Kurdish smugglers struggle to feel Turkey peace dividend
Villagers feel under siege as crackdown follows ceasefire that ended years of conflict
Constanze Letsch in Yüksekova
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 3 July 2013 19.25 BST
Peace often comes at a price. For the Kurds of south-eastern Turkey, that price has been a crackdown on a decades-long economic practice: smuggling.
Since the settlement talks with the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK) got under way secretly in October, Turkish security forces have increased their presence. In the Şemdinli district, for example, 14 new military fortifications and checkpoints have been set up.
People in one of Turkey's poorest areas feel harassed by the new security measures aimed at closing down the smuggling routes that have sustained the region through the conflict.
Several checkpoints have been torched by Kurdish protesters and residents have organised day-long roadblocks between the military outposts.
The conflict reached a new high last Friday, when Turkish security forces opened fire on civilians protesting against the construction of a checkpoint in Lice in Diyarbakır. One person died while nine were reported wounded.
All over Turkey, thousands took to the streets on Saturday to protest against the killing of 18-yearold Medeni Yıldırım.
"People here feel like they are under siege," said Nazif Ataman, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP) from Yüksekova. "The military controls are reminiscent of war. We lack everything here: schools, hospitals, factories. Peace has come but the government only invests in security."
But in a tough speech on Tuesday, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, blamed last week's killing on drug dealers he claimed were funding Kurdish guerrillas and were causing trouble because they feared their networks would be closed down.
Erdoğan pledged to press ahead with the building of the new checkpoints while declining to say what he would offer the Kurds as part of the peace process. Last week he ruled out two of the main Kurdish demands, insisting there would no concessions on Kurdish language education nor would the 10% threshold for entering the Turkish parliament be reduced, a barrier aimed at blocking Kurdish representation in Ankara.
Checkpoints have been set up on all main roads while public transport is routinely stopped, luggage searched, and ID demanded by Turkish officers.
"Smuggling is bad for the government, the losses are considerable," said a 30-year-old sergeant. "We can't just look the other way, the problem needs to be dealt with." Drinking tea and smoking at a small checkpoint, he admitted enjoying the contraband. The cigarettes were from Iraq, across the nearby border. "We cannot find [legal] cigarettes here," he laughed. "But the tea is Turkish."
In better times the mountain area straddling the frontiers with Iraq and Iran should be a hub for regional trade. Yet it is one of Turkey's poorest regions, with the Iraqi border closed and international sanctions against Iran shutting down legal commerce. Almost 30 years of conflict between the Turkish state and the PKK have left a legacy of devastation, destroyed traditional livestock farming and forced many Kurds to turn to smuggling.
Mehmet, 13, and Ali, 15, cross into Iraq on horseback almost weekly, smuggling back cigarettes for a bigger seller. It is a two-day trip. They each earn 100 Turkish lira (TL) (£35) for each trip. "Our lives are not worth very much," Ali joked. "But what can we do?"
The teenagers are taking big risks. "I cannot sleep until they are back," Mehmet's 38-year-old mother said. "I am so very worried something might happen to them."
With their father ill, the boys are sole providers for a family of eight. "Have you seen any factories between here and Van?" the father asked. "We have no animals, no land. We need to eat."
Parts of the border zone are mined. Iranian border guards have been known to shoot trespassers on sight. Turkish surveillance drones patrol the borders. In December 2011, the military killed 35 civilians – fuel smugglers, 17 of them minors – mistaking them for Kurdish guerrillas.
"People in these border regions have traded animals with their neighbours and relatives for years. It was turned into smuggling only when these new borders were drawn between them," said Mesut Yeğen, an Istanbul sociologist and expert on the Kurdish issue.
"The local mountain economy has been completely destroyed in almost 30 years of conflict. Villages have been torched and for 15 years people could not access their meadows. The current crackdown on smuggling means local people's only income is drying up."
According to government figures 113m Turkish liras' worth of smuggled fuel was seized last year. Tax losses from contraband cigarettes amount to TL4-5bn a year, according to Turkish trade associations. But the price of diesel in Turkey is 17 times higher than in Iran, guaranteeing big profits for the fuel smugglers.
"I have a family of six to feed," said Hüseyin, 31. "Even adding travel costs and bribes I was able to make a decent living. But for weeks now, I have been working at a loss. I have 300 TL of debt at the bakery alone and no idea how to pay them back."
"Tension is running high. Call it trading or smuggling, but it is the only work we have here," said Ataman. "People say that if things do not pick up, if the government does not let them work, they will start to leave. Maybe there will be peace, but with nobody left to enjoy it."
• Some names have been changed
Helmand's top female police officer shot dead
Islam Bibi, who was killed on her way to work in southern Afghanistan, had received death threats from her family
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 12.11 BST
Gunmen have assassinated the top female police officer in Helmand province, a symbolic strike against women's rights in the heart of Afghanistan's conservative south.
Islam Bibi, 37, was shot dead on the way to a job that she loved and had stuck with despite fierce opposition from her own family and warnings from insurgents.
Unknown attackers opened fire on Bibi in Lashkar Gah as she was riding pillion on her son-in-law's motorbike at around 7am.
"They were both injured, police took them to hospital and after 45 minutes she passed away. Her son-in-law is still being treated," said Omar Zwaak, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
For years Bibi had served as a defiant embodiment of women's progress since the fall of the Taliban and a reminder of how far women's rights had to go in the country.
She headed a team of female officers in the criminal investigation department, but had to ignore death threats from her own brother.
"My brother, father and sisters were all against me. In fact my brother tried to kill me three times," Bibi, who had three children, told the Sunday Telegraph this year. "The government eventually had to take his pistol away."
After years of recruiting drives, women still make up less than 2% of the province's forces. The opposition of Bibi's family is typical in southern Afghanistan, where many consider it shameful for women to work outside the home, where they may meet men from outside their family.
The Taliban has run a campaign of intimidation and assassination against both women who work and government officials, making female officials particularly vulnerable.
In 2008 the Taliban killed Malalai Kakar, head of the department of crimes against women in nearby Kandahar city and at the time the most senior female police officer in the country. She was shot dead on her way to work, and left behind six children.
Two years earlier the provincial head of women's affairs for Kandahar, the province where the Taliban were founded, was killed. And last year two women who held the same post in eastern Laghman province were shot dead within six months.
"It has been increasingly dangerous over recent years to be a woman in public life in Afghanistan, and there has been a growing body count of women who have been brave enough to ignore the risks," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan analyst with Human Rights Watch.
"With the withdrawal of international forces and the deterioration we are seeing in women's rights, there is every reason to fear that these dangers will become even worse in the years ahead, especially in provinces such as Helmand that remain deeply insecure. "
Human Rights Watch said this year that female police officers were often subject to sexual harassment and abuse from their colleagues, in part because they lacked even basic facilities. There are just a handful of female toilets in all the police stations of Afghanistan, and women using male latrines are particularly vulnerable, the group said.
July 3, 2013
Afghan Court Reverses Convictions in Torture of Girl
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and JAWAD SUKHANYAR
KABUL, Afghanistan — A court has reversed the convictions of three Afghans jailed for torturing a young relative who had refused to become a prostitute, alarming activists who had celebrated the guilty verdicts as a warning to all those who would seek to reverse the strides made by women here in the past 12 years.
A family had bought the young woman, Sahar Gul, from her stepbrother for $5,000 and had forced her to marry in 2011, when she was just 13 or 14. When she refused to consummate the marriage, her in-laws locked her in a basement, where they burned her with hot wires, pulled out her fingernails and twisted her skin with pliers for months.
She was discovered in December 2011 curled up in a dank and dark corner of the cellar and badly malnourished. Sahar Gul now lives in a shelter in Kabul.
Her case attracted widespread attention in Afghanistan and abroad. Three of her in-laws were convicted last year of attempted murder, and each was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The convictions were upheld on appeal, though her husband, who is in his 30s, remains at large.
But last month, in a decision that received little publicity, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court, saying that the violence appeared to warrant convictions for assault, not attempted murder, according to lawyers for the defendants.
The appeals court agreed, voiding the convictions and ordering that the defendants — Sahar Gul’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law — be set free. The two women were released this week after about a year in prison, the lawyers said. They were not sure whether the father-in-law was yet out of prison.
Neither court officials nor prosecutors immediately responded to questions about the case. But officials at the women’s prison in Kabul, where the two female defendants were being held, confirmed that both had been released Monday. Officials at the main men’s prison did not respond to calls for comment.
As word spread in Kabul on Wednesday, Western officials said they were still gathering details but would probably have a response in the coming days. Afghan women’s rights activists reacted with alarm, and said they would press to have the three defendants retried.
“There’s smoke coming out of my hair. I am so angry,” said Manizha Naderi, the executive director of Women for Afghan Women. “This poor girl was in the basement for months. If she wasn’t rescued, she would be dead. She was starved and burned and had her fingernails pulled out. How is this not attempted murder?”
If the case had once served as a warning, it will now encourage conservative politicians and mullahs to push harder against the rights of women, Ms. Naderi and other activists said.
The courts’ decisions make “a statement that violence against women is not that important, that Afghanistan is becoming more conservative,” Ms. Naderi added.
That increasingly looks to be the case. As the defendants were being released this week, President Hamid Karzai made five highly criticized appointments to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, a government-backed watchdog.
The five included a mullah who served in the Taliban government and has opposed legislation protecting women’s rights. Another is tied to an Islamist political party dominated by warlords.
July 3, 2013
Iran’s Next Leader Advocates a Less Intrusive State
By THOMAS ERDBRINK
Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rowhani, repeated in a speech on Wednesday his promises of more freedoms for Iranians, saying the government should not interfere in people’s private lives.
“We need a strong society,” Mr. Rowhani told a group of Shiite Muslim clerics during the speech in Tehran, which was broadcast live, telling them to trust the people, whom he called the owners of the Islamic republic.
“We should talk to the people,” he said. “We should hear what they say. We should kindly hear what they say. We should lessen the chances of total rule by the government.”
Mr. Rowhani added, “A powerful and capable government does not mean a government which meddles in and is in control of all affairs, restricts people and their lives, and meddles in people’s private lives.”
After his surprise landslide victory in the June presidential elections, Mr. Rowhani, himself a cleric, has been repeating his electoral promises of more freedom and moderation in a series of speeches.
While many in Iran are wary of political promises and point to the existence of a deep state that makes polices behind the scenes, Mr. Rowhani’s continued retreat from the confrontational policies of the departing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is being taken by many as a sign that some changes may be under way.
Mr. Rowhani, speaking at the Interior Ministry, blamed extremists and radicals for many of Iran’s troubles, saying that in “hundreds of cases” their actions had hurt the relationship between the Iranian people and those in power.
The remark was a clear attack on Mr. Ahmadinejad and his former supporters, a conservative alliance of hard-line clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Many in Iran accuse that faction of turning the country into a tightly controlled security state that has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam on the country. During Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iranian hard-liners jailed hundreds of dissidents, journalists and activists and closed numerous newspapers and Web sites. They have also greatly increased the presence of security forces on the streets, and they tightly control the Internet.
Mr. Rowhani made it clear that he rejected such policies, saying that an Islamic society is not monolithic. “We must accept various trends and tastes,” he said. “It is not possible for one taste to rule in a free and large society.”
