Posts Tagged ‘snowden’

Weekend reading: abuse of state power special

August 25, 2013

It has been a bumper week for abuse of state power. Here are some of the highlights:

Bradley Manning goes down for 35 years. On the watch of the ‘liberal’ president, Barack Obama. The FT (sub needed) argues that Manning got off lightly and may get parole in 10 years. The Guardian takes a different view on the proportionality of Manning’s sentence, a position closer to mine.

While the reaction pieces are being penned, Manning expresses a desire for hormone treatment to assist in a desired gender reassignment. Federal prisons offer this, military ones do not. Manning has asked that she [sic] be referred to henceforth as Chelsea, with the former name Bradley reserved only for letters to the the confinement facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than writing him/her a letter of support, so why not do so?.

From, for me, the damaged but well-meaning Manning to the thoughtful, lucid and brave Edward Snowden. In the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, reveals threats from the British government, securocrats, and indirectly from David Cameron himself, to pre-emptively shut down further reporting of the Snowden cache using British legal powers of pre-emption.

It is depressing to read how the poodles in the UK government told their bosses in Washington that Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s partner David  Miranda would be detained at Heathrow, how Met police say they checked they were using anti-terrorism legislation correctly and how the police reckon they were procedurally perfect. Having taken the call from the lickspittle Brits, Washington then moved to distance itself from the Miranda detention and the seizure of his possessions, saying it wouldn’t happen in the US. As the Economist points out (sub needed), the anti-terrorism legislation under which Miranda was detained was established for the police to ascertain if a person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. To use such legislation against journalists is grotesque.

Over to China, where 70 policemen take the unusual risk of appending their thumbprints to a denunciation of the acting president of the Shanghai High Court who, they say, has been engaged in massive long-term corruption including stealing several tons of alcohol from the police booze budget each year. Court president Cui Yadong was already feeling the heat after senior Shanghai judges were recently captured on video cavorting with prostitutes. The video of the judges has had over 4 million hits.

Separately in China, the New York Times discusses ‘Document number 9’ and the alleged ‘seven subversive currents’ at large in the Chinese nation. Per my recent blog about Xi Jinping, we are starting to get more visibility on the new Chinese president and what we are seeing is not pretty. Xi’s evolving proto-Maoist approach to politics provides the background to the trial on corruption and abuse of power charges of fellow princeling Bo Xilai, which started this week. Bo was the person who invented the ‘New Red’ school of modified Maoist populism when he was running Chongqing. As Xi and pals move to crush him, the irony and hypocrisy are not lost on John Garnaut in Foreign Policy.

Here in Italy, meanwhile, we are enjoying a peculiarly Italian twist on the abuse of state power. Silvio Berlusconi, having been definitively condemned for a felony for the first time, has opted for an attack on state power that recalls, for me, Italy’s fascist past (much more so than the claims, which I previously dismissed on this site, that Beppe Grillo is proto fascist). Over the Ferragosto holiday Sil promised a programme of direct action on Italy’s beaches, with his supporters leafleting holiday makers who would otherwise be trying to catch a rest. The focus of Sil’s campaign is not so much a proposal for structural reform of the judiciary, or indeed enforcement of existing norms (which would be half the job done already), but instead a direct attack on magistrates and judges as a species. The strategy has more than a whiff of hoped-for intimidation.

Here is a lead story (in Italian) from Berlusconi’s Il Giornale during the holiday. Although the article was on the front page, it has no news content, and comprises a simple frontal assault on the judiciary, likening its perceived efforts to ‘attain political power’ over the nation to Mao Zedong’s Long March. The connection with Maoism/communism is established in the first sentence. Italy, we learn, does not have a mundanely inefficient legal system to be improved by systemic change, but an extremist, personal, visceral political conspiracy against the Italian people (to wit, Sil and his businesses).

Here are some current icons from Berlusconi’s PDL/FI site:

banner-forzasilvio pdl-logo 20ANNI-DI-CACCIA-UOMO 995980_621688441198598_1936708951_n 998453_620420304658745_378895156_n 998913_622166501150792_278588033_n 1097945_620420421325400_707118344_n slide-1-638

The manner in which Berlusconi’s personal interests, those of the Mediaset group he controls, and national politics are conflated is bewildering for anyone from the First World. But of course this is not the First World. Next month Sil will relaunch Forza Italia (FT, sub needed), his original political movement named for a football chant (in the country that now boasts the worst record of football violence and racism in western Europe). ‘Ancora in campo’ / Back on the Field is the new tag line.

