Chants for bread and social justice didn’t emerge out of the January 25, 2011 revolution. Long before 2011, a strong protest movement existed against the economic policies of former President Mubarak and his regime, which gained momentum in 2006 through the protests and strikes of labor workers in Mahalla al-Kubra.
Nadeem Mansour, director of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), speaks to Mada Masr about the challenges facing the labor movement in Egypt and the battle for bread and social justice.
Mada Masr: Why do you think demands for social justice were masked by an identity battle post-January 25, 2011?
Nadeem Mansour: My work is still about the struggle for bread, social justice and the minimum wage, but after January 25, political organizations — the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and liberal groups — used the media to wage a very public battle over identity politics that masked this fight to some extent. Those who chanted for social rights in 2011 were not able to achieve their aims for numerous reasons — they didn’t have parties to speak for them, nor a media interested in propagating their ideals. Private media in Egypt is owned almost entirely by businessmen, who often have personal interests that are in conflict with labor movements.
At the ECESR, we have a monitor for economic and social protests. We’ve noticed that many protests over the last four years have had economic and social demands, and there have been a lot of them. In 2013, for example, the number of protests exceeded 5000. Our role is to support these demands. Social justice is the key to making any real change, and to all of the problems facing Egyptian society today. For example, terrorism will only be confronted and stability brought about by ensuring structural and social inequalities are addressed.
MM: How has the absence of political support for economic and social rights affected your work at the center?
NM: Support of the poor and marginalized has never received much genuine political interest. Such attention fluctuates according to the political climate. Part of our role as an entity that offers legal, research and media services, and supports syndicates and local communities, is to help people find solutions to their problems on a local level, and then ensuring attention is given to their problems more widely.
Take the case of the minimum wage, as an example. Before we started the campaign and filed the lawsuit, the issue was not even a matter of discussion. The last minimum wage was set in 1982, as far as I remember, and it was around LE34. The campaign — both research and online — was initiated in partnership with workers, as there were no independent trade unions or syndicates at the time. We succeeded in raising the minimum wage from LE34 to LE400, and then to LE700 after the revolution. Now the minimum wage stands at LE1200, and we are still demanding its increase. By setting the minimum wage as a revolutionary demand, it became a public issue, not just one concerning workers.
We are also interested in working more on specific cases, such as the issue of the Misr Shebin al-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company [the country’s largest textile company, based in Mahalla], which was sold to an Indian investor who already owned some of its competitors. He bought it illegally at a cheap price in order to destroy its equipment and decrease production and thus competition. This case prompted the government to issue a law protecting contracts, which we believe is unconstitutional and have challenged in court.
We partnered with a group of workers and farmers in 2012, when the constitution was being revised, to issue a document, “Workers and farmers write the constitution.” While the conflict over the civil or Islamic identity of the state continued, and there were many calls for workers and farmers to be educated about their rights, we decided to go and ask them about what they thought these rights should be. We went to 22 governorates and we talked with thousands of people. We put them together in a legal document and ended up with something similar to the international Covenant on Economic and Social Rights in its relation to health, work and water. This is part of our work, empowering local communities to make decisions that impact on their own lives.
MM: What about the syndicates and unions for workers?
NM: The syndicates and unions are weak because they are part of a nascent movement that is also facing attacks from many directions, and lacks organizational capacity. Additionally, the strength of these organizations is closely related to that of local communities and their capacity to mobilize and sustain action.
The question is, can these problems be solved by uniform state action, or do they require a decentralized approach?
The economic and social crisis in Egypt is partly due to corruption and government bureaucracy. Attempts at reform often happen in a very centralized manner, whereas capacity building has to be conducted locally.
There are between 1500 and 3000 syndicates, and the union’s [Federation of Independent Trade Unions] capacity for representation is limited. Also, there is no legal framework to structure their work, meaning the right to strike is not protected.
The syndicates are weak right now, and consequently so is the union. The ability to mobilize in the public domain is difficult in Egypt currently, and the attention of the public is focused on political parties and activists. But the attack on syndicates is much fiercer.
MM: How would you describe this attack?
NM: Workers face many problems, including: Dismissal, lack of financial rights, penalties against striking workers, threats, jail, physical assaults, torture and death — in extreme cases. The Protest Law also applies to workers, and is often enforced more vigorously. We have workers who are currently being tried for going on strike. Over the last 10 years, Egypt has developed a strong strike movement. The public mobilization on Jan 25 and June 30 were related to strikes over economic and social issues.
