The wizards of Wired‘s Danger Room blog have posted a year-end click-bait listicle identifying who they – Spencer Ackerman, David Axe, Nathan Shachtman, and Robert Beckhusen – believe to be “The 15 Most Dangerous People in the World.”
While Paul Broadwell starts the list for some strange reason, Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan clocks in at number four (with entry author Ackerman studiously avoiding any mention of Brennan’s rampant lies over the murderous drone program he oversees, or the staggering civilian death toll for which Brennan and his boss are personally responsible) and Bashar al-Assad at number two, the Danger Roomers peg Iranian Brigadier General Ghasem Soleimani (they write it as Qassem Suleimani) – head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Qods Force – as the single most dangerous man on Earth.
Beckhuser, who wrote the final entry for Wired, begins with a truly bizarre formulation. ”As the country most likely to spark a world war,” he writes, “Iran has to be considered the most dangerous country on the planet.”
Let’s read that again and then unpack it. Iran – in Beckhuser’s estimation (one that he seems to think is a pretty uncontroversial assumption) – is “the country most likely to spark a world war.” (emphasis added) In fact, United States intelligence has long held that Iran maintains defensive capabilities and has a military doctrine of self-defense and retaliation, but will not begin a conflict.
In April 2010, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess told the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, “Iran’s military strategy is designed to defend against external threats, particularly from the United States and Israel. Its principles of military strategy include deterrence, asymmetrical retaliation, and attrition warfare.”
Burgess’ intelligence report, delivered in conjunction with his testimony, also included the assessment that Iran maintains a “defensive military doctrine, which is designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities,” and that “Iranian military training and public statements echo this defensive doctrine of delay and attrition.” The identical position was reaffirmed by Burgess’ testimony in March 2011, during which he explained that, if attacked, “Iran could attempt to block the Strait of Hormuz temporarily with its navy, threaten the United States and its allies in the region with missiles, and employ terrorist [sic] surrogates worldwide. However, we assess Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack.”
This year, Burgess repeated these conclusions (which have been the consensus view of U.S. intelligence for years), reiterating that the Defense Intelligence Agency “assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict.”
So what does Beckhuser mean when he claims that Iran is ”the country most likely to spark a world war”? While an unprovoked attack on Iran is widely seen as a terrible, “stupid” idea (and a war crime of obvious and unequivocal illegality) by those not of the neoconservative persuasion, and one that could potentially lead to a global conflagration, the idea that Iran would start such a war is not actually a consideration. Even former Israeli Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy warned, “An attack on Iran could affect not only Israel, but the entire region for 100 years.” Note how the potential attack suggested by Levy is on Iran by an unmentioned aggressor, and not by Iran on any other country.
Maybe that’s why Beckhuser wrote “spark” rather than “start.”
In so doing, however, the Wired writer is effectively – in this warped thought experiment – blaming Iran for getting itself attacked by Israel or the United States. He appears to be saying that if Iran responds to a foreign military assault, it would somehow be culpable for “sparking” a global conflict, the instigator of a new world war. The twisted logic of such an assertion reveals a very specific perception of Iran as a perennial provocateur of violence visited upon itself.
It is apparently irrelevant to Beckhuser that Iran’s wholly legal nuclear energy program is thoroughly monitored by the IAEA, an organization that continually confirms that its program has not been weaponized and admits it has no evidence Iran has ever had a nuclear weapons program, or that the United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, and is not currently building nuclear weapons. All indications are that Iran’s leadership has not even made a decision to build nuclear weapons and Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
Beckhuser doesn’t explain how Iran - a country with no modern military history of invading or attacking any other nation, a demonstrated refusal to respond in kind to chemical weapons attacks on its own citizens, and with a military budget of roughly 4% of what the United States spends annually, dwarfed by U.S.-backed states in the region - would be responsible for sparking a military conflict were it to be attacked. Does Beckhuser think that by consistently offering to curb and cap its enrichment program, accepting international cooperation in its energy sector and taking significant scientific and technological steps to reduce its medium-enriched uranium stockpile in an effort to allay fears of possible militarization of its program, Iran is acting provocatively?
Are we to believe that, in the event the United States or Israel initiates a war of aggression against Iran – thereby committing the “supreme international crime” as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal – that Iran should be seen as “the most dangerous country on the planet“?
Who is currently terrorizing civilian populations and killing an extraordinary number of children in at least six foreign countries with flying robots; has an arsenal of over 5,100 nuclear warheads; is responsible for three-quarters of the global arms market, flooding the world with weapons to the tune of $66.3 billion last year alone; is itself the gun violence capital of the world; maintains the most sophisticated and lethal military on the planet and a global empire with more than 1,000 military bases and installations all over the world, and whose legislative body stridently works to literally outlaw diplomacy and lay the groundwork for more war forever and ever?
