Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

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.

Guardian editor on how Orwell would be turning in his grave over NSA spying

A sad state of affairs that a serious media (which most of the corporate press is not, too keen to wine and dine with the powerful) would vehemently oppose (via the Guardian):

The potential of the surveillance state goes way beyond anything in George Orwell‘s 1984, Alan Rusbridgerthe Guardian‘s editor-in-chief, told an audience in New York on Monday.

Speaking in the wake of a series of revelations in the Guardian about the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, Rusbridger said: “Orwell could never have imagined anything as complete as this, this concept of scooping up everything all the time.

“This is something potentially astonishing about how life could be lived and the limitations on human freedom,” he said.

Rusbridger said the NSA stories were “clearly” not a story about totalitarianism, but that an infrastructure had been created that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.

“Obama is a nice guy. David Cameron is a nice social Democrat. About three hours from London in Greece there are some very nasty political parties. What there is is the infrastructure for total surveillance. In history, all the precedents are unhappy,” said Rusbridger, speaking at the Advertising Week conference.

He said that whistleblower Edward Snowden, who leaked the documents, had been saying: “Look, wake up. You are building something that is potentially quite alarming.”

Rusbridger said that people bring their own perspectives to the NSA revelations. People who have read Kafka or Orwell found the level of surveillance scary, he said, and that those who had lived or worked in the communist eastern bloc were also concerned.

“If you are Mark Zuckerberg and you are trying to build an international business, this is dismaying to you,” Rusbridger said.

Zuckerberg recently criticised the Obama administration’s surveillance apparatus. “Frankly I think the government blew it,” he told TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco.

The Facebook founder was particularly damning of government claims that they were only spying on “foreigners”.

“Oh, wonderful: that’s really helpful to companies trying to serve people around the world, and that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies,” said Zuckerberg.

Here’s Rusbridger speaking to Democracy Now! this week:

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Assange, Greenwald, Coombs, O’Brien, Manne and Keane on mass surveillance

Last night at the Sydney Opera House I witnessed a truly unique event. 1.5 hour discussion with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, indy reporter and key documenter of the Chelsea Manning trial Alexa O’Brien (with whom I did an event tonight on Manning and dissent), Manning lawyer David Coombs, academic Robert Manne and moderator Crikey’s Bernard Keane.

They discussed mass surveillance, Edward Snowden and why dissent is so vital in an age of ever-growing government and corporate intrusion:

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Inside the mind of a Chinese internet censor

A key theme of my book The Blogging Revolution is China’s extensive web censorship regime.

Fast forward to 2013 and this story, via Reuters, offers unique details about the pathological desire to exercise control over citizens:

In a modern office building on the outskirts of the Chinese city of Tianjin, rows of censors stare at computer screens. Their mission: delete any post on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, deemed offensive or politically unacceptable.

But the people behind the censorship of China’s most popular microblogging site are not ageing Communist Party apparatchiks. Instead, they are new college graduates. Ambivalent about deleting posts, they grumble loudly about the workload and pay.

Managing the Internet is a major challenge for China. The ruling Communist Party sees censorship as key to maintaining its grip on power – indeed, new measures unveiled on Monday threaten jail time for spreading rumours online.

At the same time, China wants to give people a way to blow off steam when other forms of political protest are restricted.

Reuters interviewed four former censors at Sina Weibo, who all quit at various times this year. All declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the work they once did. Current censors declined to speak to Reuters.

“People are often torn when they start, but later they go numb and just do the job,” said one former censor, who left because he felt the career prospects were poor. “One thing I can tell you is that we are worked very hard and paid very little.”

Sina Corp, one of China’s biggest Internet firms, runs the microblogging site, which has 500 million registered users. It also employs the censors.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

“STRESSFUL, DEAD-END JOB”

Reuters got a glimpse of the Sina Weibo censorship office in Tianjin, half an hour from Beijing by high-speed train, one recent weekend morning.

A dozen employees, all men, could be seen through locked glass doors from a publicly accessible corridor, sitting in cramped cubicles separated by yellow dividers, staring at large monitors.

