Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

Why Pakistan and America will never see eye to eye

One of the strongest impressions of my recent visit to Pakistan – meeting journalists, dissidents, writers and intelligence people – was the profound disconnect between Pakistan and the West. The country has suffered due to a range of factors since 9/11 – corrupt government, American bombardment, unaccountable intelligence services, drone attacks, countless murders and economic challenges – and the idea that Pakistan should help Washington in its war against terrorism is dismissed by most (if not all) citizens.

I’ve rarely been to a country where getting to the truth about matters is so difficult. Key elements of the state quite clearly act above the civilian government, an out of control intelligence service that sometimes backs militants, kills journalists and still loves US largesse.

This piece by Steve Coll in the New Yorker indicates a Pakistani elite that both criticises America but enjoys getting money from them:

“I think it’s important for us to get it right,” President Obama said on Tuesday of the American relationship with Pakistan. Lately, though, we haven’t. After 2009, the United States and Pakistan constructed what they called a “strategic dialogue”—addressing Pakistan’s needs for economic growth, its search for energy and water security, Afghanistan, and possible negotiations with the Taliban—to define and solidify a long-term partnership. Three years later, those ambitions are in tatters, undone by the Raymond Davis affair, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and continuing drone strikes, which most Pakistanis regard as acts of war.

In late February, I travelled to Pakistan and met with a number of military officers there, including several senior ones. They explained how they saw, from their side, the rise and collapse of the strategic dialogue with Washington.

It is a story laced with the generals’ resentments, geopolitical calculations, fears, and aspirations. Listening to them after absorbing the recent months of Pakistan ennui and Pakistan bashing in Washington was like watching one of those movies where a single narrative is told and retold selectively, from irreconcilable points of view.

Some of the basics of the Pakistan Army’s arguments about the Afghan war and the struggle against Al Qaeda-influenced terrorist groups are contained in a twelve-page document called “Ten Years Since 9/11: Our Collective Experience (Pakistan’s Experience).” The document, labelled “Secret,” is below; it has not previously been published.

Despite its classification, the essay is perhaps best understood as part of a Pakistani strategic communications or lobbying campaign. (Presumably, the sources that provided the document to me were undertaking an act in that campaign.) This particular text was a basis for briefings that General Ashfaq Kayani, the powerful Army chief, provided to NATO leaders at closed meetings last September, around the tenth anniversary of the 2001 attacks. It updates a case Pakistani generals have been making in meetings with their counterparts for years: that the casualties, economic disruption, and radicalization Pakistan has suffered from because of spillover from the American military campaign in Afghanistan are deeply underappreciated. The essay declares that Pakistan’s total casualties—dead and wounded—since 2001 in the “fight against terrorism” number about forty thousand.

Because of its record of past lying about its covert-action programs (and other matters), the Pakistani military does not engender much trust. One question, then, is whether this document represents a reliable expression of what the Pakistani security services actually believe—as opposed to what Pakistan’s generals have learned that the world wants to hear from them.

But there is another question: what are the implications for NATO’s exit strategy from Afghanistan if Pakistan’s military means what this document says—or at least some of what it says?

The document, written in a pleasing form of South Asian English, provides an outline of Pakistan’s political analysis and assessment of the Afghan war, asking, “How should success be measured?” It offers four criteria:

“Are policy options opening or getting restricted?…Are we gaining or losing the public support[?]…Is the military strategy creating necessary conditions to help political strategy (military strategy is not an end in itself)…Are the constraints of time and resources being met?”The answers to those four questions, if they are asked about the NATO campaign in Afghanistan this spring, are depressing.

Elsewhere, the essay provides glimpses of Pakistan’s deeply cautious position on negotiating with the Taliban. Pakistan’s timeline in Afghanistan extends much longer than that of NATO, which has announced that it is leaving by 2014. Pakistan will always be a neighbor, so its generals see no reason to rush into endgame talks that they cannot control or predict. “Pakistan is prepared to help,” the document says. “However, the extent of this help should be correctly appreciated. We can facilitate but not guarantee. Ultimately it will remain Afghan responsibility.”

