March 2, 2018

Crisis: Snowden Documents, SIGINT Seniors, On Kushner, Big Pharma, Totalitarian China


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from March 2, 2018.


This is a Nederlog of Friday, March 2, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a
crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was the last five years:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

Section 2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:

A. Selections from March 2, 2018

These are five crisis files that are all well worth reading:
1. More Revelations From 297 Snowden Documents
2. The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed
3. Jared Kushner Flames Out
4. How Big Pharma Is Corrupting the Truth About the Drugs It Sells Us
5. What’s Going Down in China is Very Dangerous – Part 1
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. More Revelations From 297 Snowden Documents

This article is by Margot Williams, Talya Cooper and Micah Lee. It starts as follows:
He was an NSA staffer but also a volunteer, having signed up to provide technical expertise for a wide-ranging, joint CIA mission in Iraq. He did not know what he was getting himself into.

After arriving in Baghdad “grungy and tired,” the staffer would later write, he discovered that the CIA and its partner, the Defense Intelligence Agency, had moved beyond talking to locals and were now intent on looking through their computer files. Marines would bring the NSA man “laptops, hard drives, CDs, phones and radios.” Sometimes the devices were covered in blood — and quite often they contained pornography, deemed “extremely useful” in humiliating and “breaking down” for interrogation the people who owned them.

The story of how the National Security Agency harvested porn for use against prisoners in Iraq is just one of the revelations disclosed in the agency’s internal newsletter SIDtoday during the second half of 2005.

There’s also the tale of how some intercepts would be rushed almost instantly to the president at Camp David via golf cart “with virtually no oversight.”

Then there’s one about how the NSA declared it could find “not many” Arabic translators it could trust among “the largest Arabic-speaking population in the United States.”

Or the story of how the agency listened as the Egyptian government dictated through its communication channels the final results for an election that had barely begun.

Told in more detail below, these are highlights from some 297 SIDtoday articles published today by The Intercept as part of an ongoing project to release, after careful review, material provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

I say - and this is quite welcome to me, even though is now 4 1/2 years since Snowden revealed himself.

Here is a bit more on the present release by The Intercept of Snowden materials:

From the same SIDtoday release — our sixth thus far — we are publishing three other articles. One is an investigation into a secretive global intelligence-sharing alliance led by the NSA, comprising 18 members and known as the SIGINT Seniors. Another looks at increased surveillance in the United Kingdom following the London bombings in 2005 — and discloses for the first time a secret agreement to share metadata harvested from the vast data repositories of the NSA and its counterparts in the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Also today, in collaboration with the Norwegian Broadcaster NRK, we shine light on a large spy base located outside Oslo. The base was built with the NSA’s help to aid Norway’s military and counterterrorism operations overseas. But it has also swept up Norwegian citizens’ phone and email records – and is now at the center of a dispute over illegal surveillance.

The NSA declined to comment for this article.

All of this seems quite interesting to me, and in fact the next item is about the first thing mentioned in the above list. And this is a strongly recommended article.

2. The Powerful Global Spy Alliance You Never Knew Existed

This article is by Ryan Gallagher on The Intercept. It starts as follows:
It is one of the world’s most powerful alliances. And yet most people have probably never heard of it, because its existence is a closely guarded government secret.

The “SIGINT Seniors” is a spy agency coalition that meets annually to collaborate on global security issues. It has two divisions, each focusing on different parts of the world: SIGINT Seniors Europe and SIGINT Seniors Pacific. Both are led by the U.S. National Security Agency, and together they include representatives from at least 17 other countries. Members of the group are from spy agencies that eavesdrop on communications – a practice known as “signals intelligence,” or SIGINT.

Details about the meetings of the SIGINT Seniors are disclosed in a batch of classified documents from the NSA’s internal newsletter SIDToday, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published today by The Intercept. The documents shine light on the secret history of the coalition, the issues that the participating agencies have focused on in recent years, and the systems that allow allied countries to share sensitive surveillance data with each other.

The SIGINT Seniors Europe was formed in 1982, amid the Cold War. Back then, the alliance had nine members, whose primary focus was on uncovering information about the Soviet Union’s military. Following the attacks on the U.S. in September 2001, the group grew to 14 and began focusing its efforts on counterterrorism.

