TB R News November 10, 2014

Nov 09 2014

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 9, 2014: “A nation in decay can prove to be very dangerous, both to external and internal entities. Having lost its industrial base because American manufacturers moved to cheaper labor areas offshore and did away with American labor, America maintained her global position of power mainly by threats and military actions against weaker countries.

In this, she became like 1914 England who had once been the most powerful nation on earth and was quickly losing her preeminence. Her solution to rising German competition was to connive at a European war that eventually destroyed her.

The United States does not, like England, tolerate competition and so we have the current anti-Russian frenzies in Washington. Russia, under Putin, has developed a strong economy and worse, has a great deal of badly needed oil and gas.

Therefore, Russia is an enemy. Since Russia has an arsenal of atomic weaponry and the ability to deliver these world wide, the United States cannot attack Russia militarily but instead does her best to destabilize her perceived enemy economically and politically.

Unfortunately for those of the rabid right wing who think more threats will gain more power, the focus of power is shifting and not in America’s favor

And what with universal internal spying in progress, there are always entertainments available. When on the telephone system, which is as full of holes as a Swiss cheese, or the equally watched Internet, one can have endless hours of fun and create absolutely great havoc with the spies, snitches and the chimpanzee brigade.
            If you are speaking on the phone you can say:  “Yes, and sometime let me tell you about the last council meeting. The General said that…well I can discuss this with you when we meet…”
And sometimes, a person will give me a code name such as ‘Operation Anus.’
            I have absolutely no idea what this is about but I will drop it into various conversations.
            “Of course if the Putin people ever find out about Operation Anus, there will be real fun.”
             I can just hear the chattering and hooting in some distant headquarters as someone tells an Assistant Deputy Director that Operation Anus might be compromised.
            And count on it, three weeks after you dropped the name, some boobus americanus talks to you and casually asks about the hitherto Top Secret Anus.
            “Oh yes,” you say, “last week the press secretary did spell that one out. Really interesting!”
            And when this bit gets back, frenzy in the baboon house.
            What do you know?
            Who told you?
            Who have you told?
            What press secretary?
            You tell boobus the name of some odious snitch as your source and wait to see what happens.


Russia, Ebola, Nato and propaganda

November 5, 2014

by Brian Cloughley

Asia Times


 Jackson Diehl is deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post and writes foreign affairs’ pieces, so his opinions get around a bit. Four days after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech to the Valdai International Discussion Club on October 24 (in which Putin said he would like the United States to “stay out of our affairs and to stop pretending they rule the world”), Diehl declared that Putin had delivered “a poisonous mix of lies, conspiracy theories and anti-US vitriol”.

Diehl’s pronouncement followed a report in the Washington Post on October 25 that was presumably not intended to be venomousor contributive to conspiracy theories. It was about the allegedly sinister role of Russian research laboratories in the Ebola epidemic and informed us excitedly that:

É at a time when the world is grappling with an unprecedented Ebola crisis, the wall of secrecy surrounding the Russian laboratories looms still larger, arms-control experts say, feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicions.

This was an interesting allegation that was ironically supportive of Putin’s contention that: “Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white.”

His observation is given substance and credibility by recent Western media statements concerning Russian military aircraft operations around Russia’s borders.

Western news headlines on October 30-31 were bizarre and included “Russian Military Flights Increasingly VIOLATING [emphasis added] European Airspace.” Violating” European airspace? Absurd: these aircraft were flying in international airspace. Not one of them infringed for a moment on the sovereignty of one single European country. But the headlines were vivid to the point of fantasy, with one melodramatic offering being “Over a dozen Russian aircraft were caught flying outside the country’s airspace in three different parts of Europe this week, prompting fears of an impending World War 3.”

The fact that US and British intelligence-gathering aircraft fly along Russia’s borders daily, trailing their coats and sending out signals to encourage the engagement and thus detection of Russia’s protective devices is neither here not there, of course. (And China has an even greater problem with US spook aircraft movements close to its shores.)

The Western media, fed by countless anonymous “official sources”, mainly in Washington and London, have enthusiastically seized on the US-led anti-Russia campaign to explore attractive avenues for Russia bashing. Washington’s offensive against Russia was defined by the US president’s antagonistic speech at the UN General Assembly, in which he was uncompromisingly hostile and gave Russia the flat message that there can be no meeting of minds, no negotiations, no discussion of any sort concerning acceptance of Russia as an important nation.

At the end of the Cold War in 1991, most countries in the world, and especially the new Russia, which was struggling to survive economically and socially, imagined that the West – defined as the US, Canada, Britain and much of western Europe – would relax their military posture, which Russia certainly did, cutting its armed forces to a small fraction of their former Soviet size.

But the West had no intention of reducing its military posture. Although there was no threat whatsoever from Russia, which was concentrating on creating and expanding trade and general commercial links with its neighbors, it was decided by the US and its followers to expand the entirely military-oriented North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from 16 to 28 countries.

Russia had no intention of threatening its neighbors, with which it established and continues major trade links, but in 1999 NATO brought in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to the entirely military alliance. Then in 2004 – again without any indication whatever of the slightest Russian threat – NATO expanded even more dramatically, with the addition of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, none of which countries 90% of Americans (or Brits or anyone else) could even point to on a map. They brought in Albania and Croatia in 2009, and sought to include Georgia and Ukraine in order to have NATO forces menace Russia along its entire western border.


It’s worth while reflecting on what NATO is supposed to be about. All NATO countries:

É undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

Which makes one wonder why so many of them, led by the United States, are squaring up to Russia and threatening force over a matter that has nothing whatever to do with them: the shambles in Ukraine.

The United States considers Russia an enemy, and there is no mystery about why its malicious anti-Russia campaign is being waged. It’s because Russia is becoming an even more influential nation. The US considers it important – perhaps vital – that it be prevented from developing as a nation and thus that it must subjected to whatever intrigues can be dreamed up to portray it as an enemy of the free world.

As we have seen from the balanced and entirely truthful columns of the Washington Post, one of the latest maneuvers was an attempt to link Russia with the spread of Ebola, the virus that might become a global epidemic.

On October 24, Russian news agencies reported that “Russia has launched the production of a trial batch of the Ebola vaccine Triazavirin that will be sent to Africa in the coming days for efficiency tests. The vaccine was created by the Ural Biopharmaceutical Technology Center. Tests have shown the vaccine’s high efficiency (70-90%) against various kinds of hemorrhagic fevers, including Marburg fever, which has a close relation to Ebola.”

There we have straight factual reporting of Russia’s contribution to the international effort to counter a horrible disease. (If there were any reports of this in the Western media they were very well hidden. It did appear on one Asian news site.)

But the October 25 Western take on Russia and Ebola by the Washington Post was somewhat different. The WP starts off breathlessly, dramatically informing us that in Russia in 1996 an unidentified woman “was an ordinary lab technician with an uncommonly dangerous assignment: drawing blood from Ebola-infected animals in a secret military laboratory”. But tragically (not that the word was used by the WP), she cut herself and died from possible Ebola infection. The report continues that she “was buried, according to one account, in a ‘sack filled with calcium hypochlorite’, or powdered bleach”. A tale with much detail – but no precision.

The story, by a Joby Warrick, then informs us that “the incident occurred inside a restricted Russian military lab that was once part of the Soviet Union’s biological weapons program. Years ago, the same facility in the Moscow suburb of Sergiev Posad cultivated microbes for use as tools of war. Today, much of what goes on in the lab remains unknown.”

