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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An Alternative to Jihad and Occupation in Iraq?

Not sure who to support in the Middle East? As usual, solidarity is complicated - especially when distance, language and cultural barriers and the fog of war conspire against getting a good, clear look at what is really going on. Despite our desire to have US imperialism confronted and defeated, the Jihadist and sectarian forces in Iraq don't exactly offer satisfying alternatives to the American occupation - even if we know that a US retreat in Iraq, however it is achieved, would very likely have positive consequences for human freedom in the rest of the world - if not Iraq. However, one place worth investigating in the search for movements more congruent with anarchists' desire for freedom and self-organization is the workers struggle in Iraq. There are several interesting elements at play.

For instance, in Palestine civil service workers are set to strike and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has come out in favor of it. Abbas is a member of the former ruling party Fatah and is probably hoping to use the strike to destabilize the new government, run by Hamas. Meanwhile, the workers themselves have serious and legitimate demands: they want to get paid!

In Bahrain, 800 Indian workers (many of the workers in the Middle East are from Asia ), conducted what the press called a "flash strike" and refused to go into work, demanding back pay owed over the last four months and complaining about violent attacks by company officials representing their Dubai-based employer. After the Indian Consulate intervened on their behalf, the miserly companies agreed to pay half that amount now and resolve the rest soon. There are 130,000 Indian workers in Bahrain.

A fire that raged through the camp earlier in the month killed 16 workers and injured 11 more. In addition to the lack of payment, workers also complained that company officials forced them to pay exorbitant fees to the company in visa fees and compensation to the job recruiter. Already extremely difficult to pay at their dismal BD100 pay rate, the BD450 fee becomes impossible when the boss refuses to pay at all.

'At the time of renewal of visas, they start deducting money saying that it is towards the renewal fees. This time in fact they have not stamped our visa. All of us are now free-visa workers despite the fact that we have paid the money,' the Bahrain Tribune quoted the anonymous worker as saying.

'If you are a labourer you will receive BD3 a day and if you are a mason or a steel fitter you may get BD4. If they deduct from this then what will we get?'

A past action last year led to the intimidation and removal of the strike leader. Unions are illegal in much of the Middle East.

This comes on the heals of a strike earlier in the month by about the same number of workers, protesting appalling conditions at their work camp, where two workers collapsed from dehydration. They alleged that the camp had been lacking water and electricity for over a month. The next day the strike was suspended when the company hastily installed a new generator. Strikers reported that they faced threats of deportation from their bosses when they complained.

"We've been facing water and electricity shortages for more than a month now, but for the past three days there has been a complete blackout," said worker Dharmendar Yadav.

"Mohammed and Bhimaram fainted because they didn't get water for the past couple of days. We are always threatened by the management that we will be sent back home and thus lose around BD1,000 each that we spent for our visas to get here."

Living conditions in the camp are appalling, said Mr Yadav. "There are 24 of us crammed in to a 400sq ft room and the state of our kitchens and bathrooms is pathetic," he said.

Another worker, who would not be named, said the kitchen and toilets were highly unhygienic. "Ten of us have to cook in a small cubicle that we call a 'kitchen' and the toilets are so filthy," he said.

Further, the allege that their bosses extorted as much as half of their BD60 to BD90 a month salary in payment for visa extensions costing BD300. One worker complained, "If we tell our basic needs to our labour camp manager, he pretends as if he doesn't hear or tells us that we can run away if we don't like it there. We had warned them on Wednesday night that we would go on strike, but they ignored us".

Meanwhile in Iraq, oil workers ceased their successful strike when the government caved into their demands. The head of the oil syndicate, Hassan al-Asadi, confirmed, "We received a document from the ministry of oil. It is a document to increase our salaries and to pay us (a) share in seasonal profits." He threatened more strikes if the workers' remaining demands are not resolved very soon. These demands included providing ambulances on site to transport injured workers. A grim demand indeed.

According to analysis by Kathlyn Stone, writing for Electronic Iraq, predicts more labor unrest in Iraq's future. It is worth quoting Stone at length here. The initial comments by Mahmoud of the IFC refer to the most recent oil workers strike.

"Their basic demands for higher pay were met," said the IFC's Housan Mahmoud. "If the government doesn't deliver on the rest of the demands, the strikes will resume."

Mahmoud is a women's and labor rights activist and chair of Iraq Freedom Congress Abroad, based in London.

The IFC is a movement led by unions and human rights activists that is rapidly gaining in popularity among the general population. It is modeled after the African National Congress, which came into power following worldwide pressure to end the white minority rule of South Africa. The IFC is calling for a democratic, secular alternative to both the U.S. occupation and political Islam in Iraq. The IFC is also a major supporter of the strike.

"The government and its administration have turned a blind eye to the demands raised by workers for months. Therefore the workers were forced to resort to a strike to impose their demands on the government and South Oil Company," according to Amjad Aljawhary, North American representative of the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Union spokespeople said the strike "completely paralysed pumping oil from all Iraqi ports in Basra."


Underlying the struggles is the U.S. plan to transform the Iraqi economy from publicly-owned to privately held. This holds true for the publicly-owned oil industry that represents 70 percent of the Iraqi economy. The march toward privatization and neglect of Iraq's infrastructure contributes to massive unemployment, increased insecurity and violence, and a devastating impact on the average Iraqi working family.

An American who is working to establish an Iraq Freedom Congress chapter in the United States said the corporate media in the United States is intentionally keeping Americans in the dark about the existence of the Iraq Freedom Congress and the strong labor movement in Iraq, both now and historically. The struggle in Iraq is presented by the media as an "either-or choice between the occupation and the resistance," said Martin Schreader. "If a third option, the IFC, was known by those outside of Iraq to be a real force, many of those who oppose the occupation, but do not want to see the ?resistance' come to power, would begin to think they finally have a side in the conflict."

