July 02, 2008

Where Our Democracy Went Black Ops

I don't have time to summarize it now, but this report from Robert Parry is a doozy. Read it and weep.

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September 28, 2007

The Mother Of All Shocks Black Ops  Corporations, Globalization  War and Peace

I'm reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, and I think it's an enormously important book. One of those books that can fundamentally restructure your mental model of how the world works. A real paradigm shift. I'll have more to say about it later. Still reading.

In the meantime, John Cusack does a good video interview with Klein, here. Go watch it.

The thesis, in a nutshell, is that recent history has seen a series of conscious, highly-organized efforts to exploit shocks — economic catastrophes, natural disasters, wars, 9/11, Katrina — to jam through "reforms" that people would never tolerate otherwise. Economic shock therapy, suspension of civil liberties, the Patriot Act and Gitmo, etc., etc. But above all, disaster capitalism — privatization of all kinds of formerly public functions, extending now even to privatized war-fighting. Enormous fortunes are being made by companies that now have a vested interested in more and bigger catastrophes. And it's not only about dollars. Each shock drives us further to the right politically. In the event of another shock of national scope — another 9/11, or worse — the groundwork has been laid to fundamentally alter just about everything about how the US government functions and the rights of US citizens.

Which brings us to Iran. I've been generally skeptical that Bush/Cheney will, when all is said and done, attack Iran. I've reported the warning signs, because I think that's the responsible thing to do, but I've been skeptical. Because the results of such an attack would be cataclysmic. Surely, they're not that reckless, that self-destructive, that crazy.

One of Past Peak's readers, however, raises a terrifying question: what if that very cataclysm is the desired result. The mother of all shocks, the one that will let our world be remade in undreamed of ways, practically overnight. The mother of all shocks — but in the eyes of some, the mother of all opportunities. I'm not saying it will happen, but here's the point. Should it happen, don't let yourself be swept away in the tide of shock and horror. Don't let yourself be paralyzed by fear. Realize what you are witnessing: the deliberate instigation of a catastrophe for the purpose of creating a window where anything goes. Keep your wits about you. Recognize the shock doctrine and disaster capitalism when you see them.

That's the ultimate importance of Naomi Klein's work: a psychological innoculation before-the-fact, so that next time we won't sit by dumb-founded as the jackals move in to pick our bones clean.

Even better, let's not sit by passively beforehand and just let the shock come. War with Iran is madness. We must prevent it.

[Thanks, Miles]

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September 16, 2007

Cashing In On Shock 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Disasters

I'm a big fan of Naomi Klein (see this, this, this, this, this, this, this), who's got a new book, Shock Doctine, coming out this week. Pre-ordered mine a month ago. While we wait, here's an intro made for her by filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, who made the wonderful Children of Men:

She's really onto something. Check it out.

And you know that once they figured out all the uses that shock could be put to, they started looking for ways to create the needed shocks — 9/11 being the mother of them all.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 31, 2007

Point, Click, Wiretap Black Ops  Rights, Law  Science/Technology

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that the FBI has developed a capability to instantly wiretap almost any communications device in the country. Wired:

The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.

It's a "comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems," says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.

DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.

Many of the details of the system and its full capabilities were redacted from the documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they show that DCSNet includes at least three collection components, each running on Windows-based computers.

The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information — primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone — but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)

DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.

A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists. [Emphasis added]

The article says that the telecom companies retain control of their switches and only turn on a wiretap when presented with a court order. But it also says that the system is highly insecure, especially against abuse by FBI insiders.

To my mind, the most significant revelation is the degree to which surveillance capabilities are baked into the system. It's set up to be tappable from end to end. Even if the FBI doesn't abuse it, even if the NSA and the CIA and all the other agencies whose names we don't even know don't abuse it, it all sounds eminently hackable. As one of the computer scientists said in the article:

Any time something is tappable there is a risk. I'm not saying, "Don't do wiretaps," but when you start designing a system to be wiretappable, you start to create a new vulnerability. A wiretap is, by definition, a vulnerability from the point of the third party. The question is, can you control it?

A hacker's playground.

