Thursday, 31 December 2015

Reining In Government Surveillance

New Year's Wish
surveillance 2
“Terrorism” might well be the word one encounters most in the international media. The reaction to recent incidents has been hysterical coupled with demands for an apocalyptic violent response. At this point with the old year ending and the new one about to begin, it would perhaps be fruitful to examine both the reality of terror and an appropriate reaction to whatever transnational threats might be regarded as genuine.
One of America’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin once observed that those who would trade their liberty for security will wind up with neither. Franklin understood that once freedoms are bartered away they will never return while complete security is a fiction, an unobtainable objective that will inevitably only be pursued by increasing the unaccountable powers of the police and government. Make no mistake terrorism does not go away even if one lives in a police state because those who use terror can always strike at a soft or unprotected target as they did recently in Paris and San Bernardino. Terror is a tool used by the weak against the strong, manifested in our generation by non-state actors who ultimately seek to change governments by using fear as a weapon. All groups that we consider terrorists are political even if they mask their activity in religion or culture as their ultimate intention is to replace an existing regime with themselves.
But, inevitably, it is more complicated than that due to causality. The United States experiences international as opposed to domestic terrorism because it is waging a series of wars in a number of predominantly Muslim nations overseas. So while domestic terrorists seek to subvert the established order by generating fear and uncertainty, foreign and mostly Islamic terrorists are more directly motivated by revenge, even if their leaders are also simultaneously trying to take over or establish regimes in countries in the Middle East.
Either way, the development demands a national security response. So how do we preserve our liberties, most particularly freedom of speech and association, while at the same time dealing with organized gangs seeking to gain control over the instruments of state supplemented by mass murderers wanting revenge for U.S. foreign policy? In spite of the fact that fewer than 45 Americans have been killed by Islamist terror since 9/11 while many more have been killed by fellow citizens with personal or group agendas, the focus of legislation and the government response has been on Islamic militants and domestic mass murderers are generally treated as criminals.
America’s response to the international variety of terror has included the passage of two Patriot Acts that have permitted law enforcement to monitor previously protected communications by citizens as well as Military Commissions Act and sections of the Authorization to Use Military Force that allow military tribunals and unlimited detention. The Patriot Act’s best publicized initiative was the National Security Agency’s electronic mass spying. The program involved electronic espionage directed against both foreign heads of state and millions of Americans and foreigners but it reportedly only produced one actual terrorism lead in over ten years of trying.
Another Patriot Act feature was the National Security Letter, which allowed Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to obtain personal information without having to go through a judge or providing any evidence of probable cause. Under penalty of imprisonment, the recipient of a NSL was not allowed to reveal that he or she had been served with the letter, meaning that the process was both unrestrained by any rule of law and secretive.
Both Patriot Act features have now been modified under public and media pressure resulting from the Edward Snowden revelations but the government can still access metadata on citizens through the carriers, which are required to retain the information, and it still has a free hand to investigate what it regards as “terrorism cases” with very few restrictions. In effect, government snooping has been outsourced to the communications service providers.
And if the increasing government invasion of privacy is measured by results one has to consider the broadly construed war on terror to be a failure. Groups using the terror tactic are actually proliferating due to other policy failures, most notably the U.S. led western efforts to change regimes in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa which have destroyed existing state structures and have resulted in power vacuums that militants are able to fill. And actual terror attacks in the United States have not been foiled by extra police powers to read our mail and intercept our phone calls. The Boston marathon bombing was not prevented even though useful information was provided to Washington by Russia, intelaligence that was not acted upon.
In fact most terrorist arrests in the United States consist of individuals who have not actually done anything. They are being arrested for what they might do or for voicing opinions that once upon a time might have been considered freedom of speech or association. Indeed, countries like France have already selectively criminalized certain types of speech and associations that they categorize as either hate crimes or threatening national security without any impact whatsoever on hindering the activities of those who choose to employ terror.