Certainly it does: just as what goes on in research laboratories all over the world “remains unknown”. How many US military research laboratories are open to outside inspection? Or even domestic inspection?

Nevertheless, the Post is politically calcified and industriously indefatigable. “Now,” it declares, “at a time when the world is grappling with an unprecedented Ebola crisis, the wall of secrecy surrounding the [Russian] labs looms still larger, arms-control experts say, feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicions.”

But who is “feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicion”?

Surely the Washington Post would not do anything so shabby and disgraceful as insinuating that Russia is in some fashion responsible for the spread of the Ebola virus by recording that: “The fatal lab accident, and a similar one in 2004, offer a rare glimpse into a 35-year history of Soviet and Russian interest in the Ebola virus.” This is considered sinister because, “Ebola research continued in Ministry of Defense laboratories where it remains largely invisible, despite years of appeals by US officials to allow greater transparency.”

Who were these “US officials”? And what appeals did they make over so many years?

There is littler wonder that President Putin notes:

Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, [to] draw new dividing lines, [to] put together “coalitions” not built for something but directed against someone, anyone É The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this … But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world’s diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals.

NATO’s 28 nations are desperate for a reason to maintain and expand their obsolete alliance, and now that they have been defeated by a bunch of raggy-baggy guerrillas in Afghanistan and have had to leave that chaotic country in an even worse shambles than it was before they arrived, it is essential they find another cause for meddling.

They are ganging up against Russia in the prostituted cause of freedom, and in some weird fashion imagine that their antics are consistent with the NATO Charter “to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

Like the Washington Post and its spiteful anti-Russia Ebola smear-job, NATO’s nations, in the words of Putin, are “increasingly divorced from reality.”

Postscript: The New York Times has joined in the trivial pursuit of Russia-bashing with a November 2 Page One “Special Report” headlined as “Putin’s friend profits in purge of schoolbooks”.

This objective piece informs us that “By the start of the school year, the number of approved textbooks for Russia’s 14 million schoolchildren had been slashed by more than half, threatening the livelihoods of many publishers. But one with close ties to President Vladimir V Putin profited handsomely.” What a tawdry front page revelation for what used to be one of the most important newspapers in the world.

What a pity he didn’t try to spread Ebola, too.


US, NATO say no evidence of new ‘Russian invasion’ of Ukraine

November 8, 2014



Both Pentagon and NATO are aware of a “Russian invasion” rumor produced by Kiev official, but said they have no evidence to back it, instead claiming that Russia again boosted military presence along the border in yet another potentially threatening move.

            On Friday a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, Andrey Lysenko, has announced that Russia has sent 32 tanks, 16 howitzers, 30 trucks of ammunition and three trucks with radar equipment to rebel-held areas – offering no evidence of his claim.

After the news made headlines in the western media, NATO rushed to reassure the press that the alliance was aware and “looking into these reports,” which if confirmed “would be further evidence of Russia’s aggression.”

Speaking to journalists, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby also could not confirm the reports.

“I don’t have any independent operational reporting that would be able to confirm that report that these formations have crossed the border,” Kirby said.

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov also confirmed that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, adding that “even Jen Psaki said that the US State Department has no information about it.”

After a meeting with the US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, Lavrov reiterated that “the ceasefire agreement was signed between the militias and the government of Ukraine, and they need to complete this process.”

Yet both the US and NATO have tried to save face claiming, that even though reports have yet to be verified, Russia is still guilty of building troops along the 2,295-kilometer border.

“What we do see is a continued presence of significantly capable and ready Russian battalion tactical groups right across that border. And they are close. And they are very capable,” Kirby added.

“We can confirm a recent increase in Russian troops and equipment along the eastern border of Ukraine,” RT was told in an official statement, attributed to a NATO military officer. “These vehicles appear to be unmanned, but represent a potential for significant reinforcement of heavy weapons to the Russian backed separatists.”

What the US and NATO also agree on is that Russia is somehow destabilizing the situation.

“Russia continues to demonstrate its lack of regard for international agreements and its determination to further destabilize Ukraine,” NATO said, while Kirby concurred saying “they are doing nothing to decrease the tension.”

The accusations of Russia’s “provocative” deployment of additional troops along its border with Ukraine provoked a sarcastic response from the Russian Defense Ministry, which said any concerns should better be addressed to those producing the rumors, rather than to Russia.

“All such provocative ‘reports’ aimed at further escalating the tension over the civil conflict in southeast Ukraine have a single source. The source is not Ukrainian, although it currently operates from one of the governmental buildings in Kiev,” the statement said, apparently alluding to the heavy presence of American personnel in the Ukrainian Security Service.


Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault

The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin

by John J. Mearsheimer

 According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.

But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine — beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 — were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.

Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly. Elites in the United States and Europe have been blindsided by events only because they subscribe to a flawed view of international politics. They tend to believe that the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century and that Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.

But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant — and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border. Now that the consequences have been laid bare, it would be an even greater mistake to continue this misbegotten policy.

U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border.




As the Cold War came to a close, Soviet leaders preferred that U.S. forces remain in Europe and NATO stay intact, an arrangement they thought would keep a reunified Germany pacified. But they and their Russian successors did not want NATO to grow any larger and assumed that Western diplomats understood their concerns. The Clinton administration evidently thought otherwise, and in the mid-1990s, it began pushing for NATO to expand.

The first round of enlargement took place in 1999 and brought in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The second occurred in 2004; it included Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Moscow complained bitterly from the start. During NATO’s 1995 bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, for example, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said, “This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders. … The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe.” But the Russians were too weak at the time to derail NATO’s eastward movement — which, at any rate, did not look so threatening, since none of the new members shared a border with Russia, save for the tiny Baltic countries.

Then NATO began looking further east. At its April 2008 summit in Bucharest, the alliance considered admitting Georgia and Ukraine. The George W. Bush administration supported doing so, but France and Germany opposed the move for fear that it would unduly antagonize Russia. In the end, NATO’s members reached a compromise: the alliance did not begin the formal process leading to membership, but it issued a statement endorsing the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and boldly declaring, “These countries will become members of NATO.”

Moscow, however, did not see the outcome as much of a compromise. Alexander Grushko, then Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, “Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security.” Putin maintained that admitting those two countries to NATO would represent a “direct threat” to Russia. One Russian newspaper reported that Putin, while speaking with Bush, “very transparently hinted that if Ukraine was accepted into NATO, it would cease to exist.”

Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 should have dispelled any remaining doubts about Putin’s determination to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who was deeply committed to bringing his country into NATO, had decided in the summer of 2008 to reincorporate two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Putin sought to keep Georgia weak and divided — and out of NATO. After fighting broke out between the Georgian government and South Ossetian separatists, Russian forces took control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow had made its point. Yet despite this clear warning, NATO never publicly abandoned its goal of bringing Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance. And NATO expansion continued marching forward, with Albania and Croatia becoming members in 2009.

The EU, too, has been marching eastward. In May 2008, it unveiled its Eastern Partnership initiative, a program to foster prosperity in such countries as Ukraine and integrate them into the EU economy. Not surprisingly, Russian leaders view the plan as hostile to their country’s interests. This past February, before Yanukovych was forced from office, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the EU of trying to create a “sphere of influence” in eastern Europe. In the eyes of Russian leaders, EU expansion is a stalking horse for NATO expansion.

