Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fracking Hell

"Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispheric in nature because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods" - George W Bush

Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) - a method of extracting gas or oil through fractures in rock induced by highly pressurized liquids - has been attracting increasing media attention. It is a particularly sought after technology as it makes resources beyond the reach of traditional technologies readily accessible. For this reason the 'economic benefits' (read: 'truckloads of cash made by corporations and their shareholders') for energy firms, as well as their lobbyists and 'supportive' government officials, are obvious.

Fracking is commonly used, for example, to reach methane which is trapped in impermeable rock. As the gas cannot be accessed simply by drilling a well (as one can with gas trapped in permeable rocks), the rock must be fractured in order to allow the gas to flow through the fissures and eventually out. As the amount of rock fractured from a single well is quite limited, far larger numbers of wells are required in order to successfully extract significant amounts of the target material.

In a typical fracking operation, high pressure fracture fluid is injected into a wellbore. The pressure must be higher than the so-called 'fracture gradient' of the rock in order for it to create the necessary fissures. This fluid is normally 90% water, 9.5% sand and 0.5% chemical additives, including (pdf) (among other substances) hydrochloric (or acetic) acid, borate salts, sodium and potassium carbonates and disinfectant for the water (for bacteria elimination).

This method of extraction is far more forceful than traditional ones, inevitably leading to negative consequences for the natural environment and human health. These include contamination of drinking water and air, earthquakes and even radioactive contamination. In the case of shale gas (methane trapped in impermeable shale), leakage of the methane can occur in large quantities. As methane is known to be a very powerful greenhouse gas, widespread use of this technique could further accelerate climate change at a time when scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed about potential global catastrophe.

For these reasons it is unsurprising that fracking is outright banned in some nations (like France), with a moratorium in effect in Quebec in Canada and in some US states. In May 2012, the US state of Vermont became the first in the nation to outlaw it. Many other countries apply strict regulations upon its use.

Fracking has recently aroused controversy in the UK with a stand-off between residents and activists and the fracking company Cuadrilla Resources in the West Sussex village of Balcombe. Around 100 police officers have been trying to escort rigging equipment into the area but have met stiff resistance. A few dozen people have been arrested in the protests. A number of campaign groups have sprung up in response to the threat of this technology, the largest being Frack Off, whose website provides a wealth of relevant information and resources.

Cuadrilla Resources was granted a license for shale gas exploration along the coast of Lancashire in 2007. Its first application of fracking on the mainland came in March 2011 near Blackpool. However, as earthquakes of magnitude 2.3 and 1.5 were felt as a result, the company voluntarily suspended its activities until a report released in 2012 found the risk of earthquakes due to fracking to be 'low'. Scientists said the 'maximum seismic event' from the fracking would be magnitude 3, described as 'minor, often felt, but rarely causing damage'. Durham University researchers say (pdf) that most seismic events from fracking are below magnitude one, with only three 'larger' events felt so far (in British Columbia, Oklahoma, and Lancashire, England).

Regarding another area of obvious concern, the British Geological Survey says that water contamination occurs not due to the nature of shale gas operations, but rather due to poor well design and construction. This is unlikely to comfort worried residents with access to data recently displayed on the Frack Off website.

From the site:

This data set shows groundwater contamination at many fracking sites in Pennsylvania (PA), including 19 where the operator failed to "prevent gas and other fluids from lower formations from entering fresh groundwater".

Now we can see why the residents of Balcombe are upset...and quite understandably.

The UK government now supports fracking and has signed off on its safety after a review by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The chairman of the review states: "Well integrity is of key importance but the most common areas of concern, such as the causation of earthquakes with any significant impact or fractures reaching and contaminating drinking water, were very low risk."

These official assurances should calm no one. The world knows all too well what can go wrong despite guarantees by public and private officials of safety to the environment and its denizens. To cite a recent example, the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill of 2010 occurred, according to the US government's report, due to defective cement. It also cited a series of cost-cutting decisions that led to defective components being used, reserving blame not only for BP but also contractor Halliburton and rig operator Transocean.