They more closely resembled Little Brothers than the Orwellian image of an omniscient and fearsome Big Brother.

“Our job prevents Weibo from being shut down and that gives people a big platform to speak from. It’s not an ideally free one, but it still lets people vent,” said a second former censor.

The former censors said the office was staffed 24 hours a day by about 150 male college graduates in total. They said women shunned the work because of the night shifts and constant exposure to offensive material.

The Sina Weibo censors are a small part of the tens of thousands of censors employed in China to control content in traditional media and on the Internet.

Most Sina Weibo censors are in their 20s and earn about 3,000 yuan ($490) a month, the former censors said, roughly the same as jobs posted in Tianjin for carpenters or staff in real estate firms. Many took the job after graduating from local universities.

“People leave because it’s a stressful dead-end job for most of us,” said a third former censor.

Sina’s computer system scans each microblog before they are published. Only a fraction are marked as sensitive and need to be read by a censor, who will decide whether to spare or delete it. Over an average 24-hour period, censors process about 3 million posts.

A small number of posts with so-called “must kill” words such as references to the banned spiritual group Falun Gong are first blocked and then manually deleted. Censors also have to update lists of sensitive words with new references and creative expressions bloggers use to evade scrutiny.

For most posts deemed sensitive, censors often use a subtle tactic in which a published comment remains visible to its author but is blocked for others, leaving the blogger unaware his post has effectively been taken down, the former censors said. Censors can also punish users by temporarily blocking their ability to make comments or shutting their accounts in extreme cases.

“We saw a fairly sophisticated system, where human power is amplified by computer automation, that is capable of removing sensitive posts within minutes,” said Jedidiah Crandall of the University of New Mexico, part of a team which did recent research on the speed of Weibo censorship.

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We have been warned; Western states remove our privacy by stealth

The vital whistle-blowing of Edward Snowden continues to bear fruit. We have a right in a democratic society to know that our privacy is violated on a daily basis. And what we can do to protect ourselves.

The Guardian (by Glenn Greenwald, James Ball and Julia Borger):

US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees thatinternet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.

The agencies, the documents reveal, have adopted a battery of methods in their systematic and ongoing assault on what they see as one of the biggest threats to their ability to access huge swathes of internet traffic – “the use of ubiquitous encryption across the internet”.

Those methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with “brute force”, and – the most closely guarded secret of all – collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves.

Through these covert partnerships, the agencies have inserted secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software.

The files, from both the NSA and GCHQ, were obtained by the Guardian, and the details are being published today in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica. They reveal:

• A 10-year NSA program against encryption technologies made a breakthrough in 2010 which made “vast amounts” of data collected through internet cable taps newly “exploitable”.

• The NSA spends $250m a year on a program which, among other goals, works with technology companies to “covertly influence” their product designs.

• The secrecy of their capabilities against encryption is closely guarded, with analysts warned: “Do not ask about or speculate on sources or methods.”

• The NSA describes strong decryption programs as the “price of admission for the US to maintain unrestricted access to and use of cyberspace”.

• A GCHQ team has been working to develop ways into encrypted traffic on the “big four” service providers, named as Hotmail, Google, Yahoo and Facebook.

Pro Publica (by Jeff Larson, Scott Shane and Nicole Perlroth):

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.

The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.

The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.

“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, “those not already briefed were gobsmacked!”

An intelligence budget document makes clear that the effort is still going strong. “We are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic,” the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., wrote in his budget request for the current year.

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Direct call for whistle-blowers to reveal what state shamefully denies

My following article appears in today’s Guardian:

Revelations of British government intrusion of legitimate media reporting of American-led, global surveillance is a call to arms for journalists everywhere.

Australian attorney general Mark Dreyfus recently claimed that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden weren’t whistle-blowers because they were “politically motivated”, and neither man exposed government wrong-doing (in fact, both did in major ways). The highest lawyer in the country fundamentally misunderstands the vital, democratic necessity of whistle-blowing as a safety valve against state violence, corruption and dishonesty.

