May 082021

The lesson should have been learnt a long time ago, back in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that the United States helps itself to just about any information it wants, about anybody. I won’t go into details about his assertions, as they are very beautifully explained and substantiated in his book Permanent Record.

US surveillance programmes also cover European and goodness knows what other countries, including mine, the purpose allegedly being national security, just as the invasion of Iraq was for national security reasons. In practical terms that means that if somebody reveals anything that embarrasses the powers that be, that person must be hunted to the ground and destroyed, to wit, the shameful case vs Julian Assange (see Deutsche Welle), and that vs Snowden himself who has had to apply for citizenship in Russia, of all places, so as not to suffer Assange’s deplorable fate. I’m sure Putin must be laughing.

Now the US is definitely not the only country that destroys those who would cast aspersions on its greatness and best-ness and Democratic-ness. On the Press Freedom Index, the US now ranks as no. 44, which isn’t so bad, really, only marginally behind South Korea, though considerably worse than the UK which ranks at no. 33.

Nonetheless, I guess no whistle-blower in his sane mind would turn to US American bona fide media outlets — not that I’m suggesting that Snowden was insane. As a matter of fact, he didn’t turn to the US American press but to Glenn Greenwald; speaking of whom, I urge you to read his latest article on substack.

At any rate, today, the New York Times has a very dry article, way below the main headings on its website, the sub-heading of which is directly misleading: “Federal prosecutors sought phone records for three Washington Post journalists as part of an investigation into the publication of classified information in 2017.” The main heading which, I repeat, was way below the rest of the news, is actually more accurate: “Justice Dept. Seized Washington Post’s Phone Records“. The key word here is seized. I don’t know about you, but I almost overlooked the heading. Justice departments are always seizing something or other, it’s their job. (The highlights are mine.)

The point is: The authorities not only sought but obtained all they wanted in order to uncover certain journalists’ whistle-blowing source. This was, admittedly, onTrump’s watch, but is the US Justice Dept. the President’s lapdog? The NYT fleetingly mentions, en passant, “a case where prosecutors secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records. That case signaled a continuation of the aggressive prosecutions of leaks under the Obama administration.” The NY Times refrains from going into details here; after all, the present incumbent of the presidency is on Obama’s side, as it were. The NY Times knows who butters its bread, let’s face it.

Nevertheless, the USA’s position 44 on the Press Feeedom Index is vastly better than that of the United Arab Emirates, at 131. You don’t get much worse than that, do you?

Or what? Well, yes, you do: India at no. 142 – repeat – one hundred and forty two – is the world’s largest so-called Democracy. The country’s president, Narendra Modi, is a pretty nasty piece of work, if you ask me. I leave you to a few sources in chronological order (all regarding India).

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claims to be a-political. Already in 2018, the organisation noted red lights for the Indian press: Troll armies in PM Modi’s “pay”

In February this year RSF reports: Raids on critic al outlets in India.

In April the New York Times started looking at the matter.: NYT: India’s press not so free and NYT: Covid – Critical posts taken down

Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, which discusses how the media discusses big topics, has been following India for a while, for instance here: Al Jazeera: Navigating bad Covid stats

Finally, a wonderful Indian author writes about Covid in India: Arundathi Roy: Covid in India

And the lesson? The one I referred in my first paragraph? It is very simple: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.

Jun 282017

You may have heard – and then again, you may not have – that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have issued an ultimatum against Qatar, the 13 so-called “demands” the country must meet within ten days, “or else”.

If Qatar meets the demands, it will have ceased to be a state: It will merely be a vassal of Saudi Arabia, since what is demanded is in reality that the country surrenders its sovereignty.

It all started with an economic and diplomatic blockade launched in the wake of the US emperor’s visit to Saudi Arabia, and since the Saudis evidently feel confident about US support, goodness knows where it will end. For that very same reason – i.e. US support – nobody even mentions this issue around here. In Europe you don’t talk back to the US! Not in this country, not in any European country, least of all in the UK.

