Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WikiLeaks Down Under

By me at Firedoglake yesterday:
There's been a sudden explosion of interest in Wikileaks cables Down Under, after every single one of the US diplomatic cables on Australia was suddenly released online to the public this week. While hardened Aussie journalists insist there are no major "bombshells", plenty of intriguing new stories are now exploding onto the media landscape. Overall, the US cables reveal a sovereign nation absurdly subservient to US foreign policy, with Australian ministers queuing to discuss confidential party deliberations with their friends in the US embassy.

Previously, only a handful of US cables had been released by WikiLeaks partners The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, both owned by the Fairfax media organisation. Fairfax has faced prolongued criticism for not releasing original cables along with their stories. They defended themselves by arguing that there were more stories to come and they did not want to give the cables to their media competitors at Rupert Murdoch's News Limited (who control a whopping 70% of the Australian newspaper industry). But that gig is now up.

One of the most widely reported early cables revealed that Senator Mark Arbib, currently the Minister for Sport, was a 'protected' US source whose identity should be guarded. Latest cables reveal that US officials were regularly having confidential meetings with other government ministers, including Maxine McKew" (a TV personality who famously unseated former PM John Howard in his own electorate) and Michael Danby (a regular visitor with strong links to Israel).

The Israel connection gets another look with a cable revealing that Foreign Minister and former PM Kevin Rudd defied departmental advice when he abstained from voting on a UN resolution calling for investigations into war crimes during the Gaza War. This is only surprising because Australia's UN voting record is slavishly pro-US and pro-Israel, on a par with diplomatic minnows like Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau. There is little public discussion of this in Australia.

Other cables discuss regional diplomacy, including former PM John Howard's threats to leaders of the Solomon Islands, where Australia has spent over a billion dollars and eight years to achieve very little real progress. In Fiji, Australia and New Zealand acquiesced to US requests to "not rush" sanctions against the new military junta, for fear of undermining the war effort in Iraq.

John Howard infamously supported Bush and Blair's invasion of Iraq, and is praised for regularly supporting unpopular US political positions. US officials particularly praised his handling of the local media over questions about the detention and torture of Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks, who has just spoken about his incarceration on Australian TV for the first time. Another Australian detainee from Guantanamo Bay, Mahmoud Habib, has already received an unspecified sum of money from the Australian government as part of an out-of-court settlement that includes absolving the government of liability in his torture case.

Perhaps we Australians should not be surprised when, for example, our government discusses troop increases in Afghanistan with US officials, while simultaneously denying to us that such talks are taking place. Diplomacy, after all, has its place. But the broader picture painted by these cables makes Australia look like a pathetic US puppet state.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Radical Julian Assange

Is WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange a dangerous radical, a threat to civilized society? Many people would have you believe so.

"He's stolen classified documents!" thunders the government.

"He's put countless innocent lives in danger!" screams the military.

"He's an evil hacker and a rapist!" squeals the media.

"He hates cats!" shrieks a disaffected ex-colleague.

None of those statements are actually true: nobody in a position to know is seriously alleging that WikiLeaks has "stolen" any files, nor that a single life has been endangered by their actions; Assange quit hacking 20 years ago, after a single court case that did not involve malicious damage, and still has not even been charged over those Swedish sexual allegations (which even if true are not considered criminal in other countries).

Oh, and that cat? Not as traumatised as it's owner, apparently.

So let's be clear. Julian Assange is no evil Bond villain. In fact, reporters who meet Assange routinely comment on how surprisingly likeable he is.

But of course, that does not prove that the enigmatic Australian is NOT a "dangerous radical". It all depends on who is defining those terms, and how.

As usual, most of the defining is being done through the Western media, where attitudes to WikiLeaks have become increasingly poisonous. Is that because editors obediently parrot the political stances of their corporate overlords? Or is it because highly-placed journalists see WikiLeaks' brand of truth-telling as yet another assault on their privileged social role? Probably a bit of both.

While the government keeps its boot on Assange's throat, some news organisations are hoping to steal WikiLeaks' thunder by providing their own proprietary "drop-boxes". But will it work? Do these organisations still have the credibility - not to mention the technical expertise - to attract endangered whistle-blowers?

Here's Julian Assange's scathing assessment:
"[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning.