The West’s final tool for peeling Kiev away from Moscow has been its efforts to spread Western values and promote democracy in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, a plan that often entails funding pro-Western individuals and organizations. Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, estimated in December 2013 that the United States had invested more than $5 billion since 1991 to help Ukraine achieve “the future it deserves.” As part of that effort, the U.S. government has bankrolled the National Endowment for Democracy. The nonprofit foundation has funded more than 60 projects aimed at promoting civil society in Ukraine, and the NED’s president, Carl Gershman, has called that country “the biggest prize.” After Yanukovych won Ukraine’s presidential election in February 2010, the NED decided he was undermining its goals, and so it stepped up its efforts to support the opposition and strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.

When Russian leaders look at Western social engineering in Ukraine, they worry that their country might be next. And such fears are hardly groundless. In September 2013, Gershman wrote in The Washington Post, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.” He added: “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”




Imagine the American outrage if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico.

The West’s triple package of policies — NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and democracy promotion — added fuel to a fire waiting to ignite. The spark came in November 2013, when Yanukovych rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided to accept a $15 billion Russian counteroffer instead. That decision gave rise to antigovernment demonstrations that escalated over the following three months and that by mid-February had led to the deaths of some one hundred protesters. Western emissaries hurriedly flew to Kiev to resolve the crisis. On February 21, the government and the opposition struck a deal that allowed Yanukovych to stay in power until new elections were held. But it immediately fell apart, and Yanukovych fled to Russia the next day. The new government in Kiev was pro-Western and anti-Russian to the core, and it contained four high-ranking members who could legitimately be labeled neofascists.

Although the full extent of U.S. involvement has not yet come to light, it is clear that Washington backed the coup. Nuland and Republican Senator John McCain participated in antigovernment demonstrations, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, proclaimed after Yanukovych’s toppling that it was “a day for the history books.” As a leaked telephone recording revealed, Nuland had advocated regime change and wanted the Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. No wonder Russians of all persuasions think the West played a role in Yanukovych’s ouster.

For Putin, the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived. Shortly after February 22, he ordered Russian forces to take Crimea from Ukraine, and soon after that, he incorporated it into Russia. The task proved relatively easy, thanks to the thousands of Russian troops already stationed at a naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Crimea also made for an easy target since ethnic Russians compose roughly 60 percent of its population. Most of them wanted out of Ukraine.

Next, Putin put massive pressure on the new government in Kiev to discourage it from siding with the West against Moscow, making it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning state before he would allow it to become a Western stronghold on Russia’s doorstep. Toward that end, he has provided advisers, arms, and diplomatic support to the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, who are pushing the country toward civil war. He has massed a large army on the Ukrainian border, threatening to invade if the government cracks down on the rebels. And he has sharply raised the price of the natural gas Russia sells to Ukraine and demanded payment for past exports. Putin is playing hardball.




Putin’s actions should be easy to comprehend. A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as a buffer state of enormous strategic importance to Russia. No Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance that was Moscow’s mortal enemy until recently moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government there that was determined to integrate Ukraine into the West.

Washington may not like Moscow’s position, but it should understand the logic behind it. This is Geopolitics 101: great powers are always sensitive to potential threats near their home territory. After all, the United States does not tolerate distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, much less on its borders. Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it. Logic aside, Russian leaders have told their Western counterparts on many occasions that they consider NATO expansion into Georgia and Ukraine unacceptable, along with any effort to turn those countries against Russia — a message that the 2008 Russian-Georgian war also made crystal clear.

Officials from the United States and its European allies contend that they tried hard to assuage Russian fears and that Moscow should understand that NATO has no designs on Russia. In addition to continually denying that its expansion was aimed at containing Russia, the alliance has never permanently deployed military forces in its new member states. In 2002, it even created a body called the NATO-Russia Council in an effort to foster cooperation. To further mollify Russia, the United States announced in 2009 that it would deploy its new missile defense system on warships in European waters, at least initially, rather than on Czech or Polish territory. But none of these measures worked; the Russians remained steadfastly opposed to NATO enlargement, especially into Georgia and Ukraine. And it is the Russians, not the West, who ultimately get to decide what counts as a threat to them.

To understand why the West, especially the United States, failed to understand that its Ukraine policy was laying the groundwork for a major clash with Russia, one must go back to the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration began advocating NATO expansion. Pundits advanced a variety of arguments for and against enlargement, but there was no consensus on what to do. Most eastern European émigrés in the United States and their relatives, for example, strongly supported expansion, because they wanted NATO to protect such countries as Hungary and Poland. A few realists also favored the policy because they thought Russia still needed to be contained.

But most realists opposed expansion, in the belief that a declining great power with an aging population and a one-dimensional economy did not in fact need to be contained. And they feared that enlargement would only give Moscow an incentive to cause trouble in eastern Europe. The U.S. diplomat George Kennan articulated this perspective in a 1998 interview, shortly after the U.S. Senate approved the first round of NATO expansion. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies,” he said. “I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anyone else.”

The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer.

Most liberals, on the other hand, favored enlargement, including many key members of the Clinton administration. They believed that the end of the Cold War had fundamentally transformed international politics and that a new, postnational order had replaced the realist logic that used to govern Europe. The United States was not only the “indispensable nation,” as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it; it was also a benign hegemon and thus unlikely to be viewed as a threat in Moscow. The aim, in essence, was to make the entire continent look like western Europe.

And so the United States and its allies sought to promote democracy in the countries of eastern Europe, increase economic interdependence among them, and embed them in international institutions. Having won the debate in the United States, liberals had little difficulty convincing their European allies to support NATO enlargement. After all, given the EU’s past achievements, Europeans were even more wedded than Americans to the idea that geopolitics no longer mattered and that an all-inclusive liberal order could maintain peace in Europe.

So thoroughly did liberals come to dominate the discourse about European security during the first decade of this century that even as the alliance adopted an open-door policy of growth, NATO expansion faced little realist opposition. The liberal worldview is now accepted dogma among U.S. officials. In March, for example, President Barack Obama delivered a speech about Ukraine in which he talked repeatedly about “the ideals” that motivate Western policy and how those ideals “have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power.” Secretary of State John Kerry’s response to the Crimea crisis reflected this same perspective: “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

In essence, the two sides have been operating with different playbooks: Putin and his compatriots have been thinking and acting according to realist dictates, whereas their Western counterparts have been adhering to liberal ideas about international politics. The result is that the United States and its allies unknowingly provoked a major crisis over Ukraine.




In that same 1998 interview, Kennan predicted that NATO expansion would provoke a crisis, after which the proponents of expansion would “say that we always told you that is how the Russians are.” As if on cue, most Western officials have portrayed Putin as the real culprit in the Ukraine predicament. In March, according to The New York Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel implied that Putin was irrational, telling Obama that he was “in another world.” Although Putin no doubt has autocratic tendencies, no evidence supports the charge that he is mentally unbalanced. On the contrary: he is a first-class strategist who should be feared and respected by anyone challenging him on foreign policy.

Other analysts allege, more plausibly, that Putin regrets the demise of the Soviet Union and is determined to reverse it by expanding Russia’s borders. According to this interpretation, Putin, having taken Crimea, is now testing the waters to see if the time is right to conquer Ukraine, or at least its eastern part, and he will eventually behave aggressively toward other countries in Russia’s neighborhood. For some in this camp, Putin represents a modern-day Adolf Hitler, and striking any kind of deal with him would repeat the mistake of Munich. Thus, NATO must admit Georgia and Ukraine to contain Russia before it dominates its neighbors and threatens western Europe.