An interesting point, indeed. Anarchists might be critical of some of the kinds of organizing taking place in these unions, because it is not clear the extent to which they are hierarchical in nature; however worker participation does seem to be genuine - as it must be to survive in this increasingly sectarian religious conflict. Still, wIthin the nationalist context and absent a firm anti-capitalist politics, recuperation is a real threat. After all, Saddam's Ba'athists were secular, nationalist and socialist.

Nevertheless, like the rise of secular women's organizations in Iraq, the increasing labor militancy offers some reason for hope and at least the possibility of a third position in the conflict which neither supports the Jihadists nor the occupation. Despite their sometimes violent relations with sectarian groups, many of the workers organizations still fear the intervention of US forces, who they preceive correctly as on the side of capitalist development in Iraq. Continuing opposition to the war at home can serve to open a space for worker organization in Iraq.

As Mahmoud points out in Stone's article, Iraq does have a long history of worker militancy, but it also has a similar history of socialist militarism and party co-optation. In his fascinating book, A People's History of Iraq, Ilario Salucci recounts the often disappointing and even downright betraying behavior of the various Iraqi communist parties. During World War II, for instance, the Iraqi Communist Party sided with the British, then occupying Iraq, because of their pact with the Soviets. Likewise, the Iraqi Communist Party today, resurrected from the dead with the 2003 American invasion, quickly joined the provisional government - to the disappointment of many. Those who know the history of Iraqi communist parties - or of communist parties generally - were not surprised.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

News of Interest for 8/29/06

Bugged bins to promote recycling
"Microchips in bins which help councils charge for the weight of rubbish collected could be common across the UK within two years."
-Via BBC
Technology Lets Parents Track Kids' Every Move
"So, Mark Pawlick bought what's called a black box and hid it in Jessica's car. By using global positioning system technology to fix its location every second or so, the device is essentially an electronic tattletale. It automatically e-mails or calls Pawlick every time Jessica drives too fast, or goes somewhere she isn't supposed to."
-Via NPR
Punished son dies on the way to jail
"A 17-YEAR-OLD New Zealand boy whose exasperated parents believed would be helped by going to prison for a series of minor crimes was murdered in the van taking him to jail."
-Via London Times
12,000 buildings hit by rocket attacks
"Some 12,000 buildings, including 4,000 public structures, were damaged by rocket attacks waged by Hizbullah from Lebanon during 35 days of confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces, a report by the Ministry for the Environment showed."
-Via YNet News
Bashir links CIA to Bali bombings
"Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir has accused America's main intelligence agency of involvement in the 2002 Bali suicide bombings, which claimed the lives of 202 people, including 88 Australians."
-Via ABC News (Australia)
You wouldn’t catch me dead in Iraq
"Scores of American troops are deserting — even from the front line in Iraq. But where have they gone? And why isn’t the US Army after them? Peter Laufer tracked down four of the deserters"
-Via London Times
Black Panther founder teaches party's vision
"The second course will focus on African-American resistance movements, especially the Black Panther Party, Hilliard said. The party's history is shunned in school, so his course will help bring light to its past and the people who influenced it, he said."
-Via The Daily Lobo
Christiana renovation to cost millions
"After coming to power in 2001, the Liberal-Conservative government has taken an increasingly harder line on Christiania and its estimated 850 residents, closing its open-air hash market, Pusher Street, in 2004, and threatening to bulldoze the colony entirely."
-Via Copenhagen Post
Robots Wrote This
"First they came for the bomb disposal crews, and we said nothing. Then they were spot-welding and spray-painting on the auto plant assembly lines, and still we said nothing. Only now that they've come for the journalism jobs do the journalists scream. But it's too late."
-Via Wired News

Monday, August 28, 2006

News of Interest for 8/28/06

Welcome to your new holiday home. Please beware of the danger of bombs
'But one elderly Corsican woman living in the Coggia area, where "FLNC" is sprayed on walls near summer villas, said: "If Corsicans can't even afford a small plot of land to make their home, what would you do? Money is the root of all war. As long as no one is killed, then the struggle is OK."'
-Via The Guardian UK
Activist's Remark Starts FBI Probe
"Jim Bensman thought his suggestion during a public hearing was harmless enough: Instead of building a channel so migratory fish could go around a dam on the Mississippi River, just get rid of the dam.

Instead, the environmental activist found himself in hot water, drawing FBI scrutiny to see whether he had any terrorist intentions."
-Via the Washington Post
Cyber Bug Flies High in Crime Fighting
"The next time you look up in the sky you many notice the latest technology in law enforcement."
-Via WTVM.com
"The western way of war in the 21st century is a pale shadow of the warfare it waged in the 20th. The reason is simple: for western societies war is no longer existential. Instead, it's increasingly about smoothing market flows and tertiary moral concerns/threats."
-Via Global Guerillas
Video Cameras Learn from Insect Eyes
"What we want to do," he says, "is to wire this into existing camera sensor technology - our software would be written to a computer chip that would sit between the sensor and the digital converter."
-Via PhysOrg.com
The Crime-Fighting, Life-Saving Webcam
"In what may stand as testament to the ubiquity of the increasingly watchful eye of the camera's lens, a Texas man was able to help police in Liverpool, England, foil a burglary while the man watched a Beatles-related webcam on his computer, according to Reuters."
-Via ABC News
Smile for the camera, criminals
'"One reads about something like this on a weekly, if not daily basis," Mr. Henning added, calling the trend "one of global proportions" and unlikely to end any time soon.
'"These incidents are going to grow in frequency," he said, "because you rarely will get out of sight of someone who will have a camera phone."'
-Via the Washington Times
General Says Iraqi Soldiers Refuse Duty
"About 100 Iraqi Shiite soldiers refused to go to Baghdad to support the security crackdown there, marking the second time a block of Iraqi soldiers have balked at following their unit's assignment, a U.S. general said Monday."
-Via The Washington Post
Troops use up ammo as war with Taliban claims 14th life
"British forces suffered their 14th combat death in Afghanistan yesterday as commanders admitted that intense fighting against the Taliban meant they were using up missiles, rockets and spares at an alarming rate."
-Via Telegraph UK
Experts warn U.S. is coming apart at the seams
"The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem."
-Via The Seattle Times
Is this Bush's secret bunker?
"Mount Weather is a top-security underground installation an hour's drive from Washington DC. It has its own leaders, police, fire department - and laws. A cold war relic, it has been given a new lease of life since 9/11. And no one who's been inside has ever talked. Tom Vanderbilt reports"
-Via The Guardian UK

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The rise of the global urban battlefield and the death of unregulated space

The LA Times ran an interesting article a few weeks ago on the tense situation in what the police there call the "South Bureau," which includes the Rampart Division. Many will remember Rampart as the home base of the infamous CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit, an anti-gang formation within the police department that themselves engaged in drug-dealing, frame-ups and murders, among other gang-like behaviors.

