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.

ABCTV Big Ideas on IQ2 debate over technology

In August I was involved in an IQ2 Squared debate in Sydney (and my side won, for the record, despite the audience starting off backing the other team.) This was broadcast by ABCTV1’s Big Ideas:

Are we becoming enslaved to our technology?

This was a decent Intelligence Squared debate with the audience split between the oldies, some middle aged hipsters and a bunch of law students.

The biggest drawcard was Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton, who turned in a good performance for the negative. That is, we are not enslaved by technology. He was backed by journalist, filmmaker and blogger, Antony Loewenstein, and Asher Wolf, a self-described ‘information activist’.

On the affirmative was Crikey’s Bernard Keane, Alastair McGibbon, an Associate Professor at the University of Canberra and Katina Michael. Michael is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Systems and Technology at the University of Wollongong. Consequently hers is a surprising stand and she does a decent imitation of a rapper in a great big spray on the ‘evils of technology’.

This debate was moderated by Simon Longstaff and recorded at the City Recital Hall in Sydney.

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ABC Radio interview on technology addiction

Last night I was interviewed by ABC Sundays about the role of technology in the modern world and whether we’re enslaved by it. I’ll be debating this issue on Tuesday at an IQ2 event:

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SBS Radio interview on #FreePalestine and Gaza

Last weekend I was interviewed by SBS News Radio about the war in Gaza, the use of social media and what #FreePalestine really means:

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On the importance of Twitter as an author and journalist

For the upcoming Sydney Writer’s Festival (I’m speaking at three events) I was interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald on my use of Twitter:

Antony Loewenstein @antloewenstein

Journalist and author:My Israel QuestionThe Blogging Revolution

I joined Twitter in 2009 because I’m a news junkie and I was interested in finding information on a new medium. It allows me to connect with people around the world who I wouldn’t normally speak to – journalists, activists, writers, dissidents, and because I write about issues in the Middle East or issues of immigration detention in Australia, I find invaluable information from writers to refugees to activists who don’t normally have a voice in mainstream media.

I enjoy being challenged on Twitter and I enjoy being comforted. The downside is Twitter addiction. I may need to go into some kind of treatment for it. I tweet a lot. But I do have a rule that I don’t talk about my personal life, partner, family or where I’m going. I encourage people to find that space rather than tweeting everything they do. I think there is danger in willingly giving up our privacy to corporations mining our personal information.

Following: @ggreenwald (Glenn Greenwald), @MattAikins, @carwinb (Alexa O’Brien)

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Ed Snowden: Encryption is answer to NSA spying

Striking conversation with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden at America’s SXSW overnight.

We can and must resist unwarranted government and corporate snooping:

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How the NSA can monitor literally every keystroke we make

An important end of year discussion on Democracy Now!, following revelations in Der Spiegel about NSA hacking into networks around the world, featuring Glenn Greenwald and the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer:

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Global reach of the NSA is literally everywhere

Edward Snowden, a hero not a traitor, has provided the world with an invaluable insight into the scope of NSA spying. Surveillance is rampant and literally everything is being scooped up. Resistance is both vital and timely.

A long and detailed report in the New York Times (a similar version appears in the Guardian) explaining why Washington’s powers must be curbed and/or interrupted:

No investment seems too great if it adds to the agency’s global phone book. After mounting a major eavesdropping effort focused on a climate change conference in Bali in 2007, agency analysts stationed in Australia’s outback were especially thrilled by one catch: the cellphone number of Bali’s police chief.

“Our mission,” says the agency’s current five-year plan, which has not been officially scheduled for declassification until 2032, “is to answer questions about threatening activities that others mean to keep hidden.”

The aspirations are grandiose: to “utterly master” foreign intelligence carried on communications networks. The language is corporate: “Our business processes need to promote data-driven decision-making.” But the tone is also strikingly moralistic for a government bureaucracy. Perhaps to counter any notion that eavesdropping is a shady enterprise, signals intelligence, or Sigint, the term of art for electronic intercepts, is presented as the noblest of callings.

“Sigint professionals must hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms,” the plan declares. “Some of our adversaries will say or do anything to advance their cause; we will not.”

The N.S.A. documents taken by Mr. Snowden and shared with The Times, numbering in the thousands and mostly dating from 2007 to 2012, are part of a collection of about 50,000 items that focus mainly on its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters or G.C.H.Q.

While far from comprehensive, the documents give a sense of the agency’s reach and abilities, from the Navy ships snapping up radio transmissions as they cruise off the coast of China, to the satellite dishes at Fort Meade in Maryland ingesting worldwide banking transactions, to the rooftops of 80 American embassies and consulates around the world from which the agency’s Special Collection Service aims its antennas.