"We also cannot be sure that they would even publish the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months."

WikiLeaks only approached these media organisations because earlier efforts to engage bloggers and citizen journalists had failed to generate broader public awareness of leaked material. The latest decision to release over 140,000 cables for investigation by the online community suggests a return to that citizen journalist model. Assange appears to be rightly disgusted with the "mainstream" media, and determined to find a new way to communicate directly with the public.

But it's not just WikiLeaks moving away from traditional media to online communication. The general public is also moving rapidly away from untrusted sources towards Internet news sites and social media. As Assange proudly declared to the audience at Australia's recent Splendour In the Grass festival:
"This generation is burning the mass media to the ground. We are reclaiming our rights to world history. We are ripping open secret archives from Washington to Cairo. We are reclaiming the rights to share ourselves and our times with each other — to be the writers and agents of our own history. We don’t know yet exactly where we are. But we can see where we are going. The change in perspective that has happened over the last year is what this generation is going to use to find our lighthouse. And when we get there, we’ll turn the fucking spotlight on."

Such revolutionary rhetoric is designed to shock, and no doubt leaves many uninformed observers intentionally flustered. But WikiLeaks supporters tend to be well educated on current events, including global politics, finance and civil rights. They have seen the way governments, business and the media have systematically mistreated WikiLeaks and misrepresented Assange, and they understand that Western Democracy is now under serious threat.

As Becky Hogge wrote of WikiLeaks staffers in her seminal book Barefoot Into Cyberspace:
"They’re not terrorists. They’re not killing anyone. They’re simply getting out the truth. WikiLeaks confuse us because they look like a revolution, albeit one predicated on information, not violence. And you shouldn’t need a revolution in a democracy."

You shouldn't, but it seems we do. Addressing Berlin's Chaos Computer Club in December, former WikiLeaks member Rop Gonggrip expressed our current reality in even starker terms:
"As for the future: it’s going to be a mess. But I calmed down a lot when I decided for myself that this is not only bad news. Let’s face it: the current situation was never sustainable anyway."

That seems a good explanation of where we are right now. Climate change and looming global financial Armageddon are just the most obvious signs of a system that is dysfunctional on multiple levels. Our political and business leaders seem incapable of even acknowledging these harsh realities, let alone solving them. Yet they increasingly move to stifle dissent, control the flow of information, and impose ever more draconian laws, while routinely absolving themselves of any scrutiny.

In such circumstances, the following series of tweets from @WikiLeaks (widely assumed to be authored by Assange) is perhaps less radical than it first appears. Read it carefully:
"It is clear that the rule of law is breaking down all over the West. Many are now held for days or years without charge.

"As such we can drop any pretense of legitimate governance. It is just one wretched, scheming network of patronage and power.

"It is not reformable, although it might be destroyable. We must create our own networks of trust and authority and live within them."

Assange's lawyers must have nightmares reading such things. It takes a brave person to speak truth to power so directly.

So does Assange really want to destroy the "network" of modern government? Or is he just goading Western authorities to implement real reforms? Either way, the ball is in the government's court.

They can prove Assange wrong by releasing him from arrest, abandoning their harrassment of WikiLeaks, and ordering groups like Visa, Mastercard and PayPal to lift their financial blockade. They can implement more transparent government procedures, outlaw the foul influence of lobbyists, neutralise media monopolies, fix the environment and create a more equitable society.

Or they can continue down their current path, ignoring the lessons of the London riots and the Arab Spring, and hope to avoid the fate of the dictators they so recently supported.

The general public have nothing to fear from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, whose growing popularity heralds only the disappearance of an already untenable status quo. It is the powers that be who are rightly panicked. And the more they distort the law to serve their purposes, the more we can smell their fear.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vote #1 President Assange - You know it makes sense!

