Next Media Animation (a Taiwanese subsidiary of a Hong Kong firm) satirizes the Snowden/ NSA surveillance scandal by cartoon (English subtitles):1 Retweet 5 Share 26 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/13/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 06/13/2013 by Juan Cole
A massacre of Shiite militiamen and other villagers by al-Qaeda in Hatla, Deir al-Zor, Syria, is sending shock waves through the Middle East, which has already witnessed a sharpening of conflict between Sunni Muslims and their Shiite neighbors in recent years.
This video of the al-Qaeda types exulting over the cadavers of the dead Shiites [later reports made clear this was a Twelver village] and calling them pigs and dogs is sufficiently graphic and disturbing that I’m just linking to it for the strong of stomach, not embedding it here. In Arabic, the overwrought al-Qaeda fighter admonishes the Kuwaiti Sunnis to polish off their own Shiites (Shiites are 15-30% of the Kuwaiti population). He seems to imply that the Alawite rulers of Syria are getting support from Kuwaiti Shiites, which doesn’t strike me as very likely. That they are sending aid to Hizbullah would make more sense. The Nusayris or Alawis are folk Shiites who are not viewed as Shiites or even Muslims by many of the Twelver Shiites of Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. Hizbullah is not supporting Alawites because it thinks they are Shiites! It thinks Syria is useful the way it is, to Hizbullah.
The Syrian conflict is not about religion, even a little bit. Nor is the divide in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites always a salient determinant of politics or social action. But it is true that most Alawites, Christians, Druze and other small minorities either support the secular Baath government of Bashar al-Assad or at least are afraid of elements of the opposition. But so too do substantial numbers of Sunni Syrians support the government or decline to come out against it. The rebels are largely Sunni, but some of them are relatively secular-minded, or are Sufi mystics. A small number are radicals who have declared an affiliation with al-Qaeda, but this group has been disproportionately successful on the battlefield, in part because it receives money and weapons from private Gulf millionaires and billionaires who lean toward the hard line Salafi school.
The intervention of the Shiite militia, Hizbullah, in the recent battle for al-Qusayr, in which the rebels were defeated and expelled, inflamed Sunni-Shiite tensions. But note that Hizbullah is not fighting for Shiites and most of its members probably don’t consider the folk religion of the Nusayris (popularly called Alawites) to be true Islam. They are fighting to shore up al-Assad because he offers them Syria as a land bridge over which Iranian arms can flow. Without the Syrian land bridge, Hizbullah would be cut off and could easily fall to an Israeli invasion.
Still, politics are being reworked along sectarian lines. The Sunni-ruled Gulf Cooperation Council is imposing sanctions on Hizbullah and its followers in the Gulf.
And there has been fighting between Alawites and Sunnis in the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli. Radical Sunni Salafis have gone off from Sidon in Lebanon to fight in Syria on the rebel side, and therefore against Hizbullah. Lebanese are fighting Lebanese in Syria, on a small scale.
Let’s hope it doesn’t turn large scale.0 Retweet 12 Share 38 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 1 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/13/2013 by Juan Cole
Democracy Now! interviews Susan Landau, mathematician and former Sun Microsystems engineer, author of the book Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies.
Excerpt from the transcript:
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“This may surprise many people, this point that metadata—just, you know, the fact of a phone call, who you called, perhaps where you made the call—can be more revealing than a transcript of the conversation itself.
SUSAN LANDAU: That’s right. That’s because a phone call—the metadata of a phone call tells what you do as opposed to what you say. So, for example, if you call from the hospital when you’re getting a mammogram, and then later in the day your doctor calls you, and then you call the surgeon, and then when you’re at the surgeon’s office you call your family, it’s pretty clear, just looking at that pattern of calls, that there’s been some bad news. If there’s a tight vote in Congress, and somebody who’s wavering on the edge, you discover that they’re talking to the opposition, you know which way they’re vote is going.