Negligence - human error - call it what you will is always going to occur. Despite all assurances, why would any member of the public or any resident of an affected community trust the words of private corporations after the long and tragic line of environmental catastrophes they were at direct fault for in the past? Public officials can not be trusted either, given the propensity of some to have financial links to connected private corporations like this fine senator.

As is so often - if not always - the case, profit will trump human welfare or environmental concerns every time, not only in poor nations that cannot defend themselves from well-funded and organized corporations, but also in nations where big-money lobbyists hold great power over policy decision-makers. The very aptly-named Frack Off and other groups need our support as only well-organized campaigns can hope to prevail in these times when large corporations employ PR firms to confuse the public and demonize protesters and campaigners.

Contaminated groundwater and possible earthquakes in nations where buildings are not designed to withstand them (as they are in Japan) are causes for extremely serious concern for everyone. Educate yourself, spread the word and get involved. Do not let the corporations win yet again - their interests are always antithetical to yours.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Open Letter to Obama's Bosses

"It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today, but we have just begun. Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today" - Barack Obama

Author's note: This is a follow-up post to an earlier article: 'Open Letter to Barack Obama'.

For the attention of the bankers and other global corporate power brokers:

After three months of waiting, my letter to one of your employees (Barack Obama) remains unanswered. As the issues covered in the letter are rather urgent, I decided to go over his head directly to you.

Let me begin by noting that the various studies on the vagaries of human psychology (and how to manipulate them) have obviously not gone unnoticed by you; indeed, advertizing, marketing, mass media and PR all play on the myriad cognitive biases of the human brain, working very successfully to distract, cajole and deceive people into doing things they don't particularly want or need to do, buying things they don't need, and even voting for people who act in direct opposition to their interests.

Thanks to these studies, you now know a great deal about the average human being and how he or she behaves both as an individual and in a group. However, it may surprise you to know that this knowledge increasingly extends both ways. In fact, many ordinary individuals know quite a bit about you as well, and the numbers are growing daily - people awakened by the steady diet of abuse and scandal that somehow gets through the white noise of distraction (sports, celebrity, royal babies) in the media that you do control.

So what do we know about you?

1. We know that in every single case, the opportunity to make serious money trumps human rights and welfare. The situation in West Papua is just one of hundreds of cases worldwide where indigenous people are crushed for profit.

2. We know that most terrible of human crimes - genocide - is ignored and tolerated by you when it is expedient to do so. Perhaps you missed my recent article on genocide, with particular emphasis on the Rohingya genocide currently occurring in Burma while Western leaders meet the president and welcome the 'democratization' of the nation (while of course expressing the obligatory human rights 'concerns').

3. We know thanks to various whistleblowers (currently the only way of actually getting to the truth) that through your political, military and intelligence proxies you kidnap and torture people ('extraordinary rendition'), imprison people indefinitely (NDAA), and drone Muslims (with targets like rescuers and funerals, weddings, and people exhibiting 'suspicious' behavior patterns).

4. We know that you spy on top UN officials, even the Secretary General himself...a violation of international law enshrined in treaties that the self-styled democratic luminaries of the West are signatories to.

5. We know, thanks to Edward Snowden and other NSA whistleblowers like William Binney, that you now have the ability to spy on almost every single citizen on the planet. We further know that the pretext for this - terrorism - is completely bogus.

6. We know that you will persecute across the globe anyone who attempts to shine a light on your secret activities while at the same time smearing these brave idealists throughout the media you own and with the help of an endless supply of useful-idiot career stenographers and paid astroturfers in comments below articles and on all major discussion forums.

Bankers and other top financial executives are fabulously rewarded with huge bonuses. Can we therefore infer that those in the finance industry provide an essential service to society and humanity as a whole in order to justify these rewards? Further, the skills required must be unmatched and indeed unmatchable by all but the greatest geniuses amongst us, right?


A study by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Economics Prize, detailed here by George Monbiot, found that the skills of wealth advisers achieved the same level of success as a chimpanzee rolling dice. We therefore know that the self-flattering beliefs you hold about your abilities are in fact pure illusion. Any success comes from the use of insider knowledge along with the understanding that you can act pretty much with impunity, as we learned when those responsible for the truly disgusting HSBC scandal (money laundering for the Mexican cartels who have killed tens of thousands) and the LIBOR rate-rigging case got away with slaps on the wrist.