He warned hard-liners that Iran needed tolerance in order to achieve progress. “Danger is when — God forbid — one group considers itself equal to Islam, equal to the revolution, equal to the supreme leader,” he said of the hard-liners, often called the traditionalists. “They introduce the others as being against all this. All problems originate from this point.”
Mr. Rowhani’s attacks on the traditionalists have astonished Iranians. Many in the country assumed the traditionalists had quietly taken hold of power during the past decade, ousting reformists and other groups calling for change. But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Rowhani can bring about real changes in people’s lives.
It will be hard, for example, for Mr. Rowhani to turn around Iran’s sanctions-ridden economy without an agreement of some sort with the United States on Iran’s nuclear program, and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the last word on that matter. But talking of freedoms will at least raise hopes for Iran’s sprawling urban middle classes.
At the same time it is unclear how much space Mr. Rowhani will actually be given by Iran’s other centers of power: the judiciary, the armed forces and the alliance of hard-line clerics and commanders. For now, Ayatollah Khamenei has called upon all forces to fully support Mr. Rowhani.
It is not clear how much cooperation Mr. Rowhani can expect. On Sunday, the state newspaper Kayhan, a mouthpiece of the hard-liners, said Mr. Rowhani was a hard-liner himself and urged him not to pick any reformist politicians for his cabinet.
Mr. Rowhani said he was consulting with many candidates to form a cabinet based on skills rather than on ideology, and he criticized those trying to influence him through the news media, saying, “Such measures will not bring anything but the people’s tiredness.”
In a separate interview with the youth magazine Chelcheragh, Mr. Rowhani said that the filtering of Web sites — a common practice in Iran — was a “political act by some people,” and he called such measure senseless. “What news haven’t we heard because of this over the past years,” he said. “This only creates a big wall of mistrust between the government and the people.”
Social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked by the Iranian Ministry of Telecommunications on the orders of the National Council for Cyberspace, which is headed by Mr. Ahmadinejad. After his inauguration next month, Mr. Rowhani will lead the council. The opening of the Internet will be one of his first tests, analysts say.
South Korea makes overture to North Korea on Kaesong factory park
Seoul tries again to restart negotiations over manufacturing complex in DMZ closed since political showdown in April
Associated Press in Seoul
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 07.34 BST
South Korea's government says it has reached out to North Korea to discuss restarting a jointly-run factory park after weeks of testy silence between the two sides.
The industrial complex in the North Korean city of Kaesong, just north of the demilitarised zone dividing the two countries, has been shut since a political showdown in April.
On Thursday, South Korea said it proposed holding working-level talks with North Korean officials in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the DMZ.
Seoul wants to set the grounds for discussions on restarting the factory park, as well as ways to manage the facilities and goods that South Korean businesses left behind. South Korea proposed holding talks on Saturday and would send three delegates, the unification ministry said.
There was no immediate reply from Pyongyang, but on Wednesday North Korea had responded to a plea from South Korean business managers seeking to visit Kaesong to move their goods and equipment out of the park.
Pyongyang had previously refused the South Koreans permission to cross the border into Kaesong to check on their factories.
North Korea pulled out its 53,000 workers earlier this year in protest at South Korea holding military exercises with the US not far from the border. South Korea then ordered its managers to leave as well, against their wishes.
Kaesong, which facilitated nearly $2bn a year in cross-border trade, had been the last joint project left as relations between the two Koreas soured over the past five years.
The closure also meant a loss of salary for tens of thousands of North Korean workers employed in hundreds of South Korean-run factories, and a loss of goods and orders for business managers who relied on Kaesong.
The two countries had tried last month to hold talks on Kaesong and other stalled projects. The talks in Seoul would have been the first senior-level meeting in years. But the plans broke down over a protocol issue.
Report of how human breast milk has become a new luxury for China’s rich prompts outrage and disgust
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 4, 2013 5:09 EDT
Human breast milk has become a new luxury for China’s rich, with some firms offering wet nurse services, a report said, provoking outrage and disgust among web users Thursday.
Xinxinyu, a domestic staff agency in the booming city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, provided wet nurses for newborns, the sick and other adults who pay high prices for the milk’s fine nutrition, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.
“Adult (clients) can drink it directly through breastfeeding, or they can always drink it from a breast pump if they feel embarrassed,” the report quoted company owner Lin Jun as saying.
Wet nurses serving adults are paid around 16,000 yuan ($2,600) a month — more than four times the Chinese average — and those who were “healthy and good looking” could earn even more, the report said.
Traditional beliefs in some parts of China hold that human breast milk has the best and most easily digestible nutrition for people who are ill.
But the report sparked heated debate in the media and on Chinese social media, with most users condemning the service as unethical.
“This adds to China’s problem of treating women as consumer goods and the moral degradation of China’s rich,” said Cao Baoyin, a writer and regular commentator in various Chinese media, on his blog.
Xinxinyu has been ordered to suspend its operations and had its business licence revoked for multiple reasons including missing three years of annual checks, regulators in Shenzhen told AFP on Thursday, although the wet nurse service was not among the factors they cited.
Company officials could not be reached for comment by AFP.
There were nearly 140,000 postings on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, on the topic by Thursday afternoon.
In an online poll, almost 90 percent of participants voted against the service, saying it “violated ethical values”, a fraction over 10 percent deemed it a “normal business practice”.
“People become perverts when they are too rich and tired of other forms of entertainment. This is disguised pornography,” said a user with the online handle ricky_gao.
White Lotus, another weibo writer, said: “Please do not force motherhood to lose its grace and become ridiculous.”
Other postings voiced cynical approval.
“It’s just a business, nothing to blame it for,” said A Xiao Shuai. “People are insensitive about ethics when there is money on the table.”
Among the general population in China breastfeeding rates are low — just 28 percent according to a 2012 UNICEF report — due to time limits on maternity leave and aggressive marketing of formula.
July 3, 2013
Australian Premier Seeks to Slow Tide of Refugees
By MATT SIEGEL
SYDNEY — When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia arrives in Indonesia on Thursday for annual talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, one thorny domestic issue seems sure to top his agenda: turning the flood of asylum seekers trying to reach his country’s shores back to a trickle.
Mr. Rudd, who last week replaced the struggling Julia Gillard as prime minister amid record low poll numbers for their governing Labor Party, is facing a hotly contested election currently set for September. No issue looms as large over his chances of retaining power as slowing the record number of rickety boats attempting the perilous crossing between the two countries.
Thousands of asylum seekers fly into Indonesia every year, where they pay smugglers to ferry them in often unsafe, overcrowded vessels to Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean that is its nearest point to Indonesia. Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers, together with Sri Lankans who often sail directly to Christmas Island without transiting in Indonesia, make up the majority of such asylum claims. Accidents at sea have killed more than 600 people since late 2009, and finding a long-term solution has eluded successive Australian governments going back more than a decade to John Howard, the conservative former prime minister.
Experts say recent statements from senior Australian ministers and advisers to Mr. Rudd signal a push to get tough on asylum seekers ahead of the elections as a means of insulating the Labor Party against claims that it has lost control of the country’s borders. But, they caution, such a policy can only be effective with the full backing of Mr. Yudhoyono, who will be seeking a diplomatic and financial quid pro quo to address an issue that is politically touchy for both sides.
“If Rudd can come away from Jakarta and say that he’s got renewed Indonesian commitment to reduce the number of boats coming to Australia, well then, that would be seen as a very successful trip by him,” Professor Gregory Fealy, an expert in Indonesian politics at the Australian National University in Canberra, said in an interview.
For Australia to secure cooperation, however, it will need to offer Mr. Yudhoyono political cover in the form of concessions on several points that Australia has resisted in the past, he said, like higher quotas for Indonesian laborers seeking work visas to Australia and more direct aid to combat the traffic in people. In exchange, Indonesia could be asked to limit visas on arrival for Iranian citizens, do more to fight the official corruption that aids people smugglers and permit the return of those denied asylum by Australia.
“If they were willing to do so now, that would mean that President Yudhoyono could walk away from the talks and tell the Indonesian Parliament, for example, that he’s done a good deal,” Mr. Fealy said.
Mr. Rudd on Wednesday told The Australian, a national newspaper, that he hoped to revive Australia’s lucrative live cattle export trade with Indonesia, which two years ago slashed its imports after accusations from some Australian lawmakers of cruelty in Indonesian slaughterhouses. The annual trade is valued at about $500 million Australian dollars, or about $457 million.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr of Australia, speaking by telephone from Brunei late Tuesday, placed regional security concerns and asylum seekers at the top of the agenda for the summit meeting. He repeated his recent claim that nearly all those now seeking asylum in Australia by boat are economic migrants and thus not entitled to refugee status under the U.N. Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory.
He singled out Iran, which is feeling the bite of U.N. sanctions aimed at getting it to abandon its nuclear program and does not accept the repatriation of its citizens, as a major source of such migrants. He said Australia would be discussing ways to dissuade citizens of that country in particular from attempting the crossing.
“One matter we’ll be raising is people smuggling, because we think Australia and Indonesia need a coordinated response, given the spike in numbers and the large number of Iranians in particular,” he said in the interview.
“There was a boat in May with 63 Sri Lankans on it,” he added, “and 63 of 63 screened out. And they can be sent back to Sri Lanka, but of course the Iranians can’t be sent back.”
Australia effectively discouraged non-white migration until the 1970s. Although it welcomed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnam War ended in 1975 — some who arrived by boat — it was not until 1999, when annual boat arrivals, mostly from Indonesia, spiked into the thousands, that several grim accidents galvanized public opinion around the issue. Mr. Howard’s so-called Pacific Solution — transporting asylum seekers to nearby island nations for lengthy processing — drew strong criticism from human rights advocates and was abandoned when Mr. Rudd became prime minister for the first time in 2007.
Mr. Rudd, who lost the leadership in a 2010 party coup before regaining it last week, suspended the Pacific Solution and tried to streamline the processing procedures, only to see an explosion in the number of arrivals. A mere 161 asylum seekers arrived in 2008, a number that rose to 6,535 in 2010 and has ballooned to 11,599 in just the first three quarters of 2012-13, the latest period for which official statistics have been published.
In 2012, Ms. Gillard’s government effectively revived the Pacific Solution, opening offshore detention centers in the remote pacific island state of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The number of spots at those two centers, however, is not nearly adequate to hold the new arrivals, and Australia is now facing a backlog of more than 20,000 people awaiting processing, with more arriving almost daily.
One clue as to the sort of framework Mr. Rudd may be looking for this week can be found in a paper delivered by the Jesuit priest and lawyer Frank Brennan, a confidant of Mr. Rudd’s. Mr. Brennan made waves last week when he advocated the forced repatriation by airplane to Indonesia of anyone not directly fleeing a country in which they faced persecution as a means of dissuading asylum seekers from using Indonesia as a transit country.
“It should be a matter not of taking the sugar off the table but of trying to put the sugar out of reach except to those in direct flight from persecution, and leaving the sugar available to those who manage to reach the table whether by plane or boat, with or without a visa,” Mr. Brennan wrote.
Under Mr. Brennan’s proposal, Australia would finance security and processing arrangements in Indonesia, in tandem with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration. Australia’s opposition Liberal-National coalition has said that it will tow boats back to Indonesia if it gains power, but the Indonesian government says it has no intention of accepting the refugees being returned.
