07/10/2013 06:52 PM
Merkel Speaks: Chancellor Defends Intelligence Monitoring
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Wednesday for the first time about the NSA spying scandal, telling a major weekly that the work of intelligence agencies is vital to citizens' safety. She also sharply rejected comparisons of the US surveillance program with East German spying methods.
As the debate over National Security Agency spying heated up in recent weeks, Angela Merkel largely remained silent. On Wednesday, though, the German chancellor gave her first personal comments yet on the controversial surveillance by United States intelligence, and allegations that the agency has partnered with its German counterparts on the secret activities.
In an interview with the weekly Die Zeit, Merkel defended German intelligence services and the surveillance of telecommunications under certain circumstances.
Preventing terrorist attacks is not possible "without the possibility of telecommunications monitoring," she told the paper. "The work of intelligence agencies in democratic states was always vital to the safety of citizens and will remain so in the future."
While the accusations against the NSA must be thoroughly clarified, Merkel urged those debating the issue to remember, along with "the more than justified questions, that America is and has been our truest ally throughout the decades and remains so."
Interior Minister Weighs In
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, who is traveling to the US on Thursday to meet with officials in President Barack Obama's administration, also commented on the issue. He told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Wednesday that it "annoys" him when some in Germany immediately criticize the US without having exact knowledge of the situation.
"That is not fair," he said. "Without the information from the US and the good collaboration with the intelligence agencies, we most likely would not have been able to prevent terrorist attacks in Germany."
Friedrich said he has two goals for his trip, which reportedly includes a meeting with US Attorney General Eric Holder. First, he wants to express that the situation is being taken seriously in Germany, and that the shaken trust needs to be built up again. "Second, I want to make very clear what we should expect, and must expect, from each other as partners and friends," he said.
Friedrich said he wants to speak openly during his trip to Washington. "Friends must be able to speak directly with one another," he said. "That includes our view that a comprehensive surveillance of the content of communications is in no way proportionate."
Addressing the Stasi Comparison
In the Die Zeit interview, Merkel said that reports about the NSA's so-called Prism spying program still need to be addressed, and rejected suggestions that the agency's methods were comparable to those of the feared East German secret police, the Stasi.
"For me, there is absolutely no comparison between the Stasi in East Germany and the work of intelligence services in democratic states," she told the paper. These are "two totally different things, and such comparisons only lead to a trivialization of what the Stasi did to the people in East Germany."
Merkel stressed that she had only found out about the surveillance program "through the current reporting" on the topic. Similar claims have been made by two ministers who should be well-versed in the activities of Germany's intelligence agencies: Interior Minister Friedrich and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
Since the spying scandal first broke, however, the opposition has openly questioned the notion that the German government was unaware of the American and British surveillance programs. That they know more than they are admitting would seem to be further bolstered by an interview with American whistleblower Edward Snowden in the current issue of SPIEGEL, in which he says that the Germans and the NSA are "in bed together."
Merkel 'Shifts Political Responsibility'
Sigmar Gabriel, head of the opposition, center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), sharply criticized Merkel's latest statements about the NSA scandal. "I find it outrageous that the chancellor just shrugs and accepts that the American and British are evidently violating the basic rights of millions of Germans," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE after Die Zeit released quotes from the Merkel interview in advance of its publication.
In the Die Zeit interview, Merkel calls attention to the responsibility of the coordinator of Germany's intelligence agencies. To the question of whether she personally reads the reports sent by the agencies, she says that the duty falls to her chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla. "For a long time there has been someone in the Chancellery who coordinates with the intelligence agencies, either a minister or a senior member of staff," she said.
Here, too, Gabriel had critical words for the chancellor. "It appears that Ms. Merkel is now trying to shift political responsibility to her chief of staff," the SPD leader said. "That's an old game -- not knowing anything at first, trying to play down the problem and then finally pointing the finger at a staff member. But it's not going to work because it's clear that the dimensions of this scandal are so great that no person other than the chancellor can ensure that basic rights are defended in Germany."
So far, Merkel's center-right governing coalition has emerged from the spying scandal relatively unscathed. According to a recent survey by German pollster Forsa, the opposition SPD and Green Party continue to lag significantly behind.
Although this is the first time Merkel herself has commented on the surveillance controversy, her spokesman Steffen Seibert made remarks on the matter to reporters last week. "The monitoring of friends -- this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated. We're no longer in the Cold War," Seibert said on the chancellor's behalf, referring specifically to allegations that the NSA bugged European Union missions in New York, Brussels and Washington.
Pig Putin's Russia.....
Russia and Ukraine likely to block huge Antarctic marine reserve
Conservation body meets to discuss protection of area 13 times the size of the UK, which would require unanimous agreement
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 11 July 2013 13.00 BST
Russia and Ukraine look likely to block a plan to create two huge marine reserves off the coast of Antarctica that combined would be bigger than the area of all the world's protected oceans put together.
The 25-member Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meets in Bremerhaven, Germany, on Thursday to discuss the proposal to create the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Ross Sea, off the east coast of Antarctica. A decision, expected on Tuesday, would require unanimous agreement.
The proposal, backed by the US, New Zealand, Australia, France and the EU, would designate an area 13 times the size of the UK as one in which natural resource exploitation, including fishing, would be illegal. Advocates say the MPAs would provide environmental security to a region that remains relatively pristine.
Publicly, delegates and environmental NGOs have expressed optimism that the meeting will be a success. But a senior source at the meeting said the attitudes of Russia and Ukraine as they entered were looking negative.
The debate highlighted a rift between "pro-[fish]harvesting countries" and those who style themselves proponents of conservation, such as the US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU, according to Alan Hemmings, a specialist in Antarctic governance at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.He said: "You would put Russia and the Ukraine near the top of the states that are likely to be concerned about marine protected areas in the Antarctic on a large scale, along with China, Japan and, on and off, South Korea."
"There's a tug of war between those who want to establish conservation management and those who want to keep working with smaller-scale fisheries management," said Steve Campbell, campaign director at the Antarctic Ocean Alliance. But he expressed "quiet optimism" that the proposals would be passed, if not at the meeting in Germany, then at the next annual meeting in Hobart, Australia later in the year.
The US and NGOs have been lobbying countries who expressed reservations at the last CCAMLR meeting. NGOs and delegates reported that China, South Korea and Japan looked likely to support the proposals.
Many countries have valuable fisheries in the region, particularly for patagonian toothfish and krill. Andrea Kavanagh, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Southern Ocean sanctuaries, said defining the boundaries of the reserves to balance ecology and economic interests would represent a challenge to negotiations.
Additionally, a sunset clause for the reserves, proposed by Norway and supported by Russia and Japan, would mean the protected status of East Antarctic and Ross Sea reserves would have to be renewed in 2064 and 2043 respectively. Campbell said reserves with time limits were highly unusual.
"Precedent tells you that if you set up a protected area, you set it up for an indefinite period of time. If you set up a national park in a country, you designate it in perpetuity." He said the potential for fishing and other resources in the future was driving the push.
"It's not just about what's there now, it's also about what could be a future economic interest or a future interest in the region," said Campbell.
The extraordinary session in Bremerhaven was arranged after the last annual meeting of CCAMLR in November, 2011 failed to reach a consensus on the MPAs. At the time Russia, China and Ukraine expressed concerns at a lack of available science in favour of the reserves. The decision was taken to reconvene this summer with the agenda solely focused on the proposals.
Green groups expressed dismay at last year's inaction. They were joined by delegates from the USA, UK, EU and Australia who feared that CCAMLR had lost its proactive attitude to conservation.
At the end of the 2011 meeting, the Ukraine delegation said well-grounded scientific arguments were lacking. They said MPAs were only one approach to managing an ecosystem and that "only fishing, at least at some level, can guarantee that research is conducted" to monitor fish stocks.
