Film on Edward Snowden wins Academy Award

Featured photo - The Intercept’s Laura Poitras Wins Academy Award for ‘Citizenfour’

Laura Poitras, a founding editor of The Intercept, won an Academy Award tonight for her documentary “Citizenfour,” an inside look at Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower; with Glenn Greenwald, journalist who reported many of the Snowden exposés.

[The annual Academy Awards (“Oscars”) are selected by secret/anonymous votes of the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures (previous winners of Oscars).  So, on occasion, the awards are given to a film which rebukes unpopular government policies.  And that is definitely the case with the award of “Best Documentary” to Citizenfour, which described the path of the world’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowdon who, at great personal cost and risk, exposed the NSA and the most intrusive government betrayal of privacy rights in history.  Though vilified and threatened by the government and politicians, Snowdon has won popular praise and accolades to such an extent that even the filmmakers of Hollywood chose to reward Laura Poitras, director, and the film Citizenfour, with the highest honor.  We urge everyone to seek out and spread the word about this film.  —  Frontlines ed.]

“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” Poitras said in her acceptance speech. “Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and for the many other whistleblowers.” Snowden, in a statement released after the award was announced, said, “My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

The film, which has been hailed as a real-life thriller, chronicles Snowden’s effort to securely contact Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in 2013 and meet them in Hong Kong, where Poitras filmed Snowden discussing the thousands of classified NSA documents he was leaking to them, and his motives for doing so. The film takes its title from the pseudonym Snowden used when he contacted Poitras in encrypted emails that were revealed in her documentary.

The new totalitarianism of surveillance technology

If you think that 24/7 tracking of citizens by biometric recognition systems is paranoid fantasy, just read the industry newsletters

by Naomi Wolf, guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 15 August 2012

A software engineer in my Facebook community wrote recently about his outrage that when he visited Disneyland, and went on a ride, the theme park offered him the photo of himself and his girlfriend to buy – with his credit card information already linked to it. He noted that he had never entered his name or information into anything at the theme park, or indicated that he wanted a photo, or alerted the humans at the ride to who he and his girlfriend were – so, he said, based on his professional experience, the system had to be using facial recognition technology. He had never signed an agreement allowing them to do so, and he declared that this use was illegal. He also claimed that Disney had recently shared data from facial-recognition technology with the United States military.

Yes, I know: it sounds like a paranoid rant.

Except that it turned out to be true. News21, supported by the Carnegie and Knight foundations, reports that Disney sites are indeed controlled by face-recognition technology, that the military is interested in the technology, and that the face-recognition contractor, Identix, has contracts with the US government – for technology that identifies individuals in a crowd.

Fast forward: after the Occupy crackdowns, I noted that odd-looking CCTVs had started to appear, attached to lampposts, in public venues in Manhattan where the small but unbowed remnants of Occupy congregated: there was one in Union Square, right in front of their encampment. I reported here on my experience of witnessing a white van marked “Indiana Energy” that was lifting workers up to the lampposts all around Union Square, and installing a type of camera. When I asked the workers what was happening – and why an Indiana company was dealing with New York City civic infrastructure, which would certainly raise questions – I was told: “I’m a contractor. Talk to ConEd.”

I then noticed, some months later, that these bizarre camera/lights had been installed not only all around Union Square but also around Washington Square Park. I posted a photo I took of them, and asked: “What is this?” Commentators who had lived in China said that they were the same camera/streetlight combinations that are mounted around public places in China. These are enabled for facial recognition technology, which allows police to watch video that is tagged to individuals, in real time. When too many people congregate, they can be dispersed and intimidated simply by the risk of being identified – before dissent can coalesce. (Another of my Facebook commentators said that such lamppost cameras had been installed in Michigan, and that they barked “Obey”, at pedestrians. This, too, sounded highly implausible – until this week in Richmond, British Columbia, near the Vancouver airport, when I was startled as the lamppost in the intersection started
talking to me – in this case, instructing me on how to cross (as though I were blind or partially sighted).

