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The Deeper Meaning of Mass Spying in America

By James Petras | June 14, 2013

The exposure of the Obama regime’s use of the National Security Agency to secretly spy on the communications of hundreds of millions of US and overseas citizens has provoked world-wide denunciations. In the United States, despite widespread mass media coverage and the opposition of civil liberties organizations, there has not been any mass protest. Congressional leaders from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as top judges, approved of the unprecedented domestic spy program. Even worse, when the pervasive spy operations were revealed, top Senate and Congressional leaders repeated their endorsement of each and every intrusion into all electronic and written communication involving American citizens. President Obama and his Attorney General Holder openly and forcefully defended the NSA’s the universal spy operations.

The issues raised by this vast secret police apparatus and its penetration into and control over civil society, infringing on the citizens freedom of expression, go far beyond mere ‘violations of privacy’, as raised by many legal experts.

Most civil libertarians focus on the violations of individual rights, constitutional guarantees and the citizen’s privacy rights. These are important legal issues and the critics are right in raising them. However, these constitutional–legal critiques do not go far enough; they fail to raise even more fundamental issues; they avoid basic political questions.

Why has such a massive police-state apparatus and universal spying become so central to the ruling regime? Why has the entire executive, legislative and judicial leadership come out in public for such a blatant repudiation of all constitutional guarantees? Why do elected leaders defend universal political espionage against the citizenry? What kind of politics requires a police state? What kind of long-term, large scale domestic and foreign policies are illegal and unconstitutional as to require the building of a vast network of domestic spies and a hundred billion dollar corporate-state techno-espionage infrastructure in a time of budget ‘austerity’ with the slashing of social programs?

The second set of questions arises from the use of the espionage data. So far most critics have questioned the existence of massive state espionage but have avoided the vital issue of what measures are taken by the spymasters once they target individuals, groups, movements? The essential question is: What reprisals and sanctions follow from the ‘information’ that is collected, classified and made operational by these massive domestic spy networks? Now that the ‘secret’ of all-encompassing, state political spying has entered public discussion, the next step should be to reveal the secret operations that follow against those targeted by the spymasters as a ‘risk to national security’.

The Politics behind the Police State

The fundamental reason for the conversion of the state into a gigantic spy apparatus is the nature of deeply destructive domestic and foreign policies which the government has so forcefully pursued. The vast expansion of the police state apparatus is not a response to the terror attack of 9/11. The geometrical growth of spies, secret police budgets, and the vast intrusion into all citizen communications coincides with the wars across the globe. The decisions to militarize US global policy requires vast budgetary re-allocation , slashing social spending to fund empire-building; shredding public health and social security to bailout Wall Street. These are policies which greatly enhance profits for bankers and corporations while imposing regressive taxes on wage and salaried workers

Prolonged and extended wars abroad have been funded at the expense of citizens’ welfare at home. This policy had led to declining living standards for many tens of millions of citizens and rising dissatisfaction. The potential of social resistance as evidenced by the brief “Occupy Wall Street” movement which was endorsed by over 80% of the population. The positive response alarmed the state and led to an escalation of police state measures. Mass spying is designed to identify the citizens who oppose both imperial wars and the destruction of domestic welfare; labeling them as ‘security threats’ is a means of controlling them through the use of arbitrary police powers. The expansion of the President’s war powers has been accompanied by the growth and scope of the state spy apparatus: the more the President orders overseas drone attacks, the greater the number of his military interventions, the greater the need for the political elite surrounding the President to increase its policing of citizens in anticipation of a popular backlash. In this context, the policy of mass spying is taken as ‘pre-emptive action’. The greater the police state operations, the greater the fear and insecurity among dissident citizens and activists.

The assault on the living standards of working and middle class Americans in order to fund the endless series of wars, and not the so-called ‘war on terror’, is the reason the state has developed massive cyber warfare against the US citizenry. The issue is not only a question of a violation of individual privacy: it is fundamentally an issue of state infringement of the collective rights of organized citizens to freely engage in public opposition to regressive socio-economic policies and question the empire. The proliferation of permanent bureaucratic institutions, with over a million security ‘data collectors’, is accompanied by tens of thousands of ‘field operators’, analysts and inquisitors acting arbitrarily to designate dissident citizens as ‘security risks’ and imposing reprisals according to the political needs of their ruling political bosses. The police state apparatus has its own rules of self-protection and self-perpetuation; it has its own linkages and may occasionally compete with the Pentagon. The police state links up with and protects the masters of Wall Street and the propagandists of the mass media – even as it (must) spy on them!

The police state is an instrument of the Executive Branch acting as a vehicle for its arbitrary prerogative powers. However on administrative matters, it possesses a degree of ‘autonomy’ to target dissident behavior. What is clear is the high degree of cohesion, vertical discipline and mutual defense, up and down the hierarchy. The fact that one whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, emerged from the hundreds of thousands of citizen spies is the exception, the lone whistle blower, which proves the rule: There are fewer defectors to be found among the million-member US spy network than in all the Mafia families in Europe and North America.