"Russia was of the view that previous scientific committee advice was related to only some aspects of MPAs and that all available information needed to be considered," said the Russian delegation.
Russian and Ukraine declined to comment further on this week's meeting.
Ireland likely to legalise abortion in very limited circumstances
Bill allows for abortions when a mother's life is medically in danger and if a woman is in danger of killing herself
Henry McDonald in Dublin
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 22.25 BST
Abortion in very limited circumstances is likely to become legal in Ireland on Thursday with the numbers stacking up in the Irish parliament in favour of the groundbreaking reform.
A backbench revolt by Dáil deputies from the main ruling party Fine Gael is only going to amount to up to five of its Teachta Dálas with the protection of life during pregnancy bill likely to be passed on Thursday morning.
The vote will allow for abortions when a mother's life is medically in danger and, more controversially, if a woman is in danger of killing herself if her pregnancy continues. In the latter case a woman asking for termination on grounds of potential suicide will be examined by three doctors.
The introduction of some legal abortions is also a major act of defiance against the power of the Irish Catholic church, whose influence has waned over the last two decades following a deluge of paedophile priest scandals in which the hierarchy was perceived to be protecting clerical sex abusers.
Among the anti-abortion rebels within Fine Gael is cabinet minister for Europe Lucinda Creighton, who will lose the party whip for defying taoiseach Enda Kenny and his government's push for reform.
But independent leftwing TDs pointed out on Wednesday evening that the legislation still makes abortion a criminal offence and does not cover the estimated 4,000 plus women who travel to Britain for terminations each year. Six of them, including parliamentarians who have received death threats for their pro-choice stance on abortion, will vote against the legislation because it does not go far enough.
In the marathon parliamentary debate on Wednesday, Joan Collins TD said: "Abortion will remain a criminal offence under this bill, with the threat of a 14-year sentence for women and their doctors – including women who use abortion pills. Combined with the new requirement on doctors and hospitals to justify their decisions for terminating a pregnancy, this will put pressure on doctors to delay terminations until there can be no dispute that a woman's life is at risk – by which time it may be too late."
Speaking before the Dáil discussion Enda Kenny said: "There have been very few bills, probably over the last 40 years that have had such extensive discussion and consultation, and debate in the house."
The taoiseach added "I have no objection to extending the time again tonight, if that be necessary. I don't have any difficulty in dealing with it for that period … but I'm going to get rid of it this evening."
While rightwing Catholic groups have attacked the legislation, claiming it will create a slippery slope towards outright abortion in Ireland, the law has also come under fire from other leftwing Dail deputies.
Socialist party TD Joe Higgins said the legislation was "cowardly" and that serious issues such as fatal foetal abnormalities are "completely ignored". His amendments aimed to bring the focus on the "health of the pregnant woman", he said.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy said thebill was the absolute "bare minimum" and that there would be "further tragedies". She also questioned the amount of money used by anti-abortion campaigners, and the source of the money.
The bill will not cover those women whose babies die shortly after birth from fatal foetal abnormalities and those who seek abortions for other reasons such as poverty. These women will continue to be forced to seek terminations at hospitals and clinics in Britain.
Ireland's near total ban on abortion became the focus of international protests last year after the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital. Her husband Praveen said they both requested an emergency termination after her body suffered septic shock but were refused an abortion by medical staff on the grounds that they detected a foetal heartbeat.
An international pro-choice organisation, the Centre for Reproductive Rights, based in New York, said on Wednesday evening that while Ireland was taking an important step towards clarifying the legal criteria for abortion, the parliament and government have kept the law extremely narrow in scope.
Lilian Sepulveda, the director of the centre's global legal program, said: "As currently written, Ireland's abortion law will do nothing to help women who seek to end their pregnancies for many other reasons besides a threat to their lives. This includes women who are pregnant due to rape or incest, who are carrying foetuses with severe impairments and who face other serious risks to their health."
Berlusconi party protests at attempt to close loophole that could spare him jail
Supreme court moves to hear Berlusconi's final appeal before conviction expires under law his government passed in 2005
John Hooper in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 13.27 BST
The parliamentary leaders of Silvio Berlusconi's party have demanded the suspension of parliament in protest at a decision by the supreme court aimed at preventing him from evading a four-year jail sentence on a technicality.
The heads of the media tycoon's Freedom People (PdL) movement in both chambers said they wanted the legislature to cease all activity for three days. The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is joined to the PdL in Italy's left-right coalition, immediately rejected the demand, opening a rift within Enrico Letta's already fragile government.
In a further threat to its survival, Berlusconi's representatives announced they were boycotting a meeting on Wednesday of the three parties that make up the coalition.
The media tycoon has already been convicted in two lower courts of a €7.5m (£6.5m) tax fraud orchestrated by his Mediaset TV company. The judges added to the prison sentence, which Berlusconi is unlikely to have to serve, a ban on his holding office for five years, which would be an even harsher blow.
If his case had followed its normal course through the supreme court, his final appeal would have been heard in about six months' time. But – as the result of a law passed by Berlusconi's government in 2005 – one of the counts on which he was charged would have been "timed out" in the meantime by a statute of limitations.
The judges would probably have had to send the case back to a lower court for a recalculation of the sentence. In Italy, that could easily take 12 months, during which period the other count would have been timed out.
The supreme court decided that Berlusconi's appeal should be heard on 30 July before a tribunal that deals with urgent matters during the summer legal holidays.
The billionaire politician's followers expressed outrage at the decision. Maurizio Lupi, the transport minister, said: "Millions of Italians wait years for justice, but for Silvio Berlusconi the [supreme court] gets convened in record time."
But the Corriere della Sera, the paper that first spotted the loophole through which the leader of the Italian right might once again wriggle, pointed to a 1969 law that instructs judges to speed up cases that are at risk of lapsing during the summer break because of a statute of limitations.
Roberto Maroni, the leader of the Northern League, which was in coalition with the PdL until 2011, said a suspension of parliament would be an "affront to democracy".
uly 10, 2013
Czech Leader Swears in Interim Government
By DAN BILEFSKY
PARIS — President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic swore in a leftist interim government on Wednesday after a corruption and spying scandal that forced the prime minister to resign.
Mr. Zeman’s confirmation of a leftist loyalist and former finance minister, Jiri Rusnok, as prime minister was done in open defiance of the main parties in Parliament, and analysts said the move threatened to plunge the country into further political upheaval and uncertainty.
Mr. Rusnok, 52, succeeds Petr Necas, who resigned in June after a senior aide was charged with bribery and abuse of office. The aide is accused of using the secret services to spy on Mr. Necas’s estranged wife, whom he is divorcing, and of bribing three rebellious members of Parliament with jobs in state companies. Prosecutors are also preparing to charge Mr. Necas with corruption, and this week they asked Parliament to lift his immunity from prosecution. He has vowed to fight the charges.
Mr. Zeman said Wednesday that the new government was tasked with ensuring that no political pressure was exerted on the corruption investigation. “I believe that you will be a guarantee that affairs will not be swept under the carpet,” he said at the swearing-in ceremony, referring to the cabinet members.
The new cabinet has 30 days to request a vote of confidence from Parliament, which analysts said it was all but certain to lose. The fiscally conservative coalition of rightist parties that had backed Mr. Necas’s government has vowed to block Mr. Rusnok’s economic proposals, which include using spending on infrastructure to try to stimulate growth.
In a sign of the challenges ahead, Miroslava Nemcova, the parliamentary speaker, who was the rightist coalition’s choice for prime minister, refused Wednesday to drink a glass of Champagne with the new cabinet, calling the new government “toxic.” “I reject the government as a whole,” she said.
