Back in 1976, I co-founded, with some Los Angeles colleagues, a feisty little alternative weekly called the L.A. Vanguard. About two months after we launched it, I got tipped off about a program by the local phone companies, Pacific Telephone and GTE, in which they had so-called “Security Departments,” composed of banks of operators, whose sole job was to provide unlisted phone numbers to inquiring government agencies, all without a warrant. As I delved into this story I learned more: these special operators (led in each case by retired FBI officials) were also providing credit information on phone customers on request, and the agencies who had instant access to all this data ranged from local police to the public library.
When we broke the story, it exploded on the Los Angeles media scene. There was a banner headline across the whole top of the Los Angeles Times front page screaming “Unlisted Numbers Given Out.” We at the L.A. Vanguard, to promote our little paper and being guerrilla journalists, announced that we were holding a protest and press conference on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance of the Pacific Telephone building in L.A., at which we’d be handing out copies of our newspaper. We were mobbed by reporters and camera crews from every media organization in the city. It was huge. Pacific Tel’s PR people realized they had to respond and invited everyone inside for an impromptu news conference at which they tried to quell the furor, but they only made it worse by having to admit the scale of the program.
Now I understand that Los Angeles, which is home to more celebrities per square foot than any other place in the world, has a thing about privacy, but this story even went national. It was simply shocking at the time to learn that the phone company would provide police and other government agencies — even the over-due books department of the library! — information about a customer’s sacred unlisted number without even requiring that they first obtain a warrant from a judge.
My investigative exposé led to hearings by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), at which the various government agencies were compelled to explain how they used the information they were obtaining from the phone companies and to justify their need for it, and the phone companies were forced to explain why they were so casually releasing the information, and why they were using ratepayers’ money to pay for a special group of operators to provide it. In the end there were restrictions placed by the PUC on the companies and on the number of agencies able to get access to unlisted numbers.
Today, such a story would be seen as quaint. It probably would not even be published in a major newspaper, and I doubt it would even make the first page of the Hollywood Reporter, trade publication for the film industry. Certainly no regulatory agency like the state PUC would bother to hold hearings on it.
The May 29, 1976 front page of the LA Times, picking up a scoop from a local leftist weekly
America has been so degraded as a free society that such intrusive violations of our privacy by a police agency or a librarian are now accepted by most people as normal and to be expected. (Actually, in fairness to librarians, they have emerged lately as some of the last remaining defenders of privacy, often refusing to let nosy police find out what books and videos patrons have been checking out unless served with a warrant.)
I was driving home to Philadelphia from the Catskills yesterday, on I-476, the northern leg of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and saw a sign warning that speeders were being monitored from the air, and I immediately thought about drones. When I saw such signs in the past on a highway, I would immediately look up at the sky to see if it was cloudy or clear. If it was blue sky, I’d look for a spotter plane, which you could sometimes find. Cloudy meant that the police would not be up there, as they wouldn’t be able to see us drivers. Today it could easily be a small drone that I wouldn’t even notice doing the monitoring, and it would be using radar to tag speeders, so you’d be vulnerable day or night, rain or shine.
Coming to your neighborhood soon: Police spy drones
In fact, I’ve noticed that on the 10-mile southernmost stretch of Rt. 309, a local controlled-access highway that runs from past my house and on down to the outskirts of Philadelphia, the state has installed video cams and radar devices that film and monitor the speed of all traffic going into and out of the city on a round-the-clock basis. We are being monitored at all times. So far the state cops or Department of Transportation have not been issuing speeding tickets with these cameras, but it’s only a matter of time. They already have cameras at major intersections all over Philadelphia and are mailing out automated $100 tickets to people alleged to have run red lights.
How far away are we from the day that local authorities in suburbia will be flying drones around the neighborhood tallying up the number of dandelions in people’s yards, and issuing warnings that they need to apply toxic herbicides to kill them or face a fine? You’re laughing? There are already laws in many communities that can compel people to mow their lawns or to clear out their dandelions or face a stiff fine. What they don’t have yet is a cheap way of monitoring people’s lawn-care proclivities. But it’s coming.
What strikes me as I think back to my big scoop about the California phone companies’ unlisted numbers racket (for which I won a major award from the Los Angeles Press Club!), is how much American citizens, over the intervening 36 years, have come to accept all this spying and invasion of privacy as normal, and perhaps even as desirable.
Of course 9-11 is a big part of this. The trumped up “War” on Terror launched in September 2001 has become a justification for all kinds of spying and other police activity, and not just by federal agencies. Even my little town of Upper Dublin has now has got its own SWAT van stuffed with Pentagon-provided military gear; there’s also a “major incident response unit” van, even bigger, which is also stuffed with military weaponry. Meanwhile, every police car in the village is equipped with an M-16, and we have 40 cops to police a quiet town of 26,000. That’s one cop for each 650 people in a town that hasn’t had a homicide in at least five years, that averages three robberies, 400 property offenses, one arson and 90 “alcohol offenses” a year! I don’t know how much surveillance and monitoring our local police do, but I do know that just driving and walking around town here, I see local cops on patrol more often than I used to when I lived in China, a certified police state.
