Tag Archives: CIA

What’s another weasel word for ‘waterboarding’?


Oh, Dick Cheney; God, love you, man.

At least, you’d better hope the Almighty has a soft spot in his eternal, cosmic heart for ilk such as yours.

Down here, on planet Earth, we mortals wrote you off at about the time you insisted that forcibly pouring water down someone’s throat to the point of nearly asphyxiating him was not torture.

Indeed, you sly dog, you casually observed it was merely an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Why, it happens all the time. Right? Move along people; nothing to see here.

Earlier this week, the former vice president of the United States in the George W. Bush administrations of 2000-04 and 2004-08 (the world’s very own, live-action Darth Vader-Emperor Palpatine dynamic duo of the early 21st century) was at it again, defending, on major news programs in the United States, the indefensible.

Lending a hand to congressional Republicans in a co-ordinated attack on a scathing report by Senate Democrats on the CIA’s predilection for torturing people it suspected of being terrorists in the years following the 9/11 attacks on lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C., Cheney declared, “I would do it again in a minute.”

Naturally, he denied that what American intelligence officials were authorized to do to its detainees and prisoners constituted anything like torture, a claim that is almost as risible as his own definition: “Torture is what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

There they are again, three of the ugliest weasel words of the modern age: enhanced interrogation techniques. The intelligence community, ever up for a twisted joke, actually slaps an acronym on them (EITs) as if to further distance the practices to which they refer from what regular folks generally understand to be torture

According to information contained in a 2005 Justice Department memo, obtained by The Associated Press last week, “EITs” included: abdominal slaps, attention grasps, cramped confinement, dietary manipulation, facial holds, facial slaps, insult slaps, forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall standing, wall slamming, water dousing and, of course, everybody’s favorite, waterboarding.”

None of which gave Cheney pause to reflect when he was in office; it still doesn’t.

During one news program on which he appeared, he seemed genuinely unfazed by a section of the Senate report which described the mistaken identity of a man who subsequently died at the hands of his interrogators:

“The problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end(ed) up back on the battlefield,” he said.

When pressed about findings indicating that as many as 25 per cent of those who were detained were innocent, he said, “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent. . .I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.”

And how did that work out for him?

According to the current director of the CIA, EITs didn’t actually get the job done as Cheney and his pals like to claim. At a press conference convened at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, last week, John Brennan stated: “Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”

“But,” he said (and it’s a mighty big but), “let me be  clear. . .We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees.”

In other words, “the cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is, in my view, unknowable.”

In fact, The Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper reported this week “More than a decade (ago). . .the U.S. military’s top lawyers were warning that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were legally questionable, likely ineffectual and could expose American troops to criminal prosecution and torture at the hands of their own captors,”

So, then, the CIA’s EITs quite probably violated several specific human rights and, what’s more, they didn’t work.

Would it, I wonder, torture the world’s news media to turn their collective back the next time Dick Cheney comes running for an interview?

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The banality of evil is alive and well in the “civilized” world


The casual brutality with which man treats his fellow man is nowhere near as surprising as is the astonishment with which so-called polite society greets the news of such ritualistic barbarism.

Torture is, after all, a bestial remnant of humanity’s atavistic past. Is it not? And where it still occurs in the world’s dark enclaves, where fanaticism festers and seeps like an infected wound, surely civilized principles of democracy, justice, faith and moral rectitude will soon ride like horsemen of the apocalypse to smite the villains where they stand.

Certainly, it can’t happen here. “Canada,” Foreign Minister John Baird declares with all the certitude of a specimen of the most evolved species on the planet, “does not torture.”

Perhaps not, but members of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency – whose religious, educational and social pedigrees do not stray far from Mr. Baird’s, or, for that matter anybody else’s in this country – most assuredly have. And, according to findings released last week by the American Senate Committee on Intelligence, they have done so with relish.

According to a Global News synopsis, gleaned from the 500-page executive summary of the Committee’s 6,000-page report, CIA operatives routinely deployed despicable tactics to extract information from the detainees and often undocumented prisoners in their clutches in the years following the 9/11 attacks against New York and Washington, D.C..

These measures, Global reports, included: “Rectal rehydration, a form of feeding through the rectum” for which “the report found no medical necessity; ice baths; water boarding; weeks of sleep deprivation; slapping and slamming of detainees against walls; confining detainees to small boxes; keeping detainees isolated for prolonged periods (i.e. 47 days in one case); threatening prisoners with death or by telling them their families would suffer, including harm to their children, sexual abuse of the mother of one man and cutting the throat of another man’s mother.”

