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Issue #1600      July 3, 2013

Culture & Life

Vive the whistleblowers!

In the 1950s, the tabloids and magazines like Reader’s Digest regularly regaled their readers with lurid tales of the lengths their foreign correspondents in Moscow had to go to keep their conversations safe from the listening devices of the evil KGB. A favourite technique was to go into the bathroom and turn on the tap while talking.

Spying these days is far more sophisticated, but people are still busy “listening in”.

Even as the US authorities try to silence whistleblowers by throwing them into the hell-holes known as Marine Brigs, still more conscience-stricken US citizens are blowing the gaff on their government’s record of surveillance over and spying on the legal activities of its own people.

And now another US whistleblower has embarrassed the White House by revealing that the US National Security Agency has been hacking mobile phone text messages in China. It also accessed computers at the Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which according to the South China Morning Post owns one of the most extensive fibre-optic submarine cables in the region.

This should prove a wee bit embarrassing for US Pres Barack Obama who only a couple of weeks ago was on his high horse trying to embarrass China’s President Xi Jinping about alleged Chinese cyber attacks on US companies.

Then it was Britain’s turn to put the boot into the NSA. With the help of whistle blower Edward Snowden, the respected British bourgeois newspaper The Guardian decided to expose the electronic snooping carried out by the same National Security Agency under the code name, the Prism Program. Prism is mind-boggling in its scope: with the full cooperation of the corporations involved, it can access all the data of the giant Internet companies.

Much of this data comes from seemingly innocuous sources. For instance, Microsoft’s gaming console X-Box One. Microsoft still trumpets the slogan “Your privacy is our priority”, but leaked information about Prism revealed that X-Box One includes the program Kinect 2.0. This little gem measures everything about the person using it from motion to heart-rate and sends that information to Microsoft servers every 24 hours. The ostensible reason for this is to stop gamers from selling a game on to other users after they have finished with it.

The more likely reason, however, is that – like Facebook – the data collected by Kinect 2.0 can be very profitably sold on to product marketers and the advertising industry, besides giving government snoopers unrivalled access to personal data about millions of individuals.

However, imperialist governments don’t just spy on their own people. Turkey is one of several countries demanding answers from the British government over revelations from another whistleblower that British security agencies used the 2009 G20 summit meeting in London to spy on foreign government delegations attending it.

The whistleblower revealed that Turkey’s delegates for example had their computers monitored and their phones tracked. Turkey is demanding answers. South Africa has condemned the “abuse of privacy” and a senior Russian politician has described it as a “scandal”.

The people attending the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland also attended the G20 summit. I’ll bet there were a lot of conversations conducted in bathrooms with the taps running!

The standard response to revelations like Prism and the G20 whistleblower is to “Deny – deny – deny!” But sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. And the Prism revelations in particular fall into that unfortunate category. So the US hotshots brought in a big gun to deal with the matter: they called up former Vice President Dick Cheney to attempt to justify such illicit “data collecting”. Yes, you heard me right: Dick Cheney, probably the least trustworthy man in the history of Washington after Richard Nixon.

Cheney’s brief is simple: to “reveal” to the American people details of dozens of “terror plots” supposedly thwarted thanks to illegal snooping. Democratic rights, 50 years ago the cornerstone of the “American way of life”, are now effectively dead and buried on the altar of government need.


And while on the subject of the top capitalist country, did you see the news report about the plight of the city of Detroit? Once the automobile capital of the world, its name synonymous with the car and truck industry, today Detroit is a city sunk deeply in debt, debt it cannot pay. In fact, the city has announced it is about to default on a US$2.5 billion debt, and is asking its secured creditors to accept ten cents in the dollar in a bid to avoid the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in US history.

Detroit is so hard up that the city’s Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, has announced that the city will stop paying any money to its unsecured creditors, in a bid to “conserve cash” for vital services like police and fire-fighters.

At the same time Orr is warning that he will have to cut present and future pension benefits and health care, and hand control of the city’s water and sewerage to private contractors.

And capitalists still like to brag about how great their system is!

Meanwhile Russia is moving to create its own Mediterranean Fleet to help protect independent states in the region from US military intervention. It is understood that Russia has offered financial assistance to cash-strapped Cyprus in return for a military base there, in case its base in Syria becomes untenable (if NATO and its “rebels” succeed in overthrowing President Assad’s government for example).

From 1967 until 1992, the Soviet 5th Mediterranean Fleet operated in the region with 30–50 ships, but under Gorbachev Russia steadily withdrew and gave the US virtually a free hand in the area. The new Russian fleet planned for the Med will have about a dozen ships and submarines. Mistral helicopter carriers that Russia has purchased from France, and which will start arriving in 2015, are also expected to be deployed there. The Mistrals are ideal for long-term command operations at sea and one of them may become the command ship of the Russian Federation Mediterranean fleet.   

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