Dreyfus should remember that the most comprehensive global study ever conducted into public attitudes towards whistleblowing, Melbourne University’s Suelette Dreyfus was a key researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, which found 81% of Australians believed such individuals should be backed.

If any western state claiming to be a democracy wants to destroy hard drives containing sensitive information, there’s only one response: resistance. Glenn Greenwald is right when he told CNN this week that “journalism is not a crime and it’s not terrorism”. The fact that such obvious statements need to be made in this climate shows how dangerous the attempts to criminalise legitimate investigations have become in the post 9/11 world.

In the spirit of telling governments and authorities that the public won’t tolerate illegal intrusion and intimidation against its own citizens, the following list is a far from comprehensive collection of information and documents the public has the right and need to know. Whistle-blowers and gadflys should feel unburdened and find the best way to get this information out (yes, I can receive snail mail to avoid all electronic communication).

  • A decade after Australian forces were sent to Iraq to join the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there’s still no inquiry into the decision-making process leading to that decision (though the Iraq War Inquiry Group has been calling for one). It’s essential that documents are released related to the motivation and timing of the decision, whether legal advice found the decision legal, the exact role of private contractors working for Australians in the conflict zone and whether public statements by then prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer matched private knowledge and assessments.
  • Trade agreements negotiated with other nations must be made public long before they’re passed, usually with bipartisanship, by a government of the day. Far too often, including in the trade deal between Australia and America, secrecy is used to obfuscate clauses that disadvantage citizens, not least over sovereignty and excessive use of foreign law enforcement actions in our territory. We need to see documents that detail these negotiations and what benefits Australian officials were willing to forgo for political expediency.
  • What’s the legal basis for the use of American assets on Australian territory, such as Pine Gap, in Washington’s drone war? What, if any, intelligence was gathered on Australian soil in the “war on terror” that caused the death of civilians in officially declared or undeclared battle zones? What is the legal basis for maintaining a key US intelligence asset without proper and regular parliamentary scrutiny? Recent revelations in New Zealand that US intelligence may be supporting its intelligence services should ring alarm bells in Australia, as our subservience to Washington’s needs are equally transparent.
  • What legal advice did former prime minister Julia Gillard rely on when she claimed Julian Assange was behaving “illegally” when his organisation Wikileaks released documents in 2010? When Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in June this year that his government was washing his hands of Assange because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”, we deserve to see the legal advice that supports this absurd suggestion. The fact that Australian officials attended the trial of Bradley Manning proved the spuriousness of Carr’s comments.
  • Australia and America signed in 2008 a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation”. The program is GEOINT, a high-level intelligence sharing program from spy satellites. President Barack Obama has accelerated America’s drone war since 2008, killing countless civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, and Australians have the right to see the legal basis for any information given by Canberra to attacks that kill or maim non-combatants. Does this legal advice, if it even exists, show that Australian officials could be held accountable for misuse of American intelligence in its “war on terror”?
  • Australia provides more than half a billion dollars of aid annually to Papua New Guinea. How much financial assistance is AusAid providing to Australian consultants to assist the government of Bougainville (and its corporate backers) in drafting mining legislation to allow the return of mining giant Rio Tinto more than two decades after the multinational was kicked out of the province? Billions of dollars are up for grabs in the project.
  • Australia’s ascension to the UN Security Council in 2012 was surrounded by allegations of bribing African nations for the honour. What diplomatic promises were made by Australian officials to secure these votes and what internal discussions by Australia were undertaken to assess the benefits or disadvantages of the two-year position? Furthermore, what pressure did Israel, during its unsuccessful bid to convince Australia to reject Palestinian statehood at the UN in 2012, place on the Gillard government and what did Gillard herself promise to the Israelis after failing to secure support of her cabinet during the discussions over the issue?
  • Just two months before East Timor became independent in March 2002, Australia unilaterally withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claimed that Australia was stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue from its poorest neighbour. Documents that reveal the Australian government’s decisions would be insightful. Equally important are the exact reasons for the Howard government’s intervention in 1999 (not as noble as claimed) and successive Australian governments, from Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s onwards, ignoring Indonesian genocide against the Timorese (all ably documented in a recent book by Clinton Fernandes).

