Saturday, March 01, 2014

Loving A Putsch – Cheering A “Democratic Neo-Nazi Coup” In Ukraine

CIA engineered coup still has potential to evolve into WWIII

CONSORTIUM NEWS
By Robert Parry
02/26/2014

Exclusive: There’s been much celebration in U.S. political and media circles over the violent ouster of Ukraine’s democratically elected president. Nearly everyone is hailing this putsch and ignoring that it was spurred on by neo-Nazi militias, Robert Parry reports.

There was always a measure of hypocrisy but Official Washington used to at least pretend to stand for “democracy,” rather than taking such obvious pleasure in destabilizing elected governments, encouraging riots, overturning constitutional systems and then praising violent putsches. 
 
 
But events in Ukraine and Venezuela suggest that the idea of respecting the results of elections and working within legal, albeit flawed, political systems is no longer in vogue, unless the “U.S. side” happens to win, of course. 
 
If the “U.S. side” loses, then it’s time for some “shock doctrine.” And, of course, the usual demonizing of the “enemy” leader.


 
Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was surely no one’s idea of a pristine politician, though it looks like there are few to none of those in Ukraine, a country essentially controlled by a collection of billionaire oligarchs who jockey for power and shift their allegiances among corrupt politicians.

But Yanukovych was elected in what was regarded as a reasonably fair election in 2010. Indeed, some international observers called the election an important step toward establishing an orderly political process in Ukraine.

But Yanukovych sought to maintain cordial relations with neighboring Russia, which apparently rubbed American neocons the wrong way. Official Washington’s still-influential neocons have been livid with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin because he cooperated with U.S. President Barack Obama in averting U.S. wars against Iran and Syria. 
 
 
Foul-mouthed CIA whore Nuland with fellow coup plotters
In both cases, the neocons thought they had maneuvered Obama into confrontations that could have advanced their long-term strategy of “regime change” across the Middle East, a process that started in 2003 with the U.S. invasion of Iraq but stalled with that disastrous war.

However, last year, prospects for more U.S. military interventions in two other target countries – Iran and Syria – were looking up, as Israel joined with Saudi Arabia in stoking regional crises that would give Obama no choice but to launch American air strikes, against Iran’s nuclear facilities and against Syrian government targets.

Putin’s Interference

That strategy was going swimmingly until Putin helped bring Iran to the negotiating table over guarantees that its nuclear program would not lead to a nuclear weapon. Putin also brokered a deal to avert threatened U.S. air strikes on Syria over disputed evidence regarding who launched a chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus. Putin got the Syrian government to agree to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.

So, Putin found himself in the center of the neocons’ bulls-eye and – given some of his own unforced errors such as defending Russia’s intolerance toward gays and spending excessively on the Sochi Olympics – he became the latest “designated villain,” denounced and ridiculed across the neocon-dominated op-ed pages of the Washington Post and other major news outlets. 
 
 
Fascist U.S. traitor John McCain incites rioters
Even NBC, from its treasured spot as the network of the Olympic Games, felt it had no choice but to denounce Putin in an extraordinary commentary delivered by anchor Bob Costas. Once the demonizing ball gets rolling everyone has to join in or risk getting run over, too.

All of which set the stage for Ukraine. The issue at hand was whether Yanukovych should accept a closer relationship with the European Union, which was demanding substantial economic “reforms,” including an austerity plan dictated by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych balked at the harsh terms and turned to Ukraine’s neighbor Russia, which was offering a $15 billion loan and was keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat with discounted natural gas.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the EU was driving too hard a bargain or whether Ukraine should undertake such painful economic “reforms” – or how Yanukovych should have balanced the interests of his divided country, with the east dominated by ethnic Russians and the west leaning toward Europe.

But protesters from western Ukraine, including far-right nationalists, sought to turn this policy dispute into a means for overthrowing the elected government. Police efforts to quell the disturbances turned violent, with the police not the only culprits. Police faced armed neo-Nazi storm troopers who attacked with firebombs and other weapons.

Though the U.S. news media did show scenes of these violent melees, the U.S. press almost universally blamed Yanukovych – and took almost gleeful pleasure as his elected government collapsed and was replaced by thuggish right-wing militias “guarding” government buildings.

With Yanukovych and many of his supporters fleeing for their lives, the opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws often unanimously, as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene. Amazingly, the U.S. news media treated all this as uplifting, a popular uprising against a tyrant, not a case of a coup government operating in collusion with violent extremists.