[Thanks, Mark]

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July 30, 2007

All About The Data-Mining After All 9/11, "War On Terror"  Black Ops  Politics

As has been pointed out here at PastPeak a number of times, the whole FISA warrant/wiretapping story was really about a whole lot more than wiretapping: the collection and data-mining of massive databases tracking Americans' phone calls, emails, financial transactions, etc., etc. The NYT reported Saturday that it was this data-mining that was the real story behind the contention between Congress and the White House (and within the Justice Department iself) on the FISA warrants. Pretty much like we've said all along. NYT:

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency's secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.

It is not known precisely why searching the databases, or data mining, raised such a furious legal debate. But such databases contain records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans, and their examination by the government would raise privacy issues.

The NSA's data mining has previously been reported. But the disclosure that concerns about it figured in the March 2004 debate helps to clarify the clash this week between Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and senators who accused him of misleading Congress and called for a perjury investigation.

The confrontation in 2004 led to a showdown in the hospital room of then Attorney General John Ashcroft, where Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel at the time, and Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, tried to get the ailing Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA program.

Mr. Gonzales insisted before the Senate this week that the 2004 dispute did not involve the Terrorist Surveillance Program "confirmed" by President Bush, who has acknowledged eavesdropping without warrants but has never acknowledged the data mining.

If the dispute chiefly involved data mining, rather than eavesdropping, Mr. Gonzales’ defenders may maintain that his narrowly crafted answers, while legalistic, were technically correct.

But members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who have been briefed on the program, called the testimony deceptive.

"I've had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best," said Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, joining three other Democrats in calling Thursday for a perjury investigation of Mr. Gonzales.

"This has gone on long enough," Mr. Feingold said. "It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought."

The senators' comments, along with those of other members of Congress briefed on the program, suggested that they considered the eavesdropping and data mining so closely tied that they were part of a single program. Both activities, which ordinarily require warrants, were started without court approval as the Bush administration intensified counterterrorism efforts soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. [Emphasis added]

So Gonzales has been denying the dispute was about eavesdropping — because it really was about something that was much more serious. I guess it depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

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June 29, 2007

CIA Mind Control Black Ops

People have known about CIA mind control research for decades now, but one seldom hears it mentioned in mainstream media. Here's a rare exception. The Australian (via Cryptogon):

EASILY lost, on page 425, in the mass of the CIA's notorious "Family Jewels" files is a short paragraph outlining "potentially embarrassing Agency activities".

"Experiments in influencing human behaviour through the administration of mind- or personality-altering drugs to unwitting subjects."

Of all the heinous acts committed by the CIA in the name of national security, these experiments, done on the agency's behalf by prominent psychiatrists on innocent victims - including children as young as four - may be the darkest.

"We have no answer to the moral issue," former director Richard Helms infamously said when asked about the nature of the projects.

The release of the Family Jewels documents revealed the CIA handsomely funded these real-life Dr Strangeloves and engaged pharmaceutical companies to help its experiments.

The agency appealed to Big Pharma to pass on any drugs that could not be marketed because of "unfavourable side effects" to be tested on mice and monkeys. Any drugs that passed muster would then be used, according to an internal memo, on volunteer US soldiers.

The Family Jewels files do not provide further detail into the numerous mind-control programs, such as MKULTRA, covertly propped up by the agency. In 1953, MKULTRA was given 6 per cent of the total CIA budget without any oversight.

Only the tip of a large iceberg had been previously released by the CIA under Freedom of Information Act provisions. [...]

The nature of the experiments, gathered from government documents and testimony in numerous lawsuits brought against the CIA, is shocking, from testing LSD on children to implanting electrodes in victims' brains to deliberately poisoning people with uranium.

"The CIA bought my services from my grandfather in 1952 starting at the tender age of four," wrote Carol Rutz of her experiences.

"Over the next 12 years, I was tested, trained, and used in various ways. Electroshock, drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, and other types of trauma were used to make me complain and split my personality (to create multiple personalities for specific tasks). Each alter or personality was created to respond to a post-hypnotic trigger, then perform an act and (I would) not remember it later.

"This Manchurian Candidate program was just one of the operational uses of the mind-control scenario by the CIA." [...]

The US began these experiments after World War II when it made a grab for hundreds of Nazi scientists and doctors who had been researching mind control in concentration camps, fearing they would fall into Soviet hands. [...]