Many Afghans, who have suffered immeasurably during the past thirty years because of Pakistani interference, doubt that the Pakistani security services have anything constructive in mind. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, or I.S.I., has backed Islamist militias fighting in Afghanistan since the 1980s, and there is evidence that the I.S.I. continues to harbor the Taliban. “Ten Years Since 9/11” lays out various ideas for winding down the Afghan war; how fully those align with what Pakistan actually does on the ground is another question.

The document is silent about the most toxic subject in U.S.-Pakistani relations: America’s determination to continue firing missiles from drones at those it has identified as militants inside Pakistan without seeking Pakistan’s permission.

Pakistan’s generals told me that while they have, in fact, quietly sanctioned some American drone operations against Pakistani militants, they have never issued approval for lethal strikes carried out unilaterally by the United States—they only sanctioned aerial surveillance in defined areas. The generals say that they are willing to use Pakistani F-16s loaded with precision weapons to strike at Al Qaeda targets identified with intelligence from the United States—a form of partnership that would not violate their pride or sovereignty because it would be the Pakistani military carrying out operations against its own enemies. In the past, the U.S. has been reluctant to share such intelligence with Pakistan, because it has sometimes leaked, allowing the target to escape. The Obama Administration has signalled to Pakistan’s military leadership that it is willing to try again, but has urged the Pakistanis to accept that the U.S. reserves the right to attack any target that threatens American lives or other important interests. I was told that at least one operation of this type—a tip from American intelligence, leading to a strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas by Pakistani aircraft—has been carried out without publicity this year.

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Americans Rabbis support church divestment from Israeli occupation

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Disaster capitalism in Pakistan

I’ve just visited Pakistan investigating disaster capitalism for a forthcoming book and documentary. Amazing country. Beautiful, troubled, scary, complicated and centre of the world since 9/11 for (mostly) the wrong reasons. And private security is rampant.

Stories coming but in the meantime here’s photos; Islamabad/Rawalpindi/Peshawar and Karachi.

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Challenging MSM approved imperial enforcers

Here’s a book review I wrote a while ago published here exclusively:

The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work

Belen Fernandez

Verso, $22.95

Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?

Derrick O’Keefe

Verso, $22.95

Antony Loewenstein

Back in May 2003, two months after the start of the American-led war in Iraq, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman appeared on the Charlie Rose TV talk show. The conflict was “unquestionably” worth doing, said the self-described liberal. He went on:

“What (Iraqis) needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.”

Friedman, a former Middle East correspondent for the Times, has cemented himself as a key foreign affairs commentator in America and is regularly re-printed in publications across the world, including Australia.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Friedman has supported American or Israeli wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian West Bank, Lebanon, Gaza and covert American operations endorsed by both the Bush and Obama administrations. In the words of Belen Fernandez, author of this compelling book on Friedman – published in a new Counterblasts series by British publisher Verso – the Times writer “discredits himself as a journalist by championing the killing of civilians.”

Fernandez forensically dissects the career of Friedman and challenges the very basis of his currency. “Friedman’s accumulation of influence is a direct result of his service as mouthpiece for empire and capital”, she writes. “I.e. as a result apologist for US military excess and punishing economic policies.”

Friedman has championing the supposed glories of US-led globalisation – “Is this a great country or what?” and the Iraq war – “the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the US has ever launched”. He celebrated the financial insights of Goldman Sachs until finally in 2010 Friedman acknowledged the firm as “the poster boy for banks behaving for ‘situational values’ – exploiting whatever the situation…allowed”.

The Times journalist is passionate about reducing America’s reliance on oil and yet, as Fernandez pithily comments, “Friedman has managed to greenwash the institution that holds the distinction of being the top polluter in the world…The US military’s overwhelming reliance on fuel means that its presence in Iraq is not at all reconcilable with Friedman’s insistence that dependence on foreign oil reserves is one of the greatest threats to US security.”