If Mr. Rusnok’s government fails to win a simple majority in a confidence vote, Mr. Zeman has no constitutional deadline to name a replacement before the next scheduled elections in May 2014, and the caretaker government he named could remain in place anyway. Alternatively, Parliament has the power to dissolve itself, which would spur early elections. But analysts said the rightist parties, badly bruised by the corruption scandal, were unlikely to call for early elections they would invariably lose, making it likely that Mr. Zeman will get his way.
Mr. Zeman is the country’s first popularly elected president, and his appointment of Mr. Rusnok has been widely viewed in the Czech Republic as a power grab. Analysts said he was intent on pushing his own political and economic agendas, including higher taxes and spending and closer ties with Russia. The cabinet is made up of several Zeman loyalists.
A protracted battle between the president and Parliament could backfire by undermining investor confidence in the country, which is in a recession. “The situation is already politically unstable, and this could plunge the country into more instability,” said Jiri Pehe, the director of New York University in Prague. “Zeman is a political chess player, and is using the fact that he is the first popularly elected president to try and expand his power. His politics is Milos Zeman, and that’s all that matters to him.”
Jana Marie Preiss contributed reporting from Prague.
July 10, 2013
Luxembourg Spy Scandal Forces Exit of Premier
By ANDREW HIGGINS
BRUSSELS — The longest-serving government leader in the European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, bowed Wednesday to outrage over revelations of a litany of abuses by his tiny country’s wayward intelligence service and declared that he would step down as prime minister.
Although he is from a country with only 539,000 residents, Mr. Juncker, 58, has become one of Europe’s most high-profile political figures in recent years because of his previous role as president of the so-called Eurogroup of finance ministers as they struggled to contain a rolling debt crisis and hold the common currency together. His tenure in that position ended in January.
Mr. Juncker, who became prime minister in 1995, has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing but has come under attack for not keeping the security service in check. Mr. Juncker’s demise was an unlikely one — a tumultuous political drama set off by intelligence service skulduggery in a deeply conservative country known for its secretive banks and deep-rooted traditions of settling disputes behind closed doors.
Mr. Juncker, whose Christian Social Party has governed Luxembourg almost continuously since the end of World War II, pledged to step down during a hearing in Parliament on a report commissioned by the assembly on the activities of Luxembourg’s intelligence service, known as SREL, after its French acronym.
The report, released this month, detailed a host of abuse accusations, including that the service retained large archives of “political espionage” information collected during the cold war on individual citizens. Mr. Juncker was himself said to have been secretly recorded by the former head of SREL, who wore a special watch fitted with a recording device.
“The list of dysfunctionalities, even of illegalities is long,” the report said.
Mounting a robust defense of his actions on Wednesday, Mr. Juncker told Parliament that “the intelligence service was not my top priority.” He added, “I hope Luxembourg will never have a prime minister who sees SREL” as his or her priority.
Still, after initially refusing to resign, Mr. Juncker announced that he would step down Thursday morning after Alex Bodry, the president of the Socialist coalition partner in Mr. Juncker’s government, demanded that he take full responsibility for the scandal and call an election.
“There was no other choice than to hand in the government’s resignation,” Mr. Juncker said.
Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years'
Markings on artefacts from Zhuangqiao relics site date to 5,000 years ago and include string of words, says archaeologist
Associated Press in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 10 July 2013 19.16 BST
Primitive inscriptions dating back about 5,000 years – and believed to be 1,400 years older than the most ancient written Chinese language – have been discovered in Shanghai, archaeologists report.
Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings, found on artefacts at the Zhuangqiao relics site south of the modern city, are words or something simpler. But they believe the discovery will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture.
The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia (now Iraq), dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently.
The Chinese inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the neolithic Liangzhu relics site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, Xu Xinmin, the lead archaeologist, said.
Chinese scholars, of archaeology and ancient writing, who met last weekend in Zhejiang province to discuss the finding, thought the inscriptions did not indicate a developed writing system. However Xu said there was evidence of words on two pieces of stone axes.
One of the pieces has six word-like shapes strung together and resembles a short sentence.
"They are different from the symbols we have seen in the past on artefacts," Xu said. "The shapes, and the fact that they are in a sentence-like pattern, indicate they are expressions of some meaning."
The six characters are arranged in a line, and three resemble the modern Chinese character for human beings. Each shape has two to five strokes.
"If five to six of them are strung together like a sentence, they are no longer symbols but words," said Cao Jinyan, a scholar of ancient writing at Zhejiang University. He said the markings should be regarded as hieroglyphics.
He said there were also stand-alone shapes with more strokes. "If you look at the composition, you will see they are more than symbols."
But Liu Zhao, an archaeologist at Fudan University, Shanghai, suggested there was not sufficient material for a conclusion. "I don't think they should be considered writing by the strictest definition. We do not have enough material to pin down the stage of those markings in the history of ancient writings."
For now the Chinese scholars are calling the markings primitive writing, a vague term that suggests they are somewhere between symbols and words.
The oldest known Chinese writing has been found on animal bones (known as oracle bones) dating to 3,600 years ago, at the time of the Shang dynasty.
American retailers' plan for Bangladesh factory safety branded a sham
War on Want and global unions criticise US and Canadian retailers for launching rival to legally binding accord
The Guardian, Wednesday 10 July 2013 20.17 BST
A plan developed by North American retailers including Gap and Walmart in an attempt to improve safety in Bangladeshi garment factories has been labelled a "sham" by workers' rights groups.
The two retailers were part of an alliance of 17 US and Canadian brands and retailers which on Wednesday launched a five-year agreement as an alternative to a legally binding accord backed by 70 international brands including Marks & Spencer and Primark as well as unions led by IndustriALL and UNI.
Murray Worthy, a sweatshops campaigner at War on Want, said: "Gap and Walmart's safety plan is a sham which won't make factories safe."
Both deals have been agreed in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh in April in which more 1,000 people were killed when a substandard factory building collapsed. That disaster followed a series of fires at garment factories and highlighted the working conditions in the country's £13bn-a-year garment industry and the plight of millions of workers who are paid as little as £25 a month.
The North American deal promises to arrange the inspection of all factories used by the signatories within a year and the establishment of a common set of safety standards by October this year.
The retailers promise to pay up to $1m a year each to support mandatory training for factory staff and managers and to support "worker participation committees" in every factory to deal with complaints about working conditions.
Funds will also be set aside to help workers if factories have to be closed for improvements. Such repairs will be backed by over $100m in low-interest loans and other capital provided via the retailers and brands.
Spokespeople for Gap, Walmart, the US retailer Target and VF Corporation, the owner of the Lee and Wrangler denim brands, which were involved in the deal, said it was transparent and designed to help workers.
"The plan is a significant step toward achieving safer factory conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh," said Glenn Murphy, the chairman and CEO of Gap.
Jay Jorgensen, the head of global compliance for Walmart, added: "This alliance will move quickly and decisively to create uniform safety standards." He told a press conference that the differences between North American and European legal systems meant that signing the IndustriALL-backed accord would potentially expose US and Canadian companies to "unlimited liabilities."
But critics said the American plan could not be "credible or effective" without the involvement of workers in its governance and lacked teeth without legal underpinning. Meanwhile, "worker committees" in factories are thought to undermine workers' rights to join trade unions and organise freely. They pointed out that North American companies including Abercrombie & Fitch and Tommy Hilfiger had signed the international accord despite facing the same legal issues.
In a joint statement, IndustriALL and UNI said: "This is another toothless corporate auditing programme for Bangladesh factory safety."
They said that under the legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh brands had guaranteed funds to help upgrade factories while the American deal limited brands' and retailers' liability and costs. Each brand has promised up to $500,000 a year towards rigorous independent factory inspections and the installation of fire safety measures under a five-year plan.
