Aletho News


South America: UNASUR To Build Fibre-Optic ‘Mega Ring’

By Chelsea Gray | The Argentina Independent | August 21, 2013

unasurThe Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has approved plans for an optic fibre mega-ring which will break its members’ “dependence on the US, and provide a safer and cheaper means of communication.”

The fibre optic ring will become part of a ten-year plan to physically integrate all 12 UNASUR member states. The line, which will reach up to 10,000 kilometres long and will be managed by state enterprises from each country it crosses, is expected to interconnect South America through higher coverage and cheaper internet connections.

Industrial Minister of Uruguay, Roberto Kreimerman, explained that “it is about having a connection with great capacity that allows us to unite our countries together with the developed world.”

He continued to say, “We are considering that, at most, in a couple of years we will have one of these rings finalised.” He also added that ”I think the economy, security, and integration are the three important things we need in countries where Internet use is advancing exponentially.”

At the moment, up to 80% of Latin America’s communications go through the US. However, plans for an independent communication line comes shortly after the US was discovered to have been spying on Latin American data. The National Security Agency (NSA) were revealed to have been monitoring emails and intercepting telephone logs, spying on energy, military, politics, and terror activity across the continent.

UNASUR is made up of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on South America: UNASUR To Build Fibre-Optic ‘Mega Ring’

Declassified FISA Court Opinion Shows NSA Lied Repeatedly To The Court As Well

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | August 21, 2013

The EFF finally gets to step away from one of its many legal battles with the government with its hands held aloft in victory and clutching a long-hidden FISA court opinion.

For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court’s opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated “the spirit of” federal law.

Beyond the many instances of NSA malfeasance, the most damning aspect of the opinion is its lack of effect on future behavior. What does make it past the redaction details repeated wrongdoing that even the FISA Court, long perceived to be the NSA’s rubber stamp, found egregious.

A footnote on page 16 points out that the agency had “substantially misrepresented” the extent of its “major collection program” (including the harvesting of “internet transactions”) for the third time in less than three years. The same set of footnotes attacks the so-called “big business records” collection, accusing the agency of using a “flawed depiction” of how it used the data to basically fleece the FISA court since the program’s inception in 2006.

Then there’s this pair of concluding sentences, which severely undercut anyone’s arguments that the FISA Court is a reliable form of oversight.

Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA has been repeatedly running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement had been “so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall… regime has never functioned effectively.”

Other pages detail more concerns, including misrepresentation of the methods used in 702 collections, which the opinion claims “fundamentally alters the Court’s understanding of the scope of the collection.”

As the Washington Post points out, this opinion, which details many instances in which the NSA flat out lied to the court, lends some credence to statements made by presiding judge Reggie Walton, who claimed the court was limited to making decisions based on information the NSA provided. This opinion appears to detail the NSA setting up its own complicit court system, intentionally misleading it in order to continue its surveillance programs unabated.

The only problem with accepting Walton’s narrative completely is the fact that, despite this opinion, the court granted every request that year (2011) and then proceeded to do the same the following year. The court was lied to but still kept giving the agency the thumbs-up on each new court order.

The leaks keep coming and keep pointing to the same conclusion: the NSA has acted as a law unto itself. And all the while it continues to point at its “overseers,” which include Congress (which has been lied to directly by the agency when not having information withheld from it by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee) and the FISA Court (which has been lied to directly and is hampered by its reliance on the NSA’s data and narratives — which pretty much just means more lying).

And despite all this evidence that the NSA’s “oversight” is nearly completely compromised, the defenders, including those within the agency, continue to insist the system is working the way it should. In their eyes, maybe it is.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Comments Off on Declassified FISA Court Opinion Shows NSA Lied Repeatedly To The Court As Well

US has ignored 5 Russian extradition demands in recent years

RIA Novosti | August 21, 2013

MOSCOW – Five of Russia’s extradition requests sent to the United States in the past few years have been left unanswered, a deputy Russian prosecutor general has said in an interview.

“Since 2008, the United States has refused 16 times to extradite people to us citing the absence of a relevant treaty,” Deputy Russian Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev told the Rossiiskaya Gazeta government daily.

“We have been insisting on concluding such a treaty but have been getting a refusal based on unconvincing arguments,” he said. “Another five of our requests sent to the United States in 2011-2012 have not been answered.”

The United States has been unsuccessfully pushing Russia for extradition of fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

Snowden, a former contractor for the US National Security Agency (NSA), is wanted by the United States on espionage and other charges after he gave journalists classified documents detailing the NSA’s far-reaching electronic and telephone surveillance programs.