Currently spokesmen for the national security community in the United States are complaining about commercially available apps that encrypt communications, blaming both Paris and San Bernardino on the inability to read more private messages. But they fail to make a case that new powers would actually make any difference as the people who use terrorist tactics have been through this drill before and are adept at changing how they make contact and communicate with each other. They are usually at least one step ahead of the authorities.
With a presidential election looming, it is perhaps a good time to carry out a complete rethink of how personal freedom and national security should interact even if no candidate is actually willing to discuss such an issue. In principle security and liberty are in perpetual conflict but they can coexist under certain conditions where everyone understands the rules and is willing to play by them. Freedom versus security should always come down on the side of freedom and I say that for a reason that might strike many as odd. I believe that a community that does not think the police and government are spying on it will in fact prove an asset in any struggle against those using terror because it will not fear going to the authorities if something suspicious is occurring. Police sources in the United States confirm that local Muslim communities have been very cooperative as long as they do not feel that they are being coerced or spied upon.
To create a new normal for the liberty vs security risk vs gain matrix I would first repeal the Patriot and Military Commission Acts because they are in fact both unconstitutional and counterproductive. Claims that they have prevented numerous terrorist acts generally turn out to be either baseless or a deliberate distortion of developments that favor such analysis. The new laws have accomplished little beyond sustaining huge dysfunctional police-style bureaucracies and denying fundamental liberties to honest citizens that only serve to validate the propaganda coming out of groups like ISIS.
To deal with those using terror tactics I would return to a rule of law. An absence of rule of law or flexibility in administering it inevitably leads to abuse of citizen rights by the government. The police should indeed be able to read my emails or listen in on my phone calls but only after they have gone to a judge for permission to do so and have demonstrated probable cause. The police should also be able to arrest me for cause but they must only be able to hold be for a fixed and brief period of time without filing charges. The FBI ought to be able to conduct sting operations against me if I am suspected of planning a terrorist act but they should not be allowed to introduce a paid informant, as they currently do, to encourage or even enable my act of violence. That used to be referred to as entrapment but now it is standard procedure.
And another aspect of government control of information that is little discussed is the covert and semi-overt attempts by the Administration to influence how developments are perceived by the voters. That essentially requires lying to the public to conceal what is taking place or to create fear that justifies harsh responses. Fearmongering by government sources is currently playing out regarding San Bernardino, coupled with demands for new police powers.
Sometimes the distortion amounts to a spinning of the news, which might be referred to by an intelligence related expression which is “perception management.” When the government uses its channels to journalists to convince the public that a war is necessary, as it did in Iraq and attempted to do in Syria, it amounts to a curtailment of the public’s right to know what the nation’s elected officials are doing on its behalf.
And when you do invade someone’s privacy or pressure the media to be silent with either an Official Secrets Act in Britain or a citation of State Secrets Privilege as in the United States there must be transparency to the process. A judge must be convinced that there is a legitimate national security issue at stake and he should not be acting alone. Recent proposed reforms of the National Security Agency and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that authorizes some of its more sensitive operations included the appointment of something like an ombudsman tasked solely with defending the constitutional rights of the accused. Unfortunately, that role was made voluntary only when the court asks for it, but it should be standard operating procedure and a good example of how national security can be advanced while also protecting individual rights.
Most Americans would accept that a principal government role is to protect the people from harm initiated by foreign states and non-government players but most would also insist that the Bill of Rights affords fundamental liberties that must be maintained. Setting limits that are clearly understood on the government is one way to accomplish both. Secret government that abides by no rules is the enemy of the U.S. Constitution. In the upcoming election year, when all of the House of Representatives and many Senators will be elected as well as the president, it is essential that candidates be made aware that the abuse of power and its encroachment on personal freedoms that has taken place over the past fifteen years can no longer be tolerated.

