on anything like a regular basis.
The corollary: If the US government isn’t bound by its own alleged rules, why on Earth would anyone else be?
The NSA spying scandal shows that America’s pursuit of terrorists has turned into a mania. Spying on citizens is as monstrous and unlawful as Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. The German government‘s response has been woefully weak.
America is sick. September 11 left it wounded and unsettled — that’s been obvious for nearly 12 years — but we are only now finding out just how grave the illness really is. The actions of the NSA exposed more than just the telephone conversations and digital lives of many millions of people. The global spying scandal shows that the US has become manic, that it is behaving pathologically, invasively. Its actions are entirely out of proportion to the danger.
Since 2005, an average of 23 Americans per year have been killed through terrorism, mostly outside of the US. “More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism,” writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and “15 times as many die by falling off ladders.” The US has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security since 2001.
America has other threats. The true short-term danger is homegrown: More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms every year. An American child is 13 times more likely to be shot than a child in another industrialized country. When it comes to combating the problem, President Barack Obama and Congress are doing very little — or, to be fair, nothing at all. They talk about it every now and then, after every killing spree. The gun lobby, incurably ill, counters that the weapons are necessary for self-defense.
And when it comes to real long-term dangers, such as climate change, America, its prime perpetrator, does nothing — or, to be fair, too little too late.
As Monstrous as Guantanamo
Eleven and a half years later, Guantanamo Bay detention camp is still up and running.
All of this is not to say that terrorism doesn’t exist: 9/11 happened, and al Qaida is real. But spying on citizens and embassies, on businesses and allies, violates international law. It is as monstrous and as unlawful as Guantanamo Bay, where for 11 and a half years, men have been detained and force-fed, often without evidence against them, many of whom are still there to this day. It is as unlawful as the drones that are killing people, launched with a mere signature from Obama.
There has been virtually no political discussion about all of this. Attacks have been prevented through the spying program — Obama says it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it, and we have to believe them. Voters and citizens are akin to children, whose parents — the government — know what is best for them. But does the free America that should be defended even still exist, or has it abolished itself through its own defense?
An American government that gives its blessing to a program like Prism respects nothing and no one. It acts out its omnipotence, considers itself above international law — certainly on its own territory and even on foreign ground. The fact that it’s Obama behaving in such a way is bleak. If this were happening during the administration of George W. Bush, we could at least think, “It’s just Bush. He’s predictable. There is a better America.” Now we know: There is only one America. Did Obama, the Harvard Law student, even believe what he was saying in his speeches about the return of civil liberties? Can someone be so cynical that they promise to heal the world, then act in such a way all the while giving the xenophobic explanation that only foreigners would be monitored? Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are Obama’s role models. What would they say?
The Stasi Comparison Stands
The German government has shown devastating weakness. Merkel should say, “You are manic, and what you are doing is sick.” That’s what friends do. Instead she weighs every word to avoid annoying the Americans. She said that a comparison between the NSA and the Stasi is inappropriate, but she’s wrong. A comparison doesn’t require that two things be identical. The Stasi destroyed families, the NSA probably not. But the use of technology, the careful nurturing of the image of the enemy, the obsessive collection of data, the belief of being on the right side, the good side: Is there really no resemblance?
Angela Merkel promised to defend the German people from harm. To have your phone wiretapped and accept the fact that every one of your emails could be monitored — the violation of the private sphere — that qualifies as harm.
Every voter knows that realpolitik can be ugly, because politics require the balancing of many considerations. The decisive question is: What greater good justifies this breach of law by the US and the cooperation of German agencies? It is time for answers.
Death of Rolling Stone “Muckracker”: The Michael Hastings Wreck–Video Evidence Only Deepens the Mystery
Or was it?
Michael Krikorian, an essayist and former Los Angeles Times crime reporter, happened upon the scene a few hours after journalist Michael Hastings’s speeding car slammed into a palm tree and burst into a fireball.
Krikorian has seen his share of fatal car wrecks. But this one was different. As he put it, “This demands a closer examination.”
In accident-investigation parlance, it was a roadway departure–a non-intersection crash in which a vehicle leaves the traveled way for some reason.
But how and why did Hastings’s Mercedes depart the traveled way, and why was it traveling so perilously fast?
In a city where there seem to be as many car wrecks as cars, North Highland Avenue in L.A.’s Hancock Park neighborhood is not exactly Dead Man’s Curve. A fatal car accident there is rare.
