This week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in US law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.
But this is really more of a technicality, because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.
Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.
Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!
The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!
One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal US government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!
This week Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,” he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.
How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.
Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that US telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.
Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are over-reacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”
This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the US if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.
The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Invasion Day, Melbourne | Photo: Tim Dunn
In Melbourne, Australia on Sunday, around 800 people marched to mark Invasion day. Other protests, actions, and cultural events were also held around the country, while national and local governments organized formal celebrations of “Australia Day.”
On January 26, 1788, the first British fleet arrived on Australian coasts, marking the beginning of the invasion of that land, and the deliberate policies of genocide, slavery, child stealing, land stealing, and discrimination against the Indigenous peoples, as well as over 500 unpunished deaths in custody.
The Melbourne Invasion Day march this year marched to the official Australia Day march and pushed aside the barricades and occupied the space. Attendees reported that those at the official march “didn’t seam to know what to do.” Some members of the Invasion Day march chatted to those in the official march and explained the history behind the date. Some activists, according to GreenLeft Weekly, reported that there was some sympathy from those in the official march, who joined the Invasion Day march instead.
“No pride in genocide,” was one of the chants of the Invasion Day march.
“Today was the best Invasion Day protest I have ever been to. There was a real feeling of Aboriginal pride and resistance,” stated march participant and Socialist Alliance councilor, Sue Bolton.
Organizers of the Invasion Day march stated that the day “is a day of mourning for us Indigenous people, but its also a day to make our voices heard, to take a stand … to demonstrate our resistance to colonization and genocide. We have never ceded our sovereignty, and remain committed to the cause of decolonization.”
According to the ABC, in Sydney 10,000 people participated in the Yabun Festival, held to celebrate 40,000 years of Indigenous culture. In inner city Sydney, around 1,000 people marched for Indigenous land rights.
Australian private and mainstream media coverage has been biased against the Invasion Day marches. The Age headlined, “Aboriginal rights protest disrupts Australia Day Parade in Melbourne” while the Herald Sun said the marches had “interrupted” and “mar(ed)” events, but did not use the same language for official Australia Day events. Other media ignored the Indigenous rights marches.
The tragedy of MH17 in which 298 people lost their lives, made the conflict in Ukraine real for many other countries. While the international community awaits the outcome of the crash investigation, speculation in the media continues to fuel the blame game. RTD travels far and wide to interview international experts on what has hindered the investigation, what procedures were needed to collect vital evidence and what might have brought down the ill-fated Boeing 777.
OCSE monitor mentions bullet holes in MH17
Original source http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/malaysia… – OCSE monitor Michael Bociurkiw mentions bullet holes in #MH17, not able to find any missile so far.
On 17 July 2014 Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over the Eastern Ukraine.
Although the precise circumstances were at that point unknown the western media were quick to blame Ukrainian “rebels”. The means by which MH17 was destroyed, the media alleged, was a surface to air BUK missile supplied to the “rebels” by Russia. For a host of reasons it was almost certainly not a BUK missile that caused the crash. The stage was set however, for a demonization of Russia in general as the alleged supplier of the missile, and President Vladimir Putin in particular. The relentless propaganda enforcing this view has continued unabated to this day, although the evidential foundation for the allegations remains at best remote.
The Russians produced an initial denial of involvement. Four days after the tragedy however, as anti-Russian hysteria was escalating to extreme levels, the Russian military held a press presentation. The fact of this presentation was barely reported in the western media. The content, more importantly, was either ignored or misrepresented.
The Russians disclosed, inter alia, their radar and satellite data. These data showed that MH17 had been diverted from its scheduled route so that it flew directly over the war zone in eastern Ukraine. They asked for an explanation but one has never been forthcoming. These data also showed that MH17 had been shadowed during its last minutes by two SU25 fighter jets, a model flown by the Ukrainian air force. Again the Russians asked why this had happened.
The main response was a claim that the SU25 could not fly above 10,000 metres. Not only is this untrue, as an examination of military resources readily demonstrates, but the Wikipedia entry on the SU25 had been altered days before the shoot down to claim that the SU25’s operating ceiling was only 7000 metres. Again the western media ignored this obvious alarm bell.
The Russians further disclosed that at the precise time of the shoot down an American spy satellite was directly overhead the scene and would have recorded the sequence of events. The Russians invited the Americans to share these data with the official investigation that had been launched, but to date the Americans have failed to do so. Again, the western media are singularly incurious as to the reason for this lack of cooperation.