Now I was brought up with the BBC. I feel warmth and gratitude to the BBC. I know the names of many of their foreign correspondents. I download BBC podcasts and listen to them. But let us not delude ourselves: BBC is a British broadcasting company, and Britain is very cosy with the USA. As for the USA, well, need I remind you …? No, I won’t remind you, because that would require not a website but many tomes of modern history. However, take a look at Reporters without borders. If you click the map you will see that the USA ranks no higher than 43 out of 180 states as far as freedom of the press is concerned.

My country is also uncomfortably cosy with the USA, if not quite as cosy as the UK, but certainly cosy enough for its national broadcasting company to refrain from ever quoting Al Jazeera. Yet, I suspect that all good foreign correspondents – be they from my country or from the BBC – consult Al Jazeera more than almost any other outlet, at least about Middle East issues. Why? Because Al Jazeera is good, very good! And they are not bound by the US Patriot Act.

One of the 13 “demands” is that Qatar close down Al Jazeera. Now I don’t know whether you watch Al Jazeera, but what I do know is that whether you do or don’t, the news outlet will have considerable impact on what is revealed to you about world affairs. If it were not for Al Jazeera, the US and the UK could tell their side of the story, and nobody would know the difference.

I wish to quote another Guardian article of today (also quoted, by the way, by Al Jazeera):  Asked whether the closure of al-Jazeera was a reasonable demand, the UAE envoy said:

We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.

I ask you, could any quote be clearer?

Nov 092015

So, am I being watched? I mean, am I subject to more scrutiny on the part of western intelligence agencies than the average man and woman? Are you, who are reading me, being watched?

Because we are all being watched, remember? Not only by the NSA, which appears to have assumed extra-judicial powers and which, incidentally, collaborates with any number of states.

In case you don’t remember, allow me to remind you of the EU Data Retention Directive, the formal purpose of which is to make it harder for criminals to escape. No matter who that criminal is, no matter how anonymous, the Data Retention Directive will make it very hard for him or her to hide in Europe for any length of time.

If the sole purpose of the Directive were to bring heinous criminals to justice, I would be all for it! I very much want the big bad guys brought to justice. In fact I am all for the directive in principle, but I am worried about certain nefarious side-effects. One of them being that we do not all always agree about who the really, really big, bad guys are. Not so very long ago, for instance, homosexuals were considered very bad. I mean really “bad”!

I for my part am of the opinion that one really bad guy is Benjamin Netanyahu and that another is George Bush. Were it not for them, I doubt there would have been a 9/11 (Netanyahu was not the PM at the time, but he had been).

Bush and Netanyahu do not bear all the blame for Israel’s expansionism, to be sure, but a big chunk of it, and thus for much of the ghastly global consequences of Israel’s crimes against humanity. (IS terrorism is just the first pixel of the rather dim picture.) Will Bush and Netanyahu ever be brought to justice?

So much for bad guys. As for the good ones, Edward Snowden tops my list. Without research and its shared results, humanity would never have got this far, obstructed as it has been from time immemorial by power mongers. Snowden has uncovered a weapon that was and still is being used to throttle investigative journalism, on which we so desperately depend for the defence and development of the common good. The US authorities, on the other hand, would do practically anything to get hold of him and put him away for ever, as they have with Brian Manley, who has more or less given his life to help us understand the gravity of the crimes against humanity committed by Bush in his war on Iraq.

I believe, and I hotly maintain, that in most normal circumstances you have to be a crook in order to reach the highest echelons of power, not only in the USA. I used to think Obama was an exception, but now I merely think that even crooks can have a few decent items on their agenda. Certainly, even crooks can love their children or their dogs. To get to the top, you have to be able to cross lines that no decent person can even imagine crossing. In other words, if you get to the top, look at yourself in the mirror and ask: “Where did I go wrong?” If you get to the top, make arrangements at once to bribe a biographer into painting a flattering portrait of you. If you are lucky, investigative journalists won’t discover the bribe, and the flattering portrait will confuse posterity for ever.

With such views I very much doubt I would be granted a visa to the USA, if I applied. Obviously the authorities to which I applied would have had to examine more than my passport and my empty criminal record (to which they officially have no access, by the way) to know that I abhor US foreign (or for that matter domestic) policy. And they would be sure to know.