Snowden formally requested temporary asylum in Russia on July 16. Washington repeatedly called on Moscow to reject his request and send him back to the United States to stand trial, but in vain. Snowden was granted the asylum in early August.

Zvyagintsev said Russia has not received any official request for Snowden’s extradition from the United States.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Corruption | , , , | Comments Off on US has ignored 5 Russian extradition demands in recent years

Palestinian women activists arrested last week remain imprisoned

International Solidarity Movement | August 21, 2013

Nablus, Occupied Palestine – At 10pm on August 15th Myassar Atyani, Linan Abu Gholmeh and Leena Jawabreh of Nablus district were arrested by the Israeli police with their friend Waroud Qasem in the 1948 occupied areas of Palestine (‘48), what is now referred to as Israel. The three friends who are all political activists and former political prisoners had travelled to ‘48 to visit Waroud who lives in Tyre and has Israeli citizenship.

Leena Jawabreh, Linan Abu Ghoulmeh, Woroud Qasem and Myassar Atyani

Leena Jawabreh, Linan Abu Ghoulmeh, Woroud Qasem and Myassar Atyani

They were traveling together in Waroud’s car when they were stopped by the Israeli police and found to be without travel permits; Palestinians living in the West Bank require permits issued by the Israeli authorities to travel outside of the West Bank, including to the Palestinian capital Jerusalem and the rest of ’48. These permits are notoriously difficult to obtain, especially for activists. The four women were subsequently arrested and transported to Hasharon prison. Myassar, Linan and Leena were detained at the prison until their appearance at Salem military court on the 19th of August.

Waroud, also a former political prisoner from 2006 to 2012 was released from Hasharon prsison and placed under full house arrest with her driving license confiscated. She has another court hearing pending. The other three women are now being held in Salem prison awaiting a further court hearing. Leena on the 22nd of August and Myassar and Linan on the 25th of August.

Their families attended their court hearing on the 19th but thus far have been prevented from speaking with them directly by soldiers in the military court. Therefore they have only heard word of their relatives through their lawyer. Family members said that Linan told the lawyer to “Have me sentenced to what they want but don’t let them put me under administrative detention”.

Linan was arrested after her husband Amjad Mlitat was martyred by the Israeli army in 2004, and held until 2009 when she was released as part of a prisoner exchange; she was then re-arrested in July 2010 and placed under administrative detention, until the October 2011 prisoner exchange.  “Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold prisoners indefinitely on secret information without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.” Administrative detention is a leftover from the British Mandate period of Palestine’s occupied past and has been exploited by the Israeli authorities to ensure that anybody resisting their occupation of Palestine can be imprisoned without justification; this violates the internationally protected right to a fair trial and means that prisoners can be held indefinitely, as administrative detention orders can be continually renewed without evidence. Human rights organisation B’tselem point out that with their regular use of administrative detention Israel violates international law, which “…stipulates that it may be exercised only in very exceptional cases – and then only as a last possible resort, when there are no other means available to prevent the danger.”

Myassar was most recently arrested and interrogated in 2009 and detained in prison for a month – she was also arrested multiple times in the 80’s and 90’s. Leena spent four years in prison from 2004 to 2008. All three women are prominent activists especially for prisoners rights and have been involved in prisoner hunger strikes.

Palestinians living in the West Bank are rarely granted permits to travel to ’48, nor to Gaza – in practical terms this means that they cannot reach the coast, the capital Jerusalem or the many remaining Palestinian cities in what is now referred to as Israel. The Apartheid Wall, illegally built, separating the West Bank from ’48, means that families and friends are divided. Many who want to visit the land lost by Palestinians who were expelled during the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’, in 1948 are regularly denied and thus sometimes choose to travel without permission from the occupying Israeli authorities. The denial of permits is especially strict against those who are political activists and males aged 12- 35 – for these groups it is almost impossible to gain permission to travel freely in historic Palestine.

Ex-political prisoners, human rights defenders and those resisting the occupation are regularly targeted by the Israeli authorities and military for bureaucratic denial of permits, harassment, attacks and arrests.

You can take action demanding the immediate release of Linan, Leena and Myassar here.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Comments Off on Palestinian women activists arrested last week remain imprisoned

NSA has ability to read 75% of all US internet traffic – report

RT | August 21, 2013

Newly unveiled National Security Agency programs detail how the US government has the ability to monitor approximately 75 per cent of American internet traffic, and further discloses how telecommunications companies are compelled to provide such data.

