Monday, November 29, 2010

New WikiLeaks Documents Expose US Foreign Policy Conspiracies


The batch of 250,000 US classified documents released by WikiLeaks to several news outlets, some of whose content was made public Sunday, sheds new light on the sordid nature of American imperialist intrigue and conspiracy around the globe. Indeed, the Guardian and the New York Times reports are revealing.

The leaked material consists of classified cables from US embassies, some dispatched as recently as early 2010. The cables, most of which date from 2007-2010, contain US officials’ comments on foreign governments and leaders and speculation about the activities and maneuvers of the latter, as well as details about American foreign policy operations.

In a revelation that should surprise no one, the US State Department and American diplomacy in general turn out to be a vast nest of spies.

The Guardian explains that the WikiLeaks documents “reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.

“Classified ‘human intelligence directives’ issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.”

The British newspaper reports that Washington’s “most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations.” One of the leaked directives requests “the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of ‘private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys.’” In response, a UN spokesperson discreetly commented, “We are aware of the reports.”

 Among other revelations: Officials from numerous Arab regimes have repeatedly urged the US to bomb Iran and destroy its nuclear program. TheFinancial Times, based on the documents, reports: “The Saudi ambassador to Washington … spoke to General David Petraeus, then incoming central command chief, in April 2008 about King Abdullah’s ‘frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran.’”

The reactionary Arab states “fear a nuclear-armed Iran would make it the undisputed superpower in the region, particularly at a time when the power of their own ally, the US, has receded.”

Moreover, notes the Financial Times, “The leaks will reinforce suspicions that Israel is considering an attack on Iranian facilities. According to reports of the cables, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, warned in 2009 that the world had six to 18 months to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme.”

The new WikiLeaks exposé also reveals that the US has been trying since 2007 “to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.” (New York Times) For its part, the Pakistani regime is fearful that if the media were to get word of the fuel removal, they would portray it as the US taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The New York Times reports this gem as well: “When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be ‘a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.’”

US officials were thoroughly aware of the deep-going corruption of the Afghan government, the documents reveal. The Timesreports that United Arab Emirates officials discovered that Afghan vice president Ahmed Zia Massoud was carrying $52 million in cash when he tried to enter that country last year. According to one of the cables, Massoud “was ultimately allowed to keep [the money] without revealing [its] origin or destination.”

The US government is outraged that the world’s population is getting a glimpse into its dirty operations. In a deeply hypocritical statement, the White House issued a statement Sunday denouncing WikiLeaks for its “reckless and dangerous action.” The press release claimed that WikiLeaks had “put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals [named in the documents].”

On the eve of the new release of documents, the US State Department wrote WikiLeaks a threatening letter, claiming that making the material publicly available was illegal and would “place at risk the lives of countless individuals.” The November 28 letter also asserted, without providing any proof, that the leaks would “place at risk on-going military operations,” and “place at risk on-going cooperation between countries.”

On Sunday afternoon, WikiLeaks reported that its web site had been compromised. “We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service attack,” WikiLeaks said on its Twitter page. A DDOS attack is an attempt to make a given web site unavailable to the public, usually by flooding it with requests for data.

The State Department letter, signed by legal adviser Harold Hongju Koh, was addressed to WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange and the latter’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson. Assange and Robinson had written to Louis B. Susman, US ambassador to the United Kingdom, asking which individuals would be put at risk by the new disclosures and apparently offering limited redactions.

In his reply, Koh asserted that “We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials.” The State Department official’s letter has two indignant references to the “violation of U.S. law” involved in the documents being provided to WikiLeaks and that organization’s holding and publishing them.

The analogy hardly does justice to the present situation, but Koh’s effort might be likened to a Mafia hit man writing to an eyewitness of a mob slaying and complaining bitterly about his or her upcoming testimony. The US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are criminal and murderous on a massive scale. 

WikiLeaks not only has the legal right, it has the moral obligation to do anything in its power to disrupt these bloody operations. It is to the everlasting shame of the mainstream media that it has not exerted any of its efforts along the same lines.

