Aletho News


The Realms of Impunity

GCHQ, Privacy, and Murder

By Binoy Kampmark | Dissident Voice | January 30, 2014 

It will only get worse, but the last few days have been interesting in the accumulating annals of massive surveillance. Britain’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, GCHQ, has been placed under the legal microscope, and found wanting.

The legal briefs who have been advising 46 members of the all-party parliamentary group on drones has handed down a sobering assessment of the GCHQ mass surveillance program: It is, for the most part, illegal. In some cases, it may well patently criminal.

According to barristers Jemima Stratford QC and Tom Johnston, the behaviour of GCHQ staffers, in many instances, potentially violates the privacy safeguards laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), largely due to the sheer vagueness of its remit. Such lack of clarity has enabled GCHQ staffers to rely “on the gaps in the current statutory framework to commit serious crime with impunity.”

Some of these are worth noting. Mass, bulk surveillance would be in contravention of privacy protections under EU law. “We consider the mass interception of external contents and communications data as unlawful. The indiscriminate interception of data, solely by reference to the request of the executive, is a disproportionate interference with the private life of the individuals concerned.”

Interception of bulk metadata (phones, email addresses) is treated as a measure “disproportionate” and in violation of Article 8 of the ECHR. That in itself was of little surprise. Of even greater interest was how the barristers dealt with the musty, archaic nature of existing legislation which the executive has been all too keen on using.

Much of this expansive, illegal behaviour lies in the way the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) has been left in the technological lurch. Use, retention and destruction protocols on metadata are deemed inadequate, given the few restrictions on the practice. For one, Ripa distinguishes between metadata itself and the content of the messages, a clearly anachronistic form of reasoning that has yet to change.

The act, for example, provides too broad a discretion to the foreign secretary, currently William Hague, while providing “almost no meaningful restraint on the exercise of executive discretion in respect of external communications.”

The rather deft way GCHQ has also gone about intercepting communications – via transatlantic cables – cannot be accepted as legal, and would make no difference “even if some or all of the interception is taking place outside UK territorial waters.”

A troubling, though hardly astonishing feature of the brief is accountability of GCHQ staffers to potential criminal liability. The spectre of this rises for the information gathered and subsequently shared for use by allies, notably the United States. Intelligence used for targeting non-combatants with drone strikes is taken as one specific, and troubling example.

“An individual involved in passing that information is likely to be an accessory to murder. It is well arguable, on a variety of different bases, that the government is obliged to take reasonable steps to investigate that possibility.” The transfer itself, suggests the advice, would be unlawful for that reason. Nor can UK officials rely on the obtuse notion of “anticipatory self-defence” which is used by Washington to justify drone strikes in areas where they are not officially involved. Britain has yet to succumb, at least in that area, to flights of legal fancy.

The way such data is used in drone strikes is hardly an academic issue. It has been the subject of legal deliberations by the Court of Appeal and the High Court. The Court of Appeal’s decision in the Noor Khan case (Dec 2013) involved evidence dealing with GCHQ’s alleged supply of information to the CIA in a drone strike. The claimant’s father, in that case, had been killed by such a strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal proved all too reluctant to venture into operational matters, feeling that doing so would ask the court to “condemn the acts of the persons who operate the drone bombs.” In Lord Dyson’s view, “It is only in certain established circumstances that our courts will exceptionally sit in judgment of such acts. There are no such exceptional circumstances here.” More’s the pity.

The advice will find itself the subject of scrutiny by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, a body that has come surprisingly late to the game. After all, it took a committee on drones and their questionable deployments, not one dealing with intelligence and security, to produce some sound observations on mass surveillance.

How far the views achieve traction is anybody’s guess. Committees have a habit of making a hash of sound observations and it may well fall to others, such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights, to man the decks for reform. But the words of Labour MP Tom Watson, who chairs the committee on drones, are worth noting. “If ministers are prepared to allow GCHQ staffers to be potential accessories to murder, they must be very clear that they are responsible for allowing it.”