Under IATA Rules, the parties responsible for the investigation would be the Malaysians, as owners of the plane and home country of the airline, and the Ukrainians over whose territory the atrocity occurred. It was the Dutch however, who took the lead role, citing two facts: the plane had departed from Amsterdam; and they had suffered the largest number of their nationals as victims. The Malaysians were initially excluded from the inquiry for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained. They were finally invited to join the Joint Inquiry on 2 December 2014.
Instead, the initial inquiry group consisted of Ukraine, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium. The Australians suffered the third largest loss of life but had no standing to be one of the investigatory nations, and certainly less of a claim than the Malaysians. The Australian Prime Minister and some other politicians had been at the forefront of making extreme allegations against Russia and President Putin. Why Belgium was included remains a mystery.
On 8 August 2014 these four investigating nations signed an agreement that the results of the investigation would not be published unless all four countries agreed. This gave one of the prime suspects in the atrocity, Ukraine, an effective veto over any investigations result that attributed blame to them. This is an astonishing situation and probably without precedent in modern air crash investigations.
More significantly however, is that the existence of this secret agreement was not announced by the Australian government, nor to the best of my knowledge has any report about the existence of the agreement or its extraordinary terms, been published in any mainstream publication.
The Dutch magazine Elsevier, under Dutch Freedom of Information laws, sought a copy of the agreement. On 19 November they announced that the request had been refused on the grounds that it “could endanger the relations with other countries involved.”
An Australian citizen (name redacted) wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development (Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss) seeking a copy of the agreement. By letter dated 15 October 2014 the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) replied on behalf of the Minister, refusing the requester a copy of the agreement as its contents were “classified.”
The present writer wrote to DFAT on 21 August 2014 seeking a copy of the agreement of 8 August 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act. The department declaimed responsibility and said that they had passed my request on to the Attorney-General’s Department. This was odd, but even odder was advice from the Attorney General that my request had been passed in turn to the Australian Federal Police who were the responsible body.
This must be the first time in Australian history since 1901 that negotiations and agreements between sovereign nations had been conducted on Australia’s behalf by the Federal Police.
On 2 December 2014 the Australian Federal Police finally gave their decision on the FOI request. It was declined on the basis that disclosure of the document (which they acknowledged existed) under section 33 would, or could reasonably be expected to, cause damage to:
(i) the security of the Commonwealth; or
(ii) the defence of the Commonwealth; or
(iii) the international relations of the Commonwealth.
The refusal also relied upon section 37(1)(a) of the Act which exempts a document if it could reasonably be said to prejudice the conduct of an investigation.
Thirdly, the Federal Police relied upon section 37(1) (c) where disclosure could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of a person.
The fourth ground of refusal was under section 37(2)(b) which exempts disclosure where it might reasonably be expected to prejudice an investigation by disclosing methods of investigation or detection of unlawful activity.
In the circumstances of this case it is very difficult to see how any of those provisions would apply. The agreement, it should be remembered, is to give any one of the four investigating countries a veto over publication of the results. A final report would be entitled to withhold details of the investigation that would truly prejudice matters of national security.
An investigation of a crash of an aeroplane is however, carried out under IATA Rules and its procedures are well established and well documented. Whose life or safety might be endangered by releasing the agreement is unspecified.
One is left with the conclusion that 33 (iii) is the real ground and the “international relations” referred to are the difficulty Australia and other nations have got themselves into by prematurely blaming Russia when all of the emerging evidence points squarely at Ukraine.
Given the existence of this agreement it is difficult to see how anyone can have any confidence in whatever final report is published by the Dutch. The preliminary report was careful not to apportion blame or even state the cause of the crash other than to say that the plane was hit a by a large number of “high velocity objects” which were undefined.
Another major question is why have the mainstream media kept up a barrage of misinformation up to and including the recent G20 debacle, when they know, or ought to know that the investigation is a sham?
It is also difficult to see how the continued demonization of Russia and Mr Putin for manifestly geo-political reasons (and the probable reasons for the shoot down in the first place) represents any form of justice for the families of the 298 victims and in particular the 37 who were Australian citizens or residents.
It is clear that the Government’s professed support for Security Council Resolution 2116 (2014) for a “full, thorough, and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines” is no more than window dressing for a much wider geopolitical agenda.
James O’Neill is a former academic who has practiced as a barrister for the past 30 years. He has a special interest in international human rights issues. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Recently Israel’s department for her colonies of Australia and Canada dispatched new “anti-terror” legislation which will make it illegal for Australian and Canadian subjects of the Israeli Empire to “condone” so called “terrorism”.
In the above video Australia’s Zionist Attorney-General, George Brandis, can be viewed enabling such farcical anti-free-speech laws to be foisted upon the people of Australia without oversight, by refusing to answer critical questions from senators about the controversial legislation.