Highland is a four-lane neighborhood artery as straight as a laser, with a narrow, grassy median lined with towering Washingtonia robusta palms. In the two miles between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, not a single traffic fatality was recorded on Highland from 2001 to 2009, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. http://map.itoworld.com/road-casualties-usa#fullscreen 
In the final moments of Michael Hastings’s life, the car he was operating accelerated to a treacherous speed before swerving off the pavement, mounting the median and slamming into one of the palms. There were no skid marks—no apparent attempt to brake before the collision.
Image: Courtesy of Blue Rider Press/Penguin
Hastings, 33, covered the Iraq War as a young correspondent for Newsweek. But he made front-page news (and won the prestigious George Polk journalism prize) for his 2010 Rolling Stone magazine profile of “The Runaway General,” Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO’s security force in Afghanistan. Hastings’s story portrayed the dismissive contempt with which McChrystal and his staff viewed President Obama and Vice President Biden. The general apologized, calling the profile “a mistake reflecting poor judgment.” But he was forced to resign.
Michael Hastings was carving out a journalism niche as a muckraker, and some see nefarious forces at work in his death.
We asked Michael Krikorian for his take on the curious accident, which happened in his hometown on a block he visits several times a week. He provides the details of new video evidence that offers a few clues about the seemingly inexplicable fatality.—David J. Krajicek
By Michael Krikorian
Shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 18, I was walking with my girlfriend, Nancy Silverton, to get my car, which I had left the night before at her restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, at Highland and Melrose avenues. Walking west on Melrose, we noticed crime scene tape as we arrived at Highland. Just to the south, a wrecked and charred car was being pulled away from a palm tree in the median.
We lifted the yellow tape and walked down the sidewalk to get access to the alley leading to the lot where my car was parked. A Los Angeles police officer stopped us. Nancy explained she owned the restaurant and I identified myself as a reporter. The officer let us walk on and gave a quick rundown: A man had driven into the tree at 4:30 that morning. He was dead.
My first thought was that another early morning L.A. drunk had killed himself. I told the officer that a security camera located outside the front door of the pizzeria probably captured the crash.
As we talked to the police, a Mozza employee named Gary, who has been staying at a small apartment above the restaurant, approached us to say that he had heard the crash.
“I heard a ‘whoosh,’ then what sounded like a bump and then an explosion,” he said. “I thought the building had been hit.”
He said he rushed down and saw the car ablaze. Gary listened as two men who claimed to have witnessed the crash told police the car had sped through a red light at Melrose.
Later, when the pizzeria manager arrived at work, we watched the security camera footage. There’s no wonder it was a fatality. The crash ended with a hellish explosion and fire. The officer, watching the video with us, was as stunned as we were. He said, “I have never seen a car explode like that.”
Soon, a flatbed truck with the burned Mercedes CL 250 aboard drove slowly by, going north in the southbound lanes of Highland. The front of the car, particularly on the driver’s side, was badly damaged. I snapped a couple of poor photos with my iPhone.
The Man Who Brought Down General McChrystal
Nancy and I got in my car and went home. I went on to Watts to do some reporting on another story and later to Gardena. That afternoon, I got an email from a friend to whom I had mentioned the crash. It included a link to an L.A. Times story about the wreck. My friend wrote, “The driver was a well-known journalist: Michael Hastings. What a drag. Obviously a talented guy. Wonder why he was driving so fast?”
I went online and read about Michael Hastings, the guy who brought down General McChrystal. The conspiracy theories were already being spun on the web: that a bomb had been planted in the car, or that its controls had been hacked and the crash was engineered remotely by an unseen hand.
For nearly five years, McChrystal served as chief of the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s commando units, including the Army Delta Force and the Navy Seals. This was not a paper-pushing general. McChrystal was a soldier’s general who would go on raids with his men. A reporter brings him down—and then dies in a mysterious crash three years later. If this had happened in Russia, wouldn’t we all figure it was some dark military conspiracy?
I’m not a conspiracy guy, but my reporter’s instincts told me that this demands a closer examination. So I snooped around.
Mysteries on the Video Tape
“I’ve never seen an explosion like that,” said Terry Hopkins, 46, a former U.S. Navy military policeman who served in Afghanistan, told me. “I’ve seen military vehicles explode, but never quite like that. Look, here’s a reporter who brought down a general. He’s sending out emails saying he’s being watched. It’s four in the morning and his car explodes? Come on, you have to be naïve not to at least consider it wasn’t an accident.”
I turned to the one piece of evidence I had: the security camera footage.
The camera shows the view from near the entrance of Pizzeria Mozza.
Four seconds into the start of the tape, a minivan or SUV goes by the front of restaurant. Three seconds later, another vehicle goes by, traveling from the restaurant front door to the crash site in about seven seconds. At 35 seconds into the tape, a car is seen driving northbound and appears to slow, probably for the light at Melrose.
