Archive for September, 2014

In a much-publicized open letter last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged to protect user privacy with improved encryption on iPhones and iPads and a hard line toward government agents. It was a huge and welcome step toward thwarting the surveillance state, but it also seriously oversold Apple’s commitment to privacy.

Yes, Apple launched a tough-talking new privacy site and detailed a big improvement to encryption in its mobile operating system iOS 8: Text messages, photos, contacts, and call history are now encrypted with the user’s passcode, whereas previously they were not. This follows encryption improvements by Apple’s competitors Google and Yahoo.

But despite these nods to privacy-conscious consumers, Apple still strongly encourages all its users to sign up for and use iCloud, the internet syncing and storage service where Apple has the capability to unlock key data like backups, documents, contacts, and calendar information in response to a government demand. iCloud is also used to sync photos, as a slew of celebrities learned in recent weeks when hackers reaped nude photos from the Apple service. (Celebrity iCloud accounts were compromised when hackers answered security questions correctly or tricked victims into giving up their credentials via “phishing” links, Cook has said.) [Read more] – Michael’s Blog


In 1996 – as major U.S. news outlets disparaged the Nicaraguan Contra-cocaine story and destroyed the career of investigative reporter Gary Webb for reviving it – the CIA marveled at the success of its public-relations team guiding the mainstream media’s hostility toward both the story and Webb, according to a newly released internal report.

Entitled “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story,” the six-page report describes the CIA’s damage control after Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series was published in the San Jose Mercury-News in August 1996. Webb had resurrected disclosures from the 1980s about the CIA-backed Contras collaborating with cocaine traffickers as the Reagan administration worked to conceal the crimes.

Although the CIA’s inspector general later corroborated the truth about the Contra-cocaine connection and the Reagan administration’s cover-up, the mainstream media’s counterattack in defense of the CIA in late summer and fall of 1996 proved so effective that the subsequent CIA confession made little dent in the conventional wisdom regarding either the Contra-cocaine scandal or Gary Webb. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

State Crimes | Slate

“It was an execution, no doubt about it,” said John Crawford II, the father of John Crawford III, a 22-year-old black man killed by Ohio police last month. “It was flat-out murder. And when you see the footage, it will illustrate that.”

It’s hard not to agree. If you watch the Walmart surveillance footage of Crawford’s killing—released Wednesday by prosecutors in the case—you don’t see a confrontation, or anything like the scenario described by Ronald Ritchie, the witness who called 911.

In Ritchie’s account of the event, Crawford “was just waving [the gun] at children and people. … I couldn’t hear anything that he was saying. I’m thinking that he is either going to rob the place or he’s there to shoot somebody.” Moreover, said Ritchie, “He didn’t really want to be looked at, and when people did look at him, he was pointing the gun at them. He was pointing at people. Children walking by.” Indeed, on the emergency call, Ritchie said that Crawford was trying to load the gun, leading dispatchers to tell officers that “he just put some bullets inside.” [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Eighteen years after it was published, “Dark Alliance,” the San Jose Mercury News’s bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua’s Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism.

The 20,000-word series enraged black communities, prompted Congressional hearings, and became one of the first major national security stories in history to blow up online. It also sparked an aggressive backlash from the nation’s most powerful media outlets, which devoted considerable resources to discredit author Gary Webb’s reporting. Their efforts succeeded, costing Webb his career. On December 10, 2004, the journalist was found dead in his apartment, having ended his eight-year downfall with two .38-caliber bullets to the head.

These days, Webb is being cast in a more sympathetic light. He’s portrayed heroically in a major motion picture set to premiere nationwide next month. And documents newly released by the CIA provide fresh context to the “Dark Alliance” saga — information that paints an ugly portrait of the mainstream media at the time. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Australia Poised To Adopt Law That Permits Virtually Unlimited Government Internet Surveillance | thinkprogress

The Australian government is primed to give the nation’s spy agency unfettered access to citizens’ computer networks and potentially put journalists in jail thanks to drafted national security reform laws passed by the country’s Senate Thursday, The Sydney Morning News reported.