The programs, though carefully hidden, continued into the 1970s - when Helms ordered much of the documentation to be destroyed.

Some conspiratorial theorists believe the CIA completed its goal, initially outlined in the early 1950s, of altering a personality and having someone "perform an action contrary to an individual's basic moral principles".

The attorney for Sirhan Sirhan, Lawrence Teeter, has said his client was programmed to assassinate Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, volunteered to take part in CIA mind-control experiments when he was a student at Harvard University in the late 50s. [Emphasis added]

That was 50 years ago. Does anyone doubt that the state of the art has advanced considerably since then? CIA may have stopped conducting this kind of research (or not), but I think we can assume it has continued in some form, perhaps in some agency we've never even heard of.

This kind of thing makes you ask not "Am I paranoid?", but rather "Am I paranoid enough?"

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March 25, 2007

Conspirators Black Ops

The argument you alway hear against conspiracy theories is that if a conspiracy involved a large number of people then surely someone would talk. But the truth is that people do talk, and no one believes them.

Consider E. Howard Hunt, the CIA officer, Bay of Pigs veteran, and Watergate "plumber" who has often been mentioned in connection with the JFK assassination, and about whom Richard Nixon said, "This fellow Hunt, he knows too damn much." Hunt died in January at age 88. Now two of his sons say Hunt told them, in the years before he died, details of the conspiracy to kill JFK.

First, the LA Times:

[B]efore his death at age 88 in January, E. Howard Hunt...left [his] sons one last tantalizing story, they say. The story, which he planned to detail in a memoir and could be worth big money — was that rogue CIA agents plotted to kill President Kennedy in 1963, and that they approached Hunt to join the plot but he declined. [...]

Hunt had been preparing for publication of "American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond," released this month.

[Son] St. John says it was he who suggested the idea of a memoir when he convinced his father that it was time to reveal anything he knew about the Kennedy assassination.

It had always been suspected that Hunt shared his Cuban exile friends' hatred of Kennedy, who refused to provide air cover to rescue the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion that Hunt helped organize.

"He told me in no uncertain terms about a plot originating in Miami, to take place in Miami," said St. John. He said his father identified key players and speculated that then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for moving the venue to Dallas, where the Texan could control the security scene.

But the memoir's published passages about the assassination have an equivocal tone. Hunt provides only a hypothetical scenario of how events in Dallas might have unfolded, with Johnson atop a pyramid of rogue CIA plotters.

The brothers insist their father related to them a detailed plot to assassinate Kennedy. Hunt told them he was approached by the conspirators to join them but declined, they say.

That information was cut from the memoir, the brothers say, because Hunt's attorney warned he could face perjury charges if he recanted sworn testimony. Hunt also had assured Laura before they married in 1977 that he had nothing to do with the assassination. [...]

St. John, who sports a mustache and longish graying coif combed back from a receding hairline, has a more personal reason to believe in his father's disclosures. He said he was instructed by Hunt in 1974 to back up an alibi for his whereabouts on the day Kennedy died, 11 years earlier.

"I did a lot of lying for my father in those days," St. John said. [Emphasis added]

Rolling Stone's account names names:

E. Howard scribbled the initials "LBJ," standing for Kennedy's ambitious vice president, Lyndon Johnson. Under "LBJ," connected by a line, he wrote the name Cord Meyer. Meyer was a CIA agent whose wife had an affair with JFK; later she was murdered, a case that's never been solved. Next his father connected to Meyer's name the name Bill Harvey, another CIA agent; also connected to Meyer's name was the name David Morales, yet another CIA man and a well-known, particularly vicious black-op specialist. And then his father connected to Morales' name, with a line, the framed words "French Gunman Grassy Knoll."

So there it was, according to E. Howard Hunt. LBJ had Kennedy killed. It had long been speculated upon. But now E. Howard was saying that's the way it was. And that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't the only shooter in Dallas. There was also, on the grassy knoll, a French gunman, presumably the Corsican Mafia assassin Lucien Sarti, who has figured prominently in other assassination theories.

"By the time he handed me the paper, I was in a state of shock," Saint says. "His whole life, to me and everybody else, he'd always professed to not know anything about any of it. But I knew this had to be the truth. If my dad was going to make anything up, he would have made something up about the Mafia, or Castro, or Khrushchev. He didn't like Johnson. But you don't falsely implicate your own country, for Christ's sake. My father is old-school, a dyed-in-the-wool patriot, and that's the last thing he would do."