Then at 79 seconds, the camera catches a very brief flash of light in the reflection of the glass of the pizzeria. Traveling at least twice as fast as the other cars on the tape, Hastings’s Mercedes C250 coupe suddenly whizzes by. (This is probably the “whoosh” that Gary, the Mozza employee, heard.)
The car swerves and then explodes in a brilliant flash as it hits a palm tree in the median. Viewed at normal speed, it is a shocking scene—reminiscent of fireballs from “Shock and Awe” images from Baghdad in 2003.
I have heard and read a wide range of guessed speeds, up to as much as 130 mph. I think it’s safe to say the car was doing at least 80.
Driving 80 on Highland is flying. Over 100 is absolute recklessness.
Highland has a very slight rise and fall at its intersection with Melrose. It’s difficult to tell by the film, but based on tire marks—which were not brake skid marks, by the way—chalked by the traffic investigators, it seems that the Mercedes may have been airborne briefly as it crossed the intersection, then landed hard. Tire marks were left about 10 feet east of the restaurant’s valet stand.
(Later, I drove the intersection at just 45 mph, and my car rose up significantly.)
About 100 feet after the car zooms by on the tape, it starts to swerve. At about 195 feet from the camera, the car jumps the curb of the center median, heading toward a palm tree 56 feet away.
About halfway between the curb and the tree, the car hits a metal protrusion—perhaps 30 inches tall and 2 feet wide—that gives access to city water mains below. This is where the first small flash occurs. This pipe may have damaged the undercarriage of the car, perhaps rupturing a fuel line.
I looked at the tape frame by frame. A second flash immediately follows the first. It might be the brake lights, but it’s hard to tell. The next frame is dark. Then comes the first explosion, followed immediately by a large fireball.
I showed the video to a number of people. Everyone had the same reaction: essentially, “Wow!”
“This Was Not a Bomb”
I showed the video to Scott E. Anderson, an Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor with Digital Sandbox who has engineered explosions for many films.
He viewed the footage more than 20 times at various speeds, including frame by frame. Anderson concluded, “This was not a bomb.”
He said a bomb would have propelled the car upward, not forward.
“It’s very hard to blow up stuff well,” Anderson said. “I think too many things would have to go right. Luck would be involved. Good and bad. Does someone doing this to Hastings want to rely on luck? Too many things have to go right. It would have to be perfect. And that’s almost impossible.”
He continued, “It comes down to physics. A bomb would have lifted the car and the engine up. Based on this video, the car doesn’t go up, and the engine goes forward, which makes sense since the car apparently did not hit the tree head on.”
He said the fireball may be enhanced by the recording device.
“That type of surveillance camera has auto exposure so it can change what it sees based by the ambient exposure day or night,” Anderson explained. “This camera is set at night and anything that happens very quickly, be it a flash light or a big ball of fire, the camera won’t react fast enough, so the first flash of light is going to appear much bigger in the viewing. So the initial explosion would always look bigger than it is.”
He suggested a simple demonstration using a cellphone video app: Strike a match in a dark room and it will flare up on camera much more than in reality.
Why Was He Driving So Fast?
The pizzeria video is compelling, but it fails to answer the key question: Why was Michael Hastings traveling so fast?
As Anderson put it, “None of this happens without the speed.”
Some theorize that the car was hacked—operated remotely (like a drone, for example) by someone who wished to harm Hastings.
That may be technologically possible, but is it plausible?
Hastings ran at least two red lights, and possibly a third. Could a hacker have planned for no cross traffic, which might have derailed the mission? If the flash before the dark frame was indeed brakes, that would indicate the brake light was functional. If the car were hurtling along out of his control, wouldn’t Hastings have been plying the brake pedal all along, not merely in the last second before the crash?
And even if the brakes and accelerator were rigged, the steering must have been functional, according to a Los Angeles Police Department officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “For nearly a half a mile, that car must have been going straight,” the officer said. “That can’t be done at that speed for that long, even with the best alignment.”
“Stanley Got Him”
The day after the crash, I found myself in the homicide squad room in South Los Angeles. The Hastings topic came up, and one of the detectives said, “Stanley got him. Took his time, but got him. That wasn’t an accident.” (Meaning General Stanley McChrystal.)
On cue, a sign showed up the next day on the now-singed Hasting’s Palm: “This was not an accident.” By nightfall, someone had replaced it with another message: “Go to sleep people. This was an accident.”