This argument falls apart on close inspection. If Putin were committed to creating a greater Russia, signs of his intentions would almost certainly have arisen before February 22. But there is virtually no evidence that he was bent on taking Crimea, much less any other territory in Ukraine, before that date. Even Western leaders who supported NATO expansion were not doing so out of a fear that Russia was about to use military force. Putin’s actions in Crimea took them by complete surprise and appear to have been a spontaneous reaction to Yanukovych’s ouster. Right afterward, even Putin said he opposed Crimean secession, before quickly changing his mind.

Besides, even if it wanted to, Russia lacks the capability to easily conquer and annex eastern Ukraine, much less the entire country. Roughly 15 million people — one-third of Ukraine’s population — live between the Dnieper River, which bisects the country, and the Russian border. An overwhelming majority of those people want to remain part of Ukraine and would surely resist a Russian occupation. Furthermore, Russia’s mediocre army, which shows few signs of turning into a modern Wehrmacht, would have little chance of pacifying all of Ukraine. Moscow is also poorly positioned to pay for a costly occupation; its weak economy would suffer even more in the face of the resulting sanctions.

But even if Russia did boast a powerful military machine and an impressive economy, it would still probably prove unable to successfully occupy Ukraine. One need only consider the Soviet and U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, the U.S. experiences in Vietnam and Iraq, and the Russian experience in Chechnya to be reminded that military occupations usually end badly. Putin surely understands that trying to subdue Ukraine would be like swallowing a porcupine. His response to events there has been defensive, not offensive.



Given that most Western leaders continue to deny that Putin’s behavior might be motivated by legitimate security concerns, it is unsurprising that they have tried to modify it by doubling down on their existing policies and have punished Russia to deter further aggression. Although Kerry has maintained that “all options are on the table,” neither the United States nor its NATO allies are prepared to use force to defend Ukraine. The West is relying instead on economic sanctions to coerce Russia into ending its support for the insurrection in eastern Ukraine. In July, the United States and the EU put in place their third round of limited sanctions, targeting mainly high-level individuals closely tied to the Russian government and some high-profile banks, energy companies, and defense firms. They also threatened to unleash another, tougher round of sanctions, aimed at whole sectors of the Russian economy.

Such measures will have little effect. Harsh sanctions are likely off the table anyway; western European countries, especially Germany, have resisted imposing them for fear that Russia might retaliate and cause serious economic damage within the EU. But even if the United States could convince its allies to enact tough measures, Putin would probably not alter his decision-making. History shows that countries will absorb enormous amounts of punishment in order to protect their core strategic interests. There is no reason to think Russia represents an exception to this rule.

Western leaders have also clung to the provocative policies that precipitated the crisis in the first place. In April, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden met with Ukrainian legislators and told them, “This is a second opportunity to make good on the original promise made by the Orange Revolution.” John Brennan, the director of the CIA, did not help things when, that same month, he visited Kiev on a trip the White House said was aimed at improving security cooperation with the Ukrainian government.

The EU, meanwhile, has continued to push its Eastern Partnership. In March, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, summarized EU thinking on Ukraine, saying, “We have a debt, a duty of solidarity with that country, and we will work to have them as close as possible to us.” And sure enough, on June 27, the EU and Ukraine signed the economic agreement that Yanukovych had fatefully rejected seven months earlier. Also in June, at a meeting of NATO members’ foreign ministers, it was agreed that the alliance would remain open to new members, although the foreign ministers refrained from mentioning Ukraine by name. “No third country has a veto over NATO enlargement,” announced Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general. The foreign ministers also agreed to support various measures to improve Ukraine’s military capabilities in such areas as command and control, logistics, and cyberdefense. Russian leaders have naturally recoiled at these actions; the West’s response to the crisis will only make a bad situation worse.

There is a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, however — although it would require the West to think about the country in a fundamentally new way. The United States and its allies should abandon their plan to westernize Ukraine and instead aim to make it a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, akin to Austria’s position during the Cold War. Western leaders should acknowledge that Ukraine matters so much to Putin that they cannot support an anti-Russian regime there. This would not mean that a future Ukrainian government would have to be pro-Russian or anti-NATO. On the contrary, the goal should be a sovereign Ukraine that falls in neither the Russian nor the Western camp.

To achieve this end, the United States and its allies should publicly rule out NATO’s expansion into both Georgia and Ukraine. The West should also help fashion an economic rescue plan for Ukraine funded jointly by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, Russia, and the United States — a proposal that Moscow should welcome, given its interest in having a prosperous and stable Ukraine on its western flank. And the West should considerably limit its social-engineering efforts inside Ukraine. It is time to put an end to Western support for another Orange Revolution. Nevertheless, U.S. and European leaders should encourage Ukraine to respect minority rights, especially the language rights of its Russian speakers.

Some may argue that changing policy toward Ukraine at this late date would seriously damage U.S. credibility around the world. There would undoubtedly be certain costs, but the costs of continuing a misguided strategy would be much greater. Furthermore, other countries are likely to respect a state that learns from its mistakes and ultimately devises a policy that deals effectively with the problem at hand. That option is clearly open to the United States.

One also hears the claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War? The United States certainly did not think so, and the Russians think the same way about Ukraine joining the West. It is in Ukraine’s interest to understand these facts of life and tread carefully when dealing with its more powerful neighbor.

Even if one rejects this analysis, however, and believes that Ukraine has the right to petition to join the EU and NATO, the fact remains that the United States and its European allies have the right to reject these requests. There is no reason that the West has to accommodate Ukraine if it is bent on pursuing a wrong-headed foreign policy, especially if its defense is not a vital interest. Indulging the dreams of some Ukrainians is not worth the animosity and strife it will cause, especially for the Ukrainian people.

Of course, some analysts might concede that NATO handled relations with Ukraine poorly and yet still maintain that Russia constitutes an enemy that will only grow more formidable over time — and that the West therefore has no choice but to continue its present policy. But this viewpoint is badly mistaken. Russia is a declining power, and it will only get weaker with time. Even if Russia were a rising power, moreover, it would still make no sense to incorporate Ukraine into NATO. The reason is simple: the United States and its European allies do not consider Ukraine to be a core strategic interest, as their unwillingness to use military force to come to its aid has proved. It would therefore be the height of folly to create a new NATO member that the other members have no intention of defending. NATO has expanded in the past because liberals assumed the alliance would never have to honor its new security guarantees, but Russia’s recent power play shows that granting Ukraine NATO membership could put Russia and the West on a collision course.

Sticking with the current policy would also complicate Western relations with Moscow on other issues. The United States needs Russia’s assistance to withdraw U.S. equipment from Afghanistan through Russian territory, reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, and stabilize the situation in Syria. In fact, Moscow has helped Washington on all three of these issues in the past; in the summer of 2013, it was Putin who pulled Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire by forging the deal under which Syria agreed to relinquish its chemical weapons, thereby avoiding the U.S. military strike that Obama had threatened. The United States will also someday need Russia’s help containing a rising China. Current U.S. policy, however, is only driving Moscow and Beijing closer together.

The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow. With that approach, all sides would win.




The FBI: America’s Secret Police

November 8, 2014

by John W. Whitehead    

Rutherford Institute.


“We want no Gestapo or secret police. The FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J. Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him” – President Harry S. Truman

Secret police. Secret courts. Secret government agencies. Surveillance. Intimidation tactics. Harassment. Torture. Brutality. Widespread corruption. Entrapment schemes.