For example, in a case of "mistaken identity" CRASH officers opened fire on Carlos Vertiz, who was discovered to be unarmed after a ten round barrage of gunfire brought him down. CRASH officers planted a shotgun on his body as he lay bleeding to death on the street, claiming he had pointed it at them. In 1996, two CRASH officers shot 19-year-old Javier Ovando, likewise planted a gun on him and then lied about it. The judge sent Ovando, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair because of the attempt on his life, to prison with a 23-year sentence because he failed to show 'contrition' for a crime he never committed. When the scandal of his incarceration began to break and the officers finally confessed to their frame-up, Ovando was freed - after having served two years.

Needless to say, tensions between police and the residents of this working class and poor, multi-racial and heavily immigrant section of LA are not good. Trust for the police is low after so many decades of brutal LAPD occupation and military-style policing (called "command presence"), of which Rampart's CRASH unit was a vanguard but not alone. Since the scandal, police have repeatedly been caught in egregious and violent attacks on residents, including the fatal shooting of a 19-month-old baby and the vicious beating of suspected car thief, Stanley Miller. Caught on tape by news helicopters, Officer John Hatfield smashed Miller 11 times with his service flashlight as the cameras rolled overhead.


According to a blue-ribbon study released in July and reported in the LA Times, the LAPD suffers from the stubborn persistence of the "warrior cop."
[The] evolving clique of aggressive LAPD officers who rely on force and intimidation has resisted 40 years of attempts to manage crime in the city differently.

The warrior cop — known more blandly within the LAPD as the "proactive police officer" — was the invention of Police Chief William H. Parker, who headed the LAPD from 1950 to 1966. That style of policing and the officers who embrace it have done much to protect Los Angeles in the years since. In many ways, they are symbolic of the city's police — think "Dragnet," "The New Centurions."

But officers who take it too far, who cross the line from command presence to unlawful force, have also been responsible for devastation. Their racial callousness and penchant for brutality fueled the Watts riots of 1965 as well as the riots that erupted after the Rodney G. King verdicts in 1992. They were responsible for the Rampart scandal, and they have supplied much of the tension between police and minority communities that was a defining feature of late-20th century Los Angeles.

No commission, no mayor and no chief has ever succeeded in bringing that culture to heel; indeed, it remains iconic in the city's police force.
Certainly, the LAPD's infamy for it's aggressive policing is well-deserved, but the reporter's suggestion that they "protect Los Angeles" certainly requires a Stockholm Syndrome-like view of history, in which the oppressed are somehow served through their oppression. Still, the LAPD's reputation for violence and corruption must be viewed in the political context of the United States. This country offers so many example of belligerent agencies that singling out one over the others can seem a bit like choosing a kick in the face over a kick in the crotch. From the "41 shots" of the NYPD to the corrupt Philadelphia PD and the viciously racist New Orleans Department, violence - very often racialized and aimed at people of color - remains endemic to American policing, just as it did a hundred and fifty years ago amongst the patty rollers that terrorized the Antebellum South. My own hometown of Phoenix has set records for police shootouts, one of which just left a six-year-old wounded and in the hospital thanks to a police bullet.

But, policing is at its heart a defense of the capitalist and bureaucratic class and, with stakes that high, violence is never off the table. So, we shouldn't be surprised when the police resort to it. America remains a country in which white supremacy remains the primary contradiction and ruling class strategy for domination. American police forces, it is sometimes conceded, arose out of the need for the capitalists to control the militantly organizing workers of the Northeast. Certainly this is true. But, regionally, American police forces also track their not-so-distant origins, powers and duties back to slave patrols, the capture and return of escaped slaves to the Southern Slavocracy and the displacement of indigenous peoples and Mexican farmers from their lands. As a result, police violence continues disproportionately to fall on people of color.

So the LAPD's problem - as on most forces - goes beyond just a handful of macho officers, as even Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State and stalwart defender of the system, was forced to admit in 1991 when he chaired a commission on the LA police. "This is something that has worried me for a long time. It's much too glib to talk about bad apples. It's much broader than that," he said.


However, we are in an era of deepening and possibly irreversible (outside of revolution) divisions between rich and poor, and technology increasingly makes a large segment of the global working class completely unnecessary either as producers and consumers. The logic of capitalism used to be expanded markets and expanded consumer bases, but increasingly it seems to have written off whole segments of the global population. Crisis looms. Perhaps capitalist logic today remains the logic of the cancer cell, but global capitalism is looking straight genocidal these days. Certainly that would go a long way to explain what to reformers appears to be a cold ignorance on the part of the system for the plight of much of the planet's population. When viewed this way, the global AIDS crisis, water scarcity, food crises and global warming seem more like a political project aimed at population reduction and control rather than some strange series of merely selfish policy omissions. Certainly, someone like Webster Tarpley has done a good job of linking the ruling class - including the Bushes - to eugenics and population controls of all kinds in the not-so-distant past.