 Israel and its lobby lose the Iran Deal all over again, in news of damning wiretaps

The president approved the wiretaps.
Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a “compelling national security purpose,” according to current and former U.S. officials.
That’s right; there’s a compelling national interest in stopping the Israel lobby.
Many have said that President Obama lacks spine? Well, it sure looks like the leak to reporters Adam Entous and Danny Yadron came from the administration, and it’s hard to believe that a leak of this magnitude was not approved by the president. Just when the Israel lobby thought that it was starting to get back to business as usual, the Obama administration has reminded them that something has fundamentally changed in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Not only did we beat the lobby and Israel on the Iran Deal, but: we’re exposing your tactics, and patriotic Americans are going to be very upset by what they see.
Remember that Obama in his highlight moment of the Iran Deal told Americans it would be an “abrogation of my constitutional duty” to defer to Israel’s interests on the Iran Deal. You’d think it would be a scandal that the Israeli PM was intriguing with Republicans — and surely some Democrats– in the way the WSJ has documented; but instead the official reaction is likely to be how outrageous it was for Obama and the NSA to be listening in on the supposed only democracy in the Middle East.
Some of the details from the article:
The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.
The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said — that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress…
White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign…
Much of the article substantiates the allegations swirling at the time of the deal, that Netanyahu was getting inside information on the secret negotiations. The eavesdropping revealed to the White House:
How Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.
The notorious Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer was caught on the tapes:
Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations — which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups — on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal…
Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”
Again, no names of US legislators, but this article contains the explicit threat that Israel could expose individuals down the road. The practice is sure to anger Americans and drive an even deeper wedge into the Jewish community over the role of the lobby. Patriotic Jewish Americans are going to be embarrassed yet again by the extent to which Israel tries to subvert our government, using American Jewish friends to do so. And many will walk away from the lobby over this kind of business. The large wavering middle of pro-Israel forces is going to be set back. J Street made the right call on the Iran Deal (reluctantly, I’ve heard) but it will reap a dividend.

Scott Horton refers to the last big eavesdropping scandal, when then-congresswoman Jane Harman promised a suspected Israeli agent that she would attempt to stop a federal case against American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffers in exchange for that agent’s political influence in getting her a committee chair. Jeff Stein reported the story:
Notre Dame professor Michael Desch’s interpretation: “The lobby and Congress will no doubt try to spin it as more evidence of Obama’s anti-Israel animus. But the story constitutes powerful evidence of 1) divergence of US and Israeli interests on important issues like Iran and 2) close coordination of the lobby and Government of Israel in trying to influence US domestic politics.”
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.
Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.
In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
The suspected Israeli agent was inferred (it was the opinion of Josh Marshall and Ron Kampeas) to be Haim Saban, the giant contributor to the Democratic Party. So a “suspected Israeli agent” is also a giant Democratic funder with influence over the Congress? We’re headed for a showdown between the lobby and the grassroots, inside the Democratic Party. And praise to the Obama administration, who we guess is fueling the controversy out of “compelling national” interest.

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No, ISIS Isn’t Worth Sacrificing the First Amendment Over

