Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mafia State: Kosovo's Prime Minister Accused of Running Human Organ, Drug Trafficking Cartel

In another grim milestone for the United States and NATO, the Council of Europe (COE) released an explosive report last week, "Inhuman treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo."

The report charged that former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) boss and current Prime Minister, Hashim Thaçi, "is the head of a 'mafia-like' Albanian group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe," The Guardian disclosed.

According to a draft resolution unanimously approved December 16 in Paris, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights found compelling evidence of forced disappearances, organ trafficking, corruption and collusion between criminal gangs and "political circles" in Kosovo who just happen to be close regional allies of the United States.

The investigation was launched by Dick Marty, the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) special rapporteur for human rights who had conducted an exhaustive 2007 probe into CIA "black fights" in Europe.

The PACE investigation gathered steam after allegations were published by former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte in her 2008 memoir.

After it's publication, Ms. Del Ponte was bundled off to Argentina by the Swiss government as her nation's ambassador. Once there, the former darling of the United States who specialized in doling out victor's "justice" to the losers of the Balkan wars, was conveniently silenced.

A series of damning reports by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIR), the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) and the BBC, confirmed Del Ponte's allegations and spurred the Council to act.

Reporting for the BBC, investigative journalist Michael Montgomery learned that political opponents of the KLA and Serb prisoners of war "simply vanished without a trace" into a secret prison "in the Albanian border town of Kukes."

According to sources who feared for their lives, including former KLA guerrillas, the BBC revealed that disappeared civilians "were Serbs and Roma seized by KLA soldiers and were being hidden away from Nato troops. The source believes the captives were sent across the border to Albania and killed."

In an uncanny echo of Nazi practices during the period of the Third Reich, The New York Times reported that "captives" were "'filtered' for their suitability as donors, based on sex, age, health conditions and ethnic origin. "We heard numerous references to captives' not merely having been handed over, but also having been 'bought' and 'sold,'" the special rapporteur told the Times.

"Some of the guards told investigators," the Times reports, "that a few captives understood what was about to happen and 'pleaded with their captors to be spared the fate of being chopped into pieces'."

Mercy was in short supply however, behind KLA lines.

The report states: "As and when the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the captives were brought out of the 'safe house' individually, summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic."

Once organs were removed from the victims they were auctioned off to the highest bidder and sold by a global trafficking ring still operating today.

The former prosecutor further alleged, The Guardian reported, that "she had been prevented from investigating senior KLA officials" who she claimed had "smuggled captive Serbs across the border into Albania, where their organs were harvested."

In a classic case of covering-up the crimes of low-level thugs to protect more powerful criminals, Del Ponte has charged that forensic evidence gathered by ICTY investigators at one of the northern Albania death houses was destroyed at The Hague.

International Network

This brisk underground trade didn't end in 1999 however, when the break-away Serb province was occupied by NATO troops; on the contrary, operations expanded and grew even more profitable as Kosovo devolved into a protectorate of the United States.

In fact, a trial underway in Pristina has revealed that "desperate Russians, Moldovans, Kazakhs and Turks were lured into the capital 'with the false promise of payments' for their kidneys," The Guardian reported.

It was a "growth industry" that fed on human misery. According to The Guardian, recipients "paid up to €90,000 (£76,400) for the black-market kidneys [and] included patients from Canada, Germany, Poland and Israel," EU prosecutor Jonathan Ratel told the British paper.

"Donors" however, were left holding the bag, lucky to escape with their lives.

At the center of the scandal is the Medicus clinic. Located some six miles from downtown Pristina, Medicus was allegedly founded by university hospital urologist Dr Lutfi Dervishi, and a former permanent secretary of health, prosecutors claim, provided the clinic with a false license to operate.

Two of the accused, The Guardian revealed, "are fugitives wanted by Interpol: Moshe Harel, an Israeli said to have matched donors with recipients, and Yusuf Sonmez, perhaps the world's most renowned organ trafficker."

Prosecutors believe that Harel and Sonmez are the brains behind Medicus and that Shaip Muja, a former KLA "medical commander" who was based in Albania, may have overseen operations at the "clinic."

Muja remains a close confidante of Thaçi's and, in an macabre twist, he is currently "a political adviser in the office of the prime minister, with responsibility for health," The Guardian reports.

Investigators averred they had "uncovered numerous convergent indications of Muja's central role [in] international networks, comprising human traffickers, brokers of illicit surgical procedures, and other perpetrators of organised crime."

Besides lining the pockets of Albanian, Israeli and Turkish criminals who ran the grisly trafficking ring, whose interests might also be served in covering-up these horrific crimes?

A Gangster State, but which One?

The veil of secrecy surrounding KLA atrocities could not have been as complete as it was without the intervention of powerful actors, particularly amongst political and military elites in Germany and the United States who had conspired with local gangsters, rebranded as "freedom fighters," during the break-up of Yugoslavia.

As in Albania years before NATO's Kosovo adventure, organized criminal activities and "the trade in narcotics and weapons [were] allowed to prosper," Michel Chossudovsky wrote, because "the West had turned a blind eye."

These extensive deliveries of weapons were tacitly permitted by the Western powers on geopolitical grounds: both Washington and Bonn had favoured (although not officially) the idea of a 'Greater Albania' encompassing Albania, Kosovo and parts of Macedonia. Not surprisingly, there was a 'deafening silence' on the part of the international media regarding the Kosovo arms-drugs trade. ("The Criminalization of Albania," in Masters of the Universe? NATO's Balkan Crusade, ed. Tariq Ali, London: Verso, 2000, pp. 299-300)

The consequences of this "deafening silence" remain today. Both in terms of the misery and impoverishment imposed on Kosovo's citizens by the looting of their social property, particularly the wholesale privatization of its mineral wealth which IMF economic "reforms" had spawned, and in the political cover bestowed upon Pristina's gangster regime by the United States.