The core participants of the Seniors Europe are the surveillance agencies from the so-called Five Eyes: the NSA and its counterparts from the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. As of April 2013, the other members were intelligence agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

As I said in the previous item, this is one of the many consequences derived from Snowden's materials. I think it is quite important, and indeed I also think that these 14 countries (that include Holland) are far more likely to turn authoritarian, totalitarian or (neo)fascistic than before, for the simple reason that their very few spies have tenthousands of times more powers than did the KGB in the former Soviet Union.

There is considerably more in this article than was reviewed here, and it is recommended.

3. Jared Kushner Flames Out

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

For a Middle East negotiator, President Trump could have chosen a seasoned envoy trusted by all stakeholders and fluent in the region’s nuance. Instead he appointed the heir to an opaque Manhattan real estate empire with deep ties to Israel who boasts that, as a businessman, “I don’t care about the past.”

To lead his initiative on government innovation, Mr. Trump could have named a dynamic authority on technology and entrepreneurship. Instead he chose someone who failed in an expensive effort to bring a New York newspaper into the digital age.

When selecting his closest adviser, Mr. Trump could have chosen from among seasoned and wise strategists. Instead, he picked a political novice with no experience in government.

For all of these crucial roles, Mr. Trump turned to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Though Mr. Trump voices high praise for Mr. Kushner’s talent, the fact that he’s family is qualification enough for a president obsessed with close-lipped loyalty and uninterested in policy unless it benefits himself.

Yes, I think all of this is fair criticism of both Trump and Kushner. And in fact I think both are thoroughly incompetent to play their present roles.

And as for Kushner: He did get in Harvard, but it seems he got there not because of his talents, which are not big enough to be admitted to Harvard, but because his mega-rich father paid some millions to Harvard in order to make them accept him. Or that at least that is the story.

Apart from that, Kushner has had a year of experience as Trump's main man. Here is what Kushner accomplished in a year:

So one year in, what has Mr. Kushner accomplished? The answers point to why, from the nation’s founding to the present day, the architects of American democracy have tried so mightily to restrict the hiring of presidential relatives. Mr. Kushner’s achievements have not only been paltry, but he is directly implicated in some of the president’s most destructive — and self-destructive — decisions, as well as in some of the most serious accusations of self-dealing that have been made against the administration.

For more than two centuries, the principle that federal officials would be selected on the basis of merit, not heredity, has been protected as much by tradition, cultural norms and a desire to avoid the appearance of impropriety as it has been by law. That has proved an insufficient bulwark against an insecure, ignorant president, and his administration, and the American people are now paying the price.

Yes, I agree - although I should add that it would have been very easy to forbid a president to make nepotistic assignments. In any case, they did not, and Kushner's appointment is one consequence.

Here is more on Kushner's talents:

What a liability Mr. Kushner has proved to be. American officials have intercepted conversations in which at least four countries, including China and the United Arab Emirates, discussed ways to take advantage of Mr. Kushner’s indebtedness, na´vetÚ and ignorance of foreign policy to further their interests, according to The Washington Post. This week, The Times reported that Kushner Companies received hundreds of millions of dollars in loans through American companies, including Citigroup and the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, after their top executives met with Mr. Kushner in the White House. The Qatari government’s investment fund was a major investor in Apollo’s real estate trust.

This was all occurring while Mr. Kushner had access to top-secret intelligence, despite having failed to secure a permanent security clearance. His faulty disclosures of his financial interests and foreign contacts and his indebtedness have most likely held up his clearance for more than a year. His access was downgraded this week from top secret to secret, hardly reassuring.

This seems all true, although I think it shows Kushner has one talent, that probably depends for the most part on his father in law: He can get hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to his own companies from various states.

Here is the ending of this article:

Clearly, Americans deserve better from their public servants, but the law doesn’t provide sufficient protection from a president who doesn’t get that. Firming up the anti-nepotism law to cover White House advisers has been criticized as an infringement on a president’s right to seek private personal counsel. But Congress could require that presidential appointees across the federal government possess relevant credentials and experience, that they meet enforceable performance metrics, and — do we really need to say this? — that they can pass a background check. If Mr. Kushner’s performance inspires such reforms, it could prove his only real achievement.

