Nepal protests heighten tensions ahead of election
Activists' attempts to disrupt preparations have sparked fears of further unrest, while logistical issues loom large over the polls
IRIN, part of the Guardian development network
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 10.29 GMT
Protests and logistical challenges are heightening tensions before a scheduled 19 November national poll in Nepal that is seen as critical to the country's stability and development, say analysts.
Voters are to choose a new constituent assembly (CA), which serves as the country's parliament. The previous assembly dissolved in May 2012 after failing to produce a much-anticipated postwar constitution. Citizens have looked to a new constitution to help the country emerge from the 1996-2006 civil war that killed more than 15,000 people. But the contentious issues that stalled its drafting, including how to structure the state and share power, remain unresolved.
In January 2013, the UN noted that high-level political stagnation was allowing the "slow but persistent deterioration of democratic institutions and effective governance". The humanitarian costs of the constitutional stalemate are high. Without it, several pieces of legislation, including a disaster management act and the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, have been on hold. Meanwhile, logistical challenges and threats of violence loom over the polls.
Of the approximately 16 million eligible voters, 12.5 million were registered, "potentially leaving a significant section of the population disenfranchised in the next election", warned the Carter Center, a human rights organisation whose headquarters are in the US.
The Election Commission's goal was to sign up 14.7 million voters. The Carter Center attributed this missed target to low turnout at voter registration drives, noting that undocumented residents could have been excluded despite government-initiated citizenship campaigns.
As campaigning rolls out nationwide, an opposition alliance has attempted to obstruct election-related activities, threatening to prolong the country's political instability.
"The failure to write a constitution and the subsequent legislative vacuum in Nepal have contributed to the steady and continued erosion of the rule of law in the country, stalling development and choking off access to justice for Nepalis," said Benjamin Schonveld, south Asia director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) office in Kathmandu.
The government has deployed nearly two-thirds of the army to provide security during the polls – the first time the army has participated in electoral security since fighting ended.
In several incidents, activists have disrupted election preparation activities by smashing computers and seizing records, according to local press reports, sparking concern that unrest will increase as the poll date approaches.
While most anti-election activities took place in rural areas, the attacks spread to the capital in late October, when candidates' cars were torched. With just 19 days before the election, experts say tensions over the very idea of holding polls may be enough to incite violence.
"Elections are civilian affairs conducted to manage conflict in a society," said Bhojraj Pokhrel, the now-retired chief election commissioner who oversaw the country's first national post-conflict poll in 2008, which elected the recently dissolved CA. "But the way that the parties are projecting messages from different sides, it seems as if we're going into a war rather than an election, which is troublesome," he added.
The country's 240-year Hindu monarchy, which Maoist rebels had been fighting in the decade-long conflict, ended with the 2008 national election.
The 601-member CA established in that election was dubbed by the UN's top official in the country as "Nepal's most representative elected body to date". Women won 33% of the seats, with 39 women from the Dalit community – the marginalised, historically lowest caste in the country.
The assembly's principal mission was to draft a new constitution but, after four extensions of its deadline, it failed to do so. It dissolved in May 2012, leaving in place a caretaker government led by the Maoist prime minister Baburam Bhattarai.
Shortly after the dissolution, a breakaway party led by Mohan Baidya split from the mainstream Maoists, accusing party leaders of surrendering too much during the peace process, including disbanding the People's Liberation Army.
Unable to forge consensus on when to hold elections for a new constitution-drafting body, Bhattarai stepped down in March 2013 and, in a controversial move, supreme court chief Justice Khilraj Regmi became the head of government.
Regmi, with the support of the four major political parties, announced a 19 November poll date, leading the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), a breakaway party with an alliance of 33 small parties, to protest against the election.
The demonstrators damaged voter-registration equipment and burned copies of the election code of conduct, demanding that polls be called through political consensus. The CPN-M also demanded Regmi's resignation.
Preparing for the election
Fifty-six national and international organisations are registered to observe the election. They will deploy upwards of 74,000 poll observers – nearly all Nepali nationals – nationwide. According to officials, ballot printing is under way, and initial concerns about printing voter ID cards have been resolved.
"We're confident we will find a solution [to voter ID distribution issues], and we are fully committed to the November 19 date," an election commission spokesman, Bir Bahadur Rai, told IRIN. While the government promises all voter ID documents will be distributed a week before polls, the Carter Center has expressed concerns about the "low level" of voter education nationwide, covering everything from where to obtain ID cards to where and how to vote.
Meanwhile, opposition to the election preparation processes has mounted. According to a UN report in September, the CPN-Ms and their allies are conducting door-to-door campaigns "to dissuade people from participating in the CA elections", recruiting so-called youth squads to burn copies of the election code and enforcing local transportation strikes.
Cadres of the two Maoist parties have clashed, violently in some cases, according to local media. An opposition 33-party alliance has promised to hold a 10-day nationwide transportation strike in the runup to the poll.
Charting a political future
Despite the resources dedicated to staging the national poll – estimated by the Election Commission to cost at least $78m (£48.6m), not counting independently funded electoral support projects – it is not clear whether a new assembly will achieve what the previous one could not.
"Why are we spending all this money on an election? We are a poor country, and we should be spending it on schools and roads and hospitals," said Soorja Kayastha, a teacher in Bhaktapur, a town near the capital, Kathmandu.
"I will vote, but the same people will end up in power," said Jagganath Mahato, a shopkeeper in Janakpur, in the Terai plains bordering India. "It's the problem with Nepal – we make the same people powerful, and they stay interested in power only, not improving the country."
The Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights lauded legal improvements in a recent report, noting that a Nepalese supreme court decision in September sent a strong message by disallowing anyone with a criminal conviction to stand in the election.
Nonetheless, some observers worry representation will be limited, and the new CA will not adequately address the concerns of marginalised populations, including women. Of the more than 6,000 candidates registered thus far, approximately 10% are women, and one has been able to register as a third gender, which Nepal legally recognised in 2007.
"We need this to happen. Transition doesn't mean it has to last forever," Madan Mohan Chaudhry, a secretariat member of the Communist Party of Nepal-United, told IRIN, referring to Nepal's protracted political shift from monarchy to republic. "We need to move on, get a group of elected people in place, and make some decisions for the people."
To make this happen, voter vigilance is key, said Pokhrel, the former chief election commissioner. "We have the same leaders, and they have the same attitudes, and they have already tasted power – so it's hard to believe a lot will be different. But voters have to insist that the politicians not just make promises of deadlines for the constitution but actually work together."
According to human rights experts, lasting political stability requires high-level accountability. Schonveld of the ICJ said: "The new constituent assembly has a lot of important work to do to get the country on track, particularly finding the political will to hold those in the halls of power responsible for human rights violations."
Spying row: Indonesia threatens to stop co-operating on people smuggling
'If Australia feels that there are ways of obtaining information other than the official one then one wonders where we are in terms of co-operation,' says foreign minister Marty Natalegawa
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 09.55 GMT
The Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has escalated the diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia after revelations about Australia's intelligence gathering activities by suggesting co-operation on people smuggling operations may be reviewed.
Natalegawa made the comments in a press conference on Monday. Guardian Australia reported at the weekend that Australia was spying on Indonesia at the UN climate change conference in 2007, according documents obtained by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Last week Fairfax Media reported that Australia was gathering intelligence from listening posts across the Asia-Pacific region.
When he was questioned about what action Indonesia would take against Australia, the foreign minister said: “One of them obviously is the agreement to exchange information, exchange even intelligence information, in fact, to address the issue of people smuggling."
"If Australia feels that there are ways of obtaining information other than the official one then one wonders where we are in terms of co-operation."
Indonesia summoned the Australian ambassador, Greg Moriarty, and US officials to the foreign ministry last week to explain the revelations.
Natalegawa’s comments come just days after the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, arrived back in Australia from a trip to Indonesia where he met Dr Amir Syamsuddin, Indonesia's minister for law and human rights, to discuss people smuggling operations.
At his weekly press conference last Friday Morrison told reporters: "Australia and Indonesia have a shared interest in resolving this problem that is not of Indonesia's making yet whose co-operation along with our other regional partners is critical to resolving it.
"We have opened a new phase in our co-operation with Indonesia and I am extremely optimistic about what will be achieved in the weeks, months and years ahead."
Natalegawa said last Friday that the spying revelations were “not cricket” and he had sought clarification about Australia’s involvement with the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop.
Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
November 4, 2013, 2:26 am
In Remote Village, China’s Leader Faces Awkward Question: Who Are You?
By AUSTIN RAMZY
It must have been a slightly uncomfortable moment for the village official.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, had come to Shibadong village to gauge conditions in a poor corner of Hunan Province. Upon entering the home of a family whose sole electrical appliance was a fluorescent bulb, the most powerful man in China was asked by the 64-year-old matriarch, “What do I call you?,” according to a report from Xinhua, the state-run news agency. It was a polite way of saying, “Who are you?”
The village official stepped in quickly, telling his constituent, “This is the general secretary.”
Mr. Xi, in a version of retail politicking with Chinese characteristics, then asked the woman’s age, and learning she was four years his senior, called her “older sister.” He proceeded with several detailed questions about her family’s livelihood: Were they getting enough to eat? Did they have fruit trees? Raise pigs? For sale or their own consumption?
Mr. Xi’s focus on the details of agricultural economics in Xiangxi Prefecture, a region of steep valleys that is dominated by members of the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups, shouldn’t be a surprise. The photograph of him sitting with the woman and her husband is not unlike one of him as a young county Communist Party secretary in Zhengding County, Hebei Province, in 1983. Rural study trips by Chinese officials, and subsequent images of them meeting with the people, are a staple of the official portrayals of Chinese leaders dating to Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic.
What’s different about this latest depiction of Mr. Xi is the attention that one citizen’s lack of knowledge of China’s new leader was given by the official news media. During the Mao era, such ignorance was inconceivable. The individual power and profile of China’s top leaders have declined greatly since his time. Still, it is hard to imagine such an an interaction being played up during the term of Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao.
Whether in photos with his pants rolled up in a rainstorm or sweating through his shirt while meeting with earthquake victims in Sichuan, state media over the past year have emphasized the idea of Mr. Xi as a man of the people.
His trip to a remote region of Hunan is a reminder that, while China now has nearly 600 million Internet users, there is another half of the country’s population without Internet access. In the case of Shibadong village, there are people without televisions or the means to readily know, outside perhaps the occasional newspaper, just what the country’s leader looks like.
As the Communist Party’s current Central Committee plans for its Third Plenum, which begins on Nov. 9, and discussion turns to possible economic policy changes, it’s a signal that amid China’s rapid growth, Mr. Xi remains aware of the needs of the nation’s poorest. And as a leader who has cast himself as a man of the people, he doesn’t mind that one of the people doesn’t immediately know who he is.
Egypt: Morsi trial adjourned until 8 January
Trial of defiant Islamist president and 14 others had been interrupted by the defendants chanting 'down with military coup'
Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 12.54 GMT
Egypt's deposed president has defiantly told a court in Cairo that he is the country's legitimate leader and it has no jurisdiction to try him.
Monday's trial was Mohammed Morsi's first public appearance since the military coup that ousted him on 3 July. Morsi and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood members are charged with inciting the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in 2012.
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood rejected the proceedings and said he had been forced to attend. "This is a military coup whose leaders must be put on trial in accordance with the constitution," Morsi told the court.
"I am the president of the republic and I am here against my will ... What is happening here is providing cover for the military coup," he said, as his co-defendants chanted "down, down with military coup".
The judge halted proceedings soon after they started because of the defendants' chants, Egyptian state television reported. The trial resumed but was later adjourned until 8 January to allow defence lawyers to review documents.
Looking healthy, Morsi appeared in court wearing a dark blue suit but no tie. He had refused to wear a prison uniform as the judge had ordered, according to security officials.
Security officials inside the courtroom said the earlier adjournment was caused by Morsi's insistence that he would not change into the prison uniform customarily worn by defendants, part of his refusal to recognise the trial's legitimacy.
Since he was overthrown, Morsi has been held at a secret military location. He was flown by helicopter to the trial venue – a police academy in an eastern Cairo district.
Morsi and the others are charged with inciting murder and could face the death penalty if convicted
November 3, 2013
Egyptians Following Right Path, Kerry Says
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
CAIRO — In the highest-level American visit here since the Egyptian military removed the country’s first democratically elected president from power, Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Egyptian leaders on Sunday to stick to their “road map” for restoring democracy.
In substance as well as tone, Mr. Kerry’s visit to Egypt reflected the Obama administration’s determination to work with a military leadership that ruthlessly put down protesters from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that put forth the successful candidacy of President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted on July 3. A military government, now firmly entrenched here, has promised to establish a civilian-led government.
“The road map is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to the plan by the Egyptian authorities to conduct a national referendum on an amended Constitution and hold parliamentary and presidential elections by next spring.
“There are questions we have here and there about one thing or another,” he added in a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart. “I think it’s important for all of us, until proven otherwise, to accept that this is the track Egypt is on and to work to help it to be able to achieve that.”
But questions remained about the Egyptian military’s intentions and the degree of American influence.
Mr. Kerry met with Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, and Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the powerful minister of defense, who spearheaded the ouster of Mr. Morsi. But General Sisi and Mr. Mansour did not pledge that they would not extend Egypt’s state of emergency when it lapses on Nov. 14, as Mr. Kerry had requested.
Mr. Kerry did not raise one of the most wrenching chapters in Egypt’s political life: Mr. Morsi’s murder trial, which is scheduled to begin on Monday. Mr. Morsi has been detained since he was ousted in July. Instead, Mr. Kerry reaffirmed that Egypt should avoid politically motivated arrests, ensure due process for detainees and establish an inclusive government that is open to political rivals who eschew violence, State Department officials said.
Cairo was the first stop in an eight-nation trip that will include a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday between Mr. Kerry and King Abdullah on the new strains between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Though the official Egyptian news agency had noted that Mr. Kerry was headed to Cairo, the State Department did not confirm the stop in advance, out of concern for security and perhaps to limit the possibility of anti-American demonstrations.
During his stop in Cairo, which lasted several hours, Mr. Kerry also met with the Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, and with human rights advocates and representatives from religious, labor and youth organizations — civic society leaders who have concerns about the Egyptian government, and perhaps about American policy.
Since the military takeover, Egypt’s generals have appeared immune to American pressure and indifferent to Mr. Kerry’s seeming endorsement of their motivations.
The Obama administration has refrained from categorizing the military’s toppling of Mr. Morsi as a coup, which would trigger a cutoff of the vast majority of a $1.5 billion annual assistance package. But American officials have been critical of the military’s crackdown on demonstrators and the detention of Mr. Morsi’s supporters.
To signal its concern, the White House in October suspended the delivery of major weapons systems, including Apache helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and parts for M-1 tanks, and has withheld about $260 million in support for the Egyptian budget.
At the same time, the United States has maintained support for Egypt’s counterterrorism programs, including the military’s efforts to secure Sinai, and programs to educate Egyptian military officials in the United States. Other programs that were untouched include the shipment of spare parts for many weapons in the Egyptian military’s inventory and aid for health care, education and the promotion of businesses in Egypt.
A senior State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry said a decision on whether to lift the suspension of major weapons deliveries would depend on steps by the Egyptian authorities to protect human rights, allow peaceful demonstrations and permit a free press, among other measures.
But Mr. Kerry played down the issue, describing the temporary hold on weapons deliveries more as a step ordered by Congress than a move to punish Egypt’s military leaders for removing a democratically elected president.
“It is not a punishment,” Mr. Kerry said in response to a question from an Egyptian reporter. “It’s a reflection of policy in the United States under our law.”
Casting himself as a partner of Egypt’s leaders, Mr. Kerry told them in his private meetings that they needed to enact constitutional protections to build congressional support in Washington for more aid, according to a State Department official.
“He several times said, ‘You have to help us help you,’ ” the official said.
While reiterating support for the road map, General Sisi had a message of his own, one that may not square with the American hope that he will take quick steps to relax his grip.
“His sense was that patience is required on the part of the international community,” the official said.
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting.
Bahrain jails Shias over 'Iran-backed' assassination plans
Gulf state says Iran's Revolutionary Guards set up 'terror' cell which planned to attack its airport and government buildings
Reuters in Bahrain
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 09.38 GMT
A Bahraini court has sentenced four Shia Muslims to life and six others to 15 years in jail on charges of setting up a militant cell linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard aimed at assassinating public figures in the Gulf Arab kingdom.
In February, Bahrain, a western ally which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, accused Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard of setting up the "terror" cell, which it said planned to attack its airport and government buildings.
Bahrain has accused Shia-led Iran of fuelling unrest in the country since a 2011 uprising by majority Shias demanding reforms and a greater say in running the kingdom ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa dynasty.
Tehran denies the accusation.
The state news agency BNA said in a report late on Sunday that the court had acquitted 14 others of the charges. Two of those sentenced to life were tried in absentia, the agency said.
Authorities say the cell is part of the "Imam Army", a group that includes Bahrainis from inside and outside the country as well as foreigners. Its planned targets included the interior ministry and Bahrain's international airport.
The group attended training camps run by the Revolutionary Guard inside Iran and others operated by Iraq's Hezbollah group in Baghdad and the holy city of Kerbala, BNA reported.
The 2011 revolt was quelled with help from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states, but protests and clashes have persisted in the country. Talks between the government and opposition have failed to end the political crisis.