The domestic spy apparatus operates with impunity because of its network of powerful domestic and overseas allies. The entire bi-partisan Congressional leadership is privy to and complicit with its operations. Related branches of government, like the Internal Revenue Service, cooperate in providing information and pursuing targeted political groups and individuals. Israel is a key overseas ally of the National Security Agency, as has been documented in the Israeli press (Haaretz, June 8, 2013). Two Israeli high tech firms (Verint and Narus) with ties to the Israeli secret police (MOSSAD), have provided the spy software for the NSA and this, of course, has opened a window for Israeli spying in the US against Americans opposed to the Zionist state. The writer and critic, Steve Lendman points out that Israeli spymasters via their software “front companies” have long had the ability to ‘steal proprietary commercial and industrial data” with impunity. Because of the power and influence of the Presidents of the 52 Major American Jewish organizations, Justice Department officials have ordered dozens of Israeli espionage cases to be dropped. The tight Israeli ties to the US spy apparatus serves to prevent deeper scrutiny into its operation and political goals — at a very high price in terms of the security of US citizens. In recent years two incidents stand out: Israeli security ‘experts’ were contracted to advise the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security in their investigation and ‘Stasi-like’ repression of government critics and environmental activists (compared to ‘al Queda terrorists’ by the Israelis) – the discovery of which forced the resignation of OHS Director James Powers in 2010. In 2003, New Jersey governor, Jim McGreevy appointed his lover, an Israeli government operative and former IDF officer, to head that state’s ‘Homeland Security Department and later resigned, denouncing the Israeli, Golan Cipel, for blackmail in late 2004. These examples are a small sample illustrating the depth and scope of Israeli police state tactics intersecting in US domestic repression.

The Political and Economic Consequences of the Spy State

The denunciations of the mass spy operations are a positive step, as far as they go. But equally important is the question of what follows from the act of spying? We now know that hundreds of millions of Americans are being spied on by the state. We know that mass spying is official policy of the Executive and is approved by Congressional leaders. But we have only fragmented information on the repressive measures resulting from the investigations of “suspect individuals”. We can assume that there is a division of labor among data collectors, data analysts and field operatives following up “risky individuals and groups”, based on the internal criteria known only to the secret police. The key spy operatives are those who devise and apply the criteria for designating someone as a “security risk”. Individuals and groups who express critical views of domestic and foreign policy are “a risk”; those who act to protest are a “higher risk”; those who travel to conflict regions are presumed to be in the “highest risk” category, even if they have violated no law. The question of the lawfulness of a citizen’s views and actions does not enter into the spymasters’ equation; nor do any questions regarding the lawfulness of the acts committed by the spies against citizens. The criteria defining a security risk supersede any constitutional considerations and safeguards.

We know from a large number of published cases that lawful critics, illegally spied upon, have subsequently been arrested, tried and jailed – their lives and those of their friends and family members shattered. We know that hundreds of homes, workplaces and offices of suspects have been raided in ‘fishing expeditions’. We know that family members, associates, neighbors, clients, and employers of “suspects” have been interrogated, pressured and intimidated. Above all, we know that tens of millions of law abiding citizens, critical of domestic economic and overseas war policies, have been censored by the very real fear of the massive operations carried out by the police state. In this atmosphere of intimidation, any critical conversation or word spoken in any context or relayed via the media can be interpreted by nameless, faceless spies as a “security threat” – and one’s name can enter into the ever growing secret lists of “potential terrorists”. The very presence and dimensions of the police state is intimidating. There are citizens who would claim that the police state is necessary to protect them from terrorists – but how many others feel compelled to embrace their state terrorists just to fend off any suspicion, hoping to stay off the growing lists? How many critical-minded Americans now fear the state and will never voice in public what they whisper at home?

The bigger the secret police, the greater its operations. The more regressive domestic economic policy, the greater the fear and loathing of the political elite.

Even as President Obama and his Democratic and Republican partners boast and bluster about their police state and its effective “security function”, the vast majority of Americans are becoming aware that fear instilled at home serves the interest of waging imperial wars abroad; that cowardice in the face of police state threats only encourages further cuts in their living standards. When will they learn that exposing spying is only the beginning of a solution? When will they recognize that ending the police state is essential to dismantling the costly empire and creating a safe, secure and prosperous America?

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Deeper Meaning of Mass Spying in America

Leaked: NSA’s Talking Points Defending NSA Surveillance

By Mike Masnick | techdirt | June 14, 2013

The government has been passing around some “talking points” to politicians and the press trying to spin the NSA surveillance story. We’ve got the talking points about scooping up business records (i.e., all data on all phone calls) and on the internet program known as PRISM. Both are embedded below. Let’s dig in on a few of the points, starting with the business records/FISA issue:

The news articles have been discussing what purports to be a classified, lawfully-authorized order that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) issued under an Act of Congress – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Under this Act, the FISA Court authorized a collection of business records. There is no secret program involved here – it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.

“There is no secret program here”? Bullshit. Why, then, have so many people, both in the Congress and the public been shocked at the extent to which the NSA is snarfing up data? This is a secret program, enabled by a secret interpretation of the FISA Amendments Act, by the FISA Court, which the DOJ and the NSA insist the public is not allowed to know. Yes, it’s a secret program. Saying otherwise is simply lying.

It authorizes only metadata collection, which includes barebones records – such as a telephone number or the length of a call.

“Barebones records” and “metadata” are terms being used to play down the extent of the collection of info, but it ignores multiple reports that note the amount of data actually collected — including phone numbers, call times, call location, among other things — is more than enough to identify who someone is and a variety of important characteristics about that person.

This legal tool, as enacted by Congress, has been critical in protecting America. It has been essential in thwarting at least one major terrorist attack to our country in the past few years.

“At least one” is a lot less than the “dozens” NSA boss Keith Alexander recently stated. But, so far the only “one” identified, involving an attempted NYC Subway bombing was shown not to have needed this data collection program to uncover and stop. So, nope.

Despite what appears to be a broad scope in the FISA Court’s order, the Intelligence Community uses only a small fraction of a percent of the business records collected to pursue terrorism subjects.

This is meaningless. That’s like saying, even though we search everyone’s house illegally, we only actually arrest a small number of people. No one would allow such house searches under the 4th Amendment, so why is it okay with phone records?

All three branches – Congress, the Courts, and the Executive Branch – review and sign off on FISA collection authorities. Congress passed FISA, and the Intelligence Committees are regularly and fully briefed on how it is used.