Mary Crock, a law professor and expert on Australian immigration policy at the University of Sydney, cautioned the government against making decisions in the politically charged environment of a campaign and joined the growing chorus of criticism of Mr. Carr’s statements about economic migrants. She warned in an interview that the government risked “dragging Australia over the legal cliff when it comes to its obligations under international law.”
“They’re trying to claw back in the polls, and any gesture like that, that sticks the boot into the refugee in Australia, is political gold,” she said. “I don’t think law has much to do with this at all. It’s really what you can get away with politically. We behave in contumelious disregard of most elements of law when push comes to shove.”
In the USA...
To those who say ‘trust the government’ on NSA spying: Remember J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI?
By Barrett Brown, The Guardian
Monday, July 1, 2013 13:19 EDT
Those who tell us to trust the US’s secret, privatised surveillance schemes should recall the criminality of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI
It’s a fine thing to see mainstream American media outlets finally sparing some of their attention toward the cyber-industrial complex – that unprecedented conglomeration of state, military and corporate interests that together exercise growing power over the flow of information. It would be even more heartening if so many of the nation’s most influential voices, from senator to pundits, were not clearly intent on killing off even this belated scrutiny into the invisible empire that so thoroughly scrutinizes us – at our own expense and to unknown ends.
Summing up the position of those who worry less over secret government powers than they do over the whistleblowers who reveal such things, we have New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who argues that we can trust small cadres of unaccountable spies with broad powers over our communications. We must all wish Friedman luck with this prediction. Other proclamations of his – including that Vladimir Putin would bring transparency and liberal democracy to Russia, and that the Chinese regime would not seek to limit its citizens’ free access to the internet – have not aged especially well.
An unkind person might dismiss Friedman as the incompetent harbinger of a dying republic. Being polite, I will merely suggest that Friedman’s faith in government is as misplaced as faith in the just and benevolent God that we know not to exist – Friedman having been the winner of several of the world’s most-coveted Pulitzer Prizes.
If Friedman is, indeed, too quick to trust the powerful, it’s a trait he shares with the just over half of Americans, who tell pollsters they’re fine with the NSA programs that were until recently hidden from their view. Why, our countrymen wonder, ought we to be disturbed by our state’s desire to know everything that everyone does? Given the possibility that this surveillance could perhaps prevent deaths in the form of terrorist attacks, most Americans are willing to forgo some abstract notion of privacy in favor of the more concrete benefits of security.
Besides, the government to which we’re ceding these broad new powers is a democracy, overseen by real, live Americans. And it’s hard to imagine American government officials abusing their powers – or at least, it would be, had such officials not already abused similar but more limited powers through repeated campaigns of disinformation, intimidation and airtight crimes directed at the American public over the last five decades. Cointelpro, Operation Mockingbird, Ultra and Chaos are among the now-acknowledged CIA, FBI and NSA programs by which those agencies managed to subvert American democracy with impunity. Supporters of mass surveillance conducted under the very same agencies have yet to address how such abuses can be insured against in the context of powers far greater than anything J Edgar Hoover could command.
Many have never heard of these programs; the sort of people who trust states with secret authority tend not to know what such things have led to in the recent past. Those who do know of such things may perhaps contend that these practices would never be repeated today. But it was just two years ago that the late Michael Hastings revealed that US army officials in Afghanistan were conducting psy-ops against visiting US senators in order to sway them towards continued funding for that unsuccessful war. If military and intelligence officials have so little respect for the civilian leadership, one can guess how they feel about mere civilians.
Not that anyone need merely guess. Discussing the desirability of such “information operations” in his 2001 book, retired USAF Lt Col George Crawford noted that voters tend to view these sorts of programs with suspicion. “Consequently,” he concludes, “these efforts must take place away from public eyes.”
And so they do. If we want to learn a thing or two about the latest round of such programs – that is, if we are willing to disregard the Thomas Friedmans of this world – we must look not just towards the three letter agencies that have routinely betrayed us in the past, but also to the untold number of private intelligence contracting firms that have sprung up lately in order to betray us in a more efficient and market-oriented manner. Our lieutenant colonel, scourge of “public eyes”, is among the many ex-military and intelligence officials who have left public service, or public obfuscation – or whatever we’re calling it now – to work in the expanding sphere of private spookery, to which is outsourced information operations by the Pentagon, spy agencies, and even other corporations who need an edge over some enemy (in Crawford’s case, the mysterious Archimedes Global).
So, how trustworthy is this privatized segment of the invisible empire? We would know almost nothing of their operations were it not for a chance turn of events that prompted Anonymous-affiliated hackers to seize 70,000 emails from one typical firm back in early 2011. From this more-or-less random sampling of contractor activity, we find a consortium of these firms plotting to intimidate, attack and discredit WikiLeaks and those identified as its key supporters, including the (then Salon, now Guardian) journalist Glenn Greenwald – a potentially illegal conspiracy concocted on behalf of corporate giant Bank of America, which feared exposure by WikiLeaks, and organized under the auspices of the Department of Justice itself.
We find several of the same firms – which collectively referred to themselves as Team Themis – involved in another scheme to deploy sophisticated software-based fake people across social networks in order to infiltrate and mislead. For instance, Themis proposes sending two of these “personas” to pose online as members of an organization opposed to the US Chamber of Commerce, another prospective Themis client, in order to discredit the group from within. Yet another revelation involves a massive cross-platform military program of disinformation and surveillance directed at the Arab world; still another relates how one NSA-inked firm can monitor and attack online infrastructure throughout the world, including western Europe, and will rent these capabilities out to those with a few million dollars to spend on such things.
And Booz Allen Hamilton, which has received some belated scrutiny as the eminently powerful employer of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, was apparently in talks with Themis participant HBGary Federal regarding its own still-secret “project” involving, again, WikiLeaks. These are simply a few of the revelations stemming from a portion of the email correspondence among a handful of major contracting firms – a tiny, serendipitous sampling of what such firms are doing for their government and corporate clients as they compete for contracts.
Hundred of these sorts of companies have come about in the last few years, operating in close partnerships with the state, yet existing beyond the view of Congress, the media and “public eyes”. Even in the unlikely instance when their activities come to light, potentially illegal behavior goes unpunished; even calls by congressmen to investigate the sordid Themis conspiracy were ignored by the Department of Justice, which, of course, set the whole thing in motion to begin with through its recommendation.
This, then, is the environment in which public officials and Beltway insiders like Friedman are asking us to trust the intelligence community and its private partner firms with increasing power over information. It’s an age in which even the limited rules in place can be broken with impunity by the powerful – even as journalists and activists who cross them are targeted for destruction by state-corporate alliances armed with increasingly sophisticated cyber weapons, propaganda techniques and surveillance authority.
This is the world we accept if we continue to avert our eyes. And it promises to get much worse.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
President Obama’s Obamacare Shocker Has Left John Boehner Punching At Air
By: Jason Easley
Jul. 3rd, 2013
Republicans are not only shocked after President Obama took the air out of their balloon, but has left John Boehner swinging blindly at the air with his big 2014 issue gone.
After the White House announced that they were delaying the employer mandate until 2015, Speaker Boehner could only say, “The president’s health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs. This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the ‘train wreck’ will only get worse. I hope the administration recognizes the need to release American families from the mandates of this law as well. This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable, and it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms.”
What is this replacement plan that Boehner was speaking of? None of the previous nearly 40 attempts to repeal Obamacare contained a replacement plan. Last year, Republicans admitted that they had no plan to replace Obamacare. Their plan is, was, and always has been to repeal Obamacare. There is no plan to replace anything. Boehner’s desperation after losing the main issue that Republicans were hoping to campaign on is so complete that he has retreated back to their 2010 campaign slogan of repeal and replace.
The fact that Republicans keep claiming that they will replace Obamacare undercuts their argument that the healthcare reform is so unpopular that it should just be done away with. If the law is really that unpopular, why are Republicans pretending to replace it? The answer is that the American people support healthcare reform.
The media always parrots the Republican talking point that Obamacare is unpopular. but something totally different happens when people are polled about the individual parts of the healthcare law. It turns out that people like what Obamacare does. What they don’t like is the term Obamacare. Republicans have successfully turned Obamacare into a bad word, but people really like the idea of healthcare reform. That’s why John Boehner has to talk about repeal and replace instead of just repeal.
Obama’s shocker has left Boehner with even less than the usual nothing that he has to pretend like is the House Republican agenda. House Republicans were all set to demonize Obamacare as big job killing tax on employers, but that’s all gone now. Republicans are going to campaign on scaring voters about Obamacare. The problem is that they’ve been making this same argument since 2009. The American people tuned it out in 2012, and there is no evidence to suggest that it will be any more successful in 2014, 2016, or 2020.
John Boehner’s got nothing, and once again, President Obama has demonstrated how he keeps beating Republicans at every turn.
Republican Championing of Primeval Causes Is Creating a Hazardous Existence for Women
Jul. 3rd, 2013
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and refers to a body of knowledge itself that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. Conversely, superstition has its basis in supernatural causality meaning that one event leads to the cause of another without any natural process linking the two events, such as in astrology, religion, and omens that all contradict rationally and reliably tested details. Even though it is the 21st century, there are entire groups of people living in highly-developed technological societies who espouse superstition over science regardless their beliefs are without merit and untestable, and by themselves are little more than oddities in modern civilization and closer in knowledge and understanding to primitive human beings than 21st century humans. Republicans have taken to championing primeval causes for their reality-challenged supporters, and left to their own devices are creating a hazardous existence for women.
In the war on women, Republicans in Texas and Ohio are striving to outdo each other in subverting women’s reproductive rights, and Ohio has surged ahead of Texas in the latest attack on women and in the process redefined pregnancy based on superstition that would likely boggle even prehistoric human beings’ minds. Governor John Kasich signed a state budget that contains the harshest anti-abortion measures imaginable, and to justify ending a woman’s right to choose, Republicans redefined pregnancy to mean “a fetus begins developing from the moment of conception” that, for all intents and purposes means a single-celled zygote is a fetus.
In human beings, the fetal stage of prenatal development starts at about the beginning of the 11th week in gestational age, which is the 9th week after fertilization and after the embryonic stage. Ohio Republicans cannot comprehend that most fertilized eggs never implant in the uterus even 11-12 weeks after fertilization, and are sloughed off before implanting. What that means is that many Ohio women who were never actually pregnant are now regarded as pregnant because according to superstitious Republicans, the zygote turned embryo they were carrying is a “fetus” at the moment of conception; at least in Ohio.
The Ohio budget contained other anti-women’s choice measures meant to make abortions “a relic of the past” as Speaker of the House John Boehner said when addressing anti-abortion advocates during a March for Life protest in January. Ohio Republicans are doing their best to fulfill Boehner’s promise. One item forbids publicly-funded hospitals from entering into agreements with nearby abortion clinics for emergency care transfers necessary for clinics to care for patients with complications, and it will effectively mean shuttering 12 clinics that provide abortions in Ohio. Kasich’s budget also places doctors providing abortions under a requirement that they have to perform a fetal ultrasound and force the mother to listen to or see the heartbeat, and failure to comply could mean the doctor faces prosecution under the law tucked away in the budget.
