Category Archives: Terrorizing

Appelbaum, Jacob - We need more, not less democracy - Open Democracy 20151120

I hope you'll join me in installing free software for freedom, fighting against mass surveillance, and refusing to be instrumentalised by those who have failed us – our intelligence services.

This article is taken from Jacob Appelbaum's opening remarks at the World Forum for Democracy 2015.

We are speaking here in a very intense context. I feel very sorry for what has happened in Paris and in Beirut, and for the context that seems to have taken American wars and brought them to European soil.

With that said, the responses that I have seen have been terrifying, and not merely in the technological realm. And while I am a technologist, I am also a human being, and I refuse to be pigeon-holed into merely speaking about technology.

Some of the things that I have heard raised for me a great deal of historical terror, and I wish to say, especially to the people who are here, who are European residents like I am now, that I encourage you to learn from the mistakes of my country, in the wake of our most recent, horrific, terrorist attack.

I feel that we have responded with wars, and because those wars have come to your doorstep, we actually see grave interventions with more violence, which in fact feed into what Daesh wants. Daesh wants to have more war.

They want to eliminate the grey zone where anyone with a beard, anyone who is a Muslim, anyone who looks different, will be treated as an outsider and will be harmed. They want to enlargen the xenophobia, they want more violence, and so we should consider whether or not that is what we wish.

Daesh wants to have more war.

We also see that the intelligence services have absolutely failed us. The intelligence services of the world claim that encryption is a problem. But the evidence has come out that, in fact, the attacks in Paris were perpetrated by people who used credit cards in their real name, who used unencrypted text messages to say things like 'let’s go'.

No one is asking how these people are doing arms-trafficking – those are physical goods that do not travel through the internet. How is it the case that the intelligence services have failed so badly, and that they seek instead to distract and to counter-accuse, and to suggest encryption, something that people don't understand, is the issue?

How about the fact that the United Kingdom has a plan to do things with its intelligence services, such as the JTRIG department, where they specifically target religious minorities for political harassment. Why is it that the UK is allowed, and in fact encouraged even, to harass minorities into becoming informants, and if not, will threaten them with stripping them of their citizenship? Their citizenship, which is effectively the right that grants all other rights.

This is a core contributing problem. It is not technology or encryption that is the core contributing problem. It is intolerance, it is a lack of openness, a lack of welcoming, it is this fear of the other that we see.

And this idea that we have even heard in France this week, that there should be pre-emptive arrests and internment of Muslims, this must not happen. It is absolutely against the rule of law and even if it were legal, it is against fundamental civil liberties.

When the attack in Paris occurred, I was in Kuwait, and I was attending an artistic event held by the French ambassador, and I was very shocked by what had occurred. What I found when talking with people was they were not as sympathetic as I would have expected. It was not that they did not care, but they said instead to me something that struck me.

They said, our brothers and sisters are dying in Syria: 250,000 of them so far. More than a million people have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you're talking about a couple of hundred people in Paris. We feel you, now you feel us.

What then, might we learn from this?

Violence in Aleppo. Narciso Contreras/Freedom House/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Violence in Aleppo. Narciso Contreras/Freedom House/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Is the answer to commit more violence? Is the answer to undermine our fundamental liberties? To add backdoors to technology? Is the answer, for example, to suggest that the problem is with technology? I think that it's not. But it is additionally problematic to suggest that we need a reduction of evil – it suggests that we don't need to study and look to the root causes. For example, pacifism is much more powerful if we consider that it is a choice, and that we choose that when we have the ability to do violence.

It is simply the case that violence is to eschew dialogue, it is to get rid of that dialogue, and so to respond with violence is absolutely a tragedy upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy. We will not bomb Syria into peace, at best we may bomb it into submission. Submission is not the same as peace.

Submission is not the same as peace.

Instead, we should consider the humanity. For example, today on the news we've seen suspects of terrorism, and they've been killed, and the news has stated that no civilians were killed. What is a suspected EU citizen if not a human being? If not a civilian? Each and every person here could be accidentally killed, as a Brazilian man was by the UK secret services after the tube bombing in London. That person was an innocent person, and because their rights were suspended, because they were treated as if they were an other, they were killed and they had no due process.

