Islamabad has stepped up work on its bilateral agreements with Tehran including the implementation of a Pak-Iran gas pipeline project despite US threats.
“Construction work on the pipeline in Iranian area was completed. And on remaining portion that was to be constructed in Pakistani area the survey has been completed. Pakistan is bearing losses due to energy crises and it would go ahead with different options including Iran,” The Nation quoted a Pakistani official as saying on Thursday.
The Pakistani source added Islamabad had not backed down from its trade agreement with Iran.
On December 19, high-ranking Islamabad diplomats said the administration of Barack Obama is frustrated with the “rapid progress” of Pakistan’s gas project with Iran, and is exhausting all its resources to sabotage the deal.
“They (US officials) have gone to the extent of threatening [Pakistan's] President [Asif Ali] Zardari of economic sanctions if work is not stopped immediately,” the official said.
Zardari, however, reportedly dismissed the threats, bluntly asserting that the commissioning of the project is vital and inevitable for the wellbeing of Pakistan’s “fast crumbling” economy.
The USD 7.6 billion gas pipeline deal, which was signed in June 2010, aims to export a daily amount of 21.5 million cubic meters (or 8.7 billion cubic meters per year) of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan.
Iran and Pakistan finalized the details of the deal during bilateral talks held in Tehran in October 2007.
In addition to exporting gas to Turkey, Armenia, and Pakistan, Iran is currently negotiating gas exports to Iraq.
A “culture of coverup” and inadequate cleanup efforts have combined to leave Japanese people exposed to “unconscionable” health risks nine months after last year’s meltdown of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, health experts say.
Although the Japanese government has declared the plant virtually stable, some experts are calling for evacuation of people from a wider area, which they say is contaminated with radioactive fallout.
They’re also calling for the Japanese government to reinstate internationally-approved radiation exposure limits for members of the public and are slagging government officials for “extreme lack of transparent, timely and comprehensive communication.”
But temperatures inside the Fukushima power station’s three melted cores have achieved a “cold shutdown condition,” while the release of radioactive materials is “under control,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That means government may soon allow some of the more than 100 000 evacuees from the area around the plant to return to their homes. They were evacuated from the region after it was struck with an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami last March 11.
Although the potential for further explosions with substantial releases of radioactivity into the atmosphere is certainly reduced, the plant is still badly damaged and leaking radiation, says Tilman Ruff, chair of the Medical Association for Prevention of Nuclear War, who visited the Fukushima prefecture in August. “There are major issues of contamination on the site. Aftershocks have been continuing and are expected to continue for many months, and some of those are quite large, potentially causing further damage to structures that are already unstable and weakened. And we know that there’s about 120 000 tons of highly contaminated water in the base of the plant, and there’s been significant and ongoing leakage into the ocean.”
The full extent of contamination across the country is even less clear, says Ira Hefland, a member of the board of directors for Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We still don’t know exactly what radiation doses people were exposed to [in the immediate aftermath of the disaster] or what ongoing doses people are being exposed to. Most of the information we’re getting at this point is a series of contradictory statements where the government assures the people that everything’s okay and private citizens doing their own radiation monitoring come up with higher readings than the government says they should be finding.”
Japanese officials in Tokyo have documented elevated levels of cesium — a radioactive material with a half-life of 30 years that can cause leukemia and other cancers — more than 200 kilometres away from the plant, equal to the levels in the 20 kilometre exclusion zone, says Robert Gould, another member of the board of directors for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
International authorities have urged Japan to expand the exclusion zone around the plant to 80 kilometres but the government has instead opted to “define the problem out of existence” by raising the permissible level of radiation exposure for members of the public to 20 millisieverts per year, considerably higher than the international standard of one millisievert per year, Gould adds.
This “arbitrary increase” in the maximum permissible dose of radiation is an “unconscionable” failure of government, contends Ruff. “Subject a class of 30 children to 20 millisieverts of radiation for five years and you’re talking an increased risk of cancer to the order of about 1 in 30, which is completely unacceptable. I’m not aware of any other government in recent decades that’s been willing to accept such a high level of radiation-related risk for its population.”
Following the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine, “clear targets were set so that anybody anticipated to receive more than five millisieverts in a year were evacuated, no question,” Ruff explains. In areas with levels between one and five millisieverts, measures were taken to mitigate the risk of ingesting radioactive materials, including bans on local food consumption, and residents were offered the option of relocating. Exposures below one millisievert were still considered worth monitoring.