November 3, 2013
To Shape Young Palestinians, Hamas Creates Its Own Textbooks
By FARES AKRAM and JODI RUDOREN
GAZA CITY — When a class of Palestinian ninth graders in Gaza recently discussed the deadly 1929 riots over access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it was guided by a new textbook, introduced this fall by the Islamist Hamas movement.
Asked the lesson of the uprising, one of the 40 boys in class promptly answered, “Al Buraq Wall is an Islamic property,” using the Muslim name for the site, one of the holiest in Judaism. Pleased, the teacher then inquired whether the students would boycott Israeli products, as Arabs had boycotted Jewish businesses in 1929. A resounding chorus of “Yes!” came back from the class.
For the first time since taking control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Hamas movement is deviating from the approved Palestinian Authority curriculum, using the new texts as part of a broader push to infuse the next generation with its militant ideology.
Among other points, the books, used by 55,000 children in the eighth, ninth and 10th grades as part of a required “national education” course of study in government schools, do not recognize modern Israel, or even mention the Oslo Peace Accords the country signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s.
Textbooks have long been a point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which dueling historical narratives and cultural clashes underpin a territorial fight. And they are central examples of what Israeli leaders call Palestinian “incitement” against Jews, held up as an obstacle to peace talks newly resumed under American pressure.
Beyond their take on Israel, the new texts are also a salvo in the war for influence between the rival Palestinian factions: Gaza-based Hamas and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank. They reflect a growing gulf between the 1.7 million Palestinians living in the densely populated Gaza Strip and the 2.5 million spread among the West Bank’s cities and villages.
“Textbooks are always and everywhere a very important means of representing a national ethos,” said Daniel Bar-Tal, a Tel Aviv University professor who helped lead a comprehensive recent study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks.
“When a leader says something, not everyone is listening. But when we talk about textbooks, all the children, all of a particular peer group, will be exposed to a particular material,” he added. “This is the strongest card.”
What Gaza teenagers are reading in their 50-page hardcover texts this fall includes references to the Jewish Torah and Talmud as “fabricated,” and a description of Zionism as a racist movement whose goals include driving Arabs out of all of the area between the Nile in Africa and the Euphrates in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
“Palestine,” in turn, is defined as a state for Muslims stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. A list of Palestinian cities includes Haifa, Beersheba and Acre — all within Israel’s 1948 borders. And the books rebut Jewish historical claims to the territory by saying, “The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.”
For contemporary history, there is a recounting of Hamas’s battle with Israel last fall that exaggerates: The books say that rockets from Gaza sent “three million Zionists underground for eight days” (somewhat fewer Israelis were in and out of shelters sporadically), that Tel Aviv was hit (one missile landed in the sea, and another fell well short) and that an attempted strike on Israel’s Parliament building “forced the Zionists to beg for cease-fire.”
Yosef Kuperwasser, a senior Israeli official who has led the charge against the incitement, said the new texts were blunter expressions of a dangerous message spread throughout Palestinian schools and news media.
“Palestinians have developed a system of deception — to English-speaking people they sell one story, and to themselves they have a different story,” Mr. Kuperwasser said. “Textbooks are one of the tools with which they tell their children what is the truth.” He added, “If you want real peace, it has to be based on a real change in the culture of hatred.”
The study that Professor Bar-Tal co-led found that Palestinian Authority books generally contained more negative characterizations of Israel and less self-criticism than Israeli books do of Palestinians, but that both sides presented the other as the enemy, failed to properly mark most maps and lacked information about each other’s religion, culture and daily life.
Hamas officials said they had introduced the new textbooks, and doubled the time devoted to the national education course to two sessions per week, because they believed that the Palestinian Authority was under pressure from Israel to sanitize its curriculum. “We need to make sure generations stick to the national rights,” said one Hamas lawmaker, Huda Naim.
The Gaza Strip is home to 465,000 students. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugee families, runs 250 schools for grades one to nine, and the Hamas government controls 400 schools serving all grades (there are also 46 private schools). Both Hamas and the refugee agency use the Palestinian Authority curriculum also taught throughout the West Bank, but Hamas has added programs, like a military training elective introduced in high schools last year that focuses on resistance to Israel.
In April, Hamas approved a law requiring gender-segregated schools from age 9, and making criminal any contact between educational institutions and Israel. Hamas has also recently increased modesty patrols to check clothing on college campuses and to stop young unmarried men and women from fraternizing in public.
Abdel-Hakim Abu Jamous, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority’s Education Ministry in Ramallah in the West Bank, said no national education textbooks were used in West Bank schools, leaving individual teachers to run lessons as they wish. Jehad Zakarna, a senior official in the ministry, said he had not seen the Hamas textbooks, which were introduced at the start of school on Aug. 20, and therefore could not comment on them.
The new books, written by a Hamas committee, feature cover pictures of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a West Bank city, both sites of continuing clashes between Muslim and Jewish worshipers.
Besides their questionable treatment of Israel and Jews, the textbooks present a decidedly Hamas spin on Palestinian politics and recent history. For example, Ahmed Yassin, a Hamas founder, is given equal billing with Yasir Arafat, the former Palestinian president, who remains the definitive national hero in the West Bank.
Anound Ali, a 10th grader at another Gaza City school, expressed concern that the new books could further divide Palestinians. “School textbooks were the last thing uniting us with the West Bank — now we study something different,” she said one recent day after class.
She added: “The book has nothing about Oslo. It’s our right to know about Oslo because it’s a fact in our life.”
At Suliman Sultan School here in Gaza City, a three-story L-shaped building overlooking the rubble of a stadium destroyed by an Israeli F-16 airstrike last November, many students and teachers were thrilled to have the new textbooks.
“It shows the cruelty of the occupation,” said Ahmed Bessisso, a 15-year-old student in the class that discussed the 1929 uprising. “It encourages students to participate in national activities.”
Ahmed’s classmate Mohamed Ajour, also 15, said that he preferred “to study the history of Palestine instead of the history of Egypt or Jordan,” and that the books present the “Palestine I want to learn about — I don’t recognize that Palestine is only Gaza and West Bank.”
Munir Qatayef, who teaches another national education section in the school, said the book had been “big for students.”
“It’s highly politicized,” Mr. Qatayef said. “It’s a lesson of nationalism and belonging.”
Fares Akram reported from Gaza, and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem.
Mexico gun battles leave many dead
Thirteen killed in border city of Matamoros as gunmen clash with Mexican armed forces in region ravaged by drug gangs
Reuters in Mexico City
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 09.45 GMT
Thirteen people have been killed in shootouts around the north-east Mexican city of Matamoros in one of the worst recent outbreaks of violence in an area ravaged by drug gangs.
Three gunfights took place around the city, close to Brownsville, Texas, two of which were exchanges between gunmen and Mexico's armed forces, according to a statement from the state government of Tamaulipas.
Eight men died in the fighting with Mexican marines after four men and one woman were killed in an earlier clash between unidentified armed groups, the state government said.
None of the dead has been identified.
Drug cartels seeking control of smuggling routes into the US have in the past few years been responsible for a series of massacres, gunfights and kidnappings in Tamaulipas, giving the state the reputation as one of the most lawless in Mexico.
President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December pledging to eradicate the gang violence that has claimed about 80,000 lives since the start of 2007, but parts of Mexico are still regularly racked by shootings and executions.
Chile ordered to pay £20,000 to compensate Pinochet torture victim
Inter-American court rules in favour of Leopoldo García Lucero after 11-year quest for justice
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 03.56 GMT
An 80-year-old Chilean torture survivor, who was forced into exile by General Augusto Pinochet’s regime, has been awarded £20,000 in compensation by the highest court in the Americas.
The landmark judgment sets a precedent for victims of the military dictatorship still living abroad and requires Chile to complete a criminal investigation into what happened to Leopoldo García Lucero in the basement of a Santiago police station 40 years ago.
The decision by the Inter-American court of human rights, the continent’s equivalent of the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, marks the end of an 11-year-long legal quest for justice. It is the first ruling by the court involving a Chilean torture survivor.
García Lucero, who now lives in London with his family, was a member of the Socialist party and worked at Santiago’s racecourse, near the presidential palace. He was close to Salvador Allende, the president who was removed in the 1973 military coup.
Five days after the uprising, García Lucero was seized by police officers who took him to a police station. His left arm was broken in several places after being smashed with a rifle; he now walks with a stick and has never regained full feeling in his hand. Most of his teeth were knocked out and he suffered cognitive problems due to being beaten on the head.
After three days blindfolded and tied up in the police station, García Lucero was removed to the national stadium, where hundreds of opponents of the junta had been herded. At night he heard the rifle fire of executions. For nearly two years he was detained and mistreated, before being deported in 1975. His family joined him. His three daughters have married and live in Britain.
In 2002, with the help of Redress, the UK-based charity that helps torture survivors, García Lucero filed a claim for compensation with the Inter-American commission, which vets applications to the court.
In its decision, the Inter-American court ordered Chile to finalise a criminal investigation “within a reasonable time” into the injuries suffered by García Lucero between his arrest in 1973 and his expulsion.
Chile has also been told to pay him £20,000 in compensation for “excessive delay” in opening an investigation into his case and his inability to date to access reparations within the country.
The court also called on Chile to provide adequate funding to cover the costs of his medical and psychological treatment in the UK. It pointed out that more than 16 years had passed between Chile first knowing of García Lucero’s complaint in 1993 and starting to investigate in 2011.
As many as 200,000 Chileans are estimated to have been forced into exile during the Pinochet dictatorship between 1973 and 1990.
García Lucero said of the judgment: “No amount of money will ever be able to compensate the suffering that my family and I have endured, but I am glad that the judgment recognises that Chile could have done more for victims like us. I also hope the judgment will help prevent similar events from happening in the future, and that Chile finds and punishes those responsible for my torture and exile before I die, so I can live to see justice done.”
Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, welcomed the judgment. “It recognises that torture survivors in exile today, like Mr García Lucero, still have the right to justice and reparation, despite being outside of the country and regardless of the passage of time,” she said. “The judgment offers some hope to the many who may find themselves in the same situation. These are particularly vulnerable victims who have been denied justice for many years.”
Egyptologist finds evidence that ‘King Tut’ spontaneously combusted
By Scott Kaufman
Sunday, November 3, 2013 14:50 EST
According to a Channel 4 documentary, evidence shows that the embalmed body of the most famous Egyptian pharaoh spontaneously combusted inside its sarcophagus.
“Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Burnt Mummy” examines not only how the young pharaoh died, but what happened to his body after it was interred.
Egyptologist Chris Nauton, the director of the Egypt Exploration Society, and a team of car crash investigators ran computer simulations that lend credence to the increasingly accepted theory that Tutankhamun was killed in a chariot accident. The simulations showed that the injuries scaling down one side of his body are consistent with a high-speed collision.
But it is the possibility of a botched mummification and its consequences that really interest Nauton.
“Despite all the attention Tut’s mummy has received over the years the full extent of its strange condition has largely been overlooked,” he said. “The charring and possibility that a botched mummification led the body spontaneously combusting shortly after burial was entirely unexpected, something of a revelation in fact.”
Nauton discovered a post-mortem exam from the 1960s in which a scanning electron microscope indicated that the mummy’s flesh was burnt. His research discovered that the embalming oils used at the time of Tutankhamun’s death can, in the presence of oxygen and treated linen, cause a chemical reaction capable of “cooking” a human body.
The documentary airs on Sunday, November 10 in the U.K.http://www.channel4.com/programmes/tutankhamun-the-mystery-of-the-burnt-mummy
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Google chief: NSA spying ‘outrageous’ and potentially illegal
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 7:06 EST
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said reports that the U.S. government spied on the Internet giant’s data centers were “outrageous” and potentially illegal if proved true, in an interview Monday.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal during a visit to Hong Kong, the technology guru said that Google had filed complaints with the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama, as well as members of Congress.
“It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centres if that’s true. The steps that the organisation was willing to do without good judgement to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK,” Schmidt said.
“The NSA allegedly collected the phone records of 320 million people in order to identify roughly 300 people who might be at risk. It’s just bad public policy … and perhaps illegal,” he said in the interview conducted in the southern Chinese city.
“The Snowden revelations have assisted us in understanding that it’s perfectly possible that there are more revelations to come.”
A recent news report said the NSA had tapped into key communications links from Yahoo and Google data centres around the world.
The Washington Post, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with officials, said the program could collect data from hundreds of millions of user accounts “at will”.
The report said the program, called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, indicated that the agencies could intercept data flows from fiber-optic cables used by the US Internet giants.
The NSA disputes key details of the report.
ACLU: ‘Capability is driving policy’
By George Chidi
Sunday, November 3, 2013 19:58 EST
Law enforcement agencies’ efforts to conceal the kinds of mass surveillance tools available to them are anti-democratic and will draw a public backlash, an ACLU attorney argued in an essay this week.
The piece by ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump argues that law enforcement policies at all levels, from the NSA to your local police department, are guided less by the moral calculus than by technical capability. If an act of surveillance or interdiction can be done, the rationale to do so tends to be developed later, she argues.
“The limits of law enforcement surveillance are being determined by what is technologically possible, not what is wise or even lawful,” she said Friday in a paper published at ACLU.org. “And it’s not uncommon for the police to use a new technology in secret for as long as they can, and then allow the courts to sort out legality once the issue finally comes before them.”
Crump points toward automatic license plate readers, surveillance cameras mounted on unmanned drones, and the location history of your cell phone as examples of technology outstripping legal and ethical considerations.
Crump’s essay comes on the heels of last week’s conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, from which a significant public debate about the limits of technology in public safety has emerged. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan noted that leaks of intelligence gathering methods by Edward Snowden, including about monitoring of U.S. phone records, threaten to erode existing authority to use high-tech equipment.
“The scrutiny that the NSA has come under filters down to us,” Keenan said.
However, Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey also argued that police have to be willing to refrain from the use of some methods for surveillance, even though the methods are possible.
Snowden: ‘Mass spy programs threaten freedom of expression’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 3, 2013 10:38 EST
US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says mass secret service surveillance poses a threat to freedom of expression and open society, in a text published in a German news magazine Sunday.
Snowden, who faces criminal charges in the US for leaking top-secret documents about the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) activities, said systematic snooping was a global problem that needed global solutions.
“Such programmes are not only a threat to privacy, they threaten also freedom of expression and open societies,” he wrote in the text which appeared in German in Der Spiegel magazine.
“The existence of espionage technology must not determine politics,” he said, adding there was a moral duty to see that laws and values limit surveillance programmes and protect human rights.
Entitled “A manifesto for the truth”, the news weekly said the former NSA contractor wrote the piece on November 1 in Moscow and it was sent to Spiegel’s offices via an encrypted channel.
Media reports based on Snowden’s disclosures of widespread US surveillance — including eavesdropping on nearly three dozen foreign leaders — have strained Washington’s ties with key allies.
“Anyone pronouncing the truth is committing no crime,” Snowden wrote.
He also said that initially some governments who, he said, had felt “unmasked” by the spying revelations had initiated “an unprecedented persecution campaign” in a bid to quash debate.
But, he said, debate was now taking place worldwide.
German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, of the opposition Green party, met Snowden at a secret location in Moscow Thursday after leaked classified documents indicated that the NSA had tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for several years.
Stroebele told reporters in Berlin Friday that Snowden was willing to speak to the German authorities about the NSA’s activities.
White House rejects Snowden clemency request
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian
Sunday, November 3, 2013 17:34 EST
The White House and leading lawmakers have rejected Edward Snowden’s plea for clemency and said he should return to the United States to face trial.
Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama administration adviser, said on Sunday the NSA whistleblower’s request was not under consideration and that he should face criminal charges for leaking classified information. Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, respectively the heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, maintained the same tough line and accused Snowden of damaging US interests.
The former NSA employee this week appealed for clemency and an opportunity to address members of Congress about US surveillance. He also asked for international help to lobby the US to drop the charges against him. The White House, stung by domestic and international criticism, has shown growing appetite to rein in some of the NSA programmes that Snowden exposed but it has not softened its hostility to the 30-year-old fugitive.
Pfeiffer told ABC’s This Week that no clemency offers were being discussed following Snowden’s appeal in a letter released by a German lawmaker who met him in Moscow.
Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California, remained implacable. “He’s done this enormous disservice to our country. I think the answer is ‘no clemency’,” she told CBS’s Face the Nation.
The former NSA contractor could have blown the whistle on excesses by contacting the House and Senate intelligence committees, Feinstein said. “We would certainly have seen him … and looked at that information. That didn’t happen.”
Snowden has passed a trove of information to the Guardian and other media outlets since fleeing to Hong Kong in June before relocating to Russia, which granted him a year’s asylum. In a one-page letter given to Hans-Christian Stroebele, a lawmaker with Germany’s opposition Green Party, Snowden asked for charges to be dropped, saying: “Speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.”
An increasing number of public figures are calling for Snowden to be offered asylum in Germany, following his revelation that the NSA tapped chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.
“Snowden has done the western world a great service. It is now up to us to help him,” Heiner Geissler, the former general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, wrote in Der Spiegel magazine. More than 50 public figures echoed the call.
That cut little ice with Rogers, a Michigan Republican and former FBI agent. He echoed Feinstein’s response on Face the Nation, saying the leaker had violated an oath of secrecy and stole information. “He needs to come back and own up,” Roger said.