We should look to the Norwegians for a response, rather than the Americans. After Breivik committed egregious acts of racist, violent, terrorism, Norway decided that they would choose a path of more democracy, one where instead of alienating and pushing people away, instead Norway as a country would continue to do things in the way that they had always done them, refusing to terrorise, refusing to allow the terrorists to change Norwegian society. We should look to that. We should not follow the American example, we should follow the Norwegian example of more democracy and not violence.

And so in fact the response we should consider is the response of expanding our liberty. Yes, we must fight extremism, specifically we should fight the extremism that states have no limits on what they may do or how they may do it. The Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights exists here today because we understand from history that that is a lie.

States commit terrorism, just as others can, and we must not forget that that lesson is a hard won lesson. If we want to get rid of violent extremists, we must remember that extremists silence us with violence or threats of violence. So we must be extreme in our openness, in our welcoming nature, we must be extreme in a commitment to justice, and with an absolute refusal to push away refugees.

We must remember that we have an obligation to refugees that comes from a history where others did not act correctly, without that obligation. There is an extremism that is correct, that we have an unlimited right to form and to hold beliefs, that these rights must not be abridged. This includes the right to a trial, and our right to face an accuser. And there's a new notion: that we will all be free, and will remain free as long as we submit to endless security checks, border controls, mass and targeted surveillance, and mandatory identification for nearly all interactions. But this notion of freedom is simply incompatible with freedom as we understand it, through the Court of Human Rights, through individual and through societal values of liberty.

NSA, Fort Meade. Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
NSA, Fort Meade. Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
And we see political opportunism, such as by Robert Bob Litt from the intelligence community, who suggests for example that “the legislative environment is very hostile today”, however, “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”

There is a value, he said, “in keeping our options open for such a situation”. Those people are as despicable as terrorists when they would seek to exploit the deaths of these people, to erode our liberties for their own personal power.

We must be extreme in our openness, in our welcoming nature, we must be extreme in a commitment to justice.

So there is technology today that helps us to confirm, to ensure, and to expand our liberties, where we have a right to read, and we have a right to speak freely, and a responsibility to be good to each other. These people wish to weaken our infrastructure, they wish to enable private and government censorship on the internet, they call for back doors, or front doors which would put us at risk.

There are two things you can do right now if you would like. First, you can install Signal on your smartphone, which will give you encrypted voice calls and text messages without backdoors, beating targeted and mass surveillance. I encourage you to do that now, it’s free software, and it’s free of cost. And you can install the Tor browser, which will give you the ability to browse the web and to be anonymous on the internet, where you'll actually be able to do things without leaving a data trail where spies can twist it and harm you later. And where it will make it more difficult for people to target you for other kinds of cyber-crime. Both of them are free software, implemented for freedom.

Remember, it is the same intelligence services who want backdoors today, who are exploiting this tragedy, who exploited Vodafone in Greece, to wiretap the prime minister, who did mass surveillance on all of Europe. We cannot trust them. It is the intelligence services of the US and the UK that use their surveillance systems to enable extra-judicial assassination.

We should secure the internet, and to ensure that such things are more difficult, if not impossible. Our security situation today is not a matter of security versus privacy. Our security requires strong privacy, and our security requires autonomy, it requires transparency and accountability, it requires free speech, it requires fundamental human rights to be respected. And rather than less democracy, we need more democracy. Rather than less secure systems, we need more secure systems. And we need to use them, to run them, and to fund them.

I hope you'll join me in installing free software for freedom and fighting against mass surveillance, and refusing to be instrumentalised by the people who have failed us – our intelligence services.

Timm, Trevor - Intelligence agencies pounce on Paris attacks to pursue spy agenda - The Guardian 20151117

Timm, Trevor - Intelligence agencies pounce on Paris attacks to pursue spy agenda - The Guardian 20151117

CIA director John Brennan thinks privacy advocates undermine counter-terrorism work. But snooping on everyone won’t protect us

Government officials are wasting no time in attempting to exploit the tragedy in Paris to pass invasive anti-privacy laws and acquire extraordinary new powers that they have wanted for years. In the process, they are making incredibly dishonest arguments and are receiving virtually no pushback from the media.

