“We tortured some folks.” – Barack Obama
Dianne Feinstein is outraged by the CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee because of a torture probe
Senator Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Intelligence Committee recently accused the CIA of intimidating Senate staff over investigations of CIA involvement in torture.
Her outrage about the alleged violations of privacy and unconstitutional spying on Senate staff is nonetheless a bit surprising. Mind you, throughout the revelations of the Snowden leaks about NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens, not to speak of everybody else on the planet, Feinstein has been one of the chief defenders of the NSA, never seeing anything wrong with the apparent blanket surveillance, or “full take,” as the spooks like to call it.
Here is a clip from progressive news show The Young Turks with a montage of Feinstein’s pro-NSA statements:
But now that the spying hits closer to home, this time by the CIA against the Senate Intelligence Committee, surveillance is all of a sudden an outrage.
Here is a clip from DemocracyNow!:
I smell hypocrisy.
“Dianne Feinstein’s CIA charge scrambles Senate.” (Burgess Everett and Manu Raju, POLITICO.com, 2014/03/11) http://ow.ly/uwOlD
Nelson Mandela, the Cold War, and the uses of history in American politics
After former South African President Nelson Mandela‘s death on December 5, 2013, political leaders and dignitaries from all over the world flew to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela’s legacy as a fighter against Apartheid. Among them was Barack Obama, who praised Mandela as a great inspiration.
In 1962, the CIA betrayed Nelson Mandela to the South African Apartheid regime
But here is an interesting footnote about U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century: When Mandela was arrested by the Apartheid regime and thrown in jail in 1962, where he spent the next twenty-seven years of his life, that was enabled by the location of Mandela being passed on to the South African secret police by none other than the CIA.
On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed former anti-Apartheid activist and later South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils on Mandela’s activism in the 1950s and early 1960s.
“The Anti-Apartheid Underground: Ronnie Kasrils on Meeting Mandela in an ANC Safehouse in 1962 (2/2)”
And here is an interview on Democracy Now! wherein Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interview Andrew Cockburn of Harper’s magazine on the CIA and Mandela:
“One of Our Greatest Coups”: The CIA & the Capture of Nelson Mandela”
One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist
Since the 1950s, Mandela had been embracing Marxist thought and been involved with the African Communist Party. With the latter, he co-founded the African National Congress’s militant wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which was active in sabotage campaigns against the Apartheid regime.
In the 1980s, when an international movement for the release of Mandela took shape, political figures like American President Ronald Reagan, future Vice President DIck Cheney, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported the Apartheid regime against the imprisoned Mandela, whom they considered to be a communist terrorist.
In hindsight, the support of the racist white supremacist government of South Africa at the time by the U.S. and other governments was obviously morally repulsive. Those supporting it were clearly on the wrong side of history. But during the Cold War, the communist leanings of Mandela probably drew more negative attention than his involvement in the righteous struggle against Apartheid.
[Update, 2014/07/10] As the Guardian now reports, previously classified documents show that the FBI continued to spy on Mandela and the ANC after his release from prison in 1990. They were interested in Mandela’s links to U.S.-based left-wing groups and anti-Apartheid activities of the American Communist Party.
A communist no more – Mandela as president
One interesting aspect of Mandela’s presidency is that despite his communist past, he quickly embraced neoliberal capitalism once in office. On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed former anti-Apartheid activist and later South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils on Mandela’s turnaround considering economic policies.
“From Marxism to Neoliberalism: Ronnie Kasrils on How Mandela & ANC Shifted Economic Views (1/2)”
A posthumous nontroversy (I): Conservative politicians saying nice things about a former communist
In the American news media, especially in the conservative blogosphere, a dubious controversy (or nontroversy) over Mandela’s political past has been stirred up in the days following his death.
Newt Gingrich, of all people, a politician not generally suspected of being a lefty, said some reasonable things about Mandela and was promptly criticized on his Facebook page. Yes, the obvious commie bashing and racism is in those comments. Other conservative politicians who praised Mandela posthumously received similar reactions. Gingrich, in his response to those commenters, asked a poignant question:
Where were the masses of conservatives opposing Apartheid?
Watch a summary of the whole thing on the progressive talk show The Young Turks here:
A posthumous nontroversy (II): Obama shakes hands with Raúl Castro
As one would expect with a historic figure as important as Mandela, there were many political leaders present at his funeral. President Obama ran into Cuban President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, and shook hands with him. Some conservative politicians criticized Obama for a friendly gesture towards an authoritarian communist regime with a dubious human rights record.
On the one hand, this is true. There are many things worthy of criticism about the Cuban government, especially its abysmal human rights record. On the other hand, the U.S. has upheld the embargo against Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power, making this gesture in the context of a funeral look minuscule.
Conservative politicians in good/bad company
Furthermore, many American politicians, including conservative Republicans, have been shaking hands—and continue to do so—with dictators and other unruly figures, whenever it suited ‘the national interest.’ Some examples: Nixon meets Mao Zedong in 1972, Donald Rumsfeld meets Saddam Hussein in 1983, Condoleezza Rice meets Moamar Gadhafi in 2008.
Only in the 80s: John Rambo the jihadist
The ambiguous and rather flexible morality of realpolitik is also reflected in pop culture. Consider this: In the 1980s action movie Rambo III (1988), Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo fights along the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. They are presented as benign freedom fighters against foreign communist occupation. Who else was among the Afghan Mujahideen, in reality? Osama bin Laden.
While there is no evidence of direct financial support for Bin Laden from the U.S., according to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. government did fund militant jihadists in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Who was the American president at the time? Conservative icon Ronald Reagan.
Much ado about nothing
All things considered, the outrage over Obama shaking hands with Raúl Castro is nothing but a tempest in a teapot. In a perfect world, there would be no dictators, no authoritarian regimes, and certainly no superpowers backing any of them while hypocritically pretending to make the world safe for democracy. And to be clear, I extend that criticism to other states such as my native Germany, which allows the export of weapons and surveillance technology into non-democratic regimes.
That being said, in the world as it is, leading politicians will from time to time brush into unruly characters. It cannot be avoided.
Here is another entertaining clip from The Young Turks:
“Here Are 6 Moments From Mandela’s Marxist Past That You Won’t Hear On CNN.” (Zach Carter and Shadee Ashtari, Huffington Post, 2013/12/06)
“The Day Mandela Was Arrested, With A Little Help From the CIA.” (Jeff Stein, Newsweek, 2013/12/05)
“When Conservatives Branded Nelson Mandela A Terrorist.” (Rick Ungar, Forbes, 2013/12/06)
The NSA , the CIA, and the GCHQ spy on computer games
As ProPublica reports, the American NSA and CIA, and the British GCHQ, or more specifically, private contractors working for them, have run programs looking for the communications of terrorists and criminals in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft or Second Life. This new revelation comes from recently released leaks from Edward Snowden.
No terrorists found
But despite high costs paid to these private contractors, no case of terrorist activity has been discovered.
The whole scenario sounds as if it were lifted straight out of an episode of “Twenty-Four” or “Sleeper Cell.” It seems like an interesting idea, even though I doubt (based on pure speculation) that terrorist masterminds would communicate over insecure (read unencrypted) channels such as a game chat.
Slaying orks for national security?
It might also just be a brilliant excuse to play WoW at work for highly-paid security contractors. Who knows. But apparently, private security firms have long been lobbying the intelligence agencies for contracts in this line of work by playing up the threat from terrorism in video games.
A personal note on MMORPGing versus studying
I personally have never really gotten into MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, most of all because when these games became hugely popular, I was in the middle of my university studies. I suspected that if I committed my time to these obviously addictive games, this might seriously sabotage my academic education. So I decided to forgo the WoW phenomenon for the time being. Now I know that not only did that ‘abstinence’ probably save me a lot of juvenile, sexually-laden verbal insults, but also some spies listening to my (boring) chatter.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 78 “NSA Wargames.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/12) – “[T]he latest [NSA leaks] detail the infiltration of online gaming communities to conduct massive surveillance of gamers.” Plus speculations by a famous FBI officer about Snowden being a double agent for Russia.
“Spies’ Dragnet Reaches a Playing Field of Elves and Trolls.” (Mark Mazzetti and Justin Elliott, New York Times, 2013/12/10)
“Spooks of Warcraft: how the NSA infiltrated gamespace.” (Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, 2013/12/09)
“World of Spycraft: NSA and CIA Spied in Online Games.” (Justin Elliott and Mark Mazetti, ProPublica, 2013/12/10)
“Xbox Live among game services targeted by US and UK spy agencies.” (James Ball, Guardian, 2013/12/10)
“Geheimdienste: Sie hassen unsere Freiheit.” (Sascha Lobo, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 10.12.2013) – Interessanter Punkt von Sascha Lobo: Der Satz “Sie hassen unsere Freiheit” aus einer Rede von George W. Bush nach dem 11. September 2001 trifft nicht nur auf islamistische Terroristen zu, sondern auch ganz besonders auf die totalitären Überwachungspläne der Geheimdienste.
“World of Spycraft: NSA hunts Terrorists in MMORPGs.” (Nerdcore, 09.12.2013)
Website “Geheimer Krieg” visualisiert Aktivitäten der amerikanischen Geheimdienste und des Militärs innerhalb Deutschlands
[A new German website visualizes known activities of U.S. intelligence services and the military inside of Germany.]
Dass im sogenannten Globalen Krieg gegen den Terror entgegen anderslautender Verkündungen deutscher Politiker*innen von deutschem Boden aus Aktivitäten durchgeführt werden, die direkt mit den Kriegen im Irak, in Afghanistan und anderswo zu tun haben, ist mittlerweile bekannt.
Im Laufe der Snowden-Enthüllungen um die Aktivitäten der NSA seit dem Sommer 2013 sind die amerikanischen Geheimdienstaktivitäten hierzulande noch einmal massiv in das Bewusstsein der Öffentlichkeit getreten.
Der NDR und die Süddeutsche Zeitung haben monatelang zu den Aktivitäten der amerikanischen Geheimdienste und des Militärs innerhalb Deutschlands recherchiert. Bekannte Standorte wurden nun in Zusammenarbeit mit OpenDataCity auf einer interaktiven Karte visualisiert. Dabei geht es um die Koordination von Drohneneinsätzen, Entführungen und Abschöpfung von Informant*innen für die Geheimdienste.
Am 28.11.2013 läuft dazu bei ARD die Dokumentation “Geheimer Krieg”.
[Update]: Die Dokumentation kann man sich ab sofort hier in der ARD Mediathek ansehen.
“SZ und ARD enthüllen “Geheimen Krieg“. (Meedia, 14.11.2013)
Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece
Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.
And so Bigelow and Boal did.
What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?
- Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
- Intimidation of detainees with dogs
- A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
- The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees
Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.
Read and see more:
“CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals.” (Ben Child, Guardian, 2013/05/07)
“Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s Narrative.” (Adrian Chen, Gawker, 2013/05/06)
[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.
Torture and the hunt for Bin Laden
“Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It.” (Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 2011/05/06) – A study by the National Defense Intelligence College found that “rapport-based” interrogation works best, even with hard-boiled detainees.