The programs – known as Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium, and Stormbrew – are able to monitor the writing of emails, not just a message’s metadata, according to The Wall Street Journal. The programs also affect digital phone calls placed inside the US.

Among other capabilities, the systems can “reach roughly 75 per cent of all US internet traffic, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans.”

The NSA commands internet service providers (ISPs) to send “various stream internet traffic it believes most likely to contain foreign intelligence,” then copies that data and searches through it.

NSA officials have claimed in recent weeks that the intelligence agency “touches” a mere 1.6 percent of internet traffic, although TechCrunch speculated that rhetoric refers to information that has been sent to the NSA and “culled to their liking.”

Perhaps the most disturbing news is that the NSA worked in conjunction with the FBI to monitor all email and text messages for the six month period surrounding the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

One NSA official, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Wall Street Journal that the NSA is “not wallowing willy-nilly” through Americans’ communications. “We want high-grade ore.”

The WSJ report is based on interviews with current and former government officials familiar with the NSA’s tactics. They claim the filtering was designed to identify communications that either begin or end outside the US, although the “broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected,” not foreign ones.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said that oversight is in place in the event that domestic communication is inadvertently recorded, including “minimization procedures that are approved by the US attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons.”

While lawmakers have asserted that NSA surveillance is necessary to protect national security, Blarney is known to have been in use since before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The program was operating near important fiber-optic landing points, including one in San Francisco, California and another in New Jersey, with the intention of intercepting foreign communications entering and exiting the US.

Such laws are permitted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was expanded in 2008. Section 702 grants the NSA and the FBI the ability to monitor people who are “reasonably believed” to be located outside the US. Before FISA was expanded, it allowed the government to track targets if there was “probable cause” that they were an “agent of a foreign power.”

The PRISM surveillance program is also permitted under Section 702. One of the first Edward Snowden leaks to be published, an internal NSA document described PRISM’s method of collecting stored internet communications as “the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.”

Multiple telecommunications companies have denied that PRISM requests administered by the government require bulk data turnovers – an indication that they are more precise than the internet filtration systems under Barney and other newly disclosed programs.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NSA has ability to read 75% of all US internet traffic – report

Israeli major general: “If we kill 500 in the Gaza Strip, they will calm down”

Al-Akhbar | August 21, 2013

A retired Israeli general said in a television interview on Tuesday that the Israeli Occupation Forces should crack down on the Gaza Strip, Israel National News reported.

“Today, I can’t tell the IDF what to do…But I’m sorry – we are not dealing with the Gaza Strip in the right way.” 100-year old Yitzhak Pundak told Israel’s Channel 2, shortly after receiving the rank of major general.

“What should be done? For every missile they fire, we reply with 20 artillery shells,” he said. “If we kill 500, they’ll calm down immediately. And believe me, I have a lot of experience with this. I dealt with the Arabs for five years.”

Pundak referred to his years as Israeli governor of the Gaza Strip in the early 1970s, in which he claimed that the Palestinian enclave “calmed down completely.”

In a radio interview in June for his 100th birthday, Pundak confirmed that he had led forces that destroyed several Palestinian villages in 1948, adding that he felt no regrets.

“My conscience is at ease with that,” he said, “because if we hadn’t done so, then there would be no [Israeli] state by now. There would be a million more Arabs.”

He also claimed that Israel was “in danger” and needed to “fight” – although he did not specify whom it needed to fight against and why.

“Just like in 1948, the country is in a state of danger – and if the Jews do not fight as we did in the [Arab-Israeli War], the state is in danger.”

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | 3 Comments

Key Loophole Allows NSA To Avoid Telling Congress About Thousands Of Abuses

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | August 19, 2013

As we’ve noted, one of the key claims by NSA surveillance defenders was that the program had strong oversight from Congress. However, with the revelations last week about thousands of abuses, it’s become quite clear that this isn’t true. Late on Friday, Rep. Jim Himes, who is on the House Intelligence Committee, claimed that he was unaware of those violations, was told that there were “no abuses” and that these kinds of abuses are unacceptable:

Remember, this isn’t just a Congressional Rep, but a member of the Intelligence Committee, who is in charge of overseeing the NSA surveillance program. Hell, he’s even on the oversight subcommittee, and no one told him about any abuses, despite thousands happening per year. That’s astounding, and highlights how the claims of Congressional oversight are clearly bogus. Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the statement that House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers put out on Friday, claiming that “The Committee has been apprised of previous incidents.” Himes says that’s completely untrue.