One of my favorite examples is, when Sun Microsystems was bought by Oracle, there were a number of calls that weekend before. One can imagine just the trail of calls. First the CEO of Sun and the CEO of Oracle talk to each other. Then probably they both talk to their chief counsels. Then maybe they talk to each other again, then to other people in charge. And the calls go back and forth very quickly, very tightly. You know what’s going to happen. You know what the announcement is going to be on Monday morning, even though you haven’t heard the content of the calls. So that metadata is remarkably revealing.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, John Negroponte, the nation’s first director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush, has defended the surveillance program and the collection of metadata. He described metadata as, quote, “like knowing what’s on the outside of an envelope.” Susan Landau, your response to that?
SUSAN LANDAU: That’s not really true. That was the case when we had black telephones that weighed several pounds and sat on the living room table or the hall table, and you knew that there was a phone call from one house to another house. Now everybody carries cellphones with them. And so, the data is, when I call you, I know that I’m talking to you, but I have no idea where you are. It’s the phone company who has that data now. And that data is far more revealing than what’s on the outside of an envelope. As I said earlier, it’s what you do, not what you say. And because we’re carrying the cellphones with us and making calls all during the day, that it’s very, very revelatory.”
Posted on 06/13/2013 by Juan Cole
Sebastian Rotella writes at ProPublica
June 12: This story has been updated with NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s Senate testimony on surveillance.
Defending a vast program to sweep up phone and Internet data under antiterror laws, senior U.S. officials in recent days have cited the case of David Coleman Headley, a key plotter in the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said a data collection program by the National Security Agency helped stop an attack on a Danish newspaper for which Headley did surveillance. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Senate intelligence chairwoman, also called Headley’s capture a success.
But a closer examination of the case, drawn from extensive reporting by ProPublica, shows that the government surveillance only caught up with Headley after the U.S. had been tipped by British intelligence. And even that victory came after seven years in which U.S. intelligence failed to stop Headley as he roamed the globe on missions for Islamic terror networks and Pakistan’s spy agency.
Supporters of the sweeping U.S. surveillance effort say it’s needed to build a haystack of information in which to find a needle that will stop a terrorist. In Headley’s case, however, it appears the U.S. was handed the needle first — and then deployed surveillance that led to the arrest and prosecution of Headley and other plotters.
As ProPublica has previously documented, Headley’s case shows an alarming litany of breakdowns in the U.S. counterterror system that allowed him to play a central role in the massacre of 166 people in Mumbai, among them six Americans.
A mysterious Pakistani-American businessman and ex-drug informant, Headley avoided arrest despite a half dozen warnings to federal agents about extremist activities from his family and associates in different locales. If those leads from human sources had been investigated more aggressively, authorities could have prevented the Mumbai attacks with little need for high-tech resources, critics say.
“The failure here is the failure to connect systems,” said a U.S. law enforcement official who worked on the case but is not cleared to discuss it publicly. “Everybody had information in their silos, and they didn’t share across the silos. Headley in my mind is not a successful interdiction of a terrorist. It’s not a great example of how the system should work.”
Officials from Clapper’s office reiterated this week that he was referring to the prevention of Headley’s follow-up role in a Mumbai-style attack against Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper, a prime target because it published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that many Muslims found offensive. To that extent, Clapper’s comment shed a bit of new light on this aspect of a labyrinthine case.
Separately today, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander told a Senate committee that surveillance conducted by his agency helped disrupt “dozens” of attacks aimed at the U.S. and elsewhere. According to The Washington Post, Alexander cited the Headley case and promised to make more information public about the success of the NSA’s phone surveillance program, which captures “metadata” such as number, time and location of but not the content of calls.
In January, a federal judge in Chicago imposed a 35-year prison sentence on Headley, 51, for his role in Mumbai and the foiled newspaper plot. He got a reduced sentence because he testified at the federal trial in Chicago of his accomplice, Tahawurr Rana, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Headley confessed to doing undercover surveillance in Mumbai for the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group and Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). U.S. officials also charged a major in the ISI with serving as Headley’s handler before the attack in November 2008. Pakistan denies involvement.