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at:

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

Two international activists arrested on visit to military court

International Solidarity Movement | January 29, 2014 

Occupied Palestine – On Wednesday 29th January, 2014, two international human rights activists were arrested at Salem Military Court, in Jenin district. The activists, Norwegian and Canadian, were at the court to attend a hearing for Ahmad Atatreh, a 20-year-old Palestinian activist who had been arrested ten days earlier at a peaceful demonstration in the Jordan Valley.

Following the hearing, which the activists had attended in solidarity with Mr Atatreh and his family, Israeli soldiers violently pushed the defendant, who was in handcuffs, out of the courtroom. When the internationals asked why he was receiving this rough treatment, the soldiers took the passport from the Norwegian and arrested her on the accusation of having “slapped a soldier.”

The two remaining activists and the family of Mr Atatreh left the court facilities and were getting into a car outside when they were approached by another soldier, who subsequently arrested the Canadian, accusing him of “attempting to prevent an arrest.”

The activists were held overnight in the police station in the illegal settlement of Ariel. Under Israeli law they should be taken before a civil court judge within 24 hours of their arrest, although in recent cases the police have disregarded this, preferring to initiate deportation procedures without following due process.

The Canadian citizen was released on Thursday afternoon. The Norwegian citizen is being processed for deportation.

In the past month alone, five international human rights activists have been arrested, leading to concerns of a military crackdown on international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

With regard to the case of Ahmad Atatreh, who was arrested on the accusation of assaulting a soldier, the judge postponed the trial for a further month, in order to re-examine the evidence. The next time he appears in court he will have spent six weeks in administrative detention.

The Israeli military judicial system has been criticized by various human rights groups for their lack of fair trial guarantees and discrimination in procedural law. For more information on Israeli military courts see:


Salem Military Court

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | 3 Comments

Washington and São Paulo: Spying and a Fading Friendship


Rousseff and Kirchner at the UN, 2013. – Roberto Stuckert Filho
By Mark Weisbrot | NACLA | January 30, 2014

The only thing missing from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s speech at the UN General Assembly last month was “it still smells like sulfur.” For those who don’t remember, these were the immortal words of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2006, describing the podium where “the Devil”—his name for President George W. Bush—had spoken the day before. Chávez’s speech received hearty applause and prompted some New Yorkers to hang a banner from a highway overpass that said “Wake Up and Smell the Sulfur.”

Dilma’s speech also got a lot of applause at the General Assembly, and because she spoke immediately before President Barack Obama, her remarks were even more pointed. She presented a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s mass surveillance operations, at home and abroad:

“As many other Latin Americans, I fought against authoritarianism and censorship, and I cannot but defend, in an uncompromising fashion, the right to privacy of individuals and the sovereignty of my country. In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy. In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations. We face, Mr. President, a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities, and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.”

Dilma also took a swipe at Obama’s previously planned—and then cancelled due to popular demand—bombing of Syria: “[W]e repudiate unilateral interventions contrary to international law, without Security Council authorization.”

Her remarks were a reminder, and for some a new discovery, that the differences among the left-of-center governments of South America on hemispheric and foreign policy issues were mostly a matter of style and rhetoric, not of substance. The speech came in the wake of the cancellation of Dilma’s scheduled October state visit to the White House, which would have been the first by a Brazilian president in nearly two decades. It was another blow to the Obama administration’s tepid efforts to improve relations with Brazil, and with South America in general.

At this moment, U.S.-South American relations are probably even worse than they were during the George W. Bush years, despite the huge advantage that President Obama has in terms of media image, and therefore popularity, in the hemisphere. This illustrates how deeply structural the problem of hemispheric relations has become, and how unlikely they are to become warmer in the foreseeable future.