How is this happening? Marc Ambinder explains the “loophole” that the NSA has used to avoid telling Congress about these abuses. It’s a bit convoluted, but basically, the NSA believes that Congressional oversight only covers spying done under FISA — the law that covers any spying done on Americans, for which a court order is needed. FISA doesn’t cover spying on non-US persons (i.e., foreigners who are outside the country at the time of surveillance). And that’s where some of the abuses came in, and the NSA believes that since those aren’t “FISA” related, and Congress is only overseeing “FISA,” they don’t have to report those mistakes.

Since the focus of oversight efforts has been on FISA compliance, NSA gives Congress detailed narratives of violations of the FISA-authorized data sets, like when metadata about American phone records was stored too long, when a wrong set of records was searched by an analyst or when names or “selectors” not previously cleared by FISA were used to acquire information from the databases. In these cases, the NSA’s compliance staff sends incident reports to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for each “significant” FISA violation, and those reports include “significant details,” the official said.

But privacy violations of this sort comprise just one third of those analyzed by the inspector general. Of the 2,776 violations reported by the NSA from May 2011 to May 2012, more than two-thirds were counted as E.O. 12333 incidents. And the agency doesn’t provide Congress detailed reports on E.O. 12333 violations.

Now, you can argue these are very different circumstances, but Ambinder points out that’s not really true in many cases:

In some ways, it’s a distinction without a difference: it does not matter to U.S. citizens whether their phone call was accidentally intercepted by an analyst focusing on U.S.-based activities or those involving a foreign country. But the difference is relevant as it keeps Congress uninformed and unable to perform its oversight duties because the NSA doesn’t provide the intelligence committees with a detailed narrative about the latter type of transgressions.

For example, if someone’s e-mails were inadvertently obtained by the NSA’s International Transit Switch Collection programs, it would count as 12333 error and not a FISA error, even though the data was taken from U.S. communication gateways, and NSA would not notify Congress.

So, basically, any “error” that involves spying on Americans doesn’t “count” as an abuse, as far as the NSA tells Congress (who keep claiming they’re in charge of oversight), because they “obtained” it outside the US, and the “error” is considered outside of FISA. That’s a pretty massive loophole through which the NSA can hide its abuse of programs from Congress.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Comments Off on Key Loophole Allows NSA To Avoid Telling Congress About Thousands Of Abuses

Guardian editor on Miranda detention: ‘Terror and journalism being aligned’

RT | August 21, 2013

The UK government created a “lawless bit of Britain” under the terror act which suspends all checks and balances, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said in an interview, adding that the paper is financing David Miranda’s lawsuit against the Home Office.

Rusbridger called ports and airport transit lounges a “stateless bit of Britain,” where a government can use the word “terror” to “suspend all the normal rules.”

The comment was made in reference to UK authorities detaining and questioning David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours in London’s Heathrow airport on Sunday under Schedule 7 of the UK’s anti-terrorism law.

Miranda told the BBC in an interview that he felt threatened during his 9-hour detention and as if “he were naked in front of a crowd.”

Greewald’s partner said that he was “forced to give passwords” to email and social media accounts to his interrogators. Authorities allegedly threatened him with prison if he did not comply.

Inside Britain, journalists and anyone else carrying material have more opportunities to stand their ground. “You can go before a judge, you can argue about public interest and the public interest of that work,” Rusbridger said.

“The disturbing thing about the way they treated Miranda was the use of this terror act, and there is a little noticed section there, Schedule 7, which effectively suspends all the normal checks and balances that you would have if you were arrested in the Heathrow car park,” he added.

Rusbridger believes there are “confusions in law” when it comes to where you are when you’re in a transit lounge and “whose laws you apply to.”

The UK created this “lawless bit of Britain” over a decade ago, according to the editor. It is a place “where anybody can be questioned for up to nine hours without access to a solicitor and where all your belongings can be confiscated and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said.

Financing Miranda’s lawsuit

Rusbridger revealed that the Guardian is funding Miranda’s legal actions as he seeks a judicial review of the legal basis for his detention and assurances that the property seized from him by police will not be examined.

“The Guardian is supporting that action and we are supporting that in terms of financing it, because David Miranda was acting on behalf of Glenn Greenwald at the time that he was detained. I think it’s a good thing to challenge that law and see exactly why terror and journalism are being aligned in this disturbing way.”