The news swept through the world so rapidly, so remorselessly, that the U.S. government ordered all of its embassies and consulates on high alert, for fear of reprisals.

Meanwhile the Democratic chair of the intelligence committee, Senator Diane Feinstein, had this to say: “History will judge us by our commitment to a just society, government by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.'”

Where have we heard that before?

The wretched truth is that, for years, all media, everywhere – apart from Fox News, of course – have reported the awful abuses of the past several years. Till now, officialdom’s response has been to deny, deflect and distract, feeding successfully into the general public’s determination to keep its head firmly planted in the sand. Among those who allowed that such interrogation practices probably comprised standard operating procedure during the George W. Bush era, the compelling argument was that if they saved even one innocent life from terror, they were justified.

In fact, though, according to the Committee report, they haven’t and, so, weren’t.

Indeed, no credible evidence indicates that the torture of one, or many, ever averted organized predations on hapless citizens of any country. Tragically, such gruesome methods  just might have inspired them.

So, then, whose terror-filled lives are we gamely facilitating, anyway?

Predictably, U.S. President Barack Obama praises with one fork of his tongue the “patriots” in his intelligence community to whom, he insists, his nation “owes a profound debt of gratitude,” and with the other fork abjures: “What is clear is that the CIA set up something very fast without a lot of forethought to what the ramifications might be. . .Some of these techniques that were described were not only wrong, but also counterproductive because we know that oftentimes when somebody is being subjected to these kinds of techniques, that they are willing to say anything to alleviate the pain.”

Spoken like a true technocrat.

Shall we willingly forget that treating people in this way makes monsters of us all? Shall we ignore the slippery slope that delivers our righteous ambitions into the pit of our barbarity?

What price do we, in our comfortable lives, pay when we manifest surprise at the depth of our own depravity?

Not my business, we say.

Sorry, fellow animal; but, again, nothing could be further from the truth.

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New shenanigans for spy versus spy



Leave it to a once and likely future candidate for leader of the free world to admit what was previously inadmissible in polite company. Yes, Virginia, the world is full of creeps, spooks and spies, and we here in the West employ a goodly number of them.

This, from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel last week: “I don’t want to give a general answer (about the morality of international spying). There’s so much that goes on in intelligence circles. If we were to say no, under no circumstances, that you shouldn’t do that to us, we shouldn’t do that to you, what if a circumstance arises where it is conceivable that it would be in your interest and ours?” 

Furthermore, she said: “The United States could never enter into a No-Spy agreement with any country – not you, not Britain, not Canada.”

Mrs. Clinton made her remarks just as German officials ousted the CIA’s super-secretive station chief from his (or her) digs in Berlin. According to a BBC report last week, “The German government has ordered the expulsion of (the) official. . .in response to two cases of alleged spying by the US. The official is said to have acted as a CIA contact at the US embassy, reports say, in a scandal that has infuriated German politicians. A German intelligence official was arrested last week on suspicion of spying.

An inquiry has also begun into a German defence ministry worker, reports said.”

 In fact, nowadays, it is inconceivable that even friendly nations will resist the temptation to snoop in each other’s sock drawers and medicine cabinets. According to some research – and thanks to the timely revelations of former National Security Administration (NSA) operative Edward Snowden – since the end of the Cold War, spying hasn’t been declining, as one might reasonably expect. It’s been on the rise.   

“Hacking for espionage purposes is sharply increasing, with groups or national governments from Eastern Europe playing a growing role, according to one of the most comprehensive annual studies of computer intrusions,” Reuters reported from San Francisco last month. “Spying intrusions traced back to any country in 2013 were blamed on residents of China and other East Asian nations 49 per cent of the time, but Eastern European countries, especially Russian-speaking nations, were the suspected launching site for 21 per cent of breaches, Verizon Communications Inc. said in its annual Data Breach Investigations Report.”

How worried should we be about our own, personal information? Surveillance experts routinely dismiss public concerns about the electronic sieves through which choice tidbits of individual identities pour. There’s now so much information floating around in cyberspace, they argue, that the odds of any one hapless schlub falling prey to Internet evil-doers are far greater than ever before.

That’s cold comfort, however, when we are also confronted with headlines like this one in Friday’s Globe and Mail: “Ethical concerns raised by workers at spy agency.”

Apparently, workers at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) – this country’s version of the NSA – are more than a little disturbed by the conduct of some of their colleagues and supervisors. Indeed, reports the Globe, “some have also tried to blow the whistle about ‘improper contractor security screening’, questionable contractor invoicing’, ‘unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information’, and ‘con-compliance with CSEC’s values’.” 