Yes, but I do have one argument about "the anti-nepotism law" - that either completely failed or wasn't there at all (I don't know which is the case): There are over 300 million inhabitants in the USA, and quite a few of them are both quite intelligent (certainly much more so than Kushner, for one example) and also quite heavily trained (again much more so than Kushner).

And I'd say nepotism is so dangerous as to be completely forbidden for American presidents on the two simple grounds that (i) nepotism is known to be quite dangerous for several thousands of years, while (ii) it is extremely unlikely that any family member of the president would be better qualified or more intelligent than any of the many men or women the president may nominate without the least danger of nepotism.

This is a strongly recommended article, of which you will probably see the second part tomorrow.

4. How Big Pharma Is Corrupting the Truth About the Drugs It Sells Us

This article is by Kate Harveston on AlterNet. It starts as follows:

Remember how appalled we felt as a society when we discovered that, for so long, we had been mistakenly taking Big Tobacco’s word that cigarettes are harmless? Rinse and repeat with lobbyists for Big Alcohol fear-mongering about legal weed. And again and again with a panoply of consumer-level commodities and goods.

Nowadays we have all these familiar worries, but about our drugs and medications instead. It’s become so bad that there's now reason to believe Big Pharma is also colluding to poison the well of scientific inquiry.

Yes indeed - I quite believe this, and I also think it is very serious. Then again, I am also pretty certain that I take the above and the rest of this article more serious than you do, for at least three good personal reasons:

(1) I am ill nearly 40 years now, and have seen some 30 medical doctors and specialists
(2) According to 9 out 10 of these "medical people" have said to me that I am not ill but
       have "psychosomatosis"
(or whatever they call it), while
(3) in these 40 years I got an M.A. in psychology with only straight A's, which means
      that I know much more about "the human mind" than any of the medical doctors I
      have met

although I am still treated by each as if I am an ignorant idiot whose knowledge could not possibly reach the exalted height on which all Dutch medical doctors function, in their own opinions.

I could give more reasons (such as that I had in 1978 an IQ above 150, which is the reason I could finish three studies while being ill), or that I have earned less than any other Dutchmen over the last 50 years (except those who were as long in prison) in which I was ill for forty years - except that all Dutch bureaucrats, all Dutch politicians, and 9 out of 10 Dutch medics insisted that I am not ill but insane (although they usually covered this up by saying "psychosomatic").

For that is what I have been told the last 40 years. In fact, I have M.E. (Myalgic Encephalo- myelitis) that has meanwhile been ascertained by Ron Davis and his team (Davis is one of the most prominent biochemists in the whole world, whose son has serious M.E.) that it is a real and serious and dangerous disease, but the Dutch medics almost all don't know this; don't care to know this; and still routinely "diagnose" people with M.E. as if the patients are insane, whereas under the present circumstances I think the Dutch medical doctors are in vast majority denying all the science they should have known, but probably did not learn because the medical education, like all university educations, have been halved in Holland since the early 1980ies.

And after having been dismissed as an insane person by 9 out of 10 of the Dutch medics I have seen, my own conclusions are these: (i) 9 out of 10 of the Dutch medical doctors are incompetent (ii) 10 out 10 of the Dutch medical doctors earn too much, and (iii) apart from fairly obvious complaints I can probably diagnose myself with the help of Wikipedia, there is neither sense nor practical possibility for me to see any Dutch doctor: Nine of ten are incompetent, and 10 out 10 work 5 or 10 miles beyond where I live, and cannot be reached by me because I am genuinely ill, which 9 out of 10 dismiss out of hand (and usually without knowing the least of me).

Then again, there are more serious problems with most medical doctors in the USA:

It’s become common knowledge that the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most corrupt out there. This is a serious affront to justice that has gone on for far too long. The fight for consumer protections of all kinds can and must begin with health care, medicines, prescription drugs and medical devices.