In comparison, the Japanese government has implemented a campaign to encourage the public to buy produce from the Fukushima area, Ruff added. “That response [in Chernobyl] 25 years ago in that much less technically sophisticated, much less open or democratic context, was, from a public health point of view, much more responsible than what’s being done in modern Japan this year.”
Were Japan to impose similar strictures, officials would have to evacuate some 1800 square kilometres and impose restrictions on food produced in another 11 100 square kilometres, according to estimates of the contamination presented by Dr. Kozo Tatara for the Japan Public Health Association at the American Public Health Association’s 139th annual meeting and exposition in November in Washington, District of Columbia.
“It’s very difficult to persuade people that the level [of exposure set by the government] is okay,” Tatara told delegates to the meeting. He declined requests for an interview.
The Japanese government is essentially contending that the higher dose is “not dangerous,” explains Hefland. “However, since the accident, it’s become clear the Japanese government was lying through its teeth, doing everything it possible could to minimize public concern, even when that meant denying the public information needed to make informed decisions, and probably still is.”
“It’s now clear they knew within a day or so there had been a meltdown at the plant, yet they didn’t disclose that for weeks, and only with great prodding from the outside,” Hefland adds. “And at the same moment he was assuring people there was no public health disaster, the Prime Minister now concedes that he thought Tokyo would have to be evacuated but was doing nothing to bring that about.”
Ruff similarly charges that the government has mismanaged the file and provided the public with misinformation. As an example, he cites early reports that stable iodine had been distributed to children and had worked effectively, when, “in fact, iodine wasn’t given to anyone.”
Public distrust is at a level that communities have taken cleanup and monitoring efforts into their own hands as the government response to the crisis has been “woefully inadequate” and officials have been slow to respond to public reports of radioactive hotspots, Gould says. “That’s led to the cleanup of some affected areas, but there are also reports of people scattering contaminated soil willy-nilly in forests and areas surrounding those towns.”
“In some places, you can see mounds of contaminated soil that have just been aggregated under blue tarps,” he adds.
Even with government assistance, there are limits to the decontamination that can be achieved, explains Hefland. “What do you do with the stuff? Do you scrape entire topsoil? How far down you have to go? And if you wash down the buildings, what do you do with the waste water?”
As well, Ruff argues the government must examine the provision of compensation for voluntary evacuation from areas outside of the exclusion zone where there are high levels of radioactive contamination. Without such compensation, many families have no option but to stay, he says. “At this point, the single most important public health measure to minimize the health harm over the longterm is much wider evacuation.”
The Japanese government did not respond to inquiries.
A recent Brookings Institution report has now confirmed what many have suspected for some time – that the United States government (and virtually every other government in the world) has the capability to monitor and record nearly every interaction that occurs within its national borders.
For years, those individuals who have tried to warn others of the creeping surveillance state were met with denials and catcalls of “conspiracy theory,” as well as the famous claims that it was not physically possible to monitor everyone.
This new report, however, shatters into a million pieces the delusional rationalities of the uninformed.
The Brookings Institution report entitled, “Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments” (.pdf) discusses the increasing capacities for surveillance due to the improvement in technology and the sinking costs of its procurement, along with the implications for human rights and authoritarianism that come along with it.
The report begins by stating:
Within the next few years an important threshold will be crossed: For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders – every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner. Governments with a history of using all of the tools at their disposal to track and monitor their citizens will undoubtedly make full use of this capability once it becomes available.
Although the study suggests that governments will make use of this technology “once it becomes available,” anyone who has done even cursory research into the technological and intelligence capabilities of major governments is aware that, when technologies are announced to the general public, the actual capabilities of these governments to harness that technology are light years ahead of what is being announced. Indeed, the technology itself is almost always already obsolete before it’s theoretical presentation is even offered up for digestion by the mass population.
It is also interesting to note that John Villasenor, the author of the study, makes continual reference to the “world’s remaining authoritarian regimes,” specifically those of Syria, Iran, Burma, and China, but completely leaves out those of the United States, Australia, Israel, and Great Britain to name a few. This is no doubt an intentional propaganda move. However, the reader should not dismiss reality in the same manner as Villasenor.
Obviously, Villasenor and the Brookings Institution know full well that the United States and virtually the entire Western World has become an authoritarian surveillance society, yet the Western nations are left out of the description due to the fact that the report functions more as a promotion of the technology than a warning. The Brookings report is an introduction flyer to the professorial, foundational, and cultural working class (those individuals who gradually implement the totalitarian system consciously, but often unconsciously as well). In this sense, the report is clearly not a study.
