September 26, 2015
Crisis: The GCHQ, Anti-Semitism, Gitmo Info Classified, A Corbyn Speech

 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online

2.  Dianne Feinstein and her Military-Contractor Husband
3.  Despite Pledge, U.S. Still Not Letting Gitmo Detainees
      Tell Their Stories

4.  The Kind of Society We Want

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, September 26, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 4 items with 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about the GCHQ, and is quite interesting and recommended; item 2 is about Feinstein's and others' attempts to make - what they call - anti-semitism a ground for removing students from their universities (in contradiction with the First Amendment and academic freedom); item 3 is about the US's attempts to keep formally unclassified materials classified, very probably because the full truth about the US's tortures would be pretty awful; and item 4 is a review of a recent speech by Jeremy Corbyn (which I found a little disappointing).

1. From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities

The first article today is by Ryan Gallagher:
This starts as follows:
THERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”

Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.

The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

And that - "Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”" - is precisely (1) why I am completely against all this governmental snooping and spying, and (2) why I think "terrorism" was not the real cause but only the pretext on the basis of which these data - all data that can be gotten, from every internet-user, anywhere on the planet - are being gathered.

Also (3) I think the real reason why every internet-user's data are gathered is to control them. You may disagree with (2) and (3) - and I, like everyone else who has no power over the GCHQ must be guessing - but (1) clearly contradicts article 12 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 12.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
According to that article, anybody who works for the GCHQ is a criminal, for they are arbitrarily interfering in everything that anyone does with their computers or cell-phones, and in nearly every case without any suspicion of their doing anything criminal, and without any judicial test or approval.

Then there is this:

Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.

One system builds profiles showing people’s web browsing histories. Another analyzes instant messenger communications, emails, Skype calls, text messages, cell phone locations, and social media interactions. Separate programs were built to keep tabs on “suspicious” Google searches and usage of Google Maps.

The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens  all without a court order or judicial warrant.

I agree - and note the illegal "all without a court order or judicial warrant": Again, this is in flagrant contradiction with Article 12.

As of 2012, GCHQ was storing about 50 billion metadata records about online communications and Web browsing activity every day, with plans in place to boost capacity to 100 billion daily by the end of that year. The agency, under cover of secrecy, was working to create what it said would soon be the biggest government surveillance system anywhere in the world.
Which means that they were storing 7 items a day on everyone who lives on earth (and probably are storing at least twice as much, and probably more, in 2015).

GCHQ’s documents indicate that the plans for KARMA POLICE were drawn up between 2007 and 2008. The system was designed to provide the agency with “either (a) a web browsing profile for every visible user on the Internet, or (b) a user profile for every visible website on the Internet.”

I am sorry, but these are wholly criminal and morally completely despicable activities. WTF has the English secret service to do with storing all they can get, from internet-users in Mongolia, India, Africa, South-America or Holland?! Or wherever?!

But yes, here is their motive:

The origin of the surveillance system’s name is not discussed in the documents. But KARMA POLICE is also the name of a popular song released in 1997 by the Grammy Award-winning British band Radiohead, suggesting the spies may have been fans.

A verse repeated throughout the hit song includes the lyric, “This is what you’ll get, when you mess with us.”

And here are some of the ways they hope to mess with you or anyone else who broke their secret rules somehow - and these are all from the GCHQ, and were gathered by Edward Snowden, who doesn't want to live in a society where things like this are possible:

Then there is this:
The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose  helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks.
There are examples in the article, and it surely is an interesting way to learn about copyrighted and secret materials these companies owe. (It is theft, in case you wonder.)

There is this on the - 2010-2012 - scope of the GCHQ:

Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location  situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe  a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables.

In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”

They have no rights whatsoever to track or trace anyone's computer or cell-phone if he or she is not British, but they can and therefore they do - and anyone who protests gets to hear they are a secret organization and will not detail anything.

Here is a opinion of the director of MIT's Center for Civic Media:

For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy”  leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication.

“Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”

Yes, of course - and please note that everything we may do with a computer or cell-phone may be spied upon and downloaded by the GCHQ, who also may spy on you for 24 hours a day in everything you do, also in your own home, and your own sleeping room. And all you know about them is that you do not know who they are, you do not know the real rules by which they play, and you also do not know what they are interested in, normally, which indeed may be anything. All you know is that you may be tracked, and may be arrested for what is found on your computer or phone, at least if you are British.

Finally, there is this:

The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”

In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities.

Indeed: so far as I know the GCHQ can do whatever they please and can get whatever they want (if unencrypted), and all you will hear from them is that they don't answer any questions, and play by the rules (which are basically void in case they are the European Convention on Human Rights, I am very sorry to say, but see this in case you are interested).