In the intervening years NATO's "blind eye" has morphed into something more sinister: outright complicity with their Balkan protégés.

Virtually charging the ICTY with knuckling under to political pressure from the Americans, the PACE report states that "the ICTY, which had started to conduct an initial examination on the spot to establish the existence of traces of possible organ trafficking, dropped the investigation."

"The elements of proof taken in Rripe, in Albania" during that initial inquiry investigators wrote, "have been destroyed and cannot therefore be used for more detailed analyses. No subsequent investigation has been carried out into a case nevertheless considered sufficiently serious by the former ICTY Prosecutor for her to see the need to bring it to public attention through her book."

This is hardly surprising, considering that the ICTY was created at the insistence of the Clinton administration precisely as a retributive hammer to punish official enemies of the U.S.

Hailed as an objective body by media enablers of America's imperial project, with few exceptions, while it relentlessly hunted down alleged Serbian war criminals--the losers in the decade-long conflagration--it studiously ignored proxy forces, including the KLA, under the operational control of German and American intelligence agencies.

The report averred that human organ trafficking was only a part of a larger web of crime and corruption, and that murder, trafficking in women, control over global narcotics distribution and money laundering networks were standard operating procedure for Thaçi and other members of the "Drenica group," the black widows at the center of the KLA spiders' web.

For his part, Thaçi has called the PACE report "libelous" and the Kosovo government has repudiated the Council's findings claiming that the charges "were not based on facts and were construed to damage the image of Kosovo and the war of the Kosovo Liberation Army."

While one can easily dismiss prevarications from Kosovo's government, the White House role in covering-up the crimes of their client regime should have provoked a major scandal. That it didn't only reveals the depths of Washington's own venal self-interest in preventing this sordid affair from gaining traction.

In all likelihood fully-apprised of the Council of Europe's investigation through any number of American-friendly moles implanted in European institutions as WikiLeaks Cablegate files have revealed, last summer Thaçi met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden at the White House.

Shamelessly, Biden "reaffirmed the United States' full support for an independent, democratic, whole, and multi-ethnic Kosovo," and "reiterated the United States' firm support for Kosovo's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a White House press release.

Indeed, the vice president "welcomed the progress that Kosovo's government has made in carrying out essential reforms, including steps to strengthen the rule of law."

An all too predictable pattern when one considers the lawless nature of the regime in Washington.

The Heroin Trail

As I reported more than two years ago in "Welcome to Kosovo! The World's Newest Narco State," the KLA served as the militarized vanguard for the Albanian mafia whose "15 Families" control virtually every facet of the Balkan heroin trade.

Albanian traffickers ship heroin originating exclusively from Central Asia's Golden Crescent. At one end lies America's drug outpost in Afghanistan where poppy is harvested for processing and transshipment through Iran and Turkey; as morphine base it is then refined into "product" for worldwide consumption. From there it passes into the hands of the Albanian syndicates who control the Balkan Route.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported back in 1999, "Kosovars were the acknowledged masters of the trade, credited with shoving aside the Turkish gangs that had long dominated narcotics trafficking along the Balkan Route, and effectively directing the ethnic Albanian network."

As the murdered investigative journalist Peter Klebnikov reported in 2000 for Mother Jones, as the U.S.-sponsored war in Kosovo heated up, "the drug traffickers began supplying the KLA with weapons procured from Eastern European and Italian crime groups in exchange for heroin. The 15 Families also lent their private armies to fight alongside the KLA. Clad in new Swiss uniforms and equipped with modern weaponry, these troops stood out among the ragtag irregulars of the KLA. In all, this was a formidable aid package."

Despite billions of dollars spent on failed interdiction efforts, these patterns persist today as more than 106 metric tons of heroin flow into Europe. So alarmed has the Russian government become over the flood of heroin penetrating their borders from Central Asian and the Balkan outposts that some officials have likened it to American "narco-aggression" and a new "opium war, researcher Peter Dale Scott reported.

Scott avers: "These provinces" in Afghanistan, "support the past and present CIA assets in the Karzai regime (headed by Hamid Karzai, a former CIA asset), including the president’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, an active CIA asset, and Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former CIA asset. In effect America has allied itself with one drug faction in Afghanistan against another." Much the same can be said for CIA assets in Pristina.

As the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published in their 2010 World Drug Report:

Once heroin leaves Turkish territory, interception efficiency drops significantly. In the Balkans, relatively little heroin is seized, suggesting that the route is exceedingly well organized and lubricated with corruption. ... Another notable feature of the Balkan route is that some important networks have clan-based and hierarchically organized structures. Albanian groups in particular have such structures, making them particularly hard to infiltrate. This partially explains their continued involvement in several European heroin markets. Albanian networks continue to be particularly visible in Greece, Italy and Switzerland. Italy is one of the most important heroin markets in Europe, and frequently identified as a base of operation for Balkan groups who exploit the local diaspora. According to WCO seizure statistics, Albanians made up the single largest group (32%) of all arrestees for heroin trafficking in Italy between 2000 and 2008. The next identified group was Turks followed by Italians and citizens of Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Kosovo/Serbia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and to some extent Greece). A number of Pakistani and Nigerian traffickers were arrested in Italy as well.

As has been documented for decades, U.S. destabilization programs and covert operations rely on far-right provocateurs and drug lords (often interchangeable players) to facilitate the dirty work. Throughout its Balkan campaign the CIA made liberal use of these preexisting narcotics networks to arm the KLA and then provide them with targets.