“Miranda wasn’t really on assignment, he is Glenn Greenwald’s partner and Glenn Greenwald is a very busy man and he assists Glenn in his journalistic work. And he was acting as a messenger or intermediary in a way that is difficult for Glenn at the moment because he’s got a lot of work to be doing in Brazil and I think he’s also a bit nervous about traveling at the moment.”

‘The best choice was to destroy hard drives’

Rusbridger also explained that he chose to destroy the Guardian’s hard drives instead of complying with the government because he wanted to avoid a legal dead-end, where the paper would be prevented from publishing Snowden’s leaked documents.

“We were faced effectively with an ultimatum from the British government that if we didn’t hand back the material or destroy it then they would move to law,” he said. “That would mean prior restraint, a concept that is anathema in America and other parts of the world, in which the state can effectively prevent a publisher from publishing, and I didn’t want to get into that position.”

Rusbridger revealed in an article posted on the British newspaper’s website on Monday that intelligence officials from the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) told him that he would either have to hand over all the classified documents or have the newspaper’s hard drives destroyed.

Rusbridger told security officials that the Guardian had other copies in America and Brazil, “so they wouldn’t be achieving anything.”

“But once it was obvious that they would be going to law, I would rather destroy the copy than hand it back to them or allow the courts to freeze our reporting.”

“I don’t think we had Snowden’s consent to hand it back and I didn’t want to help the UK authorities know what he had given us. So to me I was not going to hand it back to the government and I was happy to destroy it because it was not going to inhibit our reporting, we would simply do it from America and not from London.”

Rusbridger described the UK as being “genuinely torn” during negotiations.

“To begin with they were reasonable conversations, it was a reasonable dialogue and all I can say is that at some point something changed and that switched into a threat of legal action. I don’t know what changed or why they changed, I imagine there were different conversations going on within the security apparatus within Whitehall and within Downing Street and at some point a message came to me that we had had our fun and that the time had come to return the documents.” 

Revealing the destruction of hard drives

Rusbridger told The Huffington Post that the Guardian could not reveal the destruction of the hard drives earlier because of “operational reasons.”

“Having been through this and not written about it on the day for operational reasons, I was sort of waiting for a moment when the government’s attitude to journalism – when there was an issue that made this relevant,” Rusbridger said.

The editor believed that moment was Miranda’s detention.

“The fact that David Miranda had been detained under this slightly obscure schedule of the terrorism act seemed a useful moment to write about the background to the government’s attitude to this in general,” he said.

When asked why the Guardian did not devote a front-page article to the issue, Rusbridger said “it was a personal take really.”

“I felt this was a piece of background that readers ought to know about it, but I wanted to write about it in my voice instead of putting in a news story.”

“It wasn’t immediate news…it felt more natural to write about it in a more discursive way,” he added.

‘On a road to total surveillance’

The Guardian editor highlighted that in this age of “mass collection of millions of emails, details of phone calls, texts…the business of reporting securely and having confidential sources is becoming difficult.”

“Journalists should be aware of the difficulties they are going to face in the future because everybody in 2013 leaves a very big digital trail, which is very easily accessed.”

Snowden risked his own freedom to draw attention to the “degree to which we are on a road to total surveillance, we are not there yet, but in these documents there is the stated ambition to scoop up everything and save it all and to master the internet.”

Rusbridger argued that the UK faces the danger of being “complacent about what is being revealed.”

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Guardian editor on Miranda detention: ‘Terror and journalism being aligned’

As Al Jazeera Americas Launches, Concerns Over Corporate-Driven Agenda Persist

By Adrienne Pine and Keane Bhatt | NACLA | August 20, 2013

As Al Jazeera geared up for the August 20th launch of its new channel Al Jazeera America (AJAM), excitement was in the air, judging by its Twitter feed. CNN veteran Joie Chen expressed on her Twitter profile that she was “thrilled” to anchor AJAM’s flagship nightly news program America Tonight, and would engage in “fierce journalism.” According to AJAM’s official account, Chen “can’t wait to bring you the news.”

Bringing U.S. viewers “fierce journalism”—or even simply “the news”—promises to be a welcome change from her previous work as the host of a public-relations video masquerading as an investigative report, all paid for by gun manufacturer Remington to defend its Model 700 rifle from reports of its defectiveness. (In her defense, Chen’s presentation was not done in her capacity as a journalist, but rather as Executive Vice President of Branded News Worldwide, a firm that “creates online platforms for organizations and industries to deliver news and programming models for niche audiences.”)