The War on Terror has been atrocious for civil liberties in America. Yet, as (my former boss) Matt Welch noted in the LA Times on Wednesday, for all of our declining freedom post-9/11, compared to France’s response to their recent terrorist tragedy “our document is far less pliable and far more subject to robust judicial defense.” That is to say, it could be – and could have been – worse.
But America’s principles should be why we hold the nation to such a high standard, not give it a pass for good intentions and high-minded ideals. We say we’re for free speech, so we should mean it. Unfortunately, as we bomb and invade, so we sometimes violate free speech. For most of our history, we’ve managed to at least be better than the rest of the world when it comes to allowing free expression.
Some people are just itching to remedy that. This includes presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, among others.
This is not a new idea. Over at the Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has a refresher course on how common this attitude of “oh, THAT old thing” is when it comes to elected officials and/or presidential candidates, pundits, and law professors speaking about freedom of speech.
Greenwald argues that a decade ago, however, this argument had much less mainstream acceptance in spite of the George W. Bush administration’s civil liberties-smooshing path of destruction. Since then, there are progressive burbles of hate for American free speech; usually based on the basic idea that “Europe good, America bad. America be like Europe” or for the dangerously nebulous “hate speech” concept and how America should embrace it.
Now, however, we have a more hawk-friendly argument for censorship, this one published in Bloomberg and Slate.
Professor Eric Posner is the one who brought this back with a vengeance. And in my anecdotal experience, his December 15 Slate piece does not seem to have gotten much positive attention. Plenty of negative responses rolled in, however, including the always dependable (on speech matters) Ken White at
Though it may not be getting anywhere, Posner’s atrocious logic should be smothered in its #slatepitches cradle. It is – ironically – a deeply dangerous idea, but nobody will be calling the feds on him for being stupid, and shortsighted, and childishly trusting of government.
Posner has a habit of this, anyway. And he may have had a point back in 2012 when he argued that the rest of the world doesn’t value free speech to the extent that the US does. But that doesn’t translate to his 2015 argument that because people can freely advocate for terrorism, and some people may translate that into action, “the novelty of this threat calls for new thinking about limits on freedom of speech.”
(Aren’t we sick of this yet? Haven’t we given up enough rights yet? And why are some people willing to do just about anything to prevent terrorism except for stop going to war?)
Is it just ISIS that is so novel? Not Al-Qaeda? Not Timothy McVeigh? Not the original World Trade Center bombers in 1993? Why exactly is ISIS top of the list, and the game-changer? Certainly you can always argue that new enemy number one is different for one reason or another. But any suggestion that they are worse than any other previous threat for Americans at home in particular seems to be completely baseless. Yes, ISIS is good at the Internet. So are 14-year-olds on 4chan. We have to deal with that like adults.
Though Posner and his ilk are also correct that freedom of speech was not always as sacred in America, they are wrong to wish for fewer protections than decisions like 1969’s Brandenburg v. Ohio gave the American people. That was the unanimous decision that declared the free speech test was twofold: if it was legal, it had to not "directed at inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and it must not be "likely to incite or produce such action." Turns out that offers a lot of protection to a lot of nasty people.
Not to mention protection for the rest of us. Free speech is the only type of speech that contains multitudes. Protected under its umbrella is racism, rudeness, philosophy, humor, literature, and protest. For all we know of government – particularly in wartime, and darn if this war on terror doesn’t keep going – the last thing it should be trusted with is sussing out which types of speech warrant protection, and which do not. As Greenwald notes, this kind of hysteria gave us World War One’s criminalization of antiwar protests, Japanese internment during World war II, and the worst of McCarthyism in the ‘50s. Attempts to police speech and protect also gave us programs like COINTELPRO in the ‘60s and ‘70s which more subtly strangled and sabotaged speech. (And such programs exist in other forms today. Or sometimes websites like Antiwar are investigated by feds for years. etc. etc.)
And as I mentioned last column, the Internet is a perfect excuse for politicians to crack down on speech. Somehow it doesn’t sound as charged as banning books or censoring movies to people like Trump or H. Clinton to suggest that the Internet is just a little too free, or that encryption is too dangerous. But it’s the same principle and very similar in practice, and these kinds of suggestions should disqualify a candidate for public office. (They don’t.)
Posner is in some ways worse than this, because he sounds more thinky, and less like a grandparent who doesn’t understand kids and their Internet. Yet  he has no real idea how extreme he is. He compares ISIS sites to child porn, in that we outlaw even looking at such things. He suggests gradually increasing penalties under this law that would “make it a crime to access websites that glorify, express support for, or provide encouragement for ISIS or support recruitment by ISIS; to distribute links to those websites or videos, images, or text taken from those websites; or to encourage people to access such websites by supplying them with links or instructions. “
It was only last February that many hawks were grandstanding about how itwas vital to watch ISIS beheading videos. Their violence was the kind you had to see to believe, and to rally yourself into war. We all had to face the reality of this new threat by watching the videos. That sure sounds like it would be criminal in Posner’s legal la-la land. Middle East scholars, journalists, and advocates would all likely be breaking the law if they wished to study ISIS and its propaganda. And that is merely based on the most literal reading of Posner’s would-be legislation.
It’s completely absurd that this needs saying, but clearly it does: restricting freedom of speech – even if it were possible – is a terrible idea. Yes, ISIS is frightening. They kill, enslave, rape, and invade. It’s okay to be frightened of them even from the relative safety of the United States. But fear is one thing, and happily handing over rights is another. Posner seems to have been mostly mocked and dismissed so far, but we would be wise to echo Welch’s tone in hisLA Times piece. We’ve done better than we might have with speech in America, but there’s no reason to relax and assume that the Posners of the word will never get a toehold in public policy.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for and a columnist for She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs

Iraq’s ‘Liberated’ Ramadi: 80% Destroyed, 30% Still ISIS-Held

Control of City Recovered at Terrible Cost

by Jason Ditz, 
The vital capital of Iraq’s Anbar Province, once a city of half a million people, Ramadi has in the past seven months fell to ISIS, was surrounded and bombarded, and now (mostly) recovered by Iraq. As Iraqi officials tout their victory, however, it seems what they really won is a big repair bill.
Gen. Mahlawi said operations in Ramadi were paused for today because of the weather, and estimated that ISIS stillcontrols about 30% of the city, such as it is. This is a surprising admission, as Iraq claimed total victory in the city days ago.
Defense Minister Khaled Obeidi, meanwhile, told the cabinet Ramadi had been turned into a “ghost town,” and that80% of the city is effectively destroyed. The Education Ministry said 260 schools were destroyed in the fighting, and would cost $500 million to rebuild by themselves.
That could be a drop in the bucket when all is said and done, as thousands of houses are outright destroyed, much of the rest is at least seriously damaged, and given that remaining ISIS presence, the destruction is likely far from finished.
Infrastructure is all damaged from the fighting, and at least five bridges are damaged to the point of being unusable. Only a few hundred civilians are believed to remain in the city.
Publicly, officials are blaming ISIS “booby-traps” as the reason they’re keeping civilians from returning to the city, and this may be part of the story, but with so much damage done to the city it’s not exactly going to be liveable for awhile at any rate.

The Politics of the “Comfort Women” Deal


The comfort women are in their 90s now but it is not their increasing frailty that led to the “agreement’’ between Seoul and Tokyo. The timing concerned an event held in Beijing on Sept 3. China’s “Victory over Fascism’’ military parade which marked the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII had one telling moment that made strategists in Washington sit up and take notice. The attendance of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, the only major US ally to turn up, prodded Washington to lean on Japan and Seoul to get an agreement. The pivot, a mild word for what is a major US military redeployment, depends on the pillar of Japan and South Korea cooperating. The plight of the former sex slaves, which Japan euphemistically calls the ianfu, or comfort women, is the main thorn in the side of relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
At a joint news conference in Seoul on Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would be offering an apology to the former “comfort women” and that Tokyo will finance a 1 billion yen aid fund for the aging survivors that is to be set up by South Korea.
But Japan has no plans to acknowledge legal responsibility or pay reparations or government compensation. Payment will be made through a government-backed fund and be classified as “humanitarian”. A classification necessary to appease the right-wing in Japan who deny that forced sexual slavery took place.
Kishida said that Tokyo doesn’t consider the 1 billion yen on offer as compensation, but “a project to relieve emotional scars and provide healing for the victims.’’
It will include medical services, health checks and other support for the women, he said.
But even that sum, 1 billion yen (roughly $8 million), seems paltry. Tokyo is hosting the 2020 Olympics and the original budget was 300 billion yen. This now looks set to spiral up to four or five times the estimate according to Japanese media.
Compensation between the countries, Kishida insisted, had been settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and was accompanied by more than $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.
Even the name of the fund has not been decided on. Tokyo favors the word “atonement,” but Seoul wants “compensation.”
“An act by a government using the state budget can be interpreted as an act accompanied by legal responsibility,” Lee Won-deok, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, was quoted as saying in the weekend edition of the Korean Joongang Daily.
“If the money is not clearly labeled as reparations, the Japanese government can explain to rightists in the country that it was providing humanitarian assistance to the victims because there was a shortcoming after the 1965 settlement,” Lee said. “A gray area can be created to allow Seoul and Tokyo to interpret the measure the way each needs.”
Neither would the fund be completely new but would be based on the now-defunct Asian Women’s Fund, which was a pool of private donations that was set up at Tokyo’s initiative in 1995 and lasted through 2007. Again, no direct government involvement.
And the sound of silence? Part of this agreement stipulates that Seoul must never critically mention the fate of comfort women in dealings with Japan in any official capacity.
Article 3 of the agreement states:
The Government of the ROK (Republic of Korea), together with the Government of Japan, will refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations…
While this deal concerns Japan and South Korea, the Japanese imperial army also captured women in China and other countries.
Zhang Xiantu died in November in China’s Shanxi province. She was the daughter of a landowner and came from a moderately well-off background. Her feet were broken and bound when she was a little girl. A few months after she was married, the Japanese came to her village. She was unable to run because of the state of her feet. She was raped and tortured by the soldiers in the spring of 1942.
While any measure that brings solace to the women in their final years should be welcomed, it is not simply, and never was, a question of money. A great wrong was done and this has yet to be fully acknowledged.
Tom Clifford is a freelance journalist and can be reached at: cliffordtomsan@hotmail.con