When NATO partners Germany and the U.S. decided to drive a stake through Yugoslavia's heart during the heady days of post-Cold War triumphalism, their geopolitical strategy could not have achieved "success" without the connivance, indeed active partnership forged amongst Yugoslavia's nationalist rivals. As investigative journalist Misha Glenny has shown,

Most shocking of all, however, is how the gangsters and politicians fueling war between their peoples were in private cooperating as friends and close business partners. The Croat, Bosnian, Albanian, Macedonian, and Serb moneymen and mobsters were truly thick as thieves. They bought, sold, and exchanged all manner of commodities, knowing that the high levels of personal trust between them were much stronger than the transitory bonds of hysterical nationalism. They fomented this ideology among ordinary folk in essence to mask their own venality. As one commentator described it, the new republics were ruled by "a parastate Cartel which had emerged from political institutions, the ruling Communist Party and its satellites, the military, a variety of police forces, the Mafia, court intellectuals and with the president of the Republic at the center of the spider web...Tribal nationalism was indispensable for the cartel as a means to pacify its subordinates and as a cover for the uninterrupted privatization of the state apparatus. (McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, p. 27)

Thaçi and other members of his inner circle, Marty avers, were "commonly identified, and cited in secret intelligence reports," published by the German secret state agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND "as the most dangerous of the KLA's 'criminal bosses'."

Trading on American protection to consolidate political power, thus maintaining control over key narcotics smuggling corridors, the special rapporteur writes that "having succeeded in eliminating, or intimidating into silence, the majority of the potential and actual witnesses against them (both enemies and erstwhile allies), using violence, threats, blackmail, and protection rackets," Thaçi's Drenica Group have "exploit[ed] their position in order to accrue personal wealth totally out of proportion with their declared activities."

Indeed, multiple reports prepared by the U.S. DEA, FBI, the BND, Italy's SISMI, Britain's MI6 and the Greek EYP intelligence service have stated that Drenica Group members "are consistently named as 'key players' in intelligence reports on Kosovo's mafia-like structures of organised crime."

As the Council of Europe and investigative journalists have documented, northern Albania was the site not only of KLA training camps but of secret detention centers where prisoners of war and civilian KLA opponents were executed and their organs surgically removed and sold on the international black market.

"The reality is that the most significant operational activities undertaken by members of the KLA--prior to, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the conflict--took place on the territory of Albania, where the Serb security forces were never deployed."

The report avers, "It is well established that weapons and ammunition were smuggled into parts of Kosovo, often on horseback, through clandestine, mountainous routes from northern Albania," the site of secret NATO bases, "yet only in the second half of 1998," Marty writes, "through explicit endorsements from Western powers, founded on strong lobbying from the United States, did the KLA secure its pre-eminence in international perception as the vanguard of the Kosovar Albanian liberation struggle."

"What is particularly confounding" Marty writes, "is that all of the international community in Kosovo--from the Governments of the United States and other allied Western powers, to the EU-backed justice authorities--undoubtedly possess the same, overwhelming documentation of the full extent of the Drenica Group's crimes, but none seems prepared to react in the face of such a situation and to hold the perpetrators to account."

While the special rapporteur's outrage is palpable, the ascension of a political crime family with deep roots in the international drugs trade and other rackets, including the grisly traffic in human organs, far from being an anomalous event conforms precisely to the structural pattern of capitalist rule in the contemporary period.

"What we have uncovered" Marty informs us, "is of course not completely unheard-of. The same or similar findings have long been detailed and condemned in reports by key intelligence and police agencies, albeit without having been followed up properly, because the authors' respective political masters have preferred to keep a low profile and say nothing, purportedly for reasons of 'political expediency'. But we must ask what interests could possibly justify such an attitude of disdain for all the values that are invariably invoked in public?"

Marty need look no further for an answer to his question than to the "political masters" in Washington, who continue to cover-up not only their own crimes but those of the global mafias who do their bidding.

As we have seen throughout the latter half of the 20th century down to the present moment, powerful corporate and financial elites, the military and intelligence agencies and, for lack of a better term, "normal" governmental institutions are suborned by the same crooked players who profit from war and the ensuing chaos it spawns to organize crime, thereby "rationalizing" criminal structures on more favorable terms for those "in the loop."

In this regard, the impunity enjoyed up till now by Thaçi and his minions merely reflect the far-greater impunity enjoyed by the American secret state and the powerful actors amongst U.S. elites who have profited from the dirty work allegedly performed by Kosovo's Prime Minister, and others like him, who are counted amongst the most loyal servants of imperial power.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

U.S. Threatens "War on Terror" Allies Over CIA Kidnapping and Torture Programs

As revelations of U.S. government coercive "diplomacy" continue flowing from the whistleblowing web site WikiLeaks, much to the consternation of official Washington, ruling class circles are working feverishly to downplay the seriousness of the leaks.

On the one hand, senior State Department and intelligence officials claim the cables offer "few surprises" and, at least according to The New York Times, the disclosures "have been more embarrassing than revelatory or harmful to national security."

On the other hand however, "conservative" loons in Congress, their "liberal" colleagues across the aisle and the far-right media noise machine have denounced WikiLeaks and the group's director Julian Assange, as an imminent threat to "national security" and are seeking to have the secret-spillers declared "terrorists." Presumably they could then be tossed into one of America's global gulags or even hunted down and murdered as some have countenanced.

Despite a steady barrage of lies and disinformation, as well as moves by the Obama administration and their corporatist allies to shutter the web site, with some 1,900 mirrors now disseminating Cablegate files world-wide, those efforts have failed.