So, taking nothing for granted and despite the fact that, as the Economist reported in June, "[e]ight out of ten [Americans], more than anywhere else, believe that though you may start poor, if you work hard, you can make pots of money," the police and their elite masters have embarked on a determined quest to broaden the tools at their disposal for the domination (and therefore exploitation) of the working class and poor. Those they don't hope merely to dispose of, that is. Towards this end, police departments across the country have actively and enthusiastically added less-lethal weapons to their class war arsenals.

However, as the experience in my own city has shown, this generally only increases incidents of use of force, often to the confusion of liberals who, eternally hoping for the realization of the non-violent, victimless Utopian state, fail to grasp the real purpose behind the technology. How could a less-lethal arsenal increase the violence rained down like a summer monsoon on the heads of the poor in Phoenix? An Arizona Republic study in 2004 found that despite the claims by police agencies that stun guns offer a safe alternative to the gun and the baton,
...an Arizona Republic analysis of police reports of Taser-related incidents from 2003 found that Phoenix police were far more likely to use the stun guns to make someone obey orders at a traffic stop than to bring down an armed robber.

Officers used Tasers repeatedly last year as compliance tools, to avoid chases and physical confrontations. The officers shocked people who made threatening gestures, tried to run away or would not follow commands to raise hands, turn around or lie on the ground.
The study also found that
[r]ecords show that Phoenix police shocked 377 people with the stun gun last year. The Republic's analysis of use-of-force records shows that in nearly nine out of 10 cases, individuals did not threaten police with weapons:
  • A shoplifter who stole four cans of soup from a Food City and fled on a bike was tracked by helicopter and shocked when officers dragged him to the ground.
  • A 15-year-old boy at Alhambra High School was shocked in the back when he told officers he would fight if they attempted to arrest him on a marijuana charge.
  • A drunk who ignored repeated commands to leave a Dunlap Avenue bar was shocked in the back as he walked away.
The Republic reported that Virginia police consultant James Ginger had concluded that, "When you see what is happening with Tasers across the country, it is fairly clear it is not being used as it was meant to be . . . as an alternative to deadly force."

But, here's the secret: the new technologies and tactics deployed by police departments across the country are not intended as tools to reduce violence. That may be a side effect in some cases - clearly it is a selling point - but the new technologies are designed primarily to increase the ability of agencies to project the force necessary to maintain the domination of the domestic elite, and that necessarily increases the likelihood of violence. Again, it's not as simple as macho police behavior.

True, less-lethal weapons have the added benefit of fitting the rhetoric - more like the myth - of the democratic state, where the violence inherent in the state is more easily pretended away or justified retroactively by the presence of supposedly responsive formal political institutions (i.e., why riot when you can vote?). But anarchists realize the lie behind the myth of the non-violent state and the exploitative nature of the democratic state. Nevertheless, it bears repeating: all weapons deployed by the state serve to augment its power, and that is necessarily the power to exploit and coerce.


In a world that is rapidly urbanizing, and in which disparities in wealth have reached record proportions (including here in the US), it should come as no surprise that police departments worldwide are focusing on the city as the class war battlefield of the 21st Century and that they hope better to project force within its inner city streets and even suburban cul de sacs, if necessary, to maintain the status quo. Effectively stoked by the media, police and elite class, the meth craze has already primed the suburbs for surveillance. Now barely even trusting of their own white neighbors and expanding their postmodern return to the land movement into the former inner cities, both settlers and suburbanites alike cheerlead the expansion of surveillance and policing into the rapidly colonizing and conveniently renamed "mid-city" arts districts across the country, further augmenting the technology already implemented to spy on rapidly evacuating public housing. Never believing in such a thing as "too many cops," white folks across the country have welcomed the new surveillance, never imagining that it might be used to keep them in place once the classic middle class has been evaporated by an ungrateful ruling class.

Meanwhile, Third World rural populations, either physically or economically coerced off their land, have gathered in astonishing numbers and frightful conditions despite the utter failure of the cities to provide either jobs or income, quite unlike the slums of industrializing Europe or America did. Indeed, in some parts of the world more than 90 percent of the population works - or somehow gets by - in the informal economy. That doesn't mean just doing the same job without paying the taxman. As more and more people compete for the limited jobs, and as more and more people flood into the cities, Third World residents increasingly divide up of existing work into smaller and smaller pieces that provide less and less to live on. Things are changing.

Indeed, in the United States the rise of the racist Minutemen in the age of offshoring and globalization begs the question of whether the tried and true white reactionary tactic of returning the factories and land to white control can even succeed. This despite the nostalgic enthusiasm of the racist militia's boosters, now eagerly spreading their attack into the nation's heartland and day labor centers. Those jobs have left for good and are not coming back. This, combined with the lack of consensus within the capitalist class when it comes to defending the privileges of white workers as a bulwark against revolution (so critical historically to the maintenance of capitalist domination) raises the question about the elite's future commitment to such standard strategies of domination as the cross-class alliance of white supremacy and limited sharing of the imperial largess with the home population, unfairly shared as it is along class, gender and race lines. It may well be that the elite hopes to eliminate many of the economic privileges of whiteness while maintaining the other, less paycheck related advantages. Will the white working class still police the rest with such a reduced deal? Time will tell.

In such a time of transition, when technology is taking on a greater role in the policing of the entire population, we ought not to be surprised to see reciprocity and fluid relationships between scientists, police and the military - both abroad and at home. Thus, LAPD officers train the Iraqi police force and First World militaries train in North American cities for urban warfare. The army deploys microwave weapons for crowd control in Iraq and then sends sonic weapons to New Orleans. This transition from old style divide and rule policing to a broad strategy encompassing all physical and electronic space must necessarily rely on flexibility, increasingly effective projection of force and, most of all, technology. This is especially true in a world dominated by an elite increasingly interested in leaving most of the population not just poor, but destitute and powerless - if not dead.


Thus, we have a recent article from the Christian Science Monitor about the increasing use of unmanned drones by the LA County Sheriff's Department.
It looks like a model plane, and sounds nearly silent. It costs $30,000, and could pay for itself in its first hour of use.