Hidden Browsing Histories: Theresa May and the Snooper’s Charter

Trust Me’ might be just the most manipulative thing a politician can say. It means leave me alone in secret to operate without proper challenge.”
— Tom Watson, UK Deputy Labour Leader, Dec 18, 2015
Many government policies are advertised as useful for broader safety – till they are reversed to apply to the very officials who create them. The UK Home Secretary is very much of that school. Readers will be aware what Theresa May has done her invaluably bit to undermine privacy on the broader pretext of protecting security.
Central to this is the Home Office’s insistence on the Investigatory Powers Bill that seemingly insists on more intrusion than investigation. The bill, in rather futile fashion, will compel phone and web companies to retain records of every citizen for at least a year, providing a data pool which police and security services could access when required. The legislation goes further, enrolling the relevant service providers in a pseudo-police role that will override encryption if needed.
May has found herself having to sugar coat the bill with some decent premise, and has decided to go the cyberbullying card, aview she outlined to South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.
The tactic is standard: if people are misbehaving on the internet, those on facilitating its use should be made responsible for moral behaviour. Accordingly, “Internet connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication, for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying.”
The response by The Independent has been an attempt to pull the history of Theresa May’s browsing history for the last week of October, a freedom of information request that purposely excludes any information directly concerned with security matters.
What is good for the goose of inquiry is also grand for the gander placed under the scrutinising eye of the state. In short, if you are going to be equal before the law, then by golly even ministers should have their browsing history on the internet made available for the public gaze.
Not so, according to the Home Office. The FOI request has been dismissed as vexatious. In other words, the request was dismissed on grounds of an action “brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant.”
The Home Office’s response, drawing upon section 14(1) of the Act, insisted that the department had “decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable border on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of fishing for information without any idea of what might be revealed.”
The response provides a suitable template for critics of the surveillance state, if only because it demonstrates the hopeless rationale for the entire metadata retention regime. If the request by The Independent was, by its nature, scattergun, one could hardly assume that the security state’s behaviour in this regard is anything but scattergun.
This legal excuse remains one of the least convincing in the area of information law. It is, however, used repeatedly by states who have freedom of information regimes, providing slivers when asked, but generally withholding the bulk of what is deemed too sensitive for release.
The point is often the same: we will have a regime to allow information for the public precisely because we are intent on disallowing much of it. Regulation, in other words, is constriction, measured in the name of protecting that great, inscrutable fiction known as the public interest. You are kept in the dark because ignorance is necessary bliss.
In the case of the Home Office, there could be few things more fundamentally vexatious than a metadata retention regime premised on the nonsense of combating trolls and bullies on the world wide web.
The efforts on the part of The Independent have at least demonstrated to British citizens that this regime has other purposes, managing to get some egg onto the faces of Home Office officials. It is by no means the only quarter targeting the potential consequences of the bill. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson has argued that the bill’s supposed self-guarding mechanisms and oversight simply do not go far enough in protecting privacy.
In Watson’s mind, there was merely a “very limited review of the Home Secretary’s warrants by a judge appointed by a Commissioner who is appointed by the prime minister.” It was a “false choice to say that these massive extensions of state power must be introduced without checks and balances.”
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook finds its provisions similarly repellent for privacy. “We believe it would be wrong,” went a company statement, “to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat.” Given this government’s supposed love of the corporate sector, big business and all, David Cameron and his Home Secretary have their work sharply cut out for them.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