Hastings’s death was national news briefly, but it was soon pushed aside by subjects deemed more pressing to the mainstream media. The George Zimmerman homicide trial was gearing up in Florida. Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, was playing Tom Hanks at a Moscow Airport. Istanbul had erupted in the biggest anti-government protests in its history, and political strife in Cairo was taking center stage.
Michael Hastings was put on the mainstream media’s back burner—or perhaps on an unlit hibachi behind the garage.
But on YouTube the conspiracy thrived. One video that has received over 8,500 views proclaimed that the plot was so over-the-top that the culprits had removed the bombed car, and in the process, placed another car in front of different trees. It also stated there was no damage to the front of the car.
I saw the car being towed away. It was absolutely mangled on the front, particularly the driver’s side. I’ve lived in Los Angeles most of my life and have seen the aftermath of many car crashes. This was one of the worst. There was no way a driver could have survived.
LAPD Traffic Bureau: ‘No Foul Play’
Two days after the crash, the LAPD announced that there appeared to be no “foul play” in the single-car fatal crash. That ignited even more conspiracy talk: The “feds” had gotten to the LAPD and were hushing it up.
A week after that statement, the lead investigator on the case, Detective Connie White from LAPD’s West Traffic Bureau, contradicted that. When I asked her if “foul play” had indeed been ruled out, she replied, “No. Nothing has been ruled out.”
White said the investigation was nearly complete, but she refused to give details. She said an official report, including toxicology results on Hastings’s remains, may be weeks away.
As far as a bomb or car-hacking, White said, “At this point there is nothing that leads us in that direction.”
When asked if any explosive materials had been discovered on the car or at the crash scene, White sounded like she chuckled.
She said, “Oh, boy. Hold on.”
I thought maybe I had asked a touchy question, and I expected a “no comment.” But she returned to the phone and said, “No.” The way she said it, I wondered if she had shared a laugh with other detectives about my question.
She added, “If this were anything other than an accident, other departments would have been brought in to investigate,” alluding to homicide, the bomb squad or a terrorism unit. (Though one might think “other departments” would have been needed in any case–simply to determine whether it was an accident or not.)
On TV, Hastings Provokes another General
I’ve seen a number of people use the word “fearless” to describe Hastings. The word has different meanings to different people. To some, it might be how well someone held up in the second battle of Fallujah.
I have no idea how Hasting was in the trenches. But I watched him in action on Piers Morgan’s CNN show last November against retired General David Kimmit, an admirer of General David Petraeus. At one point, Kimmit told Hastings that his impressions about Iraq after Petraeus were wrong. Kimmit added that he knew this because he has been back to Iraq, working in the private sector.
Exasperated, Hasting threw up his hands, gave his unique smirk and proclaimed, “I’ve spent more time in Iraq than you have, man.”
Hastings went on to chide Kimmit for profiting off the war in the private sector. “I’m glad the general was able to make money off his services,” he said.
In that TV vignette, I could see why a guy like Hastings would piss off the military brass and would be so admired by fellow journalists.
I hope that someone will be able to explain why Hastings’s Mercedes was speeding like a silver bullet. Maybe the answer will show up in the toxicology results. I know this much: American journalism has lost a pit bull of an investigative reporter.
Those unfortunate to find themselves interned by remand, despite not being found guilty of anything, can be imprisoned for lengthy periods with no sign of either a date for trial or release. Political internees can find themselves in gaol for up to 2 years, or more, under this repressive, draconian policy, awaiting a trial… – Stephen Murney. 1/6/13.
Stephen Murney is a political and community activist, who lives in Newry in the north of Ireland. He is also a member of Eirigi (Arise) which is a legal, registered Irish socialist republican political party. Stephen has frequently documented, photographed and recorded incidents of harsh PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) stop and searches of people, house raids and other rough treatment in the Newry area. Stephen regularly highlighted these issues in local newspapers and on the internet.
In late November 2012, Stephen Murney wrote a letter to a local newspaper expressing his strong condemnation of several early morning raids by the PSNI on homes in the Derrybeg Estate, Newry. He stated that these incursions were causing deep distress to the targeted families and maintained the raids were excessive, unnecessary and avoidable.
On November 28th, some 24 hours after Stephen’s letter was published, in scenes similar to those he had described and criticised, police smashed in his front door and stormed into his home in a dawn raid. Police officers searched his house, seized a computer, political literature and a flute band uniform and arrested Stephen.
The PSNI then three days later charged Stephen Murney with three ‘offenses’. The first charge is, collecting information which maybe of use to terrorists. The second charge is, distributing information which maybe of use to terrorists. The third charge is, possessing items which could be used for terrorist purposes.
