Our colleague and brother Arnaud Dubus is dead. On Monday, 29th of April, the former journalist, recently turned spokesperson for the French embassy in Bangkok, stepped out of his office, leaving his bag and phone behind.
He rode a motorbike-taxi to the nearest sky-train station. Then, after taking the escalator to the platforms, he jumped onto the street below. A few minutes later, he was dead.
We, his friends, a small community of French journalists in Bangkok, are devastated by his suicide. We lost a precious friend, a true fountain of knowledge on the culture and mysteries of Southeast Asia, and a sensitive and kind man. We are also shocked because his death is symptomatic of the struggles thousands of foreign correspondents are facing around the world.
Of course, nothing can ever fully explain Arnaud’s pain and the personal reasons that pushed him to make such a final decision. But we all know that his financial difficulties, especially in the past decade, affected him severely. Even as he contributed to major French media outlets including Liberation, Radio France Internationale and Le Temps for several decades, he could no longer make a decent living and was forced to change career last year.
Pitches Left Unanswered
Arnaud had to take this step despite being a reputable expert on the region: he produced many excellent pieces on the Khmer Rouge, army politics in Thailand and Burma, power games in Buddhism, and he had recently uncovered a major corruption scandal in Malaysia. Simply put, Arnaud Dubus was considered one of the best French language writers in South East Asia.
Yet the story pitches he sent to newspapers were often left unanswered. During annual visits to his employers’ offices in Paris, he felt that some editors barely acknowledged him – a middle-age exiled reporter, skinny, discreet and modest, writing about an exotic part of the world few media still care about.
The print media crisis, the routine use of agency content by newspapers had made his income dwindle, a little more every year, but he didn’t dare to complain. He was too humble, too isolated, too humiliated by the downgrading of his living conditions so late in life, to ever mention this to anybody outside his circle of close colleagues.
The Liberation newspaper cut off his digital subscription, with the excuse that “you don’t work enough for us”. Radio France Internationale, a state-owned broadcaster, recently decided to stop providing social security and pension benefits to their freelancers abroad.
Arnaud was struggling with depression and followed medical treatment for the past decade. As he could no longer afford medical care, he had to interrupt his treatment.
Apparently, he should have been content with his meagre freelance salary –between $700 and $1,600 a month, that is, in the good months. Let’s briefly talk numbers: international newspapers today pay less than $100 for a short 250-word article, around $700 for a longer piece that will require a week’s research, field work and writing. This rate has not increased in the past fifteen years.
If one has to pay one’s own expenses including hotels, transportation, translators (Arnaud spoke and read Thai, unlike most foreign journalists in the country), reporting is no longer financially viable. Like many of us, Arnaud could simply not afford to report anymore. We are called “foreign correspondents”, on paper or on air, but in reality, the majority of us are freelancers without a fixed salary, without healthcare, and without the resources needed to investigate.
With his soft and ironic smile, he would welcome the “special envoys” sent by his employers for big events, even though they were coming to take those jobs from him that should have allowed him to set a bit of money aside in anticipation of slower times of the year. To be a “foreign correspondent” today often means editors expect you to contribute new perspectives and crucial expertise in little known parts of the world, but they will send a staff journalist to represent the brand for important media coverage.
Fortunately, Arnaud was well-versed in Thai history and culture and he was always keen to learn more. He published several scholarly books, including the remarkable “Buddhism and Politics in Thailand” (“Institut pour la Recherche sur l’Asie Contemporaine”, 2018). But that was still not enough to make a living.
Today, many foreign correspondents have to take other jobs to make ends meet: translation, teaching, public relations, whatever will cover the next rent. This kind of journalism becomes a side hobby, as it was when the profession was born in the 19th century, only possible for those who have the means and opportunities to live on other resources.
The precariousness of the freelancers’ situation is not merely financial, it’s also legal. For the past thirty years, in December, Arnaud had to go through the painful ritual of renewing his media visa. As freelancers don’t have a work contract with their employers they have to justify their activities to local authorities as best as they can.
Some employers refuse to even provide a letter acknowledging they sometimes use the journalist’s services, for fear it will be used later in a legal battle. Every year, correspondents may be asked to leave the country or to stop working as journalists, whether they are newcomers or long-time expatriates with local families.
Freedom Matters Most
Secretly hurt by the indifference shown by some editors, exhausted by decades of running after assignments, and disgusted by the lack of financial recognition, Arnaud Dubus finally abandoned journalism, like many of his peers, and accepted an offer from the French embassy in Bangkok: to become an assistant spokesperson, on a local contract for a monthly salary of $1,600.
At 55, Arnaud and his wife Noo longed for stability, wishing to buy an apartment, which he could never afford as a free-lancer.
But the transition from press to diplomacy, and the thousands of small, daily humiliations of office life, were too much to bear for this gentle and sincere man, who was unwilling to engage in official discourse. His close friends say he never recovered from leaving journalism. “I realise that freedom is what matters most,” he wrote to one of his colleagues a few weeks before his death.
Arnaud the story-teller, a true bridge of intelligence linking Asia and Europe, has left us. We remain to watch part of our profession’s spirit and ethics die along with him.
His friends and colleagues members of the Union de la Presse Francophone (UPF), Thailand :
Christelle Célerier, Christophe Chommeloux, Yvan Cohen, Olivier Cougard, François Doré, Charles Emptaz, Thierry Falise, Loïc Grasset, Didier Gruel, Carol Isoux, Olivier Jeandel, Olivier Languepin, Régis Levy, Thibaud Mougin, Olivier Nilsson, Patrick de Noirmont, Roland Neveu, Philippe Plénacoste, Pierre Paccaud, Bruno Philip, Jean-Claude Pomonti, Pierre Quéffelec, Vincent Reynaud, Laure Siegel, Stephff, Catherine Vanesse.
25 professionals working for the following media are members of UPF-Thailand: Le Monde, Libération, Arte, Mediapart, TV5, France Télévision, TF1, RTL, BFMTV, L’Express, Gavroche, RFI, Lepetitjournal.com, Thailande-fr, Latitudes, Ouest-France.
The UPF was founded in 1950 and gathers over 3000 journalists in 110 countries. The association aims at defending press freedom and promoting French language in the media.
Thanks to Tom Vater for helping out with the translation from the original version in French.
This article originally appeared in Mediapart. Reprinted with permission of the authors.
Le Club est l’espace de libre expression des abonnés de Mediapart. Ses contenus n’engagent pas la rédaction.
After Assange’s Espionage Act Indictment, Police Move Against More Journalists for Publishing Classified Material
Less than two months after the arrest of journalist Julian Assange, and two weeks after his indictment under the Espionage Act, emboldened governments have sent the police after journalists who’ve challenged the state. Joe Lauria reports.
By Joe Lauria in Sydney, Australia Special to Consortium News
Following the arrest and Espionage Act indictment of Julian Assange a number of police actions against journalists for publishing classified information and other journalistic activity has heightened fears among mainstream journalists that they could be next.
Police in Sydney, Australia on Wednesday raided the offices of the taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, copying thousands of files related to a 2017 ABC broadcast that revealedallegations of war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
Three Australian Federal Police officers and three police technicians entered ABC’s Sydney headquarters with a search warrant that named two ABC investigative journalists and the network’s news director. The police demanded to look through the journalists’ emails, ABC reported.
David Anderson, the ABC managing director, said it was “highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way”.
“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters,” he said. “The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.” John Lyons, ABC’s executive editor and head of investigative journalism, tweeted:
Lyons said the federal police were going through dozens of emails with the authority to delete or even change their content. Protagonist Winston Smith’s job in Orwell’s 1984 was to rewrite news archives.
“I recall writing ages ago about Australian legislation giving the Australian govt power to ‘add, alter or delete’ targeted material,” Australian psychologist and social critic Lissa Johnson told Consortium News. “The msm barely batted an eyelid at the time. Now that power is being wielded against the ABC.”
Gaven Morris, ABC’s news director, said: “Journalism is not a crime.”
“Our journalists do a really difficult job, I’m proud of what they do, they do it in the public’s interest,” he said. “I’d say to all the journalists at the ABC and all the journalists across Australia, don’t be afraid of the job you do.”
Marcus Strom, president of Australia’s journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, called the raid “disturbing.”
“It should chill the public as well as journalists,” he said.”These raids are all about intimidating journalists and intimidating whistle blowers so that mistakes made by the Government, including potential crimes, by the military, remain covered up, remain secret, and don’t fall in to the public domain.”
Political Editor’s Home Raided
On Tuesday morning in an unrelated case, Canberra police entered the home of the political editor of the Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph. “Journalist Annika Smethurst opened her front door to find seven AFP officers waiting for her. All because she dared to do her job and keep the nation informed on what its government was doing,” the Telegraph said in an editorial.
Ironically, the Smethhurst article in April 2018 that raised the ire of the government “revealed the departments of Defence and Home Affairs were considering new powers allowing Australians to be monitored for the first time,” The Telegraphreported. “Her original article included images of top secret letters between Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty.”
French Journalists Arrested
Assange was arrested in London on April 11. Police in Paris arrested two journalists who were covering Yellow Vest protests on April 20. One of the journalists, Alexis Kraland, said he was taken into custody after refusing to be searched and to turn his camera over to police at Gare du Nord train station. The largest journalism union in France demanded an explanation from police.
SF Police Raid Journalists’ Home
And on May 10 in San Francisco, police using sledgehammers to break down the door, raided the home of Bryan Carmody, a freelance journalist, to get him, while handcuffed, to reveal the source who leaked him a police report into the sudden death of the city’s elected public defender. Police took away computers, cameras, mobile phones and notes.
San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said initially that Carmody had “crossed a line” with his report. After a public outcry and demands that Scott resign, the police chief issued an apology.
While there is no direct connection between Assange’s arrest and indictment for possessing and disseminating classified material and these subsequent police actions, a Western taboo on arresting or prosecuting the press for its work has clearly been weakened. One must ask why Australian police acted on a broadcast produced in 2017 and an article published in April only after Assange’s arrest and prosecution.
Within hours of Assange’s Espionage Act indictment on May 23, major publications and media figures, who have harshly treated Assange, began lining up in his defense out of self-interested concern that the government could apply the same prosecutions to them for also routinely publishing classified information.
Their fears are beginning to be realized.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Sunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .
French Labor Leaders Size up Yellow Vests
Union executives and scholars in France talk to Léa Bouchoucha about the unprecedented wave of social protests.
Several weeks ago Emmanuelle Cheron, 43, was out on the Place de La République in Paris, along with other members of a new collective of professional child minders. They wore pink vests, held balloons and had set up a large pink-and-white banner that said “Maternal assistants are angry. No to the unemployment reform.”
Later that Saturday, on March 30, the Yellow Vest protesters were going to be on the streets as usual. But Cheron and her allies wanted to stage their own, single-issue demonstration. Today, when a privately employed childcare worker loses a contract with a French family, government insurance will provide between 60 percent and 75 percent of the lost income. But the government is contemplating a reduction in that allowance that Labor Minister Muriel Pénicaud may decree this summer.
The trade union Force Ouvrière, or FO, has launched an online petition protesting the change that will be delivered to Pénicaud. So far 65,000 people have signed.
The “pink vests” are just one example of the many ways French people have been tapping into the protest spirit generated by the Yellow Vests, who have reached another of their closely watched moments of possible pivot.
The loose-knit movement has avoided getting pinned down in any formal political way, but now three lists of independent Yellow Vest candidates are running in the May 26 election for France’s representatives to the European Union parliament. That balloting event may also, in itself, reignite protests that have ebbed after a big May Day demonstration and amid more intense policing — including clouds of tear gassing and water cannons on May 11 — and concessions from the government.