The budget also transfers $1.4 million in funding for Planned Parenthood to what evangelical Republicans call “crisis pregnancy centers” because they do not offer abortion services, but have been heavily criticized for providing more superstitious and false information. The idea of the type of family planning Planned Parenthood offers will be “a relic of the past” in Ohio and women will likely be offered counseling steeped in superstition such as “a fetus begins at the moment of conception” and likely a person worthy of all the rights and protections afforded under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
What is in store for Ohio women is similar to Texas Republican legislature’s plans for living breathing women (and men), especially low-income minorities who are without healthcare. Closing down abortion and family planning clinics also eliminates services the poor depend on for contraception, STD testing, and cancer screenings that affects 25% of Texas women who are without healthcare insurance. However, the only thing that matters to Republicans in both states’ is controlling women, and if it means depriving them of healthcare, contraception, and even cancer screenings, it is justifiable, and subverting women’s rights is a value-added bonus even if it means something as fanatical as redefining pregnancy and assigning personhood to a zygote. Unfortunately for women in states like Texas and Ohio, it appears there is more than making “abortion a relic of the past;” Republicans are intent on controlling a woman’s sexuality.
Republicans boast America has the greatest healthcare in the world, but it is also the most prohibitively expensive and Americans do not have more or better access to care than citizens in other developed nations especially for the cost of giving birth according to analysis from the New York Times. According to Gerard Anderson, an economist at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, “It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby, it’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.” Unfortunately, the already crippling expense is rising and for a woman barely surviving the Republicans’ low-wage economy, their choice is either falling deeper into extreme poverty, or stop having sexual relations. Why else are Republicans barring family planning services, abortions, and eventually contraception unless they intend for intimacy to result in pregnancy?
In Ohio Republicans used stealth to redefine pregnancy, ban abortion services, and restrict family planning to women undergoing religious counseling on celibacy or becoming perpetual birth machines; in Texas evangelical governor Rick Perry is forcing through harsh abortion bans and assailing the democratic process by attacking protestors railing against Puritanical rule. Perry accused Wendy Davis’ filibuster and protestors of hijacking democracy calling her filibuster “unprecedented anarchy” and promised that “We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do.” However, it is highly unlikely Texans hired Republicans to control women’s reproductive rights, but since Texas, like Ohio, has become a theocratic dictatorship, the will of the people, or women’s choice, is now the purview of evangelical extremists and it does not bode well for America’s women who are on the verge of joining their sisters in harsh Islamic countries to exist at the will and whim of male religious fanatics.
America’s women are in trouble, and Republicans will use any means to exert control over their reproductive health whether it is contradicting medical science and redefining pregnancy, threatening doctors with imprisonment for not lying to women, or banning family planning that is outside the realm of abstinence or perpetual birthing. Ohio Republicans snuck a personhood law into their state budget, and Texas Republicans are on the verge of suspending democracy to force women’s compliance to evangelical edicts regarding reproduction, and like any religious frenzy, it will only get worse. If the current Republican attacks on women’s reproductive health are their promise for better outreach to women, then what comes next can only be complete subjugation.
It is imperative that men who have any regard for their wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters step up and join millions of women who are in jeopardy of losing control of their reproductive health choices and start protesting loudly against Nazi tactics being used against over half the population while they still can. At the rate Republicans in states are proceeding, America’s women are on the verge of suffering forced abstinence or perpetual pregnancy and the saddest aspect of all is evangelical women pushing to enforce their pathetic plight on every woman in America. The tragedy is men’s silence that will subject their daughters, wives, mothers, and sisters to lives rivaling women under harsh Sharia Law.
Democratic Run States Move Forward While Republican Controlled States Dither
By: Keith Brekhus
Jul. 3rd, 2013
Looking at state governments around the United States, one lesson becomes clear. Put Democrats in charge and good things can happen. Give Republicans control of the machinery of government and they will dither or turn the clock backwards. While it has become fashionable for cynics to lament the ineffectiveness of both political parties in governing, a look at the United States right now reveals that when Democrats are given a governing majority they will pass common sense legislative agendas that benefit the populations they serve. Put Republicans in charge and they will try to suppress the vote, probe vaginas and pass laws that are wildly unpopular even with Republican voters. Ignore the false equivalency cynicism. In our current political climate, the difference between Democratic and Republican controlled states could hardly be any wider.
Take for example Democratic run California, where voters put Jerry Brown into office in 2010 and then delivered him a tax increase and legislative super majorities in both chambers in 2012. Although the state was experiencing a crippling fiscal crisis just a couple of years ago, it is now back on its feet with its first budget surplus in years. On Tuesday July 2nd, Governor Brown signed into law a school formula bill that will benefit low and middle income students from kindergarten all the way through college. The bill increases education funding by eight billion dollars, much of it targeted towards disadvantaged school districts in low income areas. In addition, Brown signed into law a bill that will provide college grants to students from modest income families reducing educational fees by up to forty percent for households with incomes under 100,000 a year. Furthermore, the state’s new budget restores subsidized dental services for the poor, increases child care subsidies for working families and provides increased funding for mental health services.
However, California is not the only state where Democratic control of both houses of the legislature and control of the governor’s mansion, is yielding tangible benefits for residents. Earlier this year Delaware and Minnesota lawmakers legalized same-sex marriages. Colorado passed landmark gun control legislation including enhanced background checks, magazine size limits and new restrictions to make it harder for domestic violence offenders to own a gun. Colorado also passed a same day voter registration bill making it easier for residents to cast a ballot. Maryland repealed the Death penalty. The state houses and senates of Connecticut and Rhode Island each passed a homeless persons’ Bill of Rights, extending legal protections and non-discrimination measures to the homeless.
Meanwhile states under Republican control seem eager to move backwards to a time before Roe v. Wade and the Voting Rights Act became law. Ohio, North Carolina and Texas seem bent on passing some of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the nation. Wendy Davis’ filibuster thwarted Texas’ anti-abortion law momentarily, but Governor Rick Perry quickly reconvened a special session in the hopes of muscling through a bill that would reduce the number of clinics in the state to just five. Ohio and North Carolina are working on similarly restrictive legislation.
Nowhere have the failures of GOP control been more apparent than in North Carolina. In the past nine weeks, over 600 demonstrators have been arrested outside North Carolina’s state capitol, protesting the legislature’s dramatic tilt to the far right. While Colorado has added same day voting, North Carolina Republicans are in the process of eliminating same day voting as well as early voting and Sunday voting. In addition, despite having one the nation’s highest unemployment rates, state lawmakers eliminated jobless benefits for the long term unemployed and reduced weekly benefits for those still eligible to collect unemployment, rendering the state ineligible for 700 million dollars in federal aid. North Carolina also rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, something that could have directly benefited approximately half a million residents.
North Carolina’s legislature is doing such a dreadful job that even Republican voters are deeply unhappy with their performance. Only 1 in 5 North Carolina voters approve of the legislature’s work this session, and even among Republicans that number is just 36 percent. The tone deafness of North Carolina lawmakers is evident in their support for a bill to raise consumer interest rates on loans to 30 percent, a proposal that only two percent of state’s voters support. Just five percent of Republican voters support the plan. Likewise, the legislature’s plan to allow guns on all school campuses in the state and their proposal to ban Tesla from selling electric cars in North Carolina are not only wildly unpopular proposals with North Carolina residents but they are even intensely disliked by Republican voters.
As the week continues to unfold we are likely to see more outrageous legislation put forth in Republican controlled states and more protests as citizens attempt to be heard. No doubt we will also continue to hear cynics who blame both political parties and insist that it does not matter which party is in control. Well it may be true that it does not matter who you vote for unless you are a woman, a student, a racial, ethnic or religious minority, an immigrant, a minimum wage worker, a homeless person, a middle income parent, a teacher, a gay person, an unemployed person, a senior citizen, a small business owner, a food stamp recipient, a person who needs medical care, or a disabled person. If you fit one or more of those categories, then the difference between having Republicans or Democrats in charge of your state involves real life consequences that do in fact matter.
More GOP Fail: Private Sector Jobs Boom As Obamacare Doesn’t Harm Growth
By: Sarah Jones
Jul. 3rd, 2013
It’s time for Republicans to invent a new Obama scandal, because there’s more good economic news for the country. Private-sector employment increased by 188,000 from May to June, on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to an ADP National Employment Report.
“During the month of June, the U.S. private sector added 188,000 jobs, driven by gains across all sizes of businesses, and with small companies showing the largest overall monthly increase. Most notably, the goods-producing sector added 27,000 jobs in June, a marked improvement over the decline the previous month,” explained Carlos A. Rodriguez, president and chief executive officer of ADP.
Small businesses lead the charge in private sector job growth. Mom and pops (small businesses) are another segment Republicans pretend to own during campaign years but refuse to legislate in favor of unless big corporations get something first.
• Small businesses (1-49 employees) +84,000
• Medium businesses (50-499 employees) +55,000
• Large businesses (500 or more employees) +49,000
The private sector – the sector Republicans claim ownership of – is growing under a Democratic President. Sadly, Republicans can take no ownership of the gains, as they have refused to legislate economic recovery or jobs, preferring to impose austerity on the country even when Europe has demonstrated the failure of that conservative economic model.
Worse yet for Republicans, health care reform is not killing job growth, as they’ve been fear-mongering it would. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, concluded, “The job market continues to gracefully navigate through the strongly blowing fiscal headwinds. Health Care Reform does not appear to be significantly hampering job growth, at least not so far. Job gains are broad based across industries and businesses of all sizes.”
As a reminder of when all of this started and where we are now, here’s a graphic via ADP Research Institute:
job growth chart private sector
So things are getting better. No worries, patriots, the Republican Party still has a few ways to impose failure on the country; e.g., they are clinging to their threats to refuse to raise the debt ceiling (aka, pay off their bills), which could result in our credit rating taking a hit again and scaring international markets into a free-fall.
If that doesn’t ruin things for Obama, Republicans can refuse to reconcile the budget so they can continue to impose forced austerity via the sequester cuts — oh, wait, they’re already doing that.
The private sector added quite a few jobs and even Moody’s can’t find a way to blame ObamaCare for killing job growth as Republicans promised it would.
The narrative that healthcare for more Americans would kill job growth and therefore is bad and should not happen is a fail. The idea that we can’t help anyone and have a good economy is not panning out. The notion that we must starve the people in order to grow economically is not true. The notion that Democrats are bad for the private sector because only Republicans understand “business” is obviously false (see Wisconsin for clarity on Republican ideology in action – one of the worst states for business now, and historic job losses).
If Republicans don’t have the economy, the private sector (aka, “business), or jobs, and they already ceded national security and judgment to Democrats, what do they have left? Hating immigrants, hating gays, hating women, and pushing a patriarchal and warped version of their “values” onto the rest of the country (see Texas and North Carolina). Perhaps this explains the “divide” you see in our country. One party cares about the people and the country, another is desperately trying to appease anyone willing to vote against their own financial self interest, and apparently only hate will do that.
France 'runs vast electronic spying operation using NSA-style methods'
Intelligence agency has spied on French public's phone calls, emails and internet activity, says Le Monde newspaper
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 18.13 BST
France runs a vast electronic surveillance operation, intercepting and stocking data from citizens' phone and internet activity, using similar methods to the US National Security Agency's Prism programme exposed by Edward Snowden, Le Monde has reported.
