Fighting the Secrecy/Surveillance State

From Consortium News:

Dennis J Bernstein
June 13, 2013

The emergence of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and now Edward Snowden represents just the tip of the iceberg of a popular resistance that is challenging the U.S. government’s excesses in secrecy and surveillance, a movement that Iceland MP Birgitta Jonsdottir discusses with Dennis J Bernstein.

The U.S. government’s “war on terror” and its companion “surveillance state” have become troubling issues not only for the civil liberties of Americans but even more so for the rest of the world where popular movements are arising to challenge the electronic penetration of people’s information and violation of their privacy.

Iceland Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir of the Pirate Party was in Berkeley, California, recently to speak at a forum with Daniel Ellsberg on “Disappearing Civil Liberties in The United States.” Jonsdottir is also Director of the International Modern Media Institute and co-producer of WikiLeaks’ “Collateral Murder” video, which revealed the slaughter of Iraqis in 2007 by a U.S. aerial weapons team.

Jonsdottir, who has worked closely with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, discussed the status of this emerging international struggle against government secrecy and surveillance in an interview with Dennis J Bernstein.

DB: How did you get involved in “Collateral Murder”?

BJ: I was working with spokespersons for WikiLeaks in 2009. They came to Iceland and spoke at a Freedom Society event where I was speaking as well. They were talking about an idea that originated in this area of the world, from John Perry Barlow, who a year earlier, in the wake of our financial collapse, said that Iceland could become a safe haven for freedom of information, expression and speech. Julian [Assange] and Daniel [Ellsberg] talked about the same concept, and it was ripe.

I was elected to Parliament, the only geek in Parliament at the time. I approached them after the conference and we began to work on this project, which is to look at the best functioning laws in the Twenty-first Century that protect freedom of information, expression and speech. The reason I chose to work with WikiLeaks was they had hands-on experience in keeping things up no matter what. They had released some documents from the Church of Scientology, and anybody who knows anything about the Church of Scientology knows that it’s very difficult to keep things up because they have very good lawyers. They managed to keep their bible up and you can still access their bible through the Internet because they have archive versions of the WikiLeaks website before the big leak, which came a few months later.

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Obama and His Allies Say the Govt Doesn’t Listen to Your Phone Calls — But the FBI Begs to Differ

From Alternet:

Given FBI acknowledgment that it monitors phone calls on a massive scale, with help from the NSA, gov’t denials are hard to understand.

By Max Blumenthal
June 16, 2013

Today, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) insisted the NSA has not been recording Americans’ phone calls under any surveillance program, and that any claim to the contrary was “misinformation.” Rogers’ comments countered remarks from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who said he was told in a House Judiciary Committee briefing by FBI Director Robert Mueller that private firms contracted by the NSA could listen to phone calls made by American citizens.

Since Nadler’s comments were reported by CNET, he has issued a subsequent statement backtracking on his original remarks: “I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans’ phone calls without a specific warrant.”

The full transcript of Nadler’s exchange with Mueller shows the FBI director claiming that “a particularized order from the FISA court directed at that particular phone and that particular individual” is required for the FBI to retrieve the content of any American’s call.

However, in a May 1 interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett– well before the scandal over NSA spying sent the White House and its allies into damage control mode – a former FBI agent named Tim Clemente made a startling revelation. According to Clemente, an April 18 phone call between Boston bombing perpetrator Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his wife was retrieved by the FBI as part of its surveillance of bulk US telecom data.

Here is the relevant section of Burnett and Clemente’s exchange:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

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Al Gore: NSA’s secret surveillance program ‘not really the American way’

From The Guardian UK:

Former vice-president – not persuaded by argument that program was legal – urges Congress and Obama to amend the laws

, US environment correspondent, Friday 14 June 2013

The National Security Agency’s blanket collection of US citizens’ phone records was “not really the American way”, Al Gore said on Friday, declaring that he believed the practice to be unlawful.

In his most expansive comments to date on the NSA revelations, the former vice-president was unsparing in his criticism of the surveillance apparatus, telling the Guardian security considerations should never overwhelm the basic rights of American citizens.

He also urged Barack Obama and Congress to review and amend the laws under which the NSA operated.