The entire movement is not often suppressed, as it is so vast, but smaller attacks are waged. During Morsi’s term in office, workers at the Portland Company in Alexandria were attacked by police dogs, and some were thrown from the second floor of the building, leading to severe injuries.
Just a few days ago, we were able to secure the release of a worker who criticized the administration of his employer on Facebook and is being investigated for it. Such attacks are often arbitrary, so we try to raise the profile of them in the media as much as we can.
Violence and the interference of the security services in the public domain have reached levels we haven’t witnessed in the last 10 years. The general climate is one of fear.
In one incident, a private company ended negotiations with its workers after military intelligence got involved. This is documented in the company’s official records.
MM: How do you deal with legislative obstacles to your work?
NM: We have strong objections to the current law regulating the work of civil society and against various drafts of the newly proposed law. The state is attempting to restrict rights-based work without understanding this will hinder democratic reform.
The Center is registered according to the law. We are not an association, but a legal services company, providing consultancy on legal and economic matters. We are a legal office and as such pay the appropriate taxes and have the required documents. Our work is transparent and open.
We are, however, interested in the law governing non-governmental organizations, because we are interested in the ways people organize and in supporting this locally and nationally. We want a law that supports activities and solidarity work. If I’m a legal firm that wants to provide free services, I should be able to do so. Why am I being dealt with as an association in this case?
MM: When and why did you decide to work in human rights?
NM: I began work as a trainee researcher at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in 2008. I then started the ECESR with Khalid Ali and two other colleagues in 2009.
My interest in rights stems from my study of political economies, which focused on the relationship between the state, local communities and the labor movement. In human rights centers, there are many opportunities for young researchers to expand and develop their ideas.
Many people benefit from our legal services that wouldn’t have access to them otherwise. This motivates me to continue. Our work builds on that of many other generations and organizations. The public domain expanded dramatically after the revolution, enabling rights work to gain ground and the number of organizations dedicated to it to increase. The scale of such work was much more limited in the 90s, for example.
MM: Do you think the current restrictions on civil society will deter young people from getting involved in rights-based work?
NM: I don’t think this will prevent new generations from joining. There have always been restrictions on rights-related work. Under Mubarak, and even before I started in the 90s and 2000s, we suffered consistent and fierce attacks. The intensity of the attack on the movement has also increased with its ability to make an impact.
As long as people’s rights are violated, there will be a need for such organizations to exist.
This is part of a series of interviews with human rights workers in Egypt that will be published in the coming weeks.
A man taking a stroll through his neighborhood was tackled and arrested by a Missouri police officer when he refused to identify himself, even though the cop did not have a reasonable suspicion that he was involved in a crime.
The incident took place in September in Breckenridge Hills, a municipality of St. Louis County with less than 5,000 residents, not too far from Ferguson.
But the video was not posted until Friday under the Youtube username, Chris Hoglan, with the following description:
I left for a walk at 12:17am on Sept. 4, 2014 and didn’t come home. I headed out on my own as I often do. My path crossed Officer Mathew Tyler Badge #272 of the Breckenridge Hills, Mo Police Department 20 minutes later. I was never told that I was suspected of any crime or given any reason as to why I was being detained. I asked many times if I was free to go and the end result was Officer Tyler #272 and Officer Allemann Badge #247 tackling me to the ground. I was then taken to jail and questioned. I never answered any questions and never gave them my ID through the entire 10 1/2hours I was held. I was searched and brought to the police station and questioned without being read my Miranda rights. I told them I was invoking my 5th amendment right too not answer any questions with legal representation and was still questioned. They ultimately charged me with “Police Interference”. It costs me a $500 bond to get out the next morning at 11am. I contacted my lawyer immediately and showed them the video. We requested a jury trial from Breckenridge Hills, Mo for the Police Interference charge and they dropped my charges. My attorneys and I met with the Chief of Breckenridge Hills, Mo on Feb. 5, 2015 in person and filed an Internal Affairs Complaint. We have been waiting for Breckenridge Hills to complete their internal investigation.
I have a full written statement that I typed out the next day with every detail I could remember. If anyone is interested in more details, private message me your email and I will send it your way.
Hoglan responded to a comment from PINAC, promising to send more details about the incident, which will be published when we get them. Hoglan also posted the video on Reddit, where it is being discussed.
Three months before this incident, the Breckenridge Hills City Council considered shutting down its local police department, allowing the neighboring St. Ann Police Department to take over because it would have cost the city $850,000 instead of $1.3 million.
But the city council voted against it because it “felt that an outside city would never be as concerned about Breckenridge Hills as are its own officers,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained.