In an April 25 speech postponed from April 15 because of the fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, President Emmanuel Macron promised to lower taxes by about $5.5 billion, stop the unpopular closure of rural schools and hospitals, peg pensions of less than $2,200 per month to inflation, and abolish one of the dominating institutions in French public life, ENA, or the National School for Administration, from which he and much of the government hierarchy have graduated.
The question is whether those concessions are enough to satisfy a movement that has spread a sense of expectant solidarity. A strong majority of French— 82 percent of those polled in an April 15 survey by the independent survey group IFOP — say they are looking for changes in economic and social policies.
“I’m both Yellow Vest and Pink Vest,” Cheron told Consortium News. “I’m here today to support my job. It’s by standing up and being all unified that we will work something out.” (This interview, like all the rest, was conducted in French and translated.)
Guy Groux, a director at the French National Center for Scientific Research, the country’s largest public research organization, says “pink vests” such as Cheron fit naturally inside the Yellow Vest movement, which has been giving voice to workers who are, for the most part, not unionized.
“Unions work in companies, where they represent the workers, while Yellow Vests represent extremely different categories; such as artisans, entrepreneurs, liberal workers, homeless and retired,” said Groux, a specialist in the history of French trade unions, in a recent phone interview. “They don’t have the same parameters. It’s not the same population and they don’t have the same vocations. The operational scope of Yellow Vest well exceeds the regular perimeter of unions.”
Union leaders have, nonetheless, been keeping a close eye on the Yellow Vest movement. Here’s what three of those representing the largest unions had to say.
Laurent Berger is general secretary, the top position, at CFDT, France’s largest union, with 860,200 members according to 2012 data.
Of the three leading unions in the country, the CFDT keeps the greatest distance from the Yellow Vests.
“Of course, what happened with the Yellow Vests appealed us,” Berger said in a recent phone interview, while on a train headed to Brussels.
Berger said aligning with the Yellow Vests is a complicated because of what he described as so many unreasonable actors.
“I continue to think that the Yellow Vests who mobilized right away, at the start, have legitimate claims because they face inequalities,” he said, adding that they expressed a legitimate anger and a need to search for real answers to inequalities. But on the other hand, he said the movement had been exploited by people with a “totalitarian logic.”
Berger added: “This means that while I’m worried about the outcry of people contending with serious inequalities, it does not mean however that I legitimate the xenophobic, homophobic and anti-democratic practices done by some.”
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On March 5, Berger and Nicolas Hulot — the former minister for the ecological and a just transition, who resigned last August at the government’s slow going on actions to curb global warming — took advantage of the pressure that the Yellow Vests were putting on the government to outline 66 proposals for a social and ecology pact in Le Monde.
From housing and intergenerational solidarity to fighting inequalities to education, the pact was presented in the framework of a national conversation that President Emmanuel Macron instigated in response to the Yellow Vests and called the “Great Debate.”
In the pact Berger and Hulot said a society that generates so much inequality and injustice and endangers the lives of our children and grandchildren, and millions of human beings around the world, is “nonsense.”
Yves Veyrier is general secretary at FO, which is the third French major union behind the General Confederation of Labor, or CGT, and the CFDT.
In a recent phone interview, Veyrier said the Yellow Vests have been expressing the criticism that his union has been making for a long time, about the redistribution of wealth in favor of capital and away from wages.
On Oct. 9, 2018, more than a month before the Yellow Vests’ first demonstration on Nov. 17, FO, along with CGT and other unions, called a one-day general strike.
Veyrier told Consortium News that he has been warning people in government away from austerity policies that have led to the closure of numerous local public services that have sparked the Yellow Vest unrest.
FO supports the Yellow Vest demands involving purchasing power, wages, transport, housing, the accessibility of public services. On the other hand, although some Yellow Vest leaders continue to call on Macron to resign,union leaders have never gone that far.
Veyrier says the Yellow Vests have highlighted the difficulties of people in precarious situations such as under short-term contracts, unemployed or in isolated work settings. “We need to work on how we can better develop union culture with all this population,” he said.
Fabrice Angéï is confederal secretary, an executive position with the General Confederation of Labor. He says the Yellow Vests are providing unions with a chance to play a role in shaping French society.
“For over 10 years now, unions have had no social policy victories, ” Angéï said in a recent phone interview. For instance, he said, there had been no progress on reducing work hours or raising wages. “At best, we have only managed to prevent a decline. Our failure on pension reform in 2010 and before has deeply affected the decisions of employees and can maybe explain the decrease of unionized employees.”
The 2010 pension legislation signed by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has postponed the minimum retirement age by two years from 60 to 62. The reform sparked weeks of street demonstrations and nationwide strikes.
Angéï hopes the Yellow Vest demonstrations will reinvigorate the unions.
“In many cities, we have seen, from the beginning, CGT militants or activists, including those who were not participated anymore in union meetings, going to the roundabouts and joining Yellow Vest protests,” Angéï said. “We’re not in two hermetic worlds but in the same world and this ongoing [Yellow Vest] movement, with its exchanges and meetings and interest in collective actions, might contribute to a revival of unionization.”
But unions such as CGT, on the other hand, have no way to work formally with the Yellow Vests, which, like the Occupy Movement in the U.S. a few years ago, rejects any formal leadership.
Nonetheless, the CGT, which formed in 1895 and represents a wide variety of workers, has found ways to coordinate with Yellow Vests and allied protests. It helped Cherron and other “pink vests” organize for their March 30 demonstration. Before that, on Feb. 5, it joined the Yellow Vests in a day of nationwide protests calling for a higher minimum wage, increased pensions and improved public services. And on April 27 it called a daylong strike on the theme of a convergence among social struggles within the Yellow Vest movement.
Question of Convergence
Whether such a convergence is truly possible remains to be seen, said the National Center for Scientific Research’s Groux, a sociologist who specializes in the history of French trade unions. “Pink vests” and other worker in highly unstable jobs may represent an opportunity for union organizers, but Groux doesn’t see many other examples.
“These phenomena are intra-community, very local and small in numbers,” he said. “The CGT is capable of bringing out, by itself 10,000 or 20,000 protesters,” but he said those numbers did not turn out for the Yellow Vest protests. “When we will have such numbers, we will be able to speak about such a convergence but so far that hasn’t happened. ”
Groux notes that unions are weak throughout Europe and many are concentrated in the public sector.
Union membership in France has slid from 20 percent of all workers in 1960, to less than 8 percent today, earning it one of the lowest scores in this international OECD ranking. That compares with 17.6 percent in Germany, 24.2 percent in United Kingdom and 35.7 percent in Italy. Scandinavian countries have union membership above 60 percent
However, a comparison is difficult to make with other European countries where membership determines acces to social benefits or collective agreements.
In France, on the other hand, negotiations conducted by unions can extend to other workersin the same industry, unionized or not. This explains why the vast majority of workers have collective agreements: 93 percent in 2008 compared with 56 percent on average in countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Dominique Andolfatto, a political science professor at the University of Burgundy in Dijon who specializes in syndicalism, says it’s hard to calculate the changes that the Yellow Vest movement may have brought, or are still capable of bringing, because it is unprecedented in the French social history.
“I don’t see any similar movements because the Yellow Vests connect workers and employees, unemployed persons and small employers,” Andolfato said. “Eventually, we may be able to compare it to the Red Cap movement known as ‘Bonnets Rouges’ in Britany in October 2013 against an eco tax.” The Red Caps included employers, farmers, fishermen and political activists who became notorious for their violent protests against an environmental tax, which the government wound up suspending.
Léa Bouchoucha is a multimedia journalist currently based in Paris. Her work has appeared in Vogue U.S, theHuffington Post,NPR,CNN International,Women’s eNews,Euronews,Elle,Le Figaro. She has reported from Turkey on Syrian refugees and LGBT rights and from Israel, where she was working as a news editor and reporter at the international news channelI24 News.
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China’s European Moment Has Arrived
The simplicities of the postwar order have just begun to pass into history, writes Patrick Lawrence.
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Xi Jinping’s visits to Rome, Paris and Monaco last week. In bringing his much-remarked Belt and Road Initiative to the center of Europe, the Chinese president has faced the Continent with the most fundamental question it will have to resolve in coming decades: Where does it stand as a trans–Atlantic partner with the U.S. and — as of Xi’s European tour — the western flank of the Eurasian landmass? The simplicities of the postwar order, to put the point another way, have just begun to pass into history.
In Rome, the populist government of Premier Giuseppe Conte brought Italy into China’s ambitious plan to connect East Asia and Western Europe via a multitude of infrastructure projects stretching from Shanghai to Lisbon and beyond. The memorandum of understanding Xi and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio signed calls for joint development of roads, railways, bridges, airports, seaports, energy projects and telecommunications systems. Along with the MoU, Chinese investors signed29 agreements worth $2.8 billion.
Italy is the first Group of 7 nation to commit to China’s BRI strategy and the first among the European Union’s founding members. It did so two weeks after the European Commission released “EU–China: A Strategic Outlook,” an assessment of China’s swift arrival in Europe that goes straight to the core of the Continent’s ambivalence. Here is the operative passage in the E.C. report:
“China is, simultaneously, in different policy areas, a cooperation partner with whom the E.U. has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the E.U. needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”
There is much in this document to chew upon. One is the mounting concern among EU members and senior officials in Brussels about China’s emergence as a global power. This is natural, providing it does not tip into a contemporary version of the last century’s Yellow Peril. At the same time, the Continent’s leaders are highly resistant to the confrontational posture toward China that Washington urges upon them. This is the wisest course they could possibly choose: It is a strong indicator that Europeans are at last seeking an independent voice in global affairs.
Looking for Unity
They are also looking for a united EU front in the Continent’s relations with China. This was Emmanuel Macron’s point when Xi arrived in Paris. The French president made sure German Chancellor Angela Merkel and E.C. President Jean–Claude Juncker were there to greet Xi on his arrival at the Élysée Palace. The primary reason Italy sent shockwaves through Europe when it signed onto Xi’s signature project is because it effectively broke ranks at a highly charged moment.
But unity of the kind Macron and Merkel advocate is likely to prove elusive. For one thing, Brussels can impose only so far on the sovereignty of member states. For another, no one wants to miss, in the name of an E.U. principle, the opportunities China promises to bring Europe’s way. While Macron insisted on EU unity, he and Xi looked on as China signed contracts with Airbus, Électricité de France, and numerous other companies worth more than $35 billion.
There is only one way to read this: Core Europe can argue all it wants that China is unrolling a divide-and-conquer strategy, but one looks in vain for on-the-ground resistance to China’s apparent preference for bilateral agreements across the Continent. On his way home, Xi stopped in Monaco, which agreed in February to allow Huawei, China’s controversial telecoms company, to develop the principality’s 5G phone network.
In numerous ways, Italy was fated to demonstrate the likely shape of China’s arrival in Europe. The Conte government, a coalition led by the rightist Lega and the Five-Star Movement, has been a contrarian among EU members since it came to power last year: It is highly critical of Brussels and of other member states, it opposes EU austerity policies, it is fiercely jealous of its sovereignty in the EU context, and it favors better ties with Russia.
Closer to the ground, the Italian economy is weak and inward investment is paltry. Chinese manufacturers have made short work of Italian competitors in industries such as textiles and pharmaceuticals over the past couple of decades. A map, finally, tells us all we need to know about Italy’s geographic position: Its ports, notably Trieste at the northern end of the Adriatic, are gateways to the heart of Europe’s strongest markets.
As the westward destination of Xi’s envisioned Belt and Road, Europe’s economic and political relations with China were bound to reach a takeoff point. The accord with Italy, Xi’s European tour and an EU–China summit scheduled to take place in Brussels on April 9 signal that this moment has arrived.
Shift in Relationship
But it is not yet clear whether Europeans have grasped the strategic magnitude of last week’s events. In effect, the Continent’s leaders have started down a path that is almost certain to induce a shift in the longstanding trans–Atlantic relationship. In effect, Europe is starting — at last — to act more independently while repositioning itself between the Atlantic world and the dynamic nations of the East; China first among them by a long way.