These are the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime from the Roman Empire to modern-day America, yet it’s the secret police – tasked with silencing dissidents, ensuring compliance, and maintaining a climate of fear – who sound the death knell for freedom in every age.

Every regime has its own name for its secret police: Mussolini’s OVRA carried out phone surveillance on government officials. Stalin’s NKVD carried out large-scale purges, terror and depopulation. Hitler’s Gestapo went door to door ferreting out dissidents and other political “enemies” of the state. And in the U.S., it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation that does the dirty work of ensuring compliance, keeping tabs on potential dissidents, and punishing those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Whether the FBI is planting undercover agents in churches, synagogues and mosques; issuing fake emergency letters to gain access to Americans’ phone records; using intimidation tactics to silence Americans who are critical of the government, or persuading impressionable individuals to plot acts of terror and then entrapping them, the overall impression of the nation’s secret police force is that of a well-dressed thug, flexing its muscles and doing the boss’ dirty work.


Indeed, a far cry from the glamorized G-men depicted in Hollywood film noirs and spy thrillers, the government’s henchmen have become the embodiment of how power, once acquired, can be so easily corrupted and abused.

Case in point: the FBI is being sued after its agents, lacking sufficient evidence to acquire a search warrant, disabled a hotel’s Internet and then impersonated Internet repair technicians in order to gain access to a hotel suite and record the activities of the room’s occupants. Justifying the warrantless search as part of a sting on Internet gambling, FBI officials insisted that citizens should not expect the same right to privacy in the common room of a hotel suite as they would at home in their bedroom.

Far from being tough on crime, FBI agents are also among the nation’s most notorious lawbreakers. In fact, in addition to creating certain crimes in order to then “solve” them, the FBI also gives certain informants permission to break the law, “including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies,” in exchange for their cooperation on other fronts. USA Today estimates that agents have authorized criminals to engage in as many as 15 crimes a day. Some of these informants are getting paid astronomical sums: one particularly unsavory fellow, later arrested for attempting to run over a police officer, was actually paid $85,000 for his help laying the trap for an entrapment scheme.

In a stunning development reported by The Washington Post, a probe into misconduct by an FBI agent has resulted in the release of at least a dozen convicted drug dealers from prison. Several suspects awaiting trial have also been freed, and more could be released as the unnamed agent’s caseload comes under scrutiny. As the Post reports: “The scope and type of alleged misconduct by the agent have not been revealed, but defense lawyers involved in the cases described the mass freeing of felons as virtually unprecedented – and an indication that convictions could be in jeopardy. Prosecutors are periodically faced with having to drop cases over police misconduct, but it is unusual to free those who have been found guilty.”

In addition to procedural misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, the FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, and harassment.

For example, the Associated Press recently lodged a complaint with the Dept. of Justice after learning that FBI agents created a fake AP news story and emailed it, along with a clickable link, to a bomb threat suspect in order to implant tracking technology onto his computer and identify his location. Lambasting the agency, AP attorney Karen Kaiser railed, “The FBI may have intended this false story as a trap for only one person. However, the individual could easily have reposted this story to social networks, distributing to thousands of people, under our name, what was essentially a piece of government disinformation.”

Then again, to those familiar with COINTELPRO, an FBI program created to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” groups and individuals the government considers politically objectionable, it should come as no surprise that the agency has mastered the art of government disinformation.

The FBI has been particularly criticized in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for targeting vulnerable individuals and not only luring them into fake terror plots but actually equipping them with the organization, money, weapons and motivation to carry out the plots – entrapment – and then jailing them for their so-called terrorist plotting. This is what the FBI characterizes as “forward leaning – preventative – prosecutions.”

Another fallout from 9/11, National Security Letters, one of the many illicit powers authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act, allows the FBI to secretly demand that banks, phone companies, and other businesses provide them with customer information and not disclose the demands. An internal audit of the agency found that the FBI practice of issuing tens of thousands of NSLs every year for sensitive information such as phone and financial records, often in non-emergency cases, is riddled with widespread violations.

The FBI’s surveillance capabilities, on a par with the National Security Agency, boast a nasty collection of spy tools ranging from Stingray devices that can track the location of cell phones to Triggerfish devices which allow agents to eavesdrop on phone calls. In one case, the FBI actually managed to remotely reprogram a “suspect’s” wireless Internet card so that it would send “real-time cell-site location data to Verizon, which forwarded the data to the FBI.”

Now the FBI is seeking to expand its already invasive hacking powers to allow agents to hack into any computer, anywhere in the world. As journalist Brett Wilkins warns:

If the proposed rule change is approved, the FBI would have the power to unleash “network investigative techniques” against computers anywhere in the world, allowing the agency to secretly install malware and spyware on any computer, effectively allowing it to control that computer and all its stored information. The FBI could download all the computer’s digital contents, switch its camera or microphone on or off and even control other computers in its network.

And then there’s James Comey, current director of the FBI, who knows enough to say all the right things about the need to abide by the Constitution, all the while his agency routinely discards it. Comey has this idea that the government’s powers shouldn’t be limited, especially when it comes to carrying out surveillance on American citizens. Responding to reports that Apple and Google are creating smart phones that will be more difficult to hack into, Comey has been lobbying Congress and the White House to force technology companies to keep providing the government with backdoor access to Americans’ cell phones.

It’s not all Comey’s fault, though. This transformation of the FBI into a secret police force can be traced back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover. As author Anthony S. Summers points out, it was Hoover who “built the first federal fingerprint bank, and his Identification Division would eventually offer instant access to the prints of 159 million people. His Crime Laboratory became the most advanced in the world.”

Eighty years after Hoover instituted the FBI’s first fingerprint “database” – catalogued on index cards, no less – the agency’s biometric database has grown to massive proportions, the largest in the world, encompassing everything from fingerprints, palm, face and iris scans to DNA, and is being increasingly shared between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in an effort to target potential criminals long before they ever commit a crime. This is what’s known as pre-crime.

If it were just about fighting the “bad guys,” that would be one thing. But as countless documents make clear, the FBI has a long track record of abusing its extensive powers in order to blackmail politicians, spy on celebrities and high-ranking government officials, and intimidate dissidents of all stripes. It’s an old tactic, used effectively by former authoritarian regimes.

In fact, as historian Robert Gellately documents, the Nazi police state was repeatedly touted as a model for other nations to follow, so much so that Hoover actually sent one of his right-hand men, Edmund Patrick Coffey, to Berlin in January 1938 at the invitation of Germany’s secret police. As Gellately noted, “[A]fter five years of Hitler’s dictatorship, the Nazi police had won the FBI’s seal of approval.”

Indeed, so impressed was the FBI with the Nazi order that, as the New York Times recently revealed, in the decades after World War II, the FBI, along with other government agencies, aggressively recruited at least a thousand Nazis, including some of Hitler’s highest henchmen, brought them to America, hired them on as spies and informants, and then carried out a massive cover-up campaign to ensure that their true identities and ties to Hitler’s holocaust machine would remain unknown.

Moreover, anyone who dared to blow the whistle on the FBI’s illicit Nazi ties found himself spied upon, intimidated, harassed and labeled a threat to national security.

So not only have American taxpayers have been paying to keep ex-Nazis on the government payroll for decades but we’ve been subjected to the very same tactics used by the Third Reich: surveillance, militarized police, overcriminalization, and a government mindset that views itself as operating outside the bounds of the law.