That Canada and Australia are governed out of the same colonial office in Tel Aviv was suggested when it was revealed that Prime Ministers John Howard and Stephen Harper had been given the same pro-Iraq-war script to read in 2003 (see below).
Switzerland is under diplomatic pressure from Israel, the US, Canada and Australia, which are trying to prevent an international conference in Geneva from taking place in mid-December on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, Haaretz reports.
Delegations from nearly 200 countries are expected to head to Geneva to discuss the situation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Yet, according to Haaretz, Israeli and Western diplomats are ready to go for broke to prevent the gathering from taking place.
Switzerland, as the main sponsor of the summit, is bearing the brunt of diplomatic pressure from all sides.
Israeli authorities told the media outlet that Palestinians and Arab states are also pressing Swiss officials to send out letters of invitation to the conference within a matter of days, the Israeli daily reported on Wednesday.
It was in early April when Israel announced plans of constructing 700 new houses in occupied East Jerusalem, a move that pushed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ask 15 international conventions to join them in the name of the Palestinian state.
One of those was the Fourth Geneva Convention (signed 1949, came into force 1950), which specifically addresses protection of civilians in war zones and territories under military occupation.
Washington finally accepted that its efforts to extend peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been torpedoed. Several weeks later, Palestinians and the Arab League sent an official request to Switzerland to hold an international conference of the Fourth Geneva Convention signatory states on the issues of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, together with the damage caused by Israel’s armed forces to civilians in Gaza.
The last time the signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention gathered in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in 2001, after the outbreak of the second intifada. That conference was boycotted by Israel and the United States.
After that summit there have been four fruitless attempts to gather the Fourth Geneva Convention on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Even the bloody Israeli military Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in 2009 failed to raise broad international support for holding such a conference, according to the Swiss Foreign Ministry at the time.
The necessity to call the new conference has been not evident this time, too, so Swiss diplomats asked every Fourth Geneva Convention signatory separately whether the time had come to hold a summit.
What the Swiss diplomats have proposed is a three-hour conference at an ambassadorial level, no discussions and no media coverage except for a final press statement. The conference is set to be focused on implementation of the international humanitarian law in troubled Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“We made it clear we didn’t want a political event or debate club, or a conference that would blame or criticize one of the sides,” a Swiss diplomat said.
However small the scale of the proposed event is, Israel strongly objected to it. Israeli diplomats reportedly conducted negotiations in Bern and Geneva, trying to persuade Swiss counterparts to call off the initiative and threatening to boycott it anyway.
“They told us that holding the conference would help a one-sided Palestinian move intended to make Israel look bad and attack it in an international forum,” the Swiss diplomat said.
The US and Canada told Switzerland they are going to boycott the conference, too.
“We strongly oppose the convening of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions and have made our opposition unmistakably clear,” a spokesman for the US State Department, Edgar Vasquez, told Haaretz.
It is true that the conference will have no authority to make any binding decisions, yet its work could engender further international criticism of Israel’s settlement policy on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Besides that, once Israeli diplomats received an updated draft of the conference’s proposed contents, they found out that the updated draft text had been phrased in a politicized way, directly naming Israel and going into detail on the issue of West Bank settlements.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly been ringing colleagues around the globe, attempting to talk them into declaring a boycott to the conference. Part of this work has been delegated to Israeli ambassadors worldwide.
With all due support on the part of the US, Canada and Australia, these efforts are likely to be in vain, and the Swiss diplomacy is decisive to go on with the plan and announce the conference officially soon.
The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits harming those uninvolved in a conflict, be they civilians, wounded soldiers or POWs, as well as obliging the occupying side to maintain human rights and decent living conditions of an occupied civilian population.
Israel joined the convention, but has never ratified it legislatively. The Israeli government regards the West Bank and East Jerusalem as ‘disputed’, not occupied, areas, therefore considering Israeli settlements as not violating the treaty.
Perhaps you thought that the security at the Atlanta or Newark, or Dallas airports is bad, obnoxious, the worst in the world… Think twice… Of course it all began there, in the United States, from the first glory days of that hypocritical and deranged “War On Terror”: the humiliation of people, especially Arabs, especially Muslims, especially all those who are not white, but eventually everybody, at least to some degree.
But it did not just stay there. The allies joined in almost immediately, and then the ‘client’ states jumped on the bandwagon, competing in tactics and strategies of how most to humiliate those confused and helpless passengers, by censoring internet sites, digging into emails, monitoring mobile phone communications, and relentlessly spying on both citizens and foreigners.