Rogers also accused Snowden of cooperating with Russian intelligence – “the Russians are not allowing him to stay in the country just because they think he’s a nice guy” – and of helping three al-Qaida-linked groups to change the way they communicate in order to evade US intercepts, putting troops’ lives at risk in Afghanistan.
Rogers, the NSA’s strongest congressional supporter, said the media and public’s focus should be not on supposed surveillance excesses but on efforts to counter terrorism and cyber attacks. “The bad guys candidly are not US intelligence agencies,” he said. “They are the good guys at the end of the day.”
The House intelligence committee chairman said pressure to rein in surveillance risked repeating previous curbs which had disastrous consequences.
“We did this in the 1930s and … that led to a whole bunch of misunderstandings that led to World War II that killed millions and millions of people. We did the same darn thing that led up to the [9/11] Osama bin Laden effort.”
Rogers scorned European protestations over US spying as theatrical, saying US allies did plenty spying themselves: “I think there’s going to be some best actor awards coming out of the White House this year, and best supporting actor awards coming out of the European Union.”
He added: “Espionage is a French word, after all.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds
Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes
Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013
Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.
The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees".
Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra "first do no harm" did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.
The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.
The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations, says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation "safety officers" rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner's physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.
The CIA's office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that "enhanced interrogation" methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.
Although the DoD has taken steps to address concerns over practices at Guantánamo Bay in recent years, and the CIA has said it no longer has suspects in detention, the taskforce says that these "changed roles for health professionals and anaemic ethical standards" remain.
"The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve," said Dr Gerald Thomson, professor of medicine emeritus at Columbia University and member of the taskforce.
He added: "It's clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again."The taskforce says that unethical practices by medical personnel, required by the military, continue today. The DoD "continues to follow policies that undermine standards of professional conduct" for interrogation, hunger strikes, and reporting abuse. Protocols have been issued requiring doctors and nurses to participate in the force-feeding of detainees, including forced extensive bodily restraints for up to two hours twice a day.
Doctors are still required to give interrogators access to medical and psychological information about detainees which they can use to exert pressure on them. Detainees are not permitted to receive treatment for the distress caused by their torture.
"Putting on a uniform does not and should not abrogate the fundamental principles of medical professionalism," said IMAP president David Rothman. "'Do no harm' and 'put patient interest first' must apply to all physicians regardless of where they practise."The taskforce wants a full investigation into the involvement of the medical profession in detention centres. It is also calling for publication of the Senate intelligence committee's inquiry into CIA practices and wants rules to ensure doctors and psychiatrists working for the military are allowed to abide by the ethical obligations of their profession; they should be prohibited from taking part in interrogation, sharing information from detainees' medical records with interrogators, or participating in force-feeding, and they should be required to report abuse of detainees.
Americans won’t ‘throw the bums out’ in 2014
By Harry Enten, The Guardian
Sunday, November 3, 2013 11:18 EST
There are two biases that I’ve seen over and over again in the Washington press, and neither is “conservative” or “liberal”. One is a bias towards making a big deal out of something that will ultimately have little electoral effect. The other is propping up the idea that Americans are independent, and that the anger directed at both parties right now will lead to an anti-incumbent wave for both Democrats ad Republicans.
I won’t say that an anti-incumbent wave is impossible, but I will say that it’s not likely. Why?
1. Anti-incumbent waves just don’t happen
Take a look at this chart from Alan Abramowitz. It maps out House of Representative incumbent losses in a general election by party since 1954. I’ve added the 2012 election to the chart.
What you do see is that there are many years in which a large number of incumbents are defeated. What you don’t see is the same number of years where incumbents of both parties are defeated. In fact, such years pretty much don’t exist.
The only year in which ten or more incumbents of both parties were defeated in the general election was 2012. Seventeen Republicans and ten Democrats went down. That’s what you’d expect when there is a lot of redistricting going on around the country. Of the 17 Republicans who made it to the general and didn’t win, at least 11 were likely because of redistricting. Of the ten Democrats that bid farewell in the general, at least six were likely because of redistricting.
History can certainly be defied, though there needs to be better proof – especially in a non-redistricting year.
2. The national polling on incumbents isn’t that unusual
29% of respondents to a recent NBC/WSJ poll said they thought their representative deserved to be re-elected. That’s not significantly different from 1992. The final poll before the 1992 election had the re-elect percentage at 31%, after it actually cratered to 27% during the summer of 1992.
And was there an anti-incumbent wave in 1992? Hardly. In yet another redistricting year, only 24 incumbents lost. Sixteen of those were Democrats and eight were Republicans. Incumbents shouldn’t be shaking in their boots given this data.
3. Americans seem to have a fascination with third parties … until they don’t
A few weeks ago, Gallup reported that a record high 60% of Americans believed a third party is needed.
This week, 30% of NBC/WSJ respondents claimed they’d vote for a third-party candidate for Congress over a Democrat and a Republican. Those percentages seem high, until you realize that this polling looks a lot like it has over the past few years.
58% of Americans said that a third party was needed in the months before the 2010 midterm; 25% said they’d vote for a third party candidate for Congress. Those numbers are not significantly different from today, and the result was not some double party whammy.
Fifty-four Democrats lost re-election in 2010, while only two Republicans did. Those two Republicans were previously elected because of freak circumstances in districts that went for Obama by over 40pt. Not a single independent was elected to the Congress.
4. House district polling doesn’t show an anti-incumbent wave
At the end of the day, the House is won and lost in 435 separate districts. What we need for an anti-incumbent wave to occur are named incumbents from both parties with about an equally low approval rating. That’s not happening.
Democracy Corps just surveyed a bunch of swing Democratic and Republican districts. They found that while named Democratic incumbents had a -4 net approval rating, named Republicans had a +5 net approval rating. That would suggest Republicans picking up some Democratic seats, but not too many Democrats snagging Republican seats.
Indeed, Republicans are polling better right now than they were in the summer of 2012. Republicans in the first and second tier of vulnerability had a +2 net approval in 2012. This difference in approval rating translates to Republican incumbents being up 7pt in their swing districts now compared to just 2pt in 2012. That would suggest far fewer than the 17 Republican incumbents who went down in 2010. The data would suggest the potential for an anti-Democratic wave (though that doesn’t look in the cards at this point); however, if not that many Republican incumbents lose in the general, then it’s not really an “anti-incumbent wave”.
There will always be discussion of how voters hate Washington and will “vote all the bums out”. It hasn’t happened in the past 60 years. The polling numbers at present look a lot like those of prior years when just one or neither party were punished by the voters.
Therefore, there probably isn’t going to be an anti-incumbent wave. So, don’t believe the hype.
November 1, 2013
Plutocrats vs. Populists
By CHRYSTIA FREELAND
TORONTO — HERE’S the puzzle of America today: the plutocrats have never been richer, and their economic power continues to grow, but the populists, the wilder the better, are taking over. The rise of the political extremes is most evident, of course, in the domination of the Republican Party by the Tea Party and in the astonishing ability of this small group to shut down the American government. But the centrists are losing out in more genteel political battles on the left, too — that is the story of Bill de Blasio’s dark-horse surge to the mayoralty in New York, and of the Democratic president’s inability to push through his choice to run the Federal Reserve, Lawrence H. Summers.
All of these are triumphs of populists over plutocrats: Mr. de Blasio is winning because he is offering New Yorkers a chance to reject the plutocratic politics of Michael R. Bloomberg. The left wing of the Democratic Party opposed the appointment of Mr. Summers as part of a wider backlash against the so-called Rubin Democrats (as in Robert E. Rubin, who preceded Mr. Summers as Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration) and their sympathy for Wall Street. Even the Tea Party, which in its initial phase was to some extent the creation of plutocrats like Charles and David Koch, has slipped the leash of its very conservative backers and alienated more centrist corporate bosses and organizations.
The limits of plutocratic politics, at both ends of the ideological spectrum, are being tested. That’s a surprise. Political scientists like Larry M. Bartels and Martin Gilens have documented the frightening degree to which, in America, more money means a more effective political voice: Democratic and Republican politicians are more likely to agree with the views of their wealthier constituents and to listen to them than they are to those lower down the income scale. Money also drives political engagement: Citizens United, which removed some restrictions on political spending, strengthened these trends.
Why are the plutocrats, with their great wealth and a political system more likely to listen to them anyway, losing some control to the populists? The answer lies in the particular nature of plutocratic political power in the 21st century and its limitations in a wired mass democracy.
Consider the methods with which plutocrats actually exercise power in America’s New Gilded Age. The Koch brothers, who have found a way to blend their business interests and personal ideological convictions with the sponsorship of a highly effective political network, are easy to latch on to partly because this self-dealing fits so perfectly with our imagined idea of a nefarious plutocracy and partly because they have had such an impact. But the Kochs are the exception rather than the rule, and even in their case the grass roots they nurtured now follow their script imperfectly.
MOST plutocrats are translating their vast economic power into political influence in two principle ways. The first is political lobbying strictly focused on the defense or expansion of their economic interests. This is very specific work, with each company or, at most, narrowly defined industry group advocating its self-interest: the hedge fund industry protecting the carried-interest tax loophole from which it benefits, or agribusiness pushing for continued subsidies. Often, these are fights for lower taxes and less regulation, but they are motivated by the bottom line, not by strictly political ideals, and they benefit very specific business people and companies, not the business community as a whole.
As Mark S. Mizruchi, a sociologist at the University of Michigan, documents in his recent book “The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite,” this is not the business lobby that shaped America so powerfully in the 1950s and 1960s. Business leaders of the postwar era were individually weaker but collectively more effective; C.E.O. salaries were relatively lower, but the voice of business in the national conversation was much more potent, perhaps in part because it was less exclusively self-interested. The postwar era, not coincidentally a period when income inequality declined, was the time when business executives could say that what was good for G.M. was good for America and really believe it. It didn’t hurt that they were sometimes willing to forgo short-term personal and corporate gain when they judged that the national interest required it.
The second way today’s plutocrats flex their political muscle is more novel. Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, a pair of business writers, have called this approach “philanthrocapitalism” — activist engagement with public policy and social problems. This isn’t the traditional charity of supporting hospitals and museums, uncontroversial good causes in which sitting on the board can offer the additional perk of status in the social elite. Philanthrocapitalism is a more self-consciously innovative and entrepreneurial effort to tackle the world’s most urgent social problems; philanthrocapitalists deploy not merely the fortunes they accumulated, but also the skills, energy and ambition they used to amass those fortunes in the first place.
Bill Gates is the leading philanthrocapitalist, and he has many emulators — nowadays, having your own policy-oriented think tank is a far more effective status symbol among the super-rich than the mere conspicuous consumption of yachts or private jets. Philanthrocapitalism can be partisan — George Soros, one of the pioneers of this new approach, backed a big effort to try to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush — but it is most often about finding technocratic, evidence-based solutions to social problems and then advocating their wider adoption.
Philanthrocapitalism, particularly when you agree with the basic values of the capitalist in charge, can achieve remarkable things. Consider the work the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done on malaria, or the transformative impact of Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Bloomberg took philanthrocapitalism one step further — he used his résumé and his wealth to win elected political office. In City Hall, Mr. Bloomberg’s greatest achievements were technocratic triumphs — restricting smoking in public places, posting calorie counts and championing biking. As he prepares for life after political office, he is already honing the more typical plutocratic skill of using his money to shape public policy by energetically engaging in national battles over issues like gun control and immigration reform.
At its best, this form of plutocratic political power offers the tantalizing possibility of policy practiced at the highest professional level with none of the messiness and deal making and venality of traditional politics. You might call it the Silicon Valley school of politics — a technocratic, data-based, objective search for solutions to our problems, uncorrupted by vested interests or, when it comes to issues like smoking or soft drinks, our own self-indulgence.
But the same economic forces that have made this technocratic version of plutocratic politics possible — particularly the winner-take-all spiral that has increased inequality — have also helped define its limits. Surging income inequality doesn’t create just an economic divide. The gap is cultural and social, too. Plutocrats inhabit a different world from everyone else, with different schools, different means of travel, different food, even different life expectancies. The technocratic solutions to public-policy problems they deliver from those Olympian heights arrive in a wrapper of remote benevolence. Plutocrats are no more likely to send their own children to the charter schools they champion than they are to need the malaria cures they support.
People might not mind that if the political economy were delivering for society as a whole. But it is not: wages for 70 percent of the work force have stagnated, unemployment is high and many people with jobs feel insecure about them and about their retirement. Meanwhile, the plutocrats continue to prosper. And for more and more people, the plutocrats’ technocratic paternalism seems at best weak broth and at worst an effort to preserve the rules of a game that is rigged in their favor. More radical ideas, particularly ones explicitly hostile to elites and technocratic intellectuals, gain traction. And that is true not just in the United States but across the Western developed world — for instance, the Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, recently warned that “the rise of populism is today the main European social and political issue.”
AS this populist wave crashes in on both sides of the Atlantic, the plutocrats, for all their treasure and their intellect, are in a weak position to hold it back.
Part of the appeal of plutocratic politics is their power to liberate policy making from the messiness and the deal making of grass-roots and retail politics. In the postwar era, civic engagement was built through a network of community organizations with thousands of monthly-dues-paying members and through the often unseemly patronage networks of old-fashioned party machines, sometimes serving only particular ethnic communities or groups of workers.
The age of plutocracy made it possible to liberate public policy from all of that, and to professionalize it. Instead of going to work as community organizers, or simply taking part in the civic life of their own communities, smart, publicly minded technocrats go to work for plutocrats whose values they share. The technocrats get to focus full time on the policy issues they love, without the tedium of building, rallying — and serving — a permanent mass membership. They can be pretty well paid to boot.
The Democratic political advisers who went from working on behalf of the president or his party to advising the San Francisco billionaire Thomas F. Steyer on his campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline provide a telling example. Twenty years ago, they might have gone to work for the Sierra Club or the Nature Conservancy or run for public office themselves. Today, they are helping to build a pop-up political movement for a plutocrat.
Plutocratic politics have much to recommend them. They are pure, smart and focused. But at a time when society as a whole is riven by an ever widening economic chasm, policy delivered from on high can get you only so far. Voters on both the right and the left are suspicious of whether the plutocrats and the technocrats they employ understand their real needs, and whether they truly have their best interests at heart. That rift means we should all brace ourselves for more extremist politics and a more rancorous political debate.
Where does that leave smart centrists with their clever, fact-based policies designed to fine-tune 21st century capitalism and make it work better for everyone?
Part of the problem is that no one has yet come up with a fully convincing answer to the question of how you harness the power of the technology revolution and globalization without hollowing out middle-class jobs. Liberal nanny-state paternalism, as it has been brilliantly described and practiced by Cass R. Sunstein and like-minded thinkers, can help, as can shoring up the welfare state. But neither is enough, and voters are smart enough to appreciate that. Even multiple nudges won’t make 21st-century capitalism work for everyone. Plutocrats, as well as the rest of us, need to rise to this larger challenge, to find solutions that work on the global scale at which business already operates.
The other task is to fully engage in retail, bottom-up politics — not just to sell those carefully thought-through, data-based technocratic solutions but to figure out what they should be in the first place. The Tea Party was able to steer the Republican Party away from its traditional country-club base because its anti-establishment rage resonated better with all of the grass-roots Republican voters who are part of the squeezed middle class. Mr. de Blasio will be the next mayor of New York because he built a constituency among those who are losing out and those who sympathize with them. Politics in the winner-take-all economy don’t have to be extremist and nasty, but they have to grow out of, and speak for, the 99 percent. The pop-up political movements that come so naturally to the plutocrats won’t be enough.
The author of “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else” and a Liberal Party candidate for the Canadian Parliament.
Connecting the Dots
Rip-Off: How Private-Sector Health Costs Are Killing the American Dream
By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company
Monday, November 4, 2013 7:36 EST
Part one of this series, “The High Cost of Low Taxes,” noted that while Americans enjoy a tax burden lower than that of other wealthy countries, we also pay four times as much as they do, on average, for out-of-pocket “social costs” in the private sector – on health care, retirement security, disability and unemployment insurance, and the rest of the safety net. When you add up what we pay in taxes and what we pay out of pocket, the US spends about the same amount on social costs overall as some of the most generous, heavily taxed social democracies, but we get a far less secure safety net in return.
The federal government doesn’t have a deficit problem. Its fiscal issues are entirely related to the bloated cost of American health care. If we paid the same amount for health care per person as people do in other wealthy countries with longer average life expectancies, we’d have a balanced budget now and surpluses projected for the future.
But those are just numbers on a spreadsheet. Fran and Randy Malott understand those costs more viscerally. The Whittier, Calif., couple aren’t living the American dream right now. They haven’t for a while. They were slammed when Wall Street’s house of cards came tumbling down, and now they’re feeling the squeeze of the Great American Rip-off.
Fran lost her job as a customer service representative in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. “A lot of companies are getting rid of customer service these days,” explains Randy. He lost his job managing a temp agency a year or so later. The Malotts are two of what Paul Krugman called “the forgotten millions” – the long-term unemployed who face unique barriers to reentering the workforce, including discrimination by potential employers just because they’ve been out of work for an extended period. “And our age doesn’t help either,” says Randy. He’s 59 and she’s 60. “There was unemployment for a while,” Randy says, “and now we’re getting by on savings.”