A CIA Kidnapping Gone Awry

Amongst the treasure-trove of files released last week, we learned that the U.S. Embassy in Berlin was angered over the issuance of arrest warrants for 13 CIA officers for the kidnapping and torture of Lebanese-born German citizen Khaled el-Masri; one of the more infamous cases to have emerged from Washington's secret vaults.

In 2007, after a public outcry in Germany over media revelations, senior Bavarian state public prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld issued warrants for CIA officers on suspicion of kidnapping el-Masri.

Prosecutors charged that that the Agency had wrongfully imprisoned the German citizen and caused him grievous bodily harm during his illegal detention.

In late 2003, in a case of mistaken identity, el-Masri was abducted in Macedonia by a CIA snatch-and-grab team and local security agents. After a series of brutal beatings, el-Masri was stripped naked, shot full of drugs, given an enema and a diaper and flown out of the country on an Agency airline, the CIA cut-out, Aero Contractors Ltd.

A 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy Skopje, Macedonia, 06SKOPJE118, "Macedonia: Prime Minister on Elections, NATO," U.S. Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic reported to Washington that then-Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski pledged that the "GOM will keep its head down and guard up regarding allegations that Macedonia has assisted the USG in the 'el-Masri' case."

The Confidential dispatch labelled "NOFORN" (no foreign distribution) revealed that the Macedonian government "would stay the course" and "would continue to support the Minister of Interior, who has declined to discuss the matter with the local press" over charges that Skopje's security service had collaborated with the CIA in el-Masri's kidnapping and torture.

Skopje's collusion with Washington was all the more ironic considering that prior to the 9/11 provocation, the U.S. secret state had conspired with Kosovo Liberation Army-linked drug traffickers and al-Qaeda terrorists grouped in the shadowy National Liberation Army (NLA) in a violent destabilization campaign that targeted the Macedonian government for "regime change."

As Global Research analyst Michel Chossudovsky has documented, the NLA was "a proxy of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)" and, "in a bitter twist, while supported and financed by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda, the KLA-NLA is also supported by NATO and the United Nations mission to Kosovo (UNMIK)."

Chossudovsky described how "drug money" helped finance the group and that the NLA's ranks were drawn from "Mujahideen from the Middle East and the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union" and "senior US military advisers from a private mercenary outfit on contract to the Pentagon [Military Professional Resources, Inc., MPRI, currently holding a Pentagon contract to "assist" Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense, AFC] as well as 'soldiers of fortune' from Britain, Holland and Germany."

Learning perhaps, that is was in their interest to play ball with Washington, or else, the Skopje regime eagerly sought to do their master's bidding by covering-up the abduction and torture of an innocent man.

Spirited away first to Baghdad and then on to the CIA's notorious "dark prison" known as the "Salt Pit" in Afghanistan, el-Masri was detained for four months where, as described by Harper's columnist and constitutional law scholar Scott Horton, he was "repeatedly beaten, drugged, and subjected to a strange food regime that he supposed was part of an experiment that his captors were performing on him."

Months later, his torturers realized they had detained an innocent man and after weeks of bickering, with some Agency officials arguing he should continue to be held incommunicado because he "knew too much," The Washington Post reported he was dumped penniless, on the side of a road in Albania, on orders from then-National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

Washington Threatens Their German "Ally"

The WikiLeaks cable, labelled "Secret/NOFORN," 07BERLIN242, "Al-Masri Case--Chancellery Aware of USG Concerns," was fired off from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin on February 6, 2007.

The file provides startling details of a conversation between John M. Koenig, Washington's number two man in Berlin and German National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel.

Koenig warned "that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship," and, in a thinly-veiled threat "reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year."

Cynically, Koenig claimed "our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German Government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S."

Despite assertions that "we of course recognized the independence of the German judiciary," the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission wrote that American diplomatic capos "noted that a decision to issue international arrest warrants or extradition requests would require the concurrence of the German Federal Government," and would therefore be subject to coercive threats from the Godfather in Washington.

His German counterpart Nikel "also underscored the independence of the German judiciary," but seeking wiggle room with an eye towards denying el-Masri his day in court, said "the case was subject to political, as well as judicial, scrutiny."

After his summons to imperial chambers, the German National Security Adviser admitted that the warrants had been issued only because of a popular outcry and revulsion by German citizens over U.S. torture policies.

The cable noted, "Nikel also cited intense pressure from the Bundestag and the German media" to bring forth indictments.

This is polite way of saying that despite widespread public outrage, Angela Merkel's right-wing government would be Washington's willing accomplice. After taking the "entire political context" of el-Masri's case against the CIA into account, the German government would capitulate to American demands.

Nikel assured the U.S. Embassy that "the Chancellery is well aware of the bilateral political implications of the case, but added that this case 'will not be easy'." Expressing his willingness to cave-in to Washington at the earliest moment, the German National Security Adviser promised that the Chancellery would "try to be as constructive as possible."

With an eye towards managing the fallout, not doing justice to an innocent man, Koenig "pointed out that the USG would likewise have a difficult time in managing domestic political implications if international arrest warrants are issued." (emphasis added)

This is simply a diplomatic way of telling his German "colleague" that Washington's chief concern was to suppress damaging information here in the heimat that America's "partners" in the global "War on Terror" view the United States as little more than a gang of criminals and torturers. "He [Koenig] reiterated our concerns and expressed the hope that the Chancellery would keep us informed of further developments in the case, so as to avoid surprises."

Nikel promised to do so "but reiterated that he could not, at this point 'promise that everything will turn out well'."

Washington's machinations eventually paid off in spades for the beleaguered Bush regime. Der Spiegel noted "it would be easy to write off the details from the cables as mere trifles if they hadn't been confirmed by reality."

"In 2007," journalists Matthias Gebauer and John Goetz reported "then-Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries decided not to further pursue the 13 CIA agents."

