Telling Too Much Truth

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Investigative journalist Gary Webb’s conflict with major media outlets is portrayed in a new film.

Kill the Messenger, a captivating movie now playing in theaters nationwide, tells a revealing story not only of the US government’s dirty secrets, but of how the major media can control public awareness, and punish those who step out of line.

That the CIA has been complicit in the illegal drug trade has been irrefutably established by investigative journalists over the years, going back to the Vietnam War and before.  In 1972, Alfred McCoy’s groundbreaking book The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia documented CIA involvement in heroin trafficking.  During the Reagan administration in 1985, reporters Robert Parry and Brian Barger of the Associated Press revealed that the CIA was participating in the transportation of cocaine into the United States to support the illegal Contra War in Nicaragua.  In 1988, the Empowerment Project’s documentary Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair included prison interviews with convicted traffickers who explained how they flew cocaine into the US, using the same planes that the CIA used to transport weapons to the Contras.

All of this was largely ignored by the the major media, which succeeded in keeping the embarrassing story out of public awareness.  At least until a courageous journalist named Gary Webb discovered some shocking new information in 1996, and published the results of his investigation in the San Jose Mercury News.  In a series of articles called Dark Alliance, he exposed how the crack cocaine epidemic in Los Angeles and other cities was fed by the CIAs complicity in importing cocaine into the US.

By the standards of the relatively young Internet at the time, the story went viral.  Outrage erupted in LA’s African American community where a crack epidemic had been ravaging South Central neighborhoods.

The major media was caught flat-footed.  Rather than pursuing the story further themselves, they either ignored it completely or tried to discredit Webb and his reporting.  In particular, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times launched a coordinated campaign.  No doubt motivated by their desire to maintain friendly relations with their government sources, and to obscure their own deliberate failure to investigate the story, they focused on smearing Webb and his reporting.

Unfortunately, they were all too successful.  The editors at San Jose Mercury News were intimidated into pulling Dark Alliance from their website, even as Webb was about to publish more reports.  They took him off the beat and consigned him to an innocuous job, which he eventually quit.  With his credibility destroyed, he wasn’t able to work again as a journalist, and in 2004 he was found dead from gunshots to the head, a presumed suicide.

Gary Webb’s tragic story was not widely known in the years that followed.  Kill the Messenger, based on Nick Schou’s book of the same name, finally brings this story to a wide audience.  It does an outstanding job of revealing what would otherwise remain buried and hidden from the public consciousness.

-David Kasper

 

Only Government-Approved Media Coverage Allowed

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The excessive police response to the uprising in Furguson shocked the country and the world.  Militarized police are treating the public as an enemy that needs to be controlled and suppressed—hardly what most Americans believe to be the function of local police.

Along with the abusive and aggressive treatment of peaceful protestors, the police are deliberately targeting journalists, or anyone with a camera or cell phone, in a systematic effort to conceal police actions from public view.

As the ACLU described it in a recent article, “Police repeatedly ordered protesters to turn off cameras and cell phones recording law enforcement. Roving SWAT teams raided a McDonald’s and arrested two journalists engaged in the suspicious act of recharging their phones. Police aimed tear gas canisters directly at members of the press. A local news crew caught police riding up afterwards and disassembling another crew’s media equipment.”

Even the Federal Aviation Administration aided in the coverup by declaring a no-fly zone over the city so that TV news helicopters couldn’t show what was happening.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated instance of the government trying to control media coverage.  It is a further extension of the growing pattern of intimidation and harassment of journalists that has been accelerating since 9/11.

Along with the government’s obsession with keeping what it does as secret as possible, we are seeing reporters threatened with prosecution for publishing stories that the government doesn’t like, including James Risen of the New York Times, who may end up in prison for not revealing a confidential source, and Glenn Greenwald who reported on the Ed Snowden leaks for the Guardian.

–David Kasper & Wendy White

 

 

 

Shhhh … It’s A Secret

 

ShhhhSECRECYAlthough an informed citizenry has long been considered essential in a democracy, many government officials instead see the free flow of information as a threat to the power and security of the state.  The domestic population is increasingly considered unworthy of being trusted with knowledge of what its government is doing.

According to participants who appear in Seizing Power,  much of what is kept secret is for the purpose of concealing illegality, corruption and incompetence, and to enable authorities to do as they please without having to provide justification or obtain consent from the public.

In this video, they describe the government’s dangerous obsession with secrecy:

- Wendy White

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Your Email Private

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By David Kasper

I don’t consider myself an expert on encryption methods and how they work, or even how effective they are in securing online privacy.  But I’ve become concerned enough about government and corporate spying that I set out to explore how to keep prying eyes out of my email correspondence and web activity.  I discovered that it is easier and more effective than you might think to send and receive email that is encrypted and decrypted on your own computer, making the ability to read it in transit impossible.  By all accounts, the encryption standard called Open PGP is unbreakable, even by NSA’s cryptographers and super computers.