To me the strategy looks more than a little fascistic, involving as it does an attack on the institutions of the state and promises of more direct action. However, as the holidays wind down I suspect that we won’t see a proto-fascist movement take hold in Italy. Instead we will see business as usual.  The main evidence of Sil’s promised campaign of direct action so far (the plan on the beaches described here in the FT, sub needed) is a few Forza Italia militants in Rome (here telling journalists they have not been paid to march, that they are ‘spontaneous volunteers’ and that they have ‘just come for Him [Sil]’) and a pisspoor little plane dragging a bit of superannuated toilet paper above a few holidaymakers. ‘Forza Italia, Forza Sil’, I think it says.

I don’t want to do you down Sil, but I’m not sure you’ve really got the fascist cojones for this thing….

Forza Italia sul ferragosto 2013

Meanwhile, my own experience with abuse of state power occurs when I stop at Sasso, the bar on the river on the way to Citta di Castelllo. Despite the fact that there were few people around when I stopped, and lots of safe parking available, a carabinieri police car was parked across the zebra crossing that leads to the children’s playground, with two wheels outside the white parking line and hence well into the road. Thinking this a bit slack, even by Italian police standards, I took a photo on my phone. Walking into the bar, I found two carabinieri eating cream buns. I bought a small bottle of cold water and went outside to drink it in the sun.

While I was doing this, it seems one of regular clients at the bar told the carabinieri I had taken a photo. One of the carabinieri came over and demanded ‘a document’. Of course, I said, handing him my EU photo driving licence. He took it away and wrote down all the details, resting on the boot of his car. Then he came back and said: ‘I have taken down all your details because you took a photo.’ I replied: ‘Yes I did take a photo because of the way you parked.’ The policeman responded: ‘You have no idea what business we are engaged on here.’ I resisted the urge to reply: ‘It looked like you were engaged in eating cream buns.’ Both policemen were standing over me, not completely in my face, but close enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

The officers then made a series of threats:

1. ‘We have your details. If that photo is published on the Internet [he only seemed concerned about the Internet] we know who you are.’ I replied that I have no problem with them knowing who I am.

2. [from the second carabinieri, thinner and younger]: ‘That is a MILITARY vehicle. Do you understand?’ I replied that I am fully aware that the carabinieri is a para-military force.

3. The first officer mentioned seizing my phone (the verb he employed was ‘sequestrare’). I remained impassive, just looked him in the eye. There were a few people around the bar (maybe 8), plus the female boss, whom I have known for years. He didn’t take the phone in the end, just saying: ‘Get rid of that photo or I will seize your phone.’ I said nothing.

2013-08-16 11.56.41

At this point the policemen appeared to run out of threats. They went back to their car, got in it, turned around, and followed me to Citta di Castello, before turning off in the direction of the police station. Should I complain to the justice system or should I launch a proto-fascist programme of direct action? Thankfully this dilemma no longer presents itself. I now live in Cambridge. I think I’ll just go home.


If you would like to harass people on street corners until Silvio is let off his felony, you should be able to sign up at the site below. (Latest talk is of a general amnesty for convicted felons facing up to as much as four years’ jail time. This would be a triple triumph — saving money spent on prisons, reducing Italy’s huge trial waiting lists, and getting Sil off his fraud sentence (plus other sentences that may soon follow). The only downside would be to put a few thousand crooks, some of them violent, back on the streets. What is not to like?)

Snowden 2

July 12, 2013

Snowden Manning yes we can Snowden red and blue

I am simply reposting the following from The Guardian in the UK because it is important. This is not something I will normally do. It appears that the White House petition to pardon Snowden is still active, and it now has 130,000 signatures. If you are an American (you need to be) I would urge you to sign this.

And here is the latest from Snowden about how the NSA, CIA, FBI is scooping up your Microsoft Outlook, Skype, etc communications with the active cooperation of the software firms. I reiterate my suggestion to try DuckDuckGo as a search alternative to Google.

The Guardian’s excellent live coverage is here. This will also link you through to a live Russian TV feed from Moscow airport if you are reading this soon after I wrote it.

Mr Obama, you are starting to get yourself on the wrong side of history.


Here, via The Guardian’s live coverage from Moscow, is the quote from Snowden today that I like:

<Snowden is saying he wants to remain in Russia and travel, and he wants international organisations to petition the US and EU not to interfere with that.

Referring to Putin’s condition that he can only stay if he stops harming the US, Snowden apparently has said: “No actions I take or plan are meant to harm the US … I want the US to succeed.”