I have travelled all over the world, to some of the most imaginable and unimaginable places. All the while being monitored and harassed, threatened and periodically attacked, even physically, I have also spread many counter-punches: I have observed, recorded, and published, who does what to whom, who is the most diligent, methodical, and ruthless bully?
Unsurprisingly, the toughest surveillance comes from Western allies and ‘client’ states, all over the world – from places that Washington, London and Paris routinely call ‘thriving democracies’.
Countries that have collapsed socially strive to impress their Western neo-colonial masters, by imposing increasingly harsh security and surveillance measures against their own people. At the same time, they are full-heartedly and enthusiastically signing up to the bizarre, ‘War on Terror’. It gives the local rulers many privileges. If they play it right, their gross human rights violations, and even their killing of the opposition, is not scrutinized.
When I recently worked in South Africa, I was told that the country is now one of the freest on earth. It has nothing to hide and it is not particularly afraid of scrutiny.
“You can photograph here, whatever you want, and nobody will tell you anything”, many of my South African friends explained to me, in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, as well as by those living abroad.
It is true. In fact, after few days there, you can easily forget that there are any restrictions, like a ban on filming or photographing police stations or navy ships. Nobody would ever stop you from taping, for instance, battleships at the Simon’s Town base.
South Africa is a proud BRICS country, a left-wing beacon on the African continent and, together with neighboring Zimbabwe, a target of an aggressive negative Western propaganda campaign.
Just as in South Africa, not once was I stopped from filming or photographing in Zimbabwe. And not once was I intimidated, harassed or humiliated by their immigration or customs at the airports.
That is in stark contrast with the West’s allies on the continent – Rwanda, Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Ivory Coast or Senegal, to name just a few.
It is not just that ‘everything is forbidden’ there, but ‘violators’ can easily be arrested, harassed, even ‘disappeared’.
When making my film, “Rwanda Gambit”, about Paul Kagame’s monstrous regime, and about the genocide it had been committing (on behalf of the Western powers) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I tried to film with a small Leica, at the border between Rwanda and DR Congo, at the Gisenyi/Goma crossing. Within a few seconds later, an enormous Congolese soldier grabbed me and began pulling me towards the border post. I have been arrested in Goma once before, and I knew what it amounts to – what it is to rot in the underground intelligence bunker cut off from the outside world.
I was almost certain that, that time, I would not make it out alive. And so I screamed for help in the direction of the Rwandese soldiers who were watching the scene from the other side of the borderline. It is not that they were really eager to help, but the disappearance of a US citizen, an investigative journalist at that, would be an extra, and unnecessary ‘annoyance’. And so they went to work, grabbing my free hand and pulling me back towards Rwanda. The enormous Congolese man in the end lost, and I survived.
All of this over just a few shots! Nobody would ever even think about preventing me from filming on, say the border between Argentina and Chile, or Vietnam and China!
In Rwanda itself, absolutely everything is forbidden, and everybody snitches on everybody. It is forbidden to photograph the streets, the hospitals, and museums, even the genocide memorial! It is strictly banned to photograph or to film their villages, In order to film military installations or prisons, I had to attach a Drift camera to the undercarriage of my car.
In Rwanda and Uganda, everything is under the surveillance. Walls have ears and eyes, so to speak. It is not like surveillance in London, done with high-tech cameras (although these are also beginning to appear); people simply spy on each other, at an unimaginable rate, and the security apparatus appears to be present absolutely everywhere, omnipresent.
But for the West, that is all fine. Both Rwanda and Uganda are plundering DR Congo of Coltan and uranium. The 10 million lives lost there, appears to be just a token price, and the horrors that are occurring in these countries are just some tiny inconvenient episodes not even worth mentioning in the mainstream press.
Security is ‘needed’, in order to maintain ‘order’ – our order.
The humiliation of travellers at Kigali, Kampala or Nairobi airports is indescribable. It is not about security at all, but about a power game, and plain sadism. In Kigali, there are at least 8 ‘security checks’, in Nairobi 6 to 7, depending on the ‘mood’ at the airport.
Three years ago, on behalf of the West (mainly US, UK and Israel), Kenya attacked the oil-rich part of Somalia, where it is now committing atrocities. Its state apparatus also perpetrated several attacks against its own civilian targets, blaming all of them on the al-Qaida linked movement, al-Shabaab. It was done in order to justify the ‘security measures’.
Now there are metal detectors in front of every department store, hotel or office-building in Nairobi. When I, earlier this year, photographed the entrance to a prison, I was literally kidnapped, thrown into the jail and informed: “We will treat you as a terrorist, as an al-Shabaab member, unless you prove that you are not.”