An investigation by the French daily found that the DGSE, France's external intelligence agency, had spied on the French public's phone calls, emails and internet activity. The agency intercepted signals from computers and phones in France as well as between France and other countries, looking not so much at content but to create a map of "who is talking to whom", the paper said.
Le Monde said data from emails, text messages, phone records, accessing of Facebook and Twitter, and internet activity going through sites such as Google, Microsoft or Yahoo! was stocked for years on vast servers on three different floors in the basement of the DGSE headquarters.
The paper described the vast spying programme as secret, "outside any serious control" and illegal.
The metadata from phone and internet use was stocked in a "gigantic database" which could be consulted by six French intelligence and security agencies as well as the police.
The paper said Bernard Barbier, technical director of the DGSE, had previously described the system as "probably the biggest information centre in Europe after the English".
Referring to the system as a "French Big Brother", Le Monde said the French state was able to use the surveillance "to spy on anybody at any time". The paper wrote: "All of our communications are spied on."
Le Monde said that after Snowden's revelations about the NSA's Prism surveillance programme prompted indignation in Europe, France "only weakly protested, for two excellent reasons: Paris already knew about it, and it was doing the same thing".
When revelations about the Prism programme harvesting citizens' data emerged, the French government did not immediately comment. But after fresh allegations about the US spying on the European Union and foreign embassies, including the French embassy in Washington, the president, François Hollande, said these practices must "cease immediately". France demanded the suspension of talks on the EU-US free trade pact until it had received full explanations about surveillance.
The foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said this week that France did not spy on the US embassy in Paris because "between partner countries" these "were not the sorts of things that should happen". Asked about the US spying, Fleur Pellerin, the junior minister for the digital economy, told BFMTV this week that she found the "generalised surveillance of citizens" was "particularly shocking".
The Guardian revealed last month that Britain's spy agency GCHQ had secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world's phone calls and internet traffic and had started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it was sharing with its American partner, the NSA.
Evo Morales threatens to close US embassy in Bolivia as leaders weigh in
Anger at US and EU from Bolivia's left-leaning South American allies at meeting to discuss rerouting of Morales' plane
Agencies in Cochabamba
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 03.42 BST
Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, has warned he might close the US embassy in his country, as South America's leftist leaders rallied to support him over the rerouting of his presidential plane.
Morales again blamed Washington for putting pressure on European countries to refuse to allow his plane to fly through their airspace on Tuesday, forcing it to land in Vienna, in what he called a violation of international law. He had been returning from a summit in Russia during which he had suggested he would be willing to consider a request from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for asylum.
"Being united will defeat American imperialism. We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States," Morales said. "We do not need the embassy of the United States."
Morales made his announcement on Thursday as the leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay joined him in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a special meeting to address the diplomatic row.
At the end of the summit a statement was issued demanding answers from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain. The United States was not mentioned in the statement.
"Europe broke all the rules of the game," Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said shortly after arriving at Cochabamba airport. "We're here to tell president Evo Morales that he can count on us. Whoever picks a fight with Bolivia, picks a fight with Venezuela."
Maduro said an unnamed European government minister had told Venezuela the CIA was behind the incident.
"We are not colonies any more," Uruguay's president, Jose Mujica, said. "We deserve respect, and when one of our governments is insulted we feel the insult throughout Latin America."
Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, said on Thursday he and other leaders were offering full support to Morales and called the rerouting of the plane an aggression against the Americas.
Cristina Fernandez of Argentina said Latin Americans treasured freedom after fighting for independence from Europe in the 19th century and then surviving Washington's 20th-century history of backing repressive regimes in the Americas. She demanded an apology for the plane ordeal.
"I'm asking those who violated the law in calm but serious manner, to take responsibility for the errors made, it's the least they can do," Fernandez said. "To apologise for once in their life, to say they're sorry for what they've done."
Morales has said that while the plane was parked in Vienna, the Spanish ambassador to Austria arrived with two embassy personnel and they asked to search the plane. He said he denied them permission.
"Who takes the decision to attack the president of a South American nation?" Maduro asked. Spanish prime minister Mariano "Rajoy has been abusive by trying to search Morales' plane in Spain. He has no right to breach international law."
Before the meeting, Morales said his ordeal was part of a US plot to intimidate him and other Latin American leaders.
He urged European nations to "free themselves" from the United States. "The United States is using its agent [Snowden] and the president [of Bolivia] to intimidate the whole region," he said.
France sent an apology to the Bolivian government. But Morales said "apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected".
Spain's foreign affairs minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, said his country did not bar Morales from landing in its territory.
Amid the tensions, the US embassy in La Paz cancelled Independence Day celebrations scheduled for Thursday. In the eastern city of Santa Cruz, Bolivian government sympathisers painted protest slogans on the doors of the American consulate.
Bolivia has said it will summon the French and Italian ambassadors and the Portuguese consul to demand explanations.
Morales said he never saw Snowden when he was in Russia, and that Bolivia had not received a formal request for asylum for him. Despite the complaints, there were no signs that Latin America leaders were moving to bring Snowden to the region that had been seen as the most likely to grant him asylum.
Not all the region's leaders were not expected at the summit.
Brazil was represented by Marco Aurelio Garcia, President Dilma Rousseff's top international adviser. The presidents of Colombia, Chile and Peru, who have strong ties to the US, were not attending.
Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, said earlier on Thursday he supported Morales, but asked other leaders to remain cool and avoid an escalating dispute between Latin America and the European Union.
"We're in solidarity with Evo Morales because what they did to him is unheard-of, but let's not let this turn into a diplomatic crisis for Latin America and the EU," Santos tweeted on Thursday.
European states were told Snowden was on Morales plane, says Spain
Spanish foreign minister declines to say where information came from that NSA whistleblower was on Bolivian leader's flight
guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 July 2013 11.33 BST
Spain says it and other European countries were told that the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board the Bolivian presidential plane that was diverted to Austria this week, causing a diplomatic row.
The foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, said on Spanish National Television on Friday that "they told us that the information was clear, that he was inside".
The minister did not say who supplied the information and declined to say whether he had been in contact with the United States. But he said European countries' reactions were based on this information.
The Bolivian president, Evo Morales, claims the US pressured European countries to deny the plane flyover permission on Tuesday on suspicion that Snowden was using the flight as part of his bid to seek asylum.
Morales has warned he might close the US embassy in his country over the forced landing, which he called a violation of international law. He had been returning from a summit in Russia during which he had suggested he would be willing to consider a request from Snowden for asylum.
"We met with the leaders of my party and they asked us for several measures and if necessary, we will close the embassy of the United States," Morales said on Thursday. "We do not need the embassy of the United States."
Morales made his announcement as the leaders of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay joined him in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a special meeting to address the diplomatic row. At the end of the summit a statement was issued demanding answers from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain. The US was not mentioned in the statement.
Morales has said that while the plane was parked in Vienna, the Spanish ambassador to Austria arrived with two embassy personnel and they asked to search the plane. He said he denied them permission.
García-Margallo said on Thursday that Spain did not bar Morales from landing in its territory.
France sent an apology to the Bolivian government. But Morales said "apologies are not enough because the stance is that international treaties must be respected".
Morales said he never saw Snowden when he was in Russia, and Bolivia had not received a formal request from him for asylum.
Despite the complaints, there were no signs that Latin American leaders were moving to bring Snowden to the region that had been seen as the most likely to grant him asylum.
Spain sees no reason to apologize to Bolivia in Snowden saga
Friday, July 5, 2013 6:56 EDT
By Sonya Dowsett
MADRID (Reuters) – Spain said on Friday it had no reason to apologize after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was diverted on suspicion that fugitive U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was on board.
Bolivia said Morales was returning from Moscow on Tuesday when France and Portugal – later joined by Italy and Spain – banned his plane from entering their airspace, forcing it to land in Vienna.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said in an interview on state television that the country’s airspace was not closed to the Bolivian leader’s plane.
He said a permit granted on Monday for the plane to go through Spanish airspace expired when Morales was grounded in Austria after he was French and Portuguese ban.
The permit then had to be reissued and the Bolivian presidential plane stopped in Spain’s Canary Islands on Wednesday for refueling on its way back to Bolivia.
“Spain doesn’t have to ask for a pardon in any way because its airspace was never closed,” he said of the incident which has caused tension with major trading partner Latin America.
South American leftist leaders from countries including Argentina and Venezuela joined Morales at a summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on Thursday. They released a statement demanding answers from France, Portugal, Italy and Spain.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday he would evaluate diplomatic relations with Spain.
“What the Spanish government has done is infamy,” he said in televised remarks.
Estonia tells European Union to rely less on U.S.-based ‘cloud’ storage
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 4, 2013 15:55 EDT
IT hub Estonia on Wednesday urged the European Union to rely less on US firms for “cloud” data storage, amid tensions over claims of US spying and data surveillance.
“Recent months have proven once again that it’s very important for Europe to have its own data clouds that operate strictly under European legislation,” Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a statement.
Cloud computing refers to the process of getting software, storage and other services via the Internet from remote data centres rather than the memory in one’s own computer.
For some it triggers concerns about giving up physical control over their data and potentially having it lost or accessed by others.
“Right now 95 percent of the cloud services used in the European Union belong to US companies,” Ilves said after meeting with Europe’s Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes in Tallinn.
“EU data protection legislation also needs to be modernised and we should understand that big private firms are able to gather more info than any state.”
EU-US relations have been strained since weekend allegations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had bugged EU diplomatic missions.
German weekly Der Spiegel said its report was based on confidential documents, some of which it had been able to consult via fugitive leaker Edward Snowden.
On Wednesday Estonia’s foreign ministry summoned the US ambassador in Tallinn to provide answers over the snooping scandal.
Dubbed E-stonia, the tiny state of just 1.3 million people is known for being a trailblazer in technology and is one of the most connected countries in the world.
Tallinn is also home to the NATO cyber-defence centre, where data experts from across Europe and the United States work to protect the information networks of the alliance’s 28 member states.
By Charles Arthur, The Guardian
Friday, July 5, 2013 5:35 EDT
European watchdogs threaten tech company with legal action over 2012 policy which ‘violates commitment to transparency’
The move follows similar complaints to the US company last month from the equivalent organisations in France and Spain, and ratchets up the attention over its handling of the huge amounts of personal data that it collects from users every day.
Google has already been censured in Europe over its collection of Wi-Fi data, including usernames, passwords and web page viewing while collecting photos for its Street View system. Both European privacy authorities and US legislators have demanded clarification from the company about the data protection implications of its Google Glass head-mounted system, which can take pictures and video without onlookers knowing. It has also been implicated in a data-sharing row over the NSA’s Prism program, which has collected information from a number of US companies including Google, Microsoft and Apple.
Meanwhile, the head of the powerful equivalent in Hamburg, Professor Johannes Caspar, announced that he will call Google into a legal hearing because the new policy “violates the company’s commitment to full transparency about the use and handling of the data”.
France and Spain wrote similar letters to the company in June, with France’s CNIL threatening fines if it did not comply.
But a spokesperson did not explain how its policy could simultaneously respect European law and be the target of censure from five European privacy authorities.
Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “This is the latest confirmation that consumers are being kept in the dark about what data on us Google collects and how that data is used.
