Duncan Campbell writes: Ten years ago today, a man emerged from prison to be greeted by a crowd of his supporters embracing him with carnations and a crowd of his enemies drawing their fingers across their throats. He had served 18 years in prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement.
The man was Mordechai Vanunu, the whistleblower who, in 1986, came to Britain to tell the Sunday Times the story of the then secret nuclear weapons facility at Dimona in Israel. Out alone in London and disillusioned with the length of time the story seemed to be taking to reach publication, he was lured by a woman from Mossad to Italy. There, he was kidnapped, drugged and smuggled out of the country to Israel, where he was convicted of espionage.
On his release from prison, he was led to believe that he would soon be free to leave the country where he is vilified and regarded as a traitor. When I interviewed him in Jerusalem six months later, back in 2004, he was still hopeful that, having served his time, he would be able to start a new life abroad. It has turned out to be an empty hope. Last December, he failed in the high court of justice in his latest bid to be allowed to leave. Does Edward Snowden, as he adjusts to life in Moscow, wonder whether he will still be haunted and hunted by the US government for decades to come?
No one seriously claims that the man who was exhaustively debriefed by the Sunday Times nearly 30 years ago has any secrets up his sleeve. The decision to restrict his movements seems to be based more on a desire to inflict punishment on an unrepentant man than for security concerns. A pacifist who has urged the Palestinians to pursue their aims by non-violent means, he was not a spy but was driven to his actions by a horror of Hiroshima and the possibility of a nuclear war in the Middle East. [Continue reading...]
A pencil is a sharp instrument. It could be used in a threatening way. Someone could be stabbed with a pencil. But no one’s ever been shot by a pencil.
Instead of sending off Ethan Chaplin for psychiatric evaluation after he “twirled a pencil like a gun,” it sounds like it’s his teachers and the school authorities who need their heads examining.
Two days after 16 Sherpas lost their lives in the service of a party of Everest-climbing tourists, Jon Reiter, one of the climbers, wrote on his blog:
This is a tough time for everyone here on the mountain but accidents, and even death, are part of the deal. If climbing Everest were easy and risk free, I suspect we’d all take a hike to the top of the world. The price that has been paid over the last 24 hours is a large price indeed. I guess the climbing Sherpa as well as all of us western climbers need a few moments or days to re-evaluate what’s worth what in this life.
Early this morning I read a comment written about me where the author said, “I hope he finds what he’s looking for up there.” I appreciated that notion because it got me to thinking about what am I looking for, and I think I have found it whether I see the summit of Everest or not. I’m looking for an adventurous life. I want to see the whole world and all of its people. I want to lay in my death bed and know that I did and saw all that I wanted to in the time I spent spinning through space on this ball of mud. I want to know that I lived fully! So far in this life the things that I regret the most are the things I didn’t do; the things I didn’t have time for; the situations that scared me to much. I want to push myself to do and see until I can’t anymore. I want to inspire my two boys to aim high, to take from this world and give to mankind more than they can imagine now. I hope I have a lot of life left to live and I hope I keep finding what I’m looking for. I’m glad my friend brought this topic up because I needed to remember today just why I’m here.
I’m so flattered that so many of you are following this adventure. It’s awesome that I get to follow my dreams and I remember everyday that all of this would be hollow and meaningless without all of you being part of my life.
Please send positive thoughts or prayers to the families of our fallen Sherpa brothers.
“We were moving up to Camp 1 just after dawn when we heard that ‘crack,’” said Reiter, 49. “I thought ‘wow, that’s a big one.’ My first thought was to film it, and I reached for my camera. But the Sherpa yelled to get down.”
Freddie Wilkinson describes how almost a century ago the first fatalities occurred on Everest:
On a bright afternoon in June of 1922, the Mount Everest pioneer George Mallory was leading a group of 17 men tied together in three separate rope teams toward the North Col of the mountain when he heard an ominous sound, and turned to see an avalanche fracturing the steep slope above them.
Mallory and his rope mates were spared the brunt force of the slide, but the two teams following them — comprising 14 porters from Darjeeling, India — were swept down the mountain. Seven died. Mount Everest had claimed its first known victims.
One of Mallory’s companions, Howard Somervell, would later write, “I would gladly at that moment have been lying there dead in the snow, if only to give those fine chaps who had survived the feeling that we had shared their loss….”