The slightest argument with the Kenyan military forces, or with the corrupt and outrageously arrogant police, leads to detention. And there are cases of people being harassed, sexually molested, even tortured and killed in detention.
The security forces in East Africa cooperate, as the security forces cooperated in the dark years of the fascist military dictatorships in South America.
As I was walking with my friends through Kampala, a huge lone figure slowly walked towards us.
“That is one of the butchers and he comes from Kenya”, I was told. “He tortures and kills people that pose a danger to this regime… He does things no local person would dare to do. Our countries exchange the most sadistic interrogators; ours go to Kenya, Kenyans come here.”
I recalled that even Paul Kagame, now the President of Rwanda, used to serve as the Chief of the Military Intelligence in Uganda.
Yes, the Newark and Houston airport security is bad, and the surveillance in the West is outrageous, but it is being taken to insane extremes in the ‘colonies’.
In Djibouti, which is basically a military enclave of the French Legionnaires, the US air force and other European armed forces (Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea and Ethiopia are all just a stone-throw away), I once complained at the airport that my passport was being checked twice within a distance of 10 feet. As a result, a huge soldier grabbed me, tore my shirt, threw me against the wall, and then smashed my professional camera against a concrete wall. All this happened in front of the horrified passengers of Kenya Airways. That, I found somehow intolerable. It pissed me off so much that I got up, ready to confront the soldier, no matter what. But the horrified voice of a Kenya Airways’ manager stopped me: “Sir, please leave it at this… They can just kill you, and nothing will happen to them. They can do anything they want!”
In Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), which is yet another French military dependency, and generally a loyal servant to Western interests in West Africa, ‘security’ is the main excuse for keeping undesirable elements, like myself, away from the country. Earlier this year I embarked on a journey there to investigate the chocolate empire activities of the Ukrainian President Poroshenko. Ivory Coast is the biggest producer of cocoa in the world, and ‘the Chocolate King’ is apparently involved in many unsavory practices there.
The authorities were tipped off in advance that I was coming, and the charade began from the moment I landed. I was ordered to produce my yellow fever certificate, which was inside my bag. As I began searching for it, I was roughly ushered into a small room full of sick people quarantine – and informed that I was to be vaccinated again. I found the certificate just a few seconds later, and went out to present it to the authorities. “Back!” they shouted at me. Wait inside for your turn, and tell the doctor that you have found it. The wait turned out to be 2 hours long. Later, I was told that a visa on arrival is no longer available. For days I had to go to the immigration office, from morning to the evening. For days I was fingerprinted and photographed. I clearly saw that wires were disconnected from their computer, every time my turn came round. “Your fingers are not good for fingerprinting! Go to the hospital and bring a certificate that they are not good!” Going there costs US$100 a time, and another wasted day in Abidjan. The hospital said that my fingers were just fine. I had to bribe them to write that they were not.
The US embassy was clearly aware of what was happening. They even sent an officer to ‘assist me’. I showed him that the wires had been pulled out from the computer. “We cannot interfere in other country’s internal affairs”, he explained.
Then, on the last day, when my visa was finally issued, a lady from the US embassy whispered into the phone: “Well, if you write what you do, you must be ready for the consequences”. ‘Honest person’, I thought.
I am almost ‘embarrassed’ to write this, but I have driven on many occasions, all over China (PRC), around at least 8,000 kilometers, but have never been prevented from photographing or filming anything. I have hours and hours of footage and thousands of photographs from many corners of the nation.
A stark, almost grotesque contrast is India, the ‘largest democracy on earth’, according to the Western assessment.
There, nothing is allowed. Forget about filming the battleships near Mumbai (even the Soviet Union does not care – they would put their battleships on the Neva river in Leningrad during celebrations, for everyone to admire and to photograph them, which I did, as a child, when visiting my grandmother). You cannot even photograph that idiot Clive, inside the Victoria Monument in Calcutta.
In India, surveillance is everywhere. It is the perfect police state.
You need a local SIM card in Beijing? Even in the middle of the night, you just go to any kiosk and buy one, no questions asked, no paperwork.
In India, to get a SIM card is one tremendous saga, monstrous bureaucracy, spiced by demands for all sorts of documents and information.
You want to use the internet at New Delhi airport? You have to provide your name, your telephone number, and your email address! I invent names, like Antonio Mierdez or Amorsita Lopez; sometimes it works, sometimes not. In China, you just stick the front page of a passport onto a scanner, and get password within ten seconds. In South Africa, there is not even need for that – the internet is open and free.
And then, those legendary, those epic security checks in India!
The Indian state appears to be thoroughly paranoid, scared of anyone trying to document the reality.