These scandals are particularly egregious, demonstrating vividly that big finance is no boon to society; quite the opposite. However, the lawlessness on show is not limited to these kinds of headline-grabbing stories. In my original article that introduced the Kahneman study, other cases were detailed (see original for sources):

Inside Job, the Academy Award-winning documentary about the global financial crisis of 2008 is a perfect place to start if you want to see the outrageous and illegal behavior of the likes of Goldman Sachs, whose role in the Greek economic crisis is only one of their many gross abuses.

More from just the last three weeks:

1. Millions of savers are being misled in the UK by City fund managers about hidden fees that can halve the value of pensions.

2. A report by the UK Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) sent to the Financial Services Authority (FSA) shows British high street banks intentionally selling 'packaged' accounts for low-income customers who mistakenly believed they were opening a basic account and were unaware that a monthly fee was being charged. The CAB accuses banks of 'blanket selling' these accounts to people with 'learning difficulties, limited understanding of English, and a limited knowledge of personal banking'

While we now know for sure that we are most definitely not 'all in it together', one thing is certain: the various faces of the financial industry are. See here how the ratings agencies like Moody's conspired with the big banks to screw everyone over to make a buck.

What was that positive effect you have on society again?

But this is all background. It's patently obvious that forcing you to read a list of scandals will change nothing. In fact, many of the above capers are likely worn as a badge of pride by many of you. You see, one of the other things we know about you is the simple fact that you have no sense of shame for the destruction and misery you cause. In fact, many of you probably enjoy it, judging by the words of Greg Smith, a Goldman Sachs whistleblower:

"It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as “muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Even after the S.E.C., Fabulous Fab, Abacus, God’s work, Carl Levin, Vampire Squids? No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client’s goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen."

So I'm not here to appeal to your sense of shame or human decency because we both know perfectly well that you possess neither. My purpose is to appeal instead to your sense of self-preservation, something you have in vast quantities. Let me tell you a little story...

I grew up at a time when episodes of the original Star Trek series were repeated frequently and so grew fond of some of the major characters: logical Spock, ground-breaking Uhura, perpetually irritated McCoy and buffoonish Scottie...and Kirk could have run for New York City mayor. Like many others, it was with some trepidation that I welcomed Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). At first my fears were justified with some wooden acting, ludicrous plots and annoying characters (Deanna Troi), but it soon settled into its own niche and ultimately triumphed.

What does Star Trek have to do with anything? The penultimate episode of the first season of TNG was an attempt at horror: a conspiracy threatened the United Federation of Planets in the form of a parasitic alien life form that had assimilated key personnel in the command structure and was poised to take over humanity. The life form was difficult to detect as it was able to easily master and co-exist with its host. Its only weakness? An inability to assimilate the memories of its host - and it was this weakness that led to the detection and eventual downfall of the alien entity.

This clumsy analogy should make sense. The human species, with all its potential for greatness and good, has been subverted in much the same way by those who have already achieved their potential for evil and destruction. Your weakness...though doubtless you would name it a your inability to feel human empathy.

To summarize, as you probably have no concept of this: empathy is the capacity to recognize the emotions of another sentient being.

To the point, then: you are right to feel secure as you have successfully taken over most of the media and implemented blanket surveillance, enabling you to root out and smear most potential troublemakers. You have also militarized the police to such an extent that democratic protest is now an extremely risky endeavor, with only the hardiest - those with great passion and idealism or those with nothing left to lose - willing to go out into the streets and risk intimidation, arrest and police violence as well as blanket smearing by the media ('hippies', 'get a job' etc.) You are probably feeling quite safe in your ivory towers.

Yet there is a threat that threatens even you and your children: global warming.

UK media analysis website Media Lens detailed the threat in one of their recent alerts.

From the article:

But now, with humanity's huge impact on the planet's climate becoming ever clearer, we need to go back several million years. Because climate-related news of history being made are about the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) reaching 400 parts per million (ppm). The last time CO2 was this high was probably 4.5 million years ago, before modern humans even existed.