On Friday, about 6:30 in the morning, another avalanche rumbled down Everest. This one caught a group of 25 climbers at 19,000 feet near the top of the notorious Khumbu Icefall, a frightful jumble of seracs and crevasses, killing at least 12 as of Friday in the worst reported disaster in the mountain’s history.
Although commercially organized groups make up the overwhelming majority of Everest expeditions today, not a single international client or guide was caught in the avalanche. The victims were Nepalese. They were carrying supplies to aid their employer’s clients, who pay commercial outfitters tens of thousands of dollars to get to the top of the world’s tallest mountain.
Today, as was the case in Mallory’s day, it is these professional climbing Sherpas who bear a disproportionate amount of the risk of Himalayan climbing. In fact, the odds may be worse for them than they were in the days of those grand British expeditions.
Mallory was racked with guilt over the 1922 tragedy and resolved never to let a team of porters climb without a British mountaineer sharing the same rope. Eric Shipton, another legendary British alpinist whose 1951 reconnaissance pioneered the route through the icefall, paving the way for the first ascent of the mountain two years later, found it ethically questionable to ask the climbing Sherpas to venture into the icefall to help Westerners make it to the top.
At least when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first two men to reach the summit in 1953, Hillary was gracious enough to immortalize that moment in history with a photograph of Tenzing rather than himself.
But implicit in the very idea that this could be viewed as a human accomplishment is the suggestion that it would never have happened without the adventurous spirit of Western pioneers — men such as Hillary who would proclaim afterwards, “we knocked the bastard off,” another of nature’s challenges having been duly conquered.
What was one to infer about the fact that the people who had lived at the foot of the mountain for centuries, had not on their own initiative taken on the venture of its ascent?
Certainly, neither Hillary nor any other foreign mountaineer has been able to climb Everest without relying on the courage, perseverance, and strength of Sherpas.
Was the only thing the Sherpas lacked, equipment?
But maybe they didn’t lack anything at all.
Maybe the Sherpas possessed something that the Westerners lacked: a sense that Everest could be appreciated as much, or even more, from below rather then above — that the mountain called for reverence rather than conquest.
After all, what kind of man would pretend he is greater than a mountain?
Update: Ed Marzec, 67, a retired lawyer from Los Angeles who is currently at base camp, writes:
The Sherpas have voted to cancel all summit attempts of Everest this year as a memorial to the worst Everest disaster yet. I, along with many other climbers, believe this to be a proper memorial even though I have been working on this summit for 2 years, I am willing to abide by their decision since I am only a guest here. However, although the big American commercial tour operators have agreed to follow the vote of the Sherpas, they are working everyday to change the vote and wait until they think the Sherpas will get over it…..sounds so familiar. I am shamed by our greed and embarrassed by our lack of compassion.
Simon Critchley writes: With Easter upon us, powerful narratives of rebirth and resurrection are in the air and on the breeze. However, winter’s stubborn reluctance to leave to make way for the pleasing and hopeful season leads me to think not of cherry blossoms and Easter Bunnies but of Prometheus, Nietzsche, Barack Obama and the very roots of hope. Is hope always such a wonderful thing? Is it not rather a form of moral cowardice that allows us to escape from reality and prolong human suffering?
Prometheus the Titan was punished by the Olympian Zeus by being chained to a rock in the Caucasus, quite possibly not that far from Crimea. Each day for eternity, an eagle pecked out his liver. Every night, the liver grew back. An unpleasant situation, I’m sure you would agree. His transgression was to have given human beings the gift of fire and, with that, the capacity for craft, technological inventiveness and what we are fond of calling civilization.
This is well known. Less well known is Prometheus’ second gift. In Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” the chained Titan is pitilessly interrogated by the chorus. They ask him whether he gave human beings anything else. Yes, he says, “I stopped mortals from foreseeing doom.” How did you do that, they ask? His response is revealing: “I sowed in them blind hopes.”
This is a very Greek thought. It stands resolutely opposed to Christianity, with its trinity of faith, love and hope. For St. Paul — Christianity’s true founder, it must be recalled — hope is both a moral attitude of steadfastness and a hope for what is laid up in heaven for us, namely salvation. This is why faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is so absolutely fundamental to Christians. Christ died on the cross, but he was resurrected and lives eternally. Jesus is our hope, as Paul writes in the First Letter to Timothy, namely he is the basis for the faith that we too might live eternally. Heaven, as they say, is real.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul inadvertently confirms Prometheus’ gift of blind hope. He asserts that hope in what is seen is not hope at all, “For who hopes for what he sees?” On the contrary, we should “hope for what we do not see” and “wait for it with patience.”