Governments routinely over-classify information and beyond the reach of the public – the US now classifies literally trillions of pages of text annually – so it’s our duty to uncover what the state and business want to keep secret. Embarrassing power is our job. Let’s make authorities sweat by releasing an avalanche of riches.

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Post Wikileaks snub, hard having faith in Amazon with Washington Post

The role of an accountable press has never been more important. The role of Wikileaks, whistle-blowers, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden should inspire us all and bring a realisation that transparency in a democracy requires brave souls.

Here’s a great piece by Jay Rosen at his PressThink site:

In exchanges with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman prior to his name becoming public, Edward Snowden said something that got overlooked.

“Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted “to embolden others to step forward,” he wrote, by showing that “they can win.””

It’s not enough to defy the government and reveal what it wants to keep secret. When you go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet, you have to try to win. It sounded kooky at first, or completely outrageous, but after President Obama’s August 9th press conference it was difficult to deny that Snowden had won— not a complete but still a significant victory.

Congress had woken up to its oversight responsibilities and was finally debating the limits of the surveillance state. Lawmakers in both parties were advertising their doubts. Other parliaments around the world were asking questions they had not asked before. The President had been forced to respond with an announcement of some (tepid) reforms and a press conference intended to restore public confidence after the Snowden effect flipped the polls around. (Link.) When Obama tried to argue that he had been ahead of the game on transparency and the protection of whistleblowers and would have wound up in the same place without Snowden’s actions, it was hard to imagine anyone in the know buying it. As The Economist said:

Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama. 

On Meet the Press they also talked about the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. But they did not try to connect the two stories, even though one of the living connections — Barton Gellman, who writes for the Post and was contacted by Snowden — was on the program.

“…Bart Gellman, the kind of work you do requires not only sources deep inside the intelligence community, but editors and owners who are willing to defy the government and publish over its strongest objections. If you had been able to talk to Jeff Bezos before he bought the Washington Post, what would you have told him to expect about this part of the job– publishing the secrets his reporters dig up?”

David Gregory didn’t ask Gellman that, but he could have. For one of the biggest unknowns in the story of Bezos taking over the Post has nothing to do with adapting to the internet or finding a new business model for newspapers. It’s whether Bezos has the inner strength to go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet. When his free press moment comes — and it will come — will Jeff Bezos answer the bell?

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China’s gargantuan web filtering system

There has never been anything like it in human history. Then again, the internet is the perfect tool for officials to monitor and censor material.

Disturbing piece in the New York Review of Books by Perry Link:

Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country that say things like, “Report on the new provincial budget tomorrow, but do not feature it on the front page, make no comparisons to earlier budgets, list no links, and say nothing that might raise questions”; “Downplay stories on Kim Jung-un’s facelift”; and “Allow stories on Deputy Mayor Zhang’s embezzlement but omit the comment boxes.” Why, one might ask, do censors not play it safe and immediately block anything that comes anywhere near offending Beijing? Why the modulation and the fine-tuning?

In fact, for China’s Internet police, message control has grown to include many layers of meaning. Local authorities have a toolbox of phrases—fairly standard nationwide—that they use to offer guidance to website editors about dealing with sensitive topics. The harshest response is “completely and immediately delete.” But with the rapid growth of difficult-to-control social media, a need has arisen for a wide range of more subtle alternatives. For stories that are acceptable, but only after proper pruning, the operative phrase is “first censor, then publish.” For sensitive topics on which central media have already said something, the instructions may say “reprint Xinhua but nothing more.” For topics that cannot be avoided because they are already being widely discussed, there are such options as “mention without hyping,” “publish but only under small headlines,” “put only on back pages,” “close the comment boxes,” and “downplay as time passes.”