The Australian Senate passed an anti-terrorism bill called the “National Security Legislation Amendment Bill” that would give the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) more power to monitor Web traffic. If finalized, the law permits ASIO agents to search and monitor an unlimited number of computers on a particular network based on a single warrant request. Journalists, bloggers and government whistleblowers could also spend up to 10 years in prison for revealing details of intelligence operations, as part of the law. The bill is set to be voted on and approved by Australian’s House of Representatives next week. [Read more]

Dangerous Law In Australia Could Criminalize Basic Reporting and Gut Internet Freedom | Freedom Press

Earlier today, the Australian Senate passed a sweeping new ‘anti-terror’ law that will allow the Australian government to conduct mass surveillance on all of its citizens, will make whistleblowing on intelligence issues a crime, and threatens to criminalize basic reporting. The bill is an enormous threat to press freedom, free speech, and privacy, and we condemn it in the strongest terms.

The bill still has to pass Australia’s House and be adopted by the country’s prime minister. We implore both the House and Prime Minister to re-consider, but many believe it a foregone conclusion that the bill will become law of the land as early as next week. [Read more]

McCarthyism, Japan-style | Japan Times

The right-wing media and politicians have turned up the volume of their attack on the Asahi Shimbun after the newspaper retracted and apologized for past articles on the “comfort women” and for reports on the testimonies of Masao Yoshida, the late chief of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the March 2011 meltdown disaster.

The current situation poses a problem that not only concerns a single newspaper publisher but also could greatly affect the future of political discussion and even the direction of democratic politics in this country. [Read more]

‘Surveillance state’ | NewsReview

“After 9/11 …” began speaker and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

“… everything changed,” the audience finished.

McGovern was addressing a room full of students, professors and citizens last Thursday (Sept. 18) at Selvester’s Café by the Creek on the Chico State campus. The topic of discussion: government surveillance.

It’s all about the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, said McGovern, who returned his CIA Intelligence Commendation Medal in 2006 in protest of the agency’s use of torture. In 1978, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act put that amendment, which protects American citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” into context by requiring a court order for wiretapping and other forms of surveillance. [Read more]

NZ: the limits of scandal-mongering | Spiked

New Zealand’s opposition parties need to offer more than Wikileaked conspiracy theories.

he New Zealand General Election is over, and the governing party, the National Party, has held on for a third term with just over 48 per cent of the vote. This is despite the fact that over the course of the six-week-long campaign, allegations of dirty politics (which resulted in the resignation of justice minister, Judith Collins), and the attempted exposure of a mass state-surveillance programme, have dominated political discussion and dogged the National Party’s re-election efforts. [Read more]

Will We Have Any Privacy After the Big Data Revolution? | Time

Does the rise of big data mean the downfall of privacy? Mobile technologies now allow companies to map our every physical move, while our online activity is tracked click by click. Throughout 2014, BuzzFeed’s quizzes convinced millions of users to divulge seemingly private responses to a host of deeply personal questions. Although BuzzFeed claimed to mine only the larger trends of aggregate data, identifiable, personalized information could still be passed on to data brokers for a profit.

But the big data revolution also benefits individuals who give up some of their privacy. In January of this year, President Obama formed a Big Data and Privacy Working Group that decided big data was saving lives and saving taxpayer dollars, while also recommending new policies to govern big data practices. How much privacy do we really need? In advance of the Zócalo event “Does Corporate America Know Too Much About You?, we asked experts the following question: How can we best balance the corporate desire for big data and the need for individual privacy? [Read more]

Companies wrestle with vague, outdated privacy laws | Dell

One of the biggest assets companies possess is the online data they collect about their customers. Using very simple technologies, they can track browsing and consumer behavior and either sell or use that information without customers even knowing about it. The question is, how much right to privacy do consumers really have?