The first charge concerns Stephen openly taking photographs of people, including PSNI officers at a protest rally in Newry in June 2012. The PSNI didn’t question, or arrest Stephen, or confiscate or examine his camera/phone or ask for certain images to be deleted at that time. The police did ask him to stop taking photographs and he promptly agreed and did so. The second charge relates to Stephen later posting the same photographs on Facebook, as well as having other political images on this computer. The third charge is in regards to the items of clothing (flute band uniform), two airguns and political literature seized from his home.
At a hearing on December 21, Stephen’s lawyer said the photographs had been openly taken, that Stephen had stopped when instructed and that the posting of some photographs was also for a perfectly legitimate purpose. Some of these photos were taken by Stephen at political protests, commemorations and other events. But most of the photos were downloaded from the internet, many were old, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement in north of Ireland in the late 1960s. The lawyer added that the items that could allegedly be used for ‘terrorist’ purposes consisted of flute band uniforms, possessing two ball-bearing airguns (belonging to his son and are legal and widely available throughout Ireland), legal political leaflets and images freely available to the public on the internet. Many supportive references from community organisations in Newry in support of Stephen Murney were also presented to the court.
It is common practice for political activists around the world to take photographs of demonstrations and of police at political protests. In fact, legal and human rights groups regularly advise political activists to record such protests and any instances of police harassment or mistreatment that occur. Like many hundreds of thousands of other people Stephen loads this information on his computer and sometimes posts some of it on social media sites.
After querying the vague nature of the charges the judge granted Stephen bail. But at the request of the PSNI, the judge imposed several draconian bail conditions, including: banning Stephen from living at home with his wife and family, banning him from entering Newry, his home town, where almost all his family and friends live and banning him from attending any political events or meetings. The judge additionally, ordered that Stephen, reside at least five miles from Newry, report daily to the PSNI barracks (a further 12 miles away), accept a daily curfew from 7pm to 10am and wear an electric tagging device at all times.
Stephen rejected the humiliating bail conditions the court imposed, declaring his total innocence of the charges. Several efforts by Stephen’s lawyers to change the harsh bail conditions were refused and he remains in imprisoned in Maghaberry Gaol.
The Orwellian State of Affairs in the North of Ireland.
‘There has been an accelerated erosion of legal rights since 1998’ – Pat McNamee, former member of the Stormont Assembly and former local councillor.
At a recent protest, a former member of the Stormont Assembly and friend of Stephen Murney, Pat McNamee stated, that only through entering the world of ‘newspeak’ could we obtain the answer as to why Stephen Murney is imprisoned. He said:
Newspeak is the term used by Orwell, in his book 1984, to describe the language employed to oppress people in what was a fictional totalitarian state. That state is not really so fictional nowadays.
Stephen Murney is charged with having a band uniform that he wore whilst a member of a local republican flute band. In ‘newspeak’, that is having a paramilitary uniform and being equipped for terrorism. Stephen Murney is charged with having photographs of protests he had taken part in, which inevitably included images of members of the PSNI, who were also present at these demonstrations. In ‘newspeak’, that is having information useful to terrorists. Stephen Murney is charged with having his son’s toy guns in his home. In ‘newspeak’, that is having an imitation firearm. In ‘real speak’, Stephen has been held in prison for over six months solely because he is an effective republican and community activist.
Congratulating all of those present at the rally, Eirígí activist Shane Jones said that it was representative of a growing awareness of the plight of Stephen Murney across the country and of the excesses of the British state. He said:
However, if those within the British establishment, its puppet parliament at Stormont, its compliant judiciary or its corrupt police force thought that they could isolate Stephen Murney and smother his criticism of their collective actions, they have misjudged the situation. People once unaware of the true nature of the continued British presence in Ireland are being exposed to it across the country. Over the past couple of weeks alone pickets, protests, leaflet drops and information stalls have been held in Newry, Offaly, Wexford, Wicklow, Belfast, Galway and Dublin, with many more to come.
Concluding the rally, Davy Hyland, independent councillor in Newry and Mourne District Council, vowed that he and those assembled would continue to raise the case of Stephen Murney until he is released and allowed to return to his family, home and community. Despite The Good Friday Agreement, Injustice Continues.
Despite all the supposed “changes’, many of the old repressive injustices remain, including internment, political policing, Diplock courts and ongoing M15/ British army military activity – Stephen Murney.
Highlighting that Stephen Murney is but one victim of an increasingly oppressive British state apparatus, Pat McNamee said that after two decades of ‘peace processing’, the rights of the individual, rather than being protected through a Bill of Rights, which was but one of a number of promises enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement that had been reneged upon without sanction. Pat McNamee stated.