We know all this thanks in large part to Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at Berkeley, who leads the world in ferreting out and piecing together how Chinese Internet censorship works. Xiao and his staff have collected and organized a repository of more than 2,600 directives that website editors across China have received during the last ten years. Some are only a line or two long; others run to many pages. Some are verbatim, others are paraphrases. Some were collected from Twitter, Sina Weibo (China’s domestic Twitter), and Internet forums, while others were sent to Xiao by editors in China who were frustrated or angry—either at what the directives said or at the fact of censorship itself.

And as Xiao has discovered, the new censorship strategies show the government’s growing awareness of the power of social media. Informal news stories—often accompanied by photos from smart phones—now spread widely and quickly enough that official media lose credibility if they do not at least mention them. In such cases, “on the back page” might be the best option. Moreover, Web users now understand Internet censorship well enough that the issue can itself be one that angers them. (The traditional print and electronic media are censored, too, but directives for them arrive via unrecorded telephone calls, which are much harder to trace and seldom leak. Because the Internet is too large to manage by telephone, its directives go out in writing.) Under the scrutiny of Web users, propaganda officials face the unwelcome task of censoring the Internet while trying to appear as though they are not—or at least not doing it “unreasonably.” This forces them to seek balance. In one instance, a story about two policemen who were killed in an auto accident got out on the social media; censors anticipated an outcry if they “completely and immediately deleted,” so they allowed the story to appear but added the instruction “close comment boxes”—apparently from fear that the boxes might fill with cheers of the kind that normally spring from generalized resentment of the police.

But as Xiao has revealed, the censors expend even more effort on the parallel task of “guiding” expression in pro-government directions. When a story reflects well on the Party, Web editors receive instructions to “place prominently on the home page” or “immediately recirculate.” Authorities also organize and pay for artificial pro-government expression in chat rooms and comment boxes. Provincial and local offices of External Propaganda and Party Propaganda hire staff at salaries of about US $100 per month (less, for part-time work) to post pro-government comments. It is hard to say how many salaried commenters exist nationwide, but estimates run to the high 100,000s. Some of this commenting is outsourced as piece-work. A few years ago, people who agreed to do this work were given the satiric label “fifty-centers” because they were said to be paid fifty Chinese cents per post. By now there are commercial enterprises that contract for comment work. Even prisons do it; prisoners can earn sentence reductions for producing set numbers of pro-government comments.

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Julian Assange on fighting reach of the superpower

Typically tough piece by Julian Assange, published in the Guardian, that outlines the risks faced by every citizen around the world and why trusting state power is a fool’s game:

The original cypherpunks were mostly Californian libertarians. I was from a different tradition but we all sought to protect individual freedom from state tyranny. Cryptography was our secret weapon. It has been forgotten how subversive this was. Cryptography was then the exclusive property of states, for use in their various wars. By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.

The resulting crackdown, under various “arms trafficking” laws, failed. Cryptography became standardised in web browsers and other software that people now use on a daily basis. Strong cryptography is a vital tool in fighting state oppression. That is the message in my book, Cypherpunks. But the movement for the universal availability of strong cryptography must be made to do more than this. Our future does not lie in the liberty of individuals alone. 

Our work in WikiLeaks imparts a keen understanding of the dynamics of the international order and the logic of empire. During WikiLeaks’ rise we have seen evidence of small countries bullied and dominated by larger ones or infiltrated by foreign enterprise and made to act against themselves. We have seen the popular will denied expression, elections bought and sold, and the riches of countries such as Kenya stolen and auctioned off to plutocrats in London and New York.

The struggle for Latin American self-determination is important for many more people than live in Latin America, because it shows the rest of the world that it can be done. But Latin American independence is still in its infancy. Attempts at subversion of Latin American democracy are still happening, including most recently in Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.

This is why the message of the cypherpunks is of special importance to Latin American audiences. Mass surveillance is not just an issue for democracy and governance – it’s a geopolitical issue. The surveillance of a whole population by a foreign power naturally threatens sovereignty. Intervention after intervention in the affairs of Latin American democracy have taught us to be realistic. We know that the old powers will still exploit any advantage to delay or suppress the outbreak of Latin American independence.