But we can see now that was probably the wrong decision.
Aqraba, Occupied Palestine – On 25th April 2015 ISM volunteers met with the mayor of Aqraba, Ayman Bani Fadl, who has asked internationals to document the intrusive Israeli occupation forces’ actions over the past week. The Israeli forces have been using civilian farm land to carry out training operations. The military have an encampment where they have stationed around ten tanks and approximately fifteen more armored vehicles, as well as numerous troops.
Israeli occupation forces present on Palestinian land near Aqraba (Photo by Aqraba Muncipality 24.04.15)
The military training in this area is hugely damaging to the farming economy, due to the fact that this seasons harvest began earlier in the month. Farmers are now prevented from carrying out their harvest by the presence of the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). The mayor stated that it is likely the military chose the time and area in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the harvest and the livelihoods of the civilian population. He also claimed the actions of the IOF were strategically designed to expropriate the land, forcing the farmers to leave the area. He went on to say that the military have already designated 150,000 dunams of Aqraba land as a military zone. Meaning, the military have full control of the area. Despite this, the IOF have chosen to carry out their present training operations on the 10,000 dunams that remain accessible to the farmers.
These military operations occur on a regular basis and have a permanent and damaging effect on the community. Not least of which is the unexploded ordinance, carelessly left by the military, which has been responsible for killing four individuals and maiming tens of others, mostly children.
To add to the continuing persecution of Aqraba civilians, four months ago the electricity network, financed by the Belgian government, was demolished by Israeli forces. Due to a lack of funds, the municipality has only been able to temporarily reconstruct a portion of the network.
Furthermore, this continual land grab results in Israeli control over highly fertile agricultural soil and cuts off Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley, restricting freedom of movement and their right to cultivate their own farming land.
The present military operation in Aqraba is just one example of the ongoing violent harassment and disruption that is one of many tactics used by Israeli forces, to make life so intolerable for Palestinians they will leave and abandon their land. Oppressive tactics of a similar nature are rife throughout the West Bank, with towns and villages in and around the Jordan Valley being particularly subject to persecution from the Israeli forces.
The Palestinian News & Info Agency WAFA has reported that the soldiers stopped the Palestinian, who was walking with a young woman from his family, and started provoking the two, before the soldiers uttered vulgar words towards the young woman.
The incident caused the young man to engage in a scuffle with the soldiers before one of them shot him dead.
The army is alleging the Palestinian “attempted to stab a soldier,” and was shot dead while trying to flee the scene.
The name of the slain Palestinian is Ali Sa’id Abu Ghannam, 16 years of age.
The Israeli army refused to hand the body of the slain Palestinian to the Red Crescent ambulance that arrived on the scene, and took it to an unknown destination.
The Israeli Police alleged the young Palestinian arrived at the roadblock “and started running towards the soldiers while carrying a butcher knife.”
Ynet News quoted a police statement alleging that one of the soldiers managed to hold the Palestinian, “but he continued to run towards the soldiers,” and they shot him dead.
In related news, Palestinian medical sources have reported that two Palestinians were shot and injured, on Friday, after Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinians east of Abasan town, east of the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis.
One of the wounded was moved to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, suffering a gunshot injury, while the second received treatment by local medics after being shot with a rubber-coated metal bullet.
Philadelphians don’t have any problem figuring out what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year old black man who died as a result of a severed spine at the neck while being transported in a police van by Baltimore Police.
Here in Philadelphia, Police have long enjoyed giving arrested men who mouth off to them during arrests what is known fondly in the department as a “nickel ride.” That’s where they put the prisoner in the back of the van, hands bound behind their backs so they cannot hold on to anything or protect themselves, and otherwise unrestrained. Then the driver of the vehicle accelerates repeatedly, whips around corners and periodically slams on the breaks, causing the helpless captive in the back to slam against various parts of the vehicle, often with his head.
Back in 2001, an investigative journalism series run by the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed the practice, which had led to numerous injuries of arrested people, and to secret payouts by the department to some of those most grievously hurt, including one man who was paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury similar to that suffered by Gray. He received a payment of $1.2 million, the newspaper reported.
The Inquirer exposé led calls for a halt to the criminal practice, but a 2013 article in the same publication reported that police were back at it again, with at least three serious incidents that led to a lawsuit against the department. One of those victims, 31-year-old Ryan Roberts, a burglary suspect, was delivered to the hospital with injuries all over his body, including to the back of his head. He died later. Though the cause of death was listed by the hospital as “cocaine intoxication,” the lawsuit alleges that he died of his injuries, sustained in the van ride, when he was left unrestrained in the back of the vehicle.