The fundamental cause of the strained relationship is that Washington refuses to recognize that there is a new reality in the region, now that a vast South American majority has elected left governments. In Washington’s foreign policy establishment—including most think tanks and other sources of analysis and opinion—there has been almost no acknowledgement that a new strategy might be necessary. Of course, most of the foreign policy establishment doesn’t care much about Latin America these days. And there is no electoral price to be paid for stupidity that leads to worsening relations with the region. On the contrary, the main electoral pressure on the White House comes from the far right, including neocons and old-guard Cuban-Americans. And Obama is not above caving to these interests when the White House and State Department are not already on their side. But among those who do care about Latin America—from an imperial point of view—the lack of imagination is breathtaking.

The establishment has, over the past 15 years, sometimes adopted a “good left, bad left” strategy that sought first and foremost to try and isolate Venezuela, often lumping in Bolivia, Ecuador, and sometimes Argentina as the “bad left.” But in the halls of power, they really do not like any of the left governments and are hoping to get rid of them all. In 2005, according to State Department documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. government promoted legislation within Brazil that would have weakened the Workers’ Party, funding efforts to promote a legal change that would make it more difficult for legislators to switch parties. This would have strengthened the opposition to Lula’s Workers’ party (PT) government, since the PT has party discipline but many opposition politicians do not.

So it is not surprising that Brazil has been, according to the documents revealed by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, the top Latin American target for U.S. spying. It is a lot like all the other left governments that Washington would like to get rid of, only bigger. It is true that countries with U.S.-allied governments like Mexico were also targeted, but in the context of Brazil’s alliance with other left governments, the large-scale espionage there—which reportedly included monitoring of Dilma’s personal phone calls and emails—takes on a different meaning.

In the past decade of Workers’ Party government, Brazil has lined up fairly consistently with the other left governments on hemispheric issues and relations with the United States. When the Bush administration tried to expand its military presence in Colombia, Brazil was there with the rest of the region in opposition. The same was true when Washington aided and abetted the overthrow of “targets of opportunity” among the left governments: Honduras in 2009 and Paraguay in 2012—although in these cases Washington and its allies still prevailed. Brazil also supported other efforts at regional integration and independence, including UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), which has played an important role in defending member countries from right-wing destabilization attempts as in Bolivia in 2008, or in the April elections in Venezuela, where the Obama administration supported opposition efforts to overturn the results with obviously false claims of electoral fraud (A CEPR study showed that the probability of getting the April 14 election day audit results confirming Nicolás Maduro’s win, if the vote had actually been stolen, was less than one in 25 thousand trillion).

Lula made a conscious decision that Brazil would look more to the south and less to the United States as a leader in its foreign and commercial policy. In an interview with the Argentine daily Pagina 12 this past October, he explained how important the turning point of Mar del Plata was, when the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) was finally buried at the Summit of the Americas in 2005:

“It was fundamental that we had stopped this proposal to form the FTAA, at Mar del Plata. It was not a true project of integration, but one of economic annexation. With its sovereignty affirmed, South America looked for its own path and a much more constructive one. . . . When we analyze this history of South America we can see that it is one great conquest. If we had not avoided the FTAA, the region would not have been able to take the economic and social leap forward that it did in the past decade. Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela played a central role in this process. Néstor Kirchner and Hugo Chávez were two great allies in accomplishing this.”

In 2002, when Lula was elected, Brazil’s exports to the United States were 26.4% of its total exports. By 2011, they were down to 10.4%. Meanwhile, China’s economy is by some measures already bigger than the U.S. economy, and it may well double in size over the next decade. That projection, which would require only a 7.2% annual rate of growth, is quite probable, as likely as any ten-year projection for the United States—perhaps even more so. The United States will become increasingly less important to Brazil, and to South America generally. Given that Washington still does not respect Latin American sovereignty, much less the goals and aspirations of its democratic governments, the steady decline of U.S. economic power has to be seen as a good thing for the region.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , | Comments Off on Washington and São Paulo: Spying and a Fading Friendship

Banning Palestinian Students from Israeli Universities

By Richard Silverstein | Tikun Olam | May 28, 2009

The Israeli Supreme Court, that toothless wonder when it comes to confronting the national security state, has permitted the state intelligence apparatus to throw up an entirely new set of non-security criteria in order to prevent Palestinians from studying at Israeli universities.