Law-enforcement officials in Los Angeles County, who police 10.5 million people - say it is the future of policing in America.

"It" is a drone. The three-feet-long, remote-controlled airplane with tiny video cameras can fit in a four-inch-diameter tube - and thus in a car trunk, or over the shoulder like a quiver of arrows.

The tiny drone will be able to provide law enforcement officers with a bird's-eye view of just about anything. It's intended to find lost hikers, skiers, surfers, children, elders, and more. It can also be used in hostage situations and other violent standoffs in rural or urban areas and to surveil fleeing crime suspects.
In this piece, and as usual, despite the obvious relationship between the military and drone technology, the reporter reveals his belief in the lie of benevolent technology (not to mention a benevolent police force - a cognative dissonance that in LA must require massive amounts of energy spent on active denial to maintain). And so, when the journalist lists the benefits the technology will bring to the community, notice that he first cites the rescue applications, like finding lost hikers, etc, to which no sane person could possible object, leaving even the oppressive applications for the end. Don't worry. It's all good, the new system's increased reach can save you from yourself even if you go hiking above your skill level.

Interestingly, lacking a class analysis, the critics cited in the article miss the point entirely, focusing on the red herring of privacy rather than focusing on the true, repressive nature of the technology. Thus, critics can express their concern that
"...privacy is fundamentally a right to be let alone and go about your business and daily life without having the government looking over your shoulders. It is as disturbing if they are looking over your shoulder with a drone flying overhead as much as over your shoulder literally."
And to this charge the police and their boosters can quite honestly respond that
"This is intended for search and rescue, quick deployment during a fast-moving fire, or even a post-Katrina search operation," says Sam de la Torre, the SkySeer's developer. He notes that anything the SkySeer can see is permitted under current federal and state laws regarding helicopter surveillance. "We are not going to be looking in back windows and invading privacy. We are going to be trying to save lives," he says.
Now, of course, we all know that the police will "mis-use" drones, just as they "mis-use" other technologies, however, that really misses the point. As the same article reports,
Because of their portability and versatility, drones could become indispensable tools for the sheriff's department activities after testing resumes possibly within a couple weeks or September at the latest, according to officials.
The point of these technologies is what they bring to the table in terms of increasing the power of the police to defend the privilege and power of the elite class, not the aberrational violations of privacy (as bad as those are). We must not make "exceptional" or "bad apple" arguments about technology any more than we make them about police. Technology, like police, operates both within the system and as a force on the system at the same time, but it is directed by and in defense of the ruling class.


Because, the fact is, the elite understand exactly what the LA Times reported Monday about that neighborhood near the Rampart Division.
The real estate he's referring to is South Los Angeles, an area singled out last week by a blue-ribbon panel as a deeply troubled hot spot where tensions between residents and police run so high that civil unrest could erupt at any time.

"It's hanging by a thread," said civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who spearheaded the panel's examination of the LAPD's Rampart Division scandal. "I would not be surprised if something were to blow there this summer."
According to the report by Rice and the panel, a dangerous combination of factors makes that section of the city volatile: It includes poor, disenfranchised neighborhoods that feel victimized by gangs, drugs and the police who are supposed to protect them, and a "thin blue line" of officers who face life-threatening dangers as they try to keep peace with limited resources.

"These are not just underclass poverty descriptors," warned the Rampart report, "these are the trigger conditions for the city's next riot."
Similar conditions prevail in Mumbai, where police recently rounded up 300 residents of the Naya Nagar slums of Mahim for questioning about the Mumbai commuter train attacks. Firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's base of support is the Sadr slum, home to 2 million residents, and a vicious battleground against imperialism and indigenous rivals. Finding their options limited, the slums are fighting back, targeting systems through decentralized resistance and terrorism, from Sadr City to the Niger Delta. Faced with the impossibility of challenging the world's empires and states on the battlefield, they have increasingly engaged in net-war - a run, strike and hide attack on systems with systems disruption as its goal.

With social and economic stratification only likely to increase, and with net-war revealing the empire's vulnerable soft underbelly paradoxically exposed everywhere, it's no coincidence that, aside from investing in more police, agencies are investing heavily in new technologies that they hope will close the gaps and place every physical and electronic space under at least potential - and ideally perpetual - surveillance at all times.

It only took London police five days to track down surveillance camera images of the four alleged bombers, also employing a netwar systems attack against the London transportation system (probably in collaboration with elements within the security services itself). Next time will take much less. Police appealed in the early days for citizens to turn in cell phone images that might reveal the bombers identities. Indeed, cell phone video of the attacks appeared very early on the internet and television. The new technological police state is intended to be everywhere at all times, even if the only enforcer is a citizen with a cell phone.

Thus, seeing into the future, New York Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly can say without a hint of a contradiction on the New York Police Foundation website,
"Overall crime rates are at their lowest level in forty years. At the same time, the Police Department faces unprecedented demands since September 11th with the threat of global terrorism. Defending the City from this persistent threat, while continuing to combat conventional crime, will require major investments in technology and equipment."
In a seeming contradiction, although present crime rates are down, the need for police technology somehow has increased? Like the global collapse in general, this dichotomy only makes sense if we realize that the elite class and their police protectors are looking to the future - a dead-end future - in which the exploited classes have even more reason to revolt. After all, while a dialectic between the exploited and their exploiters surely exists, the rich, the bureaucrats and their police thugs are the architects of the new world; as revolutionaries, we would be wise to look closely at their plans and not chalk up every apparent failure of the system to incompetence or short-term selfishness. After all, we anarchists know that the system delivers largely as intended and that democratic capitalism is not a sufficient answer to the problems we face today.