It has developed an allergy to writers, investigative journalists, film-makers and photographers, especially those that happen to be ‘independent’, therefore ‘unpredictable’ and potentially capable of challenging the clichés fabricated in Washington, London and New Delhi, that depict the country as the ‘largest democracy on earth’.
To fight against such threatening elements, the Indian regime, which consists of the moneyed elites, feudal lords, religious fanatics and the military brass, have become pathologically obsessed with security, with surveillance, with relentless checking on things, and people. I have never witnessed such security zeal, even in countries that are under a direct threat from the West: such as Cuba or China.
Even domestic flights in India, from smaller cities like Varanasi or Jaipur, require an entire chain of security steps. Your passport or ID is checked on at least 10 occasions. As you enter the airport, a few steps later, before you are allowed to check in, when you are checking in, as you are entering the departure area, when you are in the departure area (that one is grand – you are forced to step on a platform and everything is checked), when you are entering the departure gate and when you are leaving it for the plane door. Sometimes there are additional checks. It is all, mostly, very rude.
In Turkey, everything is censored. From my official website to ‘Sitemeter’, even the Hong Kong MTR and Beijing and Shenzhen subway maps (maybe just in case someone wants to compare those pathetic subway developments in Istanbul and Ankara, to those in China).
When I called the guest relations supervisor at the four star ‘Kalyon Hotel’ in Istanbul, where I was staying in November 2014, I was told that she “does not know what internet provider is used by the hotel”, but that censorship is actually part of a “security program”, which in turn is part of “the hotel policy”, or vice versa.
She actually kindly suggested that I bring my Mac ‘downstairs’, so the IT manager could “do something with it”. I very politely, declined, remembering an experience two years earlier, at the Sheraton in Istanbul, where the ‘IT manager’ actually installed some spy wear, which totally and immediately corrupted my computer, my email addresses, turning my operating system into something that has since been insisting on functioning almost exclusively in the Turkish language. When I complained over the phone, he, the IT manager, went upstairs, kicked my door, rolled up his sleeves and he let me know that this matter could be settled most effectively, outside the hotel, most likely in the street.
It may sound bizarre, but in the countries literally besieged by hostility from the Empire, like Cuba or even North Korea, security appears to be much more lax than in the nations where the elites are terrified of their own poor majority.
I don’t remember going through any security, in order to enter a theatre or a hotel in Havana. In Pyongyang, North Korea, there are no metal detectors at entrances to shopping centers, or subway stations.
It goes without saying that one is monitored more closely by the security cameras and armies of cops in London or New York, than in Hanoi or Beijing.
The most common mode of modern communication – the mobile phone – is regulated much less or monitored in Vietnam, China or Venezuela, than in India, Japan, or Europe. In fact, Japan recently even discontinued the sale of pre-paid SIM cards; every number has to be meticulously registered and issued only after signing an elaborate contract.
As I keep reporting, the world is full of stereotypes and clichés. Countries are not judged by rational analyses and comparisons, but by chimeras created by commercial mass media, especially those in the West.
Three countries in Latin America are still living the nightmare of the ‘Monroe Doctrine’: Honduras, Paraguay and Colombia. In Paraguay and Honduras, the West basically managed to overthrow progressive governments and installed fascist regimes, not unlike those that reigned all over the continent during Ronald Reagan and Otto Reich’s days. Colombia has been, for decades, a US ‘client’ state.
Surveillance in all three countries is monstrous, and so are gangs and death-squads.
But you would not guess it. If you read Western reports, including those produced by Reporters Without Borders, you would think that the true villains are actually countries like Venezuela and Cuba. But then, you look closely, and see who organizations like Reporters Without Borders are playing with… And surprise-surprise: you will discover names like Otto Reich among them!
When Thailand, another staunch ally of the West and a shamelessly servile state, began photographing people at the airports and borders, I asked an immigration officer in Bangkok, where all the data goes. She answered, without any hesitation: “To your country!” That is, to the United States.
Malaysia and its immigration used to be quite different – relaxed and easy. But then, earlier this year, Obama came aboard his diplomatic tank. I landed in Kuala Lumpur just an hour after his Air Force One had touched town. What did I encounter? A fingerprinting machine at KLIA! Obama left, but the machines are still there. To spy on people, to fingerprint and photograph them, is apparently one of the conditions of being a good friend of the West. That would never have happened in the era of Dr. M!
Even Japan now photographs and fingerprints people arriving from abroad! Japan where one can even easily and freely photograph combat air force bases (some of them, including those in Okinawa, have viewing terraces for tourists, all around them) is now also spying on people! That is, obviously, one of the rules laid down by the gang that is ruling the world.