There is a lot more in the article, which is recommended reading.

2. Dianne Feinstein and her Military-Contractor Husband

The next article today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
There is no shortage of American pundits who love to denounce “PC” speech codes which restrict and punish the expression of certain ideas on college campuses. What these self-styled campus-free-speech crusaders typically – and quite tellingly – fail to mention is that the most potent such campaigns are often devoted to outlawing or otherwise punishing criticisms of Israel.
Incidentally: Glenn Greenwald has a Jewish background, but that was largely non-religious. The reason to state it is that it may be relevant here. And Greenwald's complaints are three, of which I will review two. Here is the first:

One of the most dangerous threats to campus free speech has been emerging at the highest levels of the University of California system, the sprawling collection of 10 campuses which includes UCLA and UC Berkeley. The University’s governing Board of Regents, with the support of University President Janet Napolitano and egged on by the State’s legislature, has been attempting to adopt new speech codes that – in the name of combating “anti-Semitism” – would formally ban various forms of Israel criticism and anti-Israel activism.

Under the most stringent such regulations, students found to be in violation of these codes would face suspension or expulsion.
I agree, firstly because this limits free speech, and indeed also free thinking, and secondly because "anti-semitism" tends to be far too vague, and indeed is often used as an argument against those who criticize Israel's policies (sometimes while being Jewish or of Jewist background: Max Blumenthal, Norman Finkelstein).

Besides, while I have seen some vile anti-semitism, throwing students out for expressing these views is an overreaction, and is indeed in contradiction with the First Amendment.

Second, there is this:
But most important of all, whatever you think of this State Department definition, it has no place whatsoever regulating which ideas can and cannot be expressed in an academic institution, particularly one that is run by the state (such as the University of California is). Adoption of this “anti-Semitism” definition clearly would function to prohibit the advocacy of, say, a one-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, or even the questioning of a state’s right to exist as a non-secular entity. How can anyone think it’s appropriate to declare such ideas off-limits in academic classrooms or outlaw them as part of campus activism?
Yes, indeed - clearly, “anti-Semitism” (however defined) is a political judgement, and such judgements are neither scientific nor academic nor indeed "value-free". And while such judgements may be made (free speech!) they should not be used to restrict academic discussions or exchanges of ideas, also not if one agrees with them.

The third complaint of Greenwald concern Diane Feinstein and her husband, who are strongly for imposing anti-semitism rules to restrict free speech on campuses. I agree with Greenwald, but leave this to your interests. But it is relevant to the last quotation, that in fact criticizes three levels of "anti-anti-Semitism":
It’s one thing to apply political pressure to induce governments to adopt speech-repressive definitions of “anti-Semitism” that are non-binding. It’s another thing entirely to try to import them onto state-run college campuses where they are used to outlaw the expression of certain forms of criticisms of the Israeli government. And it’s another thing entirely for a prominent public official like Dianne Feinstein to have her husband throw their ample financial and political weight around in order to threaten and bully school administrators to ban ideas which this power couple dislike and punish the students who express them.
I agree. [1]

3. Despite Pledge, U.S. Still Not Letting Gitmo Detainees Tell Their Stories

The next article today is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

Despite promises to allow Guantánamo prisoners to speak more freely about their experiences there, the U.S. government is still blocking the release of over 100 pages of notes and diaries from torture victim Abu Zubaydah.

The U.S. had for many years taken the position that the prisoners could not describe their own experiences of torture and confinement because those activities were classified.

But in January, after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, the government changed its classification rules. In a brief filed in a military commission case, the government wrote that “general allegations of torture” minus specific details about the CIA agents involved or the location, were now unclassified.

Well: Abu Zubaydah was tortured; torture is illegal in the United States; therefore the US has no rights to withhold Zubaydah's information about the tortures he survived. At least, that is how I would argue, though I am not amazed that the US government disagrees.

Then there are human rights organizations, who argue on the line I just gave:

A group of nine different human rights organizations sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week demanding the release of Zubaydah’s reminiscences. “Earlier this year … the government made clear in certain military commission cases and in its own classification guidance pertaining to the RDI program, that the ‘conditions of confinement’ and the ‘treatment’ of detainees while in CIA custody, among other things, were no longer classified,” the letter states. “That the administration is now refusing to permit the release of Abu Zubaydah’s account of his treatment is a setback for a trend towards greater openness.”

Yes, though I am not amazed at all. Finally, there is this:

“A prisoner’s memories of the details of his disappearance and torture … is not information owned by the U.S. government, and cannot be properly classified,” wrote Katherine Hawkins, a national security fellow for, in a letter last week to John Fitzpatrick, the director of the government’s information security oversight office.