Now, fast forward to us. When Barack Obama describes how he came to write his keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the speech that instantly shot him to fame and laid the basis for his presidential campaign and indeed his presidency, he recalls a phrase that his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., used in a sermon: the audacity of hope. Obama says that this audacity is what “was the best of the American spirit,” namely “the audacity to believe despite all the evidence to the contrary.”
It is precisely this kind of hope that I think we should try to give up. It is not audacious, but mendacious. [Continue reading...]
Why kidnapping, torture, assassination, and perjury are no longer crimes in Washington
By Tom Engelhardt
How the mighty have fallen. Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history — the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program. A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public. It was considered a serious breach of national security. On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was “a very serious one” and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.
In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains — as yet — a grim Washington fairy tale. There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all. He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.
A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term. Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.” He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009.
Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence — the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state. Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.
If this weren’t Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth — “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” — would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.
AFP reports: The expertly armed, masked men in matching camouflage stripped of all insignia are tough, taciturn and tactically devastating.
And according to President Vladimir Putin, they are not — absolutely, categorically not — elite Russian special forces.
So who are the members of this mysterious military or paramilitary force operating in eastern Ukraine, nicknamed “little green men” by many here?
For Kiev and its Western backers, the units, observed moving in lightning-fast and cohesive team formation, are indisputably Russian commandos sent by Moscow to sow trouble, no matter what Putin says. They also appear to be almost identical to those who operated in Crimea before the peninsula’s annexation by Russia last month.
For separatist insurgents whose fealty lies with the Kremlin, they are simply preternaturally good examples of their rag-tag, homegrown “self-defence volunteer brigades”.
In many of the 10 towns in the east controlled by the rebels, the fearsome fighters guard seized public buildings and offer few, if any, words to the curious.
They do, however, easily stand out from their less disciplined brothers in arms.
They wear camouflage uniforms, black ski masks, sports shoes and bullet-proof vests. That is a far cry from the hodge-podge of military surplus and camping attire thrown on by the ordinary separatists — who are also more likely to chat proudly.
On Wednesday, when the Ukrainian military sent an armoured column to confront the rebels, it was the (not so) “little green men” who sprang into action after the vehicles were stopped by angry locals.
The capable fighters quickly took control of six of the armoured personnel carriers and drove them into the centre of the town of Slavyansk — where one of them displayed his mastery of the tracked machine by sending it spinning in high-speed doughnuts. [Continue reading...]
Dan Gillmor writes: As security expert Bruce Schneier (a friend) has archly observed, “Surveillance is the business model of the internet.” I don’t expect this to change unless and until external realities force a change – and I’m not holding my breath.
Instead, the depressing news just seems to be getting worse. Google confirmed this week what many people had assumed: even if you’re not a Gmail user, your email to someone who does use their services will be scanned by the all-seeing search and the advertising company’s increasingly smart machines. The company updated their terms of service to read:
Our automated systems analyze your content (including e-mails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
My system doesn’t do this to your email when you send me a message. I pay a web-hosting company that keeps my email on a server that isn’t optimized for data collection and analysis. I would use Gmail for my email, if Google would let me pay for service that didn’t “analyze (my) content” apart from filtering out spam and malware. Google doesn’t offer that option, as far as I can tell, and that’s a shame – if not, given its clout, a small scandal. [Continue reading...]
Jason Leopold reports: Dr James Elmer Mitchell has been called a war criminal and a torturer. He has been the subject of an ethics complaint, and his methods have been criticized in reports by two congressional committees and by the CIA’s internal watchdog.
But the retired air force psychologist insists he is not the monster many have portrayed him to be.
“The narrative that’s out there is, I walked up to the gate of the CIA, knocked on the door and said: ‘Let me in, I want to torture people, and I can show you how to do it.’ Or someone put out an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Wanted: psychologist who is willing to design torture program.’ It’s a lot more complicated than that,” Mitchell told the Guardian in his first public comments since he was linked to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program seven years ago.
“I’m just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”
Mitchell is featured prominently in a new report prepared by the Senate select committee on intelligence, which spent five years and more than $40m studying the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
The findings, according to a summary leaked to McClatchy, are damning: that the agency misled the White House, Congress and the American people; that unauthorised interrogation methods were used; that the legal opinions stating the techniques did not break US torture laws were flawed; and perhaps most significant, that the torture yielded no useful intelligence. [Continue reading...]