“I quite understand the viewpoint that many have expressed that they are fine with it and they just want to be safe but that is not really the American way,” Gore said in a telephone interview. “Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that those who would give up essential liberty to try to gain some temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Since the 2000 elections, when Gore won the popular vote but lost the presidency to George W Bush, the former vice-president has tacked to the left of the Democratic party, especially on his signature issue of climate change.

Gore spoke on Friday from Istanbul where he was about to lead one of his climate change training workshops for 600 global activists. Such three-day training sessions on behalf of the Climate Reality Project are now one of his main concerns.

Unlike other leading Democrats and his former allies, Gore said he was not persuaded by the argument that the NSA surveillance had operated within the boundaries of the law.

“This in my view violates the constitution. The fourth amendment and the first amendment – and the fourth amendment language is crystal clear,” he said. “It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is.”

Gore added: “This is not right.”

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The NSA’s Spying Program: What’s at Stake for the Climate Movement?

From Yes Magazine:

Programs such as Prism could be used to hamper the social movements we need to tackle the biggest problems of our time.

Jun 17, 2013

The revelation that the National Security Agency gathers information about our phone and Internet use has been frightening, if not exactly surprising. What’s even scarier are the implications the program has for positive social change in the future.

We live in a time when issues like climate change, runaway income inequality, and spiraling health care costs threaten our chance at a decent future. While individuals can help in important ways through local projects, only a national—or even global—social movement can generate change at the scale needed to address these issues.

It’s in this context that the deeper problem with the N.S.A.’s data dragnet appears. According to stories in the Washington Post and The Guardian, the agency’s Prism program automatically gathers and stores data about many types of Internet use. The PowerPoint slides leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden mentions “email,” “videos,” “photos,” and “logins” under the heading “What You Will Receive in Collection.” Another slide mentions “collection directly from the servers” of companies like Google, Facebook, and Skype. (If you’re wondering what that phrase really means, see this ongoing debate between The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and The Nation’s Rick Perlstein.)

And then there’s the matter of phone records. While California Senator Dianne Feinstein brushed off the program’s critics by assuring us that Prism doesn’t store the content of phone calls but only “metadata”—things like which numbers you dialed and how long the call lasted—articles at The Guardian and Washington Post show how clever spies can easily use metadata to figure out details such as your sexual orientation, illnesses you suffer from, and employment status.

In other words, if Uncle Sam doesn’t know what color underwear you’re wearing, he can probably figure it out by looking at your metadata. And, the history of social movements in the United States suggests that—no matter how well-intentioned and nonviolent the next big movement might be—the government is likely to use programs like Prism to stand in its way.

Consider some of the ways the government has used surveillance to disrupt social movements in recent history:

The Civil Rights Movement. Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI operated the Counterintelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, intended to address J. Edgar Hoover’s suspicion of Communist influence in a wide range of groups—the program interfered with organizations ranging from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the American Indian Movement to the Black Panthers.

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Fracking Puts Squeeze on Drought-Striken Farmers

From Common Dreams:

Colorado farmer: “There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas. And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are.”

Lauren McCauley

The fracking industry is putting the squeeze on water-strapped farmers in the central United States according to a new analysis released Monday by the Associated Press.

Through an examination of industry-compiled fracking data and the US Department of Agriculture’s official drought designations, AP reveals that by driving up the price of water and burdening already depleted aquifers and rivers, the high-polluting and water-intensive shale oil and gas removal process is placing an increasing threat on states currently suffering from ongoing drought.

“There is a new player for water, which is oil and gas. And certainly they are in a position to pay a whole lot more than we are,” said fourth-generation farmer Kent Pepper of Mead, Colo., who has been forced to leave a number of his corn fields fallow this year because he cannot afford irrigation.

This news follows a recent study which found that nearly half of the country’s fracking wells are located in water-stressed regions and 92 percent of wells located in extremely high-water-stress regions, leading to the inevitable escalation of what Grist refers to as “the West’s water wars.”

The states highlighted in the study—including Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming—fall within regions labeled by the most recent US Drought Monitor as suffering from “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions.

“The oil industry is doing the big fracks and pumping a substantial amount of water around here,” said Ed Walker, general manager of the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District, which manages an aquifer that serves as the main water source for farmers and about 29,000 people in three counties.

“When you have a big problem like the drought and you add other […] problems to it like all the fracking, then it only makes things worse,” he continued.

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