Yet as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s no coincidence that the similarities between the American police state and past totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany grow more pronounced with each passing day. This is how freedom falls, and tyrants come to power.

Suffice it to say that when and if a true history of the FBI is ever written, it will not only track the rise of the American police state but it will also chart the decline of freedom in America: how a nation that once abided by the rule of law and held the government accountable for its actions has steadily devolved into a police state where justice is one-sided, a corporate elite runs the show, representative government is a mockery, police are extensions of the military, surveillance is rampant, privacy is extinct, and the law is little more than a tool for the government to browbeat the people into compliance


Berlin’s digital exiles: where tech activists go to escape the NSA

With its strict privacy laws, Germany is the refuge of choice for those hounded by the security services. Carole Cadwalladr visits Berlin to meet Laura Poitras, the director of Edward Snowden film Citizenfour, and a growing community of surveillance refuseniks

November 9, 2014

by Carole Cadwalladr

The Guardian


It’s the not knowing that’s the hardest thing, Laura Poitras tells me. “Not knowing whether I’m in a private place or not.” Not knowing if someone’s watching or not. Though she’s under surveillance, she knows that. It makes working as a journalist “hard but not impossible”. It’s on a personal level that it’s harder to process. “I try not to let it get inside my head, but… I still am not sure that my home is private. And if I really want to make sure I’m having a private conversation or something, I’ll go outside.”

Poitras’s documentary about Edward Snowden, Citizenfour, has just been released in cinemas. She was, for a time, the only person in the world who was in contact with Snowden, the only one who knew of his existence. Before she got Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian on board, it was just her – talking, electronically, to the man she knew only as “Citizenfour”. Even months on, when I ask her if the memory of that time lives with her still, she hesitates and takes a deep breath: “It was really very scary for a number of months. I was very aware that the risks were really high and that something bad could happen. I had this kind of responsibility to not fuck up, in terms of source protection, communication, security and all those things, I really had to be super careful in all sorts of ways.”

Bad, not just for Snowden, I say? “Not just for him,” she agrees. We’re having this conversation in Berlin, her adopted city, where she’d moved to make a film about surveillance before she’d ever even made contact with Snowden. Because, in 2006, after making two films about the US war on terror, she found herself on a “watch list”. Every time she entered the US – “and I travel a lot” – she would be questioned. “It got to the point where my plane would land and they would do what’s called a hard stand, where they dispatch agents to the plane and make everyone show their passport and then I would be escorted to a room where they would question me and oftentimes take all my electronics, my notes, my credit cards, my computer, my camera, all that stuff.” She needed somewhere else to go, somewhere she hoped would be a safe haven. And that somewhere was Berlin.

What’s remarkable is that my conversation with Poitras will be the first of a whole series of conversations I have with people in Berlin who either are under surveillance, or have been under surveillance, or who campaign against it, or are part of the German government’s inquiry into it, or who work to create technology to counter it. Poitras’s experience of understanding the sensation of what it’s like to know you’re being watched, or not to know but feel a prickle on the back of your neck and suspect you might be, is far from unique, it turns out. But then, perhaps more than any other city on earth, Berlin has a radar for surveillance and the dark places it can lead to.

“There is just a very real historical awareness of how information can be used against people in really dangerous ways here,” Poitras says. “There is a sensitivity to it which just doesn’t exist elsewhere. And not just because of the Stasi, the former East German secret police, but also the Nazi era. There’s a book Jake Appelbaum talks a lot about that’s called IBM and the Holocaust and it details how the Nazis used punch-cards to systemise the death camps. We’re not talking about that happening with the NSA [the US National Security Agency], but it shows how this information can be used against populations and how it poses such a danger.”

“Jake” – Jacob Appelbaum – is an American who helped develop the anonymous Tor network, and went on to work with WikiLeaks. He’s also in Berlin, having discovered that he was the subject of a secret US grand jury investigation, and it was he who advised Poitras to come here. “I’d been filming him doing this extraordinary work training activists in anti-surveillance techniques in the Middle East and I asked him where I should go, because I just didn’t think I could keep my footage safe in the US. And he said Germany because of its privacy laws. And Berlin because of all the groups doing anti-surveillance work here.”

People’s reactions in Germany to the Snowden revelations differed to those in Britain or America. There was full-on national outrage when it was revealed that even chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone had been bugged. I know this already, vaguely, in theory, but it’s a different matter to actually come to Berlin and hear person after person talk about it. I start out with three names, three high-profile “digital exiles” who have all taken refuge in the city: Poitras, Appelbaum and Sarah Harrison, another WikiLeaker who was with Snowden during his time in transit in Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow and helped him apply for political asylum in 21 countries. But I end up with reams of others. And, I can’t help thinking that Berlin, the city that found itself at the frontline of so much of the 20th century’s history, has found itself, once again, on the fracture point between two opposing world orders. And I wonder if the people I meet are the start of the internet fightback; if Berlin really is becoming a hub for a global digital resistance movement.

Is that too fanciful a word, I ask Martin Kaul, the social movements editor of Berlin’s most radical newspaper, Die Tageszeitung, or “Taz” as it’s known – and if anyone is in a position to know, it’s him (he is the only social movements editor he’s ever come across, he tells me). Is it a movement? Kaul ums and ahs a bit at first, especially about the idea of the city as a harbour for “digital exiles”, a concept I’d first heard in a talk Julian Assange gave at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year.

“They are very high profile, the exiles,” he says, “but I don’t think there are hundreds of them here, or even dozens. I’d be interested to know if they are growing. But, what is true is that there were already many very influential groups here. Hacker culture is especially strong in Germany. There were a lot of people already working on these issues. And then the exiles arrived. They are like an international avant garde at the cutting edge of it.”

“It” is the ideological fault line that has opened up between a free and open web, and a web where everything is logged, catalogued. “It is a movement,” says Kaul. “But it’s not out on the streets. It’s more like Berlin is a laboratory, an experimental space, where practices of subversion, of hacktivism, of cyber-resistance are taking place. Because if it’s not working in Germany … where is it going to work?”

That is the question that troubles almost everyone I meet. Because there are so many angles to the subject in Germany, and even more in Berlin, where history seems so recent, so present. I do a double-take when I pass a bookshop and see copies of Das Kapital piled high in the window – it takes me a moment to realise it’s Thomas Piketty’s, not Marx’s version – and many of the people I interview seem to unconsciously pick places of historic significance to meet me in. I meet Diani Barreto, a Cuban-American activist who’s been in the city since 1990, in Unter den Linden’s most historic cafe, the Einstein, and she tells me how it’s the artists who created the fertile ground that brought in the later wave of technologists and campaigners, groups she brings together in a monthly salon. And Markus Hesselmann, the editor of Tagesspiegel’s website, who talks to me about the city’s deeply rooted suspicion of authority, selects a museum cafe in the formerly Jewish area of the city. It’s no coincidence that you can barely use a credit card to buy things in Berlin, he says. “People think – why should anyone know what I spend my money on?”

And when I meet Martin Kaul, it’s in a cafe in Prenzlauer Berg, the former East Berlin suburb that’s now the city’s centre for artisan coffee and over-specced baby buggies, and afterwards he drops me in his camper van by the underground station next to the bridge where the first crossings from East to West Berlin took place 25 years ago today. Or, as it seems to me, as someone who first came to Berlin in the very early 1990s – a time when Prenzlauer Berg was still just shabby and not yet chic – the blink of an eye.