Who begins reelection campaigns by murdering over 160 people in an aerial bombardment of an impoverished, caged, blockaded and besieged refugee population; constantly violates ceasefire agreements to commit war crimes; threatens to attack sovereign nations on a regular basis; continues an over four-decade-long illegal military occupation in order to fulfill its century-old founding settler-colonial ideology and displace, dispossess and disenfranchise its indigenous population; has been found to be the world’s most militarized nation for nearly 20 years in a row?
Iranian officials consistently speak out against the possibility of a new war. The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence, in a recent report suggesting that direct negotiations with the United States could resolve the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program and begin to lift decades of Western-imposed sanctions, stated, “One way to fend off a possible war is to resort to diplomacy and to use all international capacities,” adding that, as the risk of war appears high, “it is an unforgiveable sin not to prevent it.”
Beckhuser also fails to note that in the past few months, the United States led a massive naval war game exercise in the Persian Gulf, amassing the floating firepower of nearly 30 countries just off the southern coast of Iran, and is rapidly arming its dictatorial Gulf allies with more and more weapons while replenishing the stockpiles of Israel after its eight-day bombardment of Gaza in late November.
The Washington Times recently reported, “The largest infusion of U.S. arms ever for Persian Gulf allies has shifted more toward offensive weapons at the same time that President Obama’s military strategy says it will rely more on allied firepower in any future war,” and added that due to “U.S. sales of air defense-penetrating F-16s and F-15s, satellite-guided bombs and a pending order for ordnance that can burrow deep and then explode, analysts say Gulf nations could participate in a U.S. air campaign to strike Iran’s nuclear sites.”
Business Insider reports, “This week the U.S. Department of Defense notified Congress of a $647 million agreement to provide the Israel Air Force with 10,000 bombs — more than half of which are bunker-busters — along with 6,900 joint direct attack munitions (JDAM) tail kits, which convert unguided free-fall bombs into satellite-guided ‘smart’ weapons.”
Yet it is not Iran that is flying drones in American airspace; it is not Iran that is engaged in cyberwar and industrial sabotage against the United States; it is not Iran that is murdering American scientists on the street in front of their families; and it is not Iran that is collectively punishing the civilian population of foreign countries in an effort to force their governments to relinquish their inalienable national rights and attempt to instigate regime change.
Beckhuser’s attempt to establish Iran as the most dangerous place on Earth (a formulation lifted wholesale from Netanyahu talking points) reflects a perpetual and practically pathological predisposition in the mainstream narrative – both liberal and conservative – to view the Islamic Republic of Iran as a sinister domain of unadulterated violence and malevolence; or, as the common refrain goes: “Iran poses the greatest threat to the stability and security of the Middle East and the entire world.” Never mind that a majority of knowledgeable foreign policy and security experts consider such a statement to be not only a gross exaggeration, but a total absurdity.
Naturally, Beckhuser doesn’t elaborate on his opening statement, but assumes his readers agree and moves on from there. In making the assumption that Iran is the “most dangerous country,” Beckhuser then seeks to identify “the most dangerous man in that most dangerous country,” and (taking his cue from the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute) hits upon General Soleimani, whom he describes as “ruthless and mysterious,” just like all caricatures of nefarious Orientals.
Why is he so dangerous? Beckhuser explains,
…if Barack Obama or Bibi Netanyahu were to strike Iran’s nuclear program, it’ll be Suleimani and the Quds Force in charge of taking Iran’s counterattacks beyond its borders, as Iran launches waves of commando and terrorist strikes against the U.S. and its allies across the region and the world.
Yes, you read that correctly: if the elected leaders of the United States and Israel defy the wishes of their own citizens by launching an illegal military adventure against Iran, the “most dangerous man” in the world is the guy who would be tasked with retaliating, not the ones who actually launched the attack and started a new war.
That’s like saying you consider the polar bear at the Central Park Zoo to be the most dangerous animal in New York City because, if you punch it in the face, it might bite your hand off.
One would be hard-pressed (to use Beckhuser’s verbiage) to explain how responding to an unprovoked assault (a war crime in international law) by targeting the heavily-armed, uniformed soldiers of the world’s only superpower stationed halfway around the world could reasonably be considered terrorism, by any stretch of that politically manipulated term’s increasingly irrelevant definition.
So, to sum up: Starting a world war? Whatever. Responding to a military attack on your country? DANGEROUS!
By perpetuating fear-mongering propaganda about Iran, it appears that the most dangerous thing in Wired‘s Danger Room might actually be its own staff.
Benjamin Netanyahu, not dangerous according to Wired’s Danger Room.
The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says. — Wired Magazine, April 2012
Last week, in Wired Magazine, noted author James Bamford reported on an expansive $2 billion “data center” being built by the NSA in Utah that will house an almost unimaginable amount of data on its servers, along with the world’s fastest supercomputers. Part of the purpose of this new center, according to Bamford, is to store “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”
In the Wired article, Bamford interviewed former NSA official William Binney, a “crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network.” Binney further shed light on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, first exposed by the New York Times in 2005 and the subject of EFF’s long running suit Jewel v. NSA, which challenges the constitutionality of the NSA’s program.