Except many in Congress have made it clear they did not review this kind of program, or were led to believe that the NSA did not collect this kind of information. And those who are being briefed now say the program goes way beyond what they were told. And, those who did know about it beforehand, tried to dig deeper into the program, but were blocked. As for “the Courts” reviewing it, we’re talking about the FISA Court which is a rubberstamp in black robes, having approved every single request of it for the past three years. It last rejected a request back in 2009, and that was only one out of 1320. In its entire history, since 1979, the court has rejected a grand total of 11 applications. 11. Out of 33,939 applications. That’s 0.03%. Not 3%. 0.03% with not a single rejection in over three years. That’s not careful review. That’s a rubber stamp. As for the executive branch signing off on it, what do you expect? They’re going to hold back their own ability to spy on people?

The FISA Court authorizes intelligence collection only after the Intelligence Community has proven its case, based on underlying facts and investigations.

Well, we already covered the rubber stamp issue above, but Section 215 of the Patriot Act requires that the government present a case that the data it is seeking “must be relevant to an authorized preliminary or full investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a U.S. person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” I’d love to see the argument that all data is somehow relevant to the investigation. Of course, I can’t see it, because it’s secret.

This legal tool has been reauthorized only after ongoing 90-day renewal periods. That means that every 90 days, the Department of Justice and the FBI must prove to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that they have the facts and legal basis to renew this legal authority. It is not a rubber stamp.

Ha ha ha. So, we violate your privacy without any opposing view — but we do it every 90 days for seven straight years.

FISA-authorized collections are subject to strict controls and procedures under oversight of the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FISA Court, to ensure that they comply with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.

What kind of “strict controls and procedures” allow for the collection of every single record of every single phone call, and then also make it accessible to the 29-year-old IT guy in Hawaii? Just wondering…

Moving on to the “NSA internet talking points.”

Section 702 is a vital legal tool that Congress reauthorized in December 2012, as part of the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act, after extensive hearings and debate. Under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) certifies foreign intelligence collection. There is no secret program involved – it is strictly authorized by a U.S. statute.

Again, “no secret program,” merely a secret interpretation of the law, in a secret ruling by a secret court. What’s everyone complaining about?

Section 702 cannot be used to target any U.S. person. Section 702 also cannot be used to target any person located in the United States, whether that person is an American or a foreigner.

Note the careful choice of words: it cannot be used to target a person in the US. It can, however, be used to collect info on a person in the US if they’re not “the target” of the investigation. Fun with words!

The unauthorized disclosure of information about this critical legal tool puts our national security in grave danger, puts Americans at risk of terrorist and cyber attacks, and puts our military intelligence resources in danger of being revealed to our adversaries.

Right. So this is not a new program, it’s no surprise, people shouldn’t be concerned… and now that you know about it we’re all going to die!

How does anyone take these jokers seriously?

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Leaked: NSA’s Talking Points Defending NSA Surveillance

Foreign Surveillance Post-9/11: A History of Privacy Erosion

By Katitza Rodriguez, Mark Rumold and Tamir Israel | EFF | June 15, 2013

In order to fully appreciate how the revelations of this past week will impact non-Americans based outside of the United States, a little background on the legal framework on how the U.S. foreign intelligence apparatus operates is helpful. The centerpiece of this framework is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in the late 70s. Historically, relying on a national security exception contained in the Wiretap Act, the United States government considered it had no obligation to obtain authorization from a court before intercepting communications for the purpose of national security. This changed in 1972, when the Supreme Court of the United States first held that the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement does apply to surveillance carried out in the name of national security – at least with respect to domestic threats:

Security surveillance is especially sensitive because of the inherent vagueness of the domestic security concept, the necessarily broad and continuing nature of intelligence gathering, and the temptation to utilize such surveillance to oversee political dissent. We recognize, as we have before, the constitutional basis of the President’s domestic security role, but we think it must be exercised in a manner compatible with the Fourth Amendment. In this case we hold that this requires an appropriate prior warrant procedure.

These words of caution rang true when it was later revealed that the Government’s unauthorized intelligence-gathering activities had included extensive surveillance of journalists, anti-war protestors, dissident groups and even political opponents. The congressional hearings that followed, called the Church Committee, led to what was perhaps the first comprehensive public look at the activities of the National Security Agency–a clandestine intelligence entity that had been colloquially dubbed “No Such Agency” to reflect its unique ability to defy any attempt to document or oversee its activities. Against this backdrop, FISA was passed specifically for the purpose of limiting foreign intelligence activities from being directed at U.S. persons.

While FISA was always generous in the powers it granted U.S. government agencies with respect to the surveillance of foreign agents, a series of amendments beginning with the USA PATRIOT Act and culminating with the FISA Amendment Act, 2008, transformed FISA into the vehicle for mass surveillance it is today. Notably, these amendments, as the U.S. government ultimately interpreted them:

  • (a) provided a broader set of powers under which various digital service providers were compelled to assist U.S. foreign intelligence agencies in their activities;
  • (b) removed the need for intelligence agencies to direct their activities at ‘foreign powers’ or ‘agents of foreign powers’ by making any non-U.S. person the legitimate focus of surveillance; and
  • (c) applied these extra-ordinary powers to a broader set of circumstances by removing the obligation to ensure ‘foreign intelligence’ is a primary objective for their use.

These amendments furnished the United States government with at least two powerful secret legal surveillance powers that have apparently been used by the NSA to conduct broad surveillance of both U.S. and non-U.S. persons:

  • a business records power (section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, codified as 50 USC §1861) under which the U.S. Government can compel production of ‘any tangible thing’ reasonably believed to be relevant to an authorized investigation conducted for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence. The government has now confirmed that it has secretly interpreted ‘any tangible thing’ to include ”all call detail records”, and its telephone metadata surveillance program is based on this power; and
  • a new general acquisition and interception power (section 702 of FISA, codified as 50 USC §1881a) that allows U.S. government agencies to compel access –possibly in real-time – to information from a diverse range of communications and data processing services. This second power has played a central role in populating the PRISM program.