Technology often outpaces the law, which means companies operate in a murky area with consumer privacy. Because one wrong step can result in unhappy customers and a PR nightmare, businesses need to manage consumer data with a healthy balance of business, strategy and empathy. [Read more]

FBI Director James Comey ‘Very Concerned’ About New Apple, Google Privacy Features | Huffington Post

FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that he was “very concerned” about new steps Silicon Valley tech giants were taking to strengthen privacy protections on mobile devices.

“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I am also a believer that no one in this country is above the law,” Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves above the law.”

Apple said last week that it would no longer be technically feasible to unlock encrypted iPhones and iPads for law enforcement because the devices would no longer allow user passcodes to be bypassed. The move comes as tech companies struggle to manage public concerns in the aftermath of last year’s leak of classified National Security Agency documents about government access to private user data. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Stock prices for Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman set all-time record highs last week as it became increasingly clear that President Obama was committed to a massive, sustained air war in Iraq and Syria.

It’s nothing short of a windfall for these and other huge defense contractors, who’ve been getting itchy about federal budget pressures that threatened to slow the rate of increase in military spending.

Now, with U.S. forces literally blowing through tens of millions of dollars of munitions a day, the industry is not just counting on vast spending to replenish inventory, but hoping for a new era of reliance on supremely expensive military hardware. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

Why Obama Is Planning To Use Religion To Fight ISIS | thinkprogress

Speaking before the United Nations on Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on the world to help him defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS, sometimes called ISIL) in several ways, but also by embracing a very specific tool to help dismantle extremism: peaceful religion.

In his speech, Obama minced few words about his intention to use military force against ISIS — acknowledging U.S. airstrikes in the region and the need to arm local militias to fight them — but insisted that the U.S. “is not and never will be at war with Islam” and reaffirmed his belief that “Islam teaches peace.” He then called on Muslims worldwide to “to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIL.” [Read more]

The Barbarians Within Our Gates | Politico

With his decision to use force against the violent extremists of the Islamic State, President Obama is doing more than to knowingly enter a quagmire. He is doing more than play with the fates of two half-broken countries—Iraq and Syria—whose societies were gutted long before the Americans appeared on the horizon. Obama is stepping once again—and with understandably great reluctance—into the chaos of an entire civilization that has broken down.

Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism—the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition—than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed. The promise of political empowerment, the return of politics, the restoration of human dignity heralded by the season of Arab uprisings in their early heydays—all has given way to civil wars, ethnic, sectarian and regional divisions and the reassertion of absolutism, both in its military and atavistic forms. With the dubious exception of the antiquated monarchies and emirates of the Gulf—which for the moment are holding out against the tide of chaos—and possibly Tunisia, there is no recognizable legitimacy left in the Arab world. [Read more]

White House Has No International Legal Justification for Hitting ISIS in Syria | The Daily Beast

The White House has an answer for critics who want to know how the Obama administration can justify striking ISIS inside Syria under international law: If and when we actually do it, we will come up with a legal justification then.

The Obama administration has explained at length why it believes it has the domestic legal justification for using airstrikes in Syria; they have claimed they don’t need Congressional authorization because the 2001 authorization for the use of military force against the perpetrators of 9/11 and the 2002 authorization to take down Saddam Hussein applies to the ISIS war. The New York Times called the explanations “perplexing” and insufficient. (After all, al Qaeda and ISIS have sporadically fought with one another, and the Saddam regime is long gone.) [Read more]

Rouhani: Syria airstrikes ‘will only create tragedies’ | Al Monitor

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani put forward his prescription for defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS), saying that local Iraqi and Syrian central government forces must be in the lead and that the United States was creating a new “terrorist group” by training and equipping members of the Free Syrian Army.