Throughout recorded history, up till the Industrial Revolution, CO2 was much lower at around 280 ppm. But large-scale industrial and agricultural activity since then has seen humanity profoundly alter the make-up of the atmosphere and even the stability of Earth's climate.

'We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks,' said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics.

According to Bob Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former UK government chief scientific adviser:

'The world is now most likely committed to an increase in surface temperature of 3C-5C compared to pre-industrial times.'

As Damian Carrington noted in the Guardian, even just 2C is regarded as 'the level beyond which catastrophic warming is thought to become unstoppable.' But social scientist Chris Shaw has warned that even the notion of a single 'safe' global temperature rise is dangerous. He observes that:

'Falsely ascribing a scientifically derived dangerous limit to climate change diverts attention away from questions about the political and social order that have given rise to the crisis.'

These catastrophic risks include ocean acidification and long-term melting of ice sheets leading to sea-level rises. Melting of permafrost in some areas is expected to lead to the release of trapped methane, further accelerating global warming and thereby increasing the probability of abrupt catastrophic changes. Water supply will be affected as well as food security, likely leading to widespread social unrest and severely negative impacts on human health. Extreme weather events like hurricanes are also projected to rise, along with widespread flooding of lowland areas, leading to enormous costs in damage to infrastructure and human displacement.

The economic risks are also enormous. According to a recent report in the journal Nature, the rapid thawing of the Arctic could cost the global economy up to $60 trillion. Further keep in mind that scientists generally err on the side of caution - the economic and social risks could be far worse than predicted here.

While it would not surprise me one jot that some kind of emergency lunar escape facility has already been constructed for your comfort and security, stocked to the gills with fine foods and wines, 'hookers' and high quality Cuban cigars, I find it unlikely that you would submit yourselves to the indignity and inconvenience of undergoing the rigors of space travel just to escape Mother Earth as it belches out its final toxic breath. You will have to face the fact that climate change threatens everyone - mega-rich or poor - and it must be tackled with drastic measures immediately.

Nature is suffering from a virus born out of the human genome. This virus has created a parasitic subspecies of humanity: you. The Earth is careening towards catastrophe and everyone - you and yours included - is going to be burned. Are wealth and power really so important that they make you suicidal? The issue of catastrophic climate change alone should serve as sufficient notice that it is time to relinquish power back into the hands of the sane majority: the scientists, the experts, and most importantly - the kind of people who do not care a whit for wealth or power.

They say you should end on a song,

I look forward to your reply.

Simon Wood

Simon Wood (Twitter: @simonwood11) is the author of 'The 99.99998271%: Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' and the founder of The Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to peace, justice and democracy. Please follow and support The Movement on Twitter: @1themovement as it strongly urges all progressive movements to unite and pool their resources in the common goal of removing the cancer of corruption that threatens us all. You can also follow Simon Wood on Facebook and at his blog.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Short History of US Duplicity

"Because that son-of-a-bitch — First of all, I would expect — I know him well — I am sure he has some more information - I would bet that he has more information that he's saving for the trial. Examples of American war crimes that triggered him into it...It's the way he'd operate. Because he is a despicable bastard." (Oval Office tape, July 27, 1971) - Nobel Peace Prize recipient Henry Kissinger on Daniel Ellsberg

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer." (from March 10, 1975 Meeting With Turkish Foreign Minister Melih Esenbel in Ankara, Turkey) - Nobel Peace Prize recipient Henry Kissinger (quote courtesy of Wikileaks)

"That’s just tough! We are gonna protect ourselves and we're gonna go on protecting ourselves ‘cause we end up protecting all of you. And let’s not forget that. We'll intervene whenever we decide it's in our national security interest. And if you don't like it, lump it. Get used to it, world! We’re not going to put up with any nonsense." - Duane Clarridge, head of the CIA’s Latin America division in the early 1980s (if you have never before seen a sociopath in action, see the 3-minute clip here)

Regular readers of news will be well aware that an employee of a private US contractor used regularly by US government agencies was recently accused of breaking the law, causing outrage and condemnation on a global scale. This particular case is illuminating in many ways with regard to the behavior of the US government.