Absent any actual information or evidence so far about intelligence failures leading up to the deplorable terrorist attack in Paris, pundits spent the weekend speculating that Edward Snowden and surveillance reform were to blame for the fact that the attack went undetected. Then on Monday, in an epic episode of blame shifting, the CIA director, John Brennan, reportedly said privacy advocates have undermined the ability of spies to monitor terrorists. He explained:

Because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of hand-wringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that are taken that make our ability collectively, internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging”, adding that there is a “misrepresentation of what the intelligence security services are doing”.

Read Brennan’s comments carefully because they are very revealing. When he says “legal actions”, he’s referring to the fact that multiple federal courts have ruled that the government’s secret mass surveillance on millions of Americans is illegal. So it sounds like the CIA director is saying it’s a shame that intelligence agencies can’t operate completely above the law any more, and is scapegoating any failings on his agency’s part on accountability that is the hallmark of any democracy. (Though he still can apparently operate above the law.)

More importantly, Brennan’s comments are incredibly dishonest. The post-Snowden USA Freedom Act passed by Congress reformed exactly one of the countless mass spying programs the US runs. It was the one that sucked up the phone calls of Americans only, and here’s the thing: it has been active this whole time and isn’t scheduled to shut down until the end of the month.

Anytime an official laments surveillance reform or attempts to blame Snowden they should be confronted with these facts. Unfortunately, so far they’ve just been met with head nods and no follow-up questions about their own conduct.

Brennan is not the only opportunist seizing on the tragedy to gain more power. The New York police commissioner, Bill Bratton, called it a “game changer” and, insinuated new legislation that would outlaw encryption was necessary by adding: “[Encryption] is something that is going to need to be debated very quickly because we cannot continue operating where we are blind.”

On the other side of the Atlantic, politicians in the United Kingdom, which already has the most expansive surveillance laws in the western world, are using the tragedy to attempt to rush through their even more invasive, new mass-spying bill that aims at allowing police to see the websites every citizen visits and to force companies like Apple to backdoor their encrypted tools.

We have no idea if these particular terrorists responsible for the barbaric and abhorrent acts that occurred in Paris last week used encryption to communicate – the only evidence is a couple of vague anonymous quotes from unnamed “officials”. But given that now billions of people are using encryption in the modern world – whether it’s iPhones, Facebook’s WhatsApp or a host of open-source tools – it’s no surprise that along with countless law-abiding citizens, bad people are using it too. (Just as murderers in the US also drive cars available to everyone for getaways and white-collar criminals use lawfully purchased paper shredders to further their crimes.)

But the idea that this is somehow Snowden’s fault is preposterous: it’s been well documented in virtually every mainstream newspaper that terrorists have been using sophisticated encryption tools since the 1990s – long before anyone knew Snowden’s name. Yet know-nothing pundits have been allowed to spew this slander without a hint of pushback from interviewers despite the abundant evidence to the contrary.

Glenn Greenwald meticulously detailed how Snowden or tech companies like Apple are just convenient scapegoats for intelligence agencies with almost unlimited budgets, extraordinary powers and virtual immunity that are also responsible for policies that often only exacerbate the terrorism problem rather than mitigate it.

Completely ignored in the debate is also the fact that even with encryption becoming more widespread, intelligence agencies still have ample resources to track the phones of terrorism suspects, see everyone they are talking to and hack their phones and computers if they need to see their communications. That’s the thing about the Snowden revelations: you’ll never hear anyone say that the US or French government shouldn’t be conducting surveillance of suspected terrorists with proper court oversight. Of course they should. It’s surveilling everyone else’s communications without a warrant that is the problem.

Strong end-to-end encryption is vital for billions of ordinary citizens’ privacy and security and undermining it would have severe consequences. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a statement on Monday: “any ‘backdoor’ into our communications will inevitably (and perhaps primarily) be used for illegal and repressive purposes rather than lawful ones”.

The fact that officials are so eager to push for extraordinary new powers in the wake of this attack is not surprising. It was just a couple of months ago that the Washington Post published leaked emails from the general counsel for the director of national intelligence, Bob Litt, in which he said that although the legislative environment is very hostile today “it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement” and that there’s value in “keeping our options open for such a situation”.

Now we are faced with that situation. We are all appalled by the shocking events in Paris, but let’s not use them as an excuse to change our way of life and strip so many law-abiding citizens of their rights.