He tells Moyers & Company, “we live pretty frugally,” but the $1,600 a month they’re forking over for health insurance represents about half their total spending. The Malotts are a healthy couple, yet they’re watching their life savings drain away, in large part due to their health insurance company. The $140,000 the Malotts had socked away for retirement is now down to around $45,000. “We’ve got quite a ways to go before Social Security and Medicare kick in,” says Randy.
The Malotts are in a tough spot, like a lot of people who find themselves in similar circumstances. Studies have shown that long-term unemployment causes stress and illness. In the rest of the world’s highly developed countries, the Malotts’ health care would be covered by their government – the risk of long-term unemployment would be spread across an entire society – which means they’d have one less serious stressor, and around $45,000 more in the bank than they do today.
When Competition Drives Up Costs
The US system is a stark testament to the fact that, at least when it comes to health care, more competition doesn’t lead to lower prices or better outcomes.
Three facts are indisputable. First, the $8,500 we spent per person on health care in 2011 was around $5,000 more than the average among developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — and almost $3,000 more than the average in Switzerland, which was the next highest spender.
Second, multiple studies have found that we have significantly poorer health outcomes than most developed countries (see here, and here) – by some measures, we rank dead last. And it’s not just because we have higher rates of poverty and inequality — a study conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute for Medicine accounted for those factors and found that, as Grace Rubenstein summarized for The Atlantic, “even white, well-off Americans live sicker and die sooner than similarly situated people elsewhere.” (American men are also becoming shorter relative to men in other highly developed countries – the average height of a population is a proxy for the quality of prenatal health care and nutrition.)
Finally, we rely much more heavily on the private sector to finance our health care than any other wealthy country. Every developed state finances health care through a mix of private and public spending, but the balance between private and public health care in the US looks different from the rest of the wealthy world. Across the OECD countries, governments pick up 72 percent of the tab for health care, but our government finances just under 48 percent – only the Chilean government covers a smaller share (XL). (In the eight social democracies with the highest tax burdens in the OECD — Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy, France, Austria and Finland — 79 percent of health costs are financed through the public sector.)
There are several reasons why our outsized reliance on the private sector ends up costing us so dearly. The first is a simple matter of scale. In 2009, at the height of the debate over Obamacare, economist Josh Bivens wrote that “health care is an area where the more costs are loaded up on the federal government, the more efficiently care tends to be delivered overall.” This is a big reason why costs in America’s public health care programs, with their purchasing clout, have grown more slowly than they have in the private sector.
When a single-payer system covers a vast pool of people, it has more bargaining power to negotiate with providers. It needs significantly less administrative overhead to figure out who will pay which bill (a question which is regularly litigated). A 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that three out of every 10 health care dollars spent in the US goes to administrative costs rather than care.
And in health care, competition often drives costs up rather than down. According to Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the Health Access coalition, Medicare costs are highest where there are the most treatment facilities competing for patients. He writes:
More competition drives up the cost of care because when several hospitals are competing for patients and doctors they feel more pressure to build more beds, provide more amenities, and purchase the latest expensive gadgets. Instead of focusing on patient preference and improving care, hospitals are in an arms race to gain market share. That makes health care more expensive for everyone.
A 2011 study by the Robert Woods Foundation found that new medical technologies are the number one driver of US health care costs. When it comes to purchasing the latest gadgets, our providers are close to the top of the heap: In 2009, only Japan had more MRI machines and CT scanners per million people than the U.S. And we use them, too, getting twice as many MRIs and CT scans per person as the OECD average.
Health Care as a Commodity
All of these differences in how we pay for health care may pale next to a more fundamental one: We view health care as a commodity and allow providers to set prices as high as the market will bear. The problem with that is that health care is a market in which we often don’t have enough information to shop and choose, and because most of us have a good chunk of our costs picked up by a third party – an insurance company – the market often ends up bearing ludicrously high costs.
It may sound obvious, but the biggest reason we spend so much on health care is not only because insurance companies take out profits and overhead — it’s that health care costs us more than citizens of other wealthy countries. Everything from pharmaceuticals to surgical procedures to tests costs us more than citizens of other rich countries (the linked study found only a single exception: cataract surgeries cost more in Switzerland). Even a basic checkup is more expensive here than in other highly developed states.
A big reason for that is that government cost controls – both soft and hard – are common in the rest of the world. Pharmaceuticals provide a good example. We paid $947 per person for prescription drugs in 2009, on average, which was almost double the $487 per person in the OECD as a whole, but we don’t take twice as many pills. We just let big pharma charge whatever it can get away with.
Some other countries only approve drugs at a price that’s in line with what those medications cost in other countries. Many countries evaluate new drugs not only on safety and efficacy, but also on whether they provide better value than existing medications. The U.K. has a board that sets the amount that its National Health Service will pay for a drug and limits how much profit drug companies can make from the British public.
As Jonathan Wolff, a professor at the University College London described it:
Each year pharmaceutical companies have to open their books to the [National Health Service] accountants and if the profits they make are above a certain level then there is a ‘clawback’. Furthermore, the agreements have to be renewed every few years and each time price cuts are negotiated as part of the contract. Hence although it appears that drug companies can charge what they want, in practice there are both price controls and profit controls, enforced by the government.
US big pharma, like other providers, argues that it needs to charge high prices to pay for innovative new research. But a 2006 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that the pharmaceutical industry already benefited greatly from government-sponsored research: Much of the $25 billion the federal government spent on basic scientific research accrued to an industry that itself spent $39 billion on research and development. And, as economist Dean Baker has argued, there are other, more efficient ways to finance drug research, but they would also require more, not less, involvement by the government.
Shackled by Private Health Care
Our sky-high health care costs place a huge burden on American families. Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcies in this country, ahead of credit card debt and unwieldy mortgages. Rising costs for health benefits are a big reason for flat wages: What employers pay in total compensation, including health benefits, has grown a lot faster than wages in recent years.
Conservatives believe that more government involvement in health care will lead to less freedom and personal liberty, but when it comes to health care, the opposite is true. Why? First, because private insurers aren’t in the business of liberty. They set rules on what they’ll cover and give you lists of doctors you can see without paying extra out-of-network costs. Until new regulations were enacted under the Affordable Care Act, they shopped for the cheapest customers, denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions and using fine print to deny payments to those they did cover.
But on a more fundamental level, millions of Americans are trapped by high private health care costs – stuck in dead-end relationships or jobs that they hate because leaving would mean shouldering the entire burden themselves. It’s not only a rip-off, but a big part of the high costs we end up paying to keep taxes low.
Money & Politics
Ted Cruz is No Washington Outsider
By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company
Monday, November 4, 2013 7:36 EST
Ted Cruz has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care for the ways of Washington.
From the moment of his arrival in the nation’s capital, the brash Texas senator has challenged the Washington establishment and old order, declaring political war on Democrats, many of his fellow Republicans, Beltway insiders, the executive branch and pretty much everything else. More than any than other politician, Cruz was responsible for the recent government shutdown and brinksmanship that brought the country to the edge of default. Evidently, he rejects governing on any terms but his own.
“I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo,” Cruz told The New York Times in February. “That is what I intend to do, and it is what I have done in every way possible in the responsibilities that have been granted to me.”
Well, it turns out he’s not out to shake up Washington in “every way possible.” When it comes to political money, the old ways that he so often derides seem to suit Senator Cruz just fine.
So-called Leadership PACs, for example, are a staple of the status quo, as vehicles for soliciting Washington influence-money and for creating cozy relations between members of Congress and Washington lobbying interests seeking government favors. Here’s how they work: While a donor can give $5,200 to a member’s campaign committee during a six-year election cycle, the same donor can give an additional $30,000 during the six-year period to the member’s Leadership PAC. These Leadership PACs can then be deployed to support other candidates, but are more often used to pay for political and other expenses incurred by the member, other than his campaign expenses.
Cruz apparently likes this particular old way of doing business so much that it took him less than a week after he was elected to create his very own Leadership PAC – the Jobs, Growth and Freedom Fund. Even before he was sworn in as a senator, Cruz was playing the Washington money game.
And from whom did Senator Cruz solicit and receive contributions for his Leadership PAC?
How about representatives of such Washington establishment players as the American Bankers Association, Lockheed Martin, Intel, Northrop Gruman, CSX Corporation, Altria Group (parent company of Phillip Morris) and Comcast? And add to that list representatives of Union Pacific Corporation, FMR Corp (Fidelity Investments), the National Association of Broadcasters, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Norfolk Southern, Compass Bancshares, among others.
Not exactly the voices of ordinary citizens and grassroots America.
In his new book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets, Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, describes Leadership PACs as instruments for “a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions.”
Leadership PACs have long been considered political slush funds designed first and foremost to benefit the members of Congress who control them rather than to support other candidates. They are certainly not viewed as a means for challenging the old ways or the Washington establishment, which is the principal funder of most Leadership PACs.
Cruz is certainly not taking on the old ways with his strong defense of secret money in American politics. In October, when Cruz put a hold on Thomas Wheeler’s nomination as a commissioner of the FCC, the federal agency that oversees the broadcasting industry, he said he wanted to know Wheeler’s views about whether the FCC had the authority or intent “to implement the requirements of the failed congressional DISCLOSE Act,” according to a Cruz spokesman. Cruz dropped his hold on Wheeler this week after Wheeler reportedly agreed not to make disclosure of political ads by broadcasters a priority for the agency.
But Cruz seems almost obsessed with the DISCLOSE Act, intended to close loopholes that have allowed hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions to be spent in federal elections; earlier in the year, he claimed that it raised “grave constitutional concerns for speech protected by the First Amendment.”
Cruz might want to brush up on his First Amendment law. By an 8 to 1 vote, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case upheld disclosure requirements for corporations and others who make independent campaign expenditures. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said in upholding disclosure: “Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
Campaign finance disclosure requirements were first upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, on the grounds that they “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption,” and aid voters “in evaluating those who seek federal office.”
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia provided one of the most powerful defenses of disclosure in Doe v. Reed, a 2010 case involving a referendum petition. Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion, “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”
So what, then, are we to make of Cruz’s “war” on the status quo? Leadership PACs and secret money play a central role in the exercise of power in Washington – and on both subjects, the Texas senator is on the side of powerful, wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Not that it’s stopping him from donning populist garb. In Iowa last week, Cruz, who is flirting with a president run, styled himself as a Beltway outsider. “I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics; it is the paradigm of the rise of the grassroots. It has official Washington absolutely terrified,” he said.
But back in Washington, Cruz is already playing the insiders’ influence-money game, and competing with the best of them.
November 03, 2013 06:00 PM
Candy Crowley Gives Kelly Ayotte Free Rein for Benghazi Lies
By Nicole Belle
After more than a dozen hearings on the tragic events of Benghazi, what has emerged is that the Republican party has nothing except a few smears that don't hold up to scrutiny and a huge underwriting by groups like Groundswell and American Crossroads to keep it going until 2016 to taint Hillary Clinton's potential nomination as much as possible.
Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt have even documented this crazy partisan smear that went from a craven attempt at political gamesmanship to a full-blown dark money campaign in an e-book titled "The Benghazi Hoax". It costs 99 cents at Amazon.
It's time to buy a copy for Candy Crowley. Because once again, she enabled the quavering-voiced tea party darling Kelly Ayotte to completely elide past any accusations of obstruction (since the Senate Republicans have reneged on their agreement to stop hanging up President Obama's nominations) or wasting the public's time and taxpayer dollars on this partisan witchhunt which has turned up bupkis so far. Not one damn word pointing this out.
Pro-tip to Candy Crowley. This isn't journalism. This isn't impartial reporting. The absence of both means that you *are* actually siding with a specific agenda. If that's the case, fine, just be open about it. And see if Roger Ailes needs another reporter. Warning, women who work for them have found they might need to get some plastic surgery to succeed.
November 03, 2013 03:00 PM
Media Silent About Beck, Jones Influence On LAX Shooter
Two days ago LAX terminal 3's security was breached by a 23-year old guy with an assault rifle who shot his way past security checkpoints and got all the way to the boarding areas before he was stopped by airport police. As one might have suspected, that 23-year old kid appears to have been heavily influenced by the likes of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones.
SPLC reports that Paul Anthony Ciancia's manifesto "seemed to put him squarely in the conspiracy-minded world of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement." In that same report, they discuss the explosion of these groups in the past few years, and go on to discuss the Patriot movements dim view of the DHS.
So-called Patriots also increasingly see the DHS, which produces intelligence assessments of extremists that are distributed to other law enforcement agencies, as an enemy and even a collaborator in the New World Order conspiracy. Many believe DHS has targeted their movement and is somehow connected to the alleged construction of concentration camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The purported camps are thought to be meant for those Americans who resist a coming national seizure of all weapons from U.S. citizens.
Friday's shooting is important on a number of different levels, beginning with the AR-15 Ciancia was able to obtain apparently while living in California, which has some pretty strict state-based laws, including a statewide assault weapons ban. It raises questions about responsibility of high-profile "media" figures like Beck and Jones and begs for a renewed spotlight on our current NRA-controlled national debate over something as simple as universal background checks.
You might think it's a great topic for the Sunday shows. I certainly expected it to be. I went looking to see what the topics of the day are, and to my surprise, there was skeletal coverage (see video above) of the shooting, and no mention whatsoever of the influences on the shooter.
Are Alex Jones and Glenn Beck off limits for criticism now? After all, they're the primary peddlers of the anti-government, paranoid thinking so prevalent among anti-government nuts. There is a reality to what they do, after all. Call the government evil and invasive often enough, concoct enough scenarios of how "government" is the amorphous scary bogeyman aiming at innocents everywhere, toss in some NSA paranoia and libertarian claptrap and you get a guy with an assault weapon not just shooting people outside the security checkpoint, but targeting unarmed government agents because he can.
Why isn't this something to discuss? Why shouldn't the libertarian "I hate government set" represented by Beck and Jones be accountable for reaching into someone's darkest fears and stoking them?
Arming the TSA or attributing this to a 'lone wolf' isn't the answer. From what I've read, Ciancia wasn't mentally ill. He may have suffered from depression or anxiety, but not to a point where he left reality. No, that happened when these maniacs on TV and radio started talking about One World Order, Agenda 21 and the gold standard.
Evidently that's too weighty for the delicate ears and eyes of the Sunday show viewer. After all, why talk about paranoid maniacs and dead public servants when you've got Obamacare to kick around?
11/05/2013 10:44 AM
Merkel Spying: It's 'Unlikely' White House Didn't Know
Interview Conducted By Marc Hujer
President Obama has claimed he didn't know the US was spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel. SPIEGEL asks White House security veteran Michael Allen about whether that's possible -- and how the NSA sets its priorities in the first place.
SPIEGEL: The spying activities of the NSA have led to a great uproar in Europe, where residents have also been taken aback by the unapologetic response of American intelligence officials in Congressional hearings.
Allen: I think because of the United States' experiences since September 11 and the faulty assessment that there was WMD in Iraq, there has been the feeling we needed better intelligence so that our national security leaders could make better decisions on behalf of the country. I think the way the intelligence community sees it, their job is to collect information that the policymakers think is in the national interest.
SPIEGEL: Does that include the tapping of Angela Merkel's cellphone?
Allen: Well, I don't know and can't confirm if we did.
SPIEGEL: Not even the White House denies it. But one question remains: What information does the US gain from tapping Merkel's cellphone in regards to the war on terror?
Allen: Well, for example, we have a long-standing foreign policy priority in the United States of making sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon. Part of the strategy is getting other countries to join the United States in imposing sanctions on the Iranian regime, and so I can see a situation where policymakers are asking the intelligence community questions about the views of nations around the world. Are they inclined to do harsher sanctions, or what kind of deal do they want to do with Iran on nuclear enrichment?
I can also see policymakers asking the intelligence community for information about European attitudes toward troop deployments in Afghanistan. It could be about who is in favor of what in a particular position in a government.
SPIEGEL: Do you think that's acceptable?
Allen: The White House and our political leaders need to make a judgment. They have to apply a balancing test, comparing the value of the intelligence gained versus the risk of a foreign policy backlash if the method of the collection were disclosed. I think that's the decision that all governments around the world must make when they decide what their intelligence services should do.
SPIEGEL: President Obama, in so many words, called the tapping of Angela Merkel's cellphone a mistake and said that if he had known about it, he would have stopped it. Is it really conceivable that Obama didn't know anything of the tapping?
Allen: Well, I don't know. Here's what I do know: Having worked in the National Security Council (under President George W. Bush), it's very unlikely that senior White House officials wouldn't have known about the sources and methods of collection, because that would be very important in assessing the reliability of the information that you're being presented.
SPIEGEL: Who normally knows this kind of information? Chief of staff? The national security adviser? The president?
Allen: Well, I think it would depend. But I think it would be people on the staff of the National Security Council.
SPIEGEL: You worked for the National Security Council under George W. Bush. Angela Merkel's cellphone apparently started being tapped in 2002. This means you must have known about it.
Allen: I cannot get into confirming or denying the existence of intelligence programs.
SPIEGEL: Are there some pieces of information -- such as that intelligence agencies are listening to Merkel's cellphone, for example -- that are explicitly withheld from the president to avoid political risk?
Allen: That's something that pops up in movies, plausible deniability. I don't know how the Obama administration handles such things.
SPIEGEL: How did you handle such things with Bush?
Allen: I can't comment on this.
SPIEGEL: How much is the president involved in determining how the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, the document which establishes the United States' intelligence priorities, is set up and which countries are considered priorities?
