The Astrophysics of Spying

In fifty years time, if we haven’t all blown ourselves to pieces and society still manages to function despite the strife over-population and the ultra-extreme weather global warming will undoubtedly bring, we may look back to these unremarkable years as the start of something bad, something rotten, something that would become as malignant as a cancer. Something which, because it went unchecked, slowly consumed what was left of societies integrity and goodness before casting everyone’s Human Right to free speech and privacy into the abyss forever.

The scale of un-checked prying and spying into every aspect of our lives, that most governments now engage in under the all encompassing, yet ultimately amorphous heading of National Security, is becoming quite staggering. And yet this convenient cover, the excuse gifted to them by Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts on that sunny September morning in 2001, is rarely challenged by a population, who feel protected from the monsters their very own leaders have been keen to plant in their minds. However, the truth, if you care to look a bit closer has got little to do with protecting us. Yes it’s about security but it is more about power and about having ultimate control over you and me and everyone.
The case of Edward Snowden in particularly threw a light on the rapacious, almost open cast mining methods some agencies like the US’s National Security Agency – NSA and the UK’s Government Communication Headquarters – GCHQ use to collect information on all of us. Let’s look at some number: When Snowden fled last year there were approximately 30,0000 military and 75,000 civilian contractors working for the NSA. However, if that figure for civilians is expected to exceed 100,000 by the end of next year, imagine the wage bill in Tax dollars for 130,000+ computer specialists and all that equipment? So… can it only ever be about National Security, I mean – really? The FBI who use to look after National Security together with a 1001 other things from tax evasion to tracking down serial killers, manages to do so with a staff of just over 30,000. To put this into further context, the NSA have way, way more staff than most countries national armies, indeed if you stick to Europe, where most countries can finance a reasonable number of active service personnel, Army, Naval and Air-force, you would still need at least 6 or 7 countries to beat the NSA I.e. You could add the services of all of the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland until you reach the Russian border and still be forced to throw in a couple more like Austria and Ireland to get anywhere near that 130,000 manpower figure. Why?

Still don’t believe something big, something odd is going on? The smoke and mirrors paradox of spying, means nothing is ever quite what it seems so getting any kind of full and frank disclosure is nigh on impossible. However, sometimes when national or international pressure compels a public response, we are afforded a very rare glimpse into their murky world. Recently, the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, insisted in congressional testimony that data about hundreds of millions of European phone calls alleged by several newspapers to have been collected by the US had in fact been handed over to the NSA by European intelligence agencies for the PRISM project. PRISM project. No denial about the fact they now have all of our private and personal data, but handed over? Freely – really? In the shady, favour for a favour underbelly of the world where these agencies operate, nothing is truly free, ever. So what will the NSA, who can compel all US internet providers and mobile phone companies to give them virtually anything they want, by law, have given to these undisclosed European Intelligence Agencies in return? Is it something about you, about me, about all of us?
Internet Privacy
Some of the information this veritable army: code, weight or interpret does, admittedly have a National Security element attached to it – that is after all the only reason many of these agencies where ever allowed to exist in the first place. However, almost as soon as they started sifting through our private information and listening in to our calls, it was discovered that less than a debatable 2% of the information trawled had any obvious National Security value whatsoever. So what could they do – with reputations at stake and a whole new expensive workforce, who had to show something for the billions invested, they couldn’t just scale it all back, which was perhaps the moral thing to do. Instead, it was at this point that creative new ways were imagined of how to use some of the other 98% of data that had very little to do with security, and more about control, tax collection, censorship or illegal population profiling for party political or other purposes. Indeed, similar omnipresent eavesdropping laws, which come under that other old favourite catch all – anti terrorism, where recently used in the UK to arrest someone for dropping litter but they also used the latest surveillance techniques to catch a woman, who persistently let her dog foul pavement – National Security, Terrorism… really?!

Why is so little know about what they are actually doing and why were we almost blissfully unaware of it all until recently? The short answer is that there are too many Government PR machines out there, many of which, will not shy away from using dirty tricks to disprove, crush and discredit any criticism or leaks about what is really going on. They like knowing, they have gotten use to their unrestricted ability to snoop and pry and know everything about us, our habits our ideas our private thoughts, so they will protect their ability to do so, even if it is still technically illegal, seemingly at all costs.

No matter whether you believe he did a good thing or a bad thing, few people would have been surprised if Edward Snowden had disappeared before he emerged at Moscow airport last summer. Similarly, only a minority of people on the street actually believe there is any real substance to the rape allegations, that have pinned Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past year and half. It is not just because of what they have already said, but mainly what they have suggested is going on, and will go on until it is irrevocably proven and stopped: the insatiable collection of our private and personal information for domestic and International purposes, with the ultimate aim of having a digital file record for all of us. Lax security means our health, criminal and employment records are all but public domain already, but then transcripts of every phone call, text, email or social media comment, like, tweet or re-tweet where a single word creates a red flag, together with a comprehensive history of our internet surfing activity and a hundred other things, could eventually be available to anyone with the ability (not necessarily the authority) to pry, but eventually, like most other data our Files will become available to a less secure level of users, or to the highest bidder to be used or abused or traded on.

The fact none of these Spook agencies freely admit to such practice yet, doesn’t mean it can’t exist. To prove it I need to turn to the world of Astrophysics to explain. Dark Matter is a substance that the majority of physicists believe makes up most of the mass of the universe – this despite not so much as a pin heads worth of it ever being detected or reproduced in the laboratory. The same thing for Black Holes – these hugely destructive phenomena have similarly never been seen, although there is little doubt that they exist. And yet we only know they are out there because of what they do to the visible galaxies and stars that surround them. The same thing happens if you consider what we know about the PRISM program, for example, and look more closely at the many things released by Snowden and WikiLeaks as a whole. There is a huge distortion, a WHY distortion surrounding it all that no one is prepared to answer fully – So what is the other massive thing going on that we mere mortals are prevented from knowing, it is certainly not just about National Security, but what is it?