How to Crush Erdoğan’s Expansionism

Erdoğan’s Turkey is angry. It feels repressed and hated unjustly. It is hungry for respect but insatiable in its demands. It brought down a Russian jet unwarrantedly and militiamen fired on its parachuting pilot, but Erdoğan’s Turkey believed it was protecting itself. Despite its supposed sensitivity to questions of sovereignty, it sent troops across the border to Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi government, supposedly to train anti-ISIS fighters. No one believes this.  It is engaged in a bloody crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party guerrilla group (PKK) inside Turkey resulting in a bloodbath, which may very well be only the beginning. Erdoğan’s Turkey views itself as a victim of Russia, the “killer of Sunnis.” But it is Erdoğan’s Turkey which is aiding and trading with the Islamic State while presenting itself as a victim of false accusations. To view the invasion of Iraq in isolation is to miss the point. Erdoğan’s Turkey is hoping to regain the pre-1917 Ottoman lands across the border and/or to reunite with its brothers the Turkmen in Syria. It is only a question of time before Erdoğan’s Turkey invades Syrian territory illegally, just as it did in Iraq, under the full protection of NATO.  It is expansionist by nature.
Many prefer to view Erdoğan’s actions as whimsical or as contrary to the wishes of the United States or NATO. According to this narrative, Erdoğan is a madman but he is acting on his own. This is a mistake. Let one who claims so answer candidly the following questions:
Did the United States or NATO denounce the toppling of the Russian Jet?  -No. On the contrary. It was claimed Turkey has the right to “defend itself.”
Did the United States or NATO demand an immediate withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Iraq following the illegal invasion on December 4? Did it denounce it at once? –No. Only two weeks later did the US ask Turkey to withdraw its forces from Iraq. There was no condemnation.
Did the United States or NATO hold Erdoğan accountable for his trading with and support for ISIS? –No.  In fact, NATO-Turkish cooperation and EU-Turkish collaboration has only intensified.
Did the United States condemn Erdoğan for his bloody campaign against the Kurds in Turkey? –No.
Erdoğan’s Turkey is very convenient for NATO. It serves as the tool by which to assert both Turkish and NATO’s strategic objectives. Both NATO and Turkey wish to bring down the government of Bashar al Assad. Both NATO and Turkey seek to confront Russia. Both the US and Turkey have been working to weaken the Iraqi state, even by direct attack. Erdoğan’s Turkey is the spearhead of NATO’s campaign and strategic objectives.  If Russia attacks Turkey or responds to a Turkish provocation, NATO will intervene. It is obligated to do so under NATO’s Article 5. Turkey is both the provocateur and the bait. If Turkish actions were whimsical and undesirable, would the US and NATO not condemn them at once rather than offer Erdoğan their backing?
Erdoğan has been enriching himself from ISIL’s oil and keeping the revenues in his pocket while leaving his people in poverty. He has served his own interests and the interests of NATO, not of the Turkish people. All under the banner of “Neo-Ottomanism.” As I wrote earlier, Erdoğan enjoys popular support by a impoverished public who sees him as a genuine representative. He has been intentionally stirring resentment and feelings of national humiliation and Russia should have therefore sought to drive a wedge between Erdoğan and the people.
How did Russia respond to Erdoğan’s trap? It fell straight into it.
First, it declared a boycott against Turkey and Turkish goods which will now send the Turkish people into Erdoğan’s willing arms and blind them to his corruption.
Second, it took the knee-jerk reaction of aligning itself closer with Armenia, which will only reinforce popular Turkish suspicions and increase tensions between Russia and the people of Turkey, precisely what Russia does not want nor need.
Third, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov met with the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish  Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey, Selahattin Demirtaş, and said he will support Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq. Lavrov made at least three mistakes here:
He met with a pro-Kurdish political party alone rather than meeting with other Turkish oppositional figures who oppose Erdoğan. Therefore, he increased popular Turkish suspicions of Russia. He did not mention supporting Kurds in Turkey and providing them weapons to protect themselves from the onslaught of the NATO-armed Turkish army. He confused between the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds of Syria, as the People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria, oppose ISIL and Turkey.  The Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq, at least those under Masoud Barzani, work with Turkey and trade with it. The Kurds in Turkey, are facing an onslaught. Either way, not everyone wants Russian help and not everyone is against Erdoğan. But Lavrov mistakenly assumed the deeply divided Kurdish people are a single entity with a common goal. His blunders did not end here. To make matters worse, Lavrov added that help for YPG will be provided only via the Syrian government. By saying this, he did not win points with the Syrian Kurds who have long been suspicious of central governments and believed in local autonomy as a matter of ideology. The US had no inhibitions supporting local groups. Assad will be likely to accept this as he already said he is willing to give limited sovereignty to the Kurds in Syria and laws cannot be kept perfectly in times of war. If Russia one day decides to arm the Kurds in Turkey, Lavrov will probably suggest arming them via the Turkish government.
To respond properly to Erdoğan and contain his future inevitable expansion, Russia must realize that Erdoğan thrives on friction, is supported by a majority of the people, and is acting with the full support of NATO. There should be no illusions about Erdoğan. He has to be crushed, and as quickly as possible, before he brings his country and the entire region down, under NATO’s auspices.
How to contain Erdoğan?
First, the Kurds in Turkey need to be supported. Supporting them is not only a moral cause, it also will entangle Erdoğan at home and will impede his meddling in Syria and Iraq. It will drain his army.  It may eventually cause the public to turn away from him as it becomes clear that his path leads to destruction and war. Either way, it will draw international attention to the Kurdish issue, will allow the Kurds to defend themselves from slaughter and will move the ball to Erdoğan’s court. One who supported terrorists in Syria should not be surprised when other countries support rebels in his territory.
Second, when and where a future Turkish invasion is expected to occur on Syrian territory, an invading Turkish army should meet Hezbollah and YPG fighters on the other side of the border, rather than Russian soldiers or the Syrian Army. This would serve several goals: It would create a united Sunni-Shiite front against Erdoğan’s expansionism, therefore making it more difficult for him to say that Turkey is fighting “Assad, killer of the Sunnis.” It would prevent a direct clash between Russian and Turkish soldiers, which would inevitably draw in NATO against Russia and allow Erdoğan to present the Russians as the killers of Muslims once again while using his tried and true divide and conquer method. It would create a precedent of collaboration across sectarian and ethnic lines therefore opening the space for broader collaboration between Iran and Sunni states against Saudi-supported terrorism. Of course, forming such a common front is far from easy, but due to the necessity of the hour and with Russia’s generous military support, it is more than possible. Both the Syrian Kurds and Hezbollah are known to be pragmatic. If Turkmen fighters in northern Syria are to be killed in fighting, it would be far better if they are to be killed by Muslim fighters rather than by Russian Orthodox soldiers.
Third, Russia should seek to slowly gain Iraqi Kurdistan to its side. If it manages to win over the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Turkey, the Iraqi Kurds may have to eventually form a closer alliance with Russia too, especially as Erdoğan continues his massacre of Kurds inside Turkey. The Soviet Union supported the short-lived Kurdish republic in Iran following World War II, and it can go back to forming a more vibrant relationship with the Kurds, despite its tendency to work only with state actors. In addition, where possible, better ties should be made both with the Turkish people and with Turkish political parties while circumventing Erdoğan.
Erdoğan thrives on conflict and will seek to expand. A viable response then would be to bring the conflict to his own backyard, work with the Syrian and Turkish Kurds, prevent a direct Russian-Turkish collusion and create a common Hezbollah-YPG defense on the border. The more his hands are full at home, the less he can meddle abroad. Erdoğan’s expansionism should meet resistance by Muslim fighters — both Sunni and Shiites — not by a Russian army who will be portrayed in Turkish media as the enemy from Chechnya.
Joshua Tartakovsky is an independent journalist in Athens.