No European leader has yet addressed this inevitable question.
Let us not overstate this case. Trans–Atlantic ties have been increasingly strained since Barack Obama’s presidency. President Donald Trump’s antagonisms, most notably over the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear agreement, have intensified this friction. But there is still no indication that any European leader advocates a rupture in relations with Washington.
Can U.S.–European ties evolve gradually as China’s presence on the Continent grows more evident? This is the core question. Both sides will determine the outcome. The Europeans appear to be preparing for a new chapter in the trans–Atlantic story, but there is simply no telling how Washington will respond to a reduction in its long-unchallenged influence in Western European capitals.
There is one other question the West as a whole must face. The E.C.’s “strategic outlook” terms China “a systemic rival promoting alternative forms of governance.” There are two problems with this commonly sounded theme.
First, there is no evidence whatsoever that China has or ever will insist that other countries conform to its political standards in exchange for economic advantage. That may be customary practice among Western nations and at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is not China’s.
Second, as we advance toward a condition of parity between West and non–West — an inevitable feature of our century — it will no longer be plausible to assume that the West’s parliamentary democracies set the standard by which all others can be judged. Nations have vastly varying political traditions. It is up to each to maintain or depart from them. China understands this. So should the West.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work viawww.patreon.com/thefloutist.
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Italy Looks to China
The U.S. and EU may worry about Rome joining the New Silk Road, but it’s their fault, writes Andrew Spannaus.
Italy caused a political firestorm in mid-March when it announced that it would be joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome from March 21 to 23.
As the first G-7 country to accept a formal agreement to participate in the initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, Italy found itself under instant pressure from both the United States and its allies in Europe, all of which worried that it represented an expansion of China’s economic foothold in the West.
The populist government led by the Five-Star Movement and the League was caught off guard by the rapid backlash, which began with a pointed tweet from the U.S. National Security Council on March 9.
Italy is a major global economy and a great investment destination. Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.
Garrett Marquis, confidant of U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Security Council spokesman, followed up with a threat to stop intelligence-sharingbetween the two countries.
Prior to the Chinese leader’s arrival, Giancarlo Giorgetti, the secretary of the Council of Ministers, a post equivalent to chief of staff in the U.S., confirmed the signing of the memorandum to exploit new economic opportunities, but said important restrictions would be placed on cooperation with China, and that it was “ridiculous to speak of detachment from the United States.”
The government also took practical measures immediately, expanding the scope of the “golden power,” the government’s ability to veto economic operations that it deems a threat to national security. This is aimed in particular at protecting the telecommunications sector and the development of the 5G mobile network, an area where the Trump Administration is putting pressure on other European countries as well.
On March 25, by the time Xi Jinping had come and gone, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said “I think the proper balance has been reached. … Nobody should see this as a change in course, or a change in strategy internationally. Italy remains where it is.”
Michele Geraci, undersecretary of state at the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, who led negotiations on the deal, has insisted that despite taking into account U.S. and EU worries, Italy must make its own decisions, following an “Italy first” strategy.
But Salvini, to whom Geraci owes his position, and who is poised to have even more clout after the European elections at the end of May, has been clear that it is not the type of change in alignment the Chinese had trumpeted.
Salvini even stayed away from the state dinner with Xi; and he has vowed to use his position as interior minister to monitor national security as regards port infrastructure. The other deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, who met with Bolton last Thursday in Washington, says that while Italy is simply pursuing its economic interests, it remains a key NATO ally and trade partner. This is Italy’s standard posture, which will likely be accommodated as long as the government responds to specific requests from the U.S., as it already has, for example on 5G, the new telecommunications infrastructure.
Italy is certainly not the first country in Europe to look to China for economic growth opportunities. Its larger neighbors in the European Union (EU) actually do more business with China, and have established themselves as key partners in the BRI.
After his visit to Rome, Xi Jinping was welcomed to Paris, where he signed agreements for the purchase of tens of billions of euros of French products, from airplanes to wind power systems, despite not formally joining the BRI. And the German city of Duisburg has become a key terminal for the Chinese initiative, with the arrival of dozens of trains every week that carry goods to be distributed throughout Europe thanks to the city’s central position and infrastructure connections.
Critics of these agreements point to two negative effects of Chinese expansion: cheaper products that undercut European producers, costing manufacturing jobs, and growing Chinese ownership of assets in Europe, giving the Asian giant increasing power over Western economies.
Other European countries, such as Portugal and Greece, have signed formal agreements with China regarding the New Silk Road. Italy is different because it has a much larger economy, and is a member of the G-7. Yet it shares the need to rebound from the economic collapse suffered in recent years during the Euro crisis. These have been aggravated by the neoliberal policies imposed by the European Commission and the European Central Bank, with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund.
Between 2011 until 2014, during EU-dictated austerities, Italy’s GDP declined by 7 percent, with the loss of 20 percent of the country’s industrial production.
It’s been a disaster from which the economy has only partially recovered. The current government is attempting to reverse the situation, with greater social spending and public investment. But lacking many allies in Europe, it’s being forced to compromise with EU institutions and scale back on its plans.
So, it’s no surprise that Italy would look to China to help jump-start the economy. And given that other European countries have more trade with China, it’s reasonable to expect Italy to make up the gap with countries such as France and Germany, both through investment in private enterprises and the construction of public infrastructure. And the Italians are seeking more opportunities for their companies to sell products in China.
Larger Problem for West
Italy’s situation reflects a larger problem for the West. The neoliberal economic policies of the past 30 years have brought the outsourcing of well-paying jobs, and a reduction of the role of the state in both stimulating growth and guaranteeing the welfare state. This has weakened the middle class and widened inequalities. As this has happened, the West has lost economic and political weight, opening the door for new powers to expand. China has been the main beneficiary, considerably increasing its economic presence in areas such as Africa and Latin America, and now aiming to play a leading role in Europe as well.
This shift worries U.S. government institutions seeking to bar China from such strategic sectors as telecommunications and to maintain close military-industrial cooperation with European allies.
The strong negative reaction from the U.S., followed by the European Commission, may have been driven by China’s public relations about the deal and in part by the make-up of the Italian government.
Xi Jinping then wrote a long article published on the front page of Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera. Meanwhile, on the day of Xi’s arrival, copies of the official China Daily were distributed free to numerous hotels around Rome.
All that contributed to the unease, and key players in the Italian institutions quickly decided they could not afford to anger the United States. The memorandum has been signed, and Italy will try to obtain as much economic benefit as possible, attempting to make up ground compared to its European competitors. However, the document, and the government’s rhetoric, have been adjusted to dampen the notion of a change in Italy’s strategic positioning.
Italy has the only fully populist government in Europe: the Five-Star Movement and the League came to power after elections one year ago, determined to challenge the status quo, meaning going against EU economic orthodoxy, and also hoping to lower the tensions that have dominated relations with Russia in recent years.
The Trump administration has generally been supportive of the Italians, while other European governments have not. Thus, the desire to accelerate cooperation with China is now being tempered by the need to maintain the full support of the country’s most important ally.
Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan. He was elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association in March 2018. His latest book “Original Sins. Globalization, Populism, and the Six Contradictions of the European Union” is due out at the end of April.
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Yellow Vest Movement Not Yet Changing Its Color to Green
From Paris, Léa Bouchoucha reports for Consortium News on two sets of demonstrators, some of whom are mingling while others keep a distance.
Some had hoped the two marches in Paris last Saturday— one focused on global warming and the other representing the 18th straight weekend of Yellow Vest protests — would join forces and help unite environmental activism with social equity.
On March 8, Cyril Dion, a well-known documentary film maker and environmental writer, gave a joint interview to Le Parisien with Priscillia Ludosky, considered one of the founders of the Yellow Vest movement, in which they both encouraged protesters to march together.
To an extent that happened. Yellow vests were a common sight in the climate demonstrations on Saturday. And nongovernmental groups — Greenpeace France, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation, SOS Racisme, Friends of the Earth, 350.org and Alternatiba — voiced a fusion of environmental and economic demands. “Time to change industrial, political and economic systems, to protect the environment, society and individuals,” was a typical message expressed on one banner.
The contrasts between the two demonstrations, however, wound up drawing the mainpress attention. Coverage by outlets such as Reuters and the Associated Press emphasized how the march on climate change — which drew around 45,000 in Paris, according to media estimates — was peaceful and included movie stars. The smaller Yellow Vest demonstration in the capital, estimated at around 10,000, was marked by rioting and vandalism.
Some Yellow Vests disagree with violence in demonstrations. But plenty of images have spread on social media that show a few protesters posing proudly in front of vandalized, expensive restaurants and luxury shops along the Champs-Elysées Avenue.
A strong majority of French — 84 percent of those polled — condemned the violence in a survey released March 20 by Elabe, an independent consultancy.
‘Part of the Game’
Stephanie Albinet, who wore a yellow vest to Saturday’s climate demonstration, would have been in the minority of that polling group. She was sanguine about the looting and police confrontations she’d personally witnessed at another point that day along Champs-Elysées. “That’s part of the game I would say. At some point we should stop treating the people like fools.”
Consortium News asked Albinet about another criticism of Yellow Vests: that they are too tolerant of xenophobia and bigotry.
“Yellow vests are not all anti-Semitic, racist, violent people,” Albinet responded. “They are people like me who for the past four months have finally found hope in seeing the population wake up. For the past 25 years I did not give a crap about France, but now I feel like a patriot for the first time.”
Francois Amadieu, a professor at Pantheon Sorbonne University who studies social movements, noted in a phone interview from his Paris office that protest violence can achieve results. “It’s classical and always an issue in France,” he told Consortium News. “In terms of timing. French executive power has often made concessions under pressure. It was for instance the case on Dec. 10 when the government announced some measures after two very violent Saturday protests.”
Black Bloc Attention
France24 reports that the government has attributed the violence to extreme elements – so-called casseurs – who have infiltrated the movement from both the left and right. The episode is drawing public attention to “black bloc” anarchists who have been associated with the most extreme violence.
Amadieu said that black bloc militants aren’t acting out of spontaneous emotions. “They have long theorized that violence and vandalism will launch a state reaction by the police. This repression, in the form of tear gas and so on will gradually cause protestors to become more radicalized and understand this violence. Black bloc theory also assumes that people become bored in authorized protests and when there is spillover [into criminal behavior]people stop being bored and become motivated to reclaim the streets, and so forth.”
The government is planning to militarize its response to Yellow Vest demonstrations and deploy French soldiers to prevent further violence by Yellow Vest demonstrators, media outlets are reporting.
Despite some mingling of climate and Yellow Vest protesters, Amadieu said it was significant that a core of Yellow Vests refrained from joining the climate march. “Usually, this convergence does not work out as it is not the same sociology,” he said.
Hoping to Unite
Corentin Durand, a 26-year-old physics post-graduate student who wore a yellow vest to the climate march, hopes the two movements are merging. “We should fight a battle on two fronts,” he said Saturday as the climate protest moved through the city’s Grands Boulevard neighborhood. “I can’t deal with the fact that our society is fully dependent on people who work very hard every day to make ends meet. It’s intolerable,” Durand said. ‘I hope that fighting climate change will bring social justice for everybody.”
Durand said his apprehensions about global warming affect his everyday routine. “All day long, in each of my actions; when I turned on the light or the tap, I’m wondering how it would impact the environment. I never ride in elevators, always take public transit and bike and never get on a plane.”
Public transit, however, is patchy in rural France. And when President Emanuel Macron tried to initiate his climate-protection agenda by raising fuel prices, he notoriously ignited the Yellow Vest movement, which sent a loud message not to expect low-income people, already struggling to pay their bills, to pay a disproportionate price for climate mitigation.