Washington attempted to weaken the impact of the WikiLeaks material by leaking its own story in regard to the material in the middle of last week. US officials and diplomats, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, have been scurrying about the past few days, attempting to alert and reassure some of the governments and leaders referred to in the documents.

By video link from an undisclosed location on Sunday, Assange told reporters that “The material that we are about to release covers essentially every major issue in every country.” The WikiLeaks founder faced trumped up sexual assault charges in Sweden.

Among the apparent revelations not yet to appear in the Guardian or the Times, which are releasing the material piecemeal, is that the US has for years supported the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, an organization that both Washington and Ankara have placed on their lists of “terrorist” groups.

Deborah Guido, spokeswoman for the US embassy in Ankara, told the media that the American government’s policy “has never been nor will ever be in support of the PKK. Anything that implies otherwise is nonsense.” Turkish commentators were more inclined to believe the report.

Mehmet Yegin, an expert at the Center for American Studies at the USAK research organization, suggested, according to the English-language version of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, “that U.S. support for the PKK could have been a result of Turkey’s decision in 2003 not to allow the United States to enter Iraq through Turkish soil.”

Some of the more sensitive material yet to be published involves the US-UK relationship. The US diplomatic cables reportedly include scathing remarks about British operations in Afghanistan and Prime Minister David Cameron. The Daily Mail in Britain reports: “The documents include highly damaging and embarrassing communiques from U.S. embassies around the world, especially from London--revealing the truth behind the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the U.K. and the U.S.

“The U.S. ambassador to London made an unprecedented personal visit to Downing Street [the British prime minister’s residence] to warn that whistleblower website WikiLeaks was about to publish secret assessments of what Washington really thinks of Britain.”

The global diplomatic crisis triggered by the WikiLeaks documents speaks to the extremely volatile international situation and the number of flashpoints, which do not require much fuel to be ignited.

Furthermore, that a small organization with a computer bank and sympathizers within the US military and intelligence apparatus can wreak such havoc is testimony to the decline of American imperialism and the chaos and disorientation that characterize its daily activities. The US foreign policy establishment lurches from one improvised and violent plan to the next, resentful and fearful of foes and “friends” alike.
   

Friday, November 26, 2010

UK Students Demonstrate Against Increased Fees and Education Cuts

On Wednesday thousands of students, sixth formers and school pupils demonstrated throughout the UK to protest the governments’ education cuts. More than 4,000 students from the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University marched into Leeds city centre. There was a very strong police presence all along the route, with eight video filming vans, other police video teams on roof tops, at least 10 police dogs and six mounted police as well as hundreds of police on foot.

As they marched through the city, office workers gathered round the windows and cheered them as they passed.

The demonstrators were met on the steps of the Leeds Art Gallery by up to 1,000 school and further education college students, who had walked out of classes in support of the campaign.

School students from Allerton Grange Comprehensive School had marched five miles into the city centre to attend the rally. On their way they had picked up fellow students from Roundhay Comprehensive. As they passed the Leeds College of Building and Thomas Danby College, students came out to greet them.

Alex from Allerton Grange School told reporters, “These cuts affect school students, not just in the future but right now. The loss of the Education Maintenance Grant (EMA) of £30-a-week for school students is outrageous. The increase of university fees to £9,000 means that the dream of higher education is being taken away from millions of youth, especially from poor families. My mum is very worried about the situation. We are fighting for our future.”

Seyamak, also from Allerton Grange, said, “I think that education is a right. We are the students of the future. I don’t see that you can set a price on education in a civilised society. Education is a class issue. Bailing out the banks should not come at the top of the agenda. If you take away the right to education, what are you left with?”

Students attended from Ilkley Grammar School, travelling 15 miles to get there. They had not known anything about the day of action until their parents received letters through the post from their headmaster warning them of the event and saying they could not take responsibility for what happened to the students if they walked out of school.

One of the pupils explained that in their school staff members had been posted at all the exits. They simply waited until the teachers had gone to their classes and then walked out.

Chris, a guitar student from Leeds Music College, said, “These attacks are international. They are happening everywhere. Cultural activities will be one of the hardest hit areas. According to the government, society cannot afford culture. But everybody has the right to cultural expression, in music and every other form. People need culture.”