Meanwhile, the institutional hunt for better and greater sources of personal information continues unabated. Now, Statistics Canada wants people to fork over their Social Insurance Numbers as it tries to improve the accuracy and relevance of the data it collects. “The agency is trying to find out if people will reveal a key identifier they’ve been so often warned to protect,” a Canadian Press story observes.

Of course, back in 2011, the federal government’s privacy hawks abolished the mandatory long-form census, claiming it poked its nose in where it didn’t belong. Evidently immune to irony, Ian Macredie, a former StatsCan paper-pusher, told the CP, “We may have a population that, because of the (U.S.) National Security Administration, has a heightened awareness of Big Brother collecting data about us.”

Sure we do. These days, all of our creeps, spooks and spies hide in plain sight.


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Who’s your daddy, now?

Hello Big Daddy!

If we read our digital propaganda correctly, then we should all be over the moon after learning that a fresh day dawns on the global circuitry that tracks our every move, intentions and even aspirations.

Welcome, fellow plebes, to the era of big claims and big mouths – to the age of ‘Big Daddy’ (also known as Big Data), with all of its magnificent liens on our vanishing sense of privacy.

Mindless of any threat, existential or otherwise, Big Daddy’s acolytes were front and centre-stage this week in Saint John extolling the virtues of collecting, parsing, analyzing, and recruiting – in the service of capitalist enterprises and nosey governments – our personal information.

On the occasion of Big Data Congress II in New Brunswick’s port city, local show promoter Marc Fraser (executive vice-president of T4G) effused, “It’s about the phenomena that we have here in Atlantic Canada, which is being able to continually punch above our weight when it comes to technical capability and entrepreneurial capability.”

Not ready to be outmatched in the time-honoured craft of cliche production (reader note: no big data required for that particular exercise) T4G’s president Geoff Flood offered this bromide: “It’s all about understanding the opportunity to use Big Data to change the world, improve businesses and build opportunities right here.”

Not for nothing, but who are they kidding?

The phrase, ‘Big Data’, has been slinking around the edges of the Internet since before the George W. Bush administration declared war on the wrong Middle Eastern country in 2003 (thank you Big-Daddy CIA and NSA miners for completely missing the point of your 15 minutes of fame).

The fact is almost no one knows what to do with these petabytes of information on everything from my ridiculous love affair with slim jeans readily available at the Moncton outlet of The Gap to ex-spy-in-exile Edward Snowdon’s rather more substantial revelations about spooks, creeps and authorized assassins of world peace.

Still, the official, meaningless bafflegab spills from the mouths of the babes we elect to purportedly represent us with, at least, some modicum of intelligent reflection. Oh dear, what was that you were saying Premier David Alward to Big Daddy Congress Part Deux the other night? Something about “collaboration and co-ordination”, perhaps?

As it happens, that’s the last thing your audience wants. And unless you’ve figured out a way to use Big Data to rescue the province from its impending fiscal doom, it’s the last thing you should want either.

In fact, there is almost nothing about this phenomenon – this gargantuan belch of information collected and floating in the electronic stratosphere – that lends itself to fair, egalitarian or democratic purpose.

“Big data. It’s the latest IT buzzword, and it isn’t hard to see why,” writes John Jordan in an October 2013 edition of the Wall Street Journal. “The ability to parse more information, faster and deeper, is allowing companies, governments, researchers and others to understand the world in a way they could only dream about before.”

But, he says, (and it’s a big but), “Big data. . .introduces high stakes to the data-analytics game. There’s a greater potential for privacy invasion, greater financial exposure in fast-moving markets, greater potential for mistaking noise for true insight, and a greater risk of spending lots of money and time chasing poorly defined problems or opportunities. . .Unless we understand, and deal with, these challenges, we risk turning all that data from something that has the potential to enhance our organizations into a diversion, an illusion or a paralyzing turf battle.”

Or worse.

Consider Cindy Waxer’s reporting in Computer World a year ago. “Hip clothing retailer Urban Outfitters is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly violating consumer protection laws by telling shoppers who pay by credit card that they had to provide their ZIP codes – which is not true – and then using that information to obtain the shoppers’ addresses,” she wrote.

“Facebook is often at the center of a data privacy controversy, whether it’s defending its own enigmatic privacy policies or responding to reports that it gave private user data to the National Security Agency (NSA). And the story of how retail behemoth Target was able to deduce that a teenage shopper was pregnant before her father even knew is the stuff of marketing legend.”

Big Daddy, to satisfy your insatiable appetite, how creepy must our lives finally become?

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