Raymond Allen Davis is a former US soldier, CIA contractor and employee (at the time) of the private security contractor XE, formerly Blackwater and later Academi (this latter name - from Plato's Akademia - chosen to reflect a more 'boring' image, according to CEO Ted Wright). On 27th January 2011, Mr. Davis shot and killed two reportedly armed men in Lahore, Pakistan. After he called for help, two colleagues then ran over and killed a third Pakistani man while they were speeding on the wrong side of the road to the rescue.

There are some interesting details about the Lahore case. From articles here and here (emphasis added):

1. On January 27, 2011, Raymond Davis shot dead two Pakistanis on a motorcycle in broad daylight on a busy shopping strip. The egregious incident led to three direct deaths and one indirect one when the widow of one of the shooting victims committed suicide due to her sense of hopelessness in a just trial. She ate rat poison.

So four dead Pakistanis, two definitely innocent, and a CIA agent who was at first reported by the US State Department to be on the consular staff...until it was realized that this would provide weaker immunity and he was 'confirmed' by US officials to be on the embassy staff, and therefore entitled to broad diplomatic immunity.

Interestingly, this immunity is enshrined within the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the very same convention directly violated by the US when it was revealed (by Wikileaks, not our intrepid watchdog press) that Hillary Clinton in July 2009 had ordered US diplomats to spy on senior United Nations officials, including the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in order to obtain passwords, personal encryption keys and even biometric information. The 1961 Convention, which covers the UN, states that 'the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable'.

President Obama asked Pakistan not to prosecute Mr. Davis and instead recognize his diplomatic status, quipping: "There's a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold."

Indeed. As any reasonably bright schoolkid will explain to you, if you follow or break laws only when it benefits you, you can't complain when doing so sets a precedent (violating the 'broader principle') and hurts you if the roles are reversed later. Like, for example, the principle of allowing free passage to those awarded political asylum (Julian Assange) by a respected sovereign nation (Ecuador). Very obviously, the act of denying Mr. Assange free passage to Ecuador could easily backfire when a hostile nation later decides to apply the same logic against a persecuted citizen with whatever contrived justifications they can pluck out of the air.

[Note: While it is in fact the UK denying free passage to Mr. Assange, history demonstrates that this country will always follow the wishes of the US on matters close to its heart.]

2. As for the Vienna Conventions, the emphasis on the distinction between consular and embassy staff is not trivial. There is also little doubt that Davis was only placed in the Embassy rolls AFTER the incident. "Davis was not one of the embassy employees listed on January 25, 2010, two days before the incident However, a revised list submitted a day after the incident on Jan 28 carried his name."

(A clear-cut demonstration of the US government's propensity to twist international law to suit its own interests).

3. The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and other media outlets reported for the first time that Davis is a CIA employee. They said they had been aware of his status but kept it under wraps at the request of US officials who said they feared for his safety if involvement with the spy agency was to come out. The officials claimed that he is at risk in the prison in Lahore. The officials released them from their obligation after the Guardian on Sunday reported that Davis was a CIA agent.

(One of many examples of the US media actively sitting on information in the public interest at the direct request of the US government).

Here we have two people - Raymond Davis and Edward Snowden - in similar roles. Both worked for private contractors which gain most of their work from US government agencies and both got into trouble somehow. The reactions of the US government toward these two cases, however, could not be more different. Why is that?

Serious accusations have been leveled at Mr. Snowden throughout the media. They should be applied to both men:

1. 'He broke the law'

Snowden: There is no doubt that Mr. Snowden broke his oath of secrecy. On seeing what he thought was serious criminal behavior beyond democratic accountability, he took his concerns to his superiors but was ignored. He then became a whistleblower, offering relevant documents to journalists whose integrity he trusted, and repeatedly insisting that they exercise extreme caution when publishing the material. He did not sell the documents and states that his sole motivation was to inform the public of unconstitutional behavior that would never have seen the light of day otherwise.

Davis: Unsurprisingly, shooting two people ten times in broad daylight breaks the law - both in the US and Pakistan.