Precisely, and I have also known about this from 2012 onwards (at least), mostly thanks to one of the few very good doctors (and psychiatrists) who lived in the USA, but who unfortunately died last year: Dr. Mickey Nardo, who published as 1 Boring Old Man, and whom I have followed daily since 2012.

Here is more on the - truly astounding - dishonesty of the pharmaceutical corporations (who are not at all interested in your health, although they are very much interested in your money):

In 2006, GlaxoSmithKline—the esoteric name for a ubiquitous diabetes treatment brand—took a victory lap after a lengthy report in the New England Journal of Medicine declared its Avandia medication to be the most effective of the three diabetes drugs tested.

Unfortunately for readers and patients, the extent of the report’s bias was not as attention-grabbing as the headline and ensuing celebratory press releases. In fact, with the help of the FDA and renowned heart specialist Steven Nissen, the Washington Post found that GlaxoSmithKline directly funded the research itself. All 11 of the paper's authors had received consultation fees, grants or another form of monetary compensation.

There may be no clearer example of conflicts of interest in the halls of science. Given the degree to which private money may have influenced the result of this scientific endeavor, we have little choice but to assume it did.

Even worse? The drug didn’t merely fail to help patients cope with their illnesses, it actually raised their risk of heart attack.
In fact, there are many more reports like above and like the following:

Between 2011 and 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine published more than 70 “original studies” of newly FDA-approved and experimental drugs. Of these 70-plus reports:

  • Sixty received direct pharmaceutical company funding.
  • Fifty were written or co-written by a current employee of a pharmaceutical company.
  • Thirty-seven had lead writers who had, at some point, received speaking fees or other compensation from the subject of the study.

Up until about the 1980s, the federal government was the primary financier of scientific research in the world of medicine. In the '60s and '70s, the federal government had a 70 percent share of scientific research. In 2013, that number finally dropped below the 50 percent mark.

And here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

In addition to protecting the personal information of trial participants (patients), the FDA also maintains that no drug may reach the investigation phase until its effects—and its lack of harm—have both been documented in a lab setting. As you can likely tell, these protections no longer appear adequate.

It has become an open secret that most of the drugs the FDA concerns itself with cannot be relied upon to greatly outperform placebos, or existing treatments, in a vast majority of cases. Moreover, the wholesale regulatory capture of the FDA has resulted in a situation where this vital public office serves as a glorified rubber patent stamp for protecting medicines as privately owned, profit-generating pieces of intellectual property.

Again, I think that is all quite correct (but I agree I very probably know a lot more of medeicine and psychology than you do). And for me it seems as if medicine in the USA has moved in fifty years from a fairly reliable and honest service into an extremely unreliable and clearly quite dishonest attempt to rob the patients from as much money as possible, while providing them with medicines that may not work, but that are the most expensive available.

As for me, I also extend these conclusions to the Dutch medics, for it seems one can now - unlike forty or more years in the past - become "a medical doctor" with an IQ not much higher than 105 and in six years of studying (which I grant are now very much more expensive than 40 or more years ago). And this explains to me why 9 out of 10 Dutch doctors are gross incompetents - for which I am very sorry, but see no other rational alternative.

5. What’s Going Down in China is Very Dangerous – Part 1

This article is by Michael Krieger on Washington's Blog. It starts as follows:

I’m sure all of you are aware of the dramatic power play pulled off over the weekend by China’s Communist Party to eliminate term limits for both the president and vice president. Prior to the move, Chinese leaders have stuck to two five-year terms since the presidency of Jiang Zemin (1993-2003), but that’s about to change as wannabe emperor Xi Jinping positions himself as indefinite ruler of the increasingly totalitarian superstate.

While the weekend announcement was illuminating enough, I found the panicked reactions by Chinese authorities in the immediate aftermath far more telling. The country’s propagandists took censorship to such an embarrassing level in attempts to portray the decision as widely popular amongst the masses, it merely served to betray that opposite might be true.

In fact, the article gives a fairly long list with many Chinese titles that indicates to what extent the "country’s propagandists took censorship".