Through extended periods of detention, increased stop and search powers, the reduction of the right to a trial by jury and ‘closed evidence hearings’, where judges are presented with secret ‘evidence’ which can neither be disclosed to nor challenged by the accused or their legal representatives, the British state apparatus is more draconian now than at any time during the years from 1969 through 1999. Instead of moving forward with human rights, it is they who are dragging us back.
Stephen Murney is a victim of British injustice in the north of Ireland, but he is one of many of those suffering from an increasingly oppressive British state system. The terms of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) offered better times, a period of peace and healing, yet people’s human rights and civil liberties are still constantly violated. And the basic rights that were meant to be upheld by the GFA process are being grossly abused.
Calls for the Release of Stephen Murney Grow.
Since the arrest and imprisonment of Stephen Murney a number of Irish republican and various other organizations have campaigned for his freedom, including Eirigi, Republican Network for Unity, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Republican Sinn Fein, 32 County Sovereignty Movement, as well as local Councillors and other individuals.
Independent Councillor Davy Hyland from the Newry and Mourne Council stated that, ‘Stephen has been held … on the most spurious charges … he tried to get bail, but was given the most atrocious conditions that he couldn’t possibly meet.’ He added, ‘Stephen’s treatment has been absolutely deplorable.’ Sinn Fein Councillor Brendan Curran said the bail restrictions imposed were, “excessive and unacceptable” given the “dubious” charges.
And human rights groups are starting to take up his case. On 14, June, Justice Watch Ireland wrote to the British Secretary of State Theresa Villars and Justice Minister, David Ford, calling for the immediate release of Stephen Murney. JWI also issued a press release on the facts of the case and their conclusions. JWI’s press release said:
Justice Watch Ireland are more than concerned that Mr Murney may be a victim of the most blatant abuse of the Justice system seen in the last decade. We are equally concerned that should this practice of Judicial Abuse be allowed to continue unabated, it could well threaten the democratic rights of all citizens in the future. We call on all politicians and those opposed to losing their democratic and human rights, to voice their disapproval of such abuses continuing. Justice Watch Ireland calls for Stephen Murney to be released on unconditional bail as a matter of urgency. We believe his detention is nothing short of ‘Interment’ by definition. ‘Internment by remand’ is being claimed by many, in which we are currently investigating, but in this case our conclusion is that Mr Murney truly is interned by definition with the use of the remand process currently being implemented.
Support Stephen Murney, Imprisoned Republican Political Prisoner.
Political policing and internment is nothing new. They are practices which have been in place for some decades, practices that we in Eirigi have been to fore in highlighting, exposing and opposing. As a result, those of us who have been most vocal in opposing these unjust activities and our families have paid a heavy personal price in the form of constant PSNI harassment, frequent ‘stop and searches’, house raids, assaults, threats, intimidation and ultimately, the loss of liberty – Stephen Murney
Stephen Murney is imprisoned, not because he has done or planned to do anything unlawful, but he is in jail due to his dissident political views and because he is an active, outspoken and effective Republican and community activist. In a normal, civil society in another place there would have to be substantial evidence against Stephen Murney to warrant the serious charges he now faces. But the British occupied north of Ireland is not a normal, ordinary place. So, instead of these charges being clearly recognised as weak and ridiculous, in the six counties, they are depicted by the PSNI as a very grave matter and bring the prospect of lengthy prison sentence if Stephen is convicted.
The British authorities have used a policy of selective internment against Stephen Murney in an attempt to silence him and other opposition. A political activist is now in effect interned without trial on the basis of the most ridiculous ‘evidence.’ Stephen Murney has done nothing wrong, but freely exercised his democratic right to attend political demonstrations, to take photographs and to be critic of PSNI actions and of British rule in the north of Ireland. Stephen Murney is innocent and his imprisonment is utterly unjust. The flimsy charges against him should be dropped and Stephen should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Internment was wrong and unjust in previous years and it remains as equally wrong and unjust today. I would encourage all those that disagree with its continued use to organise and publicly oppose internment in its current form – Stephen Murney.
Guest writer Steven Katsineris, Vice Chairman of the James Connolly Association, Melbourne, Australia with a piece on republican prisoner Stephen Murney.
Without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people. That’s what this trial is really about
Thursday, Colonel Denise Lind, the judge in the Bradley Manning court martial, refused to dismiss the “aiding the enemy” charge. The decision is preliminary, and the judge could still moderate its effect if she finds Manning not guilty. But even if she ultimately acquits Manning, the decision will cast a long shadow on national security journalists and their sources.