Last fall, during the height of the Occupy Movement, I spent a little time at the Zuccotti Park encampment in lower Manhattan’s financial district. There were more police there than there were demonstrators on two of my visits. That’s how it looked too in the videos and news reports I saw of some of the OWS street actions. That should be as much of a scandal as was the brutish behavior of those cops, with their clubs, their pepper spray, and their other weapons, all deployed against avowedly non-violent political protesters.
But where is the public outrage at all of this?
I’ll admit that our corporate media have really given up being real sources of news. (Just consider that the lead story on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday was “Romney Strongly Defends Israel,” which surely ranks right up there as the ultimate example of dog-bites-man non-news one can imagine! With that sorry level of news judgement it’s no wonder important stories are going unreported) But how can there have been such public and media outrage back in 1976 simply over a news report that the phone company was providing unlisted number information to police on request, and then today, there is almost no concern even at the prospect of police spy drones hovering over our neighborhoods 24/7 taking photos of our every move, and at reports from agency whistleblowers that the National Security Agency is already monitoring the electronic communications of all Americans?
What has happened to the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”?
- Electric eye on America: US set to deploy drones for home use (judgementofamerica.wordpress.com)
Argentine President Cristina Fernández said on Tuesday during a press conference held at the Mercosur extraordinary summit in Brasilia, that Venezuela’s entry to the bloc “strengthens the entire region” and creates a “new pole of power” at world level.
Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay made the incorporation act official at the special summit held in Brasilia with the attendance of the four leaders: Cristina Fernandez, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica and the host Dilma Rousseff.
The event started Tuesday morning in the Planalto Palace when the four presidents met and later had the family picture taken. This was followed by a press conference and a special lunch at the Brazilian Itamaraty chancery in honour of the presidents.
“This is a historic day that fills me with joy”, said the Argentine president adding that the inclusion of Venezuela “calls for the creation of the institutions for this new pole of power”.
Venezuela incorporation to Mercosur was decided at the mid year presidential summit in Mendoza, Argentina at the end of June when the other full member Paraguay was suspended because of the removal of Fernando Lugo from the presidency.
Following the three presidents agreed the inclusion of Venezuela as full member of the block, which had been pending because of the refusal of the Paraguayan Senate to have Hugo Chavez in the trade block. Chavez’ original request dates from 2006.
Venezuela’s swearing into the bloc makes it the first country to join the bloc since it was founded in 1991.
“I still remember the small minded sponsors who were against the inclusion of Venezuela”, and who argued that “it was not convenient to be part of Mercosur because Brazil would gobble us” given its size.
Cristina Fernandez then turned to Chavez and said that “your solitude was not personal or government solitude, it was political and cultural solitude from our region in South America” and immediately recalled that “Nestor Kirchner and Lula da Silva always dreamt of this happening”.
The Argentine president then criticized “developed countries” blaming them for the current global “financial insecurity”.
“I’ve read that the idea of capping the price of our commodities has resurfaced as if we were endangering global food security. Let us tell them to be at ease that we can provide food security because the world is in this condition not because of the soybeans, or because of wheat or corn, but rather because of the financial insecurity which those same developed countries generated”, said Cristina Fernandez.
She added that “we are going to produce more and better food, but what we are demanding is financial security, an end to fiscal havens, and end to double speech”.
With Venezuela Mercosur “closes the equation” in the regional block “because it is energy, food, minerals, knowledge, aggregate value, industrialization, know-how that we are now going to share”.
President Chavez said that with the incorporation of Venezuela “the new period of the accelerated history we are building has been opened”, which will mean “historic changes” for the region.
“We are where we should have always been, Venezuela’s inclusion in Mercosur was long overdue, but everything that is to happen has its moment”, said Chavez.
“We have come to Mercosur with all our wishes for a full integration” and to make this block “a mechanism of integration which goes beyond trade, which means social integration”, he added.
Finally Chavez said that Mercosur must be seen as “the largest locomotive to preserve our independence and to guarantee our integral development”.
“As of today Venezuela belongs to one of the most powerful blocks in the world which concentrates 300 million people and a GDP of over 3tn dollars,” rich in resources, energy and know-how.
New graphic footage has emerged showing armed men killing their captives in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo simply for supporting President Bashar al-Assad.armed groups
The two-minute video, posted on YouTube and reported by the AFP, shows armed men killing elder members of the Syrian al-Berri tribe.
Amnesty International has already warned about reports of “summary executions” in Aleppo, calling them serious violations of international law.
This comes as the Syrian government earlier said that the armed rebel groups backed and funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are committing “horrific crimes” against civilians in the capital, Damascus, and the city of Aleppo.
In two letters addressed to the head of the UN Security Council and the UN secretary general, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the insurgents backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are using civilians in Aleppo as human shields, and killing anyone who does not support their crimes.
The Syrian government says foreign-sponsored ‘outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorists’ are behind the unrest.
Lebanese Army Intelligence successfully managed to arrest Rmeileh network, consisting of four members, following the arrest in Sidon of a Palestinian from Gaza, Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Tuesday.