2. 'Innocent people were/will be hurt by these actions'

Snowden: As yet no one has been reported hurt or killed by the NSA revelations. Given the nature of the reporting, where no personal details of agents in the field are even hinted at, it is extremely unlikely that anyone will be hurt.

Davis: The two men, one innocent bystander, and a grief-stricken widow are dead. Further, from Wikipedia (see original for sources):

There have been allegations of further repercussions stemming from the Davis incident. A petition has been filed in the Lahore High Court, alleging that family members of the two victims have gone missing. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a politician opposed to America's presence in Pakistan, has blamed the "Raymond Davis network" for a March 31, 2011 bomb attack targeting him. According to unnamed sources, Davis provided extensive information under interrogation on foreign spy networks in Pakistan, causing some foreign agents to flee the country. Overall, the Raymond Davis incident was detrimental to U.S.-Pakistani relations, possibly even leading to the cessation of all joint operations between Pakistan and the CIA.

3. 'Terrorist/criminals will change their methods as a result'

Snowden: The NSA leaks have only proved (minus the precise names and details) what has been common knowledge for a decade thanks to other whistleblowers: that the US has advanced and extensive capabilities in electronic surveillance. The leak is therefore nothing new for any serious terrorist organization or criminal with a functioning brain.

Davis: This excellent New York Times Magazine feature by Mark Mazzetti explains how one single spy (Davis) managed to turn the whole of Pakistan against the United States, putting countless US citizens and operatives in danger.

There can be no question as to who has caused the greater harm. Raymond Davis inflicted real, incalculable damage on the US and its standing and reputation in Pakistan and around the world. Edward Snowden, however, committed the capital crime: he shone a torch on the true nature and secret machinations of the United States. The fact that his actions have hurt no one and almost certainly never will do brook no relevance, but the penalty for an act of this nature is well established: smear campaigns, aggressive persecution, imprisonment and even torture. Raymond Davis, meanwhile, was spirited out of Pakistan after 'blood money' was paid to the families of the victims and he now lives and works in the United States.

In shining this torch, Mr. Snowden joins the unenviable ranks of other people who have done exactly the same: people like Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond, Julian Assange, John Kiriakou and Barrett Brown.

An excellent article written by Barrett Brown was published yesterday in the Guardian newspaper. While it should be read in full, some excerpts are pertinent:

If [Thomas] Friedman is, indeed, too quick to trust the powerful, it's a trait he shares with the just over half of Americans, who tell pollsters they're fine with the NSA programs that were until recently hidden from their view. Why, our countrymen wonder, ought we to be disturbed by our state's desire to know everything that everyone does? Given the possibility that this surveillance could perhaps prevent deaths in the form of terrorist attacks, most Americans are willing to forgo some abstract notion of privacy in favor of the more concrete benefits of security.

Besides, the government to which we're ceding these broad new powers is a democracy, overseen by real, live Americans. And it's hard to imagine American government officials abusing their powers – or at least, it would be, had such officials not already abused similar but more limited powers through repeated campaigns of disinformation, intimidation and airtight crimes directed at the American public over the last five decades. Cointelpro, Operation Mockingbird, Ultra and Chaos are among the now-acknowledged CIA, FBI and NSA programs by which those agencies managed to subvert American democracy with impunity. Supporters of mass surveillance conducted under the very same agencies have yet to address how such abuses can be insured against in the context of powers far greater than anything J Edgar Hoover could command.

Many have never heard of these programs; the sort of people who trust states with secret authority tend not to know what such things have led to in the recent past. Those who do know of such things may perhaps contend that these practices would never be repeated today. But it was just two years ago that the late Michael Hastings revealed that US army officials in Afghanistan were conducting psy-ops against visiting US senators in order to sway them towards continued funding for that unsuccessful war. If military and intelligence officials have so little respect for the civilian leadership, one can guess how they feel about mere civilians.


So, how trustworthy is this privatized segment of the invisible empire? We would know almost nothing of their operations were it not for a chance turn of events that prompted Anonymous-affiliated hackers to seize 70,000 emails from one typical firm back in early 2011. From this more-or-less random sampling of contractor activity, we find a consortium of these firms plotting to intimidate, attack and discredit WikiLeaks and those identified as its key supporters, including the (then Salon, now Guardian) journalist Glenn Greenwald – a potentially illegal conspiracy concocted on behalf of corporate giant Bank of America, which feared exposure by WikiLeaks, and organized under the auspices of the Department of Justice itself.