But then, it is the blink of an eye. It’s 25 years since the wall came down. And, in a strange historical collision, 25 years since the world wide web was invented. When I first came to Berlin, the internet didn’t exist and I was still some years away from sending my first email. In a historical time frame, the evolution of digital technology, its capabilities, the never-going-back cultural cataclysm that it’s precipitated, has all happened while most of us, a single generation, were working out what to have for dinner, or who to marry, or how to earn a living; a microscopic sliver of time that has changed not just the world at our fingertips but, we’ve discovered since Snowden, the secret world beyond our fingertips. What is known about us. Who we are. What our records say.

Because there are records. That’s what we also know since Snowden, and especially in Britain: everyone in Berlin takes a horrified delight in telling me that we have what Poitras calls “the worst of the worst”. It’s notable that she travelled back to the US last month for the premiere of Citizenfour but she wouldn’t come to Britain. “It’s what I was advised by my lawyers.” We don’t just have GCHQ, which goes far beyond even what the NSA is doing – according to Snowden it harvests “everything” – but we also have no constitutional protections, no amendments that guard the freedom of the press, no nothing. Just a historical perspective that gives us one, possibly distorted, view of how our intelligence services work.

Annie Machon, a whistleblower from another time, makes this point to me. She and her then partner, David Shayler, were MI5 agents who went to the press back in 1997. “In relative terms, that was a golden time for MI5. It was after it had finally publicly acknowledged its existence in 1989 but before the war on terror, and yet, we were still horrified by what we saw happening. There were no limits on its power. And there were so many things it was doing: illegal wiretapping of journalists, state-sponsored terrorism, files being held on government ministers, withholding of evidence, the imprisonment of innocent people… ”

She’s now an activist on behalf of whistleblowers, who she calls “the regulators of last resort”. It’s why she has left Britain and relocated part-time in Berlin, having become aware that she was, again, under surveillance. Our problem, in her view, is that for most of us James Bond is our main point of reference when it comes to our intelligence services. “We think they’re the good guys.” Whereas we actually don’t have any way of knowing if they are or not. We have no legitimate means of knowing anything about what they’re doing.

In Germany, they don’t know either, but no one assumes they’re the good guys. Everyone cites the Stasi when talking about NSA surveillance, and I wonder how meaningful that comparison is. Hubertus Knabe, a historian who’s the head of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, a former Stasi prison, tells me how he wrote to the public prosecutor last year. “Because I was not satisfied that he had decided to investigate only the case of who bugged the German chancellor, not the cases of ordinary people. He said that it is because in this case it is clear there is a victim. Whereas you can’t investigate a case against everyone.”

So they’re saying because it’s a crime against everyone, it’s a crime against no one?

“Exactly! It makes no sense to me.”

Germany has some of the strongest laws in the world when it comes to surveillance and privacy. It is illegal for the foreign security service, the BND, to spy on its own citizens. But, the NSA has had bases in Germany since 1945 and there are no laws that govern its behaviour. A parliamentary inquiry is now under way, to try and establish what the BND knew – the only one of its kind in the world, post-Snowden – but when I visit Hans-Christian Ströbele, the veteran Green MP who is leading the inquiry, in his office in the Bundestag he tells me: “We think we will find good information about what the BND has been doing.” And the NSA? GCHQ? He shakes his head. “Isn’t that a bit depressing?” I say. “That we’re sitting here in the parliament of one of the greatest democracies on earth, with a constitution that had to be rebuilt from the ground up, and there is nothing, legislatively that you can do?”

“It is,” he says.

But then Hubertus Knabe tells me: “The minister of the Stasi always said, ‘We have to answer the question, who is who?’ Those were his words. That means, who thinks what? It used to be an obvious fundamental difference between a democratic state and a dictatorial one that you don’t investigate someone until they did a criminal act. Innocent people are not surveiled. And in this, the difference between how a democratic state acts and how a totalitarian one acts has diminished. And this is very, I don’t know the English word. Besorgniserregend? Hold on, I will look it up,” and he taps into his phone. “Alarming! This is very alarming to me.”

I’m about to leave when he tells me about a conference he held recently at the museum. “And this man, a former prisoner, kept saying this very strange thing. It was very annoying at first. He kept saying, ‘I am your future’. ‘I already experienced what will be your future.’ But he was very serious. He had emigrated to Paris. He really meant it.”

The German premiere of Citizenfour is at the Leipzig film festival. It’s a town in the former East Germany that’s famous for its role in starting what the Germans call “the peaceful revolution”, the acts of civil disobedience that led, seemingly out of the blue, to the fall of the Wall on 9 November 1989. And before the screening, an introduction from Edward Snowden to the people of Leipzig is broadcast. “Your history is an inspiration to me,” he says. “It is critical to remember the lessons of history.” Of how a regime was changed “by ordinary people in the streets”.

Having now met Poitras, it’s no surprise that Citizenfour is such a quietly humane film. It shows Snowden’s courage and conviction but also his vulnerability, his youth; the terrible self-awareness he has of everything he’s giving up. Poitras is the softly spoken, self-effacing counterpart to Glenn Greenwald’s more strident style of media engagement. It was Snowden who first got in touch with her, and it was her familiarity and facility with encryption techniques and security measures that made the entire story possible. It’s not just Snowden who comes across as brave and principled.

I speak to dozens of people after the event, of all ages, and the more people I talk to, the more depressing it becomes; the more poignant Snowden’s appeal seems; the more unlikely and far-fetched this idea, of a groundswell of public opinion effecting political change, appears. From Jürgen Kleinig, a 44-year-old maker of investigative films from Berlin, who tells me “there have been no political consequences. None. It’s such a massive threat, to democracy, to everything, but nothing has changed.” To Ulrike Böhnisch, a 28-year-old documentary maker from Leipzig, who tells me how scary she finds it in theory. “But then I think who is going to be interested in my silly little love notes to my boyfriend? For ordinary small people with simple ordinary lives, I think it is not so much of an issue.”

But what if they are? What if somebody is interested? What if Ulrike decides, in 20 years’ time, to stand for parliament? What if Germany’s government changes? What if someone does read her silly little love notes? What if they don’t seem so silly – or so innocent – at some unknown point in the future?

It could happen because it has happened. Anne Roth, a political scientist who’s now a researcher on the German NSA inquiry, tells me perhaps the most chilling story. How she and her husband and their two children – then aged two and four – were caught in a “data mesh”. How an algorithm identified her husband, an academic sociologist who specialises in issues such as gentrification, as a terrorist suspect on the basis of seven words he’d used in various academic papers.

Seven words? “Identification was one. Framework was another. Marxist-Leninist was another, but you know he’s a sociologist… ” It was enough for them to be placed under surveillance for a year. And then, at dawn, one day in 2007, armed police burst into their Berlin home and arrested him on suspicion of carrying out terrorist attacks.

But what was the evidence, I say? And Roth tells me. “It was his metadata. It was who he called. It was the fact that he was a political activist. That he used encryption techniques – this was seen as highly suspicious. That sometimes he would go out and not take his cellphone with him… ”

He was freed three weeks later after an international outcry, but the episode has left its marks. “Even in the bathroom, I’d be wondering: is there a camera in here?”