The Imperial Messenger isn’t just arguing that Friedman is an indulgent Times spokesman and faux liberal who dresses up his desire for the US to shed foreign blood as “humanitarian”, but a broader point against the Times itself as the centre of supposedly quality journalism.

Dishonest myth-making is the key reason the paper should not be taken as gospel, argues Fernandez, and not least due to its constant defence of Israeli crimes. Witness Friedman in 1989 writing about his Zionist dreams: “I’ll always want [Israel] to be the country I imagined in my youth. But what the hell, she’s mine and for a forty-year old, she ain’t too shabby.” This was expressed during the First Intifada, a time when Israel was torturing and killing unarmed Palestinian civilians.

But Friedman isn’t the only “liberal” needing to be fought. Canadian human rights activist, writer and politician Michael Ignatieff is the subject of The Lesser Evil by journalist Derrick O’Keefe. Like Friedman, Ignatieff frames his concern for humanity by loving the smell of American fire-power in the morning.

Incendiary British historian Tony Judt opined in 2006 about “Bush’s Liberal Idiots”, and included Ignatieff in a stinging rebuke. He stated that, “intellectual supporters of the Iraq War…have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name.”

O’Keefe uncovers a litany of comments from Ignatieff since September 11 that place him in the inglorious tradition of countless “liberals” desperate to unleash Washington’s war machine on “apocalyptic nihilism.” Unlike Christopher Hitchens, who continues to champion the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and encourages a military strike against Iran, Ignatieff has at least had a few moments of doubt.

The vital importance of both these small titles is to highlight that some of the worst offenders, and least accountable, in the “war on terror” decade has been the warrior-scholar-journalist desperate to prove toughness. This desired projection of F-18s and drone strikes was encapsulated by a typically callous comment by Ignatieff in 2003:

“If the consequence of intervention of a rights-respecting Iraq in a decade or so, who cares whether the intentions that led to it were mixed at best?”

The death of innocent Iraqis was clearly an irrelevance (the numbers of dead in that country now number likely over one million).

At a time of American economic, political and moral decline – and fear that the Chinese economic model may supersede the unequal and fundamentalist capitalist model pursued by Washington since World War II – it’s grimly amusing to note an infamous Friedman thought:

“Many big bad things happen in the world without America, but not a lot of big good things.”

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist writing a book on disaster capitalism

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North Korean horrors make us realise true meaning of depravity

Sometimes I read something that puts the notion of human rights into perspective. This story about a man who escaped from a North Korean gulag is shocking beyond belief. It sounds like hell on earth:

His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him.

In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. Numbers 15 and 18 have re-education zones where detainees receive remedial instruction in the teachings of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, and are sometimes released. The remaining camps are “complete control districts” where “irredeemables” are worked to death.

Shin’s camp, number 14, is a complete control district. Established around 1959 near Kaechon County in South Pyongan Province, it holds an estimated 15,000 prisoners. About 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, it has farms, mines and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.

Shin and his mother lived in the best prisoner accommodation the camp had to offer. They had their own room, where they slept on a concrete floor, and they shared a kitchen with four other families. Electricity ran for two hours a day. There were no beds, chairs or tables. No running water.

If Shin’s mother met her daily work quota, she could bring home food. At 4am, she would prepare breakfast and lunch for her son and for herself. Every meal was the same: corn porridge, pickled cabbage and cabbage soup. Shin was always hungry and he would eat his lunch as soon as his mother left for work. He also ate her lunch. When she came back from the fields at midday and found nothing to eat, she would beat him with a shovel.

Her name was Jang Hye Gyung. She never talked to him about her past, her family, or why she was in the camp, and he never asked. His existence as her son had been arranged by the guards. They chose her and the man who became Shin’s father as prizes for each other in a “reward” marriage.

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One state solution in Palestine is coming…one day

This is today’s Israel, as explained by Noam Sheizaf in +972:

For some reason, people find it hard to accept that the current situation is desirable for Israelis. It certainly isn’t optimal, but considering the alternatives, it is probably the best.