In the upside-down world that has become the U.S. news media, the democratically elected president was a dictator and the coup makers who overthrew the popularly chosen leader were “pro-democracy” activists.

A Curious History


There’s also a curious history behind U.S. attitudes toward ethnically divided Ukraine. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency – as he escalated Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union – one of his propaganda services, Radio Liberty, began broadcasting commentaries into Ukraine from right-wing exiles.

Some of the commentaries praised Ukrainian nationalists who had sided with the Nazis in World War II as the SS waged its “final solution” against European Jews. The propaganda broadcasts provoked outrage from Jewish organizations, such as B’nai B’rith, and individuals including conservative academic Richard Pipes.

According to an internal memo dated May 4, 1984, and written by James Critchlow, a research officer at the Board of International Broadcasting, which managed Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, one RL broadcast in particular was viewed as “defending Ukrainians who fought in the ranks of the SS.”

Critchlow wrote, “An RL Ukrainian broadcast of Feb. 12, 1984 contains references to the Nazi-oriented Ukrainian-manned SS ‘Galicia’ Division of World War II which may have damaged RL’s reputation with Soviet listeners. The memoirs of a German diplomat are quoted in a way that seems to constitute endorsement by RL of praise for Ukrainian volunteers in the SS division, which during its existence fought side by side with the Germans against the Red Army.”

Harvard Professor Pipes, who was an informal adviser to the Reagan administration, also inveighed against the RL broadcasts, writing – on Dec. 3, 1984 – “the Russian and Ukrainian services of RL have been transmitting this year blatantly anti-Semitic material to the Soviet Union which may cause the whole enterprise irreparable harm.”

Though the Reagan administration publicly defended RL against some of the public criticism, privately some senior officials agreed with the critics, according to documents in the archives of the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. For instance, in a Jan. 4, 1985, memo, Walter Raymond Jr., a top official on the National Security Council, told his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, that “I would believe much of what Dick [Pipes] says is right.”

This three-decade-old dispute over U.S.-sponsored radio broadcasts underscores the troubling political reality of Ukraine, which straddles a dividing line between people with cultural ties oriented toward the West and those with a cultural heritage more attuned to Russia. Though the capital Kiev sits in a region dominated by the western Ukrainians, the Russian-allied Ukrainians represent most of the population, explaining Yanukovych’s electoral victory.

Loving a Putsch

Now, right-wing militias, representing those historical resentments toward the Russians and hostility toward the Jews, have seized control of many government buildings in Kiev. Faced with this intimidation, the often-unanimous decisions by the remaining legislators would normally be viewed with extreme skepticism, including their demands for the capture and likely execution of Yanukovych.

But the U.S. press corps can’t get beyond its demonization of Putin and Yanukovych. The neocon Washington Post has been almost euphoric over the coup, as expressed in a Feb. 24 editorial:

“Ukraine has shaken off its corrupt president and the immediate prospect of domination by Russia — but at the risk of further conflict. The decision by Viktor Yanukovych to flee Kiev over the weekend triggered the disintegration of his administration and prompted parliament to replace him and schedule elections for May.

“The moves were democratic — members of Mr. Yanukovych’s party joined in the parliamentary votes — but they had the effect of nullifying an accord between the former government and opposition that had been brokered by the European Union and tacitly supported by Russia.

“Kiev is now controlled by pro-Western parties that say they will implement the association agreement with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovych turned away from three months ago, triggering the political crisis.

“There remain two big threats to this positive outcome. One is that Ukraine’s finances will collapse in the absence of a bailout from Russia or the West. The other is that the country will split along geographic lines as Russian speakers in the east of the country, perhaps supported by Moscow, reject the new political order.”

The Post continued, “What’s not clear is whether Mr. Putin would accept a Ukraine that is not under the Kremlin’s thumb. The first indications are not good: Though Mr. Putin has been publicly silent about Ukraine since Friday, the rhetoric emanating from his government has been angry and belligerent. A foreign ministry statement Monday alleged that ‘a course has been set to use dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods to suppress dissenters in various regions.’”

So, the Washington Post’s editors consider the violent overthrow of a democratically elected president to be “democratic” and take comfort in “democratic” actions by a legislature, despite the curious lack of any no votes and the fact that this balloting has occurred under the watchful eye of neo-Nazi storm troopers patrolling government offices. And, according to the Post, the Russian government is unhinged to detect “dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods.”