Knabe tells me how the modern, digital system “is more abstract. It’s not so violating of your personal emotions”. He speaks as one who discovered in his Stasi file that he had been betrayed by a friend. But the difference is perhaps not so clear cut. Mathilde Bonnefoy, the French-American editor of Citizenfour, says the same thing, initially. “It’s signals intelligence, not personal intelligence. It’s mostly a theoretical threat. It’s not like you know there’s people standing on the street corner looking at you.”

Bonnefoy doesn’t know. Can’t know. And since she lives in Berlin and is in a relationship with Dirk Wilutzky, the film’s producer, they found themselves conducting that relationship under some sort of unknown, unknowable scrutiny. Are they still under surveillance? Wilutzky pushes his mobile phone toward me. “I think you are probably talking directly to them.”

They chose to ignore it. It’s what dissidents in East Germany did too, Knabe tells me, a political and philosophical act of resistance. Though talking to Bonnefoy, you wonder what the other options were. “There was a moment, I remember, when it had become very clear to us that we were being listened to and we started speaking in hushed words and elliptical phrases at home when we were talking to each other,” she says. “And I remember Dirk said, ‘We have to stop now. We can’t let this change our lives this much.’ Though, even now, there are still things that we don’t talk to each other about.”

Poitras tells me that someone in the intelligence community told her that it’s probable “that Glenn and I had our own psychologist assigned to us. That there was someone who is paying attention to your friends, to what you might do next. It’s very creepy.”

And, even without that, it’s unclear if this modern version of what’s called “signals intelligence” is less intrusive. Roth’s husband’s metadata is an example of that, and even your Google search terms are practically a psychogram of your thoughts. “I’m so careful about that,” says Poitras. “I use different computers for different uses.” And all over the city, there are people working on ways to fight the technology with technology; who’ve devised the crypto equivalent of what, in the former German Democratic Republic, was done by turning on the radio or running the tap.

There’s Claudio Agosti of GlobaLeaks, a platform he describes as “like WikiLeaks but open source” and Stephanie Hankey, a Brit who’s director of Tactical Tech, an anti-surveillance NGO which moved to Berlin a couple of years ago. And Christian Mihr, the German director of Reporter Ohne Grenzen (Reporters Without Borders), whose office specialises in cases of international digital repression and who helps journalists from oppressive regimes around the world find safe harbour in Berlin. Though it’s not until I finally track down Andy Müller-Maguhn of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) that I start to really understand why. Everywhere I go, people tell me about the CCC, that it’s one of the most influential digital organisations anywhere, the centre of German digital culture, hacker culture, hackitivism, and the intersection of any discussion of democratic and digital rights. It holds an annual congress which started in Berlin in 1990 and is attended by more than 10,000 people.

But then so much started in 1990 in Berlin. “Half of the people were coming from the east and others, like me, from the west, and at that time, it was pretty easy to break some rules somewhere,” he says. “It was so cheap and the infrastructure was a bit shit but we came together during this period when Germany was in the process of revealing what the East German intelligence did.

“There was this incredible transparency. It was one of the best documented intelligence agencies ever. We had access to all these manuals: ‘how to destroy social relationships’, ‘how to organise distrust’, ‘how to destroy political movements’ and all these things we discussed in the club. We were very aware of how the intelligence services could do these things… and this was part of our creation from the very beginning.”

What’s so interesting about this is that the CCC has helped define important parts of what is now considered internet culture. “The power we had,” says Müller-Maguhn, “was the power of definition. We helped explain to people how technology was part of society.” It’s why hacker culture is so much stronger in Germany than almost anywhere else in the world, but certainly Europe, and why it’s largely seen as a force for good. “Unlike in the US and Britain, we were able to promote our ideas in a positive way.”

And suspicion of authority is encoded into that DNA. It considers digital rights no different from the rest of our fundamental human rights and there’s an intellectual thread that leads from the CCC to one of the most affecting scenes in Laura Poitras’s film, in which Edward Snowden talks about the excitement he felt as a child about the internet, “the greatest invention the world had ever seen”. And his determination to try to defend that vision.

There are so many impassioned voices in Berlin telling the same story in different ways. Diani Barreto describes the city as having an entre-deux-guerres feel, how there’s a touch of Weimar, a hint of Christopher Isherwood, to the way the international community has discovered the city, not least the freedom it offers from the constraints of Piketty’s Das Kapital (I visit a friend whose teenage daughter bursts into the room to say she’s found a one-bedroom flat to rent for “€300, warm, ie including heating and hot water”). Wilutzky describes the experience of coming to West Berlin in the 1980s: “There was this terrible feeling of oppression as you drove through the east, and then suddenly this amazing sense of freedom! It felt like the freest place on Earth. You could do anything here.”

Berlin was for a long time this strange geopolitical anomaly, a shadow theatre for the great powers, the capital of nazism, the frontline of the cold war, and the alternating experiences of stifling oppression and mind-blowing liberation are the twin strands of its 20th-century history. The most compelling voice of all that I encounter belongs to a woman called Anke Domscheit-Berg, who has known both. She’s a 46-year-old feminist and activist who used to work as a lobbyist for Microsoft (and whose name is possibly familiar because her husband, Daniel, was a spokesman for WikiLeaks until he fell out with Assange). She was born and grew up in the east and was 21 when the wall fell, an event she describes as “the most emotional day of my life”.

She was an art student and she tells the story of how the Stasi tried to recruit her as an informant. “People say of the NSA, ‘I have nothing to hide.’ But it doesn’t matter. There is no such thing as innocent information. I had things I needed to hide from the East German authorities but that wasn’t what they blackmailed me with. They blackmailed me with my father’s job. He was a doctor, employed by the state. They said: ‘Don’t you care about what happens to your family if he loses his job?’

“All information can be used against you in some way. And we have an entire generation, the first one ever, about whom everything will be known. Their entire youth is being monitored. And we don’t know what that might mean. How that might be used against them. I look at my father who is 80 and he has only known democracy for the shortest portion of his life. And that is why we have to act now. We have the power to change things. I remember how hopeless it seemed, 25 years ago, that it would ever change. But it did. And we did that. We, the people. And that is why it’s up to us Germans to tell this to the world.”

She is such a powerful, clear, impassioned voice. And it’s obvious that for her, this is personal. “I feel responsible. I feel like I look into one of those glass balls, where others see fog, I see a clear picture and I feel obliged to tell people. These are the tools of a totalitarian system. And just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant so you cannot be a little bit totalitarian without corrupting democracy. And we … in this city … we know where that ends up. We have seen the darkest times, right here.”

Poitras tells me how she has come to censor herself. “It’s not whether or not they’re watching, but the fact that you don’t know if they’re watching. You’ve internalised in some way this authority of the state.” At the end of the interview, I tell her how Snowden spoke at the Observer Festival of Ideas and how afterwards I and my colleague John Naughton asked him questions via Google Hangouts from my laptop. “Am I on the grid?” I ask her.

She guffaws. “You are so on the grid.” It’s only semi-serious but still. “As soon as you start to censor yourself,” Domscheit-Berg tells me, “then you leave the path of free speech. So many people now do this in Berlin. They avoid certain expressions. When we have meetings they leave their phones in different rooms. You have already lost your freedom.”

Have I already lost mine? Has it affected my online behaviour? Possibly. My thoughts have always flowed seamlessly from my brain to my fingers to Google’s all-knowing rectangular white box. And now? There’s the briefest pause. A hesitancy. It’s not exactly an iron curtain but it’s not nothing either. I’m being watched. But then, you are too. And, if you think it doesn’t matter, go to Berlin. Go to the Stasi museum. See how it all panned out last time around.



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