Timm, Trevor - Paris is being used to justify agendas that had nothing to do with the attack

Timm, Trevor - Paris is being used to justify agendas that had nothing to do with the attack - The Guardian 20151120

The Paris attackers weren’t Syrian, and they didn’t use encryption, but the US government is still using the carnage to justify attempts to ban them both

The aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks has now devolved into a dark and dishonest debate about how we should respond: let’s ban encryption, even though there’s no evidence the terrorists used it to carry out their crime, and let’s ban Syrian refugees, even though the attackers were neither.

It’s hard to overstate how disgusting it has been to watch, as proven-false rumors continue to be the basis for the entire political response, and technology ignorance and full-on xenophobia now dominate the discussion.
First, there’s the loud “we need to ban encryption” push that immediately spawned hundreds of articles and opinions strongly pushed by current and former intelligence officials the day or two after the attacks, despite the government quietly admitting there was no evidence that the attackers used encryption to communicate. It was a masterful PR coup: current and former intelligence officials got to sit through a series of fawning interviews on television where they were allowed to pin any of their failures on Edward Snowden and encryption – the bedrock of privacy and security for hundreds of millions of innocent people – with virtually no pushback, or any critical questions about their own conduct.

The entire encryption subject became a shiny scapegoat while the truth slowly trickled in: as of Tuesday, it was clear that American and/or French intelligence agencies had seven of the eight identified attackers on their radar prior to the attacks. The attackers used Facebook to communicate. The one phone found on the scene showed the terrorists had coordinated over unencrypted SMS text messages – just about the easiest form of communication to wiretap that exists today. (The supposed ringleader even did an interview in Isis’s English magazine in February bragging that he was already in Europe ready to attack.)

As an unnamed government official quoted by the Washington Post’s Brian Fung said, if surveillance laws are expanded the media will be partly to blame: “It seems like the media was just led around by the nose by law enforcement. [They are] is taking advantage of a crisis where encryption hasn’t proven to have a role. It’s leading us in a less safe direction at a time when the world needs systems that are more secure.”

As dishonest as the “debate” over encryption has been, the dark descension of the Republican party into outright racism and cynically playing off the irrational fears of the public over the Syrian refugee crisis has been worse. We now know the attackers weren’t Syrian and weren’t even refugees. It was a cruel rumor or hoax that one was thought to have come through Europe with a Syrian passport system, but that was cleared up days ago. But in the world of Republican primaries, who cares about facts?

Virtually every Republican candidate has disavowed welcoming any refugees to the US, and they are now competing over who is more in favor of banning those who are fleeing the very terrorists that they claim to be so against.

It doesn’t matter that the US has a robust screening system that has seen over 750,000 refugees come to the United States without incident – the Republican-led House has now voted to grind the already intensive screening process to a virtual halt (they were disgracefully joined by many Democrats). Chris Christie said the US should refuse widows and orphans. Rand Paul introduced a law to bar the entire Muslim world from entering the US as refugees. Donald Trump has suggested he would digitally track every Muslim in the county.

As The Intercept’s Lee Fang documented in detail, the rhetoric spewing from the mouths of the Republican Party sounds almost word for word like the racists during World War II that wanted the US to refuse Jews on the basis that they might be secret Nazis.

Even the supposedly establishment Republicans have debased themselves with rhetoric that one can only hope that one day they regret. This video of Jeb Bush struggling to explain why he would create a religious litmus test for refugees and how families are going to “prove” they’re Christian is truly cringeworthy. As Barack Obama said in his admirable condemnation of Bush and others on Tuesday, such talk is “shameful” and “un-American.”

One can say a lot of awful things about Jeb’s brother, George W Bush, including that his disastrous wars that led to the Isis mess we are in now, but he did do one thing right: he was always willing to publicly speak out in favor of the vast majority of Muslims who are peaceful and abhor terrorism just like everyone else. As Chris Hayes noted, not a word of this touching speech Bush gave at an Islamic Center a week after 9/11 would ever be uttered by any of the Republican candidates today. Instead they compete over who can disparage and debase the Muslim community with the broadest brush stroke.

There are plenty of questions to ask in the aftermath of the attacks to learn how terrorism can better be prevented in the future. Instead public discourse has veered so far off-course that it’s hard to see when it will return.