Consider simple geography. Everyone knows oil resources drive global geopolitics. The flow of oil determines who is dominant, who is invaded, and who is ostracised from the global community. Physical control over even a segment of an oil pipeline yields great geopolitical power. Governments in this position can extract huge concessions. In a stroke, the Kremlin can sentence eastern Europe and Germany to a winter without heat. And even the prospect of Tehran running a pipeline eastwards to India and China is a pretext for bellicose logic from Washington.

But the new great game is not the war for oil pipelines. It is the war for information pipelines: the control over fibre-optic cable paths that spread undersea and overland. The new global treasure is control over the giant data flows that connect whole continents and civlisations, linking the communications of billions of people and organisations. 

It is no secret that, on the internet and on the phone, all roads to and from Latin America lead through the United States. Internet infrastructure directs 99% of the traffic to and from South America over fibre-optic lines that physically traverse US borders. The US government has shown no scruples about breaking its own law to tap into these lines and spy on its own citizens. There are no such laws against spying on foreign citizens. Every day, hundreds of millions of messages from the entire Latin American continent are devoured by US spy agencies, and stored forever in warehouses the size of small cities. The geographical facts about the infrastructure of the internet therefore have consequences for the independence and sovereignty of Latin America.

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Repeat after me, you have no privacy online ever

If we have discovered only one thing recently with the revelations of Edward Snowden, it’s that the US has established an all-seeing and all-hearing surveillance apparatus that knows no bounds.

This investigation in the Washington Post adds to this picture:

The U.S. government had a problem: Spying in the digital age required access to the fiber-optic cables traversing the world’s oceans, carrying torrents of data at the speed of light. And one of the biggest operators of those cables was being sold to an Asian firm, potentially complicating American surveillance efforts.

Enter “Team Telecom.”

In months of private talks, the team of lawyers from the FBI and the departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security demanded that the company maintain what amounted to an internal corporate cell of American citizens with government clearances. Among their jobs, documents show, was ensuring that surveillance requests got fulfilled quickly and confidentially.

This “Network Security Agreement,” signed in September 2003 by Global Crossing, became a model for other deals over the past decade as foreign investors increasingly acquired pieces of the world’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The publicly available agreements offer a window into efforts by U.S. officials to safeguard their ability to conduct surveillance through the fiber-optic networks that carry a huge majority of the world’s voice and Internet traffic.

The agreements, whose main purpose is to secure the U.S. telecommunications networks against foreign spying and other actions that could harm national security, do not authorize surveillance. But they ensure that when U.S. government agencies seek access to the massive amounts of data flowing through their networks, the companies have systems in place to provide it securely, say people familiar with the deals.

Negotiating leverage has come from a seemingly mundane government power: the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to approve cable licenses. In deals involving a foreign company, say people familiar with the process, the FCC has held up approval for many months while the squadron of lawyers dubbed Team Telecom developed security agreements that went beyond what’s required by the laws governing electronic eavesdropping.

The security agreement for Global Crossing, whose fiber-optic network connected 27 nations and four continents, required the company to have a “Network Operations Center” on U.S. soil that could be visited by government officials with 30 minutes of warning. Surveillance requests, meanwhile, had to be handled by U.S. citizens screened by the government and sworn to secrecy — in many cases prohibiting information from being shared even with the company’s executives and directors.

Our telecommunications companies have no real independence in standing up to the requests of government or in revealing data,” said Susan Crawford, a Yeshiva University law professor and former Obama White House official. “This is yet another example where that’s the case.”

The full extent of the National Security Agency’s access to fiber-optic cables remains classified. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying that legally authorized data collection “has been one of our most important tools for the protection of the nation’s — and our allies’ — security. Our use of these authorities has been properly classified to maximize the potential for effective collection against foreign terrorists and other adversaries.”

It added, “As always, the Intelligence and law enforcement communities will continue to work with all members of Congress to ensure the proper balance of privacy and protection for American citizens.”