Of course the Western allies of the United States are not much better.
Do you still remember how Europeans were bitching about having to take of their shoes at US airports? What has happened now? They do it, without protesting, at their own airports, in London, Paris, Munich, everywhere.
In fact, the most repulsive security I have ever encountered in the West was at CDG, in Paris. I was taking a night flight on Asiana Airlines, from Paris to Seoul. The flight was full of Korean tourists in their seventies and eighties. The tables were set up, sadistically, far away from the X-ray machines, so the poor old people had to carry their bags and belongings quite a long distance. Security personnel were yelling at them, insulting them. I protested, on behalf of the Koreans. A tough French dude came up to me and began insulting me. I asked for his name. He turned around and mooned me, in public. He took down his pants and showed me his hairy ass. “My name is Nicolas Sarkozy”, he said. In a way he was right…
Once I arrived very early in the morning, in Darwin, Australia, after working in East Timor. My electronic travel authorization was for ‘tourism’. The unfriendly immigration officer was clearly on her power trip: “What are you going to do in Australia?” I told her I would be meeting some of my academic friends in Sydney.” “That is work, academic exchange!” she barked at me. “You requested a tourist permit.” I explained that we would just have dinner together, perhaps get pissed”. That was the typical Aussie-type of tourism, I thought. The interrogation began and went on for 2 hours. As the sun was rising, I had had enough: “Then deport me!” Of course she did not. Humiliating people was simply a form of entertainment, or how to kill a couple of boring hours. Or how to show people where they really belong!
How free and proud one should feel entering that great world of Western democracies!
One has to lie, of course. Once I was held for 4 hours by the Canadian immigration services, entering from the US by car. Why? I told the truth, that I was coming to interview Roma (Gypsy) people fleeing from persecution in the Czech Republic (a staunch ally of the West).
Leaving Israel is beyond anything that I have ever experienced elsewhere in the world. Especially once Mossad realized that I had come to trash Israel for its treatment of Palestinian people, and for its foreign policy.
We commonly end up discussing my grandparents, my books, and my films. I have already commented: no woman in my life, not even my own mother, wanted to know so much about all the details of my existence, as Mossad agents at the airport! And none of them has ever listened so attentively!
I am totally exhausted from all that freedom given to me by the West and its allies.
My email addresses are corrupted and I don’t even know which publication or television network is actually receiving my stuff. There is absolutely no way to tell. I have no idea which immigration service will screw me next, and how.
I have already got buggered about by the security in Colombia, Canada, Indonesia, Kenya, Djibouti, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Kenya, the US (entering from Mexico), Bahrain and Australia… I can hardly remember, there is much more…
It is all turning into a game of Russian roulette.
My African, Indian, Arab and Latin American friends and colleagues are, of course, going through much deeper shit.
The question that I keep asking myself is very simple: “What are they all so afraid of?” I don’t mean the US and Europe – those are control freaks and they simply don’t want to lose their control of the world… There, it is all transparent and clear.
But it is not as clear elsewhere: what about those regimes in India and Turkey, in Honduras and Kenya, in Indonesia (you have to show your passport or the national ID, even to board a long distance train!) and Bahrain?
What are they fighting for or against? Who is their enemy?
They are fighting against their own people, aren’t they?
Their ‘War on Terror’ is their war against the majority. The majority are the terror. The West is the guarantee of the status quo.
They – the elites and their masters in the West – watch in panic that in many parts of the world, the people are actually winning.
That is why the security in the West’s ‘client’ states is on the increase. The war against the people goes on. This war is one of the last and brutal spasms of feudalism and imperialism.
Check everything and spy on everybody, so nothing changes, nothing moves. But things are moving, and fast! And all those lies, and surveillance cameras, fingerprints and the ‘disappearing’ of people will not be able to prevent progress. They will never manage to smash the people’s dreams of living in societies free of fear!
On Thursday, the lawyer of a Sydney man accused of plotting a terror attack said a phone call at the heart of the case was mistranslated.
“There are inaccuracies in the translation … there is apparently one glaring error, which goes to the absolute crux of whether this man is acquiescing to be involved in a terrorist act,” the accused man’s barrister, Winston Terracini QC stated, according to The Australian newspaper.
Police have alleged that the accused, Omarjan Azari conspired to carry out the attack with accused Islamic State group sympathizer, Mohammad Baryalei.
The prosecution told the court they are still analyzing other evidence, but Terracini claimed police have little else against Azara.
“It seems in fact there was only one phone call, despite previous claims there are others,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Azari, was arrested in September, during a raid touted by law enforcement as the largest counter-terrorism raid of its kind in Australia’s history.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated the raids were made in response to a “serious risk” that the Islamic State group was planning to behead random members of the public in Sydney.