[Snowden] seems to be saying that the only way he can guarantee his safety where he is now, before he heads to Latin America, is to gain temporary asylum in Russia… Ellen Barry of the New York Times reports that Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch, who is in the meeting, says Snowden has said he has received offers from Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador. He thanks them. He says he accepts all offers, present and future. The offer from Venezuela has been made formally. He wants help in guaranteeing his safe passage to Latin America, she says. He will submit an asylum claim to Russia today, but he plans to go to Latin America eventually, she says.>


Edward Snowden: US officials are preventing me claiming asylum

NSA whistleblower calls meeting with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch at Sheremetyevo airport

Jump to comments (576)

Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow

Passengers wait for their flights at Sheremetyevo airport: Edward Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone for over three weeks. Photograph: Ivan Sekretarev/AP

The NSA surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden has said US officials are waging a campaign to prevent him from taking up asylum offers as he called a meeting in Moscow airport with human rightsgroups.

In a letter sent to groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the former intelligence agency contractor claimed there was “an unlawful campaign by officials in the US government to deny my right to seek and enjoy … asylum under article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and invited them to meet him at 5pm local time.

“The scale of threatening behaviour is without precedent: never before in history have states conspired to force to the ground a sovereign president’s plane to effect a search for a political refugee,” he wrote to the groups.

“This dangerous escalation represents a threat not just to the dignity of Latin America or my own personal security, but to the basic right shared by every living person to live free from persecution.”

Reuters quoted an airport official as saying Snowden would meet the groups on Friday afternoon in the transit area of Sheremetyevo, where he has remained since flying to Russia from Hong Kong on 23 June.

The 30-year-old former NSA employee is trying to negotiate asylum elsewhere to avoid facing charges in the US, including espionage, for divulging details about US electronic surveillance programmes.

“I can confirm that such a meeting will take place,” an airport spokeswoman said.

Reuters said Amnesty and Transparency International had been invited to meet Snowden, with the former confirming it would attend.

Sergei Nikitin, the head of Amnesty International Russia, said: “Yes, I have received a brief email. It said that he would like to meet with a representative of a human rights organisation – there was not much information there. I’m planning to go.”

Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch confirmed she had been invited to the meeting and posted Snowden’s letter on Facebook.

In the emailed letter – which Lokshina said she could not independently verify as coming from Snowden – the former intelligence worker said he had been “extremely fortunate to enjoy and accept many offers of support and asylum from brave countries around the world”. He added: “These nations have my gratitude, and I hope to travel to each of them to extend my personal thanks to their people and leaders. By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.

“Unfortunately, in recent weeks we have witnessed an unlawful campaign by officials in the US government to deny my right to seek and enjoy this asylum.”

The email ends with an invitation for rights groups to meet him at the airport at 5pm (2pm BST).

Snowden is still believed to be weighing up his options. Late on Thursday, Venezuela’s foreign minister said the country had yet to receive a formal response to its offer of asylum.

“We communicated last week. We made an offer and so far we haven’t received a reply,” Elias Jaua told Reuters during a regional foreign ministers’ meeting in Uruguay.

Venezuela is one of three countries to offer asylum to Snowden, along with Bolivia and Nicaragua.

In a separate email to Reuters, Snowden confirmed that the meeting with human rights groups would go ahead but said it would be closed to the press. He said he planned to speak to the media later.

The letter told the groups to bring identification and meet at 4.30pm at Sheremetyevo airport in Terminal F, “in the centre of the arrival hall [where] someone from airport staff will be waiting there to receive you with a sign labelled G9”.


June 19, 2013

This guy (below) from City University in Hong Kong knows what he is talking about, relates Snowden’s place in US society to the development of institutions in Hong Kong.

I’ll be in the US next week and look forward to asking various government people what they plan to do about the fact that James Clapper lied to congress. I am not clear why it is taking so long to prepare the warrant for his arrest. (Have a look at the Guardian on this,  and the Washington Post.)

It’s pretty clear what Obama needs to do: pardon Manning and Snowden and put Clapper in the can for six months to send a message to anyone else having Nixon-like ideas about how to run America. He don’t even need a cigarette on the roof of the White House to think this one through. Of course Obama should also send the message that any more leaks are likely to lead to decades of prison. The big cats on Iraq and cyber surveillance are probably already out of the bag.

What Snowden can teach the Occupy Central movement

Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Surya Deva
Surya Deva says civil disobedience has a rightful place in the democratic playbook, and Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement can learn a thing or two from Snowden’s approach

Since Edward Snowden first broke cover in Hong Kong, many people have been puzzled about his choice of this city to take on the US government. Despite being wedded to the rule of law and having independent courts, Hong Kong is not a “safe haven” against extradition to the US by any means. Nor is the Hong Kong government known for treating asylum claims or refugees very humanely.

Snowden’s initial explanation that he chose Hong Kong because of its “strong tradition of free speech” also could not be the tipping point; there are many other jurisdictions with similar or even higher levels of protection of free speech.

If used properly, civil disobedience can achieve what judicial reviews and elections may not accomplish

So why Hong Kong? Was it to embarrass the US about its own human rights record? After all, human rights defenders – like the blind activist Chen Guangcheng – have looked to the US for protection from repressive and authoritarian regimes.