It’s enough to come on a week’s visit to Israel to understand the appeal of the status quo. Despite occasional outbreaks of violence in the south and north, Israelis enjoy stability, prosperity and a general sense of security. According to the theory of “convincing Israelis to abandon the West Bank,” this was supposed to be the right moment for concessions, but the exact opposite is true: When things are going so well, it would be totally irrational to move in any other direction, either by annexing the West Bank or by leaving it.

Israelis understand that instinctively, regardless of what they say in polls on the desired solution to the conflict. Actually, even in polls, when faced with the option of maintaining the status quo, Israelis are likely to prefer it to the two-state solution. A Palestinian state becomes the preferable option only when presented on its own (“do you support/oppose…”) or when it is compared to annexing the West Bank.

The major problem right now is that an inherently immoral order represents the most desirable political option for Israelis. All the left’s effort to demonstrate the problems the occupation creates – like the burden on the state budget – won’t help, since political choices are made based on alternative options, and right now the alternatives are more expensive, more painful, and more dangerous.

It should be noted that the status quo will remain the best option regardless of developments on the Palestinian side. Even if the Palestinians in the occupied territories recognize Israel as a Jewish state or vote Hamas out of office – even if they all join the Likud – from an Israeli cost/benefit perspective, keeping things as they are will remain preferable to the alternatives of either pulling out of the West Bank or to annexing it.

Although shocking in its banality – most Israelis look away when addressing what they’re doing in Palestine, occupying millions of Palestinians – it’s startling to hear supposedly enlightened Israelis, such as Bradley Burston in Haaretz, desperately try to avoid any kind of alternative to the two-state solution. It’s far easier to feel paralysed than actually doing anything to imagine a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis. And that’s a truly democratic one-state solution. Working to get there.

Here’s Burston:

A beleaguered Democratic president, beset by an unpopular war overseas and raging polarization at home, clamps heavy pressure on Israel to make a dramatic gesture over the future of the West Bank.

Israel’s cabinet convenes to discuss the White House initiative. A minister-without-portfolio, less than three months in his first cabinet post, asks for the floor. He has a proposal regarding the Palestinians of the West Bank: Offer them citizenship and the right to vote.

Under the plan, “If an Arab from Shehem (Nablus) wants to become a citizen of the state of Israel, he’s entitled,” the minister says.

“We want a Jewish state with a large Arab minority. So what do we need to do? First of all, we’re capable of keeping a Jewish majority.

“Of course, if that majority were to break down, our situation would be a bitter one. We are not South Africa, nor Rhodesia,” he declared. “The Jewish minority will not rule over Arabs.

The date is August 20, 1967. The minister is Menachem Begin.

The minutes of the cabinet meeting are classified Top Secret and kept under wraps for 44 years.

There is no denying, however, that settlement construction, Palestinian disunity, and other factors are fast rendering the two-state concept impracticable. I say this with profound regret, as someone who still believes that two independent states would provide Israelis and Palestinians with their best chance for a future of freedom, justice, security and well-being.

A new reality is already in place, however. There are children being born who constitute the third generation of West Bank settlements.

When Begin addressed the cabinet in 1967, he outlined the concept of a “bi-ethnic” state, allowing both Jews and Arabs to develop as culturally distinctive peoples, and ruled by the majority, rather than a bi-national state with power shared equally, regardless of the numerical majority or minority.

In contrast with a bi-national state, “We have never ruled out a bi-ethnic state, and the difference is crucial,” Begin said. “Zionism, as I have known it, has never viewed the state as mono-ethnic.”

Even as I look into Begin’s proposal, which raises more questions, and suspicions, than it answers, I can feel another, deeper response welling up. Fear. The same fear that keeps Israelis, this one included, from fully committing to a substantive change in an intolerable reality.

“If every path seems to reach an impasse,” Sheizaf quoted former Netanyahu chief of staff Uri Elitzur, a fierce, even radical rightist and also an early advocate of citizenship for Palestinians, as writing, “usually the right path is one that was never even considered, the one that is universally acknowledged to be unacceptable, taboo.”