We find several of the same firms – which collectively referred to themselves as Team Themis – involved in another scheme to deploy sophisticated software-based fake people across social networks in order to infiltrate and mislead. For instance, Themis proposes sending two of these "personas" to pose online as members of an organization opposed to the US Chamber of Commerce, another prospective Themis client, in order to discredit the group from within. Yet another revelation involves a massive cross-platform military program of disinformation and surveillance directed at the Arab world; still another relates how one NSA-inked firm can monitor and attack online infrastructure throughout the world, including western Europe, and will rent these capabilities out to those with a few million dollars to spend on such things.

Vital points are made here. There is one reason a majority of the US public trusts their obviously corrupt and self-serving officials to act benignly with their most intimate secrets: complete ignorance of their own nation's history. They can thank their whitewashing education systems and corporate media for this black hole in their awareness.

Some details:

1. COINTELPRO: An acronym for 'Counter Intelligence Program', this was a series of covert operations run by the FBI and its director John Edgar Hoover between 1956 and 1971 to discredit domestic groups deemed 'subversive'. These included groups like the American Indian Movement and the civil rights movement along with its leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Tactics used included smear campaigns, false stories planted in the media, psychological warfare, harassment, violence and even assassination.

2. Operation Mockingbird: A CIA campaign to influence media by recruiting leading journalists and having them present the CIA's views of the world. It funded magazines and student organizations, and later aimed to influence foreign media.

3. Operation CHAOS: A domestic CIA spying operation aimed at the student anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.

Just a small sample of many covert US operations, foreign and domestic.

The link? The US government spying on or trying to influence its citizens for its own purposes; not to protect its population from some external threat, but to acquire information on political enemies, dissidents and groups engaging in their democratic right to protest the actions and policies of their elected officials. The NSA leaks show very clearly that nothing has changed, except that the pretext now is terrorism.

History has shown that all individuals or governments who desire to keep power indefinitely in their own hands and away from the people will always take progressively more extreme measures to ensure their continued survival. It is a common misconception, however, that this kind of behavior only occurs in non-democratic nations like China. The US and the UK have now extended their particular brand of paranoia to the point of spying on the entire world; their ultimate goal: the complete eradication of privacy - total informational awareness of every individual, with particular focus on those able to present a threat to the established order. With extensive data on any individual available at the touch of a button, these threats can be quickly neutralized: bribed, blackmailed, smeared, and...if necessary...imprisoned or 'disappeared'. This is not conspiracy talk - a glance through the methods of the US operations cited by Barrett Brown demonstrates exactly what these people are capable of.

Millions upon millions of people were reported on the streets of Egypt yesterday, people utterly sick of the corrupt and limited system which offered them only two unsatisfactory choices at the last 'democratic' election. Time will tell whether these brave people can overcome the odds and enable true democracy in the nation - don't hold your breath - but the sentiment is clear - in Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria...and dozens of other nations that are forced out of the news agendas by Syria, Wimbledon, the Confederations Cup and...soon...the forthcoming UK royal baby...the sentiment is this: Enough!

These multitudes of people in dozens of nations are now aware that the democracies they live under are shams, fronts for corrupt, greedy and self-interested officials and their financial backers. They still have hope that things can change, but this hope will be forlorn unless an enormous number of people wake up and make the system unsustainable. Edward Snowden has shown us what one powerless man can do to change the world. Following his example, aggressively agitating for change on a large scale is what is now required.

The US government has demonstrated repeatedly that it cannot be trusted with power, that it will use its power to work in secret against its own population and even citizens abroad for the purpose of perpetuating the global corporate state. For those who still support the NSA programs, there is one simple question: how far would the US government have to go before doubts arise in your mind? Where is the red line? Given that citizens can right now be locked up indefinitely with no charge (NDAA), and that US citizens can be assassinated by drones (Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki), the criteria for that line must be pretty extreme.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11