The NSA claims it only has access to emails and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens overseas, but Binney provides more detail to the many previous reports by the New York Times, USA Today, New Yorker, and many more that the program indeed targets US based email records. In the 11 years since 9/11, Binney estimates 15 to 20 trillion “transactions” have been collected and stored by the NSA. From the Wired article:
He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,” Binney says. “That’s not just San Francisco; they have them in the middle of the country and also on the East Coast.”
The Director of NSA, General Keith Alexander, testified at a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) grilled him on the details of the Wired story. He appeared to deny the main points of the article, including that the NSA was intercepting emails, phone calls, Google searches, and phone records of individuals in the United States—as well as the technical capabilities of the program’s software described by Binney. But perhaps more strangely, Alexander also seemed to claim the NSA did not have the technical ability to collect Americans’ emails and Internet traffic even if it weren’t required to get a warrant:
Gen. Alexander: In the United States we’d have to go through the FBI process, a warrant to get that and serve it to somebody to actually get it.
Rep. Johnson: But you do have the capability of doing it?
Gen. Alexander: Not in the United States.
Rep. Johnson: Not without a warrant?
Gen. Alexander: We don’t have the technical insights in the United States, in other words, you have to have something to intercept or some way of doing that. Either by going to a service provider with a warrant, or you have to be collecting in that area. We’re not authorized to collect, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to actually collect that kind of information. (emphasis ours)
In our lawsuits, EFF has provided evidence that the NSA operated a monitoring center out of AT&T’s switching facility in San Francisco that has the ability to do exactly what Gen. Alexander says the NSA can’t. In light of all the evidence, it is hard to take comfort from Gen. Alexander’s apparent denial. In previous discussions of the warrantless wiretapping program, the government has used crabbed and unusual definitions of words to make misleading statements that also seem like denials but turn out to be largely word games.
In one prominent example, then Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden said in a 2006 statement: “Let me talk for a few minutes also about what this program is not. It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont grabbing conversations…” Later, when confronted with evidence of a wider drift net program during his confirmation hearing, he explained “I pointedly and consciously downshifted the language I was using. When I was talking about a drift net over Lackawanna or Freemont or other cities, I switched from the word ‘communications’ to the much more specific and unarguably accurate ‘conversation.’”
Notably, the NSA’s interpretation of what it means to “collect” communications seems to be quite limited. Under Department of Defense regulations, information is considered to be “collected” only after it has been “received for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component,” and “[d]ata acquired by electronic means is ‘collected’ only when it has been processed into intelligible form[,]” So, under this definition, if the communications of millions of ordinary Americans were gathered and stored indefinitely in Utah, it would not be “collected” until the NSA “officially accepts, in some manner, such information for use within that component.”
The illegality of warrantless wiretapping, however, does not depend on when the NSA officially accepts the information or processes it into intelligible form (whatever that means). Americans’ privacy and constitutional protections do and should not hinge on word games. We are looking forward to establishing, in the Jewel v. NSA case, a simpler proposition: that the government can’t spy on anyone, much less everyone, without a warrant.
RTAmerica on March 23, 2012
Recently a report by Wired magazine revealed the details of a spy center in Bluffdale, Utah. It says that the National Security Agency has turned its surveilance apparatus on the US and its citizens, including phone calls and emails. This week the NSA chief testified to Congress and took questions about his agency’s ability – both legally and physically – to spy on US citizens and denied that this is happening. Trevor Timm, an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes otherwise – he brings his take on the issue.
The United States National Security Agency (NSA) is building the biggest spy center for intercepting and storing electronic communications collected from all over the world and American citizens.
A new report published by the monthly magazine Wired, said that the centre located in Bluffdale, a remote valley in the state of Utah, can process yottabytes (a million billions of gigabytes) of data.
The facility of USD 2 billion is designed to “intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications including the contents of telephone calls, private e-mails, mobile phone text messages and Internet searches.
According to the report, the facility is “the most covert and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever,” and it will use 65 megawatts of electricity a year, with an annual bill of USD 40 million.
The spy center intercepts commutation signals as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.
Using what will likely be the world’s fastest super computer, the NSA can gather data through ‘dumb’ home appliances such as refrigerators, ovens and lighting systems which are connected to the Internet.
The facility is to provide technical assistance to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), collect intelligence on cyber threats and carry out cyber-security objectives, reported Reuters.
- National Security Agency To Build Spy Center That Will Track All Electronic Communication (inquisitr.com)
- NSA Building Largest Spy Center Ever (disclose.tv)
- NSA: Ultimate Internet Spy Center (netsecurityit.wordpress.com)
- RT News – NSA Utah ‘Data Center’: Biggest-ever domestic spying lab? – RT (2012indyinfo.com)
- Be Scared and Forewarned: NSA’s New Data Collection Center and Details on Its Public Eavesdropping Capabilites (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)