Speaking to a large audience of Americans and Iranian Americans in a New York City ballroom on Sept. 24, Rouhani did not reply when asked if he had heard President Barack Obama offer his own ideas for eradicating Islamic extremism in a major speech just hours earlier before the UN General Assembly. [Read more]

EXCLUSIVE: Shaikh Hassan Abboud’s final interview | Middle East Monitor

Just hours before an explosion wiped out the entire leadership of one of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria, the head of Ahrar Al-Sham Brigade spent four hours talking to Yvonne Ridley about his vision for the future. In an amazingly frank interview, this is what he told her.

Shaikh Hassan Abboud was normally upbeat during our conversations, even when visited by the darkest of times in his unrelenting war against Syrian government forces, while trying simultaneously to repel rear-guard attacks by the rogue group ISIS. During several of our discussions he admitted that it was difficult to make military progress because of infighting among the other groups. In addition, the astonishing rise of ISIS had caught almost everyone by surprise. [Read more]

Shiite rebel seizure of Yemen capital a ‘gift’ for Tehran? | Middle East Eye

The takeover by Shiite rebels of Yemen’s capital this week is a potential boost for Iran, analysts said.

It is still unclear what the links are between the Ansarullah, or Huthi, rebels and Shiite-ruled Iran, but Tehran will no doubt be pleased by a move that offers the prospect of expanding its influence on the Arabian Peninsula.

The capital Sanaa lies in the Shiite-majority northern highlands, but the rest of Yemen is overwhelmingly Sunni and Al-Qaeda militants have a strong presence in the south and east. [Read more]

ISIL and western media: Accidental allies? | Al Jazeera

Hardly a day goes by without reading articles on how smart and tech-savvy – yet barbarian – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is. Typing the word “ISIL” alongside “social media”, “internet” or “media strategy” into a search engine reveals the gloomy yet fascinating world of those online jihadists who seem to be savvy enough to master, together with Kalashnikovs and knives, the modern language of the participatory Web 2.0.

Countless articles have thoroughly dissected last June’s #AllEyesonISIS Twitter campaign, launched to prove the groups’ alleged grassroots online support. Media professionals have emphasised these jihadists’ sophisticated knowledge of contemporary social networking sites, which became clear when they managed to build an Android app available for public downloading. The same was evident when they quickly migrated from Twitter to Diaspora, an online networking site, once the San Francisco-based organisation decided to shut down several of their accounts. [Read more]

Hoping Bombs Will Solve Iraq/Syria Mess | Consortium News

As the United States embarks on a new air war in Syria, disturbing anomalies abound. Some of them were reflected in the front-page headlines of a couple of major U.S. newspapers Tuesday morning, which probably also reflected slightly different deadlines of the two papers but were substantively telling nonetheless.

The Washington Post’s headline was “U.S. Launches Strikes in Syria.” In the corresponding place in the New York Times, in an edition evidently put to bed before the new offensive in Syria could be reported, we read, “Weeks of U.S. Strikes Fail to Dislodge ISIS in Iraq.” [Read more]

Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition | truthdig

I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you’re gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn’t do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye? [Read more]

No, containing ISIL is not “good enough” | War on the Rocks

Is the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) contained? And would that be good enough? Dr. Christopher Bolan of the U.S. Army War College seems to think so. He argued as much recently here at War on the Rocks. While Bolan’s line of reasoning is appealing to many Americans who are tired of costly foreign entanglements, both parts of his argument fall apart when subjected to scrutiny.