In anticipation of her special reports for AJAM, Soledad O’Brien of CNN fame casually tweeted about “[getting] a chance to chat with Jean Claude Duvalier”—the one-time Haitian dictator who, despite being responsible for crimes against humanity, remains a free man. The excitement continued as AJAM offered tours of its Washington, D.C. and New York studios for reporters, and promoted a Variety piece consisting of little more than quotes from a conference call hosted by “interim CEO and prez” Ehab Al Shihabi, former senior management consultant at Arthur Andersen, Andersen Consulting and Deloitte.

In preparation for AJAM’s launch, Al Shihabi met with “members of the business community” as well as political figures such as Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), and promised that AJAM would be “the voice of Main Street”; another Variety article reported that “Al Jazeera has also spent time making its case to advertisers, reaching out to ad-buying concerns to dispel any notions that the network may be biased or have an anti-American lens.”

This message was further reinforced when America Tonight’s senior executive producer, Kim Bondy (formerly of CNN) said the show will have “some of the sensibilities of CBS Sunday Morning; it should also look a little bit, probably, like [NBC’s] Rock Center, and we’re stealing a couple pages out of [HBO’s] Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” AJAM president Kate O’Brian—a 30-year veteran of ABC News—confirmed a trend: “The formats, the talent, the producers will be American.”


The authors of this article have appeared as frequent guest commentators to discuss U.S.-Latin America relations on Al Jazeera America’s predecessor, Al Jazeera English (AJE), which will soon be redirected exclusively toward international audiences and rendered inaccessible to most U.S. viewers, even online. With regard to much of AJE’s coverage of the Americas, we have been impressed with the rigor and dedication of AJE reporters, anchors, presenters and producers. The channel often delved into crucial yet often under-reported developments throughout the region, and proved itself an indispensible English-language source for regular, in-depth news and analysis on Latin America and the Caribbean.

But Al Jazeera’s new direction raises serious questions about AJAM. The channel now boasts a new, advertiser-revenue-driven dynamic; it has apparently taken compromising stances in its courtship of U.S. cable distributors; its recruitment of management and on-air personnel demonstrates caution and conservatism; and it has paid top dollar for close consultation with lobbying firms possessing deep rightwing ties. All of these factors may threaten to weaken Al Jazeera’s strengths and guide it toward the most insipid and insular tendencies of U.S. cable news.

A month ago The Guardian’s journalist Glenn Greenwald reported on the internal strife over Al Jazeera America, highlighting serious concerns raised in a leaked email by the host of Al Jazeera English’s program Empire, Marwan Bishara. The email excoriated management for capitulating to the “fear of contractual obligations with carriers” in attempting to expel any traces of what might appear as “anti-American,” including the “diversity, plurality and even accents of its journalists.”

Greenwald revealed highly paid consulting and lobbying firms like Qorvis Communications, ASGK Public Strategies and DLA Piper were influencing many of the channel’s questionable decisions; the temporary removal of an opinion article by Columbia Professor Joseph Massad from Al Jazeera’s website, for example, was done at the insistence of a DLA Piper consultant, according to an anonymous Al Jazeera insider.


One of the primary functions of public relations firms is shaping news to favor their corporate clients. While this approach is a reality in today’s corporate media environment, news organizations such as AJAM naturally sow doubt regarding their own professed commitment to hard-hitting journalism when they rely upon such firms. ASGK, one of the agencies AJAM has hired, explains its techniques of “Crisis Management,” which create clear conflicts of interest for the news agency:

From the halls of Congress, offices of the Executive Branch and Fortune 500 board rooms to the busiest newsrooms, our team knows the media inside and out. At ASGK, we have a wealth of experience in every facet of running a successful media relations campaign. We have established relationships with print, broadcast and online media outlets in local markets and on the national level. We hone messages based on our knowledge of specific reporters. From developing creative events that grab media attention and arranging reporter briefings or meetings with editorial boards, to writing powerfully and persuasively, ASGK is skilled at using media to reach key audiences.

While Al Jazeera’s business model—receiving continuous funding from the government of Qatar—has meant that reporting in some areas of the world has been decidedly biased toward that government’s interests (e.g., Syria, Libya), thus far the network has eschewed a model in which specific reporters repeat messages honed especially for them by corporate advertisers.