Later that week, E. Howard also gave Saint two sheets of paper that contained a fuller narrative. It starts out with LBJ again, connecting him to Cord Meyer, then goes on: "Cord Meyer discusses a plot with [David Atlee] Phillips who brings in Wm. Harvey and Antonio Veciana. He meets with Oswald in Mexico City. . . . Then Veciana meets w/ Frank Sturgis in Miami and enlists David Morales in anticipation of killing JFK there. But LBJ changes itinerary to Dallas, citing personal reasons."

David Atlee Phillips, the CIA's Cuban operations chief in Miami at the time of JFK's death, knew E. Howard from the Guatemala-coup days. Veciana is a member of the Cuban exile community. Sturgis, like Saint's father, is supposed to have been one of the three tramps photographed in Dealey Plaza. Sturgis was also one of the Watergate plotters, and he is a man whom E. Howard, under oath, has repeatedly sworn to have not met until Watergate, so to Saint the mention of his name was big news.

In the next few paragraphs, E. Howard goes on to describe the extent of his own involvement. It revolves around a meeting he claims he attended, in 1963, with Morales and Sturgis. It takes place in a Miami hotel room. Here's what happens:

Morales leaves the room, at which point Sturgis makes reference to a "Big Event" and asks E. Howard, "Are you with us?"

E. Howard asks Sturgis what he's talking about.

Sturgis says, "Killing JFK."

E. Howard, "incredulous," says to Sturgis, "You seem to have everything you need. Why do you need me?" In the handwritten narrative, Sturgis' response is unclear, though what E. Howard says to Sturgis next isn't: He says he won't "get involved in anything involving Bill Harvey, who is an alcoholic psycho." [Emphasis added]

Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing whether any of this is true. St. John Hunt says he's got notes in his father's handwriting, but there's no external corroboration. He and his brother David are looking to sell the story. So maybe they made the whole thing up. Or maybe they didn't.

Also in the news this week, professional hitman Charles Harrelson, father of Woody Harrelson, died in the Supermax prison where he was serving a life sentence for the assassination of a federal judge. When Harrelson was arrested, he confessed to a role in the JFK assassination, saying he was the shooter on the Grassy Knoll. He later recanted. Was he telling the truth when he confessed or when he recanted? Who knows. (By the way, when Harrelson was tried for a different contract killing in 1968, Wikipedia says his attorney was Percy Foreman, who also represented James Earl Ray, the reputed assassin of Martin Luther King.)

The notion that conspiracies can never remain secret seems silly on its face. Covert operatives and special forces personnel carry out any number of operations that never see the light of day. Loose-lipped people don't get invited to participate in the first place. And when the operation is of a particularly ruthless, high-stakes nature, you'd have every incentive in the world to keep your mouth shut. But it almost doesn't matter, because when someone does talk, unless they've got home movies or something — not exactly likely — nobody believes them. Hunt and Harrelson are both plausible as participating in or having knowledge of the JFK killing. But without corroboration, nothing they say makes a dent — and people go right on saying that none of the conspirators has ever talked. Are you sure?

It reminds me of the time I called a software company's tech support number to report a bug. When I finished explaining the symptoms I'd encountered, the person on the other end told me that it couldn't be a bug because no one had ever reported it. Right.

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November 22, 2006

BBC RFK Program Black Ops

The BBC special dealing with new evidence in the RFK assassination that I referenced yesterday has been uploaded to YouTube.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Today, of course, is the anniversary of the other Kennedy assassination, that of JFK.

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November 21, 2006

Bobby Black Ops

I once shook Bobby Kennedy's hand. In April, 1968, the Pennsylvania primary brought Kennedy's campaign to the Penn campus, where I was an undergrad. Standing in a slow-moving open convertible, he reached out to the crowd of students and others lining 34th Street in West Philly. I was able to grasp his hand and look into his face, very briefly, and it was a moment I still remember vividly.