It is for this reason that the report focuses on oppressive governments in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. But it is also because these nations are to be the next target of direct military action by the Anglo-American empire. The Libyan tragedy is referenced repeatedly in the report, but only in the context of Ghaddafi’s surveillance capabilities within his own country.
Without seeking to reinforce the lies told about the Ghaddafi regime or the status of the Libyan people over the last year, it is nevertheless interesting to mention the surveillance capabilities of the regime as they are summed up by the Brookings report. Villasenor cites a Wall Street Journal article that claims Ghaddafi’s intelligence agencies were able to “capture and archive “30 to 40 million minutes of telephone conversations every month and to regularly read emails exchanged among activists.” All of this by a regime that was relatively weak, particularly in its ability to stave off an outside invasion of NATO bombing and foreign intelligence subversion conducted by much more sophisticated nations.
Villasenor goes on to say, “The Ghadaffi regime was unusual among dictatorships only in that its internal spying activities were so thoroughly unmasked, not that they were occurring.” This much is true.
However, the reader must turn this reasoning back toward his own country and ask, If a weak Ghaddafi regime was capable of so much surveillance of its own people, and if these types of spying activities are commonplace amongst governments, would it not stand to reason that the United States government, which is light years more advanced than the Libyan one, can and is conducting surveillance against its own citizens as well? Not only that, since the capabilities of the U.S. government are so much more than that of Ghadaffi and Ghadaffi-like regimes, it would also stand to reason that U.S. government surveillance is being conducted at immensely more sophisticated levels. The same goes for any Western nation.
If the Libyan government is unique only in that its surveillance has been unmasked, what then of the Bush-era domestic surveillance program or the openness of the American government in monitoring Twitter feeds, social networking sites, or even the legal declarations of surveillance carried in the PATRIOT Act, the Telecommunications Act, and Patriot Act 2? These programs have not been unmasked. They are freely admitted. Is it even imaginable, then, the true capabilities that exist in the recesses of the military and intelligence communities in our own nation?
Although Villasenor limits his discussion to the next targets of the Anglo-American empire, his statements are easily transposed to apply to those nations who currently have such capabilities and who have already implemented them under the cover of popular acceptance and “democratic” methods — meaning, simply, the lack of resistance from the general public by virtue of their lack of knowledge or their lack of concern.
. . . the evolving role of digital storage in facilitating truly pervasive surveillance is widely recognized. Plummeting digital storage costs will soon make it possible for authoritarian regimes to not only monitor known dissidents, but also to store the complete set of digital data associated with everyone within their borders. These enormous databases of captured information will create what amounts to a surveillance time machine, enabling state security services to retroactively eavesdrop on people in the months and years before they were designated as surveillance targets. This will fundamentally change the dynamics of dissent, insurgency, and revolution.
That is, if the information isn’t already available publicly on the “revolutionaries’” Facebook page. Indeed, something similar has already been used in England after the bizarre riots that overtook the country months ago. Facial recognition software was able to identify (or so it was claimed) many of the rioters who were arrested after the riots had subsided.
However, what Villasenor is describing is the ability to build detailed digital dossiers on individuals, full of incriminating evidence gleaned through everyday, normal, social interactions, that can be called on at any minute to build a case against an individual for daring to question the State. All of it, of course, will be there. The angry Facebook post made in a fit of rage against the government; the email to Monsanto that seems “threatening;” or the telephone conversation where one procured an illegal substance for a weekend of fun.
But the question still remains for some, “How would it be possible to monitor and store so much information?”
Villasenor provides some interesting analysis in regards to the declining costs of storage technology and also the increase in the capability of that technology. In terms of cost, he writes:
Over the past three decades, storage costs have declined by a factor of 10 approximately every 4 years, reducing the per-gigabyte cost from approximately $85,000 (in 2011 dollars) in mid-1984 to about five cents today. In other words, storage costs have dropped by a factor of well over one million since 1984. Not surprisingly, that fundamentally changes the scale of what can be stored.
In terms of storage capability, the analysis is quite shocking, especially to those who may have doubted the technological advancements available to major governments, militaries, and intelligence agencies. Villasenor writes:
So what, exactly would it take to store everything? The answer depends in part on the nature of the information. Location data is far less voluminous than audio from phone calls, which in turn requires much less storage than video.