In early 2009, according to trial testimony, Lashkar and the ISI sent Headley on a surveillance mission to Denmark. After he returned to Pakistan, his Lashkar and ISI handlers backed off. But Headley continued the plot with support from al-Qaida, whose leaders wanted a team of gunmen to attack the newspaper offices in Copenhagen, take hostages and throw their severed heads out of the windows.
Headley returned to Europe from Chicago for a second reconnaissance mission that July. The official version has been that he was detected at this point — but not by U.S. agencies.
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Posted on 06/13/2013 by Juan Cole
Sen. Rand Paul pushes back against the National Security Agency and its massive surveillance of telephone records, in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN. He pledges to introduce legislation forbidding “generalized warrants,” which he believes are already unconstitutional. He also contrasted the less than truthful testimony before Congress of the Director of National Intelligence with Edward Snowden’s truth-telling.
That’s the beauty of politics– it is kaleidoscopic. I doubt we agree about much, but on the fourth amendment we’re on the same page.0 Retweet 2 Share 14 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 0 Printer Friendly Send via email
Posted on 06/12/2013 by Juan Cole
Posted on 06/12/2013 by Juan Cole
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday launched an assault on the demonstrators in Taksim Square. It was a puzzling and desperate act, which threatened to undo many of his impressive accomplishments.
The cover story was that a small set of violent groups took advantage of the protest to attack police with molotov cocktails. But this misbehavior by some far leftwing activists or soccer hoodlums did not require clearing the whole square.
As the Bush administration tried to do in the US, Erdogan and the mayor of Istanbul tried to designate nearby Gezi Park as a “protest area,” but to exclude protesters from Taksim. (And, indeed, a huge protest continues at the Park). The latter had set up layers of barricades and on Tuesday the police systematically dismantled or destroyed them (in some cases using earth movers) while constantly subjecting the protesters to tear gas volleys and water cannon blasts.
Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said that the demonstrations are a political plot by his rivals, He means the secularist Republican People’s Party, which in one form or another ran Turkey for much of the twentieth century. It is now a shadow of its former self, having only about 25% of the seats in parliament. It claims to be a socialist party but is more a party of the secular Kemalist elite than of the working class. Maybe you could compare it to Tony Blair’s New Labor in the UK.
In contrast, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party aspires to be the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Democrats in Germany– center-right and upholding traditional religious values. (The ruling Christian Democrats in Germany say their platform is “Christian Democracy” and they are inclining toward Neoliberal economic policies and support embryonic screening bans lest they encourage abortion).
Modern Turkey was founded by a general, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (d.1938), who fought off European imperialists and the Greeks in the 1920s to form a new nation out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Viewing the latter as a failure, Ataturk adopted a militant secularism, a devotion to modernity, and state-led development as his ideology. Secularism became de rigeur in the military and in the political class, and religious people felt as though they had become second-class citizens.
Another Kemalist institution of which Erdogan is afraid is the military, which he at length subjected to himself to some extent. The military made coups in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. (As you can see, they are late). The last was a ‘soft coup’ in which the officer corps made the Muslim fundamentalist Necmettin Erbakan (d.2011) resign as prime minister. Erdogan, like Erbakan, comes from the Religious Right, and he long feared a military coup against himself. In fact, his government alleges that retired and active-duty officers did plot a coup in 2003-2004, for which they are trying hundreds of persons. Over time, Erdogan’s party, Justice and Development (AKP), which came to power in 2002, has stripped the military of its right to try civilians, has put civil courts in charge of trying officers guilty of certain kinds of crimes, and has over-ruled the generals’ objection to Abdullah Gul becoming president (he and his wife are practicing Muslims and the military refused to be present when she appeared in public with a headscarf).
In summer of 2011 after he won a third term as prime minister, Erdogan put the chiefs of staff in so humiliating a position that they felt forced to resign, and he replaced them with inoffensive figures.
So it is possible that Erdogan believes that the officers corps and the Republican People’s Party are conspiring behind the scenes to make a kind of soft coup against him by stirring up these youngsters to protest in 67 cities and especially in Taksim Square and in the capital of Ankara.