The rule of fear is the underpinning, the psychic secret police, of the dictatorship of the status quo. To use Begin’s word, we are all n’tinim, subjects, of the rule of fear.

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When Murdoch and Israel collide, it all makes sense

This stunning investigation in the Australian Financial Review is fascinating on a range of levels, not least Rupert Murdoch’s relationship with the Israeli military and intelligence elite. What does this say? There is a seamless and ethical-free zone inhabited by multinationals that naturally gravitates towards the Zionist state because of its self-described expertise in security:

A secret unit within Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation promoted a wave of high-tech piracy in Australia that damaged Austar, Optus and Foxtel at a time when News was moving to take control of the Australian pay TV industry.

The piracy cost the Australian pay TV companies up to $50 million a year and helped cripple the finances of Austar, which Foxtel is now in the process of acquiring.

A four-year investigation by The Australian Financial Reviewhas revealed a global trail of corporate dirty tricks directed against competitors by a secretive group of former policemen and intelligence officers within News Corp known as Operational Security.

Their actions devastated News’s competitors, and the resulting waves of high-tech piracy assisted News to bid for pay TV businesses at reduced prices – including DirecTV in the US, Telepiu in Italy and Austar. These targets each had other commercial weaknesses quite apart from piracy.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is still deliberating on final details before approving Foxtel’s $1.9 billion takeover bid for Austar, which will cement Foxtel’s position as the dominant pay TV provider in Australia.

News Corp has categorically denied any involvement in promoting piracy and points to a string of court actions by competitors making similar claims, from which it has emerged victorious. In the only case that went to court, in 2008, the plaintiff EchoStar was ordered to pay nearly $19 million in legal costs.

The issue is particularly sensitive because Operational Security, which is headed by Reuven Hasak, a former deputy director of the Israeli domestic secret service, Shin Bet, operates in an area which historically has had close supervision by the Office of the Chairman, Rupert Murdoch.

The security group was initially set up in a News Corp subsidiary, News Datacom Systems (later known as NDS), to battle internal fraud and to target piracy against its own pay TV companies. But documents uncovered by the Financial Reviewreveal that NDS encouraged and facilitated piracy by hackers not only of its competitors but also of companies, such as Foxtel, for whom NDS provided pay TV smart cards. The documents show NDS sabotaged business rivals, fabricated legal actions and obtained telephone records illegally.

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Nothing is private in the 21st century

Our digital world is increasingly monitored by a range of state and non-state actors. Be afraid and be aware.

A recent cover story in Wired showed how the US government, with no transparency, is building a massive listening station where everybody is targeted:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

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September 11 and Bin Laden; more pieces of the puzzle

Another day and another fascinating insight into Osama Bin Laden post 9/11 and the real role of Pakistan. Lead story in today’s Dawn:

Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden moved to Pakistan in 2002, a few months after US started large-scale air strikes on Afghanistan, particularly in the Tora Bora region, during its anti-Taliban war which it launched in 2001 in the wake of 9/11 attacks.

The information about Osama crossing over into Pakistan and staying in different cities and towns before moving to Abbottabad came in the testimony given by his widow Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah during interrogation by a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising civilian and military officials.

She told the investigators that after 9/11 she reunited with her husband in Peshawar in 2002. From Peshawar they went to Swat where they lived for about nine months. Later, they stayed for about two years in Haripur before moving to Abbottabad where the Al Qaeda leader was killed in a raid by US commandos in May last year.

In the first full account of Osama’s movement after 9/11, she told the investigation team in Islamabad that she had lived with him in four cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but declined to say if any Pakistani official had been in contact with him.

The 29-year-old Yemeni woman said she had a desire to marry a mujahid. Osama was available. “So in this connection when she got a message of marriage with Osama bin Laden, she came to Pakistan and landed at Karachi airport on 17/07/2000,” the JIT report said.

But she overstayed her three-month visa and later went to Kandahar in Afghanistan. Ms Amal told the investigators that she got married to Osama before 9/11, but did not specify any date. According to her, Osama was living with his three wives, including her, and some Arab families. Then came 9/11 and the family scattered.

