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News :: International
'Washington Post' accuses Snowden of aiding Al Qaeda
07 Aug 2014
From: World Socialist Web Site - 7 August 2014

The US media campaign to smear National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden continues. On August 3, an article appeared in the Washington Post entitled, “As evidence mounts, it’s getting harder to defend Edward Snowden.” Authored by Stewart Baker, the article claims that Snowden’s disclosures aided Al Qaeda. Specifically, Baker writes that a study by a company called Recorded Future proves that “Snowden’s revelations about NSA’s capabilities were followed quickly by a burst of new, robust encryption tools from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

“This is hardly a surprise for those who live in the real world,” Baker continues. “But it was an affront to Snowden’s defenders, who’ve long insisted that journalists handled the NSA leaks so responsibly that no one can identify any damage that they have caused.”

The article goes on to denounce at length cyber security expert Bruce Schneier, who defended Snowden against the charge that his disclosures aided Al Qaeda. On June 11, 2013, Schneier wrote in the New York Times: “The argument that exposing these documents helps the terrorists doesn’t even pass the laugh test; there’s nothing here that changes anything any potential terrorist would do or not do.”

Baker’s “mounting evidence” that Snowden’s disclosures helped Al Qaeda consists of a single “study,” released in May of this year, by Recorded Future, a start-up company that produces online data-mining software that it calls “web intelligence.” The company advertises its “capabilities” in “cyber threat intelligence,” “corporate security,” “competitive intelligence” and “defense intelligence.”

The study itself, if it is accurate, simply indicates that in the period after Snowden’s disclosures, various Islamist groups, including Al Qaeda, apparently began using three types of encryption software that had not been previously used. Before Snowden’s disclosures, these groups had already implemented two types of encryption software.

“Of course, this could be random, but it seems unlikely,” wrote Christopher Ahlberg, CEO of Recorded Future, in an email to the New York Times. Despite its flimsy factual foundations, the allegation that Snowden’s disclosures have aided Al Qaeda continues to echo throughout the establishment media.

In any event, whether or not Snowden’s revelations of government crimes against the US Constitution and the American people tipped off Al Qaeda is beside the point. The clear implication of Baker’s argument, which is echoed by virtually all intelligence officials, politicians and media pundits who attack Snowden, is that, in the interests of a supposed “war on terror,” the Bill of Rights should be scrapped and some form of dictatorship established.

In his article, Baker conceals his own background and bias from his readers. What he does not tell his readers—but what one can learn by visiting Wikipedia—is that Baker is a former general counsel of the National Security Agency (1992–1994). He has held various other positions over the years within the military-intelligence apparatus, and was appointed by George W. Bush as assistant secretary to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

As far as his accusations that Snowden helped Al Qaeda are concerned, the word “hypocrisy” does not seem strong enough. Snowden is being denounced for aiding Al Qaeda on behalf of a political establishment that, in fact, has a long history of providing weapons, finances, and intelligence to Al Qaeda and its affiliates throughout the world.

In the Syrian civil war, stoked up by Washington, the CIA has operated training camps for Al Qaeda-linked fighters in Turkey and Jordan. Through these countries, the US has funneled weapons and finances to the Islamist fighters (see: ISIS: The jihadist movement stamped “Made in America”).

Thanks to the American “war on terror,” Al Qaeda offshoot ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has established its own sectarian state purporting to be a caliphate stretching across vast swathes of western Iraq and eastern Syria.

If supporting Al Qaeda is a crime, then it is necessary to prosecute not Snowden, but tens of thousands of personnel within the American military-corporate-intelligence complex, beginning with those who helped organize Al Qaeda in the 1980s during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, all the way through to those who built up Al Qaeda and its affiliated forces in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in recent years.

The “study” itself proves nothing. There is absolutely no evidence that Snowden directly or indirectly assisted Al Qaeda in any way. The study merely purports to show that a list of groups (not limited to Al Qaeda) began using different encryption methods in the time period after Snowden’s revelations.

The accusation that Snowden “aided Al Qaeda” mirrors the “aiding the enemy” charges against Bradley Manning (see: US government charges Manning with “aiding the enemy” in court martial). Baker’s article is evidence that this bogus theory would be invoked against Snowden, should he ever find himself in the clutches of the American judicial system.

The media campaign to confuse the issues surrounding Snowden’s disclosures is acquiring a note of hysteria and desperation. The claim that Snowden is growing “harder to defend” turns reality on its head. In fact, it is the US military and intelligence apparatus, caught in countless lies and violations of law, that is being exposed as a criminal operation. Snowden continues to enjoy broad support throughout the world.