Foreign Policy reports: Internal United Nations documents show modest improvements in the delivery of desperately needed food inside rebel-controlled areas of Syria. But the documents also point to a mass exodus of Syrians into areas controlled by President Bashar al-Assad in part because the dictator is the only reliable source of life-sustaining food.
The documents obtained by Foreign Policy track the success of the U.N.’s World Food Program in the two months since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Assad provide immediate access for relief workers. The new data shows that the years-old U.N. effort has made some recent progress, with food supplies reaching a total of almost 415,000 people in hard-to-reach areas since the resolution was approved in February. In the country as a whole, WFP was able to reach 4.1 million persons in need in March, up from 3.7 million in February. However, in a country where 9.3 million people are in need of steady humanitarian assistance, that means that many more remain outside the U.N.’s reach.
More distressingly, the documents show that Assad’s campaign to bring rebels to heel by cutting off food supplies in opposition-controlled areas is succeeding. [Continue reading...]
The statues of Lenin and Stalin still stand, not only on Russia’s squares and plazas, but in the minds of its citizens
Vladimir Sorokin writes: In the course of three days in August 1991, during the failed putsch against Gorbachev, the decaying Soviet empire tottered and began to collapse. Some friends and I found ourselves on Lubianskaya Square, across from the headquarters of the fearsome, mighty KGB. A huge crowd was preparing to topple the symbol of that sinister institution — the statue of its founder, Dzerzhinsky, “Iron Felix” as his Bolshevik comrades-in-arms called him. A few daredevils had scaled the monument and wrapped cables around its neck, and a group was pulling on them to ever louder shouts and cries from the assembled throng.
Suddenly, a Yeltsin associate with a megaphone appeared out of the blue and directed everyone to hold off, because, he said, when the bronze statue fell, “its head might crash through the pavement and damage important underground communications.” The man said that a crane was already on its way to remove Dzerzhinsky from the pedestal without any damaging side effects. The revolutionary crowd waited for this crane a good two hours, keeping its spirits up with shouts of “Down with the KGB!”
Doubts about the success of the coming anti-Soviet revolution first stirred in me during those two hours. I tried to imagine the Parisian crowd, on May 16, 1871, waiting politely for an architect and workers to remove the Vendôme Column. And I laughed. The crane finally arrived; Dzerzhinsky was taken down, placed on a truck, and driven away. People ran alongside and spat on him. Since then he has been on view in the park of dismantled Soviet monuments next to the New Tretiakov Gallery. Not long ago, a member of the Duma presented a resolution to return the monument to its former location. Given events currently taking place in our country, it’s quite likely that this symbol of Bolshevik terror will return to Lubianskaya Square.
The swift dismantling of remaining Soviet monuments recently in Ukraine caused me to remember the Dzerzhinsky episode. Dozens of statues of Lenin fell in Ukrainian cities; no one in the opposition asked people to treat them “in a civilized manner,” because in this case a “polite” dismantling could mean only one thing — conserving a potent symbol of Soviet power. “Dzhugashvili [Stalin] is there, preserved in a jar,” as the poet Joseph Brodsky wrote in 1968. This jar is the people’s memory, its collective unconscious.
In 2014, Lenins were felled in Ukraine and were allowed to collapse. No one tried to preserve them. This “Leninfall” took place during the brutal confrontation on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), when Viktor Yanukovych’s power also collapsed, demonstrating that a genuine anti-Soviet revolution had finally occurred in Ukraine. No real revolution has happened in Russia. Lenin, Stalin, and their bloody associates still repose on Red Square, and hundreds of statues still stand, not only on Russia’s squares and plazas, but in the minds of its citizens. [Continue reading...]
Imagine the tension inside the studio on Russian state television when Vladamir Putin was confronted by Edward Snowden. How would Russia’s president handle a direct challenge from the world’s most famous whistleblower?
Was the most powerful man in the world going to cower like DNI James Clapper did a year ago and wipe sweat from his forehead as he nervously tried to evade pointed questions from his interrogator?
It turned out the Putin remained as calm as the Buddha.
I guess it’s hard having the same impact when you can’t ask any follow-up questions, the person being questioned has no fear of perjuring himself, and he enjoys the popular support of a 71% approval rating.
