New Zealand: Spying for NSA

The Fifth Eye

Directed by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones (2015)

Film Review

This documentary traces the history of New Zealand involvement in the US-run Five Eyes spy network, first brought to public awareness by the 2008 arrest of three Ploughshares activists for criminal trespass the Waihopai Spy Base near Blenheim New Zealand.

According to investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager (featured in the film), New Zealand built the spy base in the mid-eighties after getting kicked out of the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US) security network for declaring New Zealand a nuclear-free zone. This declaration effectively banned all US naval vessels from our ports – as the US refuses to disclose whether specific ships are propelled by nuclear power.

Hager reveals that Five Eyes spy is responsible for Echelon, a project that collects data from all phone calls and electronic communications for the US National Security Agency (NSA). The other agencies involved are the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the UK Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), and the New Zealand GCSB. GCSB-NZ is responsible for monitoring all phone and electronic traffic in the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite government reassurances that the GCSB didn’t spy on New Zealanders, in 2012 we learned they had spied on NZ resident Kim Dotcom for the 2012 swat team assault on his home. His crime: violation of US copyright law. Through the Official Information Act, we learned they had also spied on 88 other Kiwis the government declined to identify.

In 2010 the Ploughshares 3 presented a greater good defense and were acquitted. Their defense teams successfully persuaded the jury that the data collected at Waihopai was being used to target innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan for drone and cruise missile strikes or for arrest and torture.

In 2011, the government filed a civil lawsuit against the Ploughshares 3 for $1.2 million, which the high court granted via summary judgment (ie without trial). In 2013, their right to trial was denied by the Court of Appeal. The same year the National government, under John Key, passed (despite massive public opposition) the GSCB Amendment Bill. The latter granted the spy agency the right to spy on New Zealand citizens and permanent residents.

In 2014 the Waihopai activists appealed to the NZ Supreme Court, only for the government to drop their damage claim – owing to the extreme controversy arising over GCSB spying on Kiwi investigative journalist Jon Stephenson.

The high point of the film is the 2014 Internet Party conference in Auckland featuring Glenn Greenwald and (via video link) Edward Snowden that exposed the true extent of the GCSB in Fives Eyes spying on all New Zealanders’ phone and Internet activity.


*Dotcom is still waiting on a New Zealand Supreme Court decision whether he can be extradited to the US: Kim Dotcom Supreme Court Appeal

**Stephenson was reporting on the the role of NZ troops in handing over Afghan civilians to known torture unit,

The documentary can be viewed free for the next 11 days on the Maori TV website:

https://www.maoritelevision.com/docos/5th-eye

Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

 

Who Killed Hammarskjold? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa

by Susan Williams

Hurst and Company London (2016)

Book Review

This book details the author’s extensive investigation into a suspicious 1961 air crash that killed the second UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold. Her first edition, published in 2011, would trigger a new UN investigation, in 2015, into the cause of his death. In 2016, UN investigators concluded that Hammarskjold died as a result of foul play. However owing to US and UK refusal to release classified files, they couldn’t conclusively identify the individuals responsible.

The book begins by setting the stage for what was clearly an assassination. Williams describes in detail the role of foreign mining companies in fighting full independence of the Congo from Belgian rule. Belgian officers loyal to these companies continued to command Congolese troops following “official”  independence in 1960. When these troops mutinied, the UN declined a request for assistance from Congo’s first prime minister Patrice Lumumba.

His appeal to the Soviet Union (and the arrival of Soviet troops) would lead Katanga province (where most of the mines were located) to secede – with the support of Belgian troops and a bevy of white mercenaries from Rhodesia, South Africa, Britain and France.

At this point, the UN Security Council passed resolution 143, ordering Belgian troops to withdraw and installing UN peacekeepers in Katanga to prevent civil war. The CIA’s response was to assassinate Lumumba and Install their protege Mobutu Sese Seko (who would brutally ruled the Congo/Zaire from 1965-1997) as chief of Congo’s military.

Mobutu, in turn, arrested, tortured and executed all the senior members of the Congolese senate. The Security Council responded with Resolution 161, calling for the withdrawal of all foreign advisors and authorizing the UN to take “all necessary measures” to prevent civil war. This included supplying armed UN troops to protect the Congolese government.

When it was became clear the UN troops (who had significantly  inferior weapons) had no chance against the mercenaries’ superior fire power and Belgian air support, Hammerskjold set out for Nolda in Northern Rhodesia to try to negotiate a ceasefire with Katanga’s acting president Moise Tsombe. The secretary general’s jet mysteriously crashed as it approached Nolda airport.