Christy Hoffman, UNI's deputy general secretary, said: "Walmart are bringing their discount practices to factory safety. This is not a price war; this is about people's lives. Walmart has dragged Gap and a number of other brands down the wrong track. We now urge the Walmart/Gap initiative to think again and raise its standards to those of the accord."
07/10/2013 01:43 PM
An Awkward Truth: Bangladesh Factories a Way Up for Women
By Marianne Scholte
Poor working conditions at garment factories in Bangladesh are making headlines globally following the Rana Plaza disaster, but local labor organizer Nazma Akhter argues the plants offer women a rare opportunity for social advancement.
At the age of 11, Nazma Akhter started work in a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. At 14, she was beaten up by hired thugs and tear-gassed by the police when she joined fellow garment workers in a protest against working conditions in her factory. Today, 39-year-old Akhter is one of the most respected and influential labor leaders in Bangladesh.
Akhter recently flew to Germany for an appearance on a leading national television talk show to discuss the collapse of the Rana Plaza building near Dhaka in April. Some 1,129 people perished in the disaster, and it prompted an intense international debate about precarious working conditions in the Bangladeshi garment sector, which is the third largest supplier of clothing in Europe. After asking her a few basic questions, host Günther Jauch -- who is also the face of the country's "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" franchise -- left her to languish on the sidelines while his German "experts" analyzed the situation in her country and whether or not Germans should buy clothes "Made in Bangladesh."
If Jauch had bothered to include Akhter, she could have provided a great deal of insight that would likely have surprised his viewers and injected new ideas into an otherwise predictable discussion. The subject of Bangladesh's textile industry and its relationship with global capitalism, argues Akhter, is much more nuanced than the way it is largely being portrayed in the West. If worker conditions can be addressed, she says, the garment factories present a unique opportunity to move women from the margins to the center of Bangladeshi society.
'When a Woman Knows Her Rights, She Can Demand Them'
For starters, Akhter has absolutely no patience for campaigns that target certain Western companies. "Garment workers earn the same salary regardless of whether the factory is supplying a discounter like KIK, Lidl, Aldi or Primark or a high end brand like NIKE or Hugo Boss," she says. "A campaign against a few companies doesn't help. Western consumers should pressure all the brands."
Akhter set up the Aware Women's Action for Justice Foundation, widely known as the Awaj Foundation, in 2003 in order to educate female garment workers about their rights. Today she serves as executive director of the labor rights organization. "You have to understand," she explains, "most of these women come from the countryside. This is their opportunity. But they don't know that they have rights, so they cannot say anything. But when a woman garment worker knows her rights, she can demand them from the factory."
In addition to teaching women their basic rights, the Awaj Foundation also works together with major clothing companies to improve their practices in Bangladesh. Since 2008, for example, Akhter and her colleagues have worked closely together with German discount clothing chain KIK to provide health care to garment workers. The company has been a lightning rod for criticismabout the conditions for workers in the companies it contracts to produce its dirt cheap clothing, and working with the Awaj Foundation has provided it with a needed opportunity to burnish its image.
The Awaj Foundation receives significant funding from the German government through GIZ, the German development organization, as well as a number of respected international organizations for a variety of projects to train and assist garment workers.
Educating through Women's Cafés
In 2005, GIZ helped Akhter set up and furnish her offices and worked with her to develop labor rights and leadership training programs and legal services.
GIZ's program officer in Dhaka, Shatil Ara, developed a plan for "women's cafés," where tired garment workers could stop off after work for a cup of tea. Ara says the idea was borne of her own intense frustration as a young woman in Bangladesh. According to the traditional norms of purdah, the country's social and religious custom of secluding women, she was confined to home or school while her brothers were free to roam the streets and sit at tea stalls.
Today, the Awaj Foundation has a staff of 37 and 18 women's cafés. The cafés, which are located in the slums near the garment factories, are open every day of the week and buzz with activity. Women drink tea, eat snacks and learn about their labor rights, through an ingenious educational board game designed by Ara or through formal instruction by one of the foundation's 10 trainers.
Since 2005, the Awaj Foundation has used these programs to educate tens of thousands of garment workers. At the same time, the trainers keep their eyes peeled for women who could serve as peer educators and factory floor cell leaders. This latter group of women are given additional training in labor law, communication, negotiation and leadership. The Awaj Foundation today has over 75,000 members, and its cell leaders have helped settle thousands of disputes on issues such as wages, overtime, holidays and maternity leave in hundreds of factories.
When the cell leaders fail to reach an agreement with factory managers, Awaj's legal aid program swings into action. Three full-time lawyers file around 50 new cases each month. They spend their weekdays in court and meet with garment workers on the weekends. The lawyers have counselled over 17,000 workers since 2005, and the foundation, by its own account, has achieved the reinstatement of 1,110 workers who were improperly dismissed in their previous jobs.
Akhter's work has even attracted the attention of politicians in Germany. This week, the labor activist received a visit from Renate Künast, the head of the Green Party's parliamentary group. "The Awaj Foundation's work is very important, because it is only through stronger union organization that Bangladesh's textiles industry will be able to push through the right to fair working conditions and appropriate wages," Künast says. "But the EU and Germany also need to finally live up to their responsibility as (Bangladesh's) leading trading partner." Künast has called for continued trading priviliges the EU bestows on Bangladesh to be linked to fair working conditions.
In addition to her work at the Awaj Foundation, Akhter is also president of the Combined Garment Workers Federation, one of over 50 labor union federations in Bangladesh's garment sector.
Labor activists continue to face brutal repression from factory owners and the police, as Akhter did in the early 1990s. "Our entrepreneurs and the government have been very slow to accept that labor unions are necessary," says Akhter. "But the labor unions themselves have not helped. There are too many federations -- and they compete for workers in the same factory." She also laments a lack of unity within the unions and an overemphasis on politics within the labor movement.
Furthermore, the unions are heavily male dominated and the male leaders do not understand or address the needs of female garment workers. Women workers have a double work load: they cook, clean, do the laundry, take care of their children. Then they go to the factory. They need child care facilities -- a service that less than 500 of the factories offer. When they get home, there is more work to do. Domestic violence is a big issue.
'Women Are Gaining Independence'
Most live in very poor conditions. Although wages in the garment sector are comparable to wages in the rest of the economy, the constant stream of garment workers from the countryside to the cities of Dhaka and Chittagong has made affordable housing a critical problem. It is not unusual for workers to pay over half their salary for a few square meters in which to sleep and eat. And it is also not unusual for landlords to raise the rent as soon as a garment worker gets a salary increase.
Women are more malnourished than men -- and this applies everywhere in Bangladesh, not just in the factories. The garment workers pay the rent, buy clothes and support their children and their parents, so they skimp on food for themselves. They are tired and underfed, so they get sick. When they are 40, they do not have the strength to continue working in the factory. But they have very little savings, because they have sent any extra they had to the village for their children and parents.
Nevertheless, Akhter insists that the readymade garment industry still represents an important opportunity for Bangladeshi women and progress for the country. She is adamant that the readymade garment sector is absolutely crucial for the well-being and empowerment of women in Bangladesh. "It is good that women have this job opportunity and are coming from the countryside. There is now less dowry, less early marriage. Women are gaining independence. They work at night, they move around the city, and make their own decisions. They support their children and their old parents in the villages. All of this is a very positive sign for our country."
The single greatest source of foreign currency in Bangladesh is the export of clothing. The sector employs around 3.5 million workers, of which around 80 percent are women. On average, the women earn between €35 and €40 per month. Pressure from groups like Akhter's have helped to ensure in recent years that these wages are steadily growing. Often, women who work in the factories are the bread winners in their families, making up to twice as much as men.
Akhter views her cell leaders as the foundation of a new kind of labor movement in the garment sector. Her Combined Garment Workers Federation has around 30,000 members. But through its cell leaders, Awaj has a network of around 400,000 workers. And both organizations are growing: "We are gaining many more members today. We are optimistic that the government will ease restrictions on labor union formation and that this will be very good for our country, in the short, medium, and long term."