Location data, which is readily obtained from mobile phones, Wi-Fi connections, and GPS receivers, can already easily be archived. It takes fewer than 75 bits (ones and zeros) to pinpoint a person’s location anywhere on the earth to an accuracy of about 15 feet. The information identifying the location of each of one million people to that accuracy at five-minute intervals, 24 hours a day for a full year could easily be stored in 1,000 gigabytes, which would cost slightly over $50 at today’s prices. For 50 million people, the cost would be under $3,000.
The audio for all of the telephone calls made by a single person over the course of one year could be stored using roughly 3.3 gigabytes. On a per capita basis, the cost to store all phone calls will fall from about 17 cents per person per year today to under 2 cents in 2015.
The current prices of such technology, much less the projected prices a few years from now, are shockingly low considering the scale of surveillance that would be, and probably is, taking place. Given the figures above, if the United States population is 300 million, the cost of storing the location data of everyone in the country for a year would be approximately the cost of a low-wage job, around $18,000. This is hardly a large sum of money for any government.
Ignoring, for a moment, Villasenor’s obvious bias against Syria and Iran, his estimate surrounding the costs of these governments’ surveillance programs are somewhat revealing if for nothing else than their relation to our own government’s ability and potential to implement the same type of program.
For a country like Syria, which has a population of 15 million people over the age of 14, the current cost to purchase storage sufficient to hold one year’s worth of phone calls for the entire country would be about $2.5 million – a high number but certainly not beyond governmental reach. If historical cost trends continue, the annual cost in 2011 dollars to purchase enough storage for Syria’s government to record all calls made in that country will fall to about $250,000 by 2016 and to about $25,000 by 2020. Iran has an over-age-14 population of 59 million, so the corresponding cost to the Iranian government to record all calls in Iran would be about four times higher than in Syria. Cost will soon be no object for internal security services wishing to store everything said on a telephone in Syria, Iran, or even in a much more populous nation such as China.
Or the United States, one might add. Or Great Britain. Or Australia . . . add your country of choice here. By now, you should be getting the point.
In regards to video surveillance, Villasenor’s predictions are not much different after taking into account the difference in the type of surveillance data being absorbed and retained.
The report states:
By 2020 the cost to store, in high resolution, all of the video acquired by the Chongqing network [Chinese surveillance that equals one camera for every 24 people in an area of 12 million] will drop to a much more practical $3 million per year. On a per capita basis this corresponds to about 25 cents per person per year, an amount that can easily be budgeted or even extracted from the population being monitored through a euphemistically worded ‘public safety tax.’
Keep in mind, the costs presented here are those to which the public would be subjected if they were to engage these systems in the marketplace, which, of course, they will not be doing. These figures are, essentially, mark-up value. They do not take into account where these surveillance technologies were originally developed, such as institutions within the government, military, and intelligence communities themselves which would, by definition, give governments cheaper and greater access to them.
DARPA immediately comes to mind in the context of this discussion. Such an agency is full of money black holes, black budgets, and secret projects that not only would aid in the development of such technology, but also its implementation without the knowledge of the citizenry. Such has been the case many times before. Must the national collection of blood at birth be mentioned again in order to jog the reader’s memory?
The implications for stifling dissent need not be summed up at this point in this article. It is fairly obvious that such broad and far-reaching surveillance would necessarily significantly damage the ability of the general public to resist, be it planned or out-of-the-blue, any form of tyranny the regime wishes to place upon them.
Nevertheless, consider the report’s extensive comments on the effects that such surveillance would have on dissent, revolution, and “insurgency.”
But the ability to record everything will tilt the playing field back in favor of repressive governments by laying the foundation for a plethora of new approaches to targeting dissent. When all of the telephone calls in an entire country can be captured and provided to voice recognition software programmed to extract key phrases, and when video footage from public spaces can be correlated in real time to the conversations, text messages, and social media traffic associated with the people occupying those spaces, the arsenal of responses available to a regime facing dissent will expand. Some changes will be immediate and tactical. Instead of implementing broad social media or Internet shutdowns in response to unrest, governments in possession of complete communications databases will be able to conduct more selective censorship or alteration of message traffic during periods of instability. This will provide a great capability to shape or quell dissent.
The report also mentions the ability to go back in time and build a detailed case against the dissenter, even if the evidence compiled is somewhat circumstantial.
Pervasive monitoring will provide what amounts to a time machine allowing authoritarian governments to perform retrospective surveillance. For example, if an anti-regime demonstrator previously unknown to security services is arrested, it will be possible to go back in time to scrutinize the demonstrator’s phone conversations, automobile travels, and the people he or she met in the months and even years leading up to the arrest.