Allen: Well, the National Intelligence Priorities Framework is a document that comes through the National Security Council, and it probably varies from administration to administration how involved the president is. It's a document that reflects the priorities of the policymakers. The intelligence community doesn't make a judgment on what they ought to collect. In the last decade, the priorities for policymakers have been terrorism, Iraq, the North Korea nuclear program and the Iranian nuclear program. The intelligence community then takes those priorities and says: "OK, here's what our customers want."
SPIEGEL: But there has been the impression that the intelligence services have played by their own rules in the last few years.
Allen: The intelligence community is tightly overseen by Congress and policymakers in the executive branch. And so while it is a large enterprise, they are very interested in responding to the needs of their customers, and that's the policymakers and Congress and the White House and (people) across the executive branch.
11/04/2013 05:59 PM
Codependent: Merkel's Pragmatic Approach to the NSA Scandal
Chancellor Merkel might be furious about the NSA's unscrupulous surveillance activities, but reluctance to anger her partners in Washington prevents her from imposing sanctions. Trade issues aside, Germany itself depends heavily on intelligence gathered by the US agency. By SPIEGEL Staff
The surroundings alone clearly indicated that this was no normal discussion. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice led her German guests to the "Situation Room," the intelligence nerve center in the basement of the White House. This is where the commander-in-chief orders drone attacks and issues commands to deploy troops. It was in the Situation Room, for instance, that US President Barack Obama watched US special forces hunt down Osama bin Laden two and a half years ago.
Something has shifted in the relations between Berlin and Washington -- otherwise Christoph Heusgen, Merkel's foreign policy adviser, would not have met with top US officials in a secure conference room last Wednesday. Nothing has strained ties with the US over the past few years more than the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone.
Merkel doesn't know what should upset her more: the chutzpah of a so-called friend who listens to her phone calls, or the Americans' inability to keep it a secret. Now Merkel has been exposed as a chancellor who was deceived by an unscrupulous intelligence agency. Just last summer, she believed the assurances made by the NSA that it was complying with all laws and regulations on German soil -- at least that's what she said publicly. Now her staff are wondering what will come next. Will the world soon be able to read transcripts of her mobile phone conversations? It would be a political nightmare.
The chancellor has every reason to be angry -- but it's difficult to find the appropriate response. The German government has been considering a wide range of possible sanctions against the US. Should Germany take counterintelligence measures against the Americans -- in addition to its existing operations targeting countries like China and Russia? Should Berlin put the brakes on negotiations for a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement?
A Boomerang Effect
But Germany and the US are so closely linked that every blow dealt to the other side would have a boomerang effect. Shelving the free trade agreement, for example, would primarily impact the export-dependent German economy. The Munich-based Ifo economic think tank has calculated that dropping barriers to trade could create 160,000 jobs in Germany.
Merkel faces a dilemma. She doesn't want to go down in history as a chancellor who allowed herself to be pushed around by her American big brother. On the other hand, she doesn't want to rock the boat too much. Her first move following the outrage over her tapped cellphone was to send a delegation of top-ranking German officials to Washington, including foreign policy adviser Heusgen and Günter Heiss, the foreign intelligence coordinator at the Chancellery.
After Rice had welcomed the guests to the Situation Room, Heusgen presented Germany's wish list. The top item was a so-called no-spy agreement -- an accord in which both sides promise not to spy on each other.
The first element of a pact like this involves renouncing all industrial espionage. This is seen as non-contentious, since neither side currently runs such operations. The Americans quickly signaled their agreement.
Then the Germans addressed their core demand: no technical espionage on German soil. The wording here already includes a concession to the Americans, because information flows globally in the Internet age. Furthermore, this choice of words does not clearly regulate the activities of the US embassy in Berlin.
Another issue remains open: a ban on the surveillance of both heads of state. At first glance, this would appear to be a simple matter. After all, the White House has already given assurances that Merkel will not be spied on in the future. But providing Germany with written assurances could set a precedent that other countries might later invoke -- at least that's what the Americans are afraid could happen.
The Price of Cooperation
It also remains unclear what form such a no-spy agreement would take. When German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), flew to Washington last summer, he indicated that he wanted to initiate an accord between the intelligence services. Now, it looks like a treaty will be signed by the governments in Washington and Berlin -- and jointly drafted by the Chancellery and the White House. A second meeting between the two sides is under consideration. The US side would like to see a "more intensive cooperation," Rice said toward the end of the two-hour discussion.
That might sound promising -- but the statement also contains a threat. More cooperation can only be of limited interest to the Germans. The Americans' only real friends are the members of the coalition of Anglophone countries known as the "Five Eyes," which consists of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There is an informal agreement among their intelligence agencies not to spy on each other. At the same time, they closely cooperate with each other, and even exchange highly sensitive information. Would that be a model to prevent future espionage attacks?
In any case, the price would be high. The Five Eyes collaborate on spying operations throughout Europe, drone attacks and even the rendition of suspected terrorists. These are dirty operations that would immediately be reviewed by an investigative committee if they were conducted by a German intelligence agency. Not surprisingly, the German government has no inclination to become a member of this dubious club.
Still, Germany's intelligence services want to continue to benefit from the information provided by the Americans. Indeed, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, is seeking to conclude a second agreement covering its future collaboration with the NSA. This week, Gerhard Schindler and Hans-Georg Maassen -- the heads of the BND and Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV) -- plan to travel to the US capital.
Remorse and Defiance
The US is vacillating between remorse and defiance in reaction to the cellphone scandal. So far the NSA's spying activities abroad have attracted little attention in the US media. But that's changing. A number of American politicians are showing signs of regret. US Secretary of State John Kerry read the riot act to the NSA last week. "The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability is there," he said, adding that "in some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn't happen in the future."
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, says that she "totally rejects" the surveillance of friendly heads of state. Feinstein, 80, is widely revered as an institution -- and her word carries weight in Washington. She says she doesn't believe that Obama knew about the spying on Merkel.
Most observers in Washington agree that the operation against Merkel could not have been launched in 2002 without the approval of then-President George W. Bush. The surveillance campaign began shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the US was preparing to go to war against Iraq. There are many indications that a spying campaign began back then -- a campaign that was not only directed against Merkel, but also against the leaders of other allied countries. To this day, US intelligence agencies feel this was justified.
No Signs of Regret
During a meeting with Feinstein attended by German European parliamentarian Elmar Brok, NSA chief Keith Alexander indirectly admitted to spying on the German chancellor. After Feinstein asked three times whether Merkel's cellphone was tapped, participants say that Alexander responded: "Not anymore." In other words, there was definitely spying in the past. The NSA has declined to comment on the issue.
Alexander showed no signs of regret, however. On the contrary, in his opinion "nothing that has been released has shown that we are trying to do something illegal or unprofessional," as he said last week before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper also testified: "We do not spy on anyone except for valid foreign intelligence purposes." He said he thought the US was doing "the right thing."
When asked by the chairman of the committee, Republican Mike Rogers, whether the CIA or the NSA were capable of using their own criteria for surveillance -- in other words, whether these agencies were acting at times independently and without political oversight -- Clapper replied: "No, absolutely not."
The Intelligence Score Card
Clapper's response means that Obama has some explaining to do. The president has tried to present himself as someone who is interested in clearing up the whole spying scandal. He said that he knew nothing about the tapping of Merkel's cellphone -- and he even apologized to her. But the NSA does not act within a vacuum. It adheres to strict guidelines that the White House has spelled out in the so-called National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF).
Until recently, this list was only known to a small group of insiders. Last week, though, the issue made its way onto the "Daily Show," hosted by TV comedian Jon Stewart. Previously, an NSA spokeswoman had explained that spying missions were not ordered directly by the president, but via the NIPF.
"What the hell is that?", asked Stewart. He then wondered: "If the president doesn't know what's actually happening, how does he run the country?"
The NIPF is effectively the wish list that the government sends to its intelligence agencies. It determines which countries and which governments should be spied on -- and with what level of priority. The list forms the political foundation for the spying activities of all 17 US intelligence agencies.
It was first drawn up in 2003 under President Bush. Since then, this list has been updated every six months. This is done by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but only with top-level endorsement from the Oval Office. According to internal NSA documents, the list is "presidentially approved." SPIEGEL has obtained a copy of the list, dated April 2013, from the archives of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The espionage targets are organized and color coded according to their priority. The intentions of the political leaders of foreign countries are given the highest priority tier "1" -- on par with fighting terror and gathering information about weapons of mass destruction.
Germany figures in the middle of this international intelligence score card, on the same tier as France and Japan, but as a greater concern than Italy and Spain. In the eyes of US intelligence agencies, German foreign policy, along with financial and economic issues, are both rated with a "3." Furthermore, the NSA is interested in Germany's arms control, new technologies, highly developed conventional weapons and international trade, which all have priority "4." Of only minor interest are counterespionage by Germany and threats from cyberspace (priority "5").
Some countries like Cambodia, Laos and the Vatican are completely uninteresting from an American perspective, as are many European countries like Finland, Croatia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. These countries are all marked in white, with no priority whatsoever.
Countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, Sweden, Uzbekistan and Malaysia are only marginally interesting according to the espionage rating list. The US focuses here in isolated issues, but only to a minor degree. The topics in question are rated with a "4" or a "5."
A 'Strategic Advantage'
Insiders in Washington have known for a long time how intensively the US spies on foreign governments. During the previous fiscal year, US intelligence agencies had to tighten their belts. While the budget shrank by $1.3 billion (€960 million), spying on foreign governments was one of the areas in which the White House actually increased spending.
"We are bolstering our support for clandestine SIGINT capabilities to collect against high priority targets, including foreign leadership," it says in a top-secret draft budget for 2013 that Director of Intelligence Clapper presented to Congress. He said the goal here was to maintain a "strategic advantage."
Clapper, who sat across from the German delegation as a negotiating partner last Wednesday, feels that spying on Merkel and her entourage is completely normal. "It's invaluable to us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are, how that would impact us across a whole range of issues," Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee, adding: "It isn't just leaders themselves, it's what goes on around them."
The Germans arguably have every reason to tell the Americans that that they are fed up. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the BFV, is responsible for counterespionage in Germany, and it would be at least theoretically conceivable that this agency could be mobilized against the US surveillance apparatus. But no high-ranking politician among Merkel's conservatives or the left-leaning SPD is calling for such a measure.
There is little that the German government fears more than the fury of its partner in Washington. If the Americans were to shut off the flow of information out of revenge, "we would be partially blind," says a high-ranking German security official.
A Codependent Relationship
In fact, an internal German government statistical study shows just how closely German and American spies have been collaborating for years -- and how dependent the Germans are on the support of their trans-Atlantic partner. This is particularly true when it comes to Islamist terrorism. A large proportion of the relevant knowledge here comes from the UK, Israel and the US.
Furthermore, the NSA provides the BND with a constant flow of information on flashpoints like Pakistan and North Africa. This intelligence concerns arms and drug trafficking, organized crime in Russia and illegal immigration from places like the Balkans. In 2012, the NSA supplied the BND with 750 reports on these issues. During the same year, the German foreign intelligence service received 4,538 information packages from the CIA, along with 2,169 from the Central Command of the US Armed Forces and 519 from the Defense Intelligence Agency. The BFV is also grateful for every bit of information that it receives from US intelligence agencies. Last year, this amounted to 1,830 reports. According to internal sources, it was only thanks to help from the Americans that it was possible to prevent devastating attacks on German soil.
In January 2013, a Berlin court found German Yusuf O. and Austrian Maqsood L. guilty of being members of the terrorist organizations German Taliban Mujahedeen and al-Qaida, and sentenced them to long prison terms. Currently, four suspected al-Qaida members are being tried in the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court on charges of planning a "spectacular terrorist attack" in Germany. In both cases the Americans reportedly provided vital intelligence.
The Germans are also becoming increasingly dependent on the US for cutting-edge technology. For instance, the Americans are providing the BND, as well as the BFV, with access to their XKeyscore intelligence mega-software. In return, the BFV has agreed to go easy on American citizens. In its contractual obligations with the Americans it states that the intelligence agency will use XKeyscore "and ensure that the software is not used to target US citizens."
Nevertheless, some politicians in Berlin are no longer comfortable with the notion that they are at the mercy of US intelligence agencies. CDU domestic policy expert Clemens Binninger fully supports the idea of exclusively routing German data traffic through autonomous networks in the future. But that's not enough, says Binninger: "In addition to the requisite collaboration in collecting information, our goal must be to become largely independent," he contends. His counterpart in the SPD, Michael Hartmann, takes a similar view: "Our services have to be state-of-the-art, both in terms of technology and personnel, so we can generate our own results."
There have been initiatives like this in the past. In 2008, August Hanning, a senior official at the German Interior Ministry at the time, pressed ahead with plans for the creation of a German headquarters for telecommunications surveillance, modeled after the NSA, and located in the western German city of Cologne.
According to Hanning's plans, the German federal police, the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, the BFV and the BND were to pool their resources. The BND declined to participate in the scheme -- and after critics warned that the planned miniature German NSA violated national laws preserving the separation of the police and intelligence agencies, then-Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) buried the project. Hanning remains adamant that it was a mistake: "I still believe that it was a sound project. We should be less dependent on America," he argues.
Today many politicians and officials in Berlin are harkening back to Hanning's idea. A project like that could be "the nucleus for independence," says a high-ranking German security official. And even in the Interior Ministry there is speculation over how Germany could acquire sovereignty in the world of espionage. A roundtable discussion group has been meeting since April to discuss upgrading Germany's technical facilities.
Following her initial dismay, the chancellor has come to terms with the fact that painful sanctions imposed on the Americans would be counterproductive for Germany. Instead, she can console herself with practical thoughts. Merkel has just won an election victory, and she can look forward to at least another four years as chancellor. Obama, on the other hand, is already one year into his last term in office. In two years, at the latest, he will be a lame duck president at major international summits, whereas Merkel will be received as Europe's most powerful woman.
BY RALF NEUKIRCH, RENÉ PFISTER, LAURA POITRAS, MARCEL ROSENBACH, JÖRG SCHINDLER, FIDELIUS SCHMID AND HOLGER STARK.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
11/04/2013 05:32 PM
Germany's Quandary: The Debate over Asylum for Snowden
There are growing calls in Germany not only to question Edward Snowden in connection with the ongoing NSA scandal, but also to offer him safe passage and asylum. Yet the heads of the two major political camps fear the wrath of the United States. By SPIEGEL STAFF
Hans-Christian Ströbele, a lawyer and parliamentarian for Germany's Green Party, turned 74 this year. He has devoted more than 50 of those years to the political struggle for justice and for what is good in the world - or at least that's how he sees it. "Have you ever been on the wrong side of things?" Ströbele was asked in a recent television interview.
"Politically speaking?" he asked the interviewer, glancing at the ceiling. For two seconds, it seemed as if he had to consider the question, but he quickly regained his composure and emphatically replied: "No."
Now Ströbele is waging another political battle, probably the most noteworthy one of his life. Last Thursday, he went to Moscow and spent three hours speaking with Edward Snowden, the man whose revelations about the spying activities of the United States have both captivated the world for months and deeply changed its perceptions.
Ströbele, a lawmaker from the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg election district in Berlin, was the first politician in the world to meet with Snowden in his Moscow exile. Snowden's mission is now Ströbele's mission. He wants to bring the American whistleblower to Germany to testify before an investigative committee of the German parliament, the Bundestag, and in doing so provide him with a secured right of residence in Germany.
Ströbele knows that granting Snowden the right to stay in Germany would create problems for German-American relations. The Americans have already submitted an extradition request, just in case Snowden ever sets foot on German soil. But Ströbele doesn't care. He sets his own priorities and, once again, he believes himself to be on the right side of history, notwithstanding Germany's trans-Atlantic partnership with the United States. "If the political will exists, as well as the courage, including the courage to stand up to presidents, then it's possible," Ströbele said after returning from Moscow.
A Test for Berlin
Germany now faces a test of courage, one that affects the German parliament, the heads of the two major parties, the conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who are currently hammering out the details of a grand coalition government in negotiations set to conclude by Christmas. Most of all, it affects Chancellor Angela Merkel.
So should the Bundestag hear Snowden's testimony before an investigative committee? The answer seems straightforward. Why shouldn't German lawmakers hear what he has to say, the man on whose revelations the entire NSA scandal is based and who has already told Ströbele that he is willing to come to Germany?
The second, more fundamental question is harder to answer: whether Snowden should be granted the right to live in Germany or a comparable country, and therefore protection from the Americans. This is precisely the condition Snowden has set for his willingness to testify. He knows that his asylum in Russia is limited to one year, which means that it expires in nine months. He is testing the waters to see where he could live safely in the future. Germany appears to be his top choice.
At the same time, the question arises as to whether it is advisable to snub the United States, given that Germany benefits more than most other countries from the intelligence it receives from Washington.
If a Bundestag committee wanted to hear Snowden's testimony, the German government would be obligated to provide him with safe domicile in Germany and even the opportunity for regular employment. This is the conclusion reached in a report by the Academic Office of the Bundestag commissioned by members of the Left Party's parliamentary group. According to the assessment, there is only one reason to oppose the wishes of the parliament: "Serious foreign policy concerns that endanger the welfare of the state."