The statement that Snowden is “harder to defend” comes on the heels of revelations, derived from documents disclosed by Snowden, concerning the close intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel (see: New Snowden leak highlights collaboration between NSA and Israeli intelligence). In addition, Glenn Greenwald reported this week that over 40 percent of the 680,000 people on the US government’s “Terrorist Screening Database” have “no recognized terrorist affiliation” (see: US terror list ensnares hundreds of thousands).

The online comments on Baker’s article are overwhelmingly hostile. One commenter observes that Baker’s article “is obviously just propaganda designed to defend his criminal gang that is still running the government today.”

Documents disclosed to journalists in May of last year by Edward Snowden exposed a massive conspiracy on the part of the National Security Agency against the US Constitution and against the world’s population. Snowden lifted the lid on unrestrained and illegal mass surveillance, caught president Obama and senior officials in lies, and exposed the so-called “war on terror” as a fraud. In doing so, he performed an invaluable service to working people in the US and around the world.

While the American political establishment and media claimed that its spying activities were limited to terrorist groups seeking to harm ordinary Americans, Snowden revealed that the NSA’s own “collection procedure” is: “Collect it All,” “Process it All,” “Exploit it All,” “Partner it All,” “Sniff it All,” and “Know it All.”

Snowden exposed as a lie Obama’s claim that “nobody is listening to your phone calls.” Snowden also revealed that Director of National Security James Clapper had committed perjury while testifying under oath before Congress. Clapper was asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” He replied, “No, sir.”

In the upside-down world of establishment America, it is Snowden (who became trapped in Russia when the US unilaterally revoked his passport) who is being hounded and threatened with prosecution. The actual criminals that Snowden exposed remain at large.

On August 5, a watchdog computer program that monitors the activity of the Internet addresses on Capitol Hill caught someone with an anonymous address in the US House of Representatives editing Wikipedia to smear Snowden. A Wikipedia article was edited to refer to Snowden as “the American traitor who defected to Russia.”

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Google as an Arm of the Surveillance State
07 Aug 2014
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Convicted in 1994 of sexually assaulting a young boy, John Henry Skillern of Texas once again finds himself incarcerated and awaiting trial, this time for possession and production of child pornography. Skillern’s arrest comes courtesy of Google. Few, I expect, will shed tears for Skillern with respect to his alleged sexual predations. Nonetheless his case once more brings Google into the privacy spotlight, this time as an arm of “law enforcement.”

Google makes no secret of the fact that it “analyzes content” in emails sent and received by users of its Gmail service, mostly for purposes of targeting advertising to users most likely to click thru and buy things. That’s how Google makes money — tracking users of its “free” services, watching what they do, selling those users’ eyeballs to paying customers.

It’s also understood by most that Google will, as its privacy policy states, “share personal information … [to] meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.” If the cops come a-knocking with a warrant or some asserted equivalent, Google cooperates with search and seizure of your stored information and records of your actions.

But Google goes farther than that. Their Gmail program policies unequivocally state that, among other things, “Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child sexual abuse imagery. If we become aware of such content, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and may take disciplinary action, including termination, against the Google Accounts of those involved.”

As a market anarchist, my visceral response to the Skillern case is “fair cop – it’s in the terms of service he agreed to when he signed up for a Gmail account.”

But there’s a pretty large gap between “we’ll let the government look at your stuff if they insist” and “we’ll keep an eye out for stuff that the government might want to see.” The latter, with respect to privacy, represents the top of a very slippery slope.

How slippery? Well, consider Google’s interests in “geolocation” (knowing where you are) and in “the Internet of Things” (connecting everything from your toaster to your thermostat to your car to the Internet, with Google as middleman).

It’s not out of the question that someday as you drive down the road, Google will track you and automatically message the local police department if it notices you’re driving 38 miles per hour in a 35-mph speed zone.

Think that can’t happen? Think again. In many locales, tickets (demanding payment of fines) are already automatically mailed to alleged red-light scofflaws caught by cameras. No need to even send out an actual cop with pad and pen. It’s a profit center for government — and for companies that set up and operate the camera systems. In case you haven’t noticed, Google really likes information-based profit centers.

And keep in mind that you are a criminal. Yes, really. At least if you live in the United States. Per Harvey Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day, the average American breaks at least three federal laws in every 24-hour period. Want to bet against the probability that evidence of those “crimes” can be detected in your email archive?