Lots of problems surround the breadth of these powers and the secretive manner by which they have been interpreted. Very few substantive limits are placed on these powers. To make matters worse, these powers are interpreted secretly and are highly and effectively insulated from any adversarial challenge. This permits the government to adopt the most favourable interpretations it can devise, as has been shown in other contexts. The secret and non-adversarial context in which these interpretations are occurring is particularly problematic given the challenges inherent in applying privacy protections to technologically advanced state surveillance techniques.

Of the few existing internal limits FISA places on its powers, most relate to the need to limit exposure of U.S. persons. The only substantive protections that do not relate to this objective include a loose obligation that the powers be employed for foreign intelligence purposes, compatibility with the Fourth Amendment and the fact that both powers are subject to some limited, but highly secretive Judicial and Congressional review. None of these safeguards is highly reassuring, particularly to non-U.S. persons.

Safeguards primarily designed to limit exposure of U.S. persons

To the extent there are limitations placed on these two FISA powers, they are primarily designed to limit the exposure of U.S. persons. The business records power, for example, cannot be directed at U.S. persons solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment. The general acquisition power can only be directed at persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States and reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons. A recent leak, however, suggests that the United States Government has secretly interpreted this to require only 51% assurance of foreignness.

The general acquisition power is also subject to general minimization (§1801 (h)) and targeting (§1881a (i)(2)(B)) procedures, which must be approved by FISC. The sole objective of these requirements is to minimize the targeting, collection and retention of private information of U.S. persons. Of course, it remains secret how the specific techniques adopted seek to achieve this. The business records power also includes minimization procedures, but these only relate to minimizing the retention and dissemination of non-public information concerning U.S. persons, not, apparently, its collection (§1861 (g)(2)).

It has become clear over the past several days that the Government and FISC have secretly interpreted these various safeguards in a woefully inadequate manner that fails to achieve even the basic requirement of insulating U.S. persons from their reach. Non-U.S. persons, however, will probably be most concerned by the fact that nothing in FISA or elsewhere in U.S. law seems to effectively limit the extent to which their own online activities are being surveiled.

Next in our Spies Without Borders series, we will examine how the few protections FISA offers to individuals outside the United States provide little or no protection under US law.

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Foreign Surveillance Post-9/11: A History of Privacy Erosion

Obama to Press Putin to Back Assad’s Removal in Syria

RIA Novosti | June 14, 2013

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will attempt to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin in their planned meeting Monday that it is in Moscow’s interest to support the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, a White House official said Friday in the wake of fresh US claims that Syria has used chemical weapons.

“It’s in Russia’s interest to join us in applying pressure on [Assad] to come to the table in a way that relinquishes his power and his standing in Syria,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters Friday.

The United States and Russia remain at loggerheads over the ongoing civil war in Syria as Obama and Putin prepare to meet on the sidelines of the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland on Monday.

The meeting comes a day after Rhodes told reporters Thursday that US intelligence had concluded with “high confidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons multiple times over the past year – an assessment that has prompted Obama’s decision to boost military aid to the Syrian rebels.

The chemical weapons claim was met with skepticism and derision by Russian officials.

“The Americans have tried to provide us with information on the use by the [Syrian] regime of chemical weapons, but I will be frank: The report does not seem convincing to us,” Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Friday.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of Russia’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, dismissed the US assessment outright Friday, calling its conclusions “fabricated.”

Rhodes told reporters Friday that Obama would offer an “interest-based” argument to Putin on the Syria issue during Monday’s meeting in an effort to persuade “the Russians that they can best protect their interests by being a part of a political settlement that is real and that enables a transition away from Assad’s rule.”

He added that “there are no illusions” that the talks between Obama and Putin about the Syria conflict would be easy.

“What Russia has articulated to us, and publicly, is that they don’t want to see a downward spiral, they don’t want to see a chaotic and unstable situation in the region, they don’t want to see extremist elements gaining a foothold in Syria,” Rhodes said.

Ushakov told reporters in Moscow that the United States and Russia “are not competing on Syria.”

“On the contrary, we are seeking a constructive solution to this issue which is vital for the situation in the region and the world,” he said.

Both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) expressed concern Friday about the US claims of multiple chemical weapons attacks in Syria over the past year, which the White House said have resulted in 100 to 150 deaths.

“These developments can only reinforce the importance of a political solution and should accelerate the efforts of the international community to find a definitive political solution to the conflict,” Catherin Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a statement.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday called the US assessment “a matter of great concern,” Reuters reported.

“The international community has made clear that any use of chemical weapons is completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law,” Rasmussen said in Brussels, Reuters said.

Meanwhile, US Sen. John McCain repeated his call Thursday for the Washington to establish a no-fly zone “to create a safe area” within Syria.

“You can’t do it with half measures. You can’t do it with just supplying weapons,” McCain told CNN.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Rhodes said the White House believed boosting assistance to the Syrian rebels is the most effective strategy at this point, saying a no-fly zone “would carry with it great and open-ended costs for the United States and the international community.”

“It’s far more complex to undertake the type of effort, for instance, in Syria than it was in Libya,” Rhodes said.

The Syrian government on Friday called White House claims about the use of chemical weapons in Syria “a statement full of lies based on fabricated information.”

Both sides in the ongoing Syrian civil war have traded allegations of chemical weapons use, with government officials accusing opposition forces of using chemical weapons against Assad’s military in a March attack outside of the northern city of Aleppo.

Some 93,000 people are believed to have died since fighting broke out between Syrian government forces and rebels in March 2011, according to the latest UN figures.

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | 1 Comment

Russia: Syria no-fly zone would be illegal

Al-Akhbar | June 15, 2013

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missiles from Jordan would violate international law.

Russia, which has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at pressing for a no-fly zone in Syria, vehemently opposes any foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

“There have been leaks from Western media regarding the serious consideration to create a no-fly zone over Syria through the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 jets in Jordan,” said Lavrov, speaking at a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart.

