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

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