In the Baltimore case, a lawyer hired by Gray’s family says that though he was dragged, unresisting, into the van at the time police picked him up, and was yelling at the cops holding him, when he arrived at the hospital, he was immobile and his spine was “80-percent severed” at the neck. That’s the kind of injury that is hard to cause without a brutal amount of force — the kind of thing that could only be delivered by a deliberate twisting of the neck, or by the body being rammed against an immovable object — exactly the kind of thing that can happen in a Philadelphia Police van “nickel ride.”
Baltimore, a city with a large African American population, and a police department that has a history of abusive arrests, is reportedly on edge. The mayor and the police chief have both expressed concern about Gray’s death and an investigation is underway into what happened, with six officers involved in his detention and in the van ride currently suspended, but so far, city officials have been circumspect, saying they don’t know what happened between the time of his arrest, when he was seen shouting and later reportedly asking for help, and his delivery to the hospital, when he was no longer talking or breathing.
But they aren’t talking about the obvious reality a spine isn’t something that gets broken during a van ride, unless the victim has been left unrestrained in the back, and unless the driver is deliberately driving recklessly in an attempt to seriously hurt you.
This is just the latest example of a nationwide problem: murderous police brutality directed against the poor, and especially against blacks and latinos and other people of color.
Viewed from Philadelphia, what happened to Freddie Gray appears to be no less a murder than the gunning down of Walter Scott with five shots to the back by a North Charleston, SC police officer.
Until police start doing serious time for these crimes, and until the politicians who hire them and keep them on the street start losing their jobs, they will keep occurring.
Baltimore police said Freddie Gray, who died in their custody after being arrested, was not buckled in when he was being transported and that officers “failed to give medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts updated the media about the ongoing investigation. He acknowledged that Gray, who died about a week after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in custody, was never strapped in with a seatbelt as department policy requires.
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis added that Baltimore police should have administered medical attention at the site of Gray’s apprehension –presumably because he was already hurt.
Hints of the dark place he is taking us
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | April 24, 2015
Obama has been quoted saying he “takes full responsibility” for the two hostages, one American and one Italian, killed recently in a drone attack. At the same time, Obama praised the United States for its transparency in such matters.
What in God’s name does he mean? How can you have responsibility with no consequences? Isn’t that a bit like patting yourself on the back for high principles, having just committed murder? And transparency? That also is a word without meaning when applied to a country which runs a string of secret wars and coups, a country which spies on virtually the entire planet, and a country whose warehouses bulge with so many classified documents it would take a thousand years to review them.
Obama’s use of words has no meaning, much like the lack of meaning inherent in the kind of world into which he is eagerly helping to pitch us.
He has killed two innocent people in the course of an extrajudicial killing of others who were themselves, as is usual in these attacks, mere suspects.
And it is not the first time he has done this, only the first time where we know the names and faces of his victims. We only know the names and faces here because they were an American and an Italian. Our feeble and utterly corrupt press never lifts a finger to investigate who the thousands of others have been.
Estimates vary, but something on the order of 2,500 people have been murdered this way by the United States, almost all of them innocent, ordinary people, and even America’s intended targets, supposed terrorists, are guilty of nothing in law.
If a leader uses the word terror today, he can pretty much do anything he or his sadistic military/ security/ intelligence creeps want to do. I do not see any difference in these acts from those of the former military juntas in South America who made thousands of “undesirable” people simply disappear.
There’s an old saying about democratic governments that you pretty much deserve the government you get, but the glib saying is, of course, considerably less than true. Besides, it is not a great stretch to say of America today that it is about as much a democracy as was the former Soviet Union, with the key difference being voters in America get two choices instead of one on their ballots, each of them however ready to do exactly the same things, with only minor stylistic variations. You might say the choices represent two fashion statements in one official party.
However, if Western people in general just quietly accept the institutional barbarism Obama represents, they will indeed deserve the governments they get.
And what’s hurtling towards us, far more quickly than many realize, is government entirely by and for elites – wealthy, wealthy people with their paid mouthpiece political leaders and the vast military/ security apparatus they employ – the rest of humanity being reduced to unimportant mobs to be kept under control at the smallest sign of their becoming difficult, not so very much different from prisoners and perhaps even livestock.
We actually have an early prototype of the kind of society our leaders are working towards. We see it in Israel. The word “terror” there plays the same ugly role, almost like an air raid siren, justifying literally any response.