“She stayed in a flat in Karachi for almost 8/9 months and all the things were arranged by some Pakistani families and Saad, elder son of Osama, was coordinating all the things,” the report said.

She told the investigators that during her stay in Karachi she changed her residence six or seven times. The investigators say they have not been able to trace Saad.

According to the JIT report, after their reunion in Peshawar Osama and Amal went to Swat where they stayed for 8/9 months.

Thereafter they stayed in Haripur for two years and subsequently shifted to Abbottabad and lived there for almost six years till the time Osama was killed.

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What happened that night in Kandahar when US solider committed massacre?

Australian TV SBS Dateline travelled to the site and investigated:

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Destroying Afghanistan one freedom bomb at a time

After 9/11, the West invaded Afghanistan under the guise of eradicating terrorism and helping its poor people. Years later, this is our legacy:

The Afghan government should release the approximately 400 women and girls imprisoned in Afghanistan for “moral crimes,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The United States and other donor countries should press the Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai to end the wrongful imprisonment of women and girls who are crime victims rather than criminals.

The 120-page report, “‘I Had to Run Away’: Women and Girls Imprisoned for ‘Moral Crimes’” in Afghanistan, is based on 58 interviews conducted in three prisons and three juvenile detention facilities with women and girls accused of “moral crimes.” Almost all girls in juvenile detention in Afghanistan had been arrested for “moral crimes,” while about half of women in Afghan prisons were arrested on these charges. These “crimes” usually involve flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence. Some women and girls have been convicted of zina, sex outside of marriage, after being raped or forced into prostitution.

“It is shocking that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban, women and girls are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “No one should be locked up for fleeing a dangerous situation even if it’s at home. President Karzai and Afghanistan’s allies should act decisively to end this abusive and discriminatory practice.”

The fall of the Taliban government in 2001 promised a new era of women’s rights. Significant improvements have occurred in education, maternal mortality, employment, and the role of women in public life and governance. Yet the imprisonment of women and girls for “moral crimes” is just one sign of the difficult present and worrying future faced by Afghan women and girls as the international community moves to decrease substantially its commitments in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch interviewed many girls who had been arrested after they fled a forced marriage and women who had fled abusive husbands and relatives. Some women interviewed by Human Rights Watch had gone to the police in dire need of help, only to be arrested instead.

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“Paper of record” still too keen to report US/Israeli view over Iran

Editor of the New York Times Jill Abramson claims her paper’s coverage on Israel and Iran is impartial and there’s no chance the “flawed” 2003 reporting over Iraq could happen again (via Politico):

Q: What are the concerns and considerations you take into account when covering the tensions between Israel and Iran, especially in light of some to the Times’s failures in the build-up to Iraq?

ABRAMSON: The key issue for us is, there’s murky intelligence on the current state of Iran’s nuclear program. There’s no dispute that they have one, the dispute is Iran saying that it’s for civilian use, and other intelligence saying that it could be for military use.

The debate, at least in Washington, is a little more limited than in 2003, because we’re talking about something that — either on the Israeli end or more broadly — would be a targeted military strike. It’s not the kind of debate we had in 2003 about a full-blown boots on the ground invasion.

In 2003, the Times had flawed coverage on the intelligence concerning WMD. I think a big factual difference is that at least the administration as it shapes its policy is not  actively promoting a policy to strike Iran. That’s a huge, fundamental difference.

But certainly I’m well aware that there are all kinds of parties, analysts, members of congress, people inside the administration — We just had a piece on some of the more hawkish voices back in 2003, and some of them are trying to have more influential voices, some of the same people.

It’s a highly politically charged issue. And it involves intelligence that is somewhat murky.

Q: How do you respond to critics on the right who say that, because of what happened in 2003, the Times is being overly cautious?

ABRAMSON: I think we are criticized by both of the most highly charged voices on this. There are also critics saying, there they go again.

 The reality, however, is rather different as Fair and Accuracy in Reporting regularly show.
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