The New York Times editorial page was only slightly less celebratory, proclaiming: “The venal president of Ukraine is on the run and the bloodshed has stopped, but it is far too early to celebrate or to claim that the West has ‘won’ or that Russia has ‘lost.’ One incontrovertible lesson from the events in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, is that the deeply divided country will have to contend with dangerous problems that could reverberate beyond its borders.”

There has been, of course, a long and inglorious history of the U.S. government supporting the overthrow of elected governments: Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Allende in Chile in 1973, Aristide in Haiti twice, Chavez in Venezuela briefly in 2002, Zelaya in Honduras in 2009, Morsi in Egypt in 2013, and others. After Yanukovych, the next target of these U.S.-embraced “democratic” coups looks to be Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.

In these cases, it is typical for the mainstream U.S. news media to obsess over perceived flaws in the ousted leaders. On Wednesday, for instance, the New York Times made much of an unfinished presidential palace in Ukraine, calling it “a fugitive leader’s folly.” The idea seems to be to cement in the minds of impressionable Americans that it is okay for the U.S. government to support the overthrow of democratically elected presidents if they have flaws.

The outcomes for the people of these countries that are “saved” from their imperfect leaders, however, often tend to be quite ugly. Usually, they experience long periods of brutal repression at the hands of dictators, but that typically happens outside the frame of the U.S. news media’s focus or interest. Those unhappy countries fade from view almost as quickly as they were thrust to center stage, next to the demonization of their elected leaders.




Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The 5th Estate.

This news bureau contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

 

Monsanto’s Roundup Found In 75% Of Air And Rain Samples

Corporate criminals, farmers close the circle on the total pollution of our environment

ECOWATCH
By John Deike
02/27/2014

A new U.S. Geological Survey has concluded that pesticides can be found in, well, just about anything.

Roundup herbicide, Monsanto’s flagship weed killer, was present in 75 percent of air and rainfall test samples, according to the study, which focused on Mississippi’s highly fertile Delta agricultural region. 
 
 
GreenMedInfo reports new research, soon to be published by Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry journal, discovered the traces over a 12-year span from 1995-2007.

In recent years, Roundup was found to be even more toxic than it was when first approved for agricultural use, though that discovery has not led to any changes in regulation of the pesticide. Moreover, Roundup’s overuse has enabled weeds and insects to build an immunity to its harsh toxins.


To deal with the immunity issue, Monsanto’s solution has been to spray more and stronger pesticides to eliminate the problem.

The health effects of Roundup are also hard to ignore as research has linked exposure to the pesticide to Parkinson’s disease and various cancers. 
 
 
For instance, children in Argentina, where Roundup is used in high concentrations, struggle with health problems, with 80 percent showing signs of the toxins in their bloodstreams.

However, Roundup isn’t the only widespread threat to public health. 
 
 
 
 
The U.S. Geological Survey, along with others, have identified additional pesticides in the air and water that become more toxic as they mix and come in contact with people.

Spraying Roundup may have short-term economic benefits for Monsanto, but the potential long-term risks could present significant challenges to people in affected regions of the country.
 
 
 
This news bureau contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Ukraine : A Playbook CIA Coup

U.S., EU panic at unforeseen blowback

VOICE OF RUSSIA
02/28/2014

The very first act of the western-backed insurrectionists which represent a small percentage of the population and have managed to overthrow the government was to attempt rob Russian speakers in Ukraine of their language.
 
 
This denial by the Bandera nazi [sic] extremists and the illegitimate power in Kiev of a basic human rights for a huge percentage of the population runs contrary to international law and the European Convention of Human Rights to which Ukraine is a signatory.

According to the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of Principles of International Law and under the terms of the United Nations Charter, effectively the Russia population have a right to secede from Ukraine. 
 
 
In an interview with the Voice of Russia Harvard Professor Francis Boyle says that there is no real government in Ukraine right now, and called it a gang of neo-Nazis, fascists and rightist thugs. There is clear cut discrimination against Russians in Ukraine with public demands in Kiev that Russians be killed. According to Professor Boyle what happened in Kiev was a playbook coup d'état by the CIA. Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, working with the US Ambassador, were instrumental in carrying out the coup d'état, as it has been proven they were working with “the brown shirts”: Svoboda, the right sector, the Bandera Nazis and skinheads.
 