The agency and its many defenders among senior government officials who have relied on its top secret reports say it is crucial to American security and status in the world, pointing to terrorist plots disrupted, nuclear proliferation tracked and diplomats kept informed.

But the documents released by Mr. Snowden sometimes also seem to underscore the limits of what even the most intensive intelligence collection can achieve by itself. Blanket N.S.A. eavesdropping in Afghanistan, described in the documents as covering government offices and the hide-outs of second-tier Taliban militants alike, has failed to produce a clear victory against a low-tech enemy. The agency kept track as Syria amassed its arsenal of chemical weapons — but that knowledge did nothing to prevent the gruesome slaughter outside Damascus in August.

The documents are skewed toward celebration of the agency’s self-described successes, as underlings brag in PowerPoints to their bosses about their triumphs and the managers lay out grand plans. But they do not entirely omit the agency’s flubs and foibles: flood tides of intelligence gathered at huge cost that goes unexamined; intercepts that cannot be read for lack of language skills; and computers that — even at the N.S.A. — go haywire in all the usual ways.

That creates intense pressure not to miss anything. When that is combined with an ample budget and near-invisibility to the public, the result is aggressive surveillance of the kind that has sometimes gotten the agency in trouble with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a United States federal court that polices its programs for breaches of Americans’ privacy.

In the funding boom that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency expanded and decentralized far beyond its Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland, building or expanding major facilities in Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington State and Utah. Its officers also operate out of major overseas stations in England, Australia, South Korea and Japan, at overseas military bases, and from locked rooms housing the Special Collection Service inside American missions abroad.

The agency, using a combination of jawboning, stealth and legal force, has turned the nation’s Internet and telecommunications companies into collection partners, installing filters in their facilities, serving them with court orders, building back doors into their software and acquiring keys to break their encryption.

But even that vast American-run web is only part of the story. For decades, the N.S.A. has shared eavesdropping duties with the rest of the so-called Five Eyes, the Sigint agencies of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. More limited cooperation occurs with many more countries, including formal arrangements called Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes and Nacsi, an alliance of the agencies of 26 NATO countries.

The extent of Sigint sharing can be surprising: “N.S.A. may pursue a relationship with Vietnam,” one 2009 G.C.H.Q. document reported. But a recent G.C.H.Q. training document suggests that not everything is shared, even between the United States and Britain. “Economic well-being reporting,” it says, referring to intelligence gathered to aid the British economy, “cannot be shared with any foreign partner.”

As at the school lunch table, decisions on who gets left out can cause hurt feelings: “Germans were a little grumpy at not being invited to join the 9-Eyes group,” one 2009 document remarks. And in a delicate spy-versus-spy dance, sharing takes place even with governments that are themselves important N.S.A. targets, notably Israel.

The documents describe collaboration with the Israel Sigint National Unit, which gets raw N.S.A. eavesdropping material and provides it in return, but they also mention the agency’s tracking of “high priority Israeli military targets,” including drone aircraft and the Black Sparrow missile system.

The alliances, and the need for stealth, can get complicated. At one highly valued overseas listening post, the very presence of American N.S.A. personnel violates a treaty agreed to by the agency’s foreign host. Even though much of the eavesdropping is run remotely from N.S.A.’s base at Fort Gordon, Ga., Americans who visit the site must pose as contractors, carry fake business cards and are warned: “Don’t dress as typical Americans.”

“Know your cover legend,” a PowerPoint security briefing admonishes the N.S.A. staff members headed to the overseas station, directing them to “sanitize personal effects,” send no postcards home and buy no identifiably local souvenirs. (“An option might be jewelry. Most jewelry does not have any markings” showing its place of origin.)

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US mass surveillance in the Pacific

Here’s my weekly Guardian column published today:

What if China was beating the US at its own super-power game in the Pacific and we didn’t even notice?

While Washington distracts itself with shutdown shenanigans and failed attempts to control the situation in the Middle East, president Obama’s “pivot to Asia” looks increasingly shaky. Beijing is quietly filling the gap, signing multi-billion dollar trade deals with Indonesia and calling for a regional infrastructure bank.

Meanwhile in recent years, New Zealand has been feeling some of the US’s attention, and conservative prime minister John Key is more than happy to shift his country’s traditional skepticism towards Washington into a much friendlier embrace. Canberra is watching approvingly. It’s almost impossible to recall a critical comment by leaders of either country towards global US surveillance. We are like obedient school children, scared that the bully won’t like us if we dare push back and argue harder for our own national interests.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), warmly backed by Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand, is just the latest example of US client states allowing US multinationals far too much influence in their markets in a futile attempt to challenge ever-increasing Chinese business ties in Asia. German-born, New Zealand resident and internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom tweeted this week:

in a nutshell US Corp lobbyists drafted TPPA US Corp & Govt expand power US Corp lawyers can sue NZ NZ can’t win. GET OUT”

This erosion of sovereignty goes to the heart with what’s wrong with today’s secretive and unaccountable arrangements between nations desperate to remain under the US’s security blanket, and New Zealand provides an intriguing case-study in how not to behave, including using US spy services to monitor the phone calls of Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson and his colleagues while reporting the war in Afghanistan.