In this regard, Erdogan seems to resemble President Muhammad Morsi of Egypt, who also dealt harshly with protesters last November and December of last year, appearing to believe them part of a plot against him by the military and the judiciary.
In fact, networked urban youth protests via flashmobs and square occupations promoted on Twitter and Facebook are very unlikely to be the work of hidebound political parties or of aged officers smoking cigars in wood-lined clubs.
If Erdogan believes that the Taksim gathering is part of an attempted Kemalist coup aimed at overturning by street protests the results of three free and fair parliamentary elections, then his determination to crush the movement becomes understandable, though not excusable.
That he plans to run for president in 2014 is another impetus for him to refuse to look weak to his supporters in his last months as prime minister. He wants to go into the presidential elections from a position of strength, not hobbled by continued protests by what he sees as a disgruntled minority. Internal divisions in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) may be part of his calculation. The current president, Abdullah Gul, may run against him, and Gul has been critical of police brutality toward the protesters. A key constituency of the AKP is the religious Gulen movement of Fathullah Gulen, who also criticized heavy-handed police tactics. There are rumors of a growing split between Erdogan and the Gulencis. If the latter left his coalition, he would be vulnerable. So Erdogan may feel a need to shore up the support of his own AKP by acting decisively and looking presidential.
The technique of square occupation, used successfully by the Egyptian protesters at Tahrir Square in January-February of 2011, requires the establishment of a permanent presence in a large, central public space. That presence in turn requires the erection of barricades and the enlisting of Ultras or soccer fanatics as bodyguards. The constant presence of large numbers of demonstrators at the city center attracts press, encourages similar square occupations in other cities, discourages tourism and foreign investment, and puts pressure on the rest of the elite (including the officer corps) to dump the leader causing all the trouble.
Erdogan moved to remove the occupiers by having the police assault them with heavy duty tear gas and water cannons, and using earth movers to remove the barricades, which were systematically dismantled. Erdogan observed Tahrir Square closely, and he and his advisers appear to believe that Hosni Mubarak made an error in letting that public space remain occupied. Likewise, Erdogan has vilified Twitter and has had 13 tweeters arrested on charges of spreading false rumors. Both on the front of meatspace and in cyberspace, he is attempting to raise the cost of protest.
Clearing the square to break the momentum of the protesters is not always successful, however, in the medium to long term. I was at Tahrir Square in early August 2011 when the then military government, SCAF, cleared it, attacking the Ultras first and then the protesters and completely destroying all their tents, platforms, banners and placards. I think I barely got away from the scene in time to avoid being arrested, myself. Many subsequent occupations of Tahrir were staged, however, and about a year later the officer corps that had sent in the troops in 2011 was itself exiled to its barracks by an elected president, with the support of the crowds.
It has to be admitted that Erdogan may succeed in taking the steam out of his opposition, just as the ayatollahs in Iran succeeded in the course of 2009. In Iran, the inability of the young protesters to acquire allies in the bazaar (the traditional retail sector) and among most workers blunted their progress. Iran’s rulers, however, had advantages that Erdogan does not. Its military is loyal to the Supreme Leader and it has hundreds of thousands of Basij volunteers to serve as a combination of STASI and brownshirts. The Supreme Leader can have parliamentary and presidential candidates disqualified.
Turkey as a parliamentary democracy cannot deploy most of the techniques used by Iran in 2009. If Erdogan’s youth opposition has more staying power than he seems to assume, it could survive into 2014 and affect the election. Erdogan has been very popular. But if his tangling with the youth continues to harm the stock market, hits tourism, affects foreign investment, and pushes Turkey further away from the European Union, he could suffer a fall in popularity.
Erdogan is taking a big gamble, that Turkey’s crisis can successfully be dealt with through iron fist tactics. He may win in the short or medium turn. But it seems to me that it is possible he is awakening a dragon, the disgruntled urban youth, who have time and again in recent years showed themselves not a force to be trifled with, and who may go on to have a significant impact on Turkish politics in the coming decade.1 Retweet 10 Share 35 Google +1 0 StumbleUpon 0 Printer Friendly Send via email