Two things struck me at the time. One was that the back of Kennedy's hand was all scratched up from all the people who'd been grabbing his hand over the course of the campaign. People responded to him like he was a rock star. More striking, though, was the look in Kennedy's eyes. He looked cornered, haunted, scared to death. I was shocked. It had been less than five years since his brother's assassination, just a couple of weeks since Martin Luther King's, so he had good reason. Still, it wasn't something I'd expected to see. A month and a half later, Kennedy himself was assassinated.

Yesterday, on what would have been Kennedy's 81st birthday, filmmaker Shane O'Sullivan published an article on possible involvement of CIA operatives in the assassination. Excerpts from the Guardian:

[David Sanchez] Morales was a legendary figure in CIA covert operations. According to close associate Tom Clines, if you saw Morales walking down the street in a Latin American capital, you knew a coup was about to happen. When the subject of the Kennedys came up in a late-night session with friends in 1973, Morales launched into a tirade that finished: "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard." [...]

Working from a Cuban photograph of Morales from 1959, I viewed news coverage of the [RFK] assassination to see if I could spot the man the Cubans called El Gordo — The Fat One. Fifteen minutes in, there he was, standing at the back of the ballroom, in the moments between the end of Kennedy's speech and the shooting. Thirty minutes later, there he was again, casually floating around the darkened ballroom while an associate with a pencil moustache took notes.

The source of early research on Morales was Bradley Ayers, a retired US army captain who had been seconded to JM-Wave, the CIA's Miami base in 1963, to work closely with chief of operations Morales on training Cuban exiles to run sabotage raids on Castro. I tracked Ayers down to a small town in Wisconsin and emailed him stills of Morales and another guy I found suspicious — a man who is pictured entering the ballroom from the direction of the pantry moments after the shooting, clutching a small container to his body, and being waved towards an exit by a Latin associate.

Ayers' response was instant. He was 95% sure that the first figure was Morales and equally sure that the other man was Gordon Campbell, who worked alongside Morales at JM-Wave in 1963 and was Ayers' case officer shortly before the JFK assassination.

I put my script aside and flew to the US to interview key witnesses for a documentary on the unfolding story. In person, Ayers positively identified Morales and Campbell and introduced me to David Rabern, a freelance operative who was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion force in 1961 and was at the Ambassador hotel that night. He did not know Morales and Campbell by name but saw them talking to each other out in the lobby before the shooting and assumed they were Kennedy's security people. He also saw Campbell around police stations three or four times in the year before Robert Kennedy was shot.

This was odd. The CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and Morales was stationed in Laos in 1968. With no secret service protection for presidential candidates in those days, Kennedy was guarded by unarmed Olympic decathlete champion Rafer Johnson and football tackler Rosey Grier — no match for an expert assassination team.

Trawling through microfilm of the police investigation, I found further photographs of Campbell with a third figure, standing centre-stage in the Ambassador hotel hours before the shooting. He looked Greek, and I suspected he might be George Joannides, chief of psychological warfare operations at JM-Wave. Joannides was called out of retirement in 1978 to act as the CIA liaison to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigating the death of John F Kennedy.

Ed Lopez, now a respected lawyer at Cornell University, came into close contact with Joannides when he was a young law student working for the committee. We visit him and show him the photograph and he is 99% sure it is Joannides. When I tell him where it was taken, he is not surprised: "If these guys decided you were bad, they acted on it."

We move to Washington to meet Wayne Smith, a state department official for 25 years who knew Morales well at the US embassy in Havana in 1959-60. When we show him the video in the ballroom, his response is instant: "That's him, that's Morales." He remembers Morales at a cocktail party in Buenos Aires in 1975, saying Kennedy got what was coming to him. Is there a benign explanation for his presence? For Kennedy's security, maybe? Smith laughs. Morales is the last person you would want to protect Bobby Kennedy, he says. He hated the Kennedys, blaming their lack of air support for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. [...]

Morales died of a heart attack in 1978, weeks before he was to be called before the HSCA. Joannides died in 1990. Campbell may still be out there somewhere, in his early 80s. Given the positive identifications we have gathered on these three, the CIA and the Los Angeles Police Department need to explain what they were doing there. [Emphasis added]

O'Sullivan's documentary was aired last night on BBC2. The BBC website has some video and photos, but they're available only to viewers in the UK. If you're in the UK, please consider uploading to YouTube, or email images and clips to me. People here in the US need to see this material.

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