In additions to hundreds of eyewitnesses (including a crash survivor who spent a week in hospital before he died) who saw Hammerskjold’s plane explode before it crashed, the most intriguing evidence comes from radio traffic between a pilot (reporting his attack on Hammerskjold’s jet) picked up by a US NSA operative in Cyprus and an Ethiopiann short wave operator and mysterious telexes* discovered in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation files in 1998. The latter refer to the plot to assassinate the Secretary General as “Operation Celeste,” run by shadowy South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAMIR) mercenaries.

As best as investigators can reconstruct, Operation Celeste planted a bomb on the DC-6 prior to its departure from Leopoldville.** When it failed to explode on take-off, two smaller planes were sent to intercept the jet and prevent it from landing. One pilot fired shots at the DC-6 that triggered the bomb to explode.


* Prior to the advent of the Internet, the telex network was an international system of teleprinters electronically interconnected by telephone lines.

**Leopoldville has since been renamed Kinshasha.

Hidden History: The Close Link Between Silicon Valley, the Pentagon and US Intelligence

The Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Big Tech Doesn’t Want You to Know

Directed by James Corbett (2019)

Film Review

This documentary explores the hidden Pentagon and US intelligence role in the development of of Silicon Valley, the Internet and tech giants like Google and Facebook.

Corbett traces the rise of Silicon Valley to the 1946 appointment of Frederick Terman as the dean of Stanford engineering school. During World War II, Terman ran the top secret radio research lab at Harvard. There he supervised 800 scientists in researching microwaves, radar detection and jamming and other forms of electronics warfare. Eleven of these scientists accompanied him to Standford, where they immediately received Pentagon contracts for military projects.

ARPANET, initially funded by the Department of Defense, became known as the Internet in 1991 when it was officially privatized.

Over the years, other technologies that began as Stanford graduate student projects were spun off as private ventures. Examples include Oracle Integrated Cloud Applications and Platform Services, derived from Project Oracle, a vast CIA database project; SunSystems Financial Management Software, also based based on Pentagon-funded research; and Google, which started as a project funded by DARPA, the CIA and the NSA.

In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the CIA, initially owned 5,000 shares in Google, which they sold in 2005. On their webpage, the CIA describes Google Earth as a CIA-assisted technology. A 2014 Freedom of Information Act Request indicates Google was (is?) part of a secret government project called Enduring Security Framework Initiative. The latter paid (pays?) the company to share data they collect on search engine users with US intelligence and the Pentagon.

Google’s founder and former CEO Eric Schmidt is now the chair of the Defense Efficiency Initiative. He’s also a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group’s steering committee.

Facebook has a similar history of Pentagon and US intelligence backing. By a remarkable coincidence, Facebook was launched the same day (Feb 4 2004) that DARPA scrapped a proposed study to predict behavior by collecting massive amounts of data on subjects’ daily interests and activities.

Facebook received most of its startup funding from venture capitalists closely linked to the Department of Defense and US intelligence – including $12.7 million from Accel Partners, whose managing director previously served on the board of In-Q-Tel.


*ARPA – Advanced Research Projects Agency – has since been renamed DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Agency).

 

 

The Whistleblowers Who Exposed the Surveillance State

Digital Dissidents Part 1

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

Digital Dissidents is about six whistleblowers who risked their careers, financial ruin and imprisonment to expose secret government crimes. In Part 1 of this two-part series, the whistleblowers introduce themselves and speak briefly about the circumstances that led them to leak illicit secret government information – at great risk to themselves.