Dave, a master’s student at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, said, “This is not so much about my future because my education has been paid for. I’m here because it’s a fundamental right that you have free education. My parents could maybe have afforded these rises, but a lot or ordinary people can’t. That is why I’m here. It’s the next generation. It’s my kids and everyone else’s kids that are going to feel it.”

Gayle, an unemployed worker who supported the students, had been a domestic worker at Boddington student hall of residence and had been made redundant on September 30. She said, “Loads of other cleaners at the university were sacked in July. I have since tried to get another job but can’t get one anywhere.”

Her daughter is a 20-year-old student who is presently in further education. She is not living at home and is sleeping at various friends or relations. Gayle said, “She is suffering badly. She is entitled to nothing except the £30-a-week EMA and when the government stops that she will literally be penniless. She has to provide for food, clothing, and all the necessaries and yet despite everything she is still managing to go to college. She wants to study Law and Criminology and has a place at Leeds Metropolitan University. But who knows what is going to happen? All governments now are not helping anyone. Even if Labour was in she would get nothing.”

Another protester at the rally said, “University education should be free for all who want to seek it. Putting up the fees even further will discourage millions from poorer backgrounds. I qualified in 2008. I had to pay £1,200 a year fees, plus a £3,000 repayable loan and now I am burdened with debt. In future students will have to pay almost the same amount towards one year’s fees.”

Natasha from Lawnswood High School said, “If they cut EMA and raise the entrance fees we won’t be able to afford university. And even if we go to university, we will come out with bills of £80,000 and more. The future will be McDonalds if we don’t get into university.”

One of her friends said, “We have to think about when our generation is the working generation, who is going to pay the taxes for the people that are retiring?”

Another said, “They are cutting EMA and they are cutting arts and sports programmes, but they are not cutting the Ministry of Defence and nuclear weapons which is ridiculous. They need to get their priorities sorted out.”

In Manchester around 5,000 protesters, including students from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as hundreds of pupils from schools in the city and the wider region, marched from the main university area into the city centre. A group of sixth form students came to Manchester from Kendal in Cumbria, 76 miles away.

The ISSE statement was the only leaflet being given out on the demonstration and one student volunteered to take leaflets to distribute.

The march was met by a heavy police presence, which attempted to divert it away from the Town Hall.

Owen, a sixth form college student, said he felt none of the main parties would oppose the cuts, “which are denying education to the poorest in society”. He agreed with uniting the struggles by all sections of workers, “as they are all connected.”

Another student in a group from Trafford College said, “I have worked hard all through school and at college and I don't think I will ever go to university. I think it will all be for nothing.”

She pointed out the growing unemployment among these who were well qualified and experienced and asked, “What chance have we got?”

Courtesy WSWS

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Punish The Guilty, Recover The Loot

Irespective of how the current impasse in the parliament over the demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe into the massive 2G  spectrum scam unfolds, it is clear that the country is being pushed deeper into the murky morass of crony capitalism. 

Actually, crony capitalism is a tautology.  Capital in its urge to maximise profits invariably seeks to bend, if not, violate all rules and regulations. Nepotism in awarding contracts, sweet heart deals in disposing off public properties (like, for instance, the  outrageous sale of public sector, Balco and Centaur Hotel, Juhu, Mumbai by the earlier NDA government) and creating illegal and new avenues for money laundering and looting public resources are some of the forms that crony capitalism takes.


The capitalist state puts in place certain rules and institutionalises regulators to ensure adherence to these rules in order to provide a level playing field for the capitalists. However, given the fundamental nature of capitalism, where the big fish eats the small ones, these rules and regulations are pushed to the limits of violation.  Capitalism inherently breeds cronyism. 

In countries like India, late entrants into the global capitalist system, (particularly when it embraces the neo-liberal economic trajectory of globalisation) such cronyism becomes all pervasive trapping in its web governmental institutions, indeed, the entire government itself.  This has precisely been the case in the current 2G spectrum scam, with the Supreme Court now dragging in the prime minister and his office. 