Has the world said one word of the 2,200 people slaughtered in Gaza recently and left to rot in its rubble? How about Israel’s treatment of refugees of color? I see no protest over their being horribly abused and even being turned away against international laws and conventions.
And now Israel uses dirty tricks like shipping refugees off to questionable African states whose leaders have been paid bribes to take them. Can you imagine a bright future for any of them under such circumstances? They too are more than a little likely to disappear.
Of course, assassination in many forms and in many places has played a large role in Israel’s brief history. Anyone Israel does not like is expendable, and America’s whole response to “terror” is right out of an official Israeli manual.
Israel loves to sing tired songs about democracy, but half the people under its control have no rights, no vote, no future, and are frequently openly told they are undesirable and should get out. Thousands are kept in prisons, and brutal acts like spraying farm land with filthy waste-water or with potent herbicides or cutting off power supplies are fairly regular events. When those on the receiving end get too uppity, they will be either assassinated or bombed or have their homes stolen through some of the most unjust laws on the planet.
Apart from the ghastly lives enforced upon millions of non-Jews by the “Jewish state,” Israel’s Jewish population demonstrates another part of the social model. Ordinary Israelis have quite unpleasant lives by Western standards, with home ownership out of reach, the price of everything exorbitant, being subject to oppressive army service, and living in a place which in many ways resembles a high security prison with guards, spies, and restrictions everywhere. The elites of Israel do very handsomely, thank you, just as oligarchs anywhere do, all the groaning mass of other residents’ problems and limits providing them with boundless opportunities, and most of the oligarchs freely move back and forth between continents with their dual passports to cut deals or avoid troubles.
That set of conditions and practices has become a model now for the United States, and where the United States goes, so go its weak-kneed allies like Britain, France, Germany, and even our once fair-minded Canada.
The Drug Enforcement Administration’s top official, Michele Leonhart, resigned this week, presumably after it came out that many of her agents partied with prostitutes hired by drug cartels. But there is really much more to the story.
“She’s been at the agency for 35 years, and her tenure since taking over in 2007 has been marked by a series of abuses, failures and missteps,” wrote David Graham at The Atlantic. “In fact, the proximate cause for Leonhart’s exit is the eminently more headline-ready case of DEA agents having sex parties with prostitutes.”
Graham cited a number of other reasons why Leonhart should have been forced out of the DEA some time back. Among them:
• In 2002, the inspector general (IG) of the Justice Department sounded an alarm about weapons losses at the DEA. Six years later, the IG discovered that the rate of those losses had more than doubled.
• In April 2012, drug suspect Daniel Chong was arrested by DEA agents who locked him in a jail cell without food, water or a toilet and forgot about him for nearly five days. Other agents heard his cries for help but ignored him. By the time Chong was released, his health was so bad he had to be taken to a hospital.
• In May 2012, the DEA worked on a drug sting in Honduras in which four people, including two women and a child, were shot dead. Witnesses said that all four were innocent.
• In June 2013, a DEA informant who had received nearly $4 million from the agency was fired for repeatedly committing perjury—but was then rehired later to work on DEA undercover cases.
• In August 2013, it was revealed that the DEA had been giving information from massive surveillance, wiretaps, and undercover agents to local police, who were told by the DEA to conceal the source of the information from defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.
“The contour of the story gives the nagging impression that despite years of issues, the salacious, sexy headline is what pushed Leonhart out, whereas the systemic failures over the last decade received [very little] sanction…” wrote Graham. “It’s not that the outrage in this case is misplaced—it’s that it’s a day late and a trillion dollars short.”
To Learn More:
Why Did It Take a Sex Scandal to Topple the DEA Chief? (by David Graham, The Atlantic)
Why is the DEA Conducting Mass License Plate Tracking and Why was it Allowed to Conduct Mass Surveillance of Americans’ Phones Records? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
DEA Paid Amtrak Secretary $850,000 for Passenger Lists Available for Free (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
DEA Tries to Strongarm Physicians Connected to Marijuana Dispensaries (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)
DEA Chief’s Bizarre Defense of Marijuana Prohibition (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
BETHLEHEM – The South African minister of higher education said late Thursday that he had been denied entry to Palestine by Israeli authorities in revenge for political stances against Israeli policies.
“This is not only an act against him, but also an act against him as a member of the Cabinet, so by extension it’s an anti-government protest by Israel,” spokesperson KhayeNkwanyana told South African news website News24.
Minister Blade Nzimande was due to travel to the West Bank for a six-day working visit to discuss collaborations between the University of Johannesburg and Palestinian universities, a follow up to an agreement signed when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited South Africa last year.