  • Daniel Ellsberg, who worked in the US Embassy in Saigon, leaked 7,000 pages of documents to the New York Times in 1971 revealing the US government had systematically lied to Congress for decades about US military involvement in Vietnam. He was charged with theft and illegal possession of secret documents. The case against him collapsed when it came out that Nixon was illegally wiretapping him and had ordered “plumbers” to break into his psychiatrist’s office.
  • Thomas Drake, who worked for the CIA prior to being transferred to the NSA on 9/11/01. When he learned the NSA was illegally spying on journalists, he spent months “going through channels” to raise the alarm with his superiors. After he went to a Baltimore Sun reporter in 2007 with evidence of his concerns, the US government charged him with 10 felonies under the 1917 Espionage Act. After a lengthy trial that virtually bankrupted him, Drake pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor of misusing a government computer. He was sentenced to one year probation and 240 hours of community service.
  • William Binney, who also worked for the NSA (for 30 years) developing a wiretap program capable of filtering large numbers of domestic and foreign communication. He left the NSA in October 2001 and became a whistleblower in 2002. Although the FBI raided his home at gunpoint, he was eventually cleared of criminal charges.
  • Edward Snowden, who worked for both the CIA and the NSA, leaked thousands of files substantiating Drake’s and Binney’s allegations to a number of journalists worldwide. The US canceled his passport while he was at the Moscow airport (en route from Hong Kong to South America), and he was forced to seek asylum in Russia.
  • Julian Assange, an Australian national and former hacker, who founded Wikileaks in 2006. The purpose of this website is to allow whistle blowers from all over the world to safely and anonymously leak documents implicating their governments in criminal activities.
  • David Shayler and his former partner Anne Machon, former MI5 operatives who passed secret documents to The Mail on Sunday about British intelligence involvement in illegal activities. In 2002, Shayler received a six month prison sentence for violating the Official Secrets Act.

 

Although the video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, it can be seen for free at the Al Jazeera website: Digital Dissidents

Pipelinestan: The Taliban, Unocal and 9-11

Taliban Oil

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Taliban Oil is a documentary about secret negotiations between Unocal and the Taliban to build a pipeline transporting natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India – via Afghanistan. It features interviews with the former president of Unocal (who entertained Taliban leaders in his home in Sugarland Texas), a female Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) operative who lost her security clearance for a report warning the Clinton administration for a against US collaboration with the Taliban.

This film contradicts the conventional wisdom that the US invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to build the Unocal pipeline. Filmmakers maintain it was Unocal who canceled the pipeline project. Already by the late nineties, Afghanistan was suffering the ravages of a 20-years of civil war – the Taliban were extremely keen to use the $400 million/year transit fees for reconstruction. The Clinton administration was also heavily promoting the pipeline deal, arranging for Taliban leaders to meet with the State Department, CIA and NSA.

Unocal reportedly withdrew from the deal in 1998, after suicide bombers blew up US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania. Clinton blamed the suicide bombing on Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, who was operating jihadist training camps in Afghanistan.

In addition to attacking various training camps with cruise missiles, Clinton made 30 separate requests for the Taliban to extradite bin Laden to the US. Although supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar opposed the training camps, bin Laden was a national hero for his role in expelling the Soviets. It would have brought great shame on the Taliban leadership to hand him over to the Americans. .

In 2001 George W Bush and Dick Cheney reiterated the requests for bin Laden’s extradition, while simultaneously making deals for their own petroleum companies to build the pipeline.

Rejecting the Taliban’s offer to expel bin Laden to a third country, in summer 2001 the Bush administration made plans to invade Afghanistan in mid-autumn. One source* quoted in the film states the jihadists were aware of the impending attack and decided to launch a preemptive strike on the Twin Towers.


*For documentation filmmakers provide an old YouTube clip from Adam Gaddan, the Jewish-born “American” al-Qaeda spokesperson. Gaddan has long been suspected of either Israeli or US intelligence links.

Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

Obama: A Legacy of Ashes

James Corbett (2017)

Film Review

In his excellent documentary about Obama’s presidency, James Corbett highlights important ways in which Obama systematically reduced civil liberties and democratic oversight of government.

  • After promising to end George W Bush’s de facto lawmaking via unconstitutional signing statements, Obama far signing statements than his predecessor.
  • He repeatedly inserted text into bills without informing lawmakers before they voted on them.
  • After promising to end the role of lobbyists in running government, he allowed Citibank to select his cabinet and the insurance lobby to write The Affordable Care Act.
  • While claiming to run the most transparent administration in history, he set a record for denying Freedom of Information Act requests and prosecuting whistleblowers.
  • Despite promising to end illegal wiretapping and spying on activists, he greatly increased routine NSA surveillance of ordinary citizens. He also introduced legislation repealing Posse Comitatus* and authorizing indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. And issued an executive order granting himself the power (which he exercised liberally) to arbitrarily assassinate his enemies, including US citizens.

Obama was also the only president in history who was continuously at war during his entire eight years in office.** All but two (which he inherited from Bush) were illegal and unconstitutional wars he launched without government approval.

I was intrigued to learn the Patriot Act (enacted by the Bush administration after 9-11) was originally written by Obama’s vice president Joe Biden in 1995.