To illustrate how such crony capitalism operated in this 2G spectrum scam, consider the following:

For the release of the fourth license and the spectrum needed  for operationalising  the corresponding universal access service license in January 2008, the communications ministry adopted a completely inexplicable principle of `first come first served’ as well as a license fee based on 2001 price.  These 2G licenses were priced at 2001 levels allegedly to ensure that the spectrum should not become expensive, presuming that the benefit would be passed on to the consumers.  However, this was nowhere ensured through the license terms and conditions. As a result, the parties who had secured these licenses have sold or are selling their shares at huge profits.

The deal between UAE’s telecom operator Etisalat and a Bombay-based builder’s Swan Telecom has brought out the magnitude of largesse being doled out.  Swan Telecom bought a license for 13 circles along with the necessary 2G spectrum for a paltry Rs 1,537 crore.  Subsequently, it had sold 45 per cent of its stake to Etisalat for $900 million without putting up any infrastructure, let alone starting operations.  This, therefore, was the market price for the spectrum at around $ 2 billion, as against the price of $300 million SWAN paid.  With the present exchange rate, this would mean that Swan had got a value 5.9 times of what it had paid just eight months earlier in January 2008 without having spent a single paisa in operationalising its license. The government has actually got only one-sixth of what it should have got, had it gone through a fresh auction route – a loss of Rs 4,500 crore to the exchequer.

But this is not all.  Even this loss proved to be an underestimate when one finds the details about the later Unitech-Telenor (of Norway) deal.  Here, Unitech like Swan had not spent a single paisa for executing its license.  It had sold a 60 per cent stake of the telecom firm,  which had paid Rs 1651 crore as license fee for all the 23 circles which it had applied for, to Telenor.  Obviously, Unitech got a better return on its sale because it had given away majority stake and had larger number of circles.  Unitech had got 6,120 crores. Unitech, thus, had got a valuation which is seven times more than  what it had paid.   

For a number of these corporations, who were awarded the so-called 'first come first served' licenses, the promoters are either unknown or shadow companies. This further reinforces the doubts regarding the bona fides of these companies as also the intent of the policy.

In the interests of the country, it is absolutely essential that this colossal scam must be thoroughly probed. Hence the demand for a JPC.  The JPC must not only identify the culprits and prepare the grounds for their punishment, but it must also study the manner in which the system has been so grossly manipulated to allow such a scam to take place. On this basis, more effective rules and regulations must be drawn up to ensure that such known avenues of manipulation are minimised, if not plugged. 

Probing the 2G spectrum scam is not only in the interest of upholding political morality.  This is absolutely essential. The probe, however, must also result in recovering to the national exchequer the loss estimated by the CAG to be  of a mammoth Rs 1,76,379 crores. Our estimations of this loss, stated in these columns earlier, is to the tune of Rs 1,90,000 crores.  All those who have been allocated the 2G spectrum at throw away prices must be made retrospectively to pay the difference.  The benchmark can be the  auction price of the 3G spectrum that is available in public domain.  The licenses of those corporates who refuse to do so must be cancelled and these must be freshly auctioned. 

Again, the recovery of these monies, unscrupulously looted, is not only to reassert public morality.  This recovery is much needed to improve the livelihood of the vast mass of the Indian people.  Take for instance, the issue of food security.  It has been estimated that to provide all Indian families (APL and BPL) 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 a kilo, it would cost an additional food subsidy of Rs 84,399 crores.  The loot in the 2G spectrum scam is nearly double of what is required to provide food security to all Indians.  Or, for that matter, to ensure education for all, it is estimated by the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) to cost Rs 34,000 crore annually for the next five years.  A  total of Rs 1.7 lakh crores.  This is less than what has been looted in this 2G spectrum scam.  The scam accounts for nearly six times of the health budget proposed for this year.

A government that continues to wear the pretence of concern for the aam admi must be forced to speedily uncover the manner in which such a colossal loot of our country’s resources has taken place.  Further, the government must be forced to recover this loss and put these huge sums of money to provide the much-needed food security, education and health for our people. 


From People's Democracy