Although their names were still on an Interpol arrest warrant, "the United States stated that it would not recognize its validity."

Compare this with the chorus of voices in official U.S. and European circles now claiming that the Interpol "Red Notice" issued for Julian Assange's arrest possess near-mystical properties!

In collusion with the Bush gang, and doubtless made aware of "implications for relations with the U.S.," Gebauer and Goetz wrote that "Zypries explained that the Americans had made clear to her that they would neither arrest nor hand over the 13 CIA agents," therefore "it made no sense to even try to get them extradited."

Nor did it subsequently "make sense" that German courts in the aftermath of the scandal, would provide el-Masri with even a scintilla of justice.

The Associated Press reported last week that the Cologne Administrative Court rejected el-Masri's lawsuit December 7, "seeking to force Berlin into prosecuting suspected CIA agents" who had abducted him seven years earlier.

The court ruled that "the German government's decision not to seek the extradition of the agents, despite the arrest warrant issued by a German court, was legal."

El-Masri's attorney, Manfred Gnjidic, said the WikiLeaks documents "'clearly show' the 'massive efforts' on the part of the U.S. government to keep el-Masri's case out of the courts."

Here in the United States, similar efforts have been met by collusive behavior between the federal judiciary and the Bush and Obama administrations.

In squashing the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit, El-Masri v. Tenet, the court upheld the notorious "state secrets privilege" asserted by the government.

"The release of the cable," the World Socialist Web Site notes, "only further underscores that American diplomacy is as filthy as its torture policy, and that the European governments are complicit in the policy of kidnapping and extrajudicial prosecution."

Despite unsuccessful efforts thus far to shutter WikiLeaks and with threats to prosecute Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act a distinct possibility were the journalist extradited either by Britain or Sweden to the United States in some dirty deal, Washington rages like a wounded beast even as new revelations, and scandals, unfold.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Europeans Accused of "Paranoia" Over Fears of U.S. Economic Espionage, Documents Reveal

Confidential State Department documents released by the whistleblowing web site WikiLeaks, revealed that a European Parliamentary vote earlier this year that suspended participation in a U.S. government program that secretly monitored international bank transactions, surprised and angered the Obama administration.

In a stunning rebuke of U.S. policies the February 2010 memo, "Chancellor Merkel Angered by Lack of German MEP Support for TFTP," 10BERLIN180 provided new evidence that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (also known as Swift) is viewed skeptically by the European public and their representatives.

Distrust of the Swift program runs deep and its "War on Terror" pedigree is considered little more than a pretext for American spies to carry out economic espionage on behalf of U.S. multinationals.

Alarmed over privacy breaches by American firms and criminal acts, such as the illegal U.S. transfer of prisoners on CIA "black flights," aided and abetted by European intelligence agencies, outraged public opinion forced the hand of parliamentarians, who voted overwhelming to suspend the program.

German opposition to Swift "was particularly damaging" The New York Times reported, "because the country was among a handful of allies that, according to a 2006 cable, made up a 'coalition of the constructive' organized to ensure that the Swift operation was not 'ruined by privacy experts'."

Launched shortly after the 9/11 provocation by the Bush administration, the secret program handed American officials unprecedented access to global financial information on bank transactions routed through a vast database administered by the Swift consortium in Brussels.

Access to such unique data would be particularly valuable to U.S. corporations. In light of evidence published in a 2001 European Parliament report that the National Security Agency's ECHELON program was a cover for economic espionage, such fears are not unfounded.

Since the program's disclosure in 2006 by The New York Times, criticism over its operations have mounted steadily.

CIA and Treasury Department officials secretly poured over records of some $6 trillion dollars in daily financial transactions flowing through global banks and brokerage houses.

"European Union regulators," the ACLU reported, "found that the mass financial prying was not legally authorized, was conducted without proper checks and balances, and violated several important rules established to protect the privacy of Europeans."

Increasing the "creep factor" amongst EU officials, the ACLU disclosed that the ultra-spooky Booz Allen Hamilton corporation had been hired to "oversee" the program by the federal government.

Concluding that the firm was not an "independent check" on Swift surveillance, the civil liberties' watchdogs wrote that "Booz Allen is one of the largest U.S. Government contractors, with hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Government contracts awarded each year. Booz Allen has a history of working closely with U.S. Government agencies on electronic surveillance, including the Total Information Awareness program."

Initial misgivings amongst the public and privacy advocates have since blossomed into outright hostility, thus setting the stage for last summer's vote.

Cynical Maneuvers

Noting that the American-led "War on Terror" coalition is fraying at the seams, U.S. Ambassador to Berlin Philip Murphy, wrote that "Merkel is particularly irritated with German MEPs from her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and sister Christian Social Union (CSU) parties, most of whom reportedly voted against the agreement despite previously indicating they would support it."

The ambassador claimed that "public German reactions" to the European Parliament's vote "have come exclusively from TFTP detractors who portrayed the veto as a sign that the European Parliament has won a victory over an arrogant Commission/Council, as well as delivering a rebuke to U.S. counterterrorism policies that undervalue data privacy."

Free Democratic Party (FDP) Federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a member of Merkel's coalition, was derided by Murphy as "a strong proponent of data privacy rights," who had welcomed the vote saying that "'the citizens of Europe have won a victory today that strengthened not just data protection, but democracy in all of Europe."

That's certainly a "diplomatic" way of saying they don't trust their American allies!

Undeterred however, Murphy recommended that the U.S. crank up the "Mighty Wurlitzer" disinformation machine a decibel or two.

"These events," the ambassador wrote, "suggest the need to intensify our engagement with German government interlocutors, Bundestag and European parliamentarians, and opinion makers to demonstrate that the U.S. has strong data privacy measures in place."