I’ve already started using it, and I’ve been encouraging others that I correspond with to use it as well.  I know there are those who say that encrypting your correspondence will attract more attention from the NSA and increase the likelihood of being targeted.  That may be true, but for many of us involved in media work, especially on controversial political subjects, the likelihood that government snoops can spy at will on our correspondence is worth protecting against.

The use of encryption has grown dramatically since the disclosures of NSA spying by Edward Snowden.  Activists, lawyers, researchers and businesses rely on it to keep their communications private.  So do many journalists whose government sources are drying up for fear of being identified and targeted for harassment and prosecution

We may be heading for a time when most, if not all email on the Internet will be user-encrypted by default.  You have to wonder why tech companies have not already built end-to-end encryption into their email programs, since the technology has existed for more than twenty years.  Unfortunately, the prospect that anyone will reign in the NSA’s rampant abuses is tenuous and remote.  In the meantime, encryption makes sense for anyone who doesn’t want their life to be an open book available to the government.

The Open PGP encryption system has become the most widely-used standard, because of it’s proven security and relative ease of use.  The original PGP or “Pretty Good Privacy” was invented in the early 90’s by Phil Zimmerman so that he and other anti-nuclear activists could communicate securely.  PGP was eventually sold to Symantec Corp. which adapted and re-named it to Symantec Encryption, now selling for $175+, a steep price for individual consumers.

Fortunately, software using the Open PGP standard is available for free download under the name GnuPG or GPG.  It is compatible with Symantec or anything using the Open PGP standard.  It is also designed to integrate with existing email software on Mac and Windows computers.

Without going into a lot of detail, here is basically how it works.  After you install the GnuPG software, it will generate a pair of keys, one public key and one private key.  The public key is not secret.  In fact many users make it available to anyone who wants to look it up in an online directory.  The private key is secret and known only to you.  To send an encrypted email, you get the recipients public key by looking it up and adding it to your “keychain.”  You click a button to encrypt the message and send it.  Your recipient who has the corresponding private key is the only one who can see it.  It all happens instantly in the background.  Your recipient opens the message and it appears already decrypted.

If you’re using webmail, encryption is not so easy or effective.  There are services such as Hushmail and Scramble that provide encrypted webmail, but the content can still be unlocked by them.  When Canadian authorities demanded that Hushmail turn over user encryption keys, Hushmail complied under threat of prosecution.

Of course your computer is vulnerable if there is spyware or some other intrusion that allows a snooper to monitor your computer screen or log your keystrokes.  There are also other issues to consider if you want to be fully protected, including how to keep all of your internet activity private.  But making your email content completely secure while in transit closes the worst vulnerability.

Former NSA Director Confronted on Surveillance Abuse

Duke Talk 3-SFrom left: David Schanzer (moderator), Barton Gellman & Michael Hayden.

Former Director of the National Security Agency Michael Hayden was confronted about his complicity in illegal warrantless surveillance at a recent public event hosted by Duke University.  He appeared at the event with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman to discuss the controversy over leakers and whistleblowers.

Hayden was Director of the NSA following 9/11 during the Bush administration when the decision was made to secretly spy on American citizens without the required warrants – a blatant violation of the FISA surveillance law and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.  Violations of are punishable by a $10,000 fine and five years imprisonment for each infraction.  Hayden and others complicit in the illegal surveillance have never been prosecuted or even investigated for their crimes.

Hayden left the government 2009 for a top position with a national security contractor.  He now appears frequently on TV talk shows as an expert on the current NSA controversy, basically defending government surveillance practices.

During the question and answer session following the Duke talk, I asked Hayden how he justified turning the NSA on the American population, a question that is never asked by the friendly media outlets he normally appears on.  In his response, he lays out his version of how and why NSA undertook its warrantless surveillance, and why he thinks it is legal and necessary.  Barton Gellman fills in some of the history of how it happened.

Hayden is resorting to the same defense that the officials who created and ordered the secret US torture program successfully used to escape any accountability:  That he is off the hook because government attorneys told him it was OK.  Using the same kind of twisted logic that Justice Department lawyers concocted to protect torturers with the infamous “torture memos,” Hayden argues that what he did is lawful because the President as Commander in Chief has expansive authorities during wartime.

At one point in the discussion Hayden called Edward Snowden a “hunter” who set out from the beginning to find NSA secrets and expose them, not a whistleblower who acted out of concern for wrongdoing that he discovered.  Like other pro-NSA officials, Hayden insists that Snowden, instead of going public, should have brought his concerns to appropriate authorities and Congressional intelligence committees.  One only has to look at the experience of Thomas Drake and other NSA whistleblowers, to know that going through “official channels” would only result in Snowden being targeted for harassment and prosecution.

Current NSA Director Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have been caught lying to Congress, and like Hayden, they are escaping prosecution. The glaring reality is that many of those who are calling for Snowden to be prosecuted and imprisoned are themselves criminals who are walking free.

-David Kasper