So it should be no surprise that the Feds have stepped up in a major way with massive subsidies for police department technology acquisitions. The elite has a vision, and they recognize that it requires massive investments in technology to come true. Anarchists would do well to put technology squarely on the table for deep analysis and criticism - not just as a elite tool open to potential abuse, but as something fundamentally in opposition to human freedom and any project of revolution. Failure to do so risks also failing to understand the way that power will be projected in the future, and that can only contribute to defeat for the working class in our struggle to overthrow the capitalist and bureaucratic class, substituting in its place a world of equality and freedom.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Ruling Class Loves Terrorism So Much They Married It

In their article for the New York Times ("Tracing Plots, British Watch, Then Pounce") Philip Shenon and Neil A. Lewis report on the differing methods and styles employed by British and American police agencies in monitoring, detecting and breaking up supposed terror cells.
The disclosure that British officials conducted months of surveillance before arresting 24 terrorism suspects this week highlighted what many terrorism specialists said was a central difference between American and British law enforcement agencies.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said, “Our philosophy is that we try to identify plots in the earliest stages possible because we don’t know what we don’t know about a terrorism plot.” One of the reasons for the different strategies, according to the piece, is that the Brits benefit from "a greater store of foreign-language speakers, giving British authorities greater ability to infiltrate conspiracy groups."

However, some report a growing shift in American surveillance policy.
John O. Brennan, a former official of the Central Intelligence Agency who set up the government’s National Counterterrorism Center two years ago, said in an interview that he had been involved in a number of recent cases — most of them still classified — in which the F.B.I. had placed suspected terrorists under surveillance rather than rounding them up.
Brennan said that "...over the past two years, I think the bureau has become much more adept at allowing these operations to run and monitor them.”

The recent arrest of seven alleged terror suspects in Florida would suggest as much. The Feds worked an informant into the supposed cell, going so far as to misrepresent himself as an al-Qaeda operative and finally suggesting the plot itself. When agents made their raid, they turned up no bomb and little in the way of evidence.

According to the LA Times,
The indictment suggested they never came in contact with anyone from Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. The only materials they received during the seven months they were monitored by an undercover informant appear to have been six pairs of boots and use of a digital video camera.

"You want to go and disrupt cells like this before they acquire the means to accomplish their goals," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said at the federal courthouse in Miami, flanked by two dozen federal, state, county and local officials involved in disrupting the alleged plot.
Disrupting or creating? In an age in which terrorism has become in many ways the foundational myth of the post-9/11 era propagated by the American and British ruling classes, we ought to be very skeptical of police agencies claims of disrupting terror cells. Said another way, what may appear in one light to be the infiltration for purposes of disruption may in fact be infiltration for the purpose of propagating terrorism and, with it, the logic of ruling class domination.

Take, for instance, the story that broke in August 2001 detailing the infiltration by British agents of Real IRA bomb cells. British agents, it turned out, were integrally involved in the plot. According to the Scotland Sunday Herald,
Security forces didn't intercept the Real IRA's Omagh bombing team because one of the terrorists was a British double-agent whose cover would have been blown as an informer if the operation was uncovered.

The security forces were forced to hope that their agent would provide them with intelligence to ensure that the bomb would go off without casualties. In the event, due to blundered telephone warnings, 29 people died on August 15 1998.
But it wasn't the first time that British security forces had been involved in terrorism against the British people. The Times of London reported in March that in the 1990's the British police agency, MI5 (with help from the CIA), provided the IRA with "detonators, later used by terrorists to murder soldiers and police officers."

The infiltrator, Kevin Fulton, spent more than a decade in the IRA, building bombs and participating in assassinations for them.
Fulton, a married Catholic now in his forties, was serving in the army when he was recruited by military intelligence to infiltrate the IRA. He later worked for the Force Research Unit, a covert branch of the Intelligence Corps set up to infiltrate paramilitary groups.

For 13 years Fulton was an IRA terrorist, involved first in courier runs, later as a driver and enforcer, and finally as a master bomb-maker in a unit in Newry, Co Down, credited with numerous advances in explosive technologies. “I was recruited as a serving British soldier,” he said. “I was in the Royal Irish Rangers. I agreed to go into the IRA as a soldier.”

Security sources have said Fulton was implicated in numerous bombings and shootings, allegations on which he declines to comment. He has said his handlers knew the nature of his role but ignored his warnings of forthcoming bomb attacks, including the Omagh atrocity, which killed 29 people in 1998.
This last point is interesting, because it offers us a glimpse into the shadowy world where counter-terrorism and terrorism merge and which ought to give us pause whenever officials trot out allegations of terrorism or supposed successful disruptions of terrorist cells. Neither may be what it seems.

The line between disruption and enabling is a thin one, often crossed by police agencies operating in the murky and very political world of terrorism and counter-terrorism. As Fulton himself told the Times, "You cannot pretend to be a terrorist. I had to be able to do the exact same thing as the IRA man next to me. Otherwise I wouldn’t be there.”

The Fulton case provides evidence of infiltration by security forces that, while under the guise of disruption, in fact represents state-sponsored terrorism, or what intelligence agencies call "false flag operations" - the carrying out of terrorist acts by the state in the name of official enemies for the purposes of political control, manipulation or discrediting opponents.

As for the bomb technology Fulton provided the IRA? Later, it passed into the hands of Iraqi insurgents who, ironically, used it to bomb British troops occupying Southern Iraq. According to the Independent:
The soldiers, who were targeted by insurgents as they travelled through the country, died after being attacked with bombs triggered by infra-red beams. The bombs were developed by the IRA using technology passed on by the security services in a botched "sting" operation more than a decade ago.

This contradicts the British government's claims that Iran's Revolutionary Guard is helping Shia insurgents to make the devices [my emphasis].

The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that the bombs and the firing devices used to kill the soldiers, as well as two private security guards, were initially created by the UK security services as part of a counter-terrorism strategy at the height of the troubles in the early 1990s.

According to security sources, the technology for the bombs used in the attacks, which were developed using technology from photographic flash units, was employed by the IRA some 15 years ago after Irish terrorists were given advice by British agents.
While we're at it, it's worth remembering a story that seems to have been forgotten by the major media, all too eager to repeat uncritically the latest government pronouncements on terrorism. In September 2005, Iraqi police arrested two undercover British agents, dressed as Arabs and driving a car filled with explosives and weapons.