There’s no indication that Australia isn’t following exactly the same path, with new evidence that Australia knew about the US spying network Prism long before it was made public. We still don’t know the exact extent of intelligence sharing between Australia and the US, except it’s very close and guaranteed to continue. Frustratingly, the “Five Eyes” relationship between English-speaking democracies has only been seriously discussed publicly in the last years by Greens senator Scott Ludlam.

New Zealand is a close Australian neighbour, but news from there rarely enters our media. This is a shame because we can learn a lot from the scandal surrounding the illegal monitoring of Dotcom and the public outcry which followed, something missing in Australia after countless post-Snowden stories detailing corporate and government spying on all citizens.

Dotcom is the founder of Megaupload (today called Mega), a file sharing website that incurred the wrath of US authorities. Washington wanted to punish him but Dotcom obtained New Zealand residency in late 2010, bringing a close US ally into the mix. Intelligence matters usually remain top-secret, leading New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager tells me, but this case was different, blowing open the illegal spying on Dotcom. His lawyers scrutinised all the police warrants after the FBI-requested raid on his house. The government communications security bureau (GCSB) has always claimed it never monitored New Zealand citizens; Dotcom soon discovered this was false. Public outrage followed, and an investigation revealed many other cases of GCSB over-reach since 2003. Prime minister Key responded by simply changing legislation to allow spying on residents.

Hager explained to me what his investigations uncovered:

“With Dotcom, GCSB helped the police by monitoring Dotcom’s e-mail. What this largely or entirely meant in practice was that the GCSB sent a request through to the NSA to do the monitoring for them and received the results back. This means that the NSA used either wide internet surveillance (essentially “Echelon for the Internet”) or else requests to the internet companies (Gmail etc) directly, ie the Prism type operations. It’s not clear which it was.”

The Key government now wants to increase its monitoring capabilities even more, and New Zealanders are showing concern.

“I spoke at a public meeting in Auckland’s town hall before the GCSB bill was passed. It was the biggest political meeting I can remember attending, with three levels of the large town hall completely full, and hundreds of people turned away. It’s been a big thing here, becoming one of those issues that is a lightning rod for general unhappiness with the government.”

New Zealand journalist Martyn Bradbury has also been a vocal critic of the Dotcom case. He’s pushing for a New Zealand digital bill of rights and tells me that “the case against Dotcom is more about the US stamping their supremacy onto the Pacific by expressing US jurisdiction extends not just into New Zealand domestically, but also into cyberspace itself.”

I talked to one of Dotcom’s lawyers, Ira P Rothken, who went further:

“The US government’s attack against Megaupload bears all the hallmarks of a political prosecution in favour of Hollywood copyright extremists. The US used its influence with New Zealand to unleash a military style raid on Dotcom’s family, to spy on him, and to remove his data from New Zealand without authorisation – all of which has been found to be illegal. Megaupload and Kim Dotcom are today’s targets, but the US crosshairs can just as easily be trained on anybody globally who dares challenge or inconvenience a special interest that holds sway in Washington, and the US – with its notoriously insatiable appetite for demonstrating political and global power – seems all too willing to cooperate.”

This brings us back to China and the US’s attempts to convince its Pacific friends to fear a belligerent and spying Beijing. The irony isn’t lost on the informed who realise Washington’s global spying network is far more pernicious and widespread than anything the Obama administration and corporate media tell us is coming from the Chinese.

Neither China nor the US are benign in the spying stakes. Both are guilty of aggressively pursuing their interests without informing their citizens of their rights and actions. Australia and New Zealand are weak players in an increasingly hostile battle between two super-powers, and many other nations in our region are being seduced by the soft power of Beijing (including Papua New Guinea, partly due to its vast resource wealth).

A lack of transparency abounds. What is desperately needed is an adversarial press determined to demand answers about Australia’s intelligence relationship with the US – and whether all citizens should now presume they’re being monitored on a daily basis.

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Glenn Greenwald challenges puerile pro-government BBC questioning

The Guardian reporter shows how it’s done. Note how virtually every BBC “question” could have been written by the British government in relation to intelligence and Edward Snowden. Welcome to mainstream journalism (just as bad as this infamous interview with Julian Assange in 2012):

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Why #Hashtag love is the worst way to run your online life

Sheer genius:

Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake show you what a Twitter conversation sounds like in real life.

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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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