I agree, and one reason is that the U.S. laws forbid torture, and therefore when they classify information that specifies their own illegal acts they are acting illegally.

But I can understand why: The full truth about the many tortures the Americans engaged in would be a great danger to themselves and the moral standards they mouth, but do not play by.

4. The Kind of Society We Want

The last article today is by Jeremy Corbyn on Truthdig:

This is from the beginning, and is about trade unions:
There are six million of us in this country. We are the largest voluntary organisation in Britain. Every day we make a difference in looking after people in their ordinary lives as well as a huge contribution in the wider community. Unions are not just about the workplace, they are also about society as a whole, life as a whole, and the right of the working class to have a voice in society as a whole. That is why trade unionism is so important.
I agree, though I may not agree with specific proposals of the trade unions. Then
again, that is not relevant here: This is merely about their right to exist, with which I wholeheartedly agree.

What brought them together was a sense of optimism and hope. What brought them together was a sense of the way things can be done better in politics in Britain.

Those values I want restored to the heart of the Labour Party, which was of course itself a creation of the trade unions and socialists in the first place.
This is mostly quoted because of the ending, which is quite true. Next, there is this:
The election process that I have just come through was an electorate of 558,000 people, the largest electorate ever for an internal party election. The number of votes that were cast for me were more than twice the total membership of the Tory Party in the whole country. That is something to savour.
That is an interesting statistic: That Corbyn was elected by "more than twice the total membership of the Tory Party in the whole country". Then there is this:
Yesterday the Tories put the Second Reading of the Trade Union Bill to Parliament, and, sadly, it achieved its Second Reading and it has now gone into Committee. Basically, they are declaring war on organised labour in this country ever since they won the General Election, albeit with the support of 24% of the electorate.
Another interesting statistic: The Tories were elected with the support of less than 1/4th of the - total - electorate, which, is also true, never votes for 100% and usually a lot less. Even so, it is true that the Tories presently govern everyone who is British on the basis of a mere 24% of all possible votes.

Then there is this about the - so-called - "
Welfare Reform Bill":
The Welfare Reform Bill is anything but welfare reform. It is all about building on the cuts they have already made, making the lives of the most vulnerable and poorest people in our society even worse. The disability benefits cuts that have been made over the past five years and the availability of the work test have had some disastrous — appalling — consequences where people have even committed suicide and taken their own lives out of a sense of desperation. I simply ask the question: what kind of a society are we living in where we deliberately put regulations through knowing what the effects are going to be on very poor and very vulnerable people who end up committing suicide? And we say it is all part of a normal process. No, it is not!
Well: You are living in a society that is currently governed by Tories who know that every penny they save on the many poor can go to support the few rich - and yes, I know of some Englishmen with my disease (M.E.) who have suicided meanwhile. I do not know for what reasons, but probably the very little disability money coupled to the enormous disrespect for their disease played an important role.

Here is the last quotation I"ll give - and "they" are the Tories:
What they are [as] is “poverty deniers”. They are ignoring the growing queues at food banks; they are ignoring the housing crisis; they are cutting tax credits when child poverty rose by half-a-million under the last government to over four million. Let’s be clear. Austerity is actually a political choice that this government has taken and they are imposing it on the most vulnerable and poorest in our society.
Yes, but I don't think they are "ignoring". It seems more probable that they are enjoying it, again because they know every penny that's saved on the poor can be spend on the rich.

Finally: I reviewed this mostly because of the title and the speaker. I am a little disappointed, for the title wasn't really answered, at least not much beyond "We want to live in a society with strong trade unions and a fair income" (I agree, but there is a lot more to be covered) and my guess is also that Jeremy Corbyn is not a really great public speaker.

P.S. Sep 27, 2015: Corrected "here" to "hear".


[1] Actually, I do not know the degree of my Jewishness (as defined by some, to whom I do not belong), and it doesn't interest me either. My father and his father were arrested by the Nazis and convicted by collaborating Dutch judges in 1941 to concentration camp imprisonment as "political terrorists", because they were communists. My grandfather did not survive. I think my father's mother - whom my grandfather divorced - had a Jewish background, though she was in fact a Protestant. My father had black hair, a big nose, and talked with his hands, and also insisted that Jewishness was a faith and not a race (as both religious Jews and dr. Goebbels insist(ed)), and I agree with him. My father's father had no Jewish background (I think, but don't know). As to my mother's parents: They were anarchists and completely non-religious. But I never asked them or my mother. In any case, I'd say I am not Jewish, for the simple reason that neither myself, nor my parents, nor my grandparents had that faith. But I don't know (in a racial sense) and I never inquired, and don't want to know either, because I also don't believe the Jews are a race.

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