*The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibited the US government using federal troops in domestic law enforcement, except in circumstances expressly authorized by the US Constitution.

**In addition to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which candidate Obama promised to end), he launched illegal wars of aggression in Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Snowden: The Book Behind the Film

snowden-files

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

By Luke Harding

Guardian Books (2014)

Book Review

The Snowden Files is the fast-paced thrilleresque account of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s dramatic escape from US capture in Hong Kong, following his leak of thousands of computer files documenting Orwellian NSA surveillance activites. Earlier this year, this book was remade as the motion picture Snowden.

Published in the UK, The Snowden Files provides substantial background on the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, whose spying on innocent civilians is even more egregious than the NSA’s, owing to the country’s weaker civil liberties protections. In fact, the NSA relies on GCHQ to engage in certain types of snooping (on Americans) that are expressly forbidden in the US.

When Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald first broke the story that Internet giants Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo were secretly turning over vast amounts of customer data to the NSA, his editors were forced to release the story online from the Guardian’s New York office to avoid prosecution in Britain. Shortly after the story’s release, British police destroyed all the hard drives in the Guardian’s London office – in the belief they continued copies of NSA files Snowden had released.

I especially appreciated the book’s epilogue about Snowden’s life in Russia, as it dispels much of the western propaganda about his selling NSA secrets to Russia, his refusal to learn Russian (he speaks enough to do his own grocery shopping and is working to improve his fluency), and his (non-existent) job with a Russian tech company. At the time of publication, Snowden supported himself through savings and speaking fees.

Four other government whistleblowers (Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Ray McGovern and Thomas Drake) visited Snowden in Moscow in 2013, and the book recounts their meeting.

The book’s major shortcoming is its embarrassing fact checking lapses – for example the assertion that Putin “invaded” Crimea in 2014. Most independent sources confirm that in 2014 the legislature of the Autonomous Republic Crimea held a referendum in which 95.5% voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum was triggered when a US-sponsored fascist coup seized the government in Kiev.

Chasing Edward Snowden

Chasing Edward Snowden

Anonymous (2016)

Film Review

Chasing Edward Snowden is an extremely well made documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong to Moscow and the role played by Wikileaks and the Hong Kong government in facilitating his escape.

Prior to seeing the film, I was unaware Snowden (under US indictment for treason) had reached out for Wikileaks’ help nor that Putin initially turned down his asylum request when he refused to work for the FSB.

All this changed, when France, under US pressure, denied the Bolivian presidential jet access to French airspace. Acting on false rumors spread by Wikileaks, the US and France believed President Morales had smuggled Snowden onto his plane.

Because the French action contravened Geneva conventions, world opinion turned in Snowden’s favor, persuading Putin to reverse himself and grant his asylum petition.


*FSB is the Russian state security agency that replaced the KGB.

Empire Building US-Style

Apologies of an Economic Hitman

Directed by Stelios Kouloglou (2008)

Film Review

This is a very intriguing Greek documentary about John Perkins, author of the 2004 book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. In the film, Perkins summarizes his recruitment by the NSA to work as an “economic hitman.” Despite his close affiliation to US intelligence, he was technically under the employ of a private engineering company called Charles T Main Inc. It was his role to approach third world presidents with bribes to accept World Bank loans for massive infrastructure projects – which were usually built by major US companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton.

This was done with the deliberate intention of saddling the third world countries with debt they couldn’t repay. Their only option would be to seek refinancing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which usually demanded they slash public services and open up their resources to further exploitation by Wall Street interests .

As Perkins describes it, this was the strategy of choice (as opposed to direct military intervention) for expanding US empire between 1945-2000. Any third world leader who refused to play ball was openly threatened with assassination. The first step in dealing with a recalcitrant leader was to send in the “jackals,” CIA officers and contractors who would try to instigate a military coup. If this failed, US intelligence would send in an assassination team. If this also failed, they would fall back on military invasion and occupation (always a last resort).

The film zeroes in on the assassination (via plane crash) of Ecuadorian president Jaime Roldós Aguilera and Panamanian president Omar Torrijos in 1981. It also provides interesting background to the US invasion of Iraq, following Saddam Hussein’s rejection of a massive Bechtel oil pipeline project.

I was previously unaware of the CIA effort to instigate a military coup against Saddam in 1996. The CIA discarded the option of assassinating him because he had too many doubles. Even his own bodyguards never knew if they were guarding the real Saddam.