In the end, is the fear of America's rage over giving Snowden a home worse than the urgent desire for answers, which the Bundestag, the body that represents the German people, has expressed? Germany could hardly reconcile this with its national identity as a modern, enlightened and sovereign constitutional state. And if Berlin's outrage over the surveillance of German citizens and their political leadership isn't feigned, it can hardly turn away the man whose actions were critical to exposing the NSA scandal in the first place.
On Monday, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert did his best to cool down the domestic debate over offering Snowden asylum. "The chancellor believes she has an obligation to protect the data and privacy of German citizens from illegal monitoring and she is working to re-establish trust with the United States, and put in place clear rules for future cooperation," he told reporters.
"That said, however, this is also about our security and our interests as partners. The trans-Atlantic alliance remains of paramount importance. There is hardly a country that has profited as much from this partnership and friendship as Germany," Seibert added. But when asked whether Snowden might offer testimony in a German inquiry, Merkel's spokesman deflected, saying that would be up to parliament and the relevant committees.
Which Interest Is More Important?
Ultimately Merkel will have to make a decision and take a stand. Is she willing to risk conflict with US President Barack Obama and his administration to achieve a different goal: a comprehensive investigation of American espionage activity in Germany by the German Bundestag?
It is clear that Merkel's preferred method of taking a wait-and-see approach isn't going to yield any results in the Snowden case. Her government has to decide which interest is more important: The relationship with the United States or learning the truth about its spying activities to protect the rights of German citizens?
So far, the German government has demonstrated moral cowardice in its interactions with Washington. As recently as this summer, politicians in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), still viewed Snowden as a troublemaker and traitor, and as a nuisance factor in the German-American relationship. And it isn't long ago that Ronald Pofalla, Merkel's chief of staff, declared the NSA scandal to be over, and that Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said: "This combination of anti-Americanism and naïveté really gets on my nerves!"
SPIEGEL's report that the NSA monitored the chancellor's mobile phone and Ströbele's visit to Moscow have left many in Berlin feeling embarrassed. Suddenly those who had viewed Snowden as little more than an annoyance are expressing themselves in thoughtful and even self-critical ways. And now even Friedrich himself is saying that perhaps Berlin should make it possible to question the American whistleblower. But the leaders of the CDU/CSU and the SPD are still dodging the asylum question.
Germany's Snowden Supporters
On the other side of the issue is a broad social alliance of citizens, celebrities and small opposition parties, who respect Snowden for his courage and are demanding that he be brought to Germany.
"The courage he has shown in defying a seemingly superior adversary makes him a role model," says Frank Bsirske, the head of the Ver.di service workers' union. "It has to be in everyone's interest to proceed with this investigation. That's why I would always support Snowden's application for asylum in Germany."
Author Hans Magnus Enzensberger is outraged over the fact that no one has done anything for Snowden. "Many admire him, but no one lifts a finger for him." And Green Party co-Chairman Simone Peter says: "The federal government would be well advised to offer a man like this protection and residency."
"I would like to see Snowden receive asylum in a democratic country that places democracy before all other interests and alliances," says film star Daniel Brühl.
Secret Meeting in Moscow
It is Thursday afternoon, and the man who is dividing public opinion in Germany is sitting in a room where the walls are covered with pictures in gold-colored frames. To ensure that the location of the meeting remains a secret, he has had Ströbele and his entourage picked up in a car with darkened windows. There are bodyguards outside the door for his protection. Snowden is wearing a light-blue shirt with the top two buttons open, along with a black suit. He has a three-day beard. He greets his visitors at the door and invites them to sit down at a table with cheese, fruit and fish, along with white wine, red wine and vodka. No one has any alcohol, and the conversation begins.
Since Russia offered him temporary asylum, Snowden has been living in a so-called safe house in Moscow. Not even his closest associates know the exact location of the building, where Russian security forces provide him with 24-hour protection. He can do as he pleases, and he can leave the building, but never alone and never without bodyguards. "The Russians seem concerned that the Americans wouldn't even shy away from trying to apprehend him in downtown Moscow," says someone who has been in touch with the confidants of the whistleblower for months.
After he had seemingly disappeared for weeks, current pictures of Snowden surfaced for the first time in October. They showed him with a shopping cart in front of a Russian supermarket, as well as with a group of other American whistleblowers who presented him with an award at a banquet. The 30-year-old looked relaxed.
All appearances aside, his new life represents a huge adjustment. In April, he was still living with his girlfriend, a dancer, in a wooden house in Hawaii. Now he lives in the enormous city of Moscow, with the knowledge that his temporary asylum is limited to one year. The question of what happens after that worries him and is a constant subject of conversation with his confidants.
A Buddhist and a Teetotaler
Snowden is a practicing Buddhist. He is said to be a vegetarian, doesn't drink alcohol or coffee, reads books about Russian history and spends endless hours in front of the computer, his link to the outside world. He is apparently in close contact with the journalists to whom he entrusted some of his material.
Through his computer, Snowden also keeps track of the debate he has unleashed worldwide. In his first extensive interview, which he gave to the British Guardian newspaper this summer, he said that his biggest fear was that his revelations would have no effect and would come to nothing. That fear, as it turns out, seems to have been unfounded.
So far, Snowden has turned down interviews and offers of book contracts. His reasoning has consistently been the same: that he doesn't want to put himself in the spotlight of media reports. Instead, he says, he is more interested in the material he spent months gathering and then spirited out of the inner sanctum of the American intelligence system.
People who have had discussions with him say that Snowden, in his Russian exile, has not developed any animosity whatsoever to his former home. On the contrary, he apparently still sees himself as an American patriot, believes in his country's ability to heal itself, and is even convinced that he will be able to return home one day.
Snowden's Russian guards prohibit him from receiving visitors in the safe house. Anyone who wants to see him has to enter into lengthy negotiations, as Ströbele did. The procedure is always the same: Guests are driven to a secret rendezvous point, where Snowden meets with them. The same protocol applied to his father, who went to Moscow in early October, that applied to Ströbele's delegation last week.
Ströbele, a lawyer who once represented members of the West German militant group Red Army Faction, had already given up hope of meeting Snowden in person. Ströbele managed to contact him through a middleman at the beginning of the NSA scandal, when the former NSA contractor was stranded in the transit area of a Moscow airport. But the contact was lost when Snowden moved to his current location.
Ströbele managed to reestablish the connection after SPIEGEL reported on the surveillance of Merkel's cellphone in its last issue. Ströbele said afterward that Snowden seemed alert and sensible during the three-hour conversation. Also sitting at the table was a young, blonde woman who had recently appeared next to Snowden in almost all photos, and who has been one of his closest companions in recent months. Her name is Sarah Harrison, and she has experience with men the United States views as public enemies. In recent years, she was one of the closest advisers of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.
Harrison met Assange when she was working at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism of the City University in London. Before long, she was working full-time for Assange and WikiLeaks. Harrison happened to be in Australia when Snowden decided to leave Hong Kong, where he had first sought refuge. She flew to Hong Kong and has remained with him since then.
'Would You Be Willing to Help Us?'
Ströbele explained to Snowden the possibility of safe passage, should Snowden be prepared to testify before the planned parliamentary committee. He told Snowden that, as a valuable witness, he could elucidate the complex spying activities of US intelligence agencies. "All of this is completely foreign to us. Would you be willing to help us?" he asked.
Snowden left no doubt that he would do so, but only at a price that the German government has so far been unwilling to pay: the right of residence in Germany. Snowden alluded to this condition in a letter he gave Ströbele in the meeting: "I hope that when the difficulties of this humanitarian situation have been resolved," Snowden wrote, "I will be able to cooperate in the responsible finding of fact regarding reports in the media, particularly in regard to the truth and authenticity of documents, as appropriate and in accordance with the law."
Ströbele put it somewhat more clearly in a press conference on Friday in Berlin, where he said that Snowden had "significant reservations" about being questioned as a witness in Moscow by an official representing the Bundestag or a federal prosecutor. However, Ströbele added, "he could imagine coming to Germany if it can be assured that he will subsequently be allowed to remain in Germany or a comparable country, and will be safe there." The offer had been made, Ströbele added, and now it was up to the federal government to act accordingly.
From a legal standpoint, bringing Snowden to Germany does not pose a significant problem. The fact that he does not have a valid passport would not stand in the way of his departure, nor would it prevent the Russians from allowing him to board a flight to Germany. Upon his arrival at a German airport, he could apply for asylum.
Risk of Extradition
But Snowden will be troubled by what could happen next. He would most likely be arrested, because of the extradition request the United States has filed with the German government.
But a German court could quickly secure his release from detention. If there were no risk of flight, there would be no grounds for taking Snowden into custody. Experts are virtually certain in ruling out the possibility of Snowden actually being extradited to the United States, since the German-American extradition treaty does not apply to "political offences."
According to the assessment of the Academic Office of the Bundestag, what this means will depend on how a political offence is defined in the requested country of asylum -- in this case, Germany. The term "political offences" applies here to "all crimes against the state as defined in the German criminal code," says Nikolaos Gazeas, a criminal law expert at the University of Cologne. This would include the betrayal of state secrets, of which the Americans accuse Snowden.
The higher regional court with jurisdiction over the case would have to declare extradition to be inadmissible, and experienced judges on such courts have already indicated that they would not hesitate to oppose the American demand.
Because what must be clear to those familiar with the subject matter is that Berlin could save Snowden a lot of trouble at the airport by promptly giving him its binding commitment that it would refrain from extraditing him to the United States. In that case, Germany's federal police force would have to rescind its warrant for his arrest.
As an applicant for asylum, Snowden would initially have the right to stay in Germany, like any other refugee. But whether his application would be approved is unclear. Not every prosecution of a political offence automatically qualifies as "political persecution" within the meaning of German asylum law. So as not to compromise their own prosecution of crimes against the state, the courts are extremely restrained in recognizing foreign "traitors" as asylum seekers. However, a 2011 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights could play an important role. In their decision, the Strasbourg judges acknowledged that whistleblowing is part of the human right of free expression. They also argued that European legal systems are obligated to protect the human right to whistleblowing from unreasonable persecution.
It would be even easier to make Snowden a generous offer to stay in Germany, which the German government can make to anyone whose residency it deems desirable. "Where there is a will," says criminal law expert Gazeas, "there is also a legal way."
Questionable Political Will
But so far this will has been absent among the leaders of Germany's two main political groups. It wasn't long ago that the conservatives, in particular, were treating Snowden as a fraud who wasn't to be trusted.
"As yet, I have no indications that German government agencies have been spied on," Interior Minister Friedrich stated in July. The chancellor has also been very restrained on the Snowden issue. "What we know is that he worked for an American intelligence agency and decided to describe his concerns in conversations with the media, and that he did not, for example, reveal them to a member of congress or a senator," she said in an interview. On the Merkel scale of critical remarks, this amounted to a sharp reprimand of Snowden.
A few weeks later, when Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, casually declared the NSA scandal to be over, most conservative politicians hoped that they were finally rid of troublemaker Snowden and his annoying hard drives. All suspicions had "dissipated," Friedrich said. Fellow conservative Hans-Peter Uhl even went so far as to compare the Snowden revelations published in SPIEGEL with the fake Hitler diaries published by the news magazine Stern in 1983.
The situation has become particularly humiliating, now that even the American president has apologized to the chancellor. Pofalla and Friedrich look like amateurs. The heads of the German intelligence community were naïve enough to believe the Americans' reassurances.
Since the most recent revelations appeared in SPIEGEL, Snowden is suddenly no longer seen as a traitor, but as someone who, according to the conservatives' interior policy spokesman, "has opened our eyes." Suddenly politicians are making statements like that of Michael Grosse-Brömer, the secretary of the CDU's parliamentary group, who said, "Snowden has initiated an important debate in Germany."
Testimony in Moscow?
"If the Bundestag wanted to appoint an NSA investigative committee, Snowden would be an especially important witness," says domestic policy expert Wolfgang Bosbach. But most do not envision bringing him to Germany, but prefer sending a few members of the investigative committee to Moscow to question him there. "There is no reason not to take this approach," says Stefan Müller, the parliamentary leader of the CSU national committee in the Bundestag, noting that there have been similar cases in the past. For instance, Karlheinz Schreiber, a Bavaria defense industry lobbyist, was questioned in Toronto in 2002 by members of a committee investigating political donations.
It would be the cowardly approach, a way of avoiding trouble with the Americans, but it is also an option Snowden has apparently ruled out.
The center-left Social Democrats, however appear more open to bringing Snowden to Germany. SPD parliamentary floor leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier is skeptical about the appointment of a committee to investigate the NSA scandal, probably out of concern that his former role heading up the Chancellery and Germany's intelligence services could be scrutinized. But now he has come under growing pressure, including from members of his own party.
There is growing interest in the SPD parliamentary group to finally take a stronger stand on the NSA issue. "It is remarkable that Hans-Christian Ströbele met with Snowden," says foreign policy expert Rolf Mützenich. "An investigative committee can now look into who knew what in the United States." And Mützenich, unlike Steinmeier, isn't afraid of the Americans. "There will be friction, as there was with WikiLeaks," he says, "but we'll just have to deal with it."
Now some Social Democrats are also beginning to take a stand on the asylum issue. "Germany must take steps to bring about a European solution," says Ralf Stegner, head of the SPD in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. His counterpart in the city-state of Bremen, Andreas Bovenschulte, is even demanding that Snowden be granted asylum in Germany. "It's imperative that we give it a try," says Bovenschulte. And Axel Schäfer, deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, speculates that the German government should consider "whether there might be a way to offer Snowden asylum in Germany." He views the former NSA contractor as "a hero, not a traitor." Lars Klingbeil, an expert on foreign and defense policy, agrees. "Germany must look into whether it is possible to grant Edward Snowden asylum."
Ströbele would probably put it differently: Germany needs to be on the right side.
BY MELANIE AMANN, THOMAS DARNSTÄDT, MARKUS FELDENKIRCHEN, PETER MÜLLER, GORDON REPINSKI, MARCEL ROSENBACH AND JÖRG SCHINDLER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
11/04/2013 01:02 PM
Damage Control: Lawmakers to Visit Europe amid NSA Tensions
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels
Against a backdrop of fraying ties between the US and many of its allies, sympathy is growing within Congress for European outrage at NSA spying activities. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is due to visit Europe to help address concerns about American surveillance.
A bipartisan group of high-ranking US senators and members of the House of Representatives is planning a European tour aimed at smoothing ruffled feathers over the NSA spying scandal. Germany will most likely be one of the countries on their itinerary.
"Over the last several months, our European allies have raised legitimate concerns about the nature and scope of US intelligence programs," said Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, in a statement. "I agree that at times, US surveillance programs have not been conducted with the appropriate restraint and security, both in the United States and in Europe."
He and his colleagues intend to meet with leaders of several European countries to discuss the recent allegations regarding the scope of US intelligence gathering operations in Europe and the introduction of "processes that assure non-US citizens that all possible steps are being taken to limit the scope of our surveillance programs, so that we are targeting only the information absolutely necessary to find and catch individuals who pose a security threat to the United States and our allies."
Conciliatory as he sounded, Murphy also stressed the need for "tough love," pointing out that that European governments need to admit to the public that the US surveillance program is by no means unique.
Details of the plan -- when exactly the trip will take place, who will take part and where it will lead -- have yet to be released. The delegation is expected to visit Berlin, Paris, Madrid, and probably Brussels. According to information seen by SPIEGEL ONLINE, the meetings have yet to be officially confirmed.
Increasing Pressure on Obama
Senator Murphy is widely seen as one of the Democratic Party's up-and-coming talents and a close ally of President Barack Obama, even though he openly criticized his policy on Syria. By taking such a high-profile stance on the NSA scandal, he is increasing the pressure on Obama and adding his voice to the growing clamor within Congress against the NSA's spying activities.
When the allegations first emerged this summer, members of Congress remained largely silent. Gradually, however, the tide appears to be turning, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein last week calling for "a total review" of all US intelligence programs.
One day later, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner proposed what they call a "USA Freedom Act" that would put an end to the NSA's indiscriminate collection of personal information -- albeit primarily the metadata of US citizens -- and provide stronger privacy safeguards with respect to a range of government surveillance programs.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a member of the European Parliament who last week joined a European delegation to Washington tasked with getting to the bottom of the alleged US spying, maintains that this is no longer the responsibility of the Obama administration alone.
"The debate about NSA practices is starting to spill over into Congress and the public arena," he observes.
The unusually intense media interest in the EU Parliament delegation suggests he is right. The MEPs also met with Sensenbrenner, reported Albrecht. "He was pretty angry and said that surveillance activities had taken a direction he never would have believed possible," he said.
NSA row should not hit trade talks, Kerry tells Europe
Secretary of state, on visit to Europe, says US understands allies' spying concerns after revelations sparked outrage
Associated Press in Warsaw
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 10.21 GMT
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has vowed that a review into National Security Agency surveillance activities will result in the "right" balance between security and privacy and that outrage over alleged espionage and eavesdropping should not disrupt trade talks between Europe and the US.
Speaking in Warsaw after talks with Poland's foreign minister, Kerry said that Europeans and others have legitimate questions about the surveillance and that those would be answered in private diplomatic discussions.
"We need to understand that we are all in this together," Kerry said. "We are all in the effort to be able to provide protection to our citizens. And we have to strike the right balance between protecting our citizens and obviously the privacy of all our citizens. That is a balance that we do try to strike."
Kerry said Barack Obama had ordered a complete review of the NSA's activities. But Kerry said it was important that concerns over the NSA did not affect discussions about the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Some European officials have said the surveillance issue may have a negative impact on the negotiations.