What were they doing there? Given the British history we have discussed above, there is reason to be skeptical, especially given the determination the British showed in retrieving them from the local hoosgow, raiding the jail with dozens of tanks and hundreds of troops. One month later, the senior British military police officer charged with the investigation was found hanged in his room. The British appear to have been running a false flag operation aimed at implicating the Iranian government in terrorist operations in Basra.

But we've seen this in the US as well. Looking back at the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, it's worth remembering that Feds had an infiltrator in that cell as well. Their man, Emad A. Salem, was employed by the agency allegedly to keep tabs on the group. At least some sections of the FBI were aware of the plot to bomb the tower and at one point, Salem was supposed to substitute a harmless powder for the explosives. However, at the last minute, a new FBI supervisor came on the scene and blocked the action, thus allowing the plan to go forward "live" with tragic results.

Unknown to his FBI handlers, Mr. Salem, an Egyptian immigrant, secretly recorded many of his conversations with agents. Writing in the New York Times, Ralph Blumenthal quotes Salem saying to an agent, "Do you deny your supervisor is the main reason of bombing the World Trade Center? We was handling the case perfectly well until the supervisor came and messed it up, upside down."

Blumenthal cites transcripts of the conversations Salem had, which were entered as evidence in the WTC bombing trial. In this section, he is talking to an Agent Floyd about his frustration at having his warnings ignored, which he felt was directly responsible for the success of the bombing.
"Since the bomb went off I feel terrible. I feel bad. I feel here is people who don't listen." Ms. Floyd seems to commiserate, saying, "hey, I mean it wasn't like you didn't try and I didn't try."

In an apparent reference to Mr. Salem's complaints about the supervisor, Agent Floyd adds, "You can't force people to do the right thing."
Indeed, there are patterns that often emerge in large terrorist operations like these, and bureaucratic and seemingly unexplainable roadblocking is one that recurs again and again. Is it a case of incompetence, or is it something more sinister? Knowing what we know about the history of intelligence service-sponsored terrorism, there is certainly at least cause to doubt government claims of vast al-Qaeda networks of terror bent on complicated and spectacular acts of terrorism. At least some government involvement seems obvious in many of these crimes.

Of course, more likely it is a case of overlapping interests. No doubt Britain, for instance, is a hotbed for jihadist sentiment. Intelligence services for years have been referring to London derogatively as "Londonistan" because of the prevalance and British support for Islamic militant groups in the city. Interviewed after the September 11th attacks on Al-Jazeera by a BBC reporter, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi put it this way:
QADAFFI: (Qatar, Tripoli, October 25, 2001)

"I am actually puzzled. I mean, if America were serious about eliminating terrorism, the first capital it should rock with cruise missiles is LONDON."




London. It is the center of terrorism. It gives safehousing to the terrorists. I mean, as long as America does not bomb London, I think the US is not serious... London is far more dangerous than Kabul. How could it rock Kabul with missiles and leave London untouched?
In an Washington Post article Sunday, writers Kevin Sullivan and Joshua Partlow report that
Britain's long tradition of tolerance has made it an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world, with its large influx of Pakistanis and other Muslims leading to the nickname Londonistan. Especially during the 1980s and 1990s, Britain became the refuge of choice for scores of Islamic radicals who had been expelled or exiled from their home countries for their inflammatory sermons and speeches.

More than any other country in Europe, Britain is struggling to cope with a surge in recruits and supporters of radical Islamic networks, according to interviews with British Muslims, and European and British counterterrorism officials and analysts. Officials said the threat is growing much faster than British authorities had expected or planned for.

"The U.K. is at the forefront of the wrath of extremists," said Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism researcher for the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.

The British security service, known as MI5, disclosed last month that it had about 1,200 Islamic militants under surveillance who were considered capable of carrying out violent attacks. Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch, said police were engaged in 70 separate terrorism investigations, the most ever. "This is unprecedented and the flow of new cases shows no sign of abating," Clarke said. "If anything, it is accelerating."
Like many countries in the region, Britain has failed to deliver on it's promises to immigrant and British Muslims.
Despite the prosperity of some Muslims, statistics released by the government earlier this year showed that unemployment rates were higher among Muslims than for any other religion. Among Muslims aged 16 to 24, almost 28 percent were unemployed, compared with about 12 percent of Britons overall in that age group. Many here argue that isolation and disenchantment among young Muslims provides a fertile environment for extremist groups recruiting new members.
Further, the special policing focus on the community has bred further resentment and disillusionment with British society.
Still, many young Muslims believe they have been unfairly targeted by police. Scotland Yard released statistics on Friday showing that 1,047 people had been arrested under the Terrorism Act between September 2001 and the end of June. Of those, only 158 were eventually charged with offenses covered by the law. Officials did not say how many of those arrested were Muslims. But Muslim officials have complained that the vast majority of those arrested were Muslims, and that the low number of people charged suggests that most of the arrests were unwarranted.

Many Muslims have been especially skeptical of the police since last summer, when officers shot and killed an innocent Brazilian electrician they mistook for a terrorism suspect. Then in June, police conducted a massive raid in the Forest Gate neighborhood of East London and arrested two brothers they suspected of preparing a chemical attack on London. Police shot one of the brothers during the raid and later released the men with an apology, saying officers had acted on incorrect intelligence.

In East London on Friday, many people said that the police track record made them skeptical that the 23 suspects still in custody were guilty. "They said this was intelligence-driven and we have seen intelligence of the British," said Hamza Qureshi, 20, a student.
There is no doubt that London, for a variety of reasons, has become fertile ground for jihadist ideas. Interestingly, the Sunday Mirror reported on the 13th of August that one of the alleged plane bomb plotters had been the victim of a brutal racist attack in the months before his arrest in which the perpetrators were never apprehended. His neighbor, Akin Salusu is quoted saying, "Shamin was very down after the incident. He became very close to his religion."