Finally, last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil a major new police surveillance infrastructure, developed by Microsoft. The Domain Awareness System links existing police databases with live video feeds, including cameras using vehicle license plate recognition software. No mention was made of whether the system plans to use – or already uses – facial recognition software. But, at present, there is no law to prevent US government and law enforcement agencies from building facial recognition databases. Continue reading

The Feds are watching — badly

[US imperialist xenophobia translates into bizarre and concentrated cultural ignorance, especially when replicated by aggressive, repressive government bureaucracies.  The harm inflicted on targeted communities is beyond measure.  This investigative report from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, an alternative weekly newspaper, traces the details of some recent revelations. — Frontlines ed.]

by Yael Chanoff and Natalie Orenstein, San Francisco Bay Guardian, June 26, 2012

The FBI’s modern snoop program is racist, xenophobic, misdirected, dangerous — and really, really stupid

Muslims, the Internet — what isn’t the government spying on?

So, you’re a law enforcement officer in training for participation on a local Joint Terrorism Task Force. Or a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point, involved in the counterterrorism training program developed in partnership with the FBI. Or you’re an FBI agent training up to deal with terrorist threats.

Get ready for FBI training in dealing with Arab and Muslim populations.

Take note that “Western cultural values” include “rational, straight line thinking” and a tendency to “identify problems and solve them through logical decision-making process” — while “Arab cultural values” are “emotional based” and “facts are colored by emotion and subjectivity.”

Be advised that Arabs have “no concept of privacy” and “no concept of ‘constructive criticism'” and that in Arab culture it is “acceptable to interrupt conversations to convey information or make requests.”

“Westerners think, act, then feel,” an FBI powerpoint briefing notes, while “Arabs feel, act, then think.”

Those are some of the most dramatic examples of racial profiling and outright racist stereotyping revealed in thousands of pages of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Bay Guardian, the ACLU of Northern California and the Asian Law Caucus.

The documents show a pattern of cultural insensitivity, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, not only tolerated by promoted as official instructions by the FBI. The records also show a broad pattern of surveillance of people who have engaged in no criminal activity and aren’t even suspected of crimes, but have been targeted because of their race or religion.

Pieces of this story have come out over the past year as the ACLU has charged the FBI with racial profiling and Attorney General Eric Holder has insisted it’s not happening. And some of the documents — which are not always properly dated — may be a few years old.

But none of it is ancient history: All of the material has been used by the FBI in the past few years, under the Obama administration.

This is the first complete report with the full details on a pattern of behavior that is, at the very least, disturbing — and in some parts, reminiscent of the notorious (and widely discredited) COINTELPRO program that sought to undermine and disrupt political groups in the 1960s.

The information suggests that the federal government is using methods that are not only imprecise and xenophobic but utterly ineffective in protecting the American public.

“This is the worst way to pursue security,” Hatem Bazian, professor of Near East Studies at UC Berkeley, told us.

CULTURAL STEREOTYPES

Dozens of documents attempt to describe “Arabs and Muslims” but other groups aren’t left out of the sweeping stereotyping and blatant racism and xenophobia that the FBI has used in its training guides. One training presentation is titled “The Chinese.” The materials give such tips as “informality is perceived as disrespectful.” The presentation warns “expect your gift (money) to be refused” but advises to give “a simple gift with significant meaning- tangerines or oranges (with stems/leaves.)” But “never give a clock as a gift! (death!)”

And if those in the training on “The Chinese” find themselves in “interactions with the opposite sex,” then “touching, too many compliments, may imply a romantic liaison is desired — be careful!” Continue reading

Drones over America. Are they spying on you?

Deputy Amanda Hill of the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado prepares to use a Draganflyer X6 drone equipped with a video camera to help search for a suspect in a knife attack. Drones are in demand by police departments, border patrols, power companies, news organizations and others wanting a bird’s-eye view that’s too impractical or dangerous for conventional planes or helicopters.  [Mesa County Sheriff’s Unmanned Operations Team/AP]

“Thousands of drones could be routinely flying over the United States within the next ten years. They can help with law enforcement and border control, but they also raise questions about invasion of privacy.”