"This is about jobs, it's about the economy, it is about economic competition in a global community that competes, sometimes by rules that are very questionable and shaky," Kerry said.
Kerry, the most senior Obama administration official to visit Europe since revelations of NSA spying sparked outrage across the continent, emphasised that the US understood concerns.
"We want to hear from our allies, we want to have this conversation," Kerry said. "President Obama welcomes this opportunity to work with our allies. And, ultimately, if we get it right, which we will, we will not only alleviate the concerns but we can actually strengthen our intelligence relationships going forward."
David Blunkett calls for urgent review of laws governing security services
Former home secretary urges update of safeguards over spy agencies, saying 'we have to protect ourselves from ourselves'
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013 03.48 GMT
Britain's intelligence laws need to be urgently reviewed to keep up with new technologies and provide a stronger framework for spy agencies, which can "get carried away" unless they are kept in check, the former Labour home secretary David Blunkett has said.
Calling for a commission to address the issue, Blunkett said governments were put under enormous pressure by the secret services – and he had learned to treat some of their demands with healthy scepticism. In an interview with the Guardian, he said it was human nature for the agencies and the police to push the boundaries, and that meant laws could be used in a way parliament never intended.
"Human nature is you get carried away, so we have to protect ourselves from ourselves," he said. "In government you are pressed by the security agencies. They come to you with very good information and they say 'you need to do something'. So you do need the breath of scepticism, not cynicism, breathing on them. You need to be able to take a step back. If you don't have this, you can find yourself being propelled in a particular direction."
He said a high-level review by specialists with a proper understanding of the arguments was the best way to update laws that were out of touch.
Blunkett's remarks are particularly striking because he was regarded as a hardline home secretary and once described concerns about human rights as "airy-fairy". He was appointed home secretary months before 9/11 and tried to bring in new anti-terrorism measures, including the detention without trial of suspect foreign nationals who could not be extradited or deported.
He was also responsible for reviewing the early use of a key piece of anti-terror legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa), which has provided the legal underpinning for some of GCHQ's mass-surveillance programmes revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Labour heavyweight now concedes that Ripa is a problem law that was introduced by his predecessor, Jack Straw, "to provide a framework for what was a free-for-all in a growing but little understood area". But Blunkett said the law's limitations were quickly exposed because technology moved so fast.
"We were moving into an entirely new era. We were at the very start of understanding what we were dealing with, and understanding the potential. You have to have constant vigilance and return to these issues on a regular basis because the world changes and you should be prepared to change with it. I think Ripa needs trimming back. It is being used for things for which it was never intended."
The Guardian has revealed that GCHQ relies on Ripa to provide the legal cover for programmes such as Tempora, which taps undersea cables that carry internet traffic in and out of the country. on Monday Diana Johnson, the shadow crime and security minister, wrote to the Home Office minister James Brokenshire to demand the "explicit legal basis" under which the Tempora programme operates.
Yesterday Privacy International filed complaints with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against some of the world's leading telecommunication companies for providing assistance to GCHQ's Tempora programme. The group believes up to a dozen OECD guidelines, relating to companies' responsibilities to respect human rights, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression, may have been violated.
The intelligence and security committee, which scrutinises Britain's secret services, has now launched a review of Ripa, and on Thursday it will question the heads of the three spy agencies in an unprecedented open session.
On Tuesday night claims surfaced in the Independent that Britain has continued to operate a secret listening post from its embassy in Berlin even after the US halted its own operations.
Though David Cameron and the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, have defended the current intelligence laws, critics insist that they are hopelessly outdated and open to abuse. Blunkett said it was high time for the government to launch "a high-level review or a commission" to address the problems, though not one chaired by a judge.
"I don't like prolonged, highly expensive commissions, especially if they are chaired by judges. We seem to have overwhelming faith in judges.
"We need a process of finding common ground and a solution. You need people with some knowledge and expertise. In politics we tend to fight the last election, not the next. You need to be able to see the bigger picture," he said.
Blunkett said it was important to do this quickly to avert more poisonous arguments in the future. "We need to do so before rather than after a catastrophe so we can try to update in the light of day rather than with a shouting match. We should seek to retain things only if they have some usable purpose. Collecting and maintaining data that you can never use is a futile exercise that causes distress without results.
"The present coalition came into power with a remit to try to scale back the operation of the state, but it has struggled just as badly as the previous government. I think this indicates the enormity of the issue and how difficult it is."
The intelligence agencies should welcome greater scrutiny, he said, or the public would lose confidence in them.
"If the climate is such that people are ultra-suspicious, not only does it make it difficult to have a sensible debate, but it also means that the very big players in the intelligence community don't want to co-operate. Once they don't want to co-operate then you are into having to force people to do things, and you get into much deeper water. So from the point of view of the security services it makes sense to have a greater degree of understanding and public support."
Blunkett said one of the central problems was how to protect British people from surveillance by "friendly" foreign agencies, such as GCHQ's US counterpart, the National Security Agency.
"We need to examine how we are going to provide British people with protections from friendly foreign agencies who want to surveil here," he said. "At the moment we aren't offering the same protections that they have from our domestic agencies, in terms of sign-off and warrants. We should try to work out what our stance is and we as a country haven't made any progress on that.
"We need to ensure we don't ask external agencies to do things to our own citizens that we wouldn't do ourselves. But we need to work out if they do want to surveil here and they want our co-operation, we have some mechanism for achieving it."
Tory MP adds to calls for improved oversight of UK intelligence services
Rory Stewart says intelligence and security committee should always be chaired by member of opposition
The Guardian, Tuesday 5 November 2013
Parliament's intelligence and security committee (ISC) should always be chaired by a member of the opposition to ensure its independence and be freely elected by MPs, the Conservative MP Rory Stewart said on Monday night at a debate aimed at fostering public discussion about mass surveillance.
"You are never going to have a government backbencher chairing a committee that is going to criticise the government properly," Stewart said.
His remarks come days before his Tory colleague Sir Malcolm Rifkind chairs an ISC hearing at which the heads of Britain's intelligence services will give evidence as part of an inquiry into oversight of the UK spying agencies, following concern about the scale of mass surveillance.
Stewart, a member of the foreign affairs committee, was among a number of MPs, campaigners and media professionals taking part in Monday night's debate, Mass Surveillance, which was conceived by another Conservative backbencher, David Davis, and the journalist Henry Porter with the added aim of supporting the Guardian at a time when the paper has come under pressure over its reporting of leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
11/04/2013 03:41 PM
Nazi Plunder: 1,500 Modern Artworks Found in Munich Flat
The spectacular discovery of modernist masterpieces in a squalid Munich apartment is the latest twist in a story that began almost 80 years ago. Many of the works appear to be among those confiscated by the Nazis as "degenerate art," and it remains unclear what will become of them.
The scene sounds like something out of a crime novel. Surrounded by piles of rotten food stacked up on homemade furniture, missing art works worth around €1 billion ($1.35 billion) have been discovered in a grubby Munich apartment. And it appears that the story, broken by German news magazine Focus on Sunday, has only just begun.
The suspect in the bizarre case is an 80-year-old man who Focus reports first caught the attention of law enforcement in 2010, when customs officials searched his bags on the border between Germany and Switzerland to find €9,000 ($12,200) in cash.
Even though the man was not legally required to declare it and did not behave suspiciously, police opted to keep him under surveillance. In the spring of 2011, a court granted investigators permission to search his apartment.
What they found was extreme squalor, according to Focus. But nestled between dirty plates and cans of food with sell-by dates from the last century were some 1,500 paintings, drawings and etchings by famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Emil Nolde, Carl Spitzweg and Henri Matisse.
Focus reports that the man's father was a well-known art dealer active prior to World War II. After the Nazis seized power, he was hounded out of his position as director of the Hamburg Art Association, apparently because he had Jewish roots. But thanks to his excellent contacts in the art scene, he was tasked with selling art works to overseas buyers that had featured in the landmark "Entartete Kunst" exhibition of 1937. Organized by the Nazis, it presented 650 works of art deemed "degenerate" that had been confiscated from German museums and effectively stolen from Jewish families.
After the war, he maintained that the work had all gone up in flames when his home was destroyed in the Dresden firebombing of February 13, 1945. He died in a traffic accident in 1956.
It has now become clear that his extraordinary collection was probably bequeathed to his son, who over the last few decades has allegedly sold an unspecified number of artworks in Germany and Switzerland.
Focus reports that the after the raid on the Munich apartment, the collection has been stored under lock and key at the customs office in Garching. An art historian told SPIEGEL ONLINE that she was hired 18 months ago to provide an expert assessment. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert confirmed that the German government had been informed of the matter several months ago, adding that public prosecutors in Augsburg had taken on the investigation.
If the provenance of the art works cannot be established, Focus writes that they might still be returned to the suspect, because even the legal ownership of work known to have featured in the "Entartete Kunst" exhibition is unclear. For the time being, the man is only being investigated for tax evasion.
But a statement once given by the art dealer's widow could prove crucial to the case.
In the 1960s, she informed the authorities that all of her husband's treasures had been destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Dresden. She was specifically asked about the whereabouts of several paintings formerly owned by the Jewish collector Henri Hinrichsen, including one work by Carl Spitzweg. Precisely this painting, and other documents related to it, popped up in the trash-filled Munich apartment.
Given proof of a false statement, a legal case could now be used to forfeit the 80-year-old's ownership rights over the works. If the authorities succeed in doing that, the treasures would then be handed over to the state, or, more specifically, to the Federal Minister of Finance.
But the future of the art treasures aside, a number of unanswered questions remain -- such as whether the man still has more paintings hidden away. And why did the authorities keep the case secret? The public prosecutor's office in Augsburg could have the answers, but isn't commenting on the case. A spokesperson there told SPIEGEL ONLINE he could not provide information about ongoing proceedings, adding that this would likely remain the case "for a long time."
Picasso, Matisse and Dix among works found in Munich's Nazi art stash
Art historian describes 'incredible joy' at seeing previously unknown works among 1,406 found at home of Cornelius Gurlitt
Philip Oltermann in Berlin
theguardian.com, Tuesday 5 November 2013 10.54 GMT
An art haul confiscated from a Munich flat includes previously unknown works by Marc Chagall and Otto Dix, and original pieces by Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Bavarian authorities have revealed.
At a press conference in Augsburg, the art historian who has been studying the collection since its discovery gave a first glimpse of the trove, which includes modernist works as well as older pieces dating back as far as the 16th century.
The whereabouts of the 80-year-old owner of the flat, Austrian Cornelius Gurlitt, is not known.
Treasures found in Gurlitt's flat include works by Franz Marc; Oskar Kokoschka; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; Pablo Picasso; Max Liebermann; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner; Max Beckmann; a Canaletto sketch of Padua; a Carl Spitzweg etching of a couple playing music and a Gustave Courbet painting of a girl with a goat.
But art historian Meike Hoffmann, of the Free University of Berlin, said the art world would be particularly excited about the discovery of a Matisse painting from around 1920 and works that were previously unknown or unseen: an Otto Dix self-portrait dated around 1919, and a Chagall gouache painting of a metaphorical scene. Hoffmann said it had been "an incredible feeling of joy" to discover these paintings in good condition.
Customs officials also used the press conference to correct a number of initial press reports. They said the flat had been raided in March 2012, not in early 2011 as Focus magazine reported on Sunday.
Gurlitt had sold a Max Beckmann painting to a Cologne auction house in September 2011, inviting speculation that he had another stash of artworks hidden in another location. This, said Munich customs official Siegfried Klöble, was "not likely".
Gurlitt's current location or wellbeing is not known. When asked by one journalist if Gurlitt was still alive Augsburg chief prosecutor, Reinhard Nemetz, said he could not comment.
Authorities said the total number of artworks found was 1,406 – 121 of them framed – and that they had been stored professionally and were in a good condition.
There were no plans to put the pieces online, as this may not be in the interest of the rightful owners. Instead, customs officials were hoping people with a claim to ownership would contact the authorities directly.
The mysterious Munich recluse who hoarded €1bn of Nazis' stolen art
Cornelius Gurlitt stacked suspected looted works in Schwabing apartment among juice cartons and 1980s tinned food
Philip Oltermann in Munich
theguardian.com, Monday 4 November 2013 19.32 GMT
There's nothing remarkable about Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt's flat, a fifth-floor apartment on the shady side of a modernist apartment block in Munich's Schwabing district: walking distance to the lush English Gardens nearby; a balcony with black stains from years of inefficiently drained rainwater; no plants or flowers. On a sunny Monday morning, the blinds are drawn.
But Gurlitt's flat was, until recently, home to one of the most extraordinary artistic treasure troves of the postwar period. On Sunday, news magazine Focus revealed that German police two years ago confiscated 1,500 works worth up to €1bn (£860m) from the apartment. Picassos, Matisses, Chagalls, Klees, Munchs – all of them believed to have been looted or confiscated by the Nazis: modernist masters hidden behind grey modernist concrete.
What the police discovered when they raided the three-bedroom flat in spring 2011, however, had more of a Young British Artists vibe: homemade shelves stacked with hundreds of juice cartons and tinned food with a 1980s sell-by date. The artworks were simply piled on top of one another. Windows and the balcony door were barricaded shut, fresh air crept into the flat through a single window.
While the customs officers were getting to grips with their discovery, Gurlitt, 80, reportedly remained in his darkened bedroom without protesting. At one point, Focus revealedon Monday, he had asked laconically why the police couldn't have waited until he was dead. They would have got their hands on the art anyway.
Gurlitt's name is on a plaque next to the entrance, in black on white, underneath one of the chrome doorbells. No one answers when the Guardian rings – which is nothing unusual, the neighbours says. Gurlitt, who is understood to have a shock of white hair and a slight limp, hasn't been seen in the apartment block since August. He never had visitors, and "when we rang the doorbell, he never opened", says one neighbour.
That he was able to keep his secret treasures here, not in some remote corner of the globe but in the centre of the city that gave birth to the National Socialist movement, is both extraordinary and not short of a certain dark irony.
Schwabing has traditionally been the bohemian quarter of the Bavarian capital, and it's not out of the question that some of the modernist masterpieces hoarded in Gurlitt's flat were painted only a couple of streets away: Franz Marc, Paul Klee and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner drank in the local bars, and some of their most famous works are still on display in Munich's modern art gallery down the road. Another artist who tried – and failed – to make a living as an artist in Schwabing, of course, was Adolf Hitler.
Even when Gurlitt's apartment block was built in the 1960s, the area was still fairly poor and edgy. "Back then, you wouldn't have batted an eyelid if someone walked down the road with a couple of picture frames under his arm," says a local woman, named Schmidt, who is in her 80s and moved to the neighbourhood in 1970. "There were artists everywhere."
Another neighbour stops by, attracted by the throng of people gathering below the flat. "I wouldn't believe anyone who says they didn't know, " he says. The galleries that Gurlitt sold some of the artworks to in order to keep himself in pocket must have known something wasn't right, he reckons. "The art scene is all corrupt."
A local politician, Ekkehard Pascoe, stops by on his bike. He had seen a picture of the apartment block in Monday's local paper and recognised it. "How incredible!" he says. "You hear these mythical stories about Nazi gold buried at the bottom of lakes, but this is for real!"
None of them recall seeing Gurlitt in the street, but there would have been no reason to pay attention to an elderly gentleman with a lot of money in his pockets either. These days, Schwabing is decidedly upmarket. The estate agent around the corner reckons an apartment like Gurlitt's would currently sell for up to €5,000 euros per square metre.
"The area has become very individualist," says a woman in a bakery down the road. "I wouldn't recognise most of the people in my own apartment these days."
Most of the residents think the artworks should be returned to their rightful owners, though establishing who they are may take some time: many of the remaining records from galleries looted by the Nazis are sketchy and incomplete.
For the German authorities, the headaches may only be about to start. Since the artworks were confiscated in 2011, a Berlin art historian has been studying the works' value and origin. Both Munich customs and the historian seemed overwhelmed by the response when the news broke on Sunday – they may have been wishing to study the works in peace for a bit longer.
Angela Merkel, too, seems to have known about the discovery for some time and didn't urge customs to go public. "The government were informed about this case a few months ago", Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday.
The legal framework is far from clear. While looted artworks are meant to be returned to the heirs of their owners, there is only a non-binding "moral obligation" to return those pieces which were confiscated as "degenerate art" and then sold on.
A Swiss gallery that Gurlitt sold some paintings to in 1990 on Monday sent the Guardian a statement saying the deal had been perfectly legal. German authorities are currently investigating Gurlitt for tax evasion – not for being in possession of looted artworks.
For Angela Merkel, the awkward possibility remains that the elusive Mr Gurlitt may be able to die with his treasure trove intact after all.
Hildebrand Gurlitt, German art dealer and collector
Gurlitt was sacked from his job as a museum director in the early 1920s after staging contemporary art exhibitions considered "degenerate" and banned by the Nazis. He was later appointed dealer for the planned Führermuseum in Linz, where Hitler intended to display looted art, and was personally instructed by the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. After the war he told investigators his art collection had been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden. Gurlitt was designated a victim of Nazi persecution because his grandmother was Jewish, and continued trading until his death in a car accident in 1956. His collection was handed down to his son, Cornelius.