To a large degree the Internet has killed our old conceptions of what privacy means and to what extent we can expect it. Personally I’m down with that — I’m more than willing to let Google pry into my personal stuff to better target the ads it shows me, in exchange for its “free” services. On the other hand I’d like some limits. And I think that markets are capable of setting those limits.

Three market limiting mechanisms that come to mind are “end to end” encryption, services for obfuscating geographic location and locating servers in countries with more respect for privacy and less fear of “big dog” governments like the United States. If Google can’t or won’t provide those, someone else will (actually a number of someones already are).

The standard political mechanism for reining in bad actors like Google would be legislation forbidding Internet service companies to “look for and report” anything to government absent a warrant issued on probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. But such political mechanisms don’t work. As Edward Snowden’s exposure of the US National Security Agency’s illegal spying operations demonstrates, government ignores laws it doesn’t like.

Instead of seeking political solutions, I suggest a fourth market solution: Abolition of the state. The problem is not so much what Google tracks or what it might want to act on. Those are all a matter of agreement between Google and its users. The bigger problem is who Google might report you TO.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (
Kinsley vs. Greenwald, Sullivan and of course Snowden
08 Aug 2014
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Glenn Greenwald.jpg
( photo Above: Glenn Greenwald delivers keynote address at 30th Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, 27 December 2013. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A battle of accusations and counter-accusations began with a New York Times Sunday book review posted online before it ever appeared in print. Glenn Greenwalds’ new book No Place to Hide was assigned for review to Michael Kinsley, a longtime editor and journalist who is now with Vanity Fair. The book deals with NSA insider Edward Snowden’s now-famous exposure of top secret documents, which Greenwald writes, add up to “secret state surveillance and abuse of power.”

It was in a Hong Kong hotel room that, as first told by Luke Harding of the Guardian in his 2014 book The Snowden Files, Snowden handed Greenwald, the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and the veteran Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill the ultra-secret Presidential Policy Directive 20, dated October 2012, in which Snowden claimed the President had secretly ordered intelligence agencies to create a listing of possible foreign targets for cyber attacks and therefore, as Harding put it, allowing the “tapping [of] fiber-optic cables, intercepting telephony landing points and bugging on a global scale.” The trio, writes Greenwald, “felt they were involved in a joint endeavor of high public importance, with a large degree of risk.” Even Kinsley, in a rare compliment, admits that the meetings in Hong Kong were “full of journalistic derring-do…a great yarn.”

I don’t know if Kinsley and Greenwald have ever met, but it’s obvious from the review’s tone that Kinsley hasn’t much regard for him. Greenwald strikes Kinsley as “unpleasant” and “Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald, “the go-between” for Snowden and the newspapers with whom Greenwald dealt, “seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is ‘straightforward’ and if you don’t agree with him you’re part of something he calls the ‘authorities’ who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.”

From there the review is all downhill, and the reactions to it are equally negative. Writing about another subject, the Times’ Mark Leibovich said “the personal has never been more political, and vice versa.” So it is for Kinsley. Continuing in a provocative way, he writes that Greenwald — an experienced litigator and journalist– “in his mind,” (how can Kinsley be certain?) resembles “a ruthless revolutionary—Robespierre or Trotsky.”

Kinsley’s review is also replete with snap judgments. “Reformers tend to be difficult people,” he writes. Julian Assange is a “narcissist” and Snowden “appears to yearn for martyrdom,”— an assertion that ignores that Snowden insists he’s a patriot and that after 9/11 he served in the army before receiving a medical discharge. As for Greenwald, he is someone who seems to believe “The ancient regime is corrupt through and through, and he is the man who will topple it.”

Still, while Kinsley’s review often sounds like a writer pressing to meet his word requirement, it’s all fair play, given the extraordinary significance of Snowden’s disclosures and Greenwald’s role in publicizing them. But no sooner had he finished attacking Greenwald, than Kinsley stepped into a literary and political minefield. “The question is who decides,” specifically, which government documents and secrets may be published by the press, and he answers: “That decision must ultimately be made by the government.” (my italics).

Kinsley’s categorical conclusion was simply too much for the paper’s Public Editor Margaret Sullivan. Stepping out of her role (or fulfilling it?) as a critic of the paper’s contents, she criticized the selection of Kinsley as the reviewer suggesting that he was opposed to Snowden’s release of secret documents and those involved. She chose to quote one of her outraged readers that the choice of Kinsley meant that “the result is as predictable in its own way as having Jeremy Scahill [a critic of U.S. foreign policy] or James Clapper [the Director of National Intelligence] review it. Wouldn’t it have been better to have chosen someone with a more balanced take on both Greenwald and the arguments he makes to evaluate the book?”