In response to Yellow Vest pressure, Macron on Jan. 15. launched a two-month-long “big debate” of listening tours and town halls and citizen input via booklets of complaints. Some thought the process had been lulling the Yellow Vests into complacency, but Saturday’s protests countered that impression.
Attempts to make climate policy more socially equitable are coinciding with Yellow Vest pressures on the Macron government. On March 5 in the context of the “big debate,” 19 nongovernmental organizations presented the government with 66 proposals as part of a new ecology and social compact to ensure the country’s environmental transition program is done more equitably.
One champion of this effort is Nicolas Hulot, a former environment minister and longtime campaigner who resigned on live radio on Aug. 28 out of impatience with the government’s foot dragging on climate and other goals.
Laurent Berger, a prominent unionist, is also aligned with the effort. “There is no contradiction between social consciousness and the respect of the environment,” Berger told Le Monde. “In our pact, we find environmental organizations, unions, anti-poverty, housing, youth associations and popular education movements.”
In the same article, Hulot promoted “big bang” reform of a tax system skewed in favor of the affluent. “The current system is unfair, and the burden is not equally shared,” Hulot is quoted as saying.
Stéphane Cuttaïa lives in rural France, the stronghold of the anti-system Yellow Vest movement that generally regards the Macron government as indifferent to its concerns and preoccupied with European Union affairs and urban centers of wealth.
“We’re very interested in revitalizing the local economy,” Cuttaïa said by phone this week from his home in the Île-de-France region. “The Yellow Vests speak to this. What we see today in France is that there are large cities —Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille — and then there are many rural and semi-rural territories where public services and trade have disappeared. Residents here are forced to go long distances to shop, see a doctor. It is generating many energy costs.”
Cuttaïa runs C’est déjà ça— a café that he describes as providing a community center in the small town of Saâcy-sur-Marne, around 75 kilometers from Paris. In November, he used social media networks to launch Green Vests, a largely citizen initiative that hopes to mix Yellow-Vest and “green” environmental issues. The Green Vests are now circulating an online petition with 30 proposals. One of those proposals is free public transportation in rural areas; a more equitable approach to reducing emissions than Macron’s attempt to raise fuel prices.
“We recognize our social concerns in the Yellow Vest movement, but we think that measures regarding ecological emergency are very limited,” Cuttaïa said. “We want to create a bridge between the different organizations mobilized on behalf of climate deregulations, biological exterminations and social claims.”
Bernard Guericolas, a 75-year-old retiree who joined the environment protests in Paris on Saturday, regrets the years that have been lost to inattention and inaction on global warming. “When I was young, I was happy to take a plane ride,” Guericolas said. “I wouId have loved to own a big car had I been able to afford one. But I had it all wrong. We were not aware of what we did. In my mind, it’s the role of politicians to anticipate and it is what they are paid to do. At the end, we (our generation) are guilty, but we are not accountable.”
Along with 2 million other French people so far, Guericolas signed an online petition in support of the lawsuit that several nongovernmental groups filed on March 14 against the government for climate inaction.
The lawsuit, which is similar to litigation confronting several other governments around the world, is probably more important politically than legally, says Arnaud Gossement, a professor at Sorbonne University in Paris who specializes in environmental law and spoke by phone. “The lawsuit helped to stir the mass mobilization we saw this weekend, but from a legal point of view, it’s more complicated.” For one thing, Gossement said, a judge could dismiss the case. And if the case goes forward, it could take several years. “And we do not have time to wait.”
That sense of urgency — long pent up among climate activists — is motivating young people worldwide to follow the lead of the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who last year began cutting school, holding solitary demonstrations outside the Swedish parliament and questioning the point of schoolwork when the future of humanity looked so uncertain.
In a scathing speech at a UN climate conference — during which she told participants “our civilization is being sacrificed so a very small number of people can continue making enormous amounts of money”—she became an international sensation and role model.
About three months ago, some French high school students began cutting school on Fridays to join climate demonstrations.
On Friday, March 15, Eponine Bob was one of them as she joined the Global Student Strike march in Paris. “I’m here because our generation is going to live with the effects of global warming, ” the teenager told Consortium News. “People are afraid.”
Bob said she tries to do her best to consider her personal effect on the environment in everyday life. “But in the end, it’s not families that pollute the most. It’s [corporate] lobbies and big companies,” she said. “I don’t think that there is enough regulation and it’s become a real issue.”
Léa Bouchoucha is a multimedia journalist currently based in Paris. Her work has appeared in Vogue U.S, the Huffington Post, NPR, CNN International, Women’s eNews, Euronews, Elle, Le Figaro. She has reported from Turkey on Syrian refugees and LGBT rights and from Israel, where she was working as a news editor and reporter at the international news channel I24 News.
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Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Zionism in France
Lawrence Davidson dismantles Macron’s equation of apples and oranges.
We are at a new stage of the fight to realize Palestinian rights and free both Palestinians and Jews from the consequences of Zionist racism. There was a time when very few in the West understood the racist nature of the Israeli state. For a long time, the Zionists controlled the public relations message and most people took as fact the fictional account of Israel’s founding—such as the one given in Leon Uris’s book “Exodus.”
After the 1967 war, and Israel’s decision to keep even more conquered Palestinian territory, things began to change. Of course, Israel had always been a racist place designed for one group alone. But now the contradictions created by post-war occupation made, and continue to make, that fact harder to hide, and the mythical picture of Israel as a grand democratic experiment has eroded. Increasingly the real, illiberal Israel has become apparent to Western audiences, and particularly to an increasing number of Jews. As a result, Israel has largely lost the public relations battle at the popular level of Western society.
However, the winning of this battle is not to be equated with the winning of the fight mentioned above. The Zionists are still able to maintain Western financial and military support of Israel at obscene levels despite Israel’s revealed apartheid nature.
To combat the popular criticism to which Israel is now subject, the Zionists have shifted tactics. They have abandoned popular debate and now use their influence with the West’s ruling elites to simply criminalize any rhetoric that points out the real discriminatory nature of the Zionist state. The gambit here is to have such criticism legally equated with anti-Semitism.
Last month, on Feb. 20, Emmanuel Macron, the president of the French Republic, addressed the Conseil Representatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF)—the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions. Macron’s topic was the country’s “resurgence of anti-Semitism.”
Indeed, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France over the last couple of decades. Significantly, Macron did not attempt to analyze why this was happening. For instance, while asserting that anti-Semites “are not worthy of the Republic,” he did not take note of the historical fact that anti-Semitism has been a major force in France for hundreds of years and through multiple French forms of government. Historically it has ebbed and flowed.
We cantrace this trend back to medieval France and the absolutist Catholic culture of that time. While ultimately revolutionary 18th century France (a markedly anti-clerical period) was the first European country to emancipate Jews, anti-Semitism never disappeared. It again became particularly virulent in France during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s and under the Nazi-allied Vichy regime in the 1940s. Thus, the presence in today’s France of traditional anti-Semites, those who are prejudiced against Jews qua Jews, should come as no surprise.
The latest outbreak of hostility involving Jews in France is the product of modern historical factors that more than one Paris government has failed to confront. This failure has increased resentment against some French Jews—particularly those who are Zionists. Yet it is important to note that much of this sort of emotion is not a function of anti-Semitism.
For instance, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has noted that “anti-Semitism” is now “often surfacing among radicalized Muslims” in France. While we can take issue with the notion of “radicalized” Muslims and the description of their sentiments as “anti-Semitism,” we will address the assertion of hostility and ask why should this be so.
It may be because France has treated its citizens of Arab origin very poorly while simultaneously and publicly supporting Israel, which, of course, treats its own Arab population even worse.
France has a long imperial and colonial history in the Arab world and fought a bitter, relatively recent war to hold onto Algeria. When, in 1962, it finally abandoned that effort, there were 150,000 Algerian Arabs who had fought with the French. They were disarmed and then abandoned to their fate—prevented from emigrating to France by the government of that day. However, “through the kindness of individual French commanders …several thousand were illegally smuggled to France where on arrival they were confined to primitive rural camps.”
When they were finally let out of the camps, they continued to be segregated and discriminated against. This prevailing prejudice was maintained in the treatment of other African and Middle Eastern immigrants who subsequently made their way to France. One ongoing sign of this can be found in the culture war against Muslims living in the country. Muslim dress, and even halal food, have been deemed dangerous to traditional French culture. The anger of the French Arab population stems from this continuous discrimination, but why would some of it be directed against a portion of France’s Jewish citizens?
The Israeli Connection
It may well be because more and more French Arabs, angry over their discriminatory treatment by French society, increasingly identify with Palestinians, who are also discriminated against by Israeli society. And, they are encouraged in this identification by the fact that, except for a brief period under the leadership of Charles De Gaulle, France has been a strongsupporter of Israel.
What Macron is saying is that in France you cannot speak out against the ideological basis for Israeli racism. If you do so, you yourself will be judged a racist and a criminal. Just how unreasonable this is is elegantly explained in an “open letter” to Macron by the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, posted on Feb. 8 in the publication Jacobin.
In his letter Sand points out that Zionist Israel is not a republic on the Western model, and certainly not a democracy. It is a “Jewish communalist state.” That is why Sand cannot be a Zionist, because “I am a citizen who desires that the state he lives in should be an Israeli republic, and not a Jewish-communalist state. … I do not want to live in a state that, according to its own self-definition, makes me a privileged class of citizen.”
Sand goes on to explain that “the Israeli Interior Ministry counts 75 percent of the country’s citizens as Jewish, 21 percent as Arab Muslims and Christians, and 4 percent as ‘others’ (sic). Yet according to the spirit of its laws, Israel does not belong to Israelis as a whole, whereas it does belong even to all those Jews worldwide who have no intention of coming to live there.”
Under these circumstances, one cannot be someone who takes republican and democratic principles seriously and still be a Zionist. So Sand has made his choice: he wants to replace Zionist Israel with “an Israeli republic.” Then he asks,
“Mr. President, do you think that that makes me an antisemite?”
Apparently Macron is oblivious to the logic of Shlomo Sand. Perhaps this is because, at this moment, illogic serves his political purposes much better. And so, in Macron’s France apples become oranges. That is, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism become the same.
Why is this illogical? It is so because anti-Semitism is directed against Jewish people no matter where they are found and based on nothing other than their religion/ethnicity. On the other hand, anti-Zionism is opposition to a specific political doctrine based on its racist nature and practice in the state of Israel. It is not just many French Arabs who understand this. Many French Jews themselves are anti-Zionist. At the same time, French anti-Semites, who probably dream of an exclusive French “communalist state,” want to see all French Jews pack up and move to Israel. This puts these anti-Semites on the same team as avid Zionists.
And what about the French Jews who are anti-Zionist? Macron is putting these Jewish citizens in a position where they can be legally accused of anti-Semitism. As French journalist Dominique Vidal described the situation to FRANCE 24: “if we consider opposition to Theodore Herzl’s theory as anti-Semitic, then we’re saying that the millions of Jews who do not wish to live in Palestine and the occupied territories are anti-Semites. … It’s historical illiteracy, or worse, stupidity.”
No Shlomo Sand
Macron is not stupid, but neither is he a principled democratic republican like Shlomo Sand. He knows that if, as his party spokesman now puts it, “denying the existence of Israel [that is, Israel as a Jewish state] … has to be made a criminal offense,” you are making it illegal to stand with the Palestinians and against the racist nature inherent in a religious and ethnically exclusive state. Macron is using the law to silence popular opposition to Israel. Also, in this way the hostility of French Arabs to Zionist French Jews becomes criminal.
This is exactly the current Israeli strategy in response to having lost the public debate over the true nature of the Zionist project in Palestine—criminalize the arguments of your critics.