“You don’t have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law,” he said.

The United States has moved Patriot missiles and fighter jets into Jordan, officially as part of an annual exercise in the past week, but making clear that the military assets could stay on when the war games are over.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that a US military proposal to arm rebels fighting against Assad also calls for a limited no-fly zone inside Syria that could be enforced by US and allied planes on Jordanian territory.

Lavrov also rejected US claims that Syria has used “small amounts” of sarin on rebels, saying there was no need for that because government forces were making steady advances on the ground.

“The regime, as the opposition is saying out in the open, is enjoying military success on the ground,” he said.

“What sense is there for the regime to use chemical arms, especially in such small amounts?” Lavrov asked.

Russia said on Friday it was unconvinced by US allegations that Assad had used chemical weapons against his own people.

US President Barack Obama’s administration said on Thursday it would boost military support for the opposition as a result.

(Reuters, AFP)

June 15, 2013 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , | Comments Off on Russia: Syria no-fly zone would be illegal

Why Obama is Declaring War on Syria

By Franklin Lamb | Al-Manar | June 15, 2013

The short answer is Iran and Hezbollah according to Congressional sources. “The Syrian army’s victory at al-Qusayr was more than the administration could accept given the town’s strategic position in the region. Its capture by the Assad forces has essentially added Syria to Iran’s list of victories starting with Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, as well as its growing influence in the Gulf.”

Other sources are asserting that Obama actually did not want to invoke direct military aid. The rebels fighting to topple the Assad government or even to make use of American military power in Syria for several reasons. Among these are the lack of American public support for yet another American war in the Middle East, the fact that there appears to be no acceptable alternative to the Assad government on the horizon, the position of the US intelligence community and the State Department and Pentagon that intervention in Syria would potentially turn out very badly for the US and gut what’s left of its influence in the region. In short, that the US getting involved in Syria could turn out even worse than Iraq, by intensifying a regional sectarian war without any positive outcome in sight.

Obama was apparently serious earlier about a negotiated diplomatic settlement pre-Qusayr, and there were even some positive signs coming from Damascus, Moscow, and even Tehran, John Kerry claimed. But that has changed partly because Russia and the US have both hardened their demands. Consequently, the Obama administration has now essentially thrown in the towel on the diplomatic track. This observer was advised by more than one Congressional staffer that Obama’s team has concluded that the Assad government was not getting their message or taking them seriously and that Assad’s recent military gains and rising popular support meant that a serious Geneva II initiative was not going to happen.

In addition, Obama has been weakened recently by domestic politics and a number of distractions and potential scandals not least of which is the disclosures regarding the massive NSA privacy invasion. In addition, the war lobby led by Senators McClain and Lindsay Graham is still pounding its drums and claiming that Obama would be in violation of his oath of office and by jeopardizing the national security interest of the United States by allowing Iran to essentially own Syria once Assad quells the uprising. Both Senators welcomed the chemical weapons assessment. For months they have been saying that Obama has not been doing enough to help the rebels. “U.S. credibility is on the line,” they said in a joint statement this week. “Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions,” they said, such as using long-range missiles to degrade Assad’s air power and missile capabilities. Another neo-con, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said the opposition forces risk defeat without heavier weapons, but he also warned that may not be enough. “The U.S. should move swiftly to shift the balance on the ground in Syria by considering grounding the Syrian air force with stand-off weapons and protecting a safe zone in northern Syria with Patriot missiles in Turkey,” Casey said.

Secretary of State Kerry held meetings with more than two dozen military specialists on 5/13/13. The Washington Post is reporting that Kerry believes supplying the rebels with weapons might be too little and too late to actually flip the balance on the Syrian ground and this calls “for a military strike to paralyze Al-Assad’s military capacities.” A Pentagon source reported that the USA, France, and Britain are considering a decisive decision to reverse the current Assad momentum and quickly construct one in favor of the rebels” within a time period not exceeding the end of this summer.

Shortly after the meetings began, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia quickly returned to Saudi Arabia from his palace at Casa Blanca, Morocco after receiving a call from his intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. Bandar reportedly had a representative at the White House during the meetings with President Obama’s team. King Abdullah was reportedly advised by Kerry to be prepared for a rapid expansion of the growing regional conflict.

What happens between now and the end of summer is likely to be catastrophic for the Syrian public and perhaps Lebanon. The “chemical weapons-red line” is not taken seriously on Capitol Hill for the reason that the same “inconclusive evidence” of months ago is the same that is suddenly being cited to justify what may become essentially an all-out war against the Syrian government and anyone who gets in the way. Hand wringing over the loss of 125 lives due to chemical weapons, whoever did use them, pales in comparison to the more 50,000 additional lives that will be lost in the coming months, a figure that Pentagon planners and the White House have “budgeted” as the price of toppling the Assad government.

“We are going to see a rapid escalation of the conflict”, a staffer on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee emailed this observer: “The president has made a decision to give whatever humanitarian aid, as well as political and diplomatic support to the opposition that is necessary. Additionally direct support to the (Supreme Military Council), will be provided and that includes military support.” The staffer quoted the words of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes to the media on 5/13/13 to the same effect.

A part of this “humanitarian assistance” the US is going to establish in the coming weeks a “limited, humanitarian no-fly zone, that will begin along several miles of the Jordanian and Turkish borders in certain military areas into Syrian territory, and would be set up and presented as a limited bid to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees. But in reality, as we saw in Libya a Syrian no fly zone would very likely include all of Syria.

Libya’s no-fly zones made plain that there is no such thing as a “limited zone”. Put briefly, a “no-fly zone” means essentially a declaration of all-out war. Once the US and its allies start a no fly zone they will expand it and intensify it as they take countless other military actions to protect its zones until the Syrian government falls. “It’s breathtaking to contemplate how this in going to end and how Iran and Russia will respond,” one source concluded.