 
 

John Robles interviews Professor Francis Boyle. Boyle is a Professor on International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign in Illinois.  He also holds multiple doctorates.  

Robles: Hello, sir.

Boyle: Hi, John, how are you doing? My best to your listening audience.

Robles: And thanks for agreeing to speak with me. I’m doing well by the way. You’ve made several comments and you‘ve written several very hard-hitting pieces regarding the rights of people to secede. In this case we are speaking about Ukraine and the Russian speaking population which is a very large percentage of the population in that country. Can you give us some details on that and your views on what is going on in Ukraine right now, please?

Boyle: Right, John. Well, let me just look at it to start out as a legal matter. What you had here, as you know, was this rump Ukrainian Parliament voted to terminate Russian as one of the official languages of Ukraine and you have, I would say, maybe a 30% or more of the population are native Russian speakers.

Now the problem with this is that it does provide, or at least start to provide, grounds for succession under international law. I’m not saying here I’m asking for succession, although I do note there are now people in the Russian speaking areas of Ukraine especially in Crimea and Sevastopol asking for succession.

So the test for succession, and let me read it here for you, taken from the United Nations General Assembly Declaration of Principles of International Law under the terms of the United Nation’s Charter, and it’s set forth in a paragraph which I sent to you, effectively what it says is that if a government, and here in Ukraine right now there is no government, there is just a gang of neo-Nazis, fascists, rightist thugs and whatever in charge of Kiev

But if a government does not quote: “conduct themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and possess a government representing the whole people, belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or color”, then that provides grounds for succession.

And here you have the Russians being stripped of their language, so it’s clear cut discrimination here against Russians. You are hearing public demands in Kiev that Russians be killed, and things of this nature.

I’m not saying that I’m supporting succession, but this is very dangerous what the rabble in charge of Kiev have done here in stripping the Russian speakers of their native language, and as we know the capability to speak a language goes to the very heart of any people, no matter who they are.

And this is a serious issue between the First and Second World War, when you had collapse of all these empires and the arbitrary creation of nation states, and speakers of one language put in, as a minority in another state.

It is a very dangerous step they have taken here. As you know they have also outlawed the Communist Party - that is serious. I don’t think legally it is as serious as stripping Russian speakers of their language, in dealing with the state. But even there, Ukraine is a party to the European Convention of Human Rights.

There is a right of association, and political association, and to establish political parties. I’m not a Communist myself, I’m a political independent, but they certainly have a right to have a Communist Party if they want to, and today we just saw that the leader of the Communist Party in Kiev – they burned his home down. So, we have a chance that Russians and Communists and Jews should be killed over there. So it’s a very bad sign for maintaining the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Now so far, I think Foreign Minister Lavrov has taken the correct position, that is: ‘we are not going to interfere in the domestic affairs of Ukraine’, which is correct under international law. But he said ‘others should not do the same either’, but unfortunately, as we know, the United States and Germany, at a minimum, are over there interfering in the domestic affairs of Ukraine.

So, it is a very difficult, dangerous situation. I think the thugs ruling there in Kiev right now are playing with fire.

Robles: Now you mentioned some things that are very alarming, and they have been alarming for many Russian officials. I’d like your comment, if you could, first off: Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, he said that this was a violation. Let me pull up the quote here, he said: ‘the attack on the Russian language in Ukraine is a blatant violation of the rights of the ethnic minority;it is against the principal of the rule of law’. That was stated by Konstantin Dolgov today. The figures that we have …

Boyle: He is correct, he is certainly correct, and I’m suggesting it’s far more serious than that – in that it provides a legal basis for the Russian speakers in the Russian areas of Ukraine to declare succession,if that’s what they want to do.

So it’s even far more serious than your minister there is pointing out, there was far more grave, serious violation of their basic human rights. Yes, but I agree with what he is said, yes.

Just a reminder you are listening to an interview with Professor Francis Boyle.

Robles: You mentioned death threats against Russians and Jews. Can you tell us about a little bit about those? And how is it possible that the West is continuing to support these people, these thugs that have basically just occupied all the houses of government?

Boyle: But, the United States’ government has been overthrowing democratically elected governments since the Mosaddegh Government in Iran and putting the Shah of Iran in power - that was Kermit Roosevelt - and even as he publicly bragged about it in his book Countercoup, and even have a manual in circulation there at the CIA based on this, on how you overthrow governments.