“Google ignored concerns its policy broke the law and put its profit before the legal rights of British citizens.
“The main issue is that sanctions must be strong enough to make Google take real action, rather than the previous meagre penalties that are seen as a cost of doing business. Regulators around the world must act to ensure concrete steps are taken to uphold peoples rights and stop Google routinely trampling on our privacy.”
Google said in January 2012 that it would rewrite its privacy policies to unite them across its disparate sites such as YouTube, Maps, Shopping, Mail and Search so that people’s data use would be unified. Despite warnings from the CNIL and others that the change might not be lawful, it implemented the change in March 2012.
If Google fails to comply, the ICO says it will be considered in contempt of court. It could then issue an enforcement notice through the courts. In an extreme case it could issue a £500,000 fine – though a spokesperson said it would need to show individuals had been harmed by the policy.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
07/05/2013 10:52 AM
Spying Survey: German Trust in US at Lowest Level Since Bush
Ongoing revelations about the NSA spying scandal have pushed German trust in the US to its lowest level since the presidency of George W. Bush. A new survey also finds that Germans want Chancellor Merkel to stand up to Washington.
It wasn't all that long ago that US President Barack Obama could take credit for having repaired a trans-Atlantic relationship that had taken a hit under his predecessor, George W. Bush. Early in his first term, some 78 percent of Germans saw the US as "a country that could be trusted."
This week, though, following revelations of large-scale US spying in Europe and vast Internet surveillance, that trust has taken a hit. A survey released late on Thursday found that only 49 percent of Germans now view the United States as trustworthy, the lowest level since Bush was in the White House. It also marks a plunge of 16 points relative to a survey taken in December 2011.
The survey is based on interviews with 1,500 people conducted from Monday to Wednesday of this week, just as news was breaking that the US had bugged European Union diplomatic representations in Washington and New York and spent years closely watching digital communications to, from and within Germany. SPIEGEL broke the story in this week's issue, published on Monday.
The reaction has been one of outrage, with top German politicians demanding that the spying cease immediately. And the survey, undertaken by pollsters infratest-dimap for the public television station ARD, would seem to indicate that many in the country share that indignation. Fully 78 percent agreed with the statement that German Chancellor Angela Merkel "must protest more unequivocally to the US."
Trust in UK Falls
Still, the survey also showed that respondents don't believe that Germany can do much about US snooping. Sixty-seven percent believe that the German state doesn't have the power to protect the country from spying.
The reputation of the United Kingdom -- which was also revealed to have been engaged in tight Internet surveillance -- has also suffered according to the survey. Only 63 percent of Germans now see the country as a trustworthy partner, down 17 points. The date of comparison for Britain, however, is late 2009. The survey does not make it clear whether the drop in standing is a result of the surveillance revelations or stems from other causes, such as what is widely perceived to be London's anti-EU attitudes.
For all of the angst the spying scandal has triggered in the top echelons of Germany's government, it seems not yet to have translated to Germans' voting preferences. The survey found that, while satisfaction with Merkel has dropped by 3 percent relative to a survey taken last month, the gap in support between her conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats is greater than it has been since 2005. Some 42 percent of respondents said they would vote for Merkel's Christian Democrats (or its Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union) were the election this Sunday against just 25 percent for the SPD.
Still, when it comes to likely coalition partners, the SPD has the better cards. The Green Party continues to have strong support, with the ARD survey finding that 14 percent of Germans are planning to vote for the party. By contrast, support for Merkel's junior coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP) continues to be weak, with 4 percent support. Parties must receive at least 5 percent support for representation in German parliament, the Bundestag.
07/04/2013 03:59 PM
Letter from Berlin: Spying Scandal Shakes Up German Campaign
By Charles Hawley
German Social Democrats are demanding that Berlin investigate top managers at the American intelligence agency NSA for alleged espionage. It's just the latest example of how the vast spying scandal is making waves in the German election campaign.
Until early this week, Angela Merkel's re-election campaign had gone entirely to her liking. The center-left candidate Peer Steinbrück was having trouble gaining traction, controversial issues were few and far between and the chancellor herself was content to pursue her preferred campaign strategy: that of saying and doing as little as possible.
If only the Americans hadn't gotten in the way.
Revelations that Washington has spent years spying on the European Union and monitoring Germans as they surf the Internet have suddenly injected a bit of suspense into the campaign. And Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel on Thursday showed that he is not about to let the opportunity go to waste.
In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Gabriel demanded that German federal prosecutors launch an investigation against the leaders of America's National Security Agency intelligence service, and those of its British counterpart GCHQ. "I would find it appropriate were the public prosecutors' office to pursue proceedings against those responsible for the American and British intelligence agencies," Gabriel said. He said that those in Germany who were involved should also be investigated.
The SPD chairman also demanded that German prosecutors travel to Moscow to question Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who is responsible for leaking information regarding the extent of NSA spying. Snowden is currently believed to be in the transit section of the Moscow international airport. Earlier this week, he sought asylum in several countries around the world, including Germany. Berlin rebuffed his request on Tuesday evening.
"The first step has to be that public prosecutors travel to Moscow to depose Mr. Snowden as a witness," Gabriel said. "If they come away with the impression that he is a reliable witness, then admitting him to the witness protection program must be considered. All we have to do is just let our legal system do its normal work. I expect as much from our government."
Gabriel's comments come during a week in which Merkel's government has been under pressure to come up with an adequate response to a report in SPIEGEL that the NSA bugged EU diplomatic representations in both Washington and New York. Furthermore, the report indicated that the NSA tried to gain access to an EU telecommunications system in Brussels. The information came from documents obtained by Snowden. According to those documents, the US intelligence agency likewise keeps a close watch on Internet and mobile phone communications in Germany.
On Wednesday night, according to statements released by both the White House and the Chancellery, Merkel spoke with US President Barack Obama about US intelligence gathering. Washington has promised to hold high-level meetings with German security officials "in the coming days" to talk about the spying allegations.
Merkel, though, finds herself in an uncomfortable situation. On the one hand, she has made it clear that US spying and overzealous surveillance is "unacceptable" and she has also repeatedly compared American intelligence activities to that which took place on both sides during the Cold War, when the US and the Soviet Union engaged in vast espionage.
Merkel's Achilles Heel
Yet an extended disagreement with the US is not in Germany's interest, particularly now that talks on a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement are imminent. Germany sees such a deal as a cheap way to stimulate the moribund European Union economy and is not willing to drop talks on principle. Indeed, Merkel and Obama reiterated their joint support for the deal during their conversation on Wednesday night, according to the White House press release.
Merkel, in other words, suddenly has an Achilles heel. Public opinion in Germany would seem to be one of overwhelming concern about the reach of US surveillance operations and most seem to have a great deal of sympathy for Edward Snowden. An unscientific online survey undertaken by SPIEGEL ONLINE this week found that almost 85 percent of those who responded are in favor of granting Snowden permission to stay in Germany. Other online surveys have arrived at similar numbers.
The SPD and other opposition parties have taken note and have not been shy this week about trying to take advantage. Gabriel said in his interview, for example, that his party continues to believe that intelligence services do not have the right to monitor everybody's communications.
"If that no longer applies in the Internet age, then we are destroying the values-based foundation of our society," he said. "And also the values that have bound the US together with Europe for decades. In this community of values, individual freedom and personal privacy are paramount. It is exactly this which differentiated us from the Communist Bloc."
The Green Party has also demanded a stronger reaction from Berlin and has been particularly vocal about demanding that Merkel's government either provide asylum to Snowden or bring him to Germany as part of the witness protection program. On Wednesday, the party launched an online petition demanding protection for the whistleblower. Berlin's refusal to grant asylum to Snowden is "a disgrace for Germany, a disgrace for Europe and a disgrace for democracy," said Jürgen Trittin, parliamentary floor leader for the Greens, on Wednesday.
But it isn't just the opposition that is criticizing the government's handling of the spying allegations. Chancellor Merkel's junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats, have been struggling in public opinion polls for weeks and there is concern that, in September elections, the party won't managed to clear the 5 percent hurdle necessary for parliamentary representation. Their critique of Washington's surveillance techniques has been correspondingly shrill.
Leading the way has been outspoken Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger who demanded immediate clarification from the US on Sunday, as the first media reports were emerging.
On Thursday, it was the turn of senior party member Christian Lindner. He called for the immediate suspension of all data-exchange agreements with the US. "Data exchange should only be resumed when a joint understanding of civil freedoms exists," Lindner said in an interview with the German daily Die Welt.
It remains to be seen whether Merkel will suffer in the polls as a result of the NSA revelations. No public opinion surveys have been conducted since the SPIEGEL story hit the newsstands on Monday. But even if she doesn't lose ground immediately, the issue is almost certain to play a major role in the rest of the campaign. And the chancellor's every move will be closely watched.
With reporting by Horand Knaup, Veit Medick and Roland Nelles
Iceland bill to grant citizenship to Snowden could be foiled by fisheries
By David Edwards
Thursday, July 4, 2013 14:09 EDT
Three political parties in Iceland have put forward a bill that would grant citizenship to National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden, but it could be delayed by fisheries legislation.
According the the Icelandic news service RUV, MPs representing Brighter Future, Piran (Pirate Party) and the Green Party backed the measure, which was first raised by former Minister of the Interior Ögmundur Jónasson.
The website 21st Century Wire reported that the bill could be delayed by fisheries legislation or could be blocked by the Conservative and Moderate parties’ ruling coalition.
Under Icelandic law, an applicant must be present in the county to request citizenship. Snowden, however, has reportedly been stranded with a revoked U.S. passport in the transit area of Moscow’s International Airport since leaving Hong Kong on June 10.
Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is about 2,210 nautical miles from Moscow and well within the operational flight distance of many private planes.
Edward Snowden asylum: countries approached and their responses
The NSA whistleblower has made 21 applications for asylum worldwide as he flees the US – with little success
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 16.38 BST
File photo of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden during interview with The Guardian in Hong Kong
Edward Snowden has made 21 applications for asylum. Photograph: The Guardian/Reuters
According to a statement from WikiLeaks, the US whistleblower Edward Snowden has applied for asylum in a total of 21 countries. Snowden, who has been charged under espionage laws in the US after leaking top-secret documents on US surveillance programmes, has been trapped in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since 23 June after flying in from Hong Kong. He has yet to receive a positive response to his applications for asylum. Some countries have yet to respond but a number have already rejected his request.
No. The interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, said Snowden would have to submit his request for asylum while on Austrian soil. But she added that he would not be deported if he arrived in Austria because "there is no international arrest warrant".
Possible. President Evo Morales said no application has been received, but if it were it would be considered. "If there were a request, of course we would be willing to debate and consider the idea," Morales told Spanish language RT Actualidad.
No. A foreign ministry spokesman said Brazil would not grant asylum, adding that it would leave the request unanswered.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman said she had no information on
Snowden's asylum request.
No. The president, Rafael Correa, said he was not considering Snowden's asylum request. In an interview with the Guardian, Correa said Snowden would have to reach Ecuadorean territory before the country would consider any asylum request. The US has cancelled Snowden's passport, and Correa said his government would not give Snowden an authorised travel document to extract himself from Moscow airport. "The right of asylum request is one thing, but helping someone travel from one country to another – Ecuador has never done this."
