Five years after the devastating Israeli war on Gaza, called ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ Israel has again bombed the densely populated open air prison strip to its south. Several Gazans have been reported injured and at least one toddler has been killed. All of the media accounts, as per usual, report the strikes as retaliatory, coming in response to rocket fire from Gaza which “landed in open fields [causing] no injuries or damages.”
Many of the press reports don’t make any mention at all of the sadistic blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza for years, which is starving Gazans of daily sustenance and is by most accounts illegal under international law.
Conditions in Gaza have become exceedingly desperate. About one third of Gaza’s arable land and 85 percent of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures, while at least two-thirds of Gazan households lack reliable access to food as a result of the blockade. Last year, the United Nations estimated that Gaza would be “unlivable” by 2020 unless the blockade is lifted. And again last month, UN officials said “Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable.”
Here is an editorial piece published today by the Guardian, entitled “Time to end Israel’s Gaza blockade”:
For the 1.7 million living in the tiny Gaza Strip, life has become increasingly desperate because of Israel’s continuing blockade, backed by Egypt and with no effective challenge from governments around the world. The blockade has brought electricity cuts of 16 hours a day, which means the only street lights visible at night have been those from Israel’s nearby towns. The electricity shortages have severely affected almost all essential services, including health, water, sanitation and schooling. With waste plants not operating, Palestinian children have been wading through freezing sewage to attend school. The terrible floods in Gaza brought the promise of increased electricity supplies for a few weeks, but the international community must demand that supply is constant and permanent.
…It is deplorable for us to allow this continuing collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza.
Not only does the U.S. allow this collective punishment, it actively supports it and is in part criminally responsible. But again, that is not part of the narrative Americans hear about.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said last year that the blockade bolsters extremists. “Keeping a large and dense population in unremitting poverty,” he said, “is in nobody’s interest except that of the most extreme radicals in the region.”
The bottom line: any narrative that doesn’t include Israel’s “unremitting” siege of Gaza as part of the reason errant rockets occasionally fly into empty fields in southern Israel is a narrative that is not complete.
When the NSA’s bulk collection of every single American’s phone records was disclosed this past summer, defenders of the program argued it was not invasive surveillance because it’s only metadata (who you called, when, and for how long) and doesn’t include the identity of the callers or the content of the conversation. “There are no names, there’s no content in that database,” Obama said in June.
A new study at Stanford University has just ripped that argument to shreds.
Stanford computer scientists Jonathon Mayer and Patrick Mutchler found that it is “trivially” easy to determine the identity of callers if all you have is metadata. They write about their research in a blog post:
So, just how easy is it to identify a phone number?
Trivial, we found. We randomly sampled 5,000 numbers from our crowdsourced MetaPhone datasetand queried the Yelp, Google Places, and Facebook directories. With little marginal effort and just those three sources—all free and public—we matched 1,356 (27.1%) of the numbers. Specifically, there were 378 hits (7.6%) on Yelp, 684 (13.7%) on Google Places, and 618 (12.3%) on Facebook.
What about if an organization were willing to put in some manpower? To conservatively approximate human analysis, we randomly sampled 100 numbers from our dataset, then ran Google searches on each. In under an hour, we were able to associate an individual or a business with 60 of the 100 numbers. When we added in our three initial sources, we were up to 73.
How about if money were no object? We don’t have the budget or credentials to access a premium data aggregator, so we ran our 100 numbers with Intelius, a cheap consumer-oriented service. 74 matched.1 Between Intelius, Google search, and our three initial sources, we associated a name with 91 of the 100 numbers.
If a few academic researchers can get this far this quickly, it’s difficult to believe the NSA would have any trouble identifying the overwhelming majority of American phone numbers.
This shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone that has been paying attention. When the Snowden leaks broke, NSA whistleblower William Binney took issue with arguments like Obama’s that said metadata wasn’t revealing. Binney said collecting metadata can be more revealing than listening in to the content of phone calls.
This study represents just another in a long line of definitive knock-downs of pro-NSA arguments. The transparency that Snowden’s leaks have imposed on the government and its defenders has mortally embarrassed them and allowed for each of their arguments – which we would otherwise have to take on their word – to be disproven.
That is true in general, but it is especially true of the metadata program. The disclosure of this program proved James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, to be a bald-faced liar given that he testified to Congress that no such program existed. Then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander said the metadata program foiled 54 terrorist plots, a justification that was later proven (and admitted by Alexander) to be completelyfalse. Then they said it was perfectly legal, until we found out that a FISC ruling found in 2011 that the NSA “frequently and systematically violated” statutory laws restricting how intelligence agents can search databases of Americans’ telephone communications. To add to that, a federal judge essentially ruled it unconstitutional. And now we discover that their “metadata-isn’t-really-invasive” argument is also baloney.
Before Edward Snowden, NSA overreach was, to borrow a phrase, an unknown unknown. After Edward Snowden, they have to lie about it…repeatedly…apparently without a whiff of shame.
The New York Times is hardly a progressive newspaper – but when it comes to the surveillance state and ongoing militarism of the Obama White House, the establishment’s "paper of record" puts MoveOn.org to shame.
And so, the same day that the Times editorialized to excoriate President Obama for his latest betrayal of civil liberties, MoveOn sent out a huge email blast sucking up to Obama.
The Times was blunt in its Saturday editorial: "By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying – and bills pending in Congress – to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make."
But, the newspaper added: "He did not do any of that."
As the Timeseditorial went on to say, "any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed – in secret – as the justification for the data vacuuming."
Let’s reiterate that the Times is far from a progressive outlet. It serves as a highly important megaphone for key sectors of corporate/political elites. Voicing the newspaper’s official stance, its editorials are often deferential to spin and half-truths from favored political figures. And much of the paper’s news coverage feeds off the kind of newspeak that spews out of the Executive Branch and Congress.
But on crucial matters of foreign policy, militarism and surveillance, the contrast between Times editorials and MoveOn is stunning. The "progressive" netroots organization has rarely managed to clear a low bar of independence from reprehensible Obama policies.
Q: What was your reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to increase support to French and African troops in CAR?
Chris Coyne: Given what I know, it is very predictable. For the past several months the U.S. has been pushing back on UN intervention because of the cost of UN peacekeeping missions. I believe the U.S. would have to pay somewhere in the range of 27 percent of the costs of the peacekeeping mission based on the formula the UN uses. This push back occurred despite the fact that violence was already in full effect and well known. So one way to read the U.S. commitment of resources is as a relatively cheap way to placate the growing push for the UN to intervene. Making a lump sum payment to “support” French and African troops is cheaper than paying a percentage of a very costly peacekeeping mission. People keep pointing out how the U.S. has no strategic or economic interests so that this is purely a morally-based assistance. But in my review the push back by the Obama administration over the past several months shows that it is not about some higher moral principle, but responding to political incentives (cost of UN peacekeeping mission vs. lump-sum payment).
Q: This is an extremely limited intervention compared to other recent actions (Balkans, Libya, etc.). What difference might this make?
CC: Well, the U.S. has limited exposure right now. The worst case scenario is that $100 million is lost or wasted. In the scheme of things this is not much money and U.S. citizens won’t even know about it. Best case some kind of peace is established and then the U.S. government can take partial credit for supporting the effort. More broadly, beyond the U.S., right now the goal of the intervention seems to be to achieve some semblance of peace. But from everything I have read it isn’t that easy. Like most conflicts similar to this this there are no clear “good” or “bad” sides. Further, both sides have weaponry. So there are no clear victims and criminals. In my view, the worst case would be if mission creep sets in and peacekeeping becomes nation building.
The big, scary terrorism argument for having an unwieldy and unconstitutional NSA surveillance apparatus has been slowlydisintegrating since the start of Snowden’s leaks. This week was really the death knell, with all three branches of government agreeing, at least, that the bulk metadata program doesn’t actually thwart terrorists.
From the moment the government’s massive database of citizens’ call records was exposed this year, U.S. officials have clung to two main lines of defense: The secret surveillance program was constitutional and critical to keeping the nation safe.
But six months into the controversy triggered by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the viability of those claims is no longer clear.
But there is more evidence that the terrorism justification for these programs is bullshit. Today the New York Times reports that “Secret documents reveal more than 1,000 targets of American and British surveillance in recent years, including the office of an Israeli prime minister, heads of international aid organizations, foreign energy companies and a European Union official involved in antitrust battles with American technology businesses.”
It’s funny how NSA officials, when they are pulled onto Capitol Hill to testify in front of Congress, never mention the fact that a large part of NSA surveillance targets allies and bureaucratic heads of innocuous aid organizations. It’s hard to create domestic political acceptance of Big Brother when not even the most paranoid phobic considers their surveillance targets a threat.
The targeting of foreign businesses is especially noteworthy, since it is essentially economic espionage. The government can’t seriously claim that spying on Joaquín Almunia, the vice president of the European Commission, is done to protect Americans from foreign attacks. The commission “has broad authority over local and foreign companies, and has punished a number of American companies, including Microsoft and Intel, with heavy fines for hampering fair competition,” the Times reports.
The White House has explicitly denied that the NSA spies for economic warfare. ”We do not use our intelligence capabilities for that purpose. We use it for security purposes,” spokesman Jay Carney insisted.
I think it’s time the government drop the issuance of public denials on that front. It’s clear NSA spies for the sake of the government and the business elite, not to protect the people.