The Moscow Times reports:
Most of the more than 2.5 million questions that were sent via telephone, web and text message concerned social policy, housing and infrastructure. But most of the show was occupied by questions about the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea.
Since Snowden’s question was among the 81 questions that made the cut, it’s safe to say that Putin and his handlers recognized that it would serve their interests. In Putin’s posture of speaking “spy to spy” there was no hint of the merciless way he deals with defectors.
The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, welcomed Snowden’s appearance:
Whether Snowden was used or not by the Kremlin, the question was a good thing – it allows to start the debate over Russia's surveillance.
— Andrei Soldatov (@AndreiSoldatov) April 17, 2014
Whether a debate of any consequence in Russia ensues, remains to be seen:
Something about the society we live in: while Snowden's question to Putin is hotly debated in English, I don't see much of debate in Russian
— Andrei Soldatov (@AndreiSoldatov) April 18, 2014
And while Snowden might want to applaud his own challenge to Putin, Soldatov reminded the American of an invitation he has yet to accept:
Great that Snowden and I may comment on each other's comments, hope one day he'll be ready to talk to Rus journalists http://t.co/fiKXIXJOVV
— Andrei Soldatov (@AndreiSoldatov) April 18, 2014
Speaking to the Washington Post, Soldatov explained why Putin’s denials on mass surveillance don’t stand up to scrutiny.
In fact, Soldatov says, Russia even has its own version of PRISM, the clandestine mass electronic surveillance program that Snowden uncovered. It’s called SORM, and has been around since 1995. During Putin’s 14 years in Russian leadership, the scope of SORM has been expanded numerous times.
Soldatov argues that there were three key points made by Putin, each of which was a half-truth or a lie. First, Soldatov says, Putin argued that the FSB, the successor agency to the Soviet era’s KGB, needs to get a warrant from a court before surveillance can begin. This is true in theory, Soldatov admits, but in practice the warrants are not required to be shown: Telecoms agencies and Internet providers do not have the necessary security clearance to view the warrants, in any case.
Secondly, Putin seemed to suggest that the Russian legislature, the Duma, has oversight over the FSB. This is not true, Soldatov says, arguing that while the State Duma does have a Special Committee for Security, it has no actual oversight for secret services.
Finally, Putin argued that Russia doesn’t have the “hardware and money the United States has.” Soldatov says this is “not entirely correct.” The biggest limitation on FSB’s spying is that Russian communication systems – for example, the social network VKontakte – are rarely used abroad, unlike U.S. systems (for example, Google and Facebook). This gives the U.S. a clear advantage in international surveillance, but it is mostly irrelevant for the discussion of domestic mass surveillance, Soldatov argues.
By Julia Angwin, ProPublica, April 15, 2014
The Heartbleed computer security bug is many things: a catastrophic tech failure, an open invitation to criminal hackers and yet another reason to upgrade our passwords on dozens of websites. But more than anything else, Heartbleed reveals our neglect of Internet security.
The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software 2014 in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted 2014 are four core programmers, only one of whom calls it a full-time job.
In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. “There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work,” says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.
Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks?
Hendrik Hertzberg writes: On Tuesday, the State of New York took a baby step — or maybe a giant leap! — toward making the United States of America something more closely resembling a modern democracy: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill joining up the Empire State to the National Popular Vote (N.P.V.) interstate compact.
As I’ve explained many times (fifty-one, to be exact), N.P.V. is a way to elect our Presidents the way we elect our governors, our mayors, our senators and representatives, our state legislators, and everybody else: by totting up the voters’ votes — all of them — and awarding the job to whichever candidate gets the largest number. And it does this without changing a word of the Constitution.
Impossible, you say? No. Quite possible — even probable — and in time for 2020, if not for 2016.
Here’s how it works: Suppose you could get a bunch of states to pledge that once there are enough of them to possess at least two hundred and seventy electoral votes — a majority of the Electoral College — they will thenceforth cast all their electoral votes for whatever candidate gets the most popular votes in the entire country. As soon as that happens, presto change-o: the next time you go to the polls, you’ll be voting in a true national election. No more ten or so battleground states, no more forty or so spectator states, just the United States—all of them, and all of the voters who live in them.
Unless you’ve been following this pretty closely, it will surprise you to learn that, before this week, ten states (counting D.C.) had already signed on. Now it’s eleven, and between them they have a hundred and sixty-five electoral votes—sixty-one per cent of the total needed to bring the compact into effect. [Continue reading...]