No French national leader would support such an anti-democratic strategy unless he or she is a political opportunist who is currying the favor of a politically powerful lobby. In the case of Emmanuel Macron, this is also a maneuver to label his opponents (perhaps France’s Muslims as well as all those protesting “yellow vests”) as anti-Semites.
No French leader would ally with the Zionists in this effort unless they have no problem with corrupting the logic of the law by demanding that apples legally become oranges. And, no French leader would act in this way unless they have little or no interest in dealing with France’s real racial problems by seeking real answers.
It is this last fact that, in the long run, is most dangerous for French culture and politics. As we have seen, anti-Semitism is nothing new in France. It is embedded in a certain French self-image that is, in the end, reluctant to allow entry to anyone not deemed truly French, be they Muslims or Jews. Unless French leaders are willing to challenge this cultural puritanism, they will find anti-Semitism, and other forms of xenophobic passions, poisoning their national life for the indefinite future.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.
Liberal Elite Still Luring Us Towards the Abyss
We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation, writes Jonathan Cook.
A group of 30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians has published a manifesto bewailing the imminent collapse of Europe and its supposed Enlightenment values of liberalism and rationalism. The idea of Europe, they warn, “is falling apart before our eyes,” as Britain prepares for Brexit and “populist and nationalist” parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent.
The short manifesto has been published in the liberal elite’s European house journals, newspapers such as the Guardian. “We must now fight for the idea of Europe or perish beneath the waves of populism,” their document reads. Failure means “resentment, hatred and their cortege of sad passions will surround and submerge us.”
Unless the tide can be turned, elections across the European Union will be “the most calamitous that we have ever known: victory for the wreckers; disgrace for those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius; disdain for intelligence and culture; explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism; disaster.”
The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher and devotee of Alexis de Tocqueville, a theorist of classical liberalism. Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie; the historian Simon Shama; and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.
Though unnamed, their European political heroes appear to be Emmanuel Macron of France, currently trying to crush the popular, anti-austerity protests of the Yellow Vests, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, manning the barricades for the liberal elite against a resurgence of the nationalist right in Germany.
Let us set aside, on this occasion, the strange irony that several of the manifesto’s signatories – not least Henri-Levy himself – have a well-known passion for Israel, a state that has always rejected the universal principles ostensibly embodied in liberal ideology and that instead openly espouses the kind of ethnic nationalism that nearly tore Europe apart in two world wars last century.
Instead let us focus on their claim that “populism and nationalism” are on the verge of slaying Europe’s liberal democratic tradition and the values held dearest by this distinguished group. Their hope presumably is that their manifesto will serve as a wake-up call before things take an irreversible turn for the worse.
In one sense, their diagnosis is correct: Europe and the liberal tradition are coming apart at the seams. But not because, as they strongly imply, European politicians are pandering to the basest instincts of a mindless rabble — the ordinary people they have so little faith in. Rather, it is because a long experiment in liberalism has finally run its course. Liberalism has patently failed — and failed catastrophically.
These intellectuals are standing, like the rest of us, on a precipice from which we are about to jump or topple. But the abyss has not opened up, as they suppose, because liberalism is being rejected. Rather, the abyss is the inevitable outcome of this shrinking elite’s continuing promotion – against all rational evidence – of liberalism as a solution to our current predicament. It is the continuing transformation of a deeply flawed ideology into a religion. It is idol worship of a value system hellbent on destroying us.
Liberalism, like most ideologies, has an upside. Its respect for the individual and his freedoms, its interest in nurturing human creativity, and its promotion of universal values and human rights over tribal attachment have had some positive consequences.
But liberal ideology has been very effective at hiding its dark side – or more accurately, at persuading us that this dark side is the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment rather than inherent to the liberal’s political project.
The loss of traditional social bonds – tribal, sectarian, geographic – has left people today more lonely, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomized communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.
Humanitarian Resource Grabs
The liberal’s professed concern for others’ welfare and their rights has, in reality, provided cynical cover for a series of ever-more transparent resource grabs. The parading of liberalism’s humanitarian credentials has entitled our elites to leave a trail of carnage and wreckage in their wake in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and soon, it seems, in Venezuela. We have killed with our kindness and then stolen our victims’ inheritance.
Unfettered individual creativity may have fostered some great – if fetishized – art, as well as rapid mechanical and technological developments. But it has also encouraged unbridled competition in every sphere of life, whether beneficial to humankind or not, and however wasteful of resources.
At its worst, it has unleashed quite literally an arms race, one that – because of a mix of our unconstrained creativity, our godlessness and the economic logic of the military-industrial complex – culminated in the development of nuclear weapons. We have now devised the most complete and horrific ways imaginable to kill each other. We can commit genocide on a global scale.
Meanwhile, the absolute prioritizing of the individual has sanctioned a pathological self-absorption, a selfishness that has provided fertile ground not only for capitalism, materialism and consumerism but for the fusing of all of them into a turbo-charged neoliberalism. That has entitled a tiny elite to amass and squirrel away most of the planet’s wealth out of reach of the rest of humanity.
Worst of all, our rampant creativity, our self-regard and our competitiveness have blinded us to all things bigger and smaller than ourselves. We lack an emotional and spiritual connection to our planet, to other animals, to future generations, to the chaotic harmony of our universe. What we cannot understand or control, we ignore or mock.
And so, the liberal impulse has driven us to the brink of extinguishing our species and possibly all life on our planet. Our drive to asset-strip, to hoard resources for personal gain, to plunder nature’s riches without respect to the consequences is so overwhelming, so compulsive that the planet will have to find a way to rebalance itself. And if we carry on, that new balance – what we limply term “climate change” – will necessitate that we are stripped from the planet.
One can plausibly argue that humans have been on this suicidal path for some time. Competition, creativity, selfishness predate liberalism, after all. But liberalism removed the last restraints, it crushed any opposing sentiment as irrational, as uncivilized, as primitive.
Liberalism isn’t the cause of our predicament. It is the nadir of a dangerous arrogance we as a species have been indulging for too long, where the individual’s good trumps any collective good, defined in the widest possible sense.
The liberal reveres his small, partial field of knowledge and expertise, eclipsing ancient and future wisdoms, those rooted in natural cycles, the seasons and a wonder at the ineffable and unknowable. The liberal’s relentless and exclusive focus is on “progress,” growth, accumulation.
What is needed to save us is radical change. Not tinkering, not reform, but an entirely new vision that removes the individual and his personal gratification from the center of our social organization.
This is impossible to contemplate for the elites who think more liberalism, not less, is the solution. Anyone departing from their prescriptions, anyone who aspires to be more than a technocrat correcting minor defects in the status quo, is presented as a menace. Despite the modesty of their proposals, Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. have been reviled by a media, political and intellectual elite heavily invested in blindly pursuing the path to self-destruction.
As a result, we now have three clear political trends.
The first is the status-quo cheerleaders like the European writers of liberalism’s latest – last? – manifesto. With every utterance they prove how irrelevant they have become, how incapable they are of supplying answers to the question of where we must head next. They adamantly refuse both to look inwards to see where liberalism went wrong and to look outwards to consider how we might extricate ourselves.
Irresponsibly, these guardians of the status quo lump together the second and third trends in the futile hope of preserving their grip on power. Both trends are derided indiscriminately as “populism,” as the politics of envy, the politics of the mob. These two fundamentally opposed, alternative trends are treated as indistinguishable.
This will not save liberalism, but it will assist in promoting the much worse of the two alternatives.
Those among the elites who understand that liberalism has had its day are exploiting the old ideology of grab-it-for-yourself capitalism while deflecting attention from their greed and the maintenance of their privilege by sowing discord and insinuating dark threats.
The criticisms of the liberal elite made by the ethnic nationalists sound persuasive because they are rooted in truths about liberalism’s failure. But as critics, they are disingenuous. They have no solutions apart from their own personal advancement in the existing, failed, self-sabotaging system.
The new authoritarians are reverting to old, trusted models of xenophobic nationalism, scapegoating others to shore up their own power. They are ditching the ostentatious, conscience-salving sensitivities of the liberal so that they can continue plundering with heady abandon. If the ship is going down, then they will be gorging on the buffet till the waters reach the dining-hall ceiling.
Where Hope Can Reside
The third trend is the only place where hope can reside. This trend – what I have previously ascribed to a group I call the “dissenters” – understands that radical new thinking is required. But given that this group is being actively crushed by the old liberal elite and the new authoritarians, it has little public and political space to explore its ideas, to experiment, to collaborate, as it urgently needs to.
Social media provides a potentially vital platform to begin critiquing the old, failed system, to raise awareness of what has gone wrong, to contemplate and share radical new ideas, and to mobilize. But the liberals and authoritarians understand this as threat to their own privilege and, under a confected hysteria about “fake news,” are rapidly working to snuff out even this small space.
We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation – even as seas filled with plastic start to rise, as insect populations disappear across the globe, and as the planet prepares to cough us out like a lump of infected mucus.
We must not be hoodwinked by these posturing, manifesto-spouting liberals: the philosophers, historians and writers – the public relations wing – of our suicidal status quo. They did not warn us of the beast lying cradled in our midst. They failed to see the danger looming, and their narcissism blinds them still.
We should have no use for the guardians of the old, those who held our hands, who shone a light along a path that has led to the brink of our own extinction. We need to discard them, to close our ears to their siren song.
There are small voices struggling to be heard above the roar of the dying liberal elites and the trumpeting of the new authoritarians. They need to be listened to, to be helped to share and collaborate, to offer us their visions of a different world. One where the individual is no longer king. Where we learn some modesty and humility – and how to love in our infinitely small corner of the universe.
The Five Eyes, a part of what the NSA calls internally its “global network,” have their dirty fingerprints all over the latest spying scandal engulfing New Zealand, writes exiled Kiwi journalist and activist Suzie Dawson.
NZ Spy Scandal: Elephants In The Room;
US Used NZ Spies to Spy on Third Countries,
Including France; US Army Ready for Unrest
I’ve spent six years alternately begging major NZ journalists to investigate state-sponsored spying on activists including me, and, out of sheer necessity, reporting extensively on it myself from within the vacuum created by their inaction. So it is somewhat bemusing to now observe the belated unfolding of what ex-Member of Parliament and Greenpeace NZ Executive Director Russel Norman is describing as New Zealand’s “Watergate moment.”
In the wake of the bombshell release of a State Services Commission reportinto the affair, Norman wrote: “My key takeaway is that under the previous government, no one was safe from being spied on if they disagreed with government policy.”
This is a remarkable statement from Norman, who once sat on the very government committee tasked with oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies. The futility of that lofty position was reflected in my 2014 piece “Glenn Greenwald and the Irrelevance of Electoral Politics“ which quoted Greenwald, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks, saying of Norman:
“You had the Green Party leader here in New Zealand say in an interview that I watched that he was on the committee that oversees the GCSB [ Government Communications Security Bureau – NZ’s electronic spying agency] and yet he learned far more about what the agency does by reading our stories than he did in briefings. They really have insulated themselves from the political process and have a lot of tools to ensure that they continue to grow and their power is never questioned.”
The sands are shifting: Over a dozen government agencies including the New Zealand Police are revealed to have been engaging private intelligence firms such as the notorious Thompson and Clark Investigations Limited to spy on New Zealand citizens engaged in issue-based democratic dissent, activism in general, or who were deemed to present an economic or political ‘risk’ to the bureaucracy or the private sector in New Zealand.
The media response has predictably walked the safest line – focusing on the egregiousness of the victimisation of the least politically involved targets such as earthquake insurance claimants and child abuse survivors, and honing in on the very bottom rungs of the culpability ladder. They are as yet failing to confront the international and geopolitical foundations that lie under the surface of outsourced state-sponsored spying in New Zealand.
The truth is that the roots of the issue go far deeper than subcontractors like Thompson and Clark. The chain of complicity and collusion leads far beyond the head of any department or agency, including the Head of the State Services Commission. It goes beyond even the Beehive (housing the cabinet rooms), the New Zealand Parliament and the Office of the Prime Minister.