ISIL is not contained. Bolan states that approximately 30,000 ISIL fighters, armed with little more than rifles, face a formidable array of weaponry from the Iraqi military, including main battle tanks, air forces, and artillery, and that they’re surrounded by enemies on all sides (a point also made by WOTR’s Daveed Gartenstein-Ross). While on paper this is persuasive, it’s also useful to remember that just two years ago, with a force of slightly more than 3,000 fighters, ISIL took on the formidable array of weaponry from Syria’s President Assad. The result? ISIL not only survived, but thrived, now controlling terrain the size of the United Kingdom, which spans both Iraq and Syria, and encompasses 60% of Syria’s oil production. Analyzing the amount of equipment and numbers of troops to determine a given military outcome is a great classroom tool, but it has little bearing in the real world. The fact is that ISIL, while acting like a nation-state, isn’t one. It’s an ideology that’s rapidly growing despite what Bolan calls “containment” that’s “good enough.” [Read more]

War without end: The U.S. may still be fighting in Syria in 2024, 2034, 2044 . . . | Reuters

This must be what perpetual war looks like.

In a Pentagon briefing yesterday, Army Lieutenant General Bill Mayville called the cruise missiles and bombs flung at targets in Syria “the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign.” How long will the campaign last? “I would think of it in terms of years,” Mayville responded.

Although the bombs exploded on Syrian soil, they didn’t target Bashar al-Assad’s battered, murderous regime. The bombs were addressed to Syria’s enemy, the Islamic State, a nascent nation that has pledged to topple both Iraq and Syria, as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Cyprus, and parts of southern Turkey, and erect a caliphate on the parcel. [Read more]

Israel’s Bloated War Machine | The Nation

On August 31, the government of Israel decided to cut from its budget 1.9 billion NIS (New Israeli Shekels, equivalent to $517 million). A quarter of that amount came from education ministry funds. The results of this trim are yet to be seen, but it reflects an alarming trend.

The OECD’s 2014 “Education at a Glance” report, published in Paris on September 9, found that Israeli expenditure per student is one of the lowest among industrialized countries. In 2011, for example, it spent $4,058 per student on pre-primary education, compared with the OECD average of $7,428. In the same year, the country spent $5,712 on each secondary school student, compared with the OECD average of $9,280. [Read more]

ISIS and the future of the Tomahawk missile | Marketplace

At the United Nations, President Obama referred to the extremist group ISIS as a “network of death” on Wednesday. As part of the effort to dismantle it, the U.S. deployed a trusted weapon this week, launching more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets in Syria.

That could be good news for a weapon on the budgetary chopping block. By best estimates, the U.S. has about 4,000 Tomahawk missiles in its inventory. Or they did, until this week. [Read more]


Related Articles – Michael’s Blog

Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said this on the campaign trail a couple of days ago:

    There’s a palpable fear among Kansans all across this state that the America that we love and cherish and honor will not be the same America for our kids and grandkids….We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism.

What do you think? Should we treat this charitably and assume Roberts is too dim to realize that national socialism is Nazism? I guess so. According to a piece today from WaPo’s Philip Rucker, Roberts explains that (a) President Obama is leading the country in the direction of a “European socialistic state,” and (b) “You can’t tell me anything that he has not tried to nationalize.” So there you have it. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

The Kremlin is worried the West might try to shut off Russia’s access to the global Internet. According to a report by Russian newspaper Vedomosti on Sept 19, the Kremlin might soon deploy a new set of tactics in an effort to defend the country’s “digital sovereignty.”

Vedomosti’s anonymous sources say the Kremlin may require Russian Internet service providers to install “equipment that would make it possible to sever Russia’s access to the global Internet, in the event of an emergency.” According to the newspaper, Russian ISPs might be ordered to kill access to websites hosted in outside of Russia during “military actions” or “serious domestic protests.” [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.’s departure – or more precisely his replacement – is an issue with huge implications for the housing sector, and a former White House official bluntly explained why.

Jim Parrott, a former housing advisor in the Obama White House, cast much of the blame for today’s tight mortgage lending on the Justice Department’s aggressive enforcement actions in the wake of the housing bust, including the record multi-billion settlements reached with big banks in recent years.

It’s not so much the size or the number of the settlements, but rather the open-ended nature of the Justice Department’s agenda, and the sense that lenders are “just not sure what closure looks and feels like,” Parrott said at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s housing summit in Washington this month. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog

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