Villasenor correctly asserts that the implementation of such open surveillance will have a chilling effect on activism and dissent. This goes without saying since activists and dissenters are now aware that anything they say is being listened to and recorded for purposes of prosecution.
Thus, the report reads:
There are also longer-term consequences that include a thinning of the ranks of regime opponents. By definition, organized dissent requires that dissenters have the ability to exchange information. Prominent opponents of repressive governments have learned to expect tracking of their movements and interception of their phone calls and other forms of electronic communications. But when technology enables an entire country’s worth of communications to be intercepted, the circle of people whom dissidents will be able to recruit to their ranks will narrow.
In addition, knowledge that communications are archived will reduce the willingness of dissidents to speak frankly even over encrypted communications. . . . Awareness of the likelihood that all messages – including those that are encrypted – will eventually be read by security services will chill dissent.
No doubt, in light of this new Brookings Institution report, along with other means of surveillance such as palm scans, vein scans, iris scans, voice and facial recognition as well as emotion detectors, we are entering an era in which dissent will truly require an individual to make a decision whether or not his principles are worth his freedom or even his life.
We, as American citizens — or any other citizen for that matter — must make our voices heard and our presence felt while we still can. It is up to us whether or not the Brave New World we enter into will be marked by courage and consciousness, or the grip of a scientific dictatorship.
Brandon Turbeville is an author out of Mullins, South Carolina. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from Francis Marion University where he earned the Pee Dee Electric Scholar’s Award as an undergraduate. He has had numerous articles published dealing with a wide variety of subjects including health, economics, and civil liberties. He also the author of Codex Alimentarius – The End of Health Freedom, 7 Real Conspiracies and Five Sense Solutions. Brandon Turbeville is available for podcast, radio, and TV interviews. Please contact us at activistpost (at) gmail.com.
Janan Abdu: “We need solidarity to keep us strong” (Ben White)
Prison officers have unleashed a new wave of oppression against prisoners. Letters to families sent by Palestinian political prisoners have ‘disappeared’, writes Ameer Makhoul in a letter to me dated 13 December. Several prisoners have been confronted with this problem since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his plans to impose harsher conditions on Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s prisons in June.
Five 12-page handwritten letters that Ameer sent to his family did not arrive. He writes:
“So Palestinian political prisoners should copy and copy in order to have an alternative in case the letter ‘disappears’. Disappear means lost on the way. But where? The procedure is to keep the envelope open, to be collected as all letters by a Palestinian political prisoners representative [in jail] and brought to the prison authorities. They read it (no matter how personal it is). They close it and send it through to post on account of the prisoners. The letter can take two days, one week, two weeks, one month and can also take all time and still not arrive at the home address. The prison officials’ oral reply to my request for clarification was that they do not do that [provide a clarification]. What they can do is to acknowledge to prisoners that a letter would not be sent for political or security reasons as covered by the law. Through family, lawyers and Members of the Knesset [Israeli parliament] I questioned the postal authorities but there is still no answer from this side. Is there abuse within the post? Does the Shabak (internal Security Agency) have access to control the letters? At what stage? After it has been sent? Last week I got a letter dated 7 December from MK Haneen Zoabi who is very active on the Palestinian political prisoners cause. The envelope was opened (crushed) although by law the prison authorities are not authorized to open letters sent by Members of the Knesset. On the back of the envelope the prison authority wrote: ‘It has been received open by post.’ I believe I will get no answer – neither from the post nor the prison nor the Shabak. But the answer is clear, very clear. By the way the prison authority is not replying or answering in writing. Just orally. While any demand by a prisoner should be in writing. This is the rule. The [Israeli] policy escalation is to disconnect the Palestinian prisoners from the entire world: their families, friends, and solidarity people. The isolation policy is both individual and collective. The system is based on oppression, it is such a huge machine where no one can see all the components and what each component does. But for the prisoners the picture is clear as well as the answer. An international fact-finding mission of human rights organizations could be very useful.”
“The spirit of Palestinian political prisoners will never be broken”, he adds.
Zochrot | December 27, 2011
A Public hearing at Zochrot, a testimony given by Amnon Neauman, a Palmach soldier describing the occupation of the Negev village in 1948.