No. The Finnish foreign ministry spokeswoman Tytti Pylkkö said Finnish law required Snowden to be in the country for him to apply.
France said it had not received a request. The president, François
Hollande, has called for a common EU stance on the NSA snooping.
Unlikely. Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said it would review the asylum request "according to the law", although he "could not imagine" that it would be approved.
No. Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India's foreign ministry, said on Twitter: "Following careful examination we have concluded that we see no reason to accede to the Snowden request"
No. The foreign minister, Emma Bonino, told parliament that any asylum request would have to be presented in person at the border or in Italian territory.
"As a result there do not exist the legal conditions to accept such a request which in the government's view would not be acceptable on a political level either," she said.
No. A spokesman for the department of justice said that under Irish law an asylum application could only be accepted from a person who had landed in or was within the state.
No. Security and justice secretary Fred Teeven told Dutch news agency Novum Snowden's application could not be accepted while he was abroad.
Unlikely. The Norwegian deputy justice secretary, Paal Loenseth, told
the state broadcaster NRK: "Applying for asylum should be done on
Norwegian soil." He added: "The Norwegian authorities can theoretically permit entry to Norway and asylum to a person that we think is important for foreign political reasons but I can't see any such reasons in this particular case."
Under its right of initiative, Norwegian Pen, which promotes literature and freedom of expression, has demanded that Snowden's application be reviewed. This means that the Norwegian directorate of immigration can no longer dismiss the application merely on the grounds that it was not filed from Norway. But it does not follow that it will be granted.
No. The foreign minister, Radosław Sikorski, wrote on his Twitter account: "I will not give a positive recommendation."
No. Snowden withdrew his request after Vladimir Putin's statement making clear that he would be welcome only if he stopped "his work aimed at bringing harm" to the United States.
No. The foreign minister, José García-Margallo, told reporters in the Spanish parliament: "For it [the application] to be legally admissible, it has to be made by a person who is in Spain."
No. Valentina Anufrieva of the Embassy of Switzerland in Moscow told USA Today that Swiss asylum claims can only be filed from within Switzerland itself. "Only when the person's life is in danger can we make an exception," she said. "But that doesn't appear to be the case here."
Possible. On a visit to Moscow, the president, Nicolás Maduro, said he would consider an asylum request and said the whistleblower "deserves the world's protection". But he later told reporters that his country has not received an application for asylum from Snowden and dodged the question of whether he would take Snowden with him when he left.
07/04/2013 05:58 PM
Radio Silence: Germany's Wireless Internet Problem
By Marcel Rosenbach and Hilmar Schmundt
Free wireless networks are in short supply in Germany. Liable for the activities of their users, service providers are operating in a risky legal gray area. After national elections this fall, that could all change.
It was a mild summer evening in mid-June when Teju Cole accepted the International Literature Prize at the House of World Cultures in Berlin's government district. Born in 1975, Cole is originally from Nigeria but now lives in New York, and the host of the award ceremony asked the novelist where he feels at home. "Home is wherever there's good Wi-Fi," Cole replied. "And if there is no good Wi-Fi there, then it's not home."
The statement sums up an entire approach to life. For Cole's generation, life has two new basic requirements: fully charged batteries and fast Internet connections everywhere: at home, at school, in cafés, train stations and airports.
Batteries, plugs and chargers aren't a problem, unless you're unfortunate enough to forget one of the accursed things at home. But here in Germany, the need for a fast Internet connection on the go is more problematic.
Many German smartphone and tablet users have cell phone plans that allow them to surf online, but the data volume is generally limited. And those who are just visiting, like Teju Cole, are often subjected to horrendously high roaming charges. In any case, accessing data-intensive content such as movies, music or even the digital edition of SPIEGEL works better over a wireless local area network, generally known as WLAN or Wi-Fi.
Germany Lagging Behind
Compared to many other countries, Germany is little more than a patchwork when it comes to accessible public hotspots, and even its largest cities remain largely uncharted wireless waters. The topic has reached even Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, which invited Berlin judge and IT expert Ulf Buermeyer to present an expert opinion on "the potential of wireless networks" to one of its subcommittees.
"Most Western countries, but many developing countries as well, are much further along on this than Germany," Buermeyer stated. "As you walk through cities there, you can access public Wi-Fi networks from nearly every corner." He himself has experienced this in cities from Washington and Paris to Luxor and Cairo, the judge added. "But in Germany, we essentially have radio silence on our sidewalks."
Other countries do indeed come up with creative ways to provide comprehensive Wi-Fi coverage. In one historic park in Israel, for example, donkeys now wear routers around their necks to ensure visitors don't have to go without Internet access.
Now, though, Germany is making an effort to catch up. Part of this push is commercially motivated, since Internet access via hotspots is becoming a competitive advantage, as well as an attractive business model for many providers. The pioneers in the movement, though, were noncommercial initiatives. Germany's first "Freifunk" ("free wireless") clubs formed over a decade ago with the goal of creating open Internet access for all. These networks draw on the concept of a sharing economy, with router owners each making a portion of their unused bandwidth available to others.
Inhibited by Laws
Legal concerns are the main reason Germany lags behind so many other countries, not just pioneers such as Estonia or Israel. German law holds the operator of a public hotspot liable for everything its users do online. This, Buermeyer told the Bundestag subcommittee, creates a situation in Germany in which "it's only possible to offer a Wi-Fi network for the public if you have very steady nerves or very solid financial backing."
For years, organizations and individuals have been calling for Germany to abolish or at least curtail this so-called "liability of duty" (Störerhaftung), but the government refuses on the grounds that such a move is "neither appropriate nor necessary." This corresponds, among other things, to the wishes of the music industry, which seeks to prevent illegal downloads.
This year, though, open Wi-Fi networks have become an election campaign issue. "Germany has fallen behind internationally on public networks," says Gesche Joost, a design professor at the University of the Arts, in Berlin, and Internet policy advisor to Peer Steinbrück, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate in the country's upcoming elections. If the SPD wins this fall, the party promises to repeal the "liability of duty" law in its current form within 100 days. Joost's concept, though, is not quite what Internet activists have been calling for, since it would require users of public Wi-Fi networks to sign in with a personal password.
The Social Democrat is not alone in advocating the establishment of public Wi-Fi networks. The Left Party has introduced a bill on the topic to the Bundestag. The Pirate Party and Green Party likewise favor curtailing the "liability for disturbances" legislation described in Paragraph 8 of Germany's "Telemedia Act."
Konstantin von Notz, domestic and Internet policy spokesperson for the Green Party, admits his motives here are not entirely altruistic. To this day, he explains, there is no Wi-Fi access in the Bundestag. As an example, he notes, "This morning, I wasn't able to send my draft speech for hours."
Wi-Fi Despite the Risks
Despite the uncertain legal situation, some companies are already stepping in to fill the Wi-Fi vacuum in the hope of winning over customers early in the game. Deutsche Telekom, which already dominates the country's market with its existing 12,000 access points, has announced the most far-reaching initiative. The German telecommunications giant's new offer, in collaboration with Spanish firm Fon, is called "WLAN to go." Launched this June, the program plans to create 2.5 million new hotspots throughout Germany by 2016.
The idea behind Fon, founded in 2005, is the same one behind Freifunk networks: sharing bandwidth. The difference here is that Argentine entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky turned the concept into a business model. Users of the system, who are known as "Foneras" and now number over 8 million internationally, use their routers to set up two parallel Wi-Fi networks -- one for themselves and a separate one for guest users. Members can then access the Internet through other Foneras' routers wherever they find them, while non-members can purchase access passes to do so. In Germany, the Spanish entrepreneurs behind the scheme share the proceeds with their new partner, Telekom.
Telekom's collaboration with Fon surprised some in the industry, since Varsavsky was initially viewed as a challenger to the major corporations. These companies, though, find themselves increasingly overburdened by their cell phone users' hunger for data and are hoping that Wi-Fi can help reduce the load on their networks.
The Telekom/Fon project also has competition in the form of numerous regional initiatives. In Berlin, cable network provider Kabel Deutschland recently launched 80 new hotspots, which allow both locals and tourists half an hour of free surfing. After those 30 minutes are up, only Kabel Deutschland customers may continue to use the network. And in Munich, a cooperation between the municipal utilities company and Telekom provider M-Net just established a hotspot on Marienplatz, a major square in the city. Many more around Munich will follow suit this year.
The American Model
Many companies see these investments primarily as a form of advertising, and in doing so they follow prominent role models. In the US, Google has outfitted Chelsea, the New York neighborhood where it has its local office, with free public hotspots. Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly praised the company for helping New York take "another step closer" to becoming "the world's leading digital city." For Google, this was comparatively cheap as far as advertising goes -- setting up the network cost barely $100,000 (€77,000), and annual operating costs will be less than $50,000.
Hotel operators, meanwhile, can no longer afford not to offer free Internet access. According to a survey of 8,600 travelers around the world, conducted this February, three quarters of those surveyed consider wireless Internet access a basic amenity, one they rank higher than free breakfast or complementary parking.
Even Deutsche Bahn, Germany's national railway, now offers Wi-Fi in around 90 of its 255 ICE trains, with plans to eventually extend coverage to the entire fleet by the end of 2014. Access to the network, though, is only free in Deutsche Bahn's train station lounges. To use Wi-Fi on the trains, passengers have to pay a fee -- to Telekom. Germany's recently deregulated long-distance buses are more advanced in this field, with nearly all operators offering Wi-Fi onboard, perhaps as a consolation for longer traveling times.
Lufthansa, Germany's national air carrier, says it has retrofitted over 90 percent of its long-haul fleet with Internet access, although it's not shy about charging for the service: A one-day onboard flat rate costs €19.95. Most of the trailblazers when it comes to Wi-Fi in the skies have been airlines from the Gulf States, but in US airspace as well, this last Internet and cell phone-free bastion has fallen, with Delta offering travelers an annual flat rate for $469.95. Scandinavian airline Norwegian, meanwhile, provides a fast Wi-Fi connection on flights within Europe at no charge.
Berlin 's Hacker Pioneers
The visionaries behind this entire development meet on a Wednesday evening in mid-June at a club called C-Base along a stretch of Berlin's Spree River. There beneath the trees, computer screens glow blue as the Freifunk group holds its weekly meeting. "Public wireless networks are just as important as streets or power lines," says Daniel Paufler. "They're part of a functioning city."
These idealistic DIYers first sat down together 10 years ago; now volunteers operate more than 250 public hotspots in Berlin. To save on costs, they use a minimum of cables, instead broadcasting their Internet connection across the city using microwave radio relay antennas on church steeples and apartment blocks. Cables then send data from the rooftops into the various neighborhoods.
Where these open citizens' networks initially stood for an anti-capitalist utopian ideal, today the governments of hard-up cities welcome Freifunk groups for the infrastructure first aid they can provide. The media authority for Berlin and the surrounding federal state of Brandenburg supports the Freifunk project with €30,000 in funding.
These pioneers of full-coverage Wi-Fi access also consider Germany's "liability for disturbances" legislation the largest obstacle preventing comprehensive coverage. "It's basically as if we hold the road construction company responsible when a driver causes an accident," Paufler says.