At its core, this scandal is a reflection of fundamental flaws in the very fabric of intelligence gathering practices in New Zealand, its infrastructure and network – where the collected data flows, whom the collection of that data serves and to which masters our intelligence services ultimately answer.
I agree with Russel Norman that this could be New Zealand’s Watergate moment. But there are major aspects which to this day, have not been meaningfully addressed, if at all, by the New Zealand media – and of which the vast majority of the New Zealand public remain unaware, to their detriment.
Firstly: where is the data that is being collected by these spies really going? Secondly: who is directing New Zealand’s human intelligence assets and apparatus in foreign intelligence operations? And thirdly: what is the impact for Kiwis who unwittingly cross paths with our spy agencies in a country where the legal definition of ‘threat to national security’ has been removed?
1. ICWatch New Zealand
When the savant-like and (then) still teenaged M.C. McGrath, founder of the Transparency Toolkit, received an email from a member of the U.S. intelligence community threatening, “I promise that I will kill everyone involved in your website. There is nowhere on this earth that you will be able to hide from me,” he took the threat seriously. He had good reason to. HisICWatch initiative was using open source data to expose specific players, contracts and commercial relationships in the global intelligence community.
McGrath had discovered almost by accident that secret programs and projects, which would usually be hidden from public scrutiny, were often bragged about on the curriculum vitaes of current and ex-service members posted on LinkedIn. By pooling the publicly available data contained within their CV’s, he was able to shine light on many covert programs that we otherwise may not have ever known existed. Within the year he would resettle in Berlin, living in exile and his project rehoused at WikiLeaks. “Murderous spooks drive journalistic project to WikiLeaks” read the headline of WikiLeaks’ press release announcing their acquisition of ICWatch.
To my knowledge, no member of the New Zealand media has ever thought to peruse the ICWatch databaseto examine the extent of New Zealand’s involvement in that integrated “global network”, as the NSA so eloquently calls it. Or more appropriately, “the Total Force” referenced by ex-Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, when he redefined the term at a key moment post 9/11.
Jeremy Scahill, author of the fantastic read “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” described Rumsfeld’s policy as being what “would become known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine, where you use high technology, small footprint forces and an increased and accelerated use of private contractors in fighting the wars.” (The ‘Total Force’ wasn’t just used to encapsulate these civilian contractors but also to indemnify them from prosecution or civil liability.)
The American adoption of large numbers of private contractors into their military has helped to stretch their tentacles deep into the South Pacific. It turns out that little old New Zealand is so in bed with this for-profit global surveillance network as to account for several hundred references that appear in ICWatch.
A study of the fine print on each search result reveals multiple intriguing tidbits: a reference to U.S. Army personnel being stationed in New Zealand. Another is to a New Zealand military liaison officer being stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, a major U.S. military base and home of the NSA. (The existence of these liaison positions was revealed some years back however it is interesting to ponder what files may have crossed that desk in recent years.)
By far the most fascinating reference to New Zealand that I have found in ICWatch so far is to a U.S. Army intelligence officer who claims to have integrated “Czech, British, New Zealand and Jordanian intelligence into the Brigade’s CI/HUMINT enterprise”:
The above revelation that New Zealand’s Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence information and/or operations have been integrated into the U.S. intelligence databases and network is significant. It suggests that rather than sharing intelligence on a case by case basis, our spies are in fact supplying information wholesale and operating as a component of U.S. intelligence forces.
At the 2014 ‘Moment of Truth’ event in Auckland, Edward Snowden spoke of having direct access to “full-take” signals intelligence information from New Zealand while working as an NSA contractor. All of it, directly from the pipe. He said that in order to access that information, he merely had to tick a check box which said “New Zealand.”
The discovery that the products of our electronic intelligence gathering efforts and the output of our human intelligence network and their informants are being fed directly into the United States “global network” has massive ramifications. Particularly when we consider that the sources of that information may not just be from our overseas/military operations but also from our domestic policing operations. That it could include information obtained not just by our spy agencies and our police agencies – but by their subcontractors, like Thompson and Clark Investigations Limited.
The same U.S. Army intel officer listed in ICWatch also makes reference to “lethal and non-lethal targeting in the COIN efforts of the unit”. COIN stands for U.S. COunterINsurgency doctrine and operations. Counterterrorism is inherently interlinked. In 2015 Michael Gould-Wartofsky, then-PhD candidate at New York University and author of “The new age of Counterinsurgency policing” in The Nation as well as “The Occupiers: The Making of the 99% Movement” was interviewed at length about the crossover between military counterinsurgency operations in areas of operation, and domestic counterterrorism intelligence operations in the West targeted at dissenters:
“Counterinsurgency emerged as a strategy for control and containment of what was seen as enemy forces in foreign combat zones in the 1960s… and has really experienced a revival of sorts, a renaissance, since 9/11… we’ve seen counterinsurgency understood as a struggle for control over contested political space, political territory. We see this counterinsurgency strategy imported back to the homeland, back to domestic uses. So the counterinsurgency framework depends on the establishment and consolidation of control over a population and over a given territory through both military means, that is, security forces, in the case of domestic protests…”
A section of my 2016 piece “Understanding World War III” reported on an official Pentagon strategic planning video released by The Intercept, which revealed that the U.S. Army considers the urban landscape of the world’s major cities to be the ground zero combat zones of the future. This contextualises the militarisation of police (including in New Zealand), who have been supplied with military-grade weapons and training.
As I summarised in the piece: “There is now evidence that stormtrooper-like riot police serving as a domestic army is in fact in alignment with the strategic plans of the Department of Defence.”
The video invokes military Counterinsurgency doctrine “honed in the cities of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan“:
In the video, the U.S. Army repeatedly refers to images of militarised riot police as “our soldiers“:
The video states that the Department of Defence must “redefine doctrine and the force in radically new and different ways… The future army will confront a highly sophisticated urban-centric threat…”
The interconnectedness of U.S. law enforcement authorities with those of international partners is further evidenced in yet another ICWatch entry. A “Lead Business Architect” for the “Analytical Framework Program (AFP)” for the “Office of Intelligence and Investigative Liaison” goes into detail about an application he developed in conjunction with the U.S.’s Five Eyes partners – Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The express purpose was to address “the multi-year challenge of sharing Personally Identifiable Information (PII) with the Heads of Intelligence (HINT)...”
He makes specific reference to having utilised “the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Law Enforcement Online (LEO) web portal.” The existence of web portals where intelligence agencies across the global network can both request and receive information is further illustrated in the Snowden documents. The NSA has what it calls an “Information Needs Portal” where its customers (which range from law enforcement agencies, to foreign intelligence services, to U.S. government departments and even the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is not a U.S. government body) can submit “Information Needs Requests.”
In “Decipher You”, I examine Snowden documents live online with Elizabeth Lea Vos, editor-in-chief of Disobedient Media. An excerpt of our study of the NSA’s “Information Needs Portal” (the process by which customers access NSA data) can be viewed here:
Just as we Kiwis might log into our internet banking web portals, or our online grocery shopping – these military, law enforcement officers and contractors log onto spy portals to access the information hoovered up by surveillance operations around the world, including in our homeland.
The ability of the agencies of foreign powers, far removed from local surveillance contractors on the ground gathering data on citizens, to access and utilise that data at whim, means that companies like Thompson and Clark Investigations, even if not directly employed by them, effectively become proxy forces for those foreign powers.
From the perspective of the “global network”, it’s free manpower. From the perspective of a target, those surveilling them on the ground become virtually indistinguishable from those watching from inside the global data matrix that increasingly holds influence over all of our lives.
2. The US is Dispatching Our Spies
However, we know thanks to WikiLeaks that the parasitic relationship between U.S. and New Zealand intelligence is not merely passive or voyeuristic.
We now have proof that the U.S. has been dispatching New Zealand human intelligence officers, sending them on overseas missions. And not simply to Afghanistan or Iraq. But in one case, to infiltrate a multitude of political parties contesting the 2012 Presidential elections of an ally – France.
While reported in France, the astonishing revelation was widely ignored by corporate media outlets across the five nations involved in perpetrating the espionage – the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
During the 2017 Internet Party campaign which I led, I used the one and only mainstream media radio interview that I was granted during the entire election season to drive home my concern about the implications of it. I told radio presenter Wallace Chapman:
“In February of this year, WikiLeaks published a document which is from the CIA. In the document, the CIA is dispatching New Zealand human intelligence spies to France, to penetrate political parties in the French Presidential election. So we hear about mass surveillance and about our data being sent to the United States but this is next level. This is the intelligence agency of a foreign power sending dispatch orders to New Zealand foreign intelligence personnel.”
The document itself is fascinating. It is the U.S. version of the dispatch orders, so the subsequent requirements pages (which are worth reading in their entirety, as they outline the specific objectives and types of information the U.S. wants to gather from each political party and even ranks them in order of priority) are largely marked S/NF meaning Secret/No Foreign Nationals – for the eyes of U.S. agencies only. The document states that “additional versions of this requirement have been sent to HUMINT collectors” which seems to suggest that the particulars of dispatch orders from the U.S. vary depending upon who they are issuing them to.
That the UK is named is fascinating. Logically, the UK version of the dispatch orders wouldn’t have disclosed that French political parties’ communications with the UK were part of the brief.
So not only are Five Eyes HUMINT spies being dispatched by a foreign power, they’re doing so for reasons that may not be known to them.
All of the above is a real-world illustration of the dangers of integrating New Zealand’s intelligence services with the “global network” and making our personnel available to ultimately serve the interests of a foreign nation.
“Close co-operation on operational matters also creates a risk of some loss of independence, both operationally and potentially also in relation to our intelligence, defence and foreign policy settings…New Zealand’s national interests… do not and cannot exactly coincide with those of any other country, no matter how friendly or close.” (Emphasis added)
The beneficiaries of the spying (“Supported Elements”) are listed on the orders and include the United States Treasury, the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Department of Energy and Infrastructure, to name a few.
Which is all deeply ironic, for both ex-President Barack Obama and ex-Attorney General Eric Holder publicly asserted that the U.S. does not spy for economic reasons or engage in theft of intellectual property.
To their credit, the Times went on to detail a number of instances of the U.S. engaging in economic spying, and cited Snowden documents to back it up. Indeed, there are countless files in the Snowden leaks that reference spying under the guise of “Economic Security”. The practice is so rife that the NSA holds an annual “Global Economic Security Day” where they invite members of industry “from across the U.S. Economics and Intelligence Communities” to “enhance their networks” and discuss with them how they can best be served by U.S. intelligence services:
This all gets particularly interesting, where it intersects with national defence legislation. For the great Orwellian twist in this saga, is that the justifications used in law to target citizens, reference the very same activities in which these agencies are themselves engaged.
3. Preying on the Citizenry and Making a Profit
There is no doubt that the U.S. influence on NZ intelligence sharing policy was greatly enhanced by the ascendence of John Key to the office of Prime Minister in 2008. An ICWatch entry indicates that the U.S. was directly involved in drafting “enhanced” information sharing policy for our spy agencies:
The contractor named in the above screenshot commenced the role in October of 2008, less than a month prior to New Zealand’s 2008 General Election and stayed on through May 2015 so the project would have had to occur within that period.
Within those same years and beyond, New Zealand’s spy agencies have been “enhanced” by more than intelligence sharing – they have been given more money, and increasingly invasive powers, at every turn. This despite them having lurched from scandal to scandal, resulting in the GCSB in particular being permanently etched in the public consciousness and lexicon as little more than a meme, a joke, fit only to be depicted in a cartoon. (Or another cartoon, or another, or another, or another…)
Instead of being punished for the constant revelations of their illegal activity, the GCSB were ultimately rewarded with the granting of retroactive immunity for their crimes. Their incompetence earned them increased budgets and scope. Their non-subjection to any meaningful accountability appears to have been cemented by the release of yetanother critical oversight report in 2018. The agency, famous for breaking the law, is apparently breaking the law again. It seems that either they have learned nothing, or perceive that they don’t need to, because they know full well that the true overseers of the “global network” are not in New Zealand at all; are perfectly happy with what they are doing; thus they won’t ever be made to change.