The Ministry said, however, that the Israeli consulate refused to grant him a visa as a result of his political views in what is being labeled an “attack” on the South African government itself in the local press.
Nkwanyana said that the visa rejection was creating a “serious diplomatic problem,” noting that it effectively barred all South African officials from visiting both Palestine as well as Israel.
All travel in and out of the West Bank is controlled by Israel, meaning that Israeli military authorities hold ultimate control over any individual trying to reach the Palestinian territories.
“We must just boycott Israel,” the minister said in a statement to the press, adding that Israel was trying to “minimize the number of people who can actually see what is happening on the ground.”
He also said that he would urge South African institutions of higher education to cut their ties to Israeli institutions.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki condemned the move in a statement released on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
“Israel’s policies would not succeed in isolating the Palestinians,” he said.
“It will only embolden them into more struggle for ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.”
South Africa is a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and numerous government officials have repeatedly compared the Israeli occupation and the systematic discrimination practiced against Palestinians to the racial apartheid policies practiced by the South African government against its black citizens until 1994.
Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied entry to officials from other countries and even from international bodies such as the United Nations that it feel have taken antagonistic political stances.
In January, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes, and consequences, Rashida Manjoo said she had been denied entry by Israel.
She said she had tried for months to get permission to enter in order to undertake a fact-finding mission, but had been refused entry.
In November, Israeli authorities banned the Colombian foreign minister from visiting the West Bank after discovering that she did not plan to meet with Israeli officials as well.
Academia is far from the bastion of free thinking and free speech it would like to claim for itself, as a newly confected “row” involving the leading medical journal The Lancet confirms.
Recently Southampton University in the UK caved in on hosting an important conference examining Israel and international law, following an intensive campaign of intimidation from Israeli apologists.
Now some 400 medical professors are blackmailing Reed Elsevier, publishers of The Lancet, by threatening to boycott its publications unless the company sacks editor Richard Horton – or as they duplicitously phrase it, “enforce appropriate ethical standards of editorship”.
By refusing to publish papers or peer review them, the professors, including five Nobel winners, hope Reed Elsevier will capitulate from fear that such a boycott might bring it to its knees.
Why target Horton? Because he has committed the cardinal sin of transforming what was once a sleepy academic publication into a journal dealing seriously with global health issues, including – and here’s the rub – reporting on the medical implications for Palestinians of Israel’s occupation, especially its attack on Gaza last summer.
According to the eminent professors, this is “stereotypical extremist hate propaganda” and “dishonest and malicious material that incites hatred and violence”.
What the professors would like is for The Lancet to follow the medical establishment’s traditional Three Wise Monkeys approach: they see, hear and speak no evil when it comes to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, including its documented torture, even of children, in its prisons, overseen by Israeli doctors.
Much is at stake here. Very gradually, the space to have an honest and critical debate about Israel is opening up in places where once it was almost impossible, including in the media, in academia and even among the conservative medical community. Those committed to protecting Israel at all costs are desperate to shut down those spaces. It is important that we don’t let them succeed.
There are signs that the apologists’ hand is weakening. Note that Southampton University was so incapable of justifying its decision to shut down the conference on academic or ethical grounds, it was forced to lie and claim that, despite police assurances that they could cope with any protests, the conference could not go ahead because of “safety concerns”.
Therefore, we should support Horton and The Lancet and make sure Reed Elsevier understands that there is also a price to pay if it capitulates to the authoritarian professors. It is good to see that a rival set of medical academics has already written to Reed Elsevier in support of Horton and The Lancet here.
And it must be stopped in the Senate.
In what can only be described as a travesty for responsible, transparent lawmaking, the House of Representatives just passed a Frankenstein monster of a “cybersecurity information sharing” bill that will massively expand government surveillance authorities if it’s not defeated in the Senate.
And, to rub salt in the wound, House leadership used arcane procedural tricks to block privacy-protective amendments and to privilege the version of the bill preferred by the House intelligence committee, which is more privacy invasive than the version passed by the Committee on Homeland Security. *
The bill that passed would, if adopted by the Senate, create a new and secretive cybersecurity spy agency, broadly authorize the sharing of personal information with the NSA, and allow its use in ways that look a lot like the surveillance programs revealed over the past two years.
The House’s draft will now go to the Senate, which has an even worse bill waiting in the wings. Just as the privacy and civil liberties community is engaged in a battle to reform the Patriot Act or allow it to expire, we are being forced to simultaneously jump start our efforts against a major new surveillance offensive—these so-called “cybersecurity” bills that will do little to better protect our computers, but will give the government vast new authority to spy on us without any reason to think we’ve done anything wrong.