I was looking for direction, I had a good hunche - #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
Who gon tell ya what's going onje? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Who'll be there when da Wall Street plunge? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
He never gon chuck up da sponge! #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Who's yo brudder, da people's number ONEje? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
Who got mo fans dan Bic Runge? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Who got da mixture of intelligence an' grunge? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
Who gon clean out da capitalist scunge? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Who's gonna break da political melange? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
Who's got a name that rhymes with Oranje? #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Julia Gillard gonna feel da crunje - #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
Australia liberated by da WikiLeaks Bunche! #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

He's Oz Republic's Favourite Sonje! #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange
So y'all b good for #PresidentAssange #PresidentAssange

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Towards A Financial Model For Protest

The Problem:

Big Business funds propaganda (esp. media and advertising) that promotes their business interests. This leads to increased business profits, which leads to more money for business propaganda. Its a self perpetuating cycle where everyone involved profits. No wonder so many people love it.

Unfortunately, Big Business is destroying the planet. The rampant Capitalist model demands endless profits, leading to an inevitably smaller and smaller group of elites amassing more and more wealth. It's a path to ruin for all but a select few, and even they will ultimately inherit nothing more than a dying planet overpopulated by uneducated, angry, hungry masses.

Das Kapital means whoever has the most money wins the big pile of ashes at the end of the game. Campaigning against this system is extremely difficult, largely because nobody will pay you to do it. Therein lies the dilemma.

Meanwhile, a lot of decent, honest people believe the business propaganda because they have never had a good look at the alternatives. Their perception is based on lies, so the shocking truth sounds like a lie to them. How do we reach these people and change their way of thinking? We need to be able to compete on the Public Relations (PR) level, combating propaganda with truth. This blog post urges readers to consider how activist PR can be properly funded. It takes a quick look at 5 existing solutions, 5 other options, and 3 mainstream media models, then draws some semi-conclusions. Your thoughts are appreciated in the comments!


PART A - Five Existing Solutions


A number of financial models currently exist which allow people to compete (to some extent) against Big Business propaganda.

1. Donations

This is the simplest model. Websites like Antiwar.com and ICH, and organisations like Wikileaks, are excellent examples. But who donates to these sites and why? Why are they always struggling to just keep going? Surely there must be a better model.

2. Community + Advertising

Websites like Daily Kos and FDL began as community sites where people contributed their time and energy for free. Some have now incorporated advertising to cover the costs of a small, dedicated team. It's efficient, especially for targeted campaigns and disseminating news, and those who choose to participate seem to enoy participating in the community model. But it doesn't seem to work so well outside the USA, and even there results are a work in progress. The promise of the "Netroots" is still to be fully realised, despite all the hype.

3. Sales

Online sales of T-shirts, printed mugs, and other merchandise can sometimes supplement a news section. Eg. Cafe Press. But few such sites survive for long against the demands of web marketing in competition with Ebay & Co. The perception that a news story is trying to sell you something doesn't help.

4. Charitable Foundations

Wealthy donors sometimes set up a charitable foundation with a noble agenda (e.g. the Knight Foundation). The scope and daring of these foundations is usually rather limited in practice. While some founders may have been free-thinkers, those overseeing their foundations tend to be less courageous.

5. Paid subscription

Sites like crikey.com.au rely on paid reader subscriptions plus (usually) some advertising. But limited access leads to limited readership on sometimes excellent writing. People just won't pay for news and opinion while they can still get it free elsewhere. And there are plenty of other voices demanding attention.


PART B - Five Other Options


6. Crime

The Robin Hood model involves robbing the rich to pay the poor. This model could be used to support propaganda but it is riddled with problems. Eg. it cannot work if everyone is in jail, or the site is closed down, or if the public are overwhelmingly against it. Non-violent criminals could be urged to donate money anonymously through a proxy site, with money forwarded through the same tax haven routes as used by Big Business. No evidence this has been attempted.

7. Direct Action

Direct action (street protests, civil disobedience, etc.) foregoes the need to raise money. The propaganda element is supplied by media reporting on the actions (albeit they can interpret those actions as desired). But the media tend to ignore or distort the message. Groups like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd have some success here, but individuals are discouraged by the threat of fines and detention.

8. The Armageddon Option

The ultimate direct action would be to destroy the system, rendering existing wealth and power obsolete. For example, destroying all bank records, property titles, sharemarket functions, etc. But this would almost inevitably have a negative impact (at least in the short term) on millions (if not billions) of innocent people. And what new system would replace it? Those with guns and weapons would be best placed to profit from the ensuing anarchy.

9. Switch Off, Walk Away

Refusing to be part of the system, returning to nature. Sounds like a nice option