Now, in addition to proving they’re intellectually worthy of academic study, a would-be Palestinian enrollee will have to prove they are not a security risk AND surmount a whole host of non-security barriers including the following:

• Only PhD and Masters students will be considered and only if there is no practical alternative to studying in Israel

• Preference will be given to applicants to programs focusing on regional cooperation or developing coexistence and regional peace. The Education Ministry must testify as to the nature of the program

• Palestinians will not be allowed to study professions that have the potential to be used against Israel.

• The applicant will have to provide the army with a detailed request from a recognized academic institution explaining the grounds on which the institution wants him to study there

• There will be no further examination if the applicant has a security or criminal record.

• The army will take into account the age of the applicant and his personal status.

• The army, at its own discretion, may refuse to consider an applicant even if the student meets the above criteria.

These new and improved regulations (for the intelligence apparatus, that is) are quite astonishing. What they reveal is a nation that has decided that its institutions of higher learning are largely meant to exclude Palestinians. The military gets to determine which professions have the potential to harm Israel. Given that the same military determines that musical instruments are too dangerous to allow into Gaza, you can imagine how this could be interpreted: what, you want to study special education? Forget it. You might brainwash some poor child into becoming a shahid.

You’ll note that preference will be given to those enrolling in programs supporting “regional cooperation or developing coexistence.” Forgive me my cynicism but I’m interpreting “cooperation” a little differently than some might. Shouldn’t we be the least suspicious that “regional cooperation” might mean educating those Palestinians who will give the security services the most bang for their buck when they return to Palestine? Recruiting spies and collaborators? That certainly couldn’t be possible.

Regarding the age and “personal status” criteria, the defense ministry wishes to prevent young, single Palestinians from studying in Israel. If you’re an old geezer, married and with a few kids you’re more likely to pass the test.

The final criteria simply allows the military to reject any candidate for any reason or no reason at all. This is the way things work in the national security state. We do it the way I say because I say. You don’t like it. You can go to hell…

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

EU police want ‘remote kill switch’ on every car

RT | January 30, 2014

The EU is considering making mandatory the equipping of all cars sold in the union with devices, which would allow police to remotely disable engines, according to leaked documents.

If the plan goes as planned, European law enforcers will be able to stop fugitives, suspected criminals and even speeding drivers with a simple radio command from a control room.

The technology is part of a six-year development plan by the ‘European Network of Law Enforcement Technologies’, or Enlets, a working group for police cooperation across the EU, reports the Telegraph.

“Cars on the run can be dangerous for citizens,” the newspaper cites a document leaked by state power watchdog Statewatch.

“Criminal offenders will take risks to escape after a crime. In most cases the police are unable to chase the criminal due to a lack of efficient means to stop the vehicle safely,” it says.

Remote control of car electronics is far from novel. A modern car is equipped with a network of microcomputers, which monitors and controls everything from ignition and flow of fuel to radio station being played. And increasingly cars can communicate wirelessly, a technology called telematics.

Loan firms and car dealerships have been using the benefits of electronically-controlled cars for years. A vehicle sold in the subprime market can be equipped with a black box, which reminds the client of overdue payments with honking horns and flashing lights and would disable the engine completely a few days later, unless the money is paid. And a GPS receiver would tell the dealership the exact location where the car can be collected.

Remote tracking and control is also used as anti-theft measure. Services like General Motors’ Stolen Vehicle Slowdown can force a stolen car to drop speed and stop on a remote command from the service provider.