And then she struck at Kinsley’s “who decides” argument. “Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance…. the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check where “the press [is] a crucial check on the power of the federal government…Picture Daniel Ellsberg and perhaps Times reporter Neil Sheehan in jail and think of all that Americans would still be in the dark about—from the C.I.A.’s black sites to the abuses of the Vietnam War to the conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the widespread spying on ordinary Americans.”

When Pamela Paul, the book review’s editor, replied that it wasn’t her role to edit a reviewer’s judgment and moreover, a book review wasn’t an editorial but simply one person’s opinion, Sullivan responded that while Kinsley was free to air his opinions “there’s a lot about this piece that is unworthy of the Book Review’s high standard. She then took direct aim: “A Times review ought to be a fair, accurate and well-argued consideration of the merits of a book. Mr. Kinsley’s piece didn’t meet that bar.”

No way was the squabble going to end there. “Who will protect the public from the public editor?” snapped Kinsley, obviously stung. “The government sometimes has legitimate reasons for needing secrecy but “will usually be overprotective” and any decisions “should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.” And more: “Do I want to have sent Dan Ellsberg and Neil Sheehan to jail for leaking?… Like most people except Glenn Greenwald, I think the issue is complicated and I have other things to do. But the answer to the Ellsberg-and-Sheehan questions is, no.”

Greenwald also came back at Kinsley. Describing Kinsley as “the consummate establishment ‘liberal’ insider, he decried the demonization by the government and its “jingoistic media courtiers” of anyone who offers “any fundamental critiques of American political culture.” His response to Kinsley added his ally Daniel Ellsberg’s tweet, “I wonder how many years Kinsley now thinks I should have spent in prison for revealing the Pentagon Papers?”

Writing in the neoconservative Commentary magazine (whose reviewers and writers have rarely if ever deviated from the magazine’s rigid party line) and referring to Sullivan’s concerns, James Kirchick reminded us that last August the Times magazine published a sympathetic profile of Laura Poitras, a close associate of Greenwald and Snowden. Kirchick wrote, mockingly, not without merit but reeking with Gotcha!, that the assignment of Peter Maass to write the piece was followed by Maass’ later being “rewarded for his obsequiousness with a job as senior editor at none other than First Look Media,” Greenwald’s new home.

Immediately, many media people began choosing sides. Big names and lesser known names, pundits, reporters and mediaphiles chimed in. The New Republic’s Adam Kirsch tried to mediate the fracas but no-one was ready for his sensible approach because the “spat” as he described it, was much more than a typical 24/7 backyard brawl. The issues separating the sides couldn’t be wished away.

In my view, Pamela Paul, the Times’ book review editor, was in her rights to have selected a reviewer of her choice, as a review is an opinion not an Op-Ed. As the paper’s Ombudswoman, Margaret Sullivan was free to comment on anything in the paper and she may be its most perceptive in-house critic ever, but she was out of bounds in going after the selection of Kinsley as the reviewer.

The real issue and which was properly challenged by Sullivan and others was that Kinsley came too close to suggesting that, however complex the issue, it is Washington who decides, not the press. Some of Kinsley’s proponents seem to rely on the straw man argument: What, if someone published the date of the D-Day landing or some similar momentous event and thereby caused the invasion to be blunted and tens of thousands of soldiers killed? This has never occurred and likely would never occur, so great would be the outcry. In the Snowden case, we’re talking instead about the necessary exposure of massive spying and cover-ups. Anyone still interested in the history of our many questionable and unnecessary wars in 1898, 1917, 1950, 1965 and 2003, each grounded on lies, the truth hidden from the public?

Of course Kinsley had every right to say whatever he wanted. He even admits that Snowden’s leaks were “a legitimate scoop,” but should the famous young exile ever return home he faces a certain Chelsea Manning–like prison sentence, just as the Obama administration has chosen to charge eight alleged leakers with violating the infamous 1917 Espionage Act.

In the end, without Snowden and Greenwald and others–as even Kinsley acknowledges–who would have known about Prism and massive domestic and international spying? Who will know about the other NSA “secrets” Snowden or other insiders may release in the future? Conscience and principles matter and sometimes they demand great personal risks, which Kinsley somehow failed to mention in his review. It’s wise to recall Judge Murray Gurfein’s ruling in the Pentagon Papers case: “A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the ever greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.”