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How the vast, privatised intelligence world is permanent

Interesting article in the New York Times that outlines some of the background to NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It casually explains how in a post 9/11 worldc countless private employees have control over a vast network of individual communications. Transparency? As if:

Intelligence officials refer to Edward J. Snowden’s job as a National Security Agency contractor as “systems administrator” — a bland name for the specialists who keep the computers humming. But his last job before leaking classified documents about N.S.A. surveillance, he told the news organization The Guardian, was actually “infrastructure analyst.”

It is a title that officials have carefully avoided mentioning, perhaps for fear of inviting questions about the agency’s aggressive tactics: an infrastructure analyst at the N.S.A., like a burglar casing an apartment building, looks for new ways to break into Internet and telephone traffic around the world.

That assignment helps explain how Mr. Snowden got hold of documents laying bare the top-secret capabilities of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, setting off a far-reaching political and diplomatic crisis for the Obama administration.

Even as some members of Congress have challenged the N.S.A.’s collection of logs of nearly every phone call Americans make, European officials furiously protested on Sunday after Mr. Snowden’s disclosure that the N.S.A. has bugged European Union offices in Washington and Brussels and, with its British counterpart, has tapped the Continent’s major fiber-optic communications cables.

On Sunday evening, The Guardian posted an article saying documents leaked by Mr. Snowden show 38 embassies and missions on a list of United States electronic surveillance targets. Some of those offices belong to allies like France, Italy, Japan and Mexico, The Guardian said.

Mr. Snowden, who planned his leaks for at least a year, has said he took the infrastructure analyst position with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii in March, evidently taking a pay cut, to gain access to a fresh supply of documents.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the N.S.A. hacked,” he told The South China Morning Post before leaving Hong Kong a week ago for Moscow, where he has been in limbo in the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

A close reading of Mr. Snowden’s documents shows the extent to which the eavesdropping agency now has two new roles: It is a data cruncher, with an appetite to sweep up, and hold for years, a staggering variety of information. And it is an intelligence force armed with cyberweapons, assigned not just to monitor foreign computers but also, if necessary, to attack.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the documents suggest, the N.S.A. decided it was too risky to wait for leads on specific suspects before going after relevant phone and Internet records. So it followed the example of the hoarder who justifies stacks of paper because someday, somehow, a single page could prove vitally important.

The agency began amassing databases of “metadata” — logs of all telephone calls collected from the major carriers and similar data on e-mail traffic. The e-mail program was halted in 2011, though it appears possible that the same data is now gathered in some other way.

The documents show that America’s phone and Internet companies grew leery of N.S.A. demands as the years passed after 9/11, fearing that customers might be angry to find out their records were shared with the government. More and more, the companies’ lawyers insisted on legal orders to compel them to comply.

So the N.S.A. came up with a solution: store the data itself. That is evidently what gave birth to a vast data storage center that the N.S.A. is building in Utah, exploiting the declining cost of storage and the advance of sophisticated search software.

Those huge databases were once called “bit buckets” in the industry — collections of electronic bits waiting to be sifted. “They park stuff in storage in the hopes that they will eventually have time to get to it,” said James Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “or that they’ll find something that they need to go back and look for in the masses of data.” But, he added, “most of it sits and is never looked at by anyone.”

Indeed, an obscure passage in one of the Snowden documents — rules for collecting Internet data that the Obama administration wrote in secret in 2009 and that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved — suggested that the government was concerned about its ability to process all the data it was collecting. So it got the court to approve an exception allowing the government to hold on to that information if it could not keep up. The rules said that “the communications that may be retained” for up to five years “include electronic communications acquired because of the limitation on the N.S.A.’s ability to filter communications.”

As one private expert who sometimes advises the N.S.A. on this technology put it: “This means that if you can’t desalinate all the seawater at once, you get to hold on to the ocean until you figure it out.”