Initiated and organized by Amir Hallel. The testimony was video recorded by Lia Tarachansky. Miri Barak prepared the transcription. Eitan Bronstein edited, summarized, and added footnotes. Translated to English by Asaf Kedar. Video editing by Zohar Kfir.
RAMALLAH — The Israeli occupation forces killed 180 Palestinians in 2011 including 21 children and arrested 3300, a report by the Palestine liberation organization (PLO) said on Wednesday.
It said that the Israeli occupation authority (IOA) endorsed in the same year the construction of 26837 new settlement units in the occupied Palestinian land including 1774 in occupied Jerusalem and its environs.
The IOA confiscated 15525 dunums of Palestinian land, razed 495 homes, and destroyed 18764 trees, the report, carrying the name of people under occupation, said.
It pointed to the Jewish settlers’ attacks in the same year, noting that they escalated attacks in December and launched a series of “terrorist” assaults on mosques and violated the sanctity of a Christian Orthodox church on the Jordan River.
GAZA CITY – Israeli war planes bombed central and northern Gaza Strip early Thursday, with no injuries reported.
Israeli forces struck a training site of Islamic Jihad armed wing the Al-Quds Brigades in Al-Zahra district of central Gaza, flattening the compound and damaging nearby houses.
Another airstrike hit a location in the northern Gaza Strip.
A statement from the Israeli army said it hit a “terror activity site” and “terror tunnels.”
“The targeting of these sites was in response to the firing of rockets at Israel on Wednesday,” the statement said.
Rockets fired by Gaza militant groups have hit southern Israel in recent days, without causing injuries or damage.
An Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday killed one person and wounded ten others, as the coastal enclave commemorated the third anniversary of Israel’s large-scale ground invasion of the coastal strip.
On Wednesday, an Israeli tank fired an artillery shell which landed in an open area in the north of Gaza, without causing damage or injuries.
Israel launched an unprecedented three week war on the Gaza Strip on Dec. 27, 2008 which killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the military assault, including over 300 children. The majority of those killed were civilians and over 5,000 people were wounded.
Hamas vowed on Tuesday that it would not be intimidated by Israel’s threats to launch a new invasion, as Israel’s army chief called Operation Cast Lead an “excellent” operation and said any repeat attack must be “swift and painful.”
NAZARETH — The Knesset committees of finance and security approved the Israeli government’s decision to raise the budget of the war ministry on Wednesday, although some Israeli officials called earlier for slashing it.
The official Hebrew radio said these two Knesset committees sanctioned the financial plan of the Israeli war ministry by about one billion and 600 million shekels.
Knesset member and head of its security committee Shaul Mofaz had expressed his opposition to this budget increase and demanded cutting it, but Benny Gantz, the Israeli army’s chief of staff, warned the Israeli government of cutting the budget because this would affect the military readiness of the Israeli army.
JENIN – Israel has canceled the pardon of a former Fatah militant leader in Jenin and instructed him to hand himself in to the Palestinian Authority, he told Ma’an on Thursday.
Zakaria Zubeidi, who headed the Al-Aqsa Brigades during the second intifada and set up The Freedom Theater in Jenin, said he had stuck to all the conditions of the amnesty deal granted him by Israel three years ago.
Israel informed Palestinian Authority security forces on Thursday that Zubeidi’s pardon had been revoked, and that Israeli forces would detain him if he did not turn himself in, Zubeidi told Ma’an.
An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.
Zubeidi established the ground-breaking theater in Jenin refugee camp in 2006 with Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was shot dead outside the venue in April.
He led the Fatah-affiliated brigades during some of the fiercest fighting of the intifada, or uprising, and was wanted by Israel for many years before authorities granted pardons to hundreds of Fatah militants in 2007.
Tom MacMaster on a tour of Damascus, Syria in 2008.
Last June The Electronic Intifada exposed the identity of the person behind the “Gay Girl in Damascus” hoax. The perpetrator was Tom MacMaster a 40-year old American graduate student at the University of Edinburgh.
After a surge of media attention, MacMaster disappeared from the public eye. The University of Edinburgh promised to investigate. But what happened and was MacMaster ever held accountable for a hoax that many believe caused genuine harm?
Documents released by the University of Edinburgh under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, reveal that not only was MacMaster allowed to stay on as a student, but that the university sought as much as possible to gag him while never publishing any results of its investigation. The documents are highly redacted because the University is “subject data protection legislation which restricts the information [they] are allowed to disclose about [their] students” (page 1 of documents).