Meanwhile, the disagreements will continue. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post will soon be out with his book on the Snowden revelations while others will certainly follow. I wonder who the Times will assign as reviewers?

Murray Polner writes our Keeping Score column.
ISIS in Iraq: A disaster made in the USA
09 Aug 2014
Iraq War.jpg
9 August 2014

The launching of a US air war against the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq will only compound a catastrophe that has “Made in the USA” stamped all over it. The overrunning of much of the country by the Al Qaeda offshoot is the result not of a “failed policy,” but of criminal decisions that go back nearly twenty-five years.

The Gulf War of 1991 was followed by more than a decade of brutal sanctions and air strikes that killed an estimated one million Iraqis. Next was the conspiracy, hatched behind the backs of the American people, to use outright lies as the pretext for a war of conquest launched in 2003.

It is not possible to discuss the current situation without naming names: Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell—the plotters who knowingly lied to the American people and the world to justify a war for oil and US imperialist domination. As everyone now knows, their claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were a tissue of lies.

The other big lie was the claim that Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaeda. Before the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, there was no Al Qaeda in the country. The secular Baathist regime was hostile to the Islamist jihadist group. But the overthrow of Hussein and installation of a sectarian Shiite puppet regime opened the door for Al Qaeda to set up shop and flourish.

The authors of this slaughter themselves coined the terms that condemn them, such as “shock and awe.” They introduced other terms into the world’s vocabulary: Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, white phosphorus, rendition, water-boarding and Guantanamo.

Thousands of US troops were killed in the eight-year war and occupation. Tens of thousands more suffered permanent physical and psychological damage. Trillions of dollars were squandered while US workers’ living standards were devastated by layoffs, wage cuts and the gutting of social programs.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were slaughtered, millions were turned into refugees, and the entire country was reduced to near rubble. Sectarian tensions between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations were deliberately stoked as part of a divide-and-rule strategy.

Obama, who won election largely by presenting himself as an opponent of the Iraq war, once in office continued the war and adhered to the timeline proposed by Bush for withdrawing US troops. He saw to it that none of the conspirators of the Bush years were held to account for their crimes.

Not only that. He and accomplices such as Hillary Clinton cultivated Al Qaeda-linked groups, such as ISIS, and used them as proxy forces in their wars for regime-change in Libya and Syria. The result was 50,000 deaths in Libya, the murder of the deposed president, Muammar Gaddafi, and the descent of the country into anarchy, bloody fighting between rival militias, and the collapse of its oil industry.

Thus far, the civil war stoked up by Washington and led by ISIS in Syria has killed over 100,000 and turned millions into refugees. Now, Washington is bombing in Iraq the very forces it has built up in Syria.

The attempt by the president in his Thursday night announcement to present the launching of an air war in Iraq as a humanitarian effort to rescue besieged Yazidis reeks of hypocrisy—all the more given his full backing for Israeli mass murder of civilians in Gaza. Obama’s claim that he will carry out only a “limited” and “targeted” campaign and not send “combat troops” back to Iraq is another lie.

“As the president made clear,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday, “the United States military will continue to take direct action against [ISIS] when they threaten our personnel and facilities.” Another official said, “The enemy gets a vote. If they stop, we stop. If they attack, we bring down the hammer.” The current campaign could last weeks, officials said.

The very same people who have set aflame the entire Middle East are preparing a similar disaster in Ukraine and mapping out plans for war against Russia and China, both nuclear powers.

As always, the American media pumps out government propaganda in the guise of “news.” In all the coverage seeking to justify the renewed bombing campaign, not one of the well-healed commentators and columnists thinks to ask whether the American government and military bears responsibility for the catastrophe in Iraq.

All of this shows that the eruption of US militarism abroad goes hand in hand with the breakdown of democracy at home. None of those responsible for these crimes are answerable to the American people. None of them are held to account. They are part of an oligarchy of corporate billionaires, intelligence chiefs and military brass that rules America.

It is up to the working class to disarm the warmongers and bring the war criminals to justice. The alternative is one war after another, leading inevitably to a new world war, this time with nuclear weapons.

The urgent task at hand is the building of a mass international anti-war movement, based on the working class and armed with a revolutionary program for the overthrow of capitalism, the root cause of war, and establishment of socialism.

Barry Grey