The White House is trying to assuage the few in Congress as well as a majority of the American public that it can be a limited American involved and that the no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries. This is more nonsense. During the no-fly zone I witnessed from Libya in the summer of 2011 the US backed it up with all manner of refueling, electronic jamming, special-ops on the ground and by mid-July a kid peddling his bike was not safe. Over the 192 days of patrolling the Libyan no-fly zones, NATO countries flew 24,682 sorties including 9,204 bomb strike sorties. NATO claimed it never missed its target but that was also not true. Hundreds of civilians were killed in Libya by no-fly zone attack aircraft that either missed their targets or emptied their bomb bays before returning to base while conducting approximately 48 bombing strikes per day using a variety of bombs and missiles, including more than 350 cruise Tomahawks.

At a Congressional hearing in 2011, then US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates got it right when he explained while discussing Libya “a no-fly zone begins with an attack to destroy all the air defenses … and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

According to the accounts published in American media, Obama could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone. That appears unlikely because the Pentagon wants to end the Syrian crisis by summer’s end, the observer was advised “rather than working long term with a motley bunch of jihadists who we could never trust or rely on. The administration has come to the conclusion apparently that if they are in for a penny they are in for a pound.”

In response to a question from this observer about how he thought events might unfold in this region over the coming months, a very insightful long-term congressional aid replied: “Well Franklin, maybe someone will pull a rabbit out of the hat to stop the push for war. But frankly I doubt it. From where I sit I’d wager that Syria as we have known it may soon be no more. And perhaps some other countries in the region also.”

Franklin Lamb can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , , , | Comments Off on Why Obama is Declaring War on Syria

The Painted Frog of Palestine

Lake Huleh. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Lake Huleh. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
By Jeremy Salt | Palestine Chronicle | June 14 2013

The good news from Palestine is that the ‘painted frog’ of the Huleh valley is not extinct after all. Recently it turned up again after not having been seen for the past half century. Behind the disappearance of the painted frog stands a much bigger story, the fate of the Huleh valley after the conquest of Palestine by the Zionists and behind that story is the reality behind one of the foundation myths of the Zionists,  that of a barren, stagnant and empty land awaiting redemption in the hands of the Jewish people.

In the 19th century the Huleh wetlands were one of Palestine’s prize natural assets. They were formed over millennia by three rivers flowing south into the Huleh valley from their headwaters in Syria, the Hasbani, the Banias and the Liddan.  The valley stretched for a distance of about 25 kilometers in length and six in width.  Its centerpiece was Lake Huleh and its adjoining wetlands, covering an area of about 60 square kilometers, expanding and contracting in tune with the seasons. The lake itself was more than five kilometers long and more than four wide at its broadest point. The river flow continued southwards into Lake Tiberias and then the Jordan River. The fertile land around the lake provided the surrounding villages and beduin cultivators with a good living from cereal crops, maize, rice and honey. The lake and wetlands were a nesting and feeding spot for masses of migratory birds.  The life beneath the water was just as rich as on the outside.

Here are descriptions of the Huleh wetlands by the Rev. W.M. Thomson, an American missionary who visited Palestine in the 1850s to follow in the footsteps of the master but still took detailed notes of everything he saw, the food people ate, the clothes they wore, the crops they cultivated, the glassware and soap they produced in their worships as well as the flora, the fauna, the valleys, hills, plains and rivers. (1):

“There lies the Huleh like a vast carpet with patterns of every shade and shape and size, thrown down In Nature’s most bewitching negligence and laced all over with countless streams of liquid light …. The plain is clothed with flocks and herds of black buffalo bathe in the pools. The lake is alive with fowls, the trees with birds and the air with bees.” (‘Unrivalled beauty of the Huleh’, p. 225)

“The soil of this plain is a water deposit like that of the Mississipi Valley about New Orleans and extremely fertile. The whole country around it depends mainly upon the harvests of the Huleh for wheat and barley. Large crops of Indian corn, rice and sesamun (simsum) are also grown by the Arabs of the Huleh, who are all of the Ghawareneh tribe.  They are permanent residents although dwelling in tents. All the cultivation is done by them. They also make large quantities of butter from their herds of buffalo and gather honey in abundance from their bees. The Huleh is, in fact, a perpetual pasture field for cattle and flowery paradise for bees. At Mansura and Sheikh Hazeib I saw hundreds of cylindrical hives of basket work, pitched, inside and outside, with a composition of mud and cow dung. They are piled tier above tier, pyramid fashion, and roofed over with thatch or covered with a mat. The bees were very busy and the whole region rang as though a score of hives were swarming at once. Thus this plain still flows with milk and honey and well deserves the report which the Danite spies carried back to their brethren: ‘A place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.” (‘Produce of the land of Huleh’, p. 253).

“This Huleh – plain, marsh, lake and surrounding mountains – is the finest hunting ground in Syria and mainly so because it is very rarely visited. Panthers and leopards, bears and wolves, jackals and hyenas and foxes and many other animals are found, great and small, while it is the very paradise of the wild boar and the fleet gazelle. As to waterfowl, it is scarcely an exaggeration to affirm that the lower end of the lake is absolutely covered with them in the winter and spring.” (‘Wild animals of the Huleh’, p. 260).

Dr. Thomson does not mention the painted frogs of Huleh but they must have been there in abundance, breeding in the protection of the rushes, hunted by the pelicans and storks that stopped at the lake on their flights from the north. He noted the presence of the ‘lilies of the valley’ growing amongst the rushes, which in places were so densely entangled with bamboo as to make approaches to the water impenetrable. The Huleh valley was one part of a rich environmental and agricultural mosaic stretching across Palestine. Of course part of it was barren. It still is but one would not say Australia is a barren land because of the Simpson desert or the United States because of the Mojave desert in California. It was not just the fertility of the Huleh valley that took Dr. Thomson’s attention. He was equally fulsome in his praise of the groves of citrus fruits, the extensive fields of wheat and barley grown along the seaboard right down to Gaza and the grapes and olives of the interior. His descriptions are corroborated in numerous other contemporary accounts, which stand as the most effective rebuttal of the central myth of the barren land.