A hoax that could have put lives at risk
MacMaster’s blog, “Gay Girl in Damascus,” featured a character named Amina Arraf who was a US citizen, lesbian, literate and leftist. Tom had written Amina Arraf before, but this time his work would achieve international notoriety and similarly earn him international scorn.
The “Gay Girl in Damascus” was written to appeal directly to liberal, English-speaking readers. Moreover, Syria has been in a state of near media blackout especially since the breakout of revolts there in March.
In June before going on vacation to Turkey with his wife Britta Froelicher, MacMaster introduced a plot twist: Amina Arraf was mysteriously seized from the streets of Damascus. This led to genuine and global concern that a real person had been seized and faced imminent harm at a time when activists and bloggers were facing repression by Syrian authorities.
The subsequent disclosure that Amina was a fictional character led to concern that the plight of real activists would be discounted or ignored and thus real lives would be endangered by MacMaster’s deception.
Moreover, MacMaster had not only created the Amina character, but other fake identities, particularly Amina’s “cousin” Rania O. Ismail. It was “Rania” who announced Amina’s abduction.
The characters Rania Ismail and Amina Arraf had Facebook and other social media profiles that were linked to and engaged in conversations with Palestinian and other activists in the solidarity movement. When the Amina character was kidnapped before Tom went on vacation and doubts surfaced about the veracity of the story, members of this community became very suspicious and uncomfortable with this intricate attempt to infiltrate their networks.
MacMaster exploited vulnerable audiences and real communities to perpetrate his hoax.
The University of Edinburgh investigates
After the hoax was exposed by The Electronic Intifada, worldwide media attention focused on Tom MacMaster and also the University of Edinburgh where he was enrolled in a masters program in Medieval Studies. Many people wondered how the University would respond to MacMaster’s behavior, which many felt violated ethics and perhaps even the US law.
San Francisco activist and blogger Michael Petrelis obtained highly redacted documents related to the university’s two investigations of Tom MacMaster. From these documents, it is clear that Tom MacMaster was allowed to remain a student at The University on condition that he not continue to create deceptive, fictitious personas on the internet and that he not discuss his activities with the media or in public.
MacMaster may have continued to use sockpuppets after the hoax was exposed. On 24 June, someone posted defensive comments on Mondoweiss from the same IP address associated with “Amina Arraf.” MacMaster denied making the comments himself but concedes that he enlisted friends to defend his reputation online.
The first evidence of discipline is the University’s official statement on 13 June 2011, the day after the hoax was exposed.
The University will investigate whether the student has breached University computing regulations. The Principal has directed Vice Principal Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer [CIO] Jeff Haywood to suspend the student’s computing privileges pending the outcome of the investigation.
Finally a letter written by Vice Principal for Equality and Diversity, Professor Lorraine Waterhouse and CIO Jeff Haywood (28 June 2011 on page 29) demands of MacMaster
You must give, in writing, an unequivocal assurance that you will not engage in any further actions of this kind whilst a student of this university.
MacMaster responded on 1 July 2011 in a letter (page 30) that says in part:
I will not engage in any further actions of this kind whilst a student of the university.
Another message to a third party (page 32) on 4 July 2011 suggests that the University has gagged Macmaster from talking about the hoax. CIO Jeff Haywood writes:
I have a written committment from Mr. MacMaster to refrain from any engagement in public with this subject.
Enormous press interest
The material also includes a list of press coverage from the University of Edinburgh’s Press Office (page 7) from 17 June 2011. The Tom MacMaster affair dominates the list with 40 international mentions. Several messages in the released material show inquiries from journalists asking basic questions about Tom MacMaster’s status at the University, the University’s plans to investigate or discipline him as a student. However, the University avoided making any comments, and administrators even tried to avoid confirming that MacMaster was even a student (page 22).
The University was uncomfortable with MacMaster’s activities
The University was clearly uncomfortable with the attention Tom MacMaster brought to them. In one message on 1 July 2011 (page 31), an unknown person writes to CIO Jeff Haywood. Most of the message is redacted, but another message dated 30 June 2011 is quoted where Mr. Haywood writes:
I hope you understand my reasons for not writing more fully. This is a sensitive issue for the University of Edinburgh.
And later on 4 July 2011 (page 32), Mr. Haywood replies to the same person and reiterates:
Let us hope that this unfortunate episode is close to an end.
The redacted material contains very little details about how the University conducted its investigation. Much of the emails contained in the released information are efforts to schedule phone calls to discuss the affair. These phone calls of course don’t leave a paper trail that can be requested with a freedom of information request.