It seems to me this was a playbook coup d'état by the CIA. Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, working with the US Ambassador, we now have the tape on that. So this is a classic coup d'état, and working with what I can call ‘the brown shirts’ over there: Svoboda, the right sector, the Bandera people, skinheads– they list these types of people they want.

So that is people that they were working with to overthrow ademocratically elected government, and basically shred the Constitution. They are paying no attention at all to any constitutional arrangement there. And as we know, as of today, Tuesday evening my time, they still don’t have a government in Kiev, they can’t agree on one.

It does appear the Americans favor putting Tymoshenko back in power, because you had that very famous picture of her with Ambassador Pyatt, that was clearly a symbol that she is the American favorite. But I think the neo-Nazis, and the fascists, right sector don’t even want her.

So I don’t know how all this is going to shake out. And in the meantime, it is extremely dangerous in Kiev and the non-Russian speaking parts for Communists, Jews,Russian speakers. We will have to see what happens, I really don’t know.

Robles: Couple of other things here now. Klitschko said, earlier today Moscow time, that he wanted to run for president. Then we have Yarosh, he is the leader of the nationalists who have been training in western Ukraine for about a decade to carry all this out - he wants to be the president - he wants to lead the country. And it would be something unbelievable in modern times, something like a Nazi regime is what he wants to bring about. People call him “The Führer”.

Also, Jewish leaders have called for Jews to leave Kiev, and possibly leave the country. Was the US aware of all this? I find that hard to believe they were that ignorant what they were unleashing.

Boyle: I’m sure they knew exactly what they were doing. Look, the United States government works with anyone they need to work with, to accomplish their objectives, as you see in Syria-they are working with Muslim extremist terrorist groups to overthrow the Assad government in Syria - I’m not saying he is democratically elected.

They did the same thing in Libya to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi - I’m not saying he was democratically elected. So it doesn’t really matter, whatever gets the job done- they will do.

So in Ukraine they decided to work with the neo-Nazis, fascists, right sector, Bandera people, those who trace their origins back to the German invasion of Ukraine and exterminating millions of Ukrainians, including maybe 2 million Jews, we don’t even know the exact number.

Nuland made it clear in that conversation that she does not support Klitschko, and she called him Klits, he is basically a creation of the German government, and Yatsenyuk, he is in there, and Svoboda- they don’t support them, they are too far right.

But they made it clear they support Tymoshenko. She is their errand girl, and they want her in power. They figure she is the best ‘face’, but as Nuland said: she should be talking to Klitschko and the head of Svoboda there, was it four times a week? Or something like that.

Robles: Yeah, four times a week she said.

Boyle: So, that is what the Americans want. Whether they’ll get it, I don’t know.

Robles: There’s one problem – that is not what the Ukrainian people want. I mean, when Tymoshenko was rolled out, most of the people were not that happy to see her.

So, I mean, sure that’s somebody the US wants, but how they are going to put her in power if the Ukrainian people don’t want her?

Boyle: Well I agree with you, but this is a coup d’état. I mean, the Iranian people didnot want the Shah of Iran either, but that is what they got. The Americans working with the rabble over there, and the brown shirts in Iran, they, against the wishes of the Iranian people, put the Shah in power and he stayed there from 1953 until 1979.

So if it doesn’t appear she is going to work, the Americans willplay a little around and find someone else who does work, and is more acceptable. I can’t say, John.

But the Americans want their person in power, in Kiev, and if it is not Tymoshenko, then maybe they will go with Klitschko first -who knows? If that doesn’t work out they could even go with Svoboda, and try to rehabilitate Svoboda. I can’t say. I’m still trying to figure this out now.

Robles: Yeah, we are talking about this matter-of-factly, like we are discussing like the choosing of a team, but what we are talking about here is completely illegal under international law, isn’t it? You can’t install governments at will no matter who you are.

Boyle: Well, that is correct. It is clearlyillegal, we discussed this before – it’s condemned by the World Court and the Nicaragua decision,when the Reagan Administration tried to overthrow theSandinistagovernment in Nicaragua, and they were not democratically elected at all, but the United States government has been doing this starting with the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, then Guatemala, and moving on from there, I mean, I can’t recall the exact number of governments they’ve overthrown.

Robles: Over 70.

Boyle: Yeah, Bill Blum has a book called ‘Killing Hope’.

Robles: Yeah, I read it, I know Bill, I know Bill. I think 77 he said.