By , Staff writer, Christian Science Monitor / June 16, 2012

Most Americans have gotten used to regular news reports about military and CIA drones attacking terrorist suspects – including US citizens – in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere abroad.

But picture thousands of drone aircraft buzzing around the United States – peering from the sky at breaches in border security, wildfires about to become major conflagrations, patches of marijuana grown illegally deep within national forests, or environmental scofflaws polluting the land, air, and water.

By some government estimates, as many as 30,000 drones could be part of intelligence gathering and law enforcement here in the United States within the next ten years. Operated by agencies down to the local level, this would be in addition to the 110 current and planned drone activity sites run by the military services in 39 states, reported this week by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a non-government research project. Continue reading

Mosques, students and NGOs: Journalist blows the lid off police spying on NYC Muslims

September 8, 2011

Two weeks after an Associated Press investigation exposed the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s  ”demographic units” used to spy on a wide array of Muslim New Yorkers, a journalist has published startling new details that reveal the breadth of that operation.  The details are sure to raise new alarms in the Muslim-American community in New York City (NYC) as the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks approach.

Leonard Levitt, a long-time writer on the NYPD beat, reports:

The New York City Police Department has been spying on hundreds of Muslim mosques, schools, businesses, student groups, non-governmental organizations and individuals, NYPD Confidential has learned.

The spying operation has targeted virtually every level of Muslim life in New York City, according to a trove of pages of Intelligence Division documents obtained by NYPD Confidential.

The documents do not specify whether the police have evidence or solid suspicions of criminality to justify their watching the Muslim groups.

The breadth and scope of the surveillance described in the documents suggest that the police have been painting with a broad brush and may have targeted subjects without specific tips about wrongdoing.

Specifically, Levitt reveals exactly who the NYPD spied on:

The NYPD’s spying operation has compiled information on 250 mosques, 12 Islamic schools, 31 Muslim student associations, 263 places it calls “ethnic hotspots,” such as businesses and restaurants, as well as 138 “persons of interest,” according to the Intel documents.

Police have singled out 53 mosques, four Islamic schools and seven Muslim student associations as institutions of “concern.” They have also labeled 42 individuals as top tier “persons of interest.”

At least 32 mosques have been infiltrated by either undercover officers, informants, or both, according to documents, which are dated between 2003 and 2006 and marked “secret.”

The NYPD has also been monitoring Muslim student associations at seven local colleges: City, Baruch, Hunter, Queens, LaGuardia, St. John’s and Brooklyn.

The department calls the two student groups at Brooklyn and Baruch colleges “of concern” and has sent undercover detectives to spy on them, the documents reveal. Continue reading

Alert: FBI has reasons to track you, and they are not “terror” or “crime”

On July 2nd,  NBC Nightly News aired a new piece on the issue of the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices by law enforcement featuring Yasir Afifi:

Here is the extended interview with Yasir Afifi:

And here is an extremely relevant background report on government spying, released in December 2010 by the Washington Post:Finger Print

Monitoring America

Monday, December 20, 2010; 1:40 AM

Correction to this article: An earlier version of this article contained several incorrect numbers that have since been updated. The errors occurred because of the accidental duplication of 74 records in a database of over 4,000 counterterrorism organizations that The Post assembled. While not affecting the overall conclusions of the article, the 74 duplications mean that there are 3,984 federal, state and local organizations working on domestic counterterrorism, not 4,058. Of the total, the number created since the 2001 attacks is 934, not 935.

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States. Continue reading

“Is Your Community Under Government Attack?”

“Know Your Rights When the FBI Knocks”

 
In this presentation, Zahra Billoo of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (San Francisco Bay Area) discusses the government targeting of Arab and Muslim communities in the US. This targeting continues a long history of many state-targetted communities and peoples who have faced denial of rights, ethnic/cultural/political profiling, intrusive surveillance, physical attacks, arrests, imprisonments, and deportations–and who have struggled to maintain their unity and the ways to defend themselves and to resist such attacks.

The program was sponsored by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, in Oakland, California, in February 2011.

The video is by Collision Course Media, and is one of the “Know Your Rights” series