Giving police the ability to do the same to any car in the EU does not thrill some rights advocates cautious of giving the government more authority.

“We need to know if there is any evidence that this is a widespread problem. Let’s have some evidence that this is a problem, and then let’s have some guidelines on how this would be used,” Statewatch told the Telegraph.

Apart from that, there is a concern of possible hacker attacks, which could use the remote kill switch for nefarious ends. In March 2010 Texas police arrested a former car dealership employee, who used its car tracking and repossession system to disable some 100 vehicles in Austin in revenge for being laid-off.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Washington University tested how much harm hacking can do to a car’s electronic controller. The study conducted in 2010 showed that a criminal can relatively easily interfere with safety-critical systems like brakes.

The security of connected cars has not become hacker-proof since. At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show this month, technology firm Harman warned that hacking problems for modern cars are very serious because the infrastructure of their electronic components was not designed with networking in mind, so they are not ready for the level of exposure to cyber-attacks that internet connectivity brings.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , , , , | Comments Off on EU police want ‘remote kill switch’ on every car

An ugly ending to Oxfam-Johansson saga

By Jonathon Cook | January 30, 2014

Here is Oxfam’s official and very brief statement on the ending of its eight-year relationship with Scarlett Johansson, who served as a “global ambassador”. It seems clear that Oxfam – very belatedly – gave her an ultimatum following her recent decision to accept another ambassadorship, this time promoting SodaStream, whose factory is in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

Oxfam states Johansson’s “role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador”. It was either us or them. Johansson stepped down, making clear she prefers to work for a company that breaks international law over an organisation concerned with humanitarian issues.

Oxfam’s dithering and its final efforts to allow Johansson to present this as a resignation rather than a dismissal reinforces the point I made yesterday about how money talks, even for Oxfam. The charity needs pretty ambassadors to raise funds and to gain media attention. Treating Johansson harshly, even now when the relationship is over, might put off other Hollywood starlets who hope to burnish their humanitarian credentials – at least as long as the work doesn’t interfere with their opportunities to make money, even when it comes at the expense of other people’s freedom.

No one comes out of this affair looking good.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , | Comments Off on An ugly ending to Oxfam-Johansson saga

Soldiers Invade Homes, Conduct Training, In West Bank Village


IMEMC & Agencies  | January 30, 2014

At dawn on Thursday dozens of Israeli soldiers invaded Ein Shibli village, in the West Bank’s Central Plains, east of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, broke into several homes, and conducted military drills.

Resident Osama Abu Hatab said the soldiers violently searched several local families, and interrogated the residents before taking pictures of their ID cards.

Abu Hatab added that the soldiers violently banged on the doors, threatening to detonate them should the Palestinians refuse to open them, causing anxiety attacks among the children.

The families were then forced out in the cold for more than two hours, while the soldiers conducted training between the homes, wearing military combat gear.

In December of last year, the soldiers conducted three similar attacks and drills in Ein Shibli, An-Nassariyya, and Al-‘Aqrabaniyya villages, using military gear, army helicopters and various armored vehicles.

In related news, dozens of soldiers invaded Khirbet Um Al-Jamal village, in the Northern Plains of the occupied West Bank, and demolished tents and residencies that belong to 13 families.

Local sources said that army bulldozers demolished the sheds and structures, displacing the families, and also demolished barns.

‘Aref Daraghma, head of the Wady Al-Maleh local council, said the soldiers demolished more than 50 structures, including sheds, barns, wood fired ovens and tents.

Daraghma stated that the latest attack is part of numerous similar violations against the residents in the area, and that the army demolished dozens of structures over the last few months in the northern plains of the occupied West Bank.

“These violations are a continuation of war crimes carried out by the occupation”, he said. “The Palestinians are facing ongoing displacement, harassment, and are exposed to serious danger due to ongoing military training in the area”.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , | Comments Off on Soldiers Invade Homes, Conduct Training, In West Bank Village