After the Rana Plaza disaster, Akhter was also invited to speak on a number of Bangladeshi talk shows. Unlike her experience on Günther Jauch's show in Germany, in Bangladesh she got a chance to say what was on her mind. In one particularly acclaimed appearance, she lashed out at the profit mongering, corruption, and political posturing of the elites in her country.
"We don't do politics," she insisted, "We earn our livelihood by hard labor." While politicians "are continually quarrelling" and entrepreneurs "are building factories to make quick money," garment workers are "earning their bread and butter through hard work and are making garments in Bangladesh that are famous throughout the world."
UN: Iraq violence could lead to civil war
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 15:40 EDT
Violence in Iraq is on the rise and could lead towards civil war, the head of the UN human rights mission warned on Wednesday.
“Iraq is really at a crossroads. I wouldn’t say we’re at a civil war yet, but the figures are not looking good,” Francesco Motta told AFP.
“Political deadlock in the country, a lack of national vision by a lot of politicians, the outside influences that are coming from the region, Syria and other players, is all having a destabilising effect,” he said.
A wave of attacks since the start of the month has left over 190 dead and more than 400 wounded, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.
“The deepening sectarian divisions in the country now are manifesting themselves in a way that are even more dangerous than I would say in 2007,” when tit-for-tat killings became so bad that “not even the government was counting” the dead, Motta said.
A “surge” of additional US troops combined with Sunni Arab tribes turning against Al-Qaeda helped bring the rampant violence under a semblance of control.
The level of violence reached its lowest level in 2011, with 2,771 people killed, according to UN figures.
But it is once again on the rise, fuelled by widespread Sunni discontent with the Shiite-led government, and fanned by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
“A lot of the radical groups are getting oxygen from what is going on there,” Motta said of Syria.
“The more people die (in Iraq), the greater the chance of counter-reaction and the greater chance it has to spiral out of control,” he said.
“If the casualties keep going at this rate it will be well over 5,000 at the end of the year, so we’re looking back at figures of 2008,” he said.
“We’re not at the point where it’s irretrievable. We’re not at the point where we’re at civil war, said Motta.
“But if violence keeps spiralling, if it keeps targeting civilians, if it keeps killing innocent women, men and children, it may come to the point where it will become irreparable, and no one will want to step back from the brink.”
First verdict in Delhi gang-rape trial postponed until July 25
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 11, 2013 3:52 EDT
A New Delhi court trying a teenager over a fatal gang-rape last December that shocked India deferred on Thursday announcing the first verdict in the case, lawyers said.
A juveniles’ court has finished hearing the case of the youngest suspect, aged 17 at the time of the assault on a moving bus, and had been widely expected to announce a verdict on Thursday.
“The court has completed the hearing. The order has been deferred to 25th of July,” public prosecutor Madhav Khurana told reporters who had massed outside the court.
The crime, which saw the 23-year-old student victim die of internal injuries inflicted during the attack, generated widespread anger about endemic sex crime in India to the boil.
Several weeks of sometimes violent protests pushed parliament to pass a new law toughening sentences for rapists, while a round of public soul-searching sought answers to the rising tide of violence against women.
The victim’s family had called for him to be tried as an adult, alongside five men initially arrested over the assault on December 16 who face the death penalty.
The trial of the adult suspects — one of whom died while in jail from a suspected suicide in March — continues in a separate court but is expected to wrap up in the next few months.
The parents of the victim, whom AFP is also not naming in accordance with Indian law, were present inside the small juveniles’ court on Thursday.
“We hope we get justice on July 25th,” said the mother, who has previously called for all suspects to be hanged, before entering the court. Reporters were not allowed inside the courtroom.
The juvenile suspect, a runaway who reportedly left home aged 11, can be sent to a correctional facility for a maximum three-year term, which will take into account the time he has already spent in custody.
The teenager, the youngest of six children according to his mother, was employed to clean the bus allegedly used for the attack and often slept rough or inside the vehicle, reports say.
He has denied any involvement in the crime.
The maximum sentence of three years’ detention is likely to cause further anger in India where the suspects, some of whom have been beaten up in jail, are public hate figures.
Amid pressure to put the juvenile on trial in an adult court, officials conducted an investigation to determine his age and concluded he was 17.
A government panel set up after the Delhi gang-rape to recommend changes to sex crime laws rejected calls to lower the age at which people can be tried as adults from 18 to 16.
The panel’s report in January said India’s justice system continued to “breed more criminals including juveniles in our prison and reformatory system by ghettoing them in juvenile homes”.
The report, overseen by a retired Supreme Court judge, added that it was “completely dissatisfied with the operation of children’s institutions.”
Shahbaz Khan, from the “Haq: Centre for Child Rights”, told AFP that there were “no proper care plans” for institutionalised children which undermined the intention of rehabilitating wrong-doers.
Ranjana Kumari, a women’s rights activist from the Centre for Social Research, said police and the courts were still too slow to respond to the victims of sex crime.
“What we got was a good piece of legislation and an increase in the number of women with the confidence to report crimes against them. But so what? That’s not good enough,” she said.
Kumari said the teenager’s likely punishment was too lenient, and he should have been tried as an adult.
“This is a very gruesome crime and he was almost an adult at the time it was committed,” she said.
Astronomers spot star embryo in largest ever galactic ‘womb’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 13:19 EDT
Astronomers on Wednesday reported their best observation yet of a massive star embryo growing within a dark cloud — the largest stellar “womb” ever spotted in our Milky Way galaxy.
The star, which could grow to 100 times the mass of our Sun and up to a million times brighter, was spotted by the most powerful radio telescope on Earth — the ALMA international astronomy facility located in Chile, according to a paper published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Astronomers hope its discovery, at a distance of some 11,000 light years from Earth, will shed light on how these exceptionally massive stars are formed, shrouded as they are in dust and mystery.
“Not only are these stars rare, but their births are extremely rapid and childhood short, so finding such a massive object so early in its evolution in our Galaxy is a spectacular result,” study co-author Gary Fuller of the University of Manchester said in a statement issued by the European Southern Observatory (ESO)
The most massive and brightest stars in the galaxy form within cool and dark cloud cores, hungrily feeding on material being dragged inwards by the embryo star’s gravitational pull.
This specific star is located in the Spitzer Dark Cloud, whose core has a mass about 500 times that of the Sun.
“This object is expected to form a star that is up to 100 times more massive than the Sun. Only about one in ten thousand of all stars in the Milky Way reach that kind of mass,” said study lead author Nicolas Peretto of Cardiff University.
“The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud. We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim. One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant — the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way!”
According to the ESO, there are two theories on the formation of massive stars, which have at least ten times the mass of our Sun.
The first theory suggests that parental dark clouds fragment, creating several small cores that collapse and form stars. The other sees the entire cloud collapse inwards, with material racing into its centre to feed the star or stars growing there.
The new results support the second theory, said the statement.
“The ALMA observations reveal the spectacular details of the motions of the filamentary network of dust and gas and show that a huge amount of gas is flowing into a central compact region,” said team member Ana Duarte Cabral from the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique in Bordeaux, France.
The find was made possible by the high sensitivity of the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array, located 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level, deep in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
ALMA has 66 antennas exploring the universe via radio waves emitted by galaxies, stars and other bodies not captured by optical and infrared telescopes, which only receive light.
The Christian Science Monitor
NASA, Reddit encourage 7-year-old Dexter Walters to seek space
By Andrew Averill, Correspondent / July 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm EDT
Dexter Walters, a 7-year-old from Britain, heard earlier this year that a Dutch NGO was looking for applicants to start the first human colony on Mars. Fascinated by space, but too young to reasonably expect the agency to select him, Dexter decided to send NASA a handwritten letter (plus astronaut illustration).