First, this case is about national security journalism, not WikiLeaks. At Monday’s argument in preparation for Thursday’s ruling, the judge asked the prosecution to confirm: does it make any difference if it’s WikiLeaks or any other news organization: New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal? The prosecution answered: “No, it would not. It would not potentially make a difference.”
Second, the decision establishes a chilling precedent: leaking classified documents to the these newspapers can by itself be legally sufficient to constitute the offense of “aiding the enemy”, if the leaker was sophisticated enough about intelligence and how the enemy uses the internet.
Thursday’s decision was preliminary and made under a standard that favors the prosecution’s interpretation of the facts. The judge must still make that ultimate decision on guilt based on all the evidence, including the defense, under the strict “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Although the decision is preliminary, it is critical as a matter of law because it accepts the prosecution’s extreme theory as legally sufficient. The prosecution’s case is that by leaking materials to the press, the source of classified materials is “communicating with the enemy” indirectly. The source gives materials to the journalist; the journalist publishes; the enemy reads the publication and, presto, the source is guilty of the offense of “aiding the enemy”. Manning is facing life imprisonment without parole for this offense.
The judge earlier held that “aiding the enemy” required that the leaker have “actual knowledge” that by handing materials over to a newspaper, he or she is giving it to “the enemy”; it is not enough that the source “should have known” that the enemy would access the materials. The critical question for Thursday’s holding was what evidence is enough, as a matter of law, to prove “actual knowledge”.
On Monday, the prosecution argued its case based on the thinnest of circumstantial evidence. It began by saying that Manning was “a trained intel analyst”, not “an infantryman or a truck driver”. The judge challenged the prosecutor as to “what is the government’s specific information … that by that publication, that al-Qaida and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula would access it”? The prosecution’s answer was “[Manning] was trained specifically, that al-Qaida used the internet to get this information, that the enemy was looking for this specific type of information.”
The judge then sought further clarification:
You are basically focusing on Pfc Manning‘s individual circumstances and training and experience. And that might distinguish him from someone else in an Article 104 setting who basically had no knowledge of intelligence.
And the prosecutor’s response was, “That is absolutely true.”
By dismissing the defense’s motion, the judge effectively accepted that, as a matter of law, evidence that the leaker was trained in intelligence and received training on the fact that that enemy uses the internet to collect information about the United States is a legally sufficient basis for conviction.
Significant leaks on matters of national defense are not generally going to come from army truck drivers. Daniel Ellsberg was a military analyst at RAND. Thomas Drake was an NSA senior executive. Stephen Kim was a senior adviser on intelligence in the State Department. Jeffrey Sterling was a CIA officer. John Kiriakou was a CIA officer. Bradley Manning was a private first class in army intelligence about two years out from basic training. We can disagree about who among these is more or less worthy of respect or derision. But after Thursday’s hearing, they all fall on the wrong side of the line that the judge endorsed.
Leak-based journalism is not the be-all-and-end-all of journalism. But ever since the Pentagon Papers, it has been a fraught but critical part of our constitutional checks in national defense. Nothing makes this clearer than the emerging bipartisan coalition of legislators seeking a basic reassessment of NSA surveillance and Fisa oversight following Edward Snowden’s leaks.
National defense is special in both the need for, and dangers of, secrecy. As Justice Stewart wrote in the Pentagon Papers case, the press is particularly important in national defense because it is there that the executive is most powerful, and the other branches weakest and most deferential:
In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the first amendment. For without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.
photo by WilliamBanzaix
WASHINGTON—Republican and Democrat lawmakers expressed renewed skepticism Wednesday about the scope of the government’s surveillance operations and threatened to revoke authority for one of the programs recently disclosed by a former National Security Agency contractor that collects telephone records on tens of millions of Americans.
“This is unsustainable, outrageous and must be stopped immediately.”
Noting mounting concerns since details about the telephone records program and a separate operation that collects the communications of non-U.S. citizens abroad were disclosed last month, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said there “are not enough votes to renew” the authority, at least for the vast phone records collection effort.
“This program has gone off the tracks,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said, “and it needs to be reined in.”
But Justice Department and NSA officials asserted that the programs were the subject of strict oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Congress and agency officials.
“This is not done in some rogue manner,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told the panel. “We know of no one who has abused this in a way that would have caused discipline.”
Though former NSA contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the existence of the operations without authorization prompting criminal charges related to espionage, Deputy NSA Director Chris Inglis said the government has no evidence that he “abused the data.”
The strong questioning from lawmakers comes more than a month after Snowden’s disclosures triggered a heated debate over the intersection of the government’s surveillance authority and personal privacy rights.