Hildebrand's reclusive son inherited his father's art collection,and hid them behind tins of food at his home. He appeared to have no job and no source of income. When police arrested him they were astonished to discover he had never officially opened a bank account, had no health insurance or state pension and was entirely unknown to the country's tax authorities and social services.
Paul Rosenberg, French art dealer and collector
The Paris-based art dealer who represented Picasso, Matisse and Braque. At the outbreak of the second world war, Rosenberg and his brother Léonce were considered among the world's most significant modern art dealers. Fearing his collection would be looted by the Nazis, Rosenberg sent many artworks abroad before moving his family to America in September 1940, shortly after the German occupation of Paris. He lost around 2,000 artworks to the Nazis, the vast majority still missing, presumed destroyed. At least one painting foung in Gurlitt's apartment, a Matisse, is though to have belonged to Rosenberg, who died in 1959.
Anne Sinclair, French television star
Paul Rosenberg's French-American granddaughter was born Anne-Elise Schwartz in New York in 1948. Her parents fled France after the Nazi invasion, but returned a few years after her birth. Sinclair graduated in politics at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences-Po) in Paris and in law at the University of Paris and went on to become a celebrated political journalist and television presenter. She inherited much of her grandfather's estate following the death of her mother in 2007. Sinclair, who was once married to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, and other members of the Rosenberg family have campaigned for years for the return of looted Nazi treasures.
Does the Munich hoard turn the story of art and the Nazis on its head?
The discovery in a Munich flat of 1,500 'lost' works raises fresh questions about the Nazis' attitude to the modern art they loved to hate
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013 19.11 GMT
It is one of the most shuddered-at chapters in the story of art. In July 1937, Nazi officials turned up in full uniform alongside evening-suited cultural eminences of the Third Reich at an art gallery in Munich for the opening of the Exhibition of Degenerate Art. They came not to praise modern art, but to laugh at it.
Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Otto Dix, Georg Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – the masters of modernism, including giants of Germany's own avant garde, were shown in this exhibition as deviant, decadent practitioners of so-called Degenerate Art – "Entartete Kunst". Sections of the show had titles such as "Total Madness", "The Prostitute Raised to a Moral Ideal", "The Negroisation of Art". Modern art was interpreted in the catalogue as a conspiracy by Russian Bolsheviks and Jewish dealers to destroy European culture. The admiration for African carvings that had so fired Picasso and other artists was taken as proof of modern art's racial degeneracy.
Vile stuff – but the Nazi attitude to modern art may have been radically misunderstood. An amazing discovery in 21st-century Munich turns the story of art and the Nazis on its head.
Cornelius Gurlitt's flat looks meagre in photographs. It is located in an apartment block in Munich that, from the outside, appears to have seen better days. Yet in that flat lay secrets of the Third Reich only now accidentally uncovered. Intrigued by Gurlitt's lack of German identity documents and odd behaviour while crossing the border on a trip to Switzerland, police raided his home and found a hoard of more than 1,500 works of art including pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Renoir, Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Franz Marc, Otto Dix and Oskar Kokoschka. The understandably reclusive Gurlitt turned out to be the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, an art dealer who played a key role in the Nazi roundup of "degenerate art". Although half-Jewish, and the cousin of the "degenerate" composer Manfred Gurlitt, the Nazis considered him a useful expert. This is not just any haul of stolen goods: it may turn out to be one the most important recoveries of lost art ever. For it takes us to the heart of the cultural policies and crimes of the Third Reich.
It raises massive questions about the fate of art in and after the second world war. As the allies entered Germany in the last phase of the war they took with them experts, nicknamed the "monuments men", whose job was to find out where the Nazis had stashed looted works of art. For it was not just modern art the Nazis abused. All over Europe, they seized the best masterpieces from the finest museums. Many of these, including such treasures as Titian's Danae and Van Eyck's Ghent altarpiece, were found stashed in mountain tunnels and mines. Others, including many of the works of art shown in the Degenerate Art exhibit, are believed lost for ever. Paintings such as Van Gogh's The Painter on his Way to Work and 14 masterpieces by Gustav Klimt are written off as destroyed. But is it possible a Nazi network preserved a secret world of stolen art after 1945? Is it even possible such art was used to fund neo-Nazi activities or maintain war criminals in quiet comfort?
To put it another way: were Hildebrand Gurlitt and his son unique, or is the find in Munich a clue to some larger network of Nazi art hoarders sitting on secret treasures all this time in postwar Europe, living off occasional covert sales of the Picassos that they keep among the canned foods in their anonymous flats?
One thing is certain: this story comes from the dark heart of Nazi Europe. Munich was Hitler's art capital. As a young man, famously, he wanted to be an artist. He wasted an inheritance trying to get an art education in Vienna. While Klimt was creating modern art there, Hitler was going to the opera to hear Wagner (conducted by the modernist Gustav Mahler), and soon eking a living painting drab topographic scenes. Eventually he left for Munich, where he survived as a hack painter of typical German scenery until the first world war gave him a new life as a soldier. Hitler loved Munich, and when he came to power lavished money on its art scene. The city's expressionist painters were in trouble. But while Degenerate Art pilloried them, in 1938 Hitler opened a huge exhibition of "proper" German art at the newly built House of German Art, a grand neo-classical temple to the art of a new, fascist Europe. Where the year before thousands had flocked to see the art they were told to hate, far fewer went to see Nazi-favoured art.
This is where the cliches start. It is conventional to contrast the avant-garde art the Nazis maligned with the traditionalism and conservatism of the art they admired. But the National Socialist nightmare was not "conservative". It was, in its own way, horribly modern – it imagined a different, perverted vision of modernity. The House of German Art still survives in Munich. Today it is used as an alternative arts centre. Video and installation look subversively great in its grand icy halls. You wouldn't call these rooms old-fashioned. Rather they have a chilly neo-classical hauteur that speaks of sublime ambition. This is the neo-classical modern art of Nazism that can still be seen in Leni Riefenstahl's terrifying films – some of the most disturbingly beautiful ever made – and the designs of Hitler's architects Paul Troost and Albert Speer.
Hitler did not hate art – he loved it. Other leading Nazis just saw it as money. Goering, greedy and corrupt, amassed art because it symbolised wealth and power. Munich was at the centre of the regime's cultural pretensions. The Gurlitt hoard is a survival of the Nazis' strange and ambivalent attitude to art, from Hitler's aesthetic New Order to the simple philistine greed that probably motivated most of their art theft.
Gurlitt's cache reveals that many assumptions about the Nazis and art are simply untrue. The Degenerate Art exhibition was real enough – but did it really mean the Nazis hated modern art? It is because we take this for granted that no one has been searching for lost "degenerate" works such as those in the flat in Munich. Some works from the Entartete Kunst exhibition, many seized from once-progressive German museums, were sold abroad afterwards. Others have vanished. As the war began and Nazi racial policies became ever more explicit, more modern and pre-modern works were seized or bought for a pittance from Jewish owners. Much was destroyed. Or was it?
Goering's art collection An American soldier examines part of Herman Goering's personal collection of looted art, recovered as the allies invaded Germany in 1945. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
One of the most suspicious cases is that of Klimt's lost works. Fourteen paintings by this Austrian visionary of dreams and desire were stored in an Austrian castle during the war. In 1945, an SS battalion reportedly held an orgy there before setting the castle alight. The Klimts are presumed lost, but there were rumours that some might have been spirited away. Now, surely, such stories need to be re-examined. The 1,500 works hidden by the Gurlitts, father and son, were also presumed lost.
The allies tend to blame themselves for art lost in Germany in the 1940s. Almost every major German city was bombed by Britain and the US during the second world war. Firestorms ravaged museums and art stores as well as killing thousands of civilians. "Bomber" Harris, Britain's Bomber Command mastermind who insisted this was the way to win the war, was apparently responsible for burning paintings such as Van Gogh's Painter on the Way to Work and Caravaggio's first version of St Matthew, as well as his portrait of a courtesan.
Perhaps the single most significant fact that has so far come out about Hildebrand Gurlitt is that he claimed his collection of looted art was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden. So it was the allies who burned it. If he lied so easily about that, what about other Nazi-owned art that supposedly vanished in wartime air raids?
The massive destruction the Nazis brought down on Germany created chaos in 1945. As the "monuments men" were seeking out stolen art treasures in Alpine mines, it seems Gurlitt was carefully and quietly preserving his personal hoard.
The reason he got away with it is that he had grabbed so many modernist works. Ever since 1937, it has been assumed that "degenerate art" was either sold abroad or destroyed. The "monuments men" went searching for Titians, not Picassos. But the Munich hoard proves the naivety of this assumption. Even in the mind of Hitler, modern art was bizarrely fascinating. You do not put on an exhibition of something you do not want to look at. In some strange way the Nazis needed modern art, as a demonic image of their nightmares. The Degenerate Art exhibition is, after all, the biggest backhanded compliment ever paid to the avant garde. Many people think art has no influence on the world. Hitler knew it did. The old saw that he hated modernism is just too simple. He loved to hate it. What you love to hate, you want to keep, somewhere, if only as a freakshow curiosity.
Other Nazis simply went along with Hitler's taste in public but did not really know what the would-be artist in him was talking about. In Mussolini's Italy, the Futurist movement was cosy with fascism. There was no reason – Italy proved – that fascists needed to spurn modernism. Some German modern artists, notably Nolde, were themselves sympathetic to the far right.
Then there was greed. In the end, the National Socialists were thugs, criminals and murderers. The idea that most of them believed deeply in ideological discriminations about art is not that plausible. For men like Gurlitt, modern art made a good stash. He and his son sat on the hoard while his claim that it was lost in a firestorm was taken at face value.
Now the books on Nazi loot need to be reopened. It seems only too possible that other Gurlitts hid away other art treasures in the chaos of defeat.
In one of the last photographs ever taken of Adolf Hitler he is in the bunker in Berlin contemplating Albert Speer's design for a new art capital to be built at Linz. Much as he loved Munich, this city was closer to his childhood home. Its massive new museum was to have contained all the art treasures of conquered Europe.
While Hitler doted on his cultural fantasies, paintings were vanishing into fruit cellars and attics. It was so easy to write them off in the Führer's Götterdämmerung.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA
Gay rights protesters to picket LSO's pro-Putin conductor Valery Gergiev
Activist Peter Tatchell urges Gergiev to speak out over Russia's new homophobic laws but orchestra distances itself from outcry
Mark Brown, Arts correspondent
The Guardian, Monday 4 November 2013 21.34 GMT
Protesters are to picket a concert by Valery Gergiev on Thursday over the anti-gay laws introduced in Russia during the summer and the conductor's close ties to President Pig Putin.
The demonstration is scheduled to take place outside the Barbican, where Gergiev will lead the London Symphony Orchestra in a performance of The Damnation of Faust by Berlioz – about a scholar who gets too close to the devil.
The picket follows small disruptions of concerts in New York and an intervention by the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell last Thursday evening when, dressed in black tie, he strode on to a concert stage to condemn Gergiev as "a friend, ally and supporter of the Russian tyrant Pig Putin, whose regime is arresting peaceful protesters and opposition leaders".
Gergiev is one of the world's leading conductors and a supporter of the Pig. He has been artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg for more than 25 years and principal conductor of the LSO since 2007.
He was one of more than 500 names from the Russian "cultural elite" who lent their support to Putin's presidential campaign, and he also appeared in a television advert. When he was asked his views on Pussy Riot Gergiev suggested they were out to make money.
As Pig Putin and Russia continue to face fierce condemnation over anti-gay laws introduced in the summer, protesters are now looking to those who have such links. "This protest takes place on the anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution," said Tatchell. "Some people argue that Russia needs a new, non-violent democratic revolution."
The campaigner said that at the very least Gergiev should remain silent about his support for the Pig. "A more principled stand would be for him to make a general statement in support of democracy and human rights for all Russian citizens – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
For some, support for Pig Putin means support, tacit or otherwise, for his regime's anti-gay laws. The influential classical music writer Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise, wrote in the New Yorker last week: "No one should be surprised that gay people, for whom concert halls and opera houses have long been safe havens, are turning away from Gergiev and other pro-Putin musicians."
There have been small protests at the Carnegie Hall and at the Met in New York. The first protest in the UK was Tatchell's last Thursday, after which he was led off stage by the Barbican's security.
Tatchell said he would rather people did not go to a Gergiev concert but if they did he called on them to not applaud, to remain silent, when Gergiev came to the stage.
Gergiev has not responded at any length, but he gave an interview in Washington last month where he said: "I came here to work as a conductor, not as a person who will talk from early morning until late evening about other things than music. If you start to think every minute of people who are not necessarily involved in what you do, then your concentration is gone."
He said there was no discrimination at the Mariinsky, "but once you start to talk like this, you start to sound like someone who has to apologise. We have nothing to apologise for."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the LSO said: "The relationship with Gergiev is about making great music, and the LSO is not involved in the views of any of our artists beyond that – making great music."
Swiss firm accused of laundering scheme involving pillaged gold
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 16:45 EST
Activists claimed on Monday that a Swiss company laundered gold ore pillaged by an illegal armed group from conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Argor-Heraeus is believed to have refined almost three tons of gold ore pillaged from the country between 2004 and 2005, according to Track Impunity Always, or TRIAL, an organisation dedicated to ensuring that perpetrators of international crimes are held accountable.
Pillaging is considered a war crime, stressed TRIAL.
The NGO said it had filed a criminal complaint against Argor-Heraeus, and that the Swiss federal prosecutor’s office had responded Monday by opening a probe into the company for “complicity in war crimes and pillage”.
The company knew, or should have assumed, that the gold which passed through Uganda had been obtained through pillage in DR Congo, the group said.
Argor-Heraeus, one of the world’s largest processors of precious metals, strongly rejected the allegations. In a statement it said the firm had already been cleared of similar suspicions by two Swiss and one UN investigations.
“Eight years after the conclusion of the case, the allegation arrives like a bolt from the blue for Argor-Heraeus,” the company said.
TRIAL claims that the gold in question was illegally mined by a group called the National Integrationist Front (FNI), which financed its operations through trafficking in gold.
The FNI was created with Ugandan support and in 2003 took control of a mineral-rich area in the conflict-ravaged northeastern Ituri region of the DR Congo.
The gold “was mined in appalling conditions” before being sold in Uganda by a Congolese gold trader and air transport company owner called Kisoni Kambale, TRIAL said.
Kambale in turn resold the gold to a Kampala-based company called Uganda Commercial Impex Limited (UCI). They then sold it on to British Hussar Limited, based in the Channel Islands.
The gold was initially refined by South Africa’s Rand Refinery, but that company stopped working with Hussar in mid-2004 “because it suspected the gold had been acquired illegally,” TRIAL said.
That’s when Argor-Heraeus entered the scene, refining nearly three tonnes of the gold into ingots from July 2004 through May 2005, according to TRIAL.
“By turning this illegally obtained gold into ingots, Argor-Heraeus made it impossible to identify the criminal origin of the gold,” TRIAL charged.
The Swiss firm stressed Monday that in 2005 it had “decided not to accept any material for processing in its plant from Uganda and instable regions and to cease any commercial activity with Hussar”.
Such a move was too little too late, said TRIAL, stressing the DR Congo conflict and illegal gold trade had been going on for years.
A 2004 UN report documented Hussar and UCI’s role in the pillage, and recommended sanctions against Argor-Heraeus, claiming they were supporting the FNI and thus violating a UN arms embargo.
However, the UN did not impose sanctions on the Swiss company.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Faroe Islands launch fish fight with European Union over sanctions
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 4, 2013 17:05 EST
The Faroe Islands Monday fired the first shot in what looks set to be an all-out trade battle at the World Trade Organization over EU trade sanctions on its fish.
The WTO said that the northern Atlantic territory, located between Norway and Iceland, had made a formal request for consultations with the European Union over measures that restrict the entry of herring and mackerel caught under the control of the Faroe Islands.
The EU accuses the Faroe Islands of massive overfishing and in August adopted a package of trade sanctions against the territory, which is under the sovereignty of Denmark, though not a member of the EU.
Under the rules of the 159-nation WTO, requesting consultations is first step towards seeking the creation of an independent panel of trade experts to rule on a complaint and, potentially, win the right to impose retaliatory measures.
“The request says that the European Union has adopted ‘coercive’ economic measures against the Faroe Islands, prohibiting the introduction into the territory of the Union of certain products of herring and mackerel caught under the control of the Faroe Islands,” the WTO said.
“The request also says that the EU has prohibited entry into the EU ports of any vessels flying the flag of the Faroe Islands,” it added.
The Faroe Islands maintain that the EU measures violate the rules of international trade because they are discriminatory and deny freedom of transit.
The measures ban imports of herring and mackerel from the north-east Atlantic, or Atlanto-Scandian, caught under the control of the Faroe Islands, as well as fishery products containing or made of such fish.
The EU said it took action as a last resort, blaming the Faroes for failing to halt unsustainable fishing.
The herring stock in question was until this year managed jointly by Norway, Russia, Iceland, the Faroes and the EU through an agreed long-term management plan using pre-established catch quotas.
But this year the Faroes decided to rip up the agreement and establish an autonomous quota of 105,230 tonnes, with the EU wanted pegged at just a fifth of that.
The Faroes archipelago is home to just about 50,000 people, with fishing a mainstay of the economy.
The WTO request was filed formally by Denmark, of which the Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory.
The Faroe Islands are part of the WTO via that link with Denmark, but unlike Denmark are not members of the 28-nation EU.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]