Snowden’s recent interview with the Post brings more clarity on his rationale for choosing Hong Kong. He said: “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”

What Snowden is seeking to do resonates clearly with civil disobedience, and Hong Kong is not a bad place to practise this. The idea of civil disobedience has been popularised here of late by the Occupy Central proposal. Nevertheless, the debate in the media about its propriety has generally shown a lack of a clear understanding of this concept.

Over the years, many renowned thinkers and political activists – from Henry Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin – have articulated the contours of civil disobedience or practised them. Although their ideas vary, in my view the following six key conditions should determine whether civil disobedience is a justified device in a democracy:

  • It must challenge an unjust action (a law, decision or policy) of the government. The action may be regarded as “unjust” with reference to a higher authority, such as one’s conscience, or furthering justice, human rights or any other core constitutional value.
  • The unjust action should be a matter of wider public interest, rather than affecting the interests of only a selected few. This condition will, in turn, imply a certain degree of public support.
  • Civil disobedience should be pursued with the objective of pressuring the government to change the unjust action.
  • Civil disobedience aimed at challenging an unjust action should be announced openly and publicly with advance notice.
  • It is vital that civil disobedience is peaceful and the people taking part are willing to bear all legal consequences of breaking what is perceived to be an unjust action.
  • Finally, civil disobedience should generally be employed as a last resort.

When considered within these boundaries, civil disobedience can strengthen the rule of law and constitutionalism, rather than being a threat to them. In fact, it is arguable that people in a democracy not only have a right but also a duty to resist unjust, albeit legal, measures taken by the government in certain circumstances.

I believe Snowden’s action and rationale fall within the above contours of civil disobedience. It appears that the National Security Agency has been exercising sweeping surveillance powers without many checks and balances. This, in turn, has unreasonably curtailed several human rights.

In view of the extraterritorial reach of the surveillance measures, the matter is of global public interest. Snowden’s disclosures are apparently driven by a desire to change the status quo rather than securing monetary benefits or cheap publicity. There can hardly be any doubt about the peaceful nature of his actions.

By declaring his identity and whereabouts, Snowden is willing to face the consequences of breaching US laws if a fair trial can be guaranteed. Nevertheless, it is legitimate for him to seek asylum under international law and/or contest before the local courts his extradition to the US to avoid persecution for political reasons.

It is true that Snowden did not give advance public notice of his disclosures. But is it reasonable to expect advance notice in such special circumstances? Perhaps not.

Could Snowden have tried something else first? It is unlikely he could have succeeded in exposing (and potentially changing) the surveillance system while remaining in the US or by complaining to higher authorities. The US courts have not proved to be a robust guardian of human rights amid the “war on terror”.

What could the Occupy Central organisers learn from Snowden? First, they need to identify more clearly the unjust action the proposed civil disobedience seeks to assail. They should also engage the public in diverse settings and without setting artificial limits on their participation.

On this front, too, Snowden played a master stroke by expressing his intention to rely not merely on the courts, but also on “people of Hong Kong to decide [his] fate”. Snowden is trying to secure what is necessary for successful civil disobedience: mass support for a public cause.

Moreover, the Occupy Central organisers should articulate exactly what it wants to achieve, how people would benefit and why the fears expressed by the pro-establishment camp are groundless. Apart from ensuring the peaceful nature of the movement, the organisers have to explain which other means they considered to achieve genuine universal suffrage before embarking on the Occupy Central path.

The civil disobedience discourse also has advice for governments. Dworkin, for example, argues that the government should show tolerance and act with caution. If there are prosecutions, Rawls contends that courts should take into account “the civilly disobedient nature” of the protest and reduce or suspend legal sanctions.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said Occupy Central is likely to be unlawful and non-peaceful. In other words, the government will not tolerate it.

It is time to recognise that civil disobedience, within well-defined boundaries, can play a constructive role in controlling power and furthering constitutional objectives. In fact, if used properly, it can achieve what judicial reviews and periodic elections may not accomplish.

How the Hong Kong government and its courts deal with any US extradition request for Snowden, and how they treat people participating in Occupy Central, will define not only the future of Hong Kong’s autonomy, but also its status as the bastion of freedoms and the rule of law within China.

Surya Deva is an associate professor of the school of law, City University of Hong Kong


The only thing I have written about Manning.

Here is the best-known signature campaign to pardon Snowden. 85,000 signatures already. 15,000 more by July 9 and Obama will have to make some kind of formal response. I am not signing at this point because I think it ought to be 100,000 Americans who sign (Be helpful and post a comment if you know whether non-Americans can sign).

The manning signature campaign has been less well organised, less well-worded. Here it is.

Pilling frames the moral debate in the FT (sub needed).

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