Boyle: He has got the exact number and the circumstances - all in his book “Killing Hope”. And Bill used to work for the State Department, and resigned in protest over the Vietnam War. He is a very solid person.

Robles: Yeah, I’ve interviewed him several times.Professor Boyle, we are out of time. I really appreciate it, if maybe if you could in less in a minute if you could give us your prediction and your advice for all the players in this.

Boyle: Oh, John, I mean, we did discuss this the last time, and at this point I really don’t know what to say. All I can say is that Foreign Minister Lavrov has so far - I’ve commended him before - I think he is an outstanding diplomat and representative of the Russian Federation and far superior to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of State Kerry, but he has taken the principle position under international law, that Russia is not going to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs. And that is a correct position to take.

Now, beyond that, I would not know how to advise the Russian government right now what to do. I think president Putin and his National Security Council, as you know they met last week, are trying to sort all this out. You know, it could be, President Putin might decide to try to stabilize the situation in Ukraine. He might decide that he doesn’t really want a civil war in Ukraine right on the borders with Russia.

So those, very well, might be his calculations, and I certainly would not disagree with those conclusions if that was what he and his National Security Council were to decide. I think if there were to be a civil war in Ukraine it would make what happened in Yugoslavia child’s play. So, that might be the way President Putin is seeing things now as we speak.

Robles: Ok, thank you, Professor Boyle. I really appreciate your views.

Boyle: Fine! Thanks a lot John, and my best again to your listening audience.



This news bureau contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc.  We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

 


Snowden : Optic Nerve - Millions Of Yahoo Webcam Images Intercepted By GCHQ

Yahoo exposed for CIA/MI6 collaboration

THE GUARDIAN
By  Spencer Ackerman and James Ball
02/28/2014

Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
 
 
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.


Yahoo reacted furiously to the webcam interception when approached by the Guardian. The company denied any prior knowledge of the program, accusing the agencies of "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".
 
GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans' images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant.
 
 
 

The documents also chronicle GCHQ's sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.

Optic Nerve, the documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show, began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, according to an internal GCHQ wiki page accessed that year.
 
 
 

The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell's 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ's existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs.

Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users' feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ's servers. The documents describe these users as "unselected" – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.
 
 
 
 
One document even likened the program's "bulk access to Yahoo webcam images/events" to a massive digital police mugbook of previously arrested individuals.

"Face detection has the potential to aid selection of useful images for 'mugshots' or even for face recognition by assessing the angle of the face," it reads. "The best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright."

The agency did make efforts to limit analysts' ability to see webcam images, restricting bulk searches to metadata only.
 
 
 
 
However, analysts were shown the faces of people with similar usernames to surveillance targets, potentially dragging in large numbers of innocent people. One document tells agency staff they were allowed to display "webcam images associated with similar Yahoo identifiers to your known target".

Optic Nerve was based on collecting information from GCHQ's huge network of internet cable taps, which was then processed and fed into systems provided by the NSA. Webcam information was fed into NSA's XKeyscore search tool, and NSA research was used to build the tool which identified Yahoo's webcam traffic.
 
 
Bulk surveillance on Yahoo users was begun, the documents said, because "Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets".

Programs like Optic Nerve, which collect information in bulk from largely anonymous user IDs, are unable to filter out information from UK or US citizens. 
 
 
Unlike the NSA, GCHQ is not required by UK law to "minimize", or remove, domestic citizens' information from its databases. However, additional legal authorisations are required before analysts can search for the data of individuals likely to be in the British Isles at the time of the search.

There are no such legal safeguards for searches on people believed to be in the US or the other allied "Five Eyes" nations – Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

GCHQ insists all of its activities are necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with UK law.
 
 
The documents also show that GCHQ trialled automatic searches based on facial recognition technology, for people resembling existing GCHQ targets: "[I]f you search for similar IDs to your target, you will be able to request automatic comparison of the face in the similar IDs to those in your target's ID".

The undated document, from GCHQ's internal wiki information site, noted this capability was "now closed … but shortly to return!"


The privacy risks of mass collection from video sources have long been known to the NSA and GCHQ, as a research document from the mid-2000s noted: "One of the greatest hindrances to exploiting video data is the fact that the vast majority of videos received have no intelligence value whatsoever, such as pornography, commercials, movie clips and family home movies."

Sexually explicit webcam material proved to be a particular problem for GCHQ, as one document delicately put it: "Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography."
 