I actually don’t think that I am the target of particular attention on the part of my own country’s anti-terrorist intelligence efforts. It’s not as though I were the Huffington Post. But I put to you that anybody in any country, in the EU or elsewhere, who is considered a potential political threat by the powers that be (political and corporate) could risk being subjected to extraordinary scrutiny simply because advanced tools of mass surveillance are in place. And where they are in place, they can be abused, as Snowden has so forcefully demonstrated.

Now if you believe that in your country they would never abuse those tools for political purposes, I congratulate you: State your views without fear, and with a little luck, you will not be made to suffer. But if you distrust your national authorities, you might consider shutting up.

That is what many critical journalists do. They have learnt to shut up. Journalists need to consider their future, their careers, their families, etc. They need to earn incomes like the rest of us.

No need to refer to Egypt or Saudi Arabia. In fact, no need to look further than to Spain, where an authoritarian and mendacious PM has been holding forth for some years now. He has nothing to offer the voters except strident references to Spanish glory. And since I actually read Spanish papers – at least I did – I have found that even El Pais has lost its spark. Its journalists now devote their literary verve on accounts about bickering and intrigues within opposition parties.

There is nothing glorious about Spain, these days. The country is as riddled by corruption as a Swiss cheese. We know about this, because the press revealed it. One by one, many of the ruling party’s crown princes have been dragged before the courts – not sentenced, it is true, because the courts are partial – but exposed to the public. (Nor have they been acquitted. The cases are merely protracted for years and years, frozen.) Even the King’s sister faces very serious charges (yes, of putting public money in her darling husband’s pocket).

The New York Times (and apparently also Amnesty International) have been rather heavy-handed in their  criticism of Spain recently. Apparently, the Spanish press is being straight-jacketed not only because of the structural challenges facing newspapers everywhere, but also because the PM now has the power to rein in freedom of the press. Whether due to restructuring or for political reasons, 11,000 journalists have lost their jobs in Spain in recent years. Those who are still hanging on are not likely to stick our their necks.

NYT about curtailment of freedom of the press in Spain


NYT about so-called “gag-law” in Spain

When mainstream newspapers have lost their bite, when they no longer do their job – i.e. to tell the public what the public needs to know in order to make informed decisions, for instance that Mr Rajoy, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Bush are crooks – others will have to pick up the banner and continue the race. Those others could be bands of laid-off journalists who form small subscriber-based internet “newspapers”. Or they could be well-informed citizens who maintain their own open websites.

Whoever they are, we need them. And because we need them, we must protect them. We must adamantly oppose surveillance of our private correspondence (including who we correspond with) orally or in writing. The contents of our correspondence must not be stored anywhere, except by court order and when there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that we have committed a crime punishable by a long custodial sentence. Obviously, we must also be on the alert against “gag laws” (cf. NYT in the second link) that turn expression of certain views in certain places into punishable offences.

Equally important is the protection of you, the reader.  Make no mistake. The websites you visit, the books you read, even the pornography you secretly enjoy – it is all your private business and should remain so. Google and Apple do not agree, but you might consider leaving Google and Apple.

It is sickening to hear members of the public exclaim, “why should I oppose the prohibition to film the activities of the police during demonstrations? I never take part in demonstrations, and I certainly have no interest in filming the police.” Maybe you have never taken part in a demonstration, Mister / Lady, but believe me: had you been a Spaniard living in Spain these past years, you might very well have done so. In Spain, I have seen grey-haired demonstrators wearing kid gloves, Italian shoes or mink.

What happened in Spain could happen in your country, too. In fact, as we speak, country after country in Europe is reeling under the burden of a tsunami of refugees. The ramifications of this mass movement of desperate people may be well-near devastating. I have known for years, and warned, that this would happen, so I am not surprised. What I don’t know is what happens now.

There will be trouble. There will be demonstrations and anti-demonstrations. But freedom of the press must not – NOT – be curtailed in any – I repeat – ANY – way.