It is something that already affects some of us, but if nothing is done to control it now, it will almost certainly affect all of us – mostly in a negative way – within the next few years and beyond.

Catch the 2nd and Final part next week – until then be safe, be secure, and be careful…


Putin’s Fool’s Gold Medal to the IOC

When will international sporting bodies ever learn? In 1980 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) got a very bloody nose from a huge boycott by 65 countries, who refused to attend the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Russian, or should I say the Soviet Union in those days, invasion of Afghanistan. Surely they wouldn’t make that expensive mistake again? However, less than 30 years later Russian President Vladimir Putin serenades them in the weeks running up to the decision on the winter Olympics 2014 and even speaks to them in English, something he has always refused to do in public until that day. He told them his country was a modern democracy, where human rights are at the forefront of everything they do…right! And guess what – the IOC fell for the Russian game yet again and awarded Sochi, and of course Putin, something the constitution of the IOC, which states that the awarded country should have “an acceptable domestic and international record on Human Rights”, really should have prevented: The Winter Olympics 2014.
Sochi Protest
So now, despite the lessons the IOC should have learned about giving Moscow anything after 1980, Putin struts around the Olympic village in Sochi, with almost a smile on his famously sour looking face, while presiding over a country with a rapidly growing reputation for intolerance and oppression. Indeed, some have declared the IOC’s decision as the worst since giving Adolf Hitler a platform for him to strut about in his fascist jack boots, when they gave Berlin the Olympics of 1936.

Putin has reportedly spent more than $50 billion — more than all previous Winter Games combined — to unveil a “new Russia” at the Sochi Olympics. Although there are countless reports that more than half of that money has disappeared through corruption or avoidable waste whilst other reports warn us that Sochi’s shiny new infrastructure is little more than a Potemkin village, an extravagant ruse designed to deceive the world about the true nature of Putin’s police state.

Putin’s “new Russia,” it turns out, looks very much like the old Russia that denied freedom of expression, religious liberty and other human rights under both the Tsars and the Soviets. Consider, for example, two repressive measures Putin signed into law on the same day last June. The better known of the two is the so-called “gay propaganda” law that has been widely condemned as a violation of free speech and freedom of assembly. Under the guise of protecting children from information about homosexuality, the law stigmatizes and silences LGBT Russians by preventing free speech, public gatherings and distribution of literature. Since the bill’s enactment, harassment and violence directed at LGBT people has escalated in cities all across Russia. The second bill got fewer headlines, but it also raises alarms about the deterioration of freedom in Putin’s Russia. Prompted by the punk band Pussy Riot’s protest in Moscow’s main cathedral in 2012, the Duma passed a law criminalizing insulting people’s “religious feelings” in public. As a result, anyone who dares offend the sensibilities of the faithful (and this usually means Russian Orthodox believers) could face 3 years imprisonment and a stiff fine.

The “gay propaganda” and “blasphemy” bills are the latest in a whole series of Russian laws passed in recent years limiting freedom of expression and belief while protecting the power and privilege of the ruling elite and Russian Orthodox Church. According to a 2012 report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a law banning unauthorized public gatherings has been used against minority religious communities, including a Protestant pastor fined for holding a religious service. Another law intended to counter “extremism” has been used to ban Muslim religious texts and treat as criminals people who prepare, store or distribute banned texts. Muslims, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups in Russia have now all suffered discrimination and harassment under these and similar laws.

On paper at least, the 1993 Russian Constitution recognizes all religions as equal before the law, and guarantees freedom of speech and religion. In practice, however, Putin’s government has an unholy alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, an entanglement of church and state that contributes to repression of LGBT people and minority faiths.

Of course the IOC in true fashion have been almost totally silent on these issues, and issued at best only a few generalised broad brush statements in a desperate effort to avoid further accusations of bribery (which was proved to be almost endemic, within the committee at the time Putin was given the games) and to also limit any protests, as it did, to a fairly large scale snubbing by world leaders and dignitaries – who refused to attend the opening ceremony. However, the IOC are not the only body to make such avoidable mistake over Russia.

Four years ago Sepp Blatter, who has presided over and mysteriously survived a decade of sleaze and bribery at football’s world governing body FIFA, stunned the world by giving the long outsider, Russia, the 2018 World Cup Finals. Then as if to emphasize the scale of corruption, they announced 4 years earlier than normal, that the 2022 Finals would be in Qatar in June of that year. This decision, which was championed by Blatter and Blatter’s deputy, Mohamed Bin Hammam, who is actually from Qatar, but who was forced from office a year later after the biggest bribery scandal in Fifa’s history, also confounded the world. And some have described it as akin to deciding to hold a major golf or tennis open championship in Greenland… in the middle of winter! And yet Blatter still insists it will go ahead and, perhaps more mysteriously, he has decided to seek re-election as president at the next FIFA ballot – which we must at least hope for once is not rigged.

The biggest losers of course of any contentious event are the men and women who give over their lives to train for these once in a lifetime events, whose presence unfortunately adds some validation to bad decisions – but let’s never forget it is not their fault but the fault of the awarding bodies who put them there. Over the next few weeks, Putin will get his $50-billion moment in the sun courtesy of the IOC, and he will probably still be around in 2018 for the World Cup awarded by Mr Brown Envelope himself, Sepp Blatter of FIFA. However, we should never let the Olympic hype obscure the ugly truth about Putin’s rule because at the Sochi Games, all that glitters is certainly not gold.