The inclusion of corporate contractors as military personnel under the umbrella Rumsfeld’s “Total Force” has introduced profit motive to intelligence targeting. And so it is, that just as I warned in 2015:
“Due to the for-profit nature of these crimes, which are perpetuated and facilitated by governments and therefore NOT recognised and prosecuted by those governments, the problem is snowballing into a situation where not only protesters and journalists are being stalked and intimidated but even doctors, researchers, scientists, educators, civil servants, and anyone at all who gets in the way of the establishment.”
Civilians are being caught up in the ever-expanding dragnet of the “global network” – the logical outcome of mixing a perpetual growth model with the surveillance industry:
“The thing about the privatisation of spying is that profit requires growth, and growth in this industry means more targets. So it was never going to be a finite thing. It was never going to be, we will just target the activists. Because, if you just target the activists… first of all, they try to diminish the total number of activists and that would mean less profit. So in order to have more profit, they have to constantly expand the sectors of society that they spy on. We’ve seen this in New Zealand. Surveillance cameras used to be for safety in a dark, dingy area. Now they are absolutely everywhere at all times. They have to have ever-increasing saturation of spying in order to make money from it.”– Diary of a Person of Interest
The Anne-Marie Brady case is the most high profile recent example of politically-motivated targeting in New Zealand. Brady’s claims are precisely in step with, and validate past claims myself and other New Zealanders have been making for years. Our experiences foreshadowed hers as if they were mirror images: vehicular sabotage, thefts of electronic equipment, home invasions, surveillance, harassment and other types of psychological targeting methods employed against us by these agencies and their subcontractors.
Dozens if not hundreds more victims would be found if anyone in the NZ media took the leap into the rabbit hole.
I applaud and am relieved for Brady that she has been able to create abulwark of public supportwhere many other targets are simply written off as crazy or met with a wall of disbelief and silence.
There is a depressing incentive for onlookers to turn the other way when confronted with an issue such as state-level targeting of a citizen. To believe, and to confront the issue, leads to a very scary, very uncomfortable place. To disbelieve is to relieve oneself of any moral obligation to act.
What neither Brady nor her supporters seem aware of or willing to address, however, is that her work didn’t just shine a huge light on China. It focused directly on the same political network that was implicated in the Dirty Politics scandal of 2014. From Brady’s now-famous research paper:
John Key, Judith Collins, David Wong-Tung – these are very familiar names in New Zealand. Brady seems unable to acknowledge that by exposing many questionable connections between China and New Zealand, she is not just exposing the Chinese.
She is exposing New Zealanders. Very well connected New Zealanders.
Recently in an New Zealand Herald interview, Brady complained of being stonewalled when she had tried to supply her information to New Zealand intelligence services ahead of publishing it:
When I made a Privacy Act request to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) asking for any information they held on me, they sent me a response stating that I had not supplied required information and that they would neither “confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence” or any data they held on me. I proved to both the NZSIS and the Privacy Commissioner’s Office that I had in fact supplied the requested information and asked for the SIS’s response to be amended accordingly, to no avail.
When I made a Privacy Act request to the GCSB asking explicitly whether I was one of the 80+ New Zealanders known to have been illegally spied on by them they sought an extension to the deadline, stating that they would have to undergo “consultation” before they could respond to me. They eventually responded and said that they would neither confirm nor deny whether I was, citing section 32, and section 27(1)a of the Privacy Act 1993.
I had made my Privacy Act requests in the wake of what I call “the Locke precedent.” Ex Green Party Member of Parliament Keith Locke had also been told by the GCSB that they could neither confirm nor deny whether he was targeted by them. When he took his complaints to the Privacy Commissioner, according to the Otago Daily Times:
After appealing to Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff, Locke received a letter from Fletcher last week.
“I can confirm that you are not amongst the 88 and that GCSB has not conducted surveillance of you.”
When I complained to the Privacy Commissioner about the GCSB having failed to confirm or deny that I was a target, I got a completely different outcome than Locke did.
The Privacy Commission said that they had investigated and that the SIS and GCSB had correctly applied section 32 of the Act and that disclosure to me of whether information was or was not held about me would prejudice sections 27 and 28 of the Privacy Act.
So what on earth are sections 27 and 28 of the Privacy Act?
National security, international relations and trade secrets.
Given the above, it is reasonable to suspect that Brady’s work may have been deemed to be a threat to the international relations of New Zealand – specifically, it’s relationship with China. While China is most likely to be responsible for any targeting of Brady’s contacts on Chinese soil, as she claims has occurred, the NZSIS’s failure to respond to her initial contacts to them, and their long track record of identical methods of political targeting on NZ soil makes it far less likely that China is responsible for Brady’s targeting in New Zealand. As it is the SIS who are now supposedly investigating the targeting of Brady in New Zealand, I’d recommend she start filing her Privacy Act requests now.
The timing of my own Privacy Act requests was not insignificant. In August of 2016, The Intercept in conjunction with television network TVNZ and investigative journalist Nicky Hager revealed the identity of one of the Kiwiswho had been then-illegally targeted by the GCSB – Tony Fullman. His case was detailed in the Snowden archive. Sure enough, he was a pro-democracy campaigner, targeted by New Zealand security services under anti-terrorism legislation. His home had been raided, and his passport had been revoked.
Furthermore, it was revealed that the GCSB had sent his personal data to the NSA in Hawaii, where Ed was stationed, in 2012.
It was in 2011 that I first began experiencing politically motivated targeting, and in 2012 that I began seriously investigating the FBI’s activities on New Zealand soil, and the activities of private intelligence contractors. In an April 2012 interview I broke down precisely the types of capabilities of these spies, that a little over a year later, Edward Snowden would conclusively prove had been occurring:
The passage of the 2013 GCSB Bill didn’t whet the appetite of the spy agencies for greater powers. In 2016 the New Zealand government began desperatelytrying to pass (and eventually did) ‘urgent’ legislation to further enable it to revoke the citizenships of… you guessed it, threats to national security. Simultaneously, they wereproposing to redefine the legal definition of what the term “threat to national security’ even meant and were eventually successful. In the words of the Cabinet Paper from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as a result of their efforts: “The Act now avoids defining the term ‘national security’ in legislation… allowing it to be adaptive to an ever-changing security environment.“
So who gets to decide whether national security is at stake in any given case?
“…it must be determined by the Minister responsible for the relevant intelligence and security agency and a Commissioner of Intelligence Warrants whether something is a matter of national security.”
Determined without a legal definition.
The activities of the New Zealand agencies are carbon copies of what is going on in many other countries around the world – all countries in fact, which are allied with the U.S.: from the integration of their intelligence networks and systems, the appropriation of their human and technical resources by proxy, the mass surveillance of their own and other’s populations, to allowing their assets to be dispatched in the service of a foreign nation.
Their activities have legislative, commercial and constitutional ramifications, as well as impacting negatively upon human rights and democracy as a whole.
Whether the unfolding spy scandal in New Zealand may yet see the resignation of a department head or two, the slap on the wrist of a few police officers, or the shuttering of Thompson & Clark Investigations Limited remains to be seen. From the perspective of the “global network”, all of those people are dispensable and countless others will soon fill their places. It is likely the ink on new contracts is already dried.
But what we need, collectively as a public, is much more than a few firings, or a blacklisted contractor. We need a long, hard, serious think about how it is that entities which we fund and vest powers in, are able to destroy Kiwi lives with such abandon, and the ways in which government agencies, police agencies and corporate entities are pooling their data, their resources and their authority in order to do it.
The only way out of this mess is to reclaim our data sovereignty and assert our national sovereignty.
Of the NZSIS and GCSB we must ask: How they are able to serve the interests of a foreign power above and beyond our own national interest? How are they allowing themselves to be dispatched on missions that they themselves may not even understand the particulars of, where the beneficiary is another nation state and the country being victimised is an ally?
How it is that our national interest ended up being subjugated by the “global network”? Is this is a picture of a future that we want for our country and our communities?
A lot has been learned from the Thompson & Clark scandal but a lot hasn’t been too.
We know that Thompson & Clark spied on multiple political parties – the State Services Commission report refers to both the Mana Movement in 2014 (then allied with the Internet Party of New Zealand of which I am currently party president) and the Green Party having been targets. But we still don’t know the full extent or ramifications of any human intelligence infiltration, data exfiltration, or who Thompson Clark spied on them for.
The LinkedIn page of Gavin Clark, Director of Thompson & Clark Investigations Limited states that one of their key focuses is “Issue-motivated groups (IMGs)” and that they serve “global” customers.
We need to know in whose hands that data ultimately landed.
“Was any information provided, formally or informally, to the intelligence services by Thompson and Clark, and was any information gathered at the behest of the intelligence services?”
His article is titled “Only A First Step In The Data Battle.”
Based on my research, here are what the data flows currently look like:
Information collected by private intelligence and security companies like Thompson and Clark is shared with the global and domestic commercial and governmental entities that employ their security, investigatory and “risk management” services, as well as with police intelligence units.
Post 9/11 anti-terrorism legislation deemed a number of corporate industry titans to be a part of the “critical infrastructure” of New Zealand – banks, telcos, transport companies etc. This brought them under the umbrella of the state to enable information sharing between those commercial entities and intelligence agencies.
The information sharing hubs are known as Fusion Centres. They act as a bridge between military, police and corporate customers. They “fuse” commercial, governmental, police and public data sources, analyse the material and feed relevant parts back to interested parties. All of this data is available to the Five Eyes through New Zealand’s military partnership and information sharing agreements with the U.S., such as that earlier referenced in the ICWatch findings.
Anti-money laundering legislation, and a string of Bills and Acts enhancing the powers of the Security Intelligence Services and GCSB in New Zealand, have been fundamentally about empowering this interactivity between commercial, domestic and international.
This is the behemoth Goliath that those of us unlucky enough to be targets find ourselves up against. Far too often targets aren’tISIS brides, foreign fighters, terrorists, drug traffickers, or even foreign militaries, as the heads of our security services keep claiming. They are instead regular citizens – activists, journalists, dissident academics, researchers, or as we now know even earthquake victims and child abuse survivors. Anyone who pisses off any of the entities in that flow chart can soon find that the data and powers of the collective global network are being utilised against them.
Ex-Green MP Keith Locke has been able to prove that he was targeted since the age of eleven. His victimisation tracks back to 1955, and extends through the new millennium, including three years during which he was a Member of Parliament – a position that is supposed to grant him some immunity from political targeting by security services. As recently as 2013 he was still being referred to as a “threat” in internal NZSIS documents. Why?
In the SIS documents I was identified as an “internal” threat because I “wish[ed] to see the NZSIS & GCSB abolished or greatly modified”. The documents labelled this a “syndrome”.
Keith Locke isn’t the only New Zealander who wants to see the NZSIS and GCSB abolished or greatly modified. On the above grounds, every person in this crowd would be considered a threat:
I was the top social media influencer for the GCSB movement and filmed the above footage. Our campaign sought to prevent the passage of the 2013 GCSB Bill. My actions were democratic and lawful. The GCSB’s were not.
“Gosh it sounds awfully conspiratorial doesn’t it?” asked Wallace Chapman of me, in our election year Radio NZ interview.
When the conspiracy is written into law, and the evidence is overwhelming, it is no longer a conspiracy theory.
It is a conspiracy fact.