 
 

The document estimates that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo webcam imagery harvested by GCHQ contains "undesirable nudity". Discussing efforts to make the interface "safer to use", it noted that current "naïve" pornography detectors assessed the amount of flesh in any given shot, and so attracted lots of false positives by incorrectly tagging shots of people's faces as pornography.

GCHQ did not make any specific attempts to prevent the collection or storage of explicit images, the documents suggest, but did eventually compromise by excluding images in which software had not detected any faces from search results – a bid to prevent many of the lewd shots being seen by analysts.
 
 
Newest Yahoo release will provide many hours of happy wanking for MI6/NSA/CIA pedophiles
 
 
The system was not perfect at stopping those images reaching the eyes of GCHQ staff, though. An internal guide cautioned prospective Optic Nerve users that "there is no perfect ability to censor material which may be offensive. Users who may feel uncomfortable about such material are advised not to open them".

It further notes that "under GCHQ's offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence".

Once collected, the metadata associated with the videos can be as valuable to the intelligence agencies as the images themselves.

It is not fully clear from the documents how much access the NSA has to the Yahoo webcam trove itself, though all of the policy documents were available to NSA analysts through their routine information-sharing. A previously revealed NSA metadata repository, codenamed Marina, has what the documents describe as a protocol class for webcam information.

In its statement to the Guardian, Yahoo strongly condemned the Optic Nerve program, and said it had no awareness of or involvement with the GCHQ collection.

"We were not aware of, nor would we condone, this reported activity," said a spokeswoman. "This report, if true, represents a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy that is completely unacceptable, and we strongly call on the world's governments to reform surveillance law consistent with the principles we outlined in December.

"We are committed to preserving our users' trust and security and continue our efforts to expand encryption across all of our services."

Yahoo has been one of the most outspoken technology companies objecting to the NSA's bulk surveillance. It filed a transparency lawsuit with the secret US surveillance court to disclose a 2007 case in which it was compelled to provide customer data to the surveillance agency, and it railed against the NSA's reported interception of information in transit between its data centers.

The documents do not refer to any specific court orders permitting collection of Yahoo's webcam imagery, but GCHQ mass collection is governed by the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and requires certification by the foreign secretary, currently William Hague.

The Optic Nerve documentation shows legalities were being considered as new capabilities were being developed. Discussing adding automated facial matching, for example, analysts agreed to test a system before firming up its legal status for everyday use.

"It was agreed that the legalities of such a capability would be considered once it had been developed, but that the general principle applied would be that if the accuracy of the algorithm was such that it was useful to the analyst (ie, the number of spurious results was low, then it was likely to be proportionate)," the 2008 document reads.

The document continues: "This is allowed for research purposes but at the point where the results are shown to analysts for operational use, the proportionality and legality questions must be more carefully considered."

Optic Nerve was just one of a series of GCHQ efforts at biometric detection, whether for target recognition or general security.

While the documents do not detail efforts as widescale as those against Yahoo users, one presentation discusses with interest the potential and capabilities of the Xbox 360's Kinect camera, saying it generated "fairly normal webcam traffic" and was being evaluated as part of a wider program.

Documents previously revealed in the Guardian showed the NSA were exploring the video capabilities of game consoles for surveillance purposes.

Microsoft, the maker of Xbox, faced a privacy backlash last year when details emerged that the camera bundled with its new console, the Xbox One, would be always-on by default.

Beyond webcams and consoles, GCHQ and the NSA looked at building more detailed and accurate facial recognition tools, such as iris recognition cameras – "think Tom Cruise in Minority Report", one presentation noted.

The same presentation talks about the strange means the agencies used to try and test such systems, including whether they could be tricked. One way of testing this was to use contact lenses on detailed mannequins.

To this end, GCHQ has a dummy nicknamed "the Head", one document noted.

In a statement, a GCHQ spokesman said: "It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters.

"Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

"All our operational processes rigorously support this position."

The NSA declined to respond to specific queries about its access to the Optic Nerve system, the presence of US citizens' data in such systems, or whether the NSA has similar bulk-collection programs.

However, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the agency did not ask foreign partners such as GCHQ to collect intelligence the agency could not legally collect itself.

"As we've said before, the National Security Agency does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself," she said.

"The NSA works with a number of partners in meeting its foreign intelligence mission goals, and those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners operate.

"A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons."





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