"My name is Dexter I heard that you are one sending 2 people to Mars and I would like to come but I'm 7. So I can't. I would like to come in the future. What do I need to do to become an astronaut?"
Although Dexter's family didn't expect much in way of a response from NASA, to their good-natured surprise a response came. Dexter's mother posted photos of the original letter and NASA's response, which also came with a picture of Mars, the Curiosity Rover, stickers, and a bookmark, to the popular online link aggregating community Reddit.
NASA's didn't say that Dexter's age would not be an issue, but encouraged him to continue learning about space programs. "Just think – in a few years, you could be one of the pioneers that may help lead the world's activities for better understanding of our earth and for exploring space."
The letter did read a bit generic, which some Redditors pointed out in the comment section underneath the post. But Dexter's mom, Katrina Anderson, was thrilled.
"He was looking forward to a reply I had to tell him that they may not reply as they are very busy, honestly I if anything I expected a short letter not the pictures too! Bravo NASA!" Ms. Anderson wrote, using her Reddit user account name, in the comment section.
Then, a Reddit user purporting to be an employee at NASA headquarters in Washington popped into the conversation and explained how NASA's Public Outreach staffers don't simply respond to letters like machines without a heart. The letters they receive from kids like Dexter are often scanned and "pinned to their cubicles."
Other Redditors chimed in with tips for Anderson on how to further encourage Dexter's fascination with science. One user suggested university programs, like the School of Earth and Space Exploration in Arizona. Another user, claiming to be an astronomer in real life, said Anderson could contact him for advice on purchasing a telescope.
Would Anderson be all right with Dexter continuing his education and leaving Earth for Mars? She's rooting for him, but first she'll see how she does with him leaving for college. "I think in the future I will lose him to an American university," she told Fast Company. "But that's not the end of the Earth. It's not Mars, is it?"
Edward Snowden: US officials are preventing me claiming asylum
NSA whistleblower calls meeting with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at Sheremetyevo airport
Peter Walker and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 09.49 BST
The NSA surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden has said US officials are waging a campaign to prevent him from taking up asylum offers as he called a meeting in Moscow airport with human rights groups.
In a letter sent to groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the former intelligence agency contractor claimed there was "an unlawful campaign by officials in the US government to deny my right to seek and enjoy … asylum under article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and invited them to meet him at 5pm local time.
"The scale of threatening behaviour is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign president's plane to effect a search for a political refugee," he wrote to the groups.
"This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution."
Reuters quoted an airport official as saying Snowden would meet the groups on Friday afternoon in the transit area of Sheremetyevo, where he has remained since flying to Russia from Hong Kong on 23 June.
The 30-year-old former NSA employee is trying to negotiate asylum elsewhere to avoid facing charges in the US, including espionage, for divulging details about US electronic surveillance programmes.
"I can confirm that such a meeting will take place," an airport spokeswoman said.
Reuters said Amnesty and Transparency International had been invited to meet Snowden, with the former confirming it would attend.
Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International Russia, said: "Yes, I have received a brief email. It said that he would like to meet with a representative of a human rights organisation – there was not much information there. I'm planning to go."
Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch confirmed she had been invited to the meeting and posted Snowden's letter on Facebook.
In the emailed letter – which Lokshina said she could not independently verify as coming from Snowden – the former intelligence worker said he had been "extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world". He added: "These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the US government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum."
The email ends with an invitation for rights groups to meet him at the airport at 5pm (2pm BST).
Snowden is still believed to be weighing up his options. Late on Thursday, Venezuela's foreign minister said the country had yet to receive a formal response to its offer of asylum.
"We communicated last week. We made an offer and so far we haven't received a reply," Elias Jaua told Reuters during a regional foreign ministers' meeting in Uruguay.
Venezuela is one of three countries to offer asylum to Snowden, along with Bolivia and Nicaragua.
In a separate email to Reuters, Snowden confirmed that the meeting with human rights groups would go ahead but said it would be closed to the press. He said he planned to speak to the media later.
The letter told the groups to bring identification and meet at 4.30pm at Sheremetyevo airport in Terminal F, "in the centre of the arrival hall [where] someone from airport staff will be waiting there to receive you with a sign labelled G9".
Edward Snowden to meet Amnesty and Human Rights Watch at Moscow airport – live coverage
NSA whistleblower to meet human rights groups at Sheremetyevo airport to discuss his next steps forward as he claims US is illegally denying his right to seek asylum
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 12.15 BST
Edward Snowden is to meet representatives from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Transparency International at the airport in Moscow where he is holed up to discuss his next steps forward.
In an email published by Human Rights Watch, the former intelligence agency contractor – whose revelations to the Guardian about US surveillance have caused controversy around the world – also suggests he will make a “brief statement” to the groups. Reuters said Snowden had emailed them separately to say that the meeting would be closed to the press but that the whistleblower would speak to the media later.
The meeting is due to take place at 5pm Moscow time (2pm in London/9am in New York) in Sheremetyevo airport and we’ll be publishing as many details as we can live here.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty said they had received an email from Snowden setting out how he felt the US government was conducting an “unlawful campaign … to deny my right to seek and enjoy ... asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
Tonya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch posted the email in full on Facebook. In the email he also thanks all the countries that have offered him support and asylum and offers to visit each one. Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered him asylum. Venezuela’s foreign minister said yesterday the country had not yet received a reply to its offer. It is still unclear whether he would be able to leave the airport to take up any of these offers. The Kremlin said the whistleblower withdrew a request for asylum in Russia after Vladimir Putin said he would be welcome only if he stopped "his work aimed at bringing harm" to the United States – ”as strange as that sounds coming from my mouth."
Here is the email in full:
I have been extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world. These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the U.S. Government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum under Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The scale of threatening behavior is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign President's plane to effect a search for a political refugee [a reference to the plane of Bolivia’s Evo Morales]. This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution.
I invite the Human Rights organizations and other respected individuals addressed to join me on 12 July at 5:00PM at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow for a brief statement and discussion regarding the next steps forward in my situation. Your cooperation and support will be greatly appreciated in this matter.
Edward Joseph Snowden
MEETING DETAILS: Please meet at 4.30pm at Sheremetyevo airport in Terminal F, in the centre of the arrival hall. Someone from airport staff will be waiting there to receive you with a sign labelled "G9". Please bring a copy of this invite and ID to show that you work for your organization as security will likely be tight at this meeting. A maximum of three people are able to attend from each organization. For any questions please contact the airport administration on +8 916-816-4335.
Lokshino said she would be attending the meeting. “I’m not sure this is for real, but compelled to give it a try,” she wrote on Facebook. “Wouldn’t want to create an impression that HRW is not interested in what Snowden has to say.”
Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International Russia, said: "Yes, I have received a brief email. It said that he would like to meet with a representative of a human rights organisation – there was not much information there. I'm planning to go."
Reuters reported that Transparency International was a third recipient of the email.
In the latest in its series of scoops based on documents provided by Snowden, the Guardian this morning reports that Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption.
Even Le Carré's latest fiction can't do justice to Snowden
Whistleblower and writer both finger the enemy as their own side. But the full horror of truth always outdoes the imagination
The Guardian, Tuesday 9 July 2013 21.00 BST
'When I heard William Hague say the innocent had nothing to fear, I distinctly heard Le Carré give a hollow laugh. I thought of the Lawrence family, bugged to get dodgy coppers out of a hole. I thought of British families discovering their dead offspring had their identities stolen by police.' Photograph: David Cheskin/PA
Shocked, or not shocked? The chasm widens. The New York Times this week carried a story from a whistleblower close to Washington's foreign intelligence surveillance court, known as the Fisa court – a secret body set up in 1978 to monitor federal phone taps. It now gives legal cover to intelligence trawling of millions of individuals, at home and abroad.