Since publication this article has been endorsed by ex-NZ Cabinet Minister Peter Dunne
Suzie Dawson is a Kiwi journalist, activist and current President of the Internet Party of New Zealand. She specialises in writing about whistleblowers, intelligence agencies, geopolitics and technology. Her work has been shared by WikiLeaks for the last 5 years running, as well as by other noteworthy figures. Suzie is the organiser of the #Unity4J movement in support of Julian Assange. Journalists who write truth pay a high price to do so. If you respect and value this work, please consider supporting Suzie’s efforts via Bitcoin donation at this link. Thank you! Twitter: @Suzi3DOfficial Website: Suzi3d.com
Bases, Bases, Everywhere … Except in the Pentagon’s Report
These installations exist somewhere between light and shadow, writes Nick Turse. While acknowledged as foreign military outposts, they are excluded from the official inventory.
Within hours of President Trump’s announcement of a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, equipment at that base was already being inventoried for removal. And just like that, arguably the most important American garrison in Syria was (maybe) being struck from the Pentagon’s books — except, as it happens, al-Tanf was never actually on the Pentagon’s books. Opened in 2015 and, until recently, home to hundreds of U.S. troops, it was one of the many military bases that exist somewhere between light and shadow, an acknowledged foreign outpost that somehow never actually made it onto the Pentagon’s official inventory of bases.
Officially, the Department of Defense maintains 4,775 “sites,” spread across all 50 states, eight U.S. territories, and 45 foreign countries. A total of 514 of these outposts are located overseas, according to the Pentagon’s worldwide property portfolio. Just to start down a long list, these include bases on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, as well as in Peru and Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. But the most recent version of that portfolio, issued in early 2018 and known as the Base Structure Report (BSR), doesn’t include any mention of al-Tanf. Or, for that matter, any other base in Syria. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Niger. Or Tunisia. Or Cameroon. Or Somalia. Or any number of locales where such military outposts are known to exist and even, unlike in Syria,to be expanding.
According to David Vine, author of “Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World,” there could be hundreds of similar off-the-books bases around the world. “The missing sites are a reflection of the lack of transparency involved in the system of what I still estimate to be around 800 U.S. bases outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., that have been encircling the globe since World War II,” says Vine, who is also a founding member of the recently established Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition, a group of military analysts from across the ideological spectrum who advocate shrinking the U.S. military’s global “footprint.”
Such off-the-books bases are off the books for a reason. The Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about them. “I spoke to the press officer who is responsible for the Base Structure Report and she has nothing to add and no one available to discuss further at this time,” Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza told TomDispatch when asked about the Defense Department’s many mystery bases.
“Undocumented bases are immune to oversight by the public and often even Congress,” Vine explains. “Bases are a physical manifestation of U.S. foreign and military policy, so off-the-books bases mean the military and executive branch are deciding such policy without public debate, frequently spending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars and potentially getting the U.S. involved in wars and conflicts about which most of the country knows nothing.”
Where Are They?
The Overseas Base Realignment and Closure Coalition notes that the United Statespossesses up to 95 percent of the world’s foreign military bases, while countries like France, Russia, and the United Kingdom have perhaps 10-20 foreign outposts each. China has just one.
The Department of Defense even boasts that its “locations” include 164 countries. Put another way, it has a military presence of some sort in approximately 84 percent of the nations on this planet — or at least the DoD briefly claimed this. After TomDispatch inquired about the number on a new webpage designed to tell the Pentagon’s “story” to the general public, it was quickly changed. “We appreciate your diligence in getting to the bottom of this,” said Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Thanks to your observations, we have updated defense.gov to say ‘more than 160.’”
What the Pentagon still doesn’t say is how it defines a “location.” The number 164 does roughly track with the Department of Defense’s currentmanpower statistics, which show personnel deployments of varying sizes in 166 “overseas” locales — including some nations with token numbers of U.S. military personnel and others, like Iraq and Syria, where the size of the force was obviously far larger, even if unlisted at the time of the assessment. (The Pentagon recently claimed that there were 5,200 troops in Iraq and at least 2,000 troops in Syria although that number should now markedly shrink.) The Defense Department’s “overseas” tally, however, also lists troops in U.S. territories like American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island. Dozens of soldiers, according to the Pentagon, are also deployed to the country of “Akrotiri” (which is actually a village on the island of Santorini in Greece) and thousands more are based in “unknown” locations.
In the latest report, the number of those “unknown” troops exceeds 44,000.
The annual cost of deploying U.S. military personnel overseas, as well as maintaining and running those foreign bases, tops out at an estimated $150 billion annually, according to the Overseas Bases Realignment and Closure Coalition. The price tag for the outposts alone adds up to about one-third of that total. “U.S. bases abroad cost upwards of $50 billion per year to build and maintain, which is money that could be used to address pressing needs at home in education, health care, housing, and infrastructure,” Vine points out.
Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that the Pentagon is also somewhat fuzzy about just where its troops are stationed. The new Defense Department website, for instance, offered a count of “4,800+ defense sites” around the world. After TomDispatch inquired about this total and how it related to the official count of 4,775 sites listed in the BSR, the website was changed to read “approximately 4,800 Defense Sites.”
“Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy. As we transition to the new site, we are working on updating information,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Baldanza. “Please refer to the Base Structure Report which has the latest numbers.”
In the most literal sense, the Base Structure Report does indeed have the latest numbers — but their accuracy is another matter. “The number of bases listed in the BSR has long born little relation to the actual number of U.S. bases outside the United States,” says Vine. “Many, many well-known and secretive bases have long been left off the list.”
One prime example is the constellation of outposts that the U.S. has built across Africa. The official BSR inventory lists only a handful of sites there — on Ascension Island as well as in Djibouti, Egypt, and Kenya. In reality, though, there are many more outposts in many more African countries.
Arecent investigation by the Intercept, based on documents obtained from U.S. Africa Command via the Freedom of Information Act, revealed a network of 34 bases heavily clustered in the north and west of that continent as well as in the Horn of Africa. AFRICOM’s “strategic posture” consists of larger “enduring” outposts, including two forward operating sites (FOSes), 12 cooperative security locations (CSLs), and 20 more austere sites known as contingency locations (CLs).
The Pentagon’s official inventory does include the two FOSes: Ascension Island and the crown jewel of Washington’s African bases, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, whichexpandedfrom 88 acres in the early 2000s to nearly 600 acres today. The Base Structure Report is, however, missing a CSL in that same country, Chabelley Airfield, a lower-profile outpost located about 10 kilometers away that has served as a drone hub for operations in Africa and the Middle East.
The official Pentagon tally also mentions a site that goes by the confusing moniker of “NSA Bahrain-Kenya.” AFRICOM had previously described it as a collection of warehouses built in the 1980s at the airport and seaport of Mombasa, Kenya, but it now appears on that command’s 2018 list as a CSL. Missing, however, is another Kenyan base, Camp Simba, mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study of secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time. Simba, a longtime Navy-run facility, is currently operated by the Air Force’s 475th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, part of the 435th Air Expeditionary Wing.
Personnel from that same air wing can be found at yet another outpost that doesn’t appear in the Base Structure Report, this one on the opposite side of the continent. The BSR states that it doesn’t list specific information on “non-U.S. locations” not at least 10 acres in size or worth at least $10 million. However, the base in question — Air Base 201 in Agadez, Niger — already has a $100 million construction price tag, a sum soon to be eclipsed by the cost of operating the facility: about $30 million a year. By 2024, when the present 10-year agreement for use of the base ends, its construction and operating costs will have reached about $280 million.
Also missing from the BSR are outposts in nearby Cameroon, including a longtime base in Douala, a drone airfield in the remote town of Garoua, and a facility known as Salak. That site, according to a 2017 investigation by the Intercept, the research firm Forensic Architecture, andAmnesty International, has been used by U.S. personnel and private contractors for drone surveillance and training missions and by allied Cameroonian forces for illegal imprisonment and torture.
According to Vine, keeping America’s African bases secret is advantageous to Washington. It protects allies on that continent from possible domestic opposition to the presence of American troops, he points out, while helping to ensure that there will be no domestic debate in the U.S. over such spending and the military commitments involved. “It’s important for U.S. citizens to know where their troops are based in Africa and elsewhere around the world,” he told TomDispatch, “because that troop presence costs the U.S. billions of dollars every year and because the U.S. is involved, or potentially involved, in wars and conflicts that could spiral out of control.”
Those Missing Bases
Africa is hardly the only place where the Pentagon’s official list doesn’t match up well with reality. For close to two decades, the Base Structure Report has ignored bases of all sorts in America’s active war zones. At the height of the American occupation of Iraq, for instance, the United States had 505 bases there, ranging from small outposts to mega-sized facilities. None appeared on the Pentagon’s official rolls.
In Afghanistan, the numbers were even higher. As TomDispatch reported in 2012, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force had about 550 basesin that country. If you had added ISAF checkpoints — small baselets used to secure roads and villages — to the count of mega-bases, forward operating bases, combat outposts, and patrol bases, the number reached an astounding 750. And counting all foreign military installations of every type — including logistical, administrative, and support facilities — hiked ISAF Joint Command’s official count to 1,500 sites. America’s significant share of them was, however, also mysteriously absent from the Defense Department’s official tally.
There are now far fewer such facilities in Afghanistan — and the numbers may drop further in the months ahead as troop levels decrease. But the existence of Camp Morehead, Forward Operating Base Fenty, Tarin Kowt Airfield, Camp Dahlke West, and Bost Airfield, as well as Camp Shorab, a small installation occupying what was once the site of much larger twin bases known as Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, is indisputable. Yet none of them has ever appeared in the Base Structure Report.
Similarly, while there are no longer 500-plus U.S. bases in Iraq, in recent years, as American troops returned to that country, some garrisons have either been reconstituted or built from scratch. These include the Besmaya Range Complex, Firebase Sakheem, Firebase Um Jorais, and Al Asad Air Base, as well as Qayyarah Airfield West—a base 40 miles south of Mosul that’s better known as “Q-West.”Again, you won’t find any of them listed in the Pentagon’s official count.
These days, it’s even difficult to obtain accurate manpower numbers for the military personnel in America’s war zones, let alone the number of bases in each of them. As Vine explains, “The military keeps the figures secret to some extent to hide the base presence from its adversaries. Because it is probably not hard to spot these bases in places like Syria and Iraq, however, the secrecy is mostly to prevent domestic debate about the money, danger, and death involved, as well as to avoid diplomatic tensions and international inquiries.”
If stifling domestic debate through information control is the Pentagon’s aim, it’s been doing a fine job for years of deflecting questions about its global posture, or what the late TomDispatch regular Chalmers Johnson called America’s “empire of bases.”
In mid-October, TomDispatch asked Heather Babb, another Pentagon spokesperson, for details about the outposts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that were absent from the Base Structure Report, as well as about those missing African bases. Among the other questions put to Babb: Could the Pentagon offer a simple count — if not a list — of all its outposts? Did it have a true count of overseas facilities, even if it hadn’t been released to the public — a list, that is, which actually did what the Base Structure Report only purports to do? October and November passed without answers.
In December, in response to follow-up requests for information, Babb responded in a fashion firmly in line with the Pentagon’s well-worn policy of keeping American taxpayers in the dark about the bases they pay for — no matter the theoretical difficulty of denying the existence of outposts that stretch from Agadez in Niger to Mosul in Iraq. “I have nothing to add,” she explained, “to the information and criteria that is included in the report.”
President Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria means that the 2019 Base Structure Report will likely be the most accurate in years. For the first time since 2015, the Pentagon’s inventory of outposts will no longer be missing the al-Tanf garrison (or then again, maybe it will).But that still potentially leaves hundreds of off-the-books bases absent from the official rolls. Consider it one outpost down and who knows how many to go.
Nick Turse is the managing editor ofTomDispatch and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His latest book is “Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan.” His website is NickTurse.com.