Murphy said this "debate was not just about TFTP;" the ambassador averred that "paranoia runs deep especially about U.S. intelligence agencies."

Those quaint denizens of "old Europe," where do they ever get such fanciful ideas!

U.S. Embassies: Global Spy Nets

In the Cablegate file, "Reporting and Collection Needs: The United Nations," 09STATEE80163, dated July 31, 2009 and classified SECRET/NOFORN ("no foreign distribution") we learned last week that under America's revised National HUMINT Collection Directive (NCHD) U.S. diplomats and State Department employees under CIA cover are directed to spy on key UN personnel, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

State Department documents revealed that diplomats have been ordered to gather "as much of the following information as possible when they have information relating to persons linked to: office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cell phones, pagers and faxes; compendia of contact information, such as telephone directories (in compact disc or electronic format if available) and e-mail listings; internet and intranet 'handles', internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information."

U.S. overlords demanded that their diplomat-spies collect relevant data on "about current and future use of communications systems and technologies by officials or organizations, including cellular phone networks, mobile satellite phones, very small aperture terminals (VSAT), trunked and mobile radios, pagers, prepaid calling cards, firewalls, encryption, international connectivity, use of electronic data interchange, Voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP), Worldwide interoperability for microwave access (Wi-Max), and cable and fiber networks."

Documents released so far have revealed that similar "diplomatic" spying operations are underway globally and target Bulgaria; Romania; Slovenia; Hungary; Venezuela; Paraguay; Palestine; African Great Lakes; and West Africa.

Denouncing WikiLeaks for the embarrassing disclosures, not for U.S. duplicity and deceit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who authorized the surreptitious collection programs, said last week that covert action by its foreign service "is the role our diplomats play in serving America."

A "Well-Placed Source"

Despite full knowledge, "we were astonished to learn" ambassador Murphy wrote, "how quickly rumors about alleged U.S. economic espionage--at first associated with the new U.S. air passenger registration system (ESTA), then with TFTP--gained currency among German parliamentarians in the run-up to the February 11 vote in Strasbourg."

Are there legitimate reasons perhaps, why "paranoia" would "run deep" among the public, or the German government for that matter, considering the track record of "U.S. intelligence agencies"?

Last Friday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's chief of staff, Helmut Metzner, was sacked after he confessed he was the "young, up-and-coming party loyalist" who served as an American asset inside the Free Democratic Party, a coalition partner of Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-wing government.

Der Spiegel reported that Metzner was the "top-level national party employee responsible for passing secret information on to US diplomats during the negotiations to form the current German government in 2009."

According to the 2009 Cablegate file 09BERLIN1271, "Westerwelle Firm on Removal of Nuclear Weapons," Metzner is described therein as "a well-placed FDP source."

From his perch, Metzner was privy to sensitive information that he passed on to his American handlers; in fact the go-getter was "the head of international relations for the national party." Rather conveniently, one might say!

Indeed, the strategist-spy "shared with Emboffs and visiting Senior Germany Desk Officer October 7 information on issues discussed during the first two days of these negotiations as well as the negotiations schedule and working group make-up. Source serves as his party's notetaker for the negotiations and has been a long-standing close Embassy contact."

"It's now clear," Der Spiegel reported, "why the US ambassador appeared so pleased in his cables back to Washington--after all, his mole had the ear of the head of the party and was part of the inner circle of party leadership."

Eventually, ambassador Murphy's call to "intensify our engagement with German government interlocutors, Bundestag and European parliamentarians, and opinion makers" over the Swift program paid off.

In July, "after mobilizing top administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.," the Obama administration was able to reverse the vote in the European Parliament, "after the United States made modest concessions that promised greater European oversight," The New York Times reported.

"Concessions" that will accelerate the erosion of privacy rights while enhancing U.S. efforts to steal economic secrets from their capitalist rivals.

Tuesday's arrest of Julian Assange in Britain on a dubious Swedish warrant, and the court's refusal to grant the activist/journalist bail, will not stop the leaks. Despite intense pressure from the Pentagon, the State Department and lickspittle American politicians, more than 500 web sites currently mirror WikiLeaks.

The steady drip, drip, drip of dark secrets will continue, as will further revelations of U.S. crimes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ghost in the Machine: Secret State Teams Up with Ad Pimps to Throttle Privacy

The secret world of "cyber situational awareness" is a spymaster's wet dream, made all the more alluring by the advent of ultra high speed computing and the near infinite storage capacity afforded by massive server farms and the ubiquitous "cloud."

Within that dusky haze, obscured by claims of national security or proprietary business information, take your pick, would you bet your life that the wizards of misdirection and deception care a whit that you really are more than a disembodied data point?

Lost in the debate surrounding privacy invasion and data mining however, is the key role that internet service providers (ISPs) play as intermediaries and gatekeepers. From their perch, ISPs peer deeply into and collect and analyze the online communications of tens of millions of users simultaneously, in real-time.

Concerted efforts to eliminate online anonymity, in managed democracies and authoritarian regimes alike, are greatly enhanced by the deployment of deep packet inspection (DPI) sensors and software on virtually all networks.

As Canadian privacy watchdogs DeepPacketInspection.ca tell us, DPI offer ISPs "unparalleled levels of intelligence into subscribers' online activities."

"To unpack this a little" they aver, "all data traffic that courses across the 'net is contained in individual packets that have header (i.e. addressing) information and payload (i.e. content) information. We can think of this as the address on a postcard and the written and visual content of a postcard."

All of which is there for the taking, "criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial," Cryptohippie chillingly informs.