The recent revelations by another whistleblower, Edward Snowden, accused the court of breaking the fourth amendment to the US constitution. This entitles Americans "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures". The operative word, as so often, is unreasonable.
The new leak alleges that more than a dozen new "rulings" have been passed by Fisa, declaring categories of data-scooping that were within the "special needs" of security, and thus no different from breath-testing or body-searching at airports. NSA operations such as Prism, Tempora and Boundless Informant – many in collusion with Britain's GCHQ – used covert access to Google, Apple and Facebook to go where they pleased. They could cite not just terrorism but espionage, matters of interest to a foreign power, cyber-attacks and "weapons of mass destruction".
These judgments, all in secret, confirmed the gist of Snowden's evidence – and validated his motive. The reason why a previously loyal ex-soldier broke cover was not to aid an enemy. It was to inform a friend, his own country. He was simply outraged by the lies told to Congress by his bosses about NSA operations. As Harvard's Stephen Walt said, Snowden was performing a public service in drawing attention to a "poorly supervised and probably unconstitutional" activity.
The New York Times pointed out that the Fisa court had become a "parallel supreme court". It catered to a mirror universe beyond the reach of Congress or normal courts, servicing a new and burgeoning realm of government and private securocrats. When asked about this world, NSA bosses merely said they could not "jeopardise American security".
Snowden's revelations are in a different league from WikiLeaks. They are not embarrassing diplomatic gossip, but a window on method, on a legal no man's land created in near panic by America and Britain after 9/11. With unconstrained budgets at their disposal and infinite scope to terrify paranoid politicians into doing their bidding, agencies intruded into every corner of the nation's and its citizens' life. They filled their gaping larders with data to be harvested by their algorithm profiles against a rainy day. Nobody controlled them.
Some are unworried by this. Speaking on the BBC's Moral Maze on Sunday, Baroness Neville-Jones, the former co-ordinator of British intelligence, told listeners that the British authorities "behave in a perfectly law-abiding fashion" and have never done "something wilfully wrong or illegal in the public interest". Besides there were "safeguards" in place, secret ones.
William Hague agreed. He denied flatly what Snowden had revealed. Speaking on television, he deployed the policeman's apologia down the ages: "Law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear, absolutely nothing."
To my knowledge, no US source has denied Snowden. The rulings passed by the Fisa court suggest he was spot on. Even President Obama welcomed a debate on the revelations, and a possible amendment to the patriot acts. America is able to be grown up on the subject.
I read Snowden's latest material alongside A Delicate Truth, John le Carré's new novel, almost a commentary on the Snowden saga. He leaves the old certainties of the cold war behind and enters Tony Blair's moral swamp. The hero is a Snowden figure, Toby Bell: "that most feared creature in our contemporary world: a solitary decider".
Bell is no longer fighting an ideological foe. His enemy is now his own side, represented by a Blair crony minister and henchmen. The establishment is corrupted by money, in cahoots with the mercenaries of intelligence and extraordinary rendition. Politicians and officials are alternately venal and paranoid.
When I heard Hague say the innocent had nothing to fear, I distinctly heard Le Carré give a hollow laugh. I thought of the Lawrence family, bugged (with a Home Office warrant?) to get dodgy coppers out of a hole. I thought of British families discovering their dead offspring had their identities stolen by police, or of £250,000 a year blown on an agent infiltrating the McDonald's protest.
When a disreputable newspaper upsets the publicity image of a Hollywood celebrity, the services of Scotland Yard and the bench of judges are at his disposal. The press is universally castigated and brought to book. When agents of the state do far worse, the system gathers round to protect its own. There is no Leveson on the Met police.
Any fool can see that electronic data scooped into a "top secret" cloud are virtually free to air. That is why counsel in British trials are advised not to use email lest it be accessed by police and prosecutors. It is why a blameless Muslim lawyer found himself hauled off a Chicago plane and told by the FBI to spy for them or never get on a plane again. It is why no one's medical records would be safe from insurance companies were the NHS database to go online.
In an interview published by the Guardian on Monday, Snowden said he did not want to live in a world where "everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded", and then stored and judged by the state for possible use. Once on the list there is no redress.
US civil libertarians are seeking to confront the assault on the fourth amendment, possibly before the proper supreme court. Britain has no such recourse. It has only a foreign secretary assuring it that Snowden is talking nonsense. Privacy International is seeking a legal challenge to the data-scooping of NSA and GCHQ. The government has refused to let such a case come before a public court.
As for expecting the British media to come to liberty's defence, forget it. The GCHQ aspect of the Snowden story came after a warning from the government's D-notice committee and, coincidentally or not, appeared only in the Guardian. The justification for this system – even from journalists – is that without it "something worse" would happen, and they should beware rocking the boat. But this was a boat already rocked by the American president and every government in Europe.
I feel sorry for novelists like Le Carré. Fiction can never capture the full horror of truth.
Telstra signed deal that would have allowed US spying
Australian company agreed to allow US government to store information on communications between US and other countries
Bridie Jabour in Sydney
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 July 2013 10.08 BST
Telstra agreed to store information on communications between America and other countries in a contract with the US government which meant it could potentially spy on the contents.
The agreement was signed in 2001 between the telecommunications company – which was at the time half-owned by the Australian government – and its subsidiary Reach, as well as the FBI and the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
The agreement, first reported by Crikey who obtained the documents, gave the US government permission to store "domestic communications" – with the possibility of using them for spying – using the underwater cables owned by Reach.
Domestic communications were defined in the agreement as communications within the US but could also extend to communications which "originate or terminate" in America, meaning Australian communications with America could have potentially been subject to the agreement.
Telstra also agreed to report to the US government every three months on whether any foreign non-government entities had asked for access to their communications, and complete a compliance report every year which could not be accessed using freedom of information laws.
"Domestic communications companies shall designate points of contact within the United States with the authority and responsibility for accepting and overseeing the carrying out of lawful US process to conduct electronic surveillance of or relating to domestic communications carried by or through domestic communications infrastructure; or relating to customers or subscribers of domestic communications companies," the agreement says.
The points of contact were to be American citizens and the agreement also stopped Telstra and Reach, which is based in Hong Kong, from complying with any country's laws that certain data should be destroyed.
"Reach, Tesltra and PCCW agree that the United States would suffer irreparable injury if for any reason a domestic communications company failed to perform any of its significant responsibilities under this agreement and that monetary relief would not be an adequate remedy," the agreement said.
"The FBI and the DOJ shall be entitled, in addition to any other remedy available at law or equity, to specific performance and injunctive or other equitable relief."
The agreement meant all communications within America using the cables was stored in a facility on US soil which was staffed solely by Americans who passed security clearances.
A spokesperson for Telstra said the agreement was complying with American law.
"This agreement, at that time 12 years ago, reflected Reach's operating obligations in the US that require carriers to comply with US domestic law," he said.
The revelations are the latest in a series about government spying which began with the Guardian reporting a secret agreement between various companies and the US National Security Agency.
Earlier this week the Washington Post reported on the existence of agreements with the US and telecommunications companies which gave the government access to cables for spying.
Many of the agreements have since been published on the website Public Intelligence.
How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages
• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch
• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
• Company says it is legally compelled to comply
Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe
The Guardian, Friday 12 July 2013
Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users' communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company's own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI's Data Intercept Unit to "understand" potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a "team sport".
The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers' privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.
In a statement, Microsoft said: "When we upgrade or update products we aren't absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands." The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data "only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers".
In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have "direct access" through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans' communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.
Since Prism's existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.
Microsoft's latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: "Your privacy is our priority."
But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.
The latest documents come from the NSA's Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the "crown jewel" of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.