There is information that a fifth member was also arrested. Estimates do not rule out that this cell may constitute other members. As Safir daily reported that the number of suspects with links to the network has reached five and the army intelligence is seeking to seize a sixth.
It is noteworthy that this network included Lebanese Christians, Muslims and Palestinians.
Initial investigation showed that the cell was plotting to bring down a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) chopper with a rocket at the Shouf town of Rmeileh’s landing field which is used by the Interim forces operating in the South for logistics, the newspaper said.
In a communique issued on Saturday, the army command said that the military intelligence arrested three men in Rmeileh after Israeli-made equipment was found in their possession.
The army raided the residences of the suspects and seized 1,211 detonators, several electric-detonators, Israeli-made devices used to ignite mines, Russian and American-made anti-personnel mines, Israeli-made mortar shells, 21 hand grenades, weapons and other equipment, reports said.
- Israel’s warplanes strike south Lebanon (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
Beijing reacted furiously Wednesday to new US sanctions imposed on a Chinese bank over transactions with Iran, urging Washington to revoke them and saying it would lodge an official protest.China, US flags
China’s Foreign Ministry urged the United States to lift the sanctions on the Bank of Kunlun and stop “damaging China’s interests and Sino-US relations.”
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday imposed new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector and on a pair of Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of doing business with Tehran.
Obama said the new measures underlined the United States’ determination to force Tehran “to meet its international obligations” in nuclear negotiations, according to a statement released by the White House.
The US president accused the Bank of Kunlun and the Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq of arranging transactions worth millions of dollars with Iranian banks already under sanctions because of alleged links to Tehran’s weapons program.
In a brief statement, China’s foreign ministry expressed “strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition” to the US move and said it would officially protest the decision.
“China has regular relations with Iran in the energy and trade fields, which have no connection with Iran’s nuclear plans,” the statement said.
- US Congress OKs new Iran sanctions (english.ruvr.ru)
For quite some time now, the US-based United Against Nuclear Iran organization has been trying to prove that Lebanon’s banks are “a theater of operations” for Hezbollah. Having failed to provide any evidence of this, it began threatening Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) was not satisfied with earlier correspondences with the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL), encouraging it to support its cause. Early last June, it began to escalate its criticism of the whole banking system in Lebanon.
It accused it of running a “scheme” to “fraudulently support Lebanese debt securities.” It called on “all credit rating agencies to re-rate Lebanon to a ‘no rating’ as a result of this fraud” and for the country “to be cut off from the US financial system.”
In UANI’s latest letter sent last May to BDL Governor Riad Salameh, the organization explained why it considered Lebanon as “a sovereign money laundering jurisdiction that receives massive inflows of illicit deposits.”
It claimed the conclusion was a result of confidential, three-month long investigation, following their last letter to Salameh sent at the beginning of 2012 and his response.
UANI, which is based in New York, spoke of being “concerned” about four Lebanese banks and requested that Salameh investigate them.
The letter included a long list of questions: “Why did you take action to adopt the ‘Basic Circular’ [anti-money laundering/terror financing set of rules for the Lebanese Banking System (LBS)] on April 4, 2012?” “What role if any have BDL and/or the LBS had in the financing of any weapons-based transaction by and among Hezbollah, Iran, and/or Syria?” it asked.
But regardless of its insolent language, it was nothing more than a redrafting of several old accusations based on media reports – most notably in the New York Times – which claimed that the Lebanese banking sector is a monetary playground for Hezbollah.
One of the indicators underpinning its analysis was “the irrational strength of Lebanese sovereign bonds” in keeping its credit margins stable. UANI believes that economic logic should lead to financial instability.
Lebanon’s public debt was around $53.8 billion by the end of 2011. Its GDP does not exceed $40 billion. The debt to GDP ratio is 137 percent, “one of the highest in the world.”
“The obvious risk of sovereign default is great – unless there is a fraudulent hidden scheme driven by Hezbollah and its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, to support this economic house of cards. There is exactly such a scheme,” the letter claimed.
The letter revisits the case of the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) and accusations by the US Department of Treasury that it had been a money laundering conduit for businessmen belonging to Hezbollah.
It repeated claims about Lebanese businessman Ayman Joumaa’s “drug trafficking” network between South America and West Africa, which had laundered “as much as $200 million per month, through various channels, including bulk cash smuggling operations by way of Lebanese exchange houses.”
The letter ends with a bold request by UANI’s CEO, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, asking Salameh to resign.
“In your role as Governor of BDL, under the political control of Hezbollah, it may very well be impossible for you to effectively perform your role as a legitimate central bank Governor. If that is the case, we respectfully request that you resign,” Wallace wrote.
“To the extent that you fear for your safety and/or the safety of your family given the history of violence in Lebanon, we will advocate for the grant of political asylum for you and your family here in the United States,” he promised.
- Salameh: Banking sector abides by law (dailystar.com.lb)
- Israel destroys spying device in Lebanon after Hezbollah discovered it (alethonews.wordpress.com)