At the time, local media carried images of police seizing a sword from one home, with the Daily Mail printing the headline, “Was this the lethal sword terror cell planned to use to behead an innocent victim on a Sydney street?”
According to the sword’s owner Mustafa Dirani, the answer is no. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald in October, Dirani said the sword is a common Shiite household ornament, and it’s made of plastic.
Lang Hancock, father of Australia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, offers sterilisation as a solution to the “Aboriginal problem”
Australian newscast from 1984 discussing the ‘Aboriginal problem’. In this instance, Lang Hancock offers sterilisation as a solution to ‘the problem’.
The news and interview footage in this clip is from a relatively recent time in Australian history. The openness with which sterilisation is proposed as a solution to the Aboriginal problem — especially the half-castes who are not considered legitimate Aborigines — frames the way in which the Australian public felt justified in having such discussions publicly. Such opinions are very recent, and still surface in race discussions on the ongoing distinction between ‘true Aborigines’ and ‘hybrid’ Aborigines.
This clip shows footage of three men being interviewed and expressing extreme racist views about Indigenous Australians. The interviewees are mining magnate ‘Lang’ Hancock, a town mayor and a spokesperson for the Queensland Graziers Association. Aboriginal activist Mick Miller, the writer and narrator of the film from which this clip has been taken, speaks towards the end of the clip over footage of the Comalco Bauxite mine at Weipa in Queensland. Miller reports that multinational companies have not paid royalties nor compensated Indigenous people for mining on their land.
Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.
Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”. Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished Royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.
Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.
Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.
Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO – then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”
Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. … a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”
Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally”. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.
Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, ‘The Crimes of Patriots‘, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige… Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.
When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors – described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.
The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually de-coding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”
On 10 November, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.
Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.
On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Australia has passed a dreadful “anti-terror” law that not only allows the authorities to monitor the entire Internet in that country with a single warrant, but also threatens 10 years of jail time for anyone who “recklessly” discloses information that relates to a “special intelligence operation.” But what exactly will that mean in practice? Elizabeth Oshea, writing in the Overland journal, has put together a great article fleshing things out. Here’s her introduction:
The parliament has passed legislation that permits the Attorney General to authorise certain activities of ASIO and affiliates as ‘special intelligence operations’. We can only assume that ASIO will seek such authorisation when its operatives plan to break the criminal or civil law — the whole point of authorising an operation as a special intelligence operation is that participants will be immune from the consequences of their unlawfulness. It will also be a criminal act to disclose information about these operations.
So the Australian government can designate activities of its spy services as “special intelligence operations,” which may well be illegal, and then it becomes a criminal act to disclose anything about those operations, however bad they are. Indeed, that even seems to include operations that result in death, as Oshea explains in one of her examples of what could happen under the new law:
A botched operation is conducted that results in the death of an innocent bystander (credit this suggestion to the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor). Note that if a person with three children dies as a result of a failure to take reasonable care, her family will be unable to make a claim for the cost of raising her dependents. If she is maimed but not killed, she will be unable to make a claim for the cost of her medical care, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising her dependents.
That’s a hypothetical case, but Oshea also lists a number of incidents that have already occurred, but which are likely to be covered by the new law — and would thus become impossible to write about. Here are a couple of them, with links to the real-life cases:
Agents and officers raid a couple in their home and hold them captive at gunpoint for an hour, only leaving when they discovered they were at the wrong address. The couple will have no entitlement to compensation for any property or personal damage arising from imprisonment, trespass and assault.
Agents kidnap and falsely imprison a young medical student. They attempt to coerce answers from him, making threats that go beyond what is permitted by the relevant search warrant.
There’s more of the same, listing previously-reported incidents that would probably be censored in future. The post also explores legislative proposals that are equally disturbing:
The parliament is considering laws that will punish people with life imprisonment for a range of new offences associated with ‘subverting society’ (which is a component of the new definition of ‘engaging in hostile activities’). The law contains a defence of advocacy, protest, dissent or industrial action, but it is very unclear how these would be applied.
Here’s the kind of thing that might get you life imprisonment in Australia in the future:
Leaking materials taken from government information systems that demonstrate serious wrongdoing (as per Manning or Snowden).
Organising and engaging in denial of service attacks – the online equivalent of a sit in – against government websites, such as that of the President, Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Stock Exchange.
There’s also an explanation of what data retention might mean for the public. All in all, it’s a valuable guide to some of the seriously bad stuff that Australia is doing. Let’s just hope that other countries don’t take it as a blueprint.