Still the illusion persists that communication technologies are somehow "neutral." Neither good nor bad but rather, much like a smart phone loaded with geolocation tracking chips or the surveillance-ready internet itself, simply there for all to use.

Reality as is its wont, bites with ever-sharper teeth.

As with other recent advances touted as breakthroughs--from the biomedical and pharmaceutical research that spawned factory farming and genetically-modified crops to something as seemingly banal as the highway system that ushered in exurban sprawl--from the workplace to the car-pool lane to idle hours spent trolling the web, our techno-toys function rather handily as instruments of social control.

Simply put, DPI hand our minders an unprecedented means to examine and catalogue our online communications. From blog posts to web searches to the content of email and video files, we're delivered up every day, figuratively and literally, to advertising pimps or law enforcers, a faceless army of gatekeepers guarding an indefensible system in perpetual crisis.

"Reengineering" the Internet ... for Persistent Surveillance

Subtly guiding internet traffic into fast and slow lanes, based on the size and content of a particular file, or examining said file for malicious or illegal content, DPI has been deployed as a means of conserving bandwidth and as a defense against viral attacks.

Leaving aside the critical issue of net neutrality, linked to moves to further monetize the internet and hold communications hostage to the ability to pay for quicker network speeds, there is no question that ISPs and individual users should have a keen interest in defending themselves against the depredations of organized gangs of identity thieves and predators.

If DPI were solely a tool to weed out malicious hacks or channel traffic in more equitable ways, thereby ensuring the broadest possible access to all, it could provide concrete benefits to users and contribute to a safer and more secure communications' environment.

This hasn't happened. Instead, securocrats and corporatists alike are working feverishly to "reengineer the internet"--for the delivery of targeted ads and as a surveillance platform--and both view DPI's ability to read individual messages, the "deep packet" as it were, as a singular means to do just that.

Last year, Antifascist Calling reported on moves by surveillance mavens to deploy deep packet sniffing Einstein 3 software developed by the National Security Agency on the nation's telecommunications infrastructure.

As with the agency's pervasive driftnet spying on Americans, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in his release of internal company documents, DPI and the hardware that powers it is the "secret sauce" animating these illegal programs.

Earlier this year, Klein told Wired Magazine that the documents suggest that NSA's warrantless wiretapping "was just the tip of an eavesdropping iceberg," evidence of "an untargeted, massive vacuum cleaner sweeping up millions of peoples' communications every second automatically."

Ostensibly designed for detecting and thwarting malicious attacks aimed at government networks, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the packet sniffing Einstein 3 program, developed under the code name TUTELAGE, can screen computer traffic flowing into state portals from private sector networks, including those connecting people to the internet.

"Its filtering technology," journalist Siobhan Gorman wrote, "can read the content of email and other communications."

Einstein 3 is considered so toxic to privacy that AT&T sought "legal assurance that it will not be sued for participating in the pilot program," The Washington Post reported. Although they were given assurances by Bush's former Attorney General, Michael B. Mukasey, that the firm "would bear no liability," AT&T deferred until the Obama administration granted the waiver in 2009. So far, the federal government has expended some $2 billion on the program.

Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher with the Tor Anonymity Project told CNET News in March that expanding Einstein 3 to private networks "would amount to a partial outsourcing of security" to unaccountable corporations.

But it will do much, much more. Appelbaum averred that the project represents "a clear loss of control [for the public]. And anyone with access to that monitoring system, legitimate or otherwise, would be able to monitor amazing amounts of traffic."

A year later, a related program under development by NSA and defense giant Raytheon, "Perfect Citizen," relies on a suite of sensors deployed in computer networks that will persistently monitor whichever system they are plugged into. While little has been revealed about how Perfect Citizen will work, it was called by a corporate insider the cyber equivalent of "Big Brother," according to an email obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

I have pointed out many times that under the rubric of cybersecurity (the latest profit-generating "War on Terror" front), the secret state, America's telecoms and internet service providers are conjoined at the hip in what are blandly called "public-private partnerships."

Indeed, the secrecy-shredding web site Public Intelligence, posted a confidential document that provided details on the inner workings of one such initiative, Project 12.

Ultimately, the goal of the secretive enterprise, Public Intelligence averred, "is not simply to increase the flow of 'threat information' from government agencies to private industry, but to facilitate greater 'information sharing' between those companies and the federal government."

This will be accomplished once "real-time cyber situational awareness" is achieved across all eighteen critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) sectors identified in the report.

Simply put, NSA's warrantless wiretapping program and a constellation of top secret cybersecurity projects will come to nought if filtering software that examines--and catalogues--the content, or deep packets, of those spied upon aren't deployed across all networks, public and private.

No surprise then, that the origins of the ghost in the internet surveillance machine lie in unscrupulous efforts by advert pimps to deliver us to market.

"Opting In" to the Corporate Police State

Readers are familiar with the practice of web sites that install tracking "cookies" and other nasty bits of code that follow our antics across the internet.

This information is sold to advertisers by firms such as Google and Yahoo who charge a premium price for the privilege of peering into browsing habits.

Last month The Wall Street Journal reported that a gaggle of niche firms "harvest online conversations and collect personal details from social-networking sites, résumé sites and online forums where people might discuss their lives."

We're told that the dubious practice of "web scraping" provides the "raw material" in a rapidly expanding "data economy." Journal reporters found that marketers "spent $7.8 billion on online and offline data in 2009" and that "spending on data from online sources is set to more than double, to $840 million in 2012 from $410 million in 2009."

And with incentives such as these, and virtually nothing in the way of regulation, is it any wonder we find ourselves preyed upon.

While we might garner a measure of privacy from the prying eyes of ISPs, marketing vultures and our political minders through the use of strong encryption, as I reported last month, the Obama administration will soon seek congressional authorization which mandates that software designers and social networking sites build backdoors into their systems.