But the consultants AJAM has hired go beyond just converting day-to-day corporate talking points into news. On its “Crisis Communications” webpage, ASGK brags, “We have significant experience helping companies and institutions navigate through negative situations with effective communications strategies.” Examples include working “with multiple telecommunications companies on regulatory issues at the FCC” and representing “one of the largest entertainment companies with issues at the Department of Justice in the face of its merger.” Reading not too far between the lines, it is clear that ASGK is actively involved in promoting the kind of corporate media consolidation that has systematically undermined journalistic integrity within the confines of major news outlets over recent decades.

For its part, AJAM consultant Qorvis Communications has engaged in the production of what some would consider outrageously unethical news production. Before hiring Qorvis, Al Jazeera published an article titled “Suppressing the narrative in Bahrain,” detailing Qorvis’s efforts to suppress reporting on the ongoing deadly crackdown against opponents to the U.S-backed monarchy in that country:

Qorvis, which disclosed in a US Foreign Agents Registration Act a $40,000/month contract with the government of Bahrain from April to September last year, is one of a number of western PR firms that have been hired by the government. Matt Lauer, a partner at Qorvis, wrote in an email to PRNewser in August: “We help communicate the positive work the government [in Bahrain] is undertaking.”

Law and lobbying firm DLA Piper, in a flier titled “Dispute Resolution: Our Latin American Practice,” promotes its work on behalf of telecom consolidation. According to the document, it “[a]dvised a major Venezuelan telecommunications operator before Venezuelan telecommunications regulatory authorities in a dispute over interconnection rates” and “[r]epresented Spanish purchasers of Latin American telecommunications infrastructure interests in multi-jurisdictional parallel litigation proceedings against the sellers.”

Al Jazeera paid DLA $220,000 over the course of three months this year. Although the firm’s representation of the clients below does not in any way imply unethical behavior on the part of Al Jazeera, it is remarkable that the following list begs for the kind of investigative journalism that AJAM promises to provide:

  • PR firm Burson-Marsteller paid DLA $140,000 for its services in 2003-4; It is infamous for its own work representing clients like the Argentine military junta government of General Jorge Videla (1976-1983), whose security forces murdered or disappeared at least 15,000 people.
  • Venezuelan banker Nelson Mezerhane paid DLA at least $60,000 in 2012. He is the former co-owner of Venezuela’s Globovisión television station, which supported the short-lived overthrow of elected president Hugo Chávez in 2002.
  • The Drummond Company (which paid DLA $100,000 from 2003-7) was reported to have hired private security forces to murder opponents of its open-pit mining operations in Colombia.
  • Great Lakes Chemical ($100,000 from 2003-4), is the largest U.S. methyl bromide supplier in the U.S. The toxin is responsible for serious health problems to vulnerable agricultural workers, many of whom are migrants from Latin America.
  • Triple Canopy ($640,000 between 2010-2012), is a private military corporation that works extensively in Latin America. In 2005, a Triple Canopy subsidiary was expelled from Honduras for illegally training Honduran and Chilean mercenaries to be sent to fight in Iraq. The company was condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.

Earlier this year, DLA announced that Spain’s former Prime Minister José María Aznar (who had previously paid DLA Piper’s predecessor firm Piper Rudnick $2 million of Spanish taxpayer money in a failed attempt to secure the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal) had been named to the firm’s board as Senior Advisor on Latin America. Aznar is also a member of the Board of Directors at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. To call Aznar a major player in Latin American politics would be an understatement. From his 2002 support as Spanish Prime Minister of the 48-hour coup against Venezuela’s Chávez to his work at the powerful, rightwing Latin American Board at Georgetown University, Aznar, now at Johns Hopkins, has used his considerable political and economic clout to promote reactionary policies throughout the hemisphere.

An Al Jazeera America spokesperson responded by phone to a request for comment, asserting that there was a “misconception about the role of consulting firms such as ASGK and Qorvis” with relation to AJAM’s efforts to launch its cable channel. “They are not at all involved in any editorial decisions,” he added. Regarding the reduced role that is anticipated for AJAM’s international reporting, he said, “As far as coverage of Latin America, Al Jazeera International will continue to cover the region as strongly as Al Jazeera English did.” He conceded that this content would be unavailable to U.S. viewers, but especially given “America’s substantial Latino community,” he stated that AJAM will provide news that’s “relevant to Americans” from across the region.