Here is a shortening of the - I agree: both very ridiculous and very dangerous - list of terms one may no longer use in China and indeed also may not use in searches in China. Also
there are more terms in the article:

"The emperor's dream"
"personality cult"
"Brave New World"
"my emperor"
"Animal Farm"
"N" (the letter N)
"Xi Zedong"
"incapable ruler"
"Winnie the Pooh"
"I oppose"
"long live the emperor"

Note that there are three booktitles by George Orwell on the list, and the list indicates what Chinese can no longer as much as write about: Personality cults; the present ruler's totalitarian and authoritarian tendencies; that they may oppose things; that they may disagree with certain things (!!); or that they might consider to emigrate from China.

All of that is now forbidden in China, even as words - and China has more than 1 in 7 of all people alive in this world as inhabitants, all of whom are now forbidden to use the above terms.

Here is more by Michael Krieger:

I fully agree with a recent observation made by Charlie Smith, co-founder of

Smith said he believed Beijing had underestimated the outrage its decision would cause. “The response from Chinese netizens indicates that Xi may have miscalculated how this would be received by the general public. Hence, he has asked the censors to put in overtime and things like the letter ‘N’ end up as collateral damage.”

The internet response to the Communist Party’s move to abolish term limits was not what leadership expected or desired, which prompted a panicky and desperate attempt to immediately clean up internet discourse.

It’s pretty sad when a government in charge of the lives of over a billion people is terrified of Winnie the Pooh memes.

Possibly so, but I should add that Xi Jinping is the most powerful man in China since 2013. I have no idea about what he knows and doesn't know about China and the Chinese, but I do know that he has the intelligence to understand he has grown very many times more authoritarian and more totalitarian than he was so far.

Here is more by Michael Krieger:

Not only did he dash the enthusiasm, drive and talent of some of his country’s smartest technologists and entrepreneurs, but he also made it clear to the world that the Chinese model will continue to be one of command and control, rigid hierarchy and centralization. This is a tragic and historic mistake, and I think the coming brain drain out of China could be massive. This provides an opportunity for more open nations to scoop up some serious talent as they look to leave. As noted previously, Chinese authorities banned the word “emigrate” earlier this week, which should certainly tell you something.

As someone who’s watched his own government turn increasingly opaque, corrupt, authoritarian and unconstitutional, I feel empathy for the tens, if not hundreds of millions, of Chinese horrified that their hopes of a more free society appear dashed for the foreseeable future. Making matters worse, the surveillance state that’s been installed across the country is science fiction level scary.

Yes indeed, although I wonder how - for example - the top Chinese scientists could emigrate to safer countries when they are not even allowed to use the term "emigrate" or indeed the terms "I oppose" or "I disagree".

This article ends as follows:

Let this be a lesson to U.S. citizens, as well as citizens across the world. Never, ever allow a massive, unaccountable surveillance system to be constructed and implemented in your society for any reason. It will always ultimately be abused by a power hungry despot to seize and then maintain power.

Finally, one major reason I’m so concerned about what’s happening in China is because it adds a huge element of geopolitical risk to the global equation and greatly increases the likelihood of worldwide conflict.

Tomorrow’s piece will focus on this angle.

Yes I quite agree, although I have to add that the whole world seems to be now under the totalitarian and authoritarian aegis of anonymous men and women who are spies that are allowed by nearly all governments to spy on anyone and everyone they can reach by the internet.

And to extend my own criticism some: This is pure totalitarian authoritarianism that within ten years - if these are peaceful - may be extended to virtually everyone living anywhere: Absolutely all men and women alive risk being spied upon absolutely everything they do, and all also risk complete disappearance once it is known they oppose their own government or indeed a government their own government supports.

The internet and the personal computer as they have been designed have been designed since the late Sixties to introduce this kind of complete fascistic, authoritarian and totalitarian control over absolutely everyone by a handful of totally anonymous spies, and this has been going on as a very strongly sustaiend project from 9/11/2001 onwards.

And I am glad I was born in 1950 and lived the first fifty years of my life in comparative freedom. If the few handfuls of spies from anywhere may be trusted, I belonged to the last human beings with free opinions who lived in comparative freedom and who could say what he thought without the risk to disappear forever.

This is a strongly recommended article.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).

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