Indeed, the central problem for the Zionists was that all the fertile land was already being cultivated, by people who were not prepared to part with it. Like all native peoples the land for them was an integral part of the cycle of life. That was the way it had always been and not until the Zionists arrived had they had to face life without it. It was the latifundistas living outside Palestine and the middlemen who negotiated the deals who gave the Zionists their foothold. Once the contracts were signed they drove the tenant cultivators away. There was no remorse: where these uprooted people went was none of their business. The British, in charge of this supposedly ‘sacred trust of civilisation’, as the mandate was described in article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, were complicit in this ruthless process, providing an umbrella of armed and pseudo-legal protection.

Through legal purchase the Zionists were never going to get what they wanted.  By 1945 they had acquired less than six per cent of Palestine and remained a one-third minority of the population despite the massive immigration of the 1930s.  David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders knew that only war would give them what they wanted. They played a crafty game, dumping the British when they were no longer of any use and turning to the United States.   Partition was a complete violation of the natural rights of the indigenous people but was welcomed by the Zionists, naturally, as they were being given what they did not possess and had no right to possess.  At the same time as pretending to be satisfied with partition, they regarded it only as the first step. It was not just that the Americans had concluded by early 1948 that Palestine could not be partitioned peacefully.  The Zionists would never allow it to be partitioned peacefully as this would leave the Palestinians on their land. There could be no Jewish state as long as they stayed, and if there is a regret in the Benny Morris school of historical reflection it is only that the opportunity was lost to get rid of them all.

In the meantime land hunger focused settler eyes on possibilities in the rich, fertile and well watered Huleh valley. Draining what were called the swamps of Huleh would create more room for colonization but for the time being remained beyond their technical and financial means.  When it happened it was inscribed as one of the founding myths of Zionists: the redemption of the land, making the desert bloom, and all the rest of it, when in fact the settlers ruined in the Huleh valley what was an ecologically rich wetland with few parallels in the Middle East.

From the beginning control of water was essential to the Zionist project.  Weizmann fought hard at the Paris peace conference in 1919 for the Syrian headlands of Palestine’s water to be included in the British mandate and therefore within the borders of the Zionist state Lloyd-George, Balfour and Churchill wanted to establish in the heart of the Middle East while talking endlessly about nothing more than a ‘national homeland’ for the Jewish people. Weizmann’s  scheming and lobbying broke against the rock of French strategic interest but seizing and controlling water resources in and around Palestine remained a prime target of the Zionist leadership, with their diversion of these waters creating one of the many crises that preceded the 1967 war.

The Huleh valley stood out from the beginning of Zionist settlement. The first colony in the valley was established in the 1880s but because of the ravages of malaria no further settlements were established for half a century. In the 1930s Steinmatsky’s Palestine Guide (2) noted the drainage of ‘swamps and marshes’ since the First World War, ending the scourge of malaria and restoring ‘fertile tracts of land to cultivation thus increasing the tillable area of Palestine’.  Unique amongst Palestine’s network of rivers, lakes and subterranean aquifers, the Huleh wetlands ‘which are now marshy tracts offer untold opportunities for agricultural development. Thorough drainage is the first need to be followed by systematic irrigation. This land has been granted for use under a concession to a group which did not avail itself of the concession. The concession has now passed to a Jewish group which will soon start on the preliminary work.’ (p. xii).

In his collection of essays on land acquisition and development in Palestine, Arthur Ruppin, a German lawyer who settled in Jaffa as the chief land purchasing and development officer for the Palestine Office of the World Zionist Organization, lists the Huleh wetlands as land which might be uncultivable for the Palestinian settled and nomad population but would be cultivable for incoming Jewish colons, given their access to credit and use of modern farm machinery. (3)  The fertile land around the lake was either state land from Ottoman times or already owned and cultivated, with only one Zionist settlement having been established up to the outbreak of the Second World War. Ruppin wanted to open up land for settlement by draining the wetlands,   which for him were no more than marsh and swamp waiting to be reclaimed.

In a memorandum handed to Sir John Hope Simpson, sent to Palestine in 1930 to investigate immigration, land development and settlement, the three major causes of rising distress amongst the Palestinians, Ruppin attempted to show that ‘if the farming of the fellaheen were to be a little bit intensified – in the coastal zone, Beisan, Huleh and the lower Jordan Valley – the Jews would be able to buy 1,300,000 dunums without displacing the people who have so far [sic.] worked the land. Fifty-five thousand [Jewish] families could be settled on this land.’(4) Hope-Simpson demurred on various grounds, one of them being that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) would not let ‘Arabs’ work on its land and that ‘increasing land purchase will displace the Arabs from many parts of Palestine’. This in fact is what happened as part of a process Hope-Simpson described as the ‘extra territorialisation’ of land once purchased by the JNF and put beyond the purchase or rental by non-Jews forever.   Zionist colonists who still used the Palestinians  on the land or in workshops and factories were violating the Jewish-only labor ‘principles’ that were the corollary of the ‘principles’ governing land purchase.