It appears, based on several news reports, that AJAM has in fact made a decision, responding to advertisers and cable providers, to reduce the scope of its predecessor’s international coverage in favor of a U.S.-centric orientation. What remains of its coverage toward the Americas—while perhaps not directly influenced by consulting firms—seems unlikely to avoid being mediated by the considerations of agencies that have publicly touted their ability to circumvent and downplay the kind of fearless, confrontational reporting that Al Jazeera English has done to expose the unsavory activities of multinational corporations and the U.S. government throughout Latin America. This tendency seems to be the principal factor behind the transformation of its flagship nightly news program Inside Story Americas.

Shihab Rattansi, the host of AJE’s Inside Story Americas, has consistently shed light on crucial if neglected issues on both continents, often by inviting on to his program human-rights activists, social critics, and grassroots and community organizers. His program also routinely probed the structural defects of the mainstream media and the Washington establishment.* In its AJAM incarnation however, Inside Story Americas has been stripped of the plural noun “Americas” and Rattansi has been replaced. In contrast, the program’s new host, Libby Casey (formerly of C-SPAN), touts her ability to connect “Americans with top leaders in Washington including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, members of Congress, governors, journalists and think tank experts.” (Rattansi declined to comment about the nature of his departure.)

Rattansi and his colleagues at Inside Story Americas were exemplars of the most commendable aspects of Al Jazeera, as they provided viewers with a range of news that could be found on no other television network. Rattansi’s team doggedly pursued the case of a lethal 2012 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raid in Ahuas, Honduras; they offered some of the earliest and most consistent coverage of detainees’ hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay; and for years the program invited experts to discuss the UN’s negligent introduction of cholera into Haiti, which has killed over 8,000 so far. Climate activists conveyed the high stakes of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal; human rights lawyers elaborated on the illegality of U.S. drone strikes; and a heterodox economist and independent journalist questioned the durability of capitalism—all on Inside Story Americas.* As Bishara wrote, such critical coverage is an “essential element of [U.S.] democracy and freedom of speech, not to speak of the role of global media,” despite the predictable accusations of “anti-Americanism” that are surely hurled in response.

AJAM management has expended great energy to avoid the dreaded “anti-American” label; instead, they appear to have insinuated the network into the stratum of the most powerful economic and political actors within the United States. Not only does this jeopardize Al Jazeera’s most unique and socially valuable aspects, but in the process, Bishara writes, AJAM is “insulting” the intelligence of its U.S. audience “through empty gimmicks and poor marketing theatrics.”

As recurring contributors to Al Jazeera’s programming, we also worry that AJAM—now clearly embedded within a nexus of corporate, state and mainstream-media norms and behaviors—will fail to live up to its immense potential. The network has the opportunity to offer tens of millions of people in the United States a desperately needed worldview—one that is more independent and more challenging than the deeply compromised perspective that corporate television already provides.

* The videos of the examples cited can no longer be accessed online by U.S. readers due to Al Jazeera English’s content restrictions.

Adrienne Pine is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C. Her latest book is Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras (UC Press 2008). She regularly writes about Honduras and U.S. foreign policy at her blog,

Keane Bhatt is an activist in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the United States and Latin America on a variety of campaigns related to community development and social justice. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a range of outlets, including, The Nation, The St. Petersburg Times, and CNN En Español. He is the author of the NACLA blog “Manufacturing Contempt,” which critically analyzes the U.S. press and its portrayal of the hemisphere. Connect with his blog on Twitter: @KeaneBhatt

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on As Al Jazeera Americas Launches, Concerns Over Corporate-Driven Agenda Persist

South Korea halts nuclear reactor over safety concerns

Press TV – August 21, 2013

South Korea’s largest power plant has shut down one of its reactors as concerns over safety in the country’s nuclear industry linger on, reports say.

The reactor, one of six in Yeonggwang nuclear complex in the southwest, was closed on Wednesday, AFP quoted a spokesman of the Korea Hydro and Power Co. as saying.

“The cause of the stoppage is as yet unknown and investigations are underway. We don’t know when it will resume operations,” the spokesman said, assuring there was no threat of radiation leak.

The developments come as the nation’s nuclear plants have been grappling with ongoing problems due to the use of substandard parts in the a number of nuclear reactors over the past decade.

In 2012, the government announced that at least eight providers were found to have fake safety tests.

Officials at the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission immediately launched a probe into the scandal, an act which led to the closure of two nuclear reactors in in the same year.

In May 2013, two other reactors went offline. The commission also deferred starting operations at two more reactors, stating that the reactors would not resume their operations until the substandard parts were replaced.

South Korea has 23 nuclear reactors which provide a third of the country’s total electricity.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Nuclear Power | , , , , | Comments Off on South Korea halts nuclear reactor over safety concerns