Snowden has taken refuge in the transit area of a Moscow airport since fleeing Hong Kong last month to avoid extradition to the U.S.
Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., said that while he was “satisfied” that government officials overseeing the programs were acting in good faith, he said there was “concern that this could evolve into something quite different.”
“How do we keep this from evolving into an unchecked weapon that can be used against people’s rights?”
Cole said the phone record collection program contained multiple safeguards against inappropriate breaches of privacy. Echoing defenses offered by other administration officials, he said collection did not involve the content of phone calls, nor did it include the names of the parties to the calls.
“You can’t just wander through these records,” he said.
Responding to repeated questions about the vast nature of the collection effort, Cole said at one point: “If you are looking for the needle in a haystack, you have to have the haystack.”
U.S. whistleblower and international hero Bradley Manning has just been awarded the 2013 Sean MacBride Peace Award by the International Peace Bureau, itself a former recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which Manning is a nominee this year.
A petition supporting Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize has gathered 88,000 signatures, many of them with comments, and is aiming for 100,000 before delivering it to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. Anyone can sign and add their comments at ManningNobel.org
The International Peace Bureau (IPB) represents 320 organizations in 70 countries. It was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1910. Over the years, 13 of IPB’s officers have been Nobel Peace laureates. See ipb.org
The Sean MacBride prize has been awarded each year since 1992 by the International Peace Bureau, founded in 1892. Previous winners include: Lina Ben Mhenni (Tunisian blogger) and Nawal El-Sadaawi (Egyptian author) – 2012, Jackie Cabasso (USA, 2008), Jayantha Dhanapala (Sri Lanka, 2007) and the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2006). It is named after Sean MacBride, a distinguished Irish statesman who shared the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize, and is given to individuals or organisations for their outstanding work for peace, disarmament and human rights.
The medal is made of “peace bronze,” a material created out of disarmed and recycled nuclear weapons systems, by fromwartopeace.com The prize will be formally awarded on Sept. 14 in Stockholm, at a special evening on whistleblowing, which forms part of the triennial gathering of the International Peace Bureau. See brochure at: PDF.
IPB’s Co-President Tomas Magnusson said, “IPB believes that among the very highest moral duties of a citizen is to make known war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is within the broad meaning of the Nuremberg Principles enunciated at the end of the Second World War. When Manning revealed to the world the crimes being committed by the U.S. military he did so as an act of obedience to this high moral duty. It is for this reason too that Manning has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In more general terms it is well known that war operations, and especially illegal ones, are frequently conducted under the cover of secrecy. To penetrate this wall of secrecy by revealing information that should be accessible to all is an important contribution to the struggle against war, and acts as a challenge to the military system which dominates both the economy and society in today’s world. IPB believes that whistleblowers are vital in upholding democracies – especially in the area of defense and security. A heavy sentence for Manning would not only be unjust but would also have very negative effects on the right to freedom of expression which the U.S. claims to uphold.”
Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire recently wrote: “I have chosen to nominate U.S. Army Pfc Bradley Manning, for I can think of no one more deserving. His incredible disclosure of secret documents to Wikileaks helped end the Iraq War, and may have helped prevent further conflicts elsewhere.”
Maguire explains how far-reaching Manning’s impact has been: “While there is a legitimate and long-overdue movement for peace and non-violent reform in Syria, the worst acts of violence are being perpetrated by outside groups. Extremist groups from around the world have converged upon Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred. In recent years this would have spelled an undeniable formula for United States intervention. However, the world has changed in the years since Manning’s whistleblowing — the Middle East especially. In Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and now Turkey, advocates of democracy have joined together to fight against their own governments’ control of information, and used the free-flowing data of social media to help build enormously successful non-violent movements. Some activists of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring have even directly credited Bradley Manning, and the information he disclosed, as an inspiration for their struggles.
“. . . If not for whistleblower Bradley Manning, the world still might not know of how U.S. forces committed covert crimes in the name of spreading democracy in Iraq . . . Now, those who would support foreign intervention in the Middle East know that every action would be scrutinized under international human rights law. Clearly, this is for the best. International peacekeepers, as well as experts and civilians inside Syria, are nearly unanimous in their view that United States involvement would only worsen this conflict.”
Won’t you add your name to the petition now?
Mairead Maguire adds: “Around the world, Manning is hailed as a peacemaker and a hero. His nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of this. Yet at his home in America, Manning stands trial for charges of espionage and ‘aiding the enemy’. This should not be considered a refutation of his candidacy — rather, he is in good company. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi and Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo were each awarded the prize in recent years while imprisoned by their home countries.”