At the age of 50 Ruppin and others founded the Brit Shalom movement. It was committed to ‘Jewish-Arab’ friendship but the refusal of the Palestinians to give up their rights and their land eventually forced him to conclude that negotiations would achieve nothing and that if the Zionist project was to succeed, ‘we must increase our strength and our numbers until we reach parity with the Arabs. The life or death of the Zionist movement will depend on this …. Perhaps a bitter truth but it is the truth with a capital T’. Writing in 1936 he expected this point to be reached in five to ten years. (5) Ruppin died in 1943 so was not around when not just parity but numerical superiority was achieved by expelling the bulk of the indigenous Palestinian population in 1948.  In the language of the occupier, there were 12 ‘Jewish’ and 23 ‘Arab’ ‘settlements’ in the Huleh valley by 1948.  ‘Following the establishment of the State of Israel and during the 1948 War of Independence the Arab inhabitants left the valley, moving to neighboring Arab countries’. (6)

Meron Benvenisti has put the number of villages in the region at 60 but this includes semi-permanent beduin encampments built from rushes or mud bricks. (7)  Walid Khalidi has documented how they ‘left’ and what happened to their ‘settlements’. Village after village was depopulated and destroyed before being built over by Zionist settlements. (8) All that remained after the Zionist assault through the Huleh valley was one Beduin settlement,(9) with the Zionist settlers now free to take the land left behind and harvest the crops planted by those they had expelled.

With the Palestinians gone and the state of Israel established over their heads and on their land there were no barriers to the exploitation of the Huleh valley. Beginning in 1951 it was subjected to ‘redevelopment’ that amounted to ecological vandalism on a grand scale by blundering land-hungry settler administrators. The wetlands were drained and turned into arable land, shrinking the lake to perhaps one tenth of its original size. At the time the drainage and irrigation works were seen as a brilliant engineering achievement, of which the most significant benefits were regarded as the creation of thousands of dunums of cultivable land and the eradication of malaria.  Yet it was not long before disappointment and an understanding of the damage that had been done set in. As summarized by Zohary and Hambright, while the drained peat soil proved suitable for agriculture, ‘the anticipated exceptional yields were never obtained’. (10)

Furthermore, ‘as the level of groundwater fell, air penetrated into the dried peat, enhancing microbial decomposition of organic matter. Often these processes led to uncontrollable underground fires and the formation of dangerous caverns within the peat. The weathered peat soils turned into infertile black dust. Strong winds sweeping the valley produced dust storms that caused major damage to agricultural crops. Consequently, the ground surface subsided by up to three meters in some regions and inundation of these areas during winter rains restricted cultivation in many areas. An indirect problem associated with the drying of the soils was the proliferation of field mice populations which soared and wreaked havoc on agricultural crops in the valley. Over time, farmers abandoned more and more of the valley where cultivation was no longer profitable, thereby further enhancing the rate at which these soils deteriorated’.

By 1958 this was the state of the valley described in such glowing terms by Dr. Thomson only a century before.  A unique wetlands region which had been part of the landscape for thousands of years had been mostly destroyed within the space of nine. Elsewhere in Palestine olive groves, pomegranates and citrus orchards were uprooted as part of a dual process of settlement building and the removal from the land of all traces and symbols of the Palestinian presence.  The olive and pomegranate were preeminent symbols of the ‘primitive’ Palestinian village and so had to go along with the houses. (11) Through the vindictive destruction of olive trees by settlers on the West Bank this process continues to the present day.

Along with the shrinking of Lake Huleh and the drying of the land came the destruction of flora and fauna.  The lake  had been a rich source of aquatic life, with researchers listing  ‘260 species of insects, 95 crustaceans, 30 snails and claims, 21 fishes, seven amphibians and reptiles, 131 birds and three mammals’. (12) After the drainage ‘119 animal species were lost to the region of which 37 were totally lost from Israel [sic].  Similarly, many freshwater plant species became extinct and many of the massive flocks of migratory birds that used to land in the valley found alternative feeding sites on their routes between Europe and Asia.’  Only in the 1980s was it decided to take steps to repair the damage, by flooding part of the valley in the hope of renewing something of the original bio-diversity but only a ‘small fragment of an extinct eco-system’ has  been revived.’ The painted frog with its mottled back and belly speckled with white spots belongs to an amphibian family thought to have died out 10,000 years ago until spotted in the Huleh wetlands in the 1940s.   This ‘living fossil’  was believed  to have been one of the species that were ‘lost’ when the wetlands were drained in the 1950s but two years ago a ranger saw one and now it is thought that there is a colony of hundreds.

The Huleh eco-system did not die of natural causes. It did not become ‘extinct’ because of sudden climate change or any of the other natural catastrophes that have killed off species and reshaped the surface of the planet for millennia. It was another casualty of the nakba. The Zionist colons had none of the skills that come with husbanding the land generation after generation over countless centuries.  They had to learn and their vandalism in the Huleh valley was born of their ignorance and their haste to settle and cover all traces of where the people they drove out had lived, prayed, studied and farmed and where their ancestors were buried.

Where the painted frog went as the Huleh wetlands were drained only the frog knows. Most probably, it burrowed deeper into what remained of the mud and rushes until it was safe to come out, a period of time that spanned more than 50 years. The parallel with the people is unmistakable: driven towards extinction as a people, they have survived and are waiting for the time when they also will be able to return.

– Jeremy Salt is an associate professor of Middle Eastern history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

Notes:

(1) Rev. W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book (Nelson and Sons: London, 1879).
(2) Steimatsky’s  Palestine Guide (Jerusalem:  Steinmatsky Publishing Company, n.d. , 1930s?).
(3) Arthur Ruppin, Three Decades of Palestine (Jerusalem: Schocken, 1936), pp. 207-8
(4) Alex Bein., ed., Arthur Ruppin: Memoirs, Diaries, Letters (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971)
(5) Ibid., p.320
(6) Tamar Zohary and K.David Hambright, ‘Lake Hula-Lake Agmon’, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org
(7) Meron Benvenisti, Sacred  Landscapes. The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), p.127.
(8) Walid Khalidi ed., All That Remains. The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948 (Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992), pp. 428-509 passim for the fate of Palestinian villages on the Huleh plain.
(9) Ibid, p. 131
(10) Zohary and Hambright, op. cit.
(11) Benvenisti, p.216.
(12) Ibid.

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment