Protesters outside Daily Mail offices condemn ‘campaign of hatred’
October 8, 2013
Protesters have gathered outside the offices of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday to voice their opposition to what they described as “grotesque acts of journalism” by both titles in their ongoing spat with the Labor leader, Ed Miliband.
Around 200 trade unionists and leftwing campaigners joined Muslim leaders for the demonstration outside the newspapers’ London headquarters.
"The message is clear," said the journalist and campaigner Owen Jones, addressing the crowd. "Enough is enough: stop your campaign of hatred."
Jones said the newspapers had waged a vicious campaign demonizing large sections of society, from public sector workers to women and trade union members.
"We are speaking up for decency … this is a show of cheerful defiance by all the people who have been picked on by the Daily Mail."
The protest follows an increasingly bitter feud between Miliband and the Mail that was sparked when the paper claimed in an article last weekend that the Labor leader’s late father, the academic Ralph Miliband, “hated Britain”. The Labor leader was given the right of reply but the paper also reprinted most of the original accusations.
Relations between Miliband and the newspaper group hit a new low when it emerged that a Mail on Sunday reporter had intruded on a private memorial service for a relative of the Labor leader.
John Rees, a protester from Hackney, north London, said the papers’ treatment of Miliband had been disgraceful. But he said the protest was also about wider issues.
"The Daily Mail has an agenda which wants to decry and diminish anyone who stands up for the NHS, trade unions or minorities. It is a pernicious influence on the political environment of this country."
The Mail on Sunday editor, Geordie Greig, apologized for the intrusion at the memorial service after Miliband wrote to the proprietor, Lord Rothermere, asking whether the common line of decency had been breached by the reporter gatecrashing the service for his uncle on Wednesday. The Daily Mail has not apologized for the article claiming Miliband’s father, a respected academic, hated Britain.
June 29, 2013
The US army has admitted to blocking access to parts of the Guardianwebsite for thousands of defence personnel across the country.
A spokesman said the military was filtering out reports and content relating to government surveillance programs to preserve “network hygiene” and prevent any classified material appearing on unclassified parts of its computer systems.
The confirmation follows reports in the Monterey Herald that staff at the Presidio military base south of San Francisco had complained of not being able to access the Guardian’s UK site at all, and had only partial access to the US site, following publication of leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Pentagon insisted the Department of Defense was not seeking to block the whole website, merely taking steps to restrict access to certain content.
But a spokesman for the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (Netcom) in Arizona confirmed that this was a widespread policy, likely to be affecting hundreds of defence facilities.
"In response to your question about access to the guardian.co.uk website, the army is filtering some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks,” said Gordon Van Vleet, a Netcom public affairs officer.
"The Department of Defense routinely takes preventative ‘network hygiene’ measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information onto DoD unclassified networks."
The army stressed its actions were automatic and would not affect computers outside military facilities.
"The department does not determine what sites its personnel can choose to visit while on a DoD system, but instead relies on automated filters that restrict access based on content concerns or malware threats," said Van Vleet. "The DoD is also not going to block websites from the American public in general, and to do so would violate our highest-held principle of upholding and defending the constitution and respecting civil liberties and privacy."
Similar measures were taken by the army after the Guardian and other newspapers published leaked State Department cables obtained via WikiLeaks.
"We make every effort to balance the need to preserve information access with operational security, however there are strict policies and directives in place regarding protecting and handling classified information," added the Netcom spokesman.
"Until declassified by appropriate officials, classified information – including material released through an unauthorized disclosure – must be treated accordingly by DoD personnel. If a public website displays classified information, then filtering may be used to preserve ‘network hygiene’ for DoD unclassified networks."
A Defense Department spokesman at the Pentagon added: “The Guardian website is NOT being blocked by DoD. The Department of Defense routinely takes preventative measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information onto DoD unclassified networks.”
"Apparently the people in the Army are old enough & mature enough to risk their lives to fight in wars but not mature enough to read news articles that the rest of the world is reading." - Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, saying blocked access to the Guardian website is a “prestigious award” and that he is “humbled & honored to have received this award.”
White House ‘Insider Threat’ program reportedly equates whistleblowing with spying
June 25, 2013
The Obama administration has taken a hard line on secrecy and internal security, aggressively prosecuting leakers and using surveillance programs to uncover journalists’ anonymous sources. And according to the McClatchy news agency, a program aimed at preventing leaks could be discouraging whistleblowing by equating it with treason. McClatchy has apparently reviewed documents for the administration-wide Insider Threat Program, which was created in 2011 after Bradley Manning released classified cables to WikiLeaks.
The program is meant to make it easier for agencies to prevent employees from leaking information, asking them to evaluate workers’ trustworthiness and set severe penalties for intentionally breaking security protocol or failing to report a breach. But it also supposedly leaves the actual definition of a threat broad, meaning that almost anything could fall under the program’s jurisdiction. While the administration has attempted to make it easier for would-be whistleblowers to report problems through internal channels, McClatchy says a Defense Department document describes any kind of security breach as a kind of espionage. “Hammer this fact home,” it apparently says, “leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”
The program also directs agencies to monitor their employees, which is standard practice in any high-security area. Frequently, that means watching for high-risk indicators like financial or marital problems, which can provide leverage for blackmailers or foreign intelligence agencies. But some non-intelligence agencies apparently encourage employees to watch each other for potential risk factors, which could fuel mistrust — especially since these factors can be something as innocuous as working at unusual hours.
At worst, it can mean telling employees to be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t seem happy enough. "It’s about people’s profiles, their approach to work, how they interact with management. Are they cheery? Are they looking at Salon.com or The Onion during their lunch break? This is about The Stepford Wives,” complained an anonymous Pentagon official.
The Obama administration has been public about the need for tracking insider threats, and we’ve known for years that there’s a fine line between looking for spies and cracking down on “disgruntled” but trustworthy employees. President Obama and other officials have also been open about the fact that they consider even principled leaking treasonous. These revelations about the Insider Threat Program underscore this, while making it clear that we’ll likely see even bigger crackdowns in the wake of Edward Snowden’s attempt to evade prosecution for espionage.
"It’s about people’s profiles, their approach to work, how they interact with management. Are they cheery? Are they looking at Salon.com or The Onion during their lunch break? This is about The Stepford Wives," complained an anonymous Pentagon official.
Watch Amy Goodman’s interview with Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy Newspapers on Insider Threat here.
The US just murdered a boy in Yemen: will Obama respond? A brief look at the history of this administration would indicate no!
June 21. 2013
Last night, McClatchy Newspapers published a detailed report alleging that a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed not only suspected militants, but also a ten-year-old boy named Abdulaziz Huraydan. The boy’s killing sets a grisly new milestone. This is the first reported civilian death from a drone strike since President Obama’s May 23 speech on counter-terrorism, in which he told us that the U.S. would only strike if there was a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” A week after Obama’s speech, Secretary of State John Kerry publicly stated, “We do not fire when we know there are children or collateral … we just don’t.”
The strike occurred two weeks ago on June 9. Adam Baron, the McClatchy journalist who covered the story and who recently testified before members of Congress about his numerous drone strike investigations, told me that a number of sources confirmed to him that the child, Abdulaziz, was killed. It appears that the boy was the younger brother of a suspected al Qaida militant, and that the strike targeted the car they were traveling in.
Investigations of drone strikes are often exceptionally difficult, in part because the U.S. and other governments refuse to admit basic facts, and because of the difficulty in accessing areas where many strikes occur, security restrictions, witness fears, source reliability concerns, and the difficulty of carrying out forensic examinations. Baron, who spent the past two weeks piecing the story together, said that reporting on many of the strikes in Yemen was a “nearly Sisyphean task.” He also said that while news reports “often hit the wires within hours of strike, the dust often takes days to settle” and that initial “reported death counts are often inaccurate.”
Absent Baron’s report, there would be virtually no public record of ten-year-old Abdulaziz’s alleged killing by the United States. Numerous major outlets did not cover the strike at all. (They have also largely failed to report other strikes in Yemen since Obama’s speech.) Those that did cover the June 9 strike, including the Associated Press and Reuters, made no mention of the child, although Baron and journalist Iona Craig had reported — via twitter — early allegations of the child’s death on the very day of the strike.
The President and senior officials, after years of criticism by human rights groups and others about the targeted killing program’s secrecy, have repeatedly committed to and promised transparency. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Notably, John Brennan, during his nomination to be CIA Director, stated that if there was a mistake and the wrong person was killed, we “need to acknowledge it publicly.”
As is typically the case, however, the U.S. government is yet to say a word about the latest reported strike. Without any meaningful government transparency, the public is left guessing how to best reconcile the allegations of Abdulaziz’s death with Obama’s new killing rules and Kerry’s public statements. Are reports of the child’s death mistaken or false? Did the U.S. consider the boy a militant? Was it the Yemenis or Saudis, and not the Americans, who carried out the strike? Or, perhaps the U.S. does conduct strikes if it knows civilians may be killed?
It is difficult to know what policies, rules, or laws may have been applied to this strike in light of the government’s refusal to release its targeted killing legal memos, or to explain key terms in sufficient detail. Maybe the new killings rules published last month have not come fully into effect yet; maybe they did not apply to this strike. (Despite the publication of the killing rules, the public does not know clearly when and where they apply, for the reasons explained by Ryan Goodman and myself here). Perhaps, then, those targeting knew that the child was there, but reasonably assessed his death as lawful collateral damage under the laws of armed conflict. Or, perhaps, despite claims that drones enable unprecedented surveillance and accuracy, those targeting on June 9 just did not see that a child was also in the car; his death may have been unintended, a mistake.
This is, of course, hardly the only case of its type. Local and international journalists and human rights researchers have reported detailed allegations of past cases which raise questions about civilian harm, as well as whether the U.S. could have captured rather than killed a suspect. A brief sample of particularly troubling cases: a January 2013 strike that allegedly targeted militants, but also killed a school-teacher and a student; a November 2012 strike that led many to ask why the suspect had not been arrested; a September 2012 strike that allegedly killed 12 civilians, including three children (a case put before the U.S. Senate); an August 2012 strike that allegedly killed a cleric who only days before had given a speech denouncing Al Qaeda; a May 2012 strike that allegedly killed at least 14 people including a pregnant woman; and the well-known strike in al-Majalah in December 2009 that allegedly killed 21 children (Jeremy Scahill’s new film Dirty Wars prominently features this strike, and contains powerful interviews with survivors and community members).
These strikes all raise the same basic questions, none of which the U.S. government has publicly and adequately answered. Who are we killing? On what factual and legal basis, and according to what policies? Family members of victims, NGOs, and the UN have been asking these questions for a decade. But all too often, broad defenses of U.S. drone use simply debate straw men, and mischaracterize or ignore the specific questions and concerns raised.
The U.S. government’s continuing refusal to publicly respond to allegations undermines its stated commitments to transparency and the rule of law, and threatens core democratic and constitutional norms. The secrecy also undercuts the basic system of checks and balances, denies the American public vital information necessary to assess a program carried out in its name, permits false information to proliferate, denies remedies to victims, and sets a damaging precedent for other countries.
The specific allegations surrounding this latest strike provide an opportunity for the U.S. government to change course, and to make good on its transparency promises. The government should immediately clarify whether it had any role in the June 9 strike and, if so, provide an accounting of who was killed and why. If ten-year-old Abdulaziz Huraydan was killed, the government should publicly acknowledge this, and explain how his killing conforms to the government’s legal obligations and policy commitments.
WikiLeaks: Journalist Michael Hastings was under FBI investigation before his death
June 20, 2013
The document-leaking organization WikiLeaks says journalist Michael Hastings called the organization’s attorney hours before his death Tuesday in a fiery one-car crash in Los Angeles.
In a tweet, WikiLeaks announced: “Michael Hastings contacted WikiLeaks lawyer Jennifer Robinson just a few hours before he died, saying that the FBI was investigating him.”
Hastings, 33, was known as a hard-charging reporter who caused Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lose his job as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan with an explosive 2010 story in Rolling Stone, in which he quoted McChrystal offering unsavory commentary about the Obama administration.
In his final article, published June 7 by BuzzFeed, Hastings wrote of revelations that the National Security Agency was harvesting large quantities of phone and Internet information. “Perhaps more information will soon be forthcoming,” the article said.
The FBI declined to say if Hastings was under investigation.
"We can neither confirm nor deny FBI investigative activity," Ari Dekofsky, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, told U.S. News. "Sometimes that can change, sometimes it can never change."
For many journalists it’s standard practice to file a Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files on recently deceased public figures. It’s possible, however, that documents relevant to an ongoing investigation would be withheld.
A staffer at the FBI’s national press office swatted at conspiracy theories that the reporter’s death might have been related to an investigation.
"I don’t see how killing could be part of an investigation," the staffer told U.S. News. "We’re supposed to investigate and that’s what we do." The woman declined to provide her name because she is not an official spokeswoman.
The Los Angeles Police Department has not yet positively identified Hastings as the person killed in the Mercedes-Benz C250 that crashed, pending a coroner report. His death, however, has been acknowledged by many news publications, including his employer, ahead of official confirmation.
"First of all, we haven’t 100 percent identified Mr. Hastings as the driver," Detective Connie White told U.S. News on Thursday. The department’s traffic detectives believe speeding contributed to the crash, but White noted the exact cause of the crash is "still under investigation."
The motor of Hastings’ car was thrown 100 feet from the crash site, LA Weekly reports.
If Hastings was indeed under FBI investigation he would likely join a growing list of journalists ensnared in anti-whistleblower probes.
In court documents approved by Attorney General Eric Holder, Fox News reporter James Rosen was labeled a possible “co-conspirator” in breaking the law for reporting in 2009 on leaked material. That revelation was made by the Washington Post in May, days after The Associated Press revealed that the Justice Department seized the records of 20 phone lines used by the news agency.
Egyptian blogger convicted & sentenced for insulting Mohamed Morsi’s already tarnished reputation
June 4, 2013
A high-profile Egyptian blogger and activist was sentenced to six months in jail on Monday merely for insulting President Mohamed Morsi, in what campaigners said was the first major conviction in a legal crackdown on critics.
More than 100 of Ahmed Douma’s supporters filled the courtroom in a Cairo suburb and chanted slogans against the Islamist president during the hearing. “It’s clear that the government is trying to threaten activists with these cases,” said one of his lawyers, Ali Soliman.
Douma, found guilty of accurately labeling the president a criminal and a murderer in media interviews, was allowed to pay 5,000 Egyptian pounds bail to stay out of prison pending an appeal, according to Soliman.
Morsi, voted in after a popular revolt ousted his predecessor Hosni Mubarak in 2011, has dismissed accusations by rights groups that his government and allies want to crush dissent. But one Egyptian campaign group has said in a report two dozen cases of “insulting the president” were brought in the first 200 days of Morsi’s rule - four times as many as during Mubarak’s 30 years in power. “The irony is that the president elected after the 25 January revolution is still maintaining the same restrictive laws that have been in place for decades,” said Gamal Soltan, political science professor at the American University in Cairo.
Douma was arrested on April 30 on charges of insulting the president in the aftermath of deadly clashes in February between locals and police in the Suez Canal city of Port Said.
Morsi has pointed to his banning of pre-trial detention of journalists as proof of his commitment to a free press, though his government has not amended laws with a wide scope for prosecution on grounds of ‘defamation’ (speaking the truth about Mohamed Morsi).
“[The penal code] allows citizens to be locked up for expression-related crimes,” punishing citizens for “legitimate political criticism of the authorities,” said Heba Morayef, Egypt director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, after the case.
May 14, 2013
The president of the Associated Press has sent a letter of protest to US Attorney General Eric Holder over the Department of Justice’s broad surveillance of individual reporters’ phone conversations.
In a letter received by the AP on Friday, the Justice Department acknowledged but offered no explanation for the seizure of two months’ worth of telephone records of reporters and editors. AP’s president, Gary Pruitt, called the ongoing monitoring a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”
The AP believes that more than 100 journalists are involved in the DOJ’s phone surveillance, which would have involved a wide variety of stories regarding government and other topics. Pruitt has called for the return of obtained phone records, as well as the destruction of all copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” said Pruitt.
According to the AP’s own reporting of the alleged phone taps, Justice Department rules require that subpoenas of such records from news organizations must be approved by the attorney general. Notification to the AP was made by a letter sent by Ronald Machen, US attorney in Washington, but did not clarify if such rules had been followed.
It is believed that phone records were obtained as part of a criminal investigation into leaked information about a CIA operation in Yemen that unraveled an Al-Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate an explosive on a US-bound jet airliner.
Speculation on a link to that particular story was made by the AP based on the fact that phone numbers were obtained by the DoJ for five reporters and an editor involved in the May 7, 2012 story.
According to the AP, CIA Director John Brennan was questioned by the FBI as to whether he had been the source of the leak. In testimony regarding the story in February, Brennan called the leak an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”
Records obtained by the Justice Department detailed incoming and outgoing calls, as well as the duration of calls, for work and private numbers of AP reporters and offices in New York, Washington, and Hartford, Connecticut, as well as the main number for reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.
In its statement regarding the phone taps, the Department of Justice cited an exception to notifying a news organization in advance if it would hamper its own investigation:
“We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws,” the statement reads.
The rights of the US citizens are increasingly under attack, acknowledged Caleb Maupin from International Action Center.
“All the things that the Democratic Party lambasted George W. Bush for doing – they are now continuing. It is a trend in repression,” he said.
“This is an act of intimidation against the Associated Press. It was a real fear in the House of Power, which includes both the Democrats and the Republicans, that the press might start doing its job and actually speaking truth to power, actually exposing some of the crimes that has been committed,” Maupin said.
“They are going to threaten and intimidate journalists and keep that from happening – that is what’s behind this,” he concluded.
“The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information and has actually brought six cases of people actually suspected of leaking classified information to trial – and that is more than all previous administrations combined,” RT America correspondent Meghan Lopez said, specifying that Bradley manning is only one of them.
Eric Draitser, an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City who spoke to RT on Monday says that news of the DoJ’s monitoring of the AP has wider implications:
“This kind of surveillance is used for the purpose of persecution, it is the persecution of whistle blowers primarily. So what you see are that the records sought were records of various journalists, in an attempt not to so much surveil the journalists but to track down who their sources are,” says Draitser.
“And much of this emerges out of this case in Yemen, with regard to CIA Director Brennan, and the idea of this leaked information. The Obama administration, perhaps more so than any other administration before it, has been vehemently persecuting whistleblowers of all kinds,” added Draitser.
"It is not unprecedented for the Justice Department to secretly get the numbers of reporters. What’s remarkable is the sweeping nature of this, the dragnet approach … and that’s why you have some press watchdog groups tonight, and freedom of the press groups saying this is positively Nixonian. They have not seen a precedent for this in decades." - Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein.
The Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers & information continues.