The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft's Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.
Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats
A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: "MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal" with the issue. "These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012."
Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.
Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. "For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption."
Microsoft's co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked "for many months" with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.
The document describes how this access "means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about".
The NSA explained that "this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response". It continued: "This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established."
A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. "The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes."
The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.
One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. "The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete 'picture'," it says.
Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.
According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.
The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. "Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete," the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. "Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system."
ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. "In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps," he said. "It's hard to square Microsoft's secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google."
The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.
The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that "enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism".
The document continues: "The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…" As a result, the author notes: "these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!"
In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:
We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.
Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren't valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.
Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That's why we've argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.
In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:
The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company's efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and privacy.
They added: "In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate."
• This article was amended on 11 July 2013 to reflect information from Microsoft that it did not make any changes to Skype to allow Prism collection on or around July 2012.
Estonia says Europe overreacted to U.S. Internet spying
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 11, 2013 17:24 EDT
Europeans have overreacted to allegations that the United States had been snooping on them and vacuuming up huge amounts of phone and Internet data, cyber-savvy Estonia said in an interview published Thursday.
“I could understand such condemnation from European countries that are lily white virgins and not themselves involved in these kinds of activities,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told Estonia’s leading Postimees daily.
“But it is very hard to understand the criticism when you know how some big European states have acted in a similar way,” he said, pointing to recent revelations of German, French and British surveillance programmes.
Ilves has flatly denied that Estonia is involved in any cyber snooping.
The ongoing spy row sparked by fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden cast a shadow over the Monday start of EU-US talks in Washington on what could be the world’s largest free-trade deal.
A Baltic nation of 1.3 million people, Estonia is among the world’s most wired countries, with citizens able to access virtually all public services online.
An EU and NATO member since 2004, it also hosts the Western defence alliance’s cyber defence centre, which brings together IT security experts from Europe and the US.
Keith B. Alexander, chief of the US National Security Agency implicated in the cyber snooping scandal, opened a meeting of 400 global cyber experts at the centre in early June.
Kremlin turns back to typewriters to avoid security leaks
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 11, 2013 7:55 EDT
A Russian state service in charge of safeguarding Kremlin communications is looking to purchase an array of old-fashioned typewriters to prevent leaks from computer hardware, sources said Thursday.
The throwback to the paper-strewn days of Soviet bureaucracy has reportedly been prompted by the publication of secret documents by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and the revelations leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The Federal Guard Service, which is also in charge of protecting President Vladimir Putin, is looking to spend just over 486,000 rubles ($14,800) to buy a number of electric typewriters, according to the site of state procurement agency, zakupki.gov.ru.
“This purchase has been planned for more than a year now,” a source at the service, known by its Russian acronym FSO, told AFP on Thursday.
The notice on the site was posted last week. A spokeswoman for the service declined comment.
Pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia said the state service was looking to purchase 20 typerwriters because using computers to prepare top-secret documents may no longer be safe.
“After scandals with the distribution of secret documents by WikiLeaks, the exposes by Edward Snowden, reports about Dmitry Medvedev being listened in on during his visit to the G20 summit in London, it has been decided to expand the practice of creating paper documents,” the newspaper quoted a FSO source as saying.
Unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it, Izvestia said.
Documents leaked by Snowden appeared to show that Britain spied on foreign delegates including then president Dmitry Medvedev at the 2009 London G20 meetings, said British newspaper The Guardian last month.
Russia was outraged by the revelations but said it had the means to protect itself.
Snowden has been stuck in legal limbo at the transit zone of a Moscow airport for a third week after arriving from Hong Kong on June 23.
07/11/2013 03:27 PM
Internet Cartels?: EU Inspectors Raid Deutsche Telekom
The European Commission has initiated raids at several European telecommunications companies, including Deutsche Telekom and Orange. They accuse the companies of abusing their market power to vie for domination on the Internet.
The European Commission confirmed Thursday that it has searched the offices of telecommunications companies in several countries on suspicion they have violated EU antitrust laws in their roles as Internet service providers. Both German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom and France's Orange SA have confirmed to news agencies that their offices have been searched.
If convicted on antitrust charges such as price fixing and market allocation, the companies may face penalties of up to 10 percent of annual global sales. Last year, Deutsche Telekom -- which encompasses US firm T-Mobile among many other holdings and subsidiaries -- generated revenues of some €58 billion ($76 billion).
"The Commission has concerns that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit the abuse of a dominant market position," the European Commission said in a statement.
The Commission itself has yet to confirm names, but French daily Le Figaro reported on Thursday that Spain's Telefonica SA was also among the companies whose offices were searched.
The Commission said the raids are a preliminary step and that it does not assume that the companies are guilty of antitrust violations. But it stressed the importance of Internet connectivity, saying it was vital that consumers can connect quickly and cheaply regardless of the location of the provider. No deadline has been set for the conclusion of the inquiry.
07/11/2013 12:57 PM
Union Disunion: ECB to Begin Inspection of Euro-Zone Banks
The European Central Bank is set to begin inspecting the balance sheets of large EU financial institutions, even as disagreement between Brussels and Berlin threatens the bloc's banking union plans.
The European Central Bank is already looking ahead. European leaders recently decided to make the ECB partially responsible for keeping tabs on the health of the Continent's banks. And according to Euro Group head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Frankfurt-based institution is taking the job seriously.
"Now, the ECB is going to look deep into the books and will involve external, independent experts. It is clear to the ECB that its credibility will be harmed if it doesn't make precise checks," Dijsselbloem said in an interview with four European newspapers on Wednesday, including the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. "Because as soon as the ECB takes over the central monitoring role over Europe's banks, it becomes responsible."
The European Union tasked the ECB with keeping an eye on banks in the bloc late last year and preparations have been underway since then. Starting in the autumn of 2014, the central bank of the common currency zone will begin monitoring the euro area's largest financial institutions. Should they be unable to prove their financial health before then, however, unwinding them and shutting them down could be an option.
That, though, has become the most controversial element of the banking union plan. On Wednesday, disagreement flared between the European Commission and Germany over who will have the final say when it comes to restructuring wobbly banks. A proposal by Commissioner Michel Barnier, who is in charge of the financial regulation portfolio on Europe's executive body, called for the Commission to have final decision making powers on which banks get restructured.
Germany, however, is adamantly opposed to that proposal and immediately registered its opposition. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that only national authorities have the power to wind down banks. Anything beyond that would require a change to European Union treaties.
Dijsselbloem too cast doubt on the Commission's plan in his Wednesday interview, saying it was not yet clear who would have the power to close down euro-zone banks that ran into trouble. "It's not completely decided what that authority should look like," he said according to the Guardian, one of the papers that published the interview. "The main thing is it should be effective. You need to be able to decide overnight, over a weekend."
Germany has been extremely skeptical of EU plans for bank oversight for some time, being particularly concerned about a planned fund to be set up to provide emergency assistance when troubled banks need restructuring. Berlin is adamantly opposed to using German money to wind down banks located elsewhere in the EU, which has slowed the effort to install a bank oversight authority as soon as possible. Without funding, such an authority would be unable to close down financial institutions and would be left without teeth. Current plans to create such a fund organically, through contributions from the banks themselves, will take years -- and this has led to calls for interim measures using national funds maintained by individual member states. It is that proposal, among others, to which Berlin objects.
Berlin is particularly concerned about granting Brussels more powers so close to general elections this September. But several other northern European countries have joined Germany in its opposition to the EU plan, too.
Still, Dijsselbloem was at pains on Wednesday to emphasize that most recent decisions had actually placed more onus on the banks, their creditors and customers when it comes to refinancing and preventing a collapse. "First and foremost, it is the banks that bear responsibility," he said. "That is my most important message. We have changed our approach to dealing with ailing banks and who has to pay the bill."