A concerned third party
The unknown person who communicated by email (page 31-32) with Jeff Haywood appears to have provided information about Tom MacMaster to the University, and Mr. Haywood acknowledges
We are aware of some of what you have written below and will take that, plus the new information from you, alongside our own evidence, into account when reaching a decision as to how to proceed in Mr. Macmaster’s case.
Whatever the concerns were that were raised, the don’t appear to have had much impact on MacMaster. In the end, it seems that the University of Edinburgh’s main concern was to protect its reputation.
The Electronic Intifada thanks Michael Petrelis for sharing this material he obtained.
Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev has said that a US military base in the country’s capital Bishkek is “very dangerous” for the Central Asian nation.
Kyrgyzstan’s new leader made the remarks in a Thursday meeting with visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake in the capital Bishkek.
Atambayev insisted that the annual $150 million fee the US pays Kyrgyzstan for the right to use the Manas Air Force Base was not worth all the risks involved in the matter.
“We want to transform Manas into a fully civilian airport; and keeping a military base for $150 million is slightly dangerous; not slightly, but very dangerous.”
After becoming the president last month, Atambayev said that his country has notified the US to close its military base following the expiration of its lease in 2014.
“Our country will honor all its international agreements, but we have warned the US embassy that they will have to close the base in 2014,” said Atambayev.
The Manas Air Force Base, which the US currently uses to support its operations in Afghanistan’s ten-year war, is located at a civilian airport on the outskirts of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
The air base has been used since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and has played a major role in American military operations in the country.
The Kyrgyz government wanted to shut down the base in 2009 due to issues caused by US troops stationed in Manas. However, US officials managed to negotiate a new agreement later that year after increasing its annual payment to the Kyrgyz government.
After the U.S. November 26 attack on a Pakistani border post that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers the logistic line from Karachi into Afghanistan was shut down by Pakistani authorities.
It was expected that the line would be reopened after a few weeks. But as the U.S. is not forthcoming with the apology Pakistan demands and even partly blames Pakistan for the incident despite the fact that all the miscommunication that led to it happened on the U.S. site, the chances to reopen the line have dwindled.
Consequently the U.S. is now pulling out the equipment and wares currently stuck on the transport route in Pakistan, as reported by the Express Tribune:
“It has been a month since the Nato attack which resulted in the port and border closures with no resolution in sight, the US government intends to have all import unit cargo that is currently staged at different Container Holding Yards (CHYs) moved back to Karachi port or the nearest CHY to the port. Once we receive approval, all unit cargo will be exported out of Pakistan,” wrote Anita Rice, Chief of the OCCA SWA (595th Trans Brigade, NSA Bahrain) in an email to all ‘concerned’ persons.
According to sources, US cargo, stranded in Pakistan, is worth millions of dollars and US authorities have serious concerns over the safety of the cargo as it includes hammer [sic] vehicles, dumpers, anti-aircraft guns, special carriers of anti-aircraft guns, vehicles specially built to jam communications, cranes and sophisticated weapons.“We will compile information for submission to Pakistan customs for amendment for cargo export,” Rice said in her email, providing US Lieutenant Colonel Jerome Heath’s contact number for further assistance.
It will take several months to get all the stuff stuck in Pakistan back on ships and even longer to reroute it through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) into Afghanistan.
It will also cost a lot of money.
Flying equipment into Afghanistan costs about $14,000 per (short) ton.
A 20″ container coming through the NDN through Russia and Uzbekistan costs about $12,000, double the amount it costs for the same container to be routed through Pakistan.
Additionally there is concern about the ability of the rail network in Uzbekistan, recently hit by a mysterious explosion, to carry the additional load of what so far has come through Pakistan as well as corruption and the U.S. denial of the abysmal human rights record of the Karimov regime.
Aside from that, current NDN agreements do not allow for the transport of weapons and ammunition through the NDN and it is, so far, a one way route that can not be used for the ongoing retreat from Afghanistan.
Obama’s decision to not apologize for the border incident, taken out of fear of attacks from the domestic political right, will turn out to be very expensive and will hinder future U.S. operations in Afghanistan for quite some time.
But the political impact of completely closing down the logistic line through Pakistan might even be bigger. It removes another point of common interest the U.S. and Pakistan have had.
If the U.S. is, as it seems now possible, trying to get into direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar that exclude Pakistani interests from the future of Afghanistan the war there is unlikely to end anytime soon.