'A Surreal Legal Situation'
The danger posed by the legislation is far from an abstract one, as Ilona A. had the misfortune to learn. In February 2010, the 65-year-old retiree received a warning notice stating that she had illegally downloaded a hooligan movie from the Internet and now owed a €651.80 fine. That came as a surprise, seeing as A. had an Internet connection, but no computer. She has appealed the fine at successive levels of the German court system, and the case is currently pending at Germany's highest court, in Karlsruhe. But since a decision has yet to be reached, she explains, she is still forced to pay the fine, in installments of €75 a month.
"It's a surreal legal situation," says Ansgar Oberholz. He's standing at the counter of his Berlin café, St. Oberholz, which is full of customers tapping away at their open laptops. Thanks in part to its fast Wi-Fi connection and convenient location on Torstrasse in Berlin's central Mitte district, St. Oberholz has become a meeting place for the city's digital boheme.
"Until 2011, we generally received about one warning a year," Oberholz says. "Then, suddenly, we got eight in three months." The accusation was always the same -- that customers had allegedly used the café's Wi-Fi connection to download or upload copyrighted material. To avoid these warnings from legal firms that specialize in precisely this area, Oberholz now routs his café's data traffic through a provider called Hotsplots, which offers the advantage that its customers can't be identified.
The Freifunk organization felt a need to take even more drastic measures and now sends its own local Berlin data traffic to Sweden over an encrypted connection. Last year, the organization distributed to cafés and bars hundreds of so-called "freedom fighter boxes" -- Wi-Fi routers with the detour to Sweden preprogrammed into their firmware.
That strategy is much the same as that used by dissidents avoiding the censorship of authoritarian governments.
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
07/03/2013 01:48 PM
No Tears, No Emotion: NSU Survivor Was Too Tired for Suicide
By Gisela Friedrichsen in Munich
Beate Zschäpe is maintaining her silence in the trial of the NSU neo-Nazi terror cell, but right after her arrest, she chatted candidly with police. Two police witnesses testified on Tuesday on initial statements made by the suspect.
Editor's Note: The Munich trial of the far-right neo-Nazi terror cell, the National Socialist Underground, which is accused of murdering 10 people, mostly of Turkish descent, is currently ongoing. SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be posting stories on key days during the trial as well as overall analysis of the case.
On Nov. 8, 2011, investigators were offered an opportunity that would later present itself only rarely. In the eastern German city of Jena, Beate Zschäpe had turned herself in, and was taken by police to Zwickau. It is there, according to the charges against her, that she had set the Frühlingsstrasse 26 apartment on fire that she had shared with her comrades Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhard until the end. To secure possible evidence, police made Zschäpe change her clothes and put on a police tracksuit.
According to one police officer, she felt very uncomfortable wearing it. He was the officer in Zwickau who confirmed her identity and informed her of her right to remain silent. After that she declared that she didn't want to give any further information, but the police officer still managed to continue a "conversation." It was an "icebreaker," as defense attorneys put it.
It was the first time that Zschäpe spoke to police. And it wasn't an interrogation, but just a chat, the witness stated. Something like that, he added, was better than just silence. Among the things that slipped off of Zschäpe's tongue was the question of whether her cats were being taken care of. "I said, the animals are alive and are being kept in an animal shelter," the police officer told the court.
Thoughts of Suicide
But how did Zschäpe -- who is currently on trial in Munich's higher regional court on charges of being an accomplice in 10 murders believed to have been part of a right-wing terrorist crime spree -- experience the situation? Was she truly happy, as investigators claim? For more than 10 years she had lived under an assumed name, cut off from her family, friends and earlier acquaintances since 1998. She had been living in fear of discovery, but now someone was there she could talk to.
"We were respectful of the fact that she didn't want to make any statements about the case," the witness said in court testimony given on Tuesday. She spoke about her childhood in Zwickau and said she had been a "grandma's child," having a much better relationship with her grandmother than with her own mother. "I can still remember," the witness said, "that we asked her if other crimes were planned that could still be prevented." She said no, according the witness.
"She said that she called the mothers of the two Uwes and informed them of the deaths of their sons," he said, referring to the double suicide of the two young men after a botched bank robbery. Zschäpe had been relieved to sign things with her real name again, the witness added.
"Did she say anything about the parental home of the two Uwes?" leading Judge Manfred Götzl asked. "She said they had come from sheltered homes, and she couldn't really explain the development of her friends -- at least compared to her own life history," the witness answered. "I can still remember us asking her whether she had wanted to take her own life during the last days, given that the two Uwes had committed suicide on Nov. 4," he said. The police officer said she had answered with a yes, but that she hadn't found the strength to do it.
In the days between their deaths and turning herself in, the judge asked, was she aware of the scope of what was about to happen to her?
The witness continued, "She said she hadn't been forced to do anything." He later clarified Zschäpe had said she had "never" been forced to do anything, a comment he had written down on his notepad.
'Ms. Zschäpe Wasn't Forced To Say Anything'
The witnesses were also asked why a female police investigator from the southern state of Baden-Württemberg -- the state where the charges claim the NSU shot and killed police officer Michèle Kiesewetter -- had been present during the "conversation"? Was she asked to come? If so, then why? Had the investigators previously agreed to initially avoid asking Zschäpe certain questions such as whether she had been involved in Kiesewetter's murder -- or had they limited questioning to the allegation she had committed arson in the apartment she shared with Mundlos and Böhnhard in Zwickau?
This was followed by the kind of verbal sparring that has become typical in the NSU trial. Thomas Bliwier, the lawyer representing the family of murder victim Halit Yozgat, who are co-plaintiffs in the case, wouldn't back down. Jens Rabe, who is representing the family of murder victim Simsek, joined in, citing the obligation of police officers to reveal the facts under suspicion during interrogations. But Annett Greger, the principle state attorney representing the Federal Prosecutor's Office, held that such lines of questioning were "irrelevant." The witness then pointed out he had been restricted in the scope to which he could testify, a statement that prompted lawyer Bliwier to complain of an unacceptable unwillingness to testify. These exchanges are a daily occurrence in a trial like this, but in the end they could be decisive.
It is more than obvious that police knew who they had in their hands at the time. Several times, the witness said he had not wanted to go too far. They had paid special attention not to use any "forbidden interrogation techniques," which Zschäpe had also been assured of. But was she even in a state to comprehend this? "My impression was yes," the police officer affirmed. "After all, Ms. Zschäpe wasn't forced to say anything," he answered. It just happened, "by pure chance."
An official with the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) who accompanied Zschäpe when she was transferred from a jail in Chemnitz to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe on Nov. 13, 2011, also testified on Tuesday. The flight on a German federal police helicopter took an hour and 45 minutes. Afterwards, the official had a chance to have a conversation with Zschäpe before the suspect was interrogated by the investigating judges at the Court of Justice.
At the time, officials were still hoping that Zschäpe might yet testify given her declaration that she hadn't decided not to testify. She also said that she didn't want her defense to be handled by someone from the far-right scene. The witness recalled with particular clarity that Zschäpe had conveyed to her that it had been clear to her, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos that they would one day be caught as a group. She also said that, now that she was no longer living underground, she was sleeping better.
Then she spoke about her cats again, the witness states. Zschäpe said they had thought about getting a dog, but had been concerned they might get caught if they registered the animal. "I thought to myself, those are very sophisticated thoughts for someone living underground," the BKA man told the court.
The witness also recalled Zschäpe telling him she had promised Böhnhardt and Mundlos that she would inform their parents if anything happened. "She described herself as a 'fact-oriented person'" when it came to forming her opinions, the witness continued. "She listened willingly to my opinion that it would be better for her to speak. But in the end she didn't want to do that."
The witness said it had made an impression on him how emotionlessly Zschäpe reacted when the NSU's "murderous deeds were read out." Also when it came to the deaths of her companions. "No tears, she didn't even gulp," he said.
In Greece, things move fast – except justice for Kostas Sakkas
Behind the anarchist's hunger strike is the tale of his illegal detention. It would have sounded unbelievable in the recent past
Hara Kouki and Antonis Vradis
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 4 July 2013 13.26 BST
What's in a month? Thursday 4 July marks one calendar month since Kostas Sakkas – a 29-year-old anarchist arrested in Athens in December 2010 and held in prison without a trial since – started a hunger strike, demanding an end to his detention. According to Greek law, pre-trial detentions can extend to 18 months, or 30 in exceptional circumstances. On 4 June, having already reached his legal maximum time in pre-trial detention, Sakkas had it extended by another six months by an Athens court of appeal.
One full month on hunger strike: compared with the pace of wider social developments in recent years, Sakkas's story looks slow-paced, sluggish even. After all, it took only a few hours for the Greek government to order and then execute the closure of ERT, the state broadcaster. Its decision to lower the gross monthly minimum wage to €586 was equally rapid, along with the selective introduction of a six-day working week and significant cuts to disability benefits – all bringing a lowering of the standard of living for thousands of people. Before that, it took an equally short period of time to cancel out the reform of the 2010 Greek citizenship law that had provided potential access to citizenship for second-generation immigrants, or to begin the Xenios Zeus operation, cracking down on suspected undocumented immigrants and sending them to newly established "holding centres" across the country.
Sakkas had been originally detained as part of the wave of arrests targeting the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire group. While clearly stating his own anarchist convictions, both Sakkas and the group itself have denied his active participation. But whether Sakkas was indeed a member is no longer the question, nor do the juridical authorities seem to care. Sakkas has been held in custody for what is a national record after a series of convictions of Greece by the European court of human rights in 1996 precisely for this type of violation; Epaminondas Korkoneas, the special guard who was eventually convicted for the death of teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos that sparked the December 2008 riots, was temporarily released during his trial as his own pre-trial maximum had expired.
There may be no rational explanation behind the extension of Sakkas's pre-trial detention, then. Yet by now this looks like one more exceptional event in the sea of exceptions that make up everyday reality here in Greece. Since May 2010, the majority of austerity-led cuts and redundancies (even if meticulously prepared for in the media discourse) have been announced and executed at a pace that would make it all but impossible for most of those affected to follow them, to express any concerns or, woe betide, dissent against them. Getting used to such a wave of attacks might seem normal; resisting this new normality could even appear to be meaningless, or futile.
What might the motive be that drives the Greek authorities' decision to trample over the rights of a single dissident, to order the shutdown of its own broadcaster, or to sack public servants overnight? Sakkas's absurd story may highlight something more alarming than a mere "tough stance" on a self-confessed enemy of the state. In a statement responding to a parliamentary dialogue concerning Sakkas's case, New Democracy (the main government coalition party) not only didn't try to defend this unprecedented breach of legality, but instead lashed out against the leftwing main opposition Syriza for defending "any sort of accused who are charged with anarchy and terrorism". This would have sounded incomprehensible in the very recent past, as would have been the case with the call by Vyron Polydoras, an experienced New Democracy former cabinet member who explicitly called for his party to co-operate with the Nazi party Golden Dawn.
Sakkas's case encapsulates precisely the nature of the injustice that reigns over daily life in Greece – and further afield. Across Europe, stories of police violence, governmental injustice and intrusion into citizens' lives are rapidly turning into a banality; an alienation, even an outright rupture between state and society is building up fast. In our fast-moving times, a month feels like a lifetime. For Sakkas, it has become precisely that: he has now put his own life on the line.