According to The New York Times, the administration claims this is necessary so that law enforcement and intelligence snoops have a surefire means "to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages," because their "ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is 'going dark'."

Mendacious administration claims are more than matched by those in the online advertising industry.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that deep packet inspection, "one of the most potentially intrusive technologies for profiling and targeting Internet users with ads is on the verge of a comeback, two years after an outcry by privacy advocates in the U.S. and Britain appeared to kill it."

Advertising grifters Kindsight and Phorm "are pitching deep packet inspection services as a way for Internet service providers to claim a share of the lucrative online ad market."

Right up front, Phorm declares that theirs' is a "global personalisation technology company" that "delivers a more interesting online experience," that is, if your interests lie in having a behavioral profile of yourself created, centered around intrusive web tracking and data mining technologies.

While both firms claim that user privacy is of "paramount" concern, the industry's track record suggests otherwise. In 2008 for example, internet marketing firm NebuAd planned to "use deep packet inspection to deliver targeted advertising to millions of broadband subscribers unless they explicitly opted out of the service."

An outcry ensued when the scheme became public knowledge. While NebuAd has gone out of business, "several U.S. ISPs who signed deals with NebuAd have been hit with class-action lawsuits accusing them of 'installing spyware devices; on their networks," the Journal averred.

According to Ars Technica, the lawsuit charged the firm and ISPs "Bresnan Communications, Cable One, CenturyTel, Embarq, Knology, and WOW! of all being involved in the interception, copying, transmission, collection, storage, usage, and altering of private data from users."

NebuAd was accused by plaintiffs of exploiting "normal browser platform security behaviors by forging IP packets, allowing their own JavaScript code to be written into source code trusted by the web browser," the complaint reads. "NebuAd and ISPs together cooperate in this attack against the intentions of the consumers, the designers of their software, and the owners of the servers they visit," attorneys charged.

"All of the involved parties," journalist Jacqui Cheng wrote, were "alleged to have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, California's Computer Crime Law, the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the California Invasion of Privacy Act."

In Britain, a similar controversy erupted when BT Group PLC were forced to disclose that they "had tested Phorm's technology on some subscribers without telling them. Last year, BT and two other British ISPs that explored deploying Phorm's service--Virgin Media Inc. and TalkTalk--abandoned it," the Journal reported.

At the time, the nose-tweaking tech web site The Register revealed that although Phorm refused to state how many BT customers had been profiled, "at the absolute least there are 38,000 BT Retail customers unaware their communications have been allegedly criminally intercepted in the last two years. The number could be as high as 108,000."

When grilled by The Register as to why Phorm doesn't believe "people have the right to know how likely it is they were part of a secret test," a Phorm spokesperson replied "'We're just not going to disclose that'." He claimed "'they were BT customers and you have to ask BT about that'."

BT also refused to respond to inquiries. How's that for transparency!

Why then, should users believe industry professions of faith that ISPs won't provide them with subscribers' real identities? After all, as one wag told the Journal, ISPs "feel like they have data and they ought to be able to use it" and "they really desperately want to."

Accordingly, the Journal reported that Kindsight, owned by telecommunications giant Alcatel-Lucent SA (talk about a seamless web!), "says six ISPs in the U.S., Canada and Europe have been testing its security service this year although it isn't yet delivering targeted ads. It declined to name the clients."

CEO Mike Gassewitz told Journal reporters that the company "has been placing ads on various websites to test the ad-placement technology and build up a base of advertisers, which now number about 100,000."

Phorm's history hardly inspires confidence. CEO Kent Ertugrul, "a Princeton-educated, former investment banker," we're informed by the Journal, honed his business skills in the early 1990s when he formed "a joint venture with the Russian Space Agency to offer joy rides to tourists in MiG-29 fighter jets."

Coming at the height of the Yeltsin kleptocracy that looted billions of dollars in assets from the sell-off of the prized possessions of the former Soviet Union, at the very least this should have raised an eyebrow or two.

Before changing its name to Phorm in 2007, Ertugrul ran an enterprise called 121Media. According to numerous published reports, the firm produced a spyware application called PeopleOnPage. "This application," Wikipedia averred, "acted as a browser hijacker and passed details of the user's currently visited website to central ContextPlus servers, so that the user could be targeted with advertising" in the form of intrusive pop-ups.

The adware component, AproposMedia, was described by InternetSecurityZone.com as "...a malicious executable program that is usually installed without user consent or knowledge. AproposMedia may have the ability to secretly monitor, record, and transmit computer activity." Indeed, The Register reported that Ertugrul's PeopleOnPage ad network "was blacklisted as spyware by the likes of Symantec and F-Secure."

Former pop-up king Ertugrul has called online rights' campaigners "privacy pirates" who represent a "neo-Luddite retrenchment," and told The Daily Telegraph last year that Phorm's technology is a "game changer" in "protecting users' privacy."

But armed with a marketing scheme that promises "the potential for companies to collect substantially more revenue for literally any page on the internet," serious privacy concerns are a real issue when deep packet inspection technologies are touted as a splendid means to do so.

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee told New Scientist in 2009 that the "ever-increasing power of computers that is helping the internet to grow is also threatening its future."

Berners-Lee "likened DPI to wiretapping, and pointed out that companies could use it to learn a huge amount about our 'lives, hates and fears'."

Information I might add, that is portable and readily exploitable by our political minders and the corporate grifters they so lovingly serve.

And with a national security state already monitoring huge volumes of data collected from the internet and other electronic communications' platforms, The Guardian warns that Britain and other managed Western democracies are "sleepwalking into a surveillance society."

Isn't it time we woke up?