Now, calling these bills “surveillance” authorities is a serious charge. To understand why it’s warranted takes a bit of explanation.
First, it’s important to understand what we mean by “information sharing.” Right now, private companies have broad authority to share cyber threat information both among themselves and with the government. They also have the authority to monitor their own computers for hacking or data theft. There are, however, important privacy protections in existing laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (“ECPA”) that limit the sharing of sensitive, personally identifiable information absent an exception, of which there are several.
The House bill cuts through all of those existing privacy protections. It says “notwithstanding any law,” companies can share “cyber” information among themselves and with the government, and be virtually immune from lawsuit or criminal exposure in doing so. In other words, “information sharing” is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more accurate to call it a sweeping new exception to all existing privacy laws.
The House bill does require a company to review and remove anything that it reasonably believes at the time of sharing to be personal and not directly related to the cyber threat. But that’s weaker protection than it sounds because it doesn’t restrict sharing to only the information necessary to address the cyber threat. In other words, as long as the company has an argument that the information is plausibly “directly” related to the threat, it can share with impunity, even if there’s no reason for the government to have it.
But, the “surveillance” piece of the bill really happens at the next step: what the government can do with personal information shared by companies once it’s disseminated. The House Intelligence bill will require that, once all the information not stripped is shared with the government, it all flows automatically to the military, including the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (which then can/will share with the CIA, presumably).
Once there, the information can be used for purposes far removed from cybersecurity. The House Intelligence bill would permit federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to use the information for a wide array of non-cybercrimes, including violations of the Espionage Act, which has been deployed by the Obama administration to aggressively prosecute national security whistleblowers and investigate reporters like James Risen, who was almost forced to disclose his source for a story in which the CIA screwed up and gave Iran information that could lead to a nuclear weapon.
Our colleagues at the Open Technology Institute, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have exhaustively catalogued the serious civil liberties, privacy, and open government issues with the House bills that were voted on today. We’ve also signed a letter with transparency and media law groups in strong opposition to the House intelligence bill for, among other things, allowing use in Espionage Act cases.
Now the fight turns to the Senate. And, unless the privacy and civil liberties communities really go all out, things are bleak. This is, after all, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), despite the two-year drumbeat of revelations of mass surveillance of individuals suspected of no wrongdoing, has introduced a bill to reauthorize the Patriot Act, without any privacy protections, until 2020. Unless the community hits the bricks—as we did over CISPA in 2013—we will lose.
There’s lots we can and should be doing to improve cybersecurity, including encouraging the use of encryption, facilitating information sharing among private sector entities, and safeguarding critical infrastructure. What we shouldn’t be doing, however, is passing a bill that gives even more personal information on innocent individuals to the NSA and allowing that information to be mined for purposes unrelated to protecting against hackers. That’s exactly what these bills do, and it’s entirely fair to call them what they are: new surveillance powers.
* There’s a bit of legislative arcana to unpack here. Today, the House passed the version of the bill proposed by the House Committee on Homeland Security. Yesterday, it passed the House Intelligence Committee draft, which is worse for privacy. Next comes “engrossment,”where the House clerk finalizes the draft that goes over for Senate considerationby mashing the two bills together without change to any of the substantive provisions. This means that, for instance, the broader use authorizations in the House Intelligence Committee bill will co-exist alongside the narrower authorizations in the Homeland Security bill.
Practically, and especially if the Senate passes a bill that looks more like the House intelligence committee bill, this gives the House intelligence committee bill a significant advantage in whatever process the two chambers decide on to reconcile differences between their respective bills. In other words, even though the House passed two competing bills, the House intelligence committee bill is more likely to survive intact in negotiations with the Senate. Most of the more privacy protective provisions in the other bill are likely to drop off.
This is particularly concerning given that the Homeland Security bill passed with broader support than the House intelligence committee bill (307 to 116 versus 355 to 63). While we oppose both bills, the fact that the House intelligence committee bill has effectively become the base bill to reconcile with the Senate is, indeed, salt in the wound.
Yet another report has surfaced describing how tools created by the malware-industrial complex are being deployed by U.S. security services. While the coverage surrounding this story focuses primarily on federal agencies it’s important to step back for a moment and view the big picture. In particular, looking at who builds, operates, and profits from mass surveillance technology offers insight into the nature of the global panopticon.
A report published by Privacy International as well as an article posted by Vice Motherboard clearly show that both the DEA and the United States Army have long-standing relationships with Hacking Team, an Italian company that’s notorious for selling malware to any number of unsavory characters.