Still, the question remains, to what extent are British intelligence services actively manipulating and infiltrating such cells - and to what ends? Are the alleged bombers sophisticated plotters or manipulated patsies? We know, for instance, that the alleged mastermind of the London bus and subway bombings of 7/7, Haroon Rashid Aswat, was a British MI6 asset, who was under their protection for some time. And it seems clear that there was at least some police collaboration in those attacks, which shouldn't be very controversial since it's consistent with past operations. The hard to believe coincidence of terrorism drills running on the London subway on the very same day, at the very same time and running an almost carbon copy scenario of what actually happened, combined with the strange police manipulation of bus number 30 raises more than a few questions.

The man named by police as the alleged mastermind of the newest plane plot, Matti-ur-Rehman, was reported by the Sunday Mirror "to have a 'Rolodex of terror' containing details of tens of thousands jihadi fighters who have passed through al-Qaeda's training camps in the region." Given those kinds of connections, and using the case of Aswat as a precedent, one wouldn't really be going out on a limb to suggest that such a Rolodex would include British MI5 and MI6 agents.

After all, British operational co-operation with al-Qaeda was as recent as the attack on Serbia and the enlistment of al-Qaeda support for the Muslim Kosovo Liberation Army. Writing in 2003 for AsiaTimes.com, K Gajendra Singh said that
[t]he Jerusalem Post reported in 1998 that KLA members, like the Bosnian Muslims earlier, were "provided with financial and military support from Islamic countries", and had been "bolstered by hundreds of Iranian fighters or mujahideen ... [some of whom] were trained in Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan".
The SF Chronicle reported in July 2004 on the rise of militant Islam in Britain and the potential for police collaboration on shared goals.
Syrian-born Bakri, whose group's Web site often carries statements purportedly by Osama bin Laden and advocates support for al Qaeda activities, has lived in Britain since 1985, after being deported from Saudi Arabia. Police and intelligence organizations number his adherents between 300 and 800. He has bragged about recruiting young Muslim men to fulfill "religious obligations" by doing three months "military training" in such battle zones as Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Balkans. Since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, he has named British Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair as "legitimate targets."

Bakri claims the protection of a "covenant of security" under which he is left alone as long as he does not sanction attacks on British soil. Security forces deny that such an arrangement exists.
It's hard for us to say whether such an agreement actually exists - or whether it perhaps exists with some sections of the intelligence service but not others - but it wouldn't be terribly outside the realm of historical precedent. After all, according to the old saying, "Britain supports all revolutions except her own." As in the case of Haroon Rashid Aswat, the relationships for co-operation existed in this case between British intelligence and Al-Qaeda. One of the alleged wannabe bombers worked at Heathrow Airport, a job that required police clearance.

The Sunday Mirror reports that British MI5 agents did a secret "sneak and peak" break in at one of the homes of the most recent alleged plotters ten days before the arrests.
Using lock-picks, the spooks carried out the extraordinary "sneak and peek" raid. They found liquid explosives and detonators and false-bottomed bottles in a shed at one of the London addresses.

The agents then retreated, leaving no evidence of the break-in. But they were convinced the would-be bombers were serious about their plan to blow up nine planes, so they left hidden listening devices to gather vital evidence and MI5 upped their surveillance operation.
Of course, one doesn't have to be a conspiracy nut to realize that a sneak and peak can just as easily plant evidence as document or remove it. Remembering that the Feds in the WTC plot of 1993 had originally planned to swap out explosives ought to remind us that police agencies at least consider such operations. It is interesting that despite the sneak and peak at this point we still have not been told about the exact type of explosives the bombers planned to use. It might be worth remembering the arrest not so long ago of several Canadian Muslims in a RCMP terror sting. It turned out that the explosives - several tons of fertilizer - had been provided by the government through an informant planted in the group.

Indeed, while a NBC report on August 13th provides further cause for skepticism, it also sheds some futher light on the different strategies used by American and British agencies.
A senior British official knowledgeable about the case said British police were planning to continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence, while American officials pressured them to arrest the suspects sooner. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the case.

In contrast to previous reports, the official suggested an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some did not even have passports.

The source did say, however, that police believe one U.K.-based suspect was ready to conduct a "dry run." British authorities had wanted to let him go forward with part of the plan, but the Americans balked.
Which raises the question, were the Brits really intending to break up the cell, thus preventing the attack? Or was their wait and see attitude perhaps more darkly motivated? Certainly, given what we know about past British police agencies' complicity in domestic terrorism there is fair reason for skepticism.

Was the plot a genuine manifestation of the political and social situation in Britain? Or were state security forces manipulating the group, either hoping the attack would take place or, as in the case of the arrests in Florida and Canada, so that the government could "foil it" at a time of their choosing, thus reminding us of the ongoing war on terror, our continuing vulnerability and, therefore, the continuing validity of the 9/11 myth and the need for the elite's police state.

Indeed, it wasn't long after the bust that Bush trotted out that old familiar mantra in his radio address on Sunday:
"This plot is further evidence that the terrorists we face are sophisticated and constantly changing their tactics. We must never make the mistake of thinking the danger of terrorism has passed. This week's experience reminds us of a hard fact - the terrorists have to succeed only once to achieve their goal of mass murder, while we have to succeed every time to stop them."
The Democrats quickly chimed in with their uncritical support. Echoing the President's words, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor spoke for the party in their weekly radio broadcast.
"My fellow Democrats and I believe our government must do more to protect Americans at home and around the world. We also understand there is no time to waste. Five years after 9/11, our country is not as safe as it needs to be or should be. More needs to be done."
Clearly, whatever the case, the elite class has wedded itself to terrorism as the defining element of the 21st century and the key to their ongoing power. It's usefulness to them is broad, spanning policing, white supremacy, jingoism, ongoing war, imperialism and technological development, among others. It's not too far of a leap to believe that under those conditions they would actively support its growth.

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