Collecting that ocean requires the brazen efforts of tens of thousands of technicians like Mr. Snowden. On Thursday, President Obama played down Mr. Snowden’s importance, perhaps concerned that the manhunt was itself damaging the image and diplomatic relations of the United States. “No, I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker,” the president said during a stop in Senegal.

Mr. Obama presumably meant the term to be dismissive, suggesting that Mr. Snowden (who turned 30 on June 21) was a young computer delinquent. But as an N.S.A. infrastructure analyst, Mr. Snowden was, in a sense, part of the United States’ biggest and most skilled team of hackers.

The N.S.A., Mr. Snowden’s documents show, has worked with its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, to tap into hundreds of fiber-optic cables that cross the Atlantic or go on into Europe, with the N.S.A. helping sort the data. The disclosure revived old concerns that the British might be helping the N.S.A. evade American privacy protections, an accusation that American officials flatly deny.

And a secret presidential directive on cyberactivities unveiled by Mr. Snowden — discussing the primary new task of the N.S.A. and its military counterpart, Cyber Command — makes clear that when the agency’s technicians probe for vulnerabilities to collect intelligence, they also study foreign communications and computer systems to identify potential targets for a future cyberwar.

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Background and context to revealing Edward Snowden NSA stories

It’s been quite a month since the details emerged of massive spying by the NSA. Here are two interesting interviews and a speech by key players.

First, Guardian editors Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson discuss how the paper managed the ways in which a mainstream media news organisation publishes sensitive information. They’re speaking to Charlie Rose:

One of the major figures in this story, Glenn Greenwald, spoke to this week’s Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago via Skype. It’s an inspiring talk about journalistic bravery, gutlessness in the media and taking a risk. It’s why both he and Jeremy Scahill, who introduces Greenwald, are two of the most important and brave reporters currently working:

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What Ed Snowden’s revelations say about our so-called democracy

It’s the kind of story that necessarily interests the general public. Surveillance, leaking, US power and Wikileaks (note, for the record, in today’s New York Times yet another clear indication that the US wants to destroy/punish the vitally important website). Last week I wrote for the Guardian about the PRISM revelations by Edward Snowden and the deafening silence in many establishment circles. Now, an interesting idea that continues the conversation (written by Comment is Free editor Jess Reed):

In a new series, Comment is free writers and editors want to highlight some of the best comments on the site. Each week, either an editor or the author of a recent piece will pick a comment that they think contributes to the debate. Hopefully, it will give staff and readers an opportunity to see how thought-provoking such contributions can be and allow great posts the chance to be seen by a wider audience.

In our fifth instalment, Antony Loewenstein, who recently wrote about the Prism surveillance scandal and the lack of outrage that followed in Australia, has picked a comment by rustyschwinnToo:

“Where is the outrage over Prism in Australia? In the same place as Australian outrage over Echelon. Next to the US, Australia is probably the second most insular “western” democracy in the world. And even more ready to believe that it’s all about foreigners, which doesn’t include them but does include anybody slightly brown tinged or with a funny accent on the continent, than the Americans.

“I was talking to a (typically) frighteningly casual racist Australian yesterday. And he was genuinely convinced that NSA would only be spying on “immigrant darkies” in Australia. He couldn’t grasp the concept that TCP/IP and the ISO communications model don’t have an ethnic identification layer. And the NSA don’t (can’t) racially profile meta data.”

Antony explains why he picked this comment:

“One of the constant refrains about the Snowden revelations, from supporters of unaccountable surveillance, is that the state and authorities would never peek into lives that have no connection to terrorism. Or that Washington has a watertight court oversight (Glenn Greenwalddemolished that lie recently). The commenter understands that the post 9/11 world has seen development of a massive, privatised system of monitoring and gathering metadata on us all. I have to agree that insularity is an Australian speciality (not unique to us, alas). These Prism revelations should alarm politicians and media but far too many of them are sucking on the drip-feed of sanctioned US government and intelligence leaks and information to care. The online rage against the Obama administration recently shows that many in the public are demanding action.”

• Let us know your thoughts on this exchange in the comments below, and tell us whether it has given you a new insight into the issue.

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