Federal records indicate that the DEA and Army purchased Hacking Team’s Remote Control System (RCS) package. RCS is a rootkit, a software backdoor with lots of bells and whistles. It’s a product that facilitates a covert foothold on infected machines so intruders can quietly make off with sensitive data. The aforementioned sensitive data includes encryption keys. In fact, Hacking Team has an RCS brochure that tells potential customers:
“What you need is a way to bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain”
[Note: Readers interested in nitty-gritty details about RCS can check out the Manuals online.]
It’s public knowledge that other federal agencies like the FBI and the CIA have become adept at foiling encryption. Yet this kind of subversion doesn’t necessarily bother high tech luminaries like Bruce Schneier, who believe that spying is “perfectly reasonable” as long as it’s targeted. Ditto that for Ed Snowden. Schneier and Snowden maintain that covert ops, shrouded by layers of official secrecy, are somehow compatible with democracy just so long as they’re narrow in scope.
But here’s the catch: RCS is designed and marketed as a means for mass collection. It violates the targeted surveillance condition. Specifically, a Hacking Team RCS brochure proudly states:
“’Remote Control System’ can monitor from a few and up to hundreds of thousands of targets. The whole system can be managed by a single easy to use interface that simplifies day by day investigation activities.”
Does this sound like a product built for targeted collection?
So there you have it. Subverting encryption en masse compliments of Hacking Team. The fact that there’s an entire industry of companies just like this should give one pause as there are unsettling ramifications regarding the specter of totalitarian control.
Corporate America is Mass Surveillance
“I really don’t think there’s any more important battle today than combating the surveillance state [my emphasis]. Ultimately, the thing that matters most is that the rights that we know we have as human beings are rights that we exercise.”
There’s a tendency to frame mass surveillance in terms of the state. As purely a result of government agencies like the CIA and NSA. The narrative preferred by the far right is one which focuses entirely on the government (the so-called “surveillance state”) as the sole culprit, completely ignoring the corporate factions that fundamentally shape political decision making.
American philosopher John Dewey once observed that “power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even under the pretense of democratic structures.
Dewey’s observation provides a conceptual basis for understanding how business interests drive the global surveillance apparatus. Mass surveillance is a corporate endeavor because the people who inevitably drive decisions are the same ones who control the resources. For example, the backbone of the internet itself consists of infrastructure run by Tier 1 providers like Verizon and Level 3 Communications. These companies are in a perfect position to track users and that’s exactly what they do.
Furthermore when spying is conducted it’s usually executed, in one form or another, by business interests. Approximately 70 percent of the national intelligence budget end up being channeled to defense contractors. Never mind that the private sector’s surveillance machinery dwarfs the NSA’s as spying on users is an integral part of high tech’s business model. Internet companies like Google operate their services by selling user information to the data brokers. The data broker industry, for example, generates almost $200 billion a year in revenue. That’s well over twice the entire 2014 U.S. intelligence budget.
From a historical vantage point it’s imperative to realize that high tech companies are essentially the offspring of the defense industry. This holds true even today as companies like Google are heavily linked with the Pentagon. For decades (going back to the days of Crypto AG) the private sector has collaborated heavily with the NSA’s in its campaign of mass subversion: the drive to insert hidden back doors and weaken encryption protocols across the board. Companies have instituted “design changes” that make computers and network devices “exploitable.” It’s also been revealed that companies like Microsoft have secret agreements with U.S. security services to provide information on unpublished vulnerabilities in exchange for special benefits like access to classified intelligence.
In a nutshell: contrary to talking points that depict hi-tech companies as our saviors, they’re more often accomplices if not outright perpetrators of mass surveillance. And you can bet that CEOs will devote significant resources towards public relations campaigns aimed at obscuring this truth.
A parting observation: the current emphasis on Constitutional freedom neglects the other pillar of the Constitution: equality. Concentrating intently on liberty while eschewing the complementary notion of equality leads to the sort of ugly practices that preceded the Civil War. In fact there are those who would argue that society is currently progressing towards something worse, a reality by the way that the financial elite are well aware of. When the public’s collective misery reaches a tipping point, and people begin to mobilize, the digital panopticon of the ruling class will be leveraged to preserve social control. They’ll do what they’ve always done, tirelessly work to maintain power and impose hierarchy.
Bill Blunden is a journalist whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” and “Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
 The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953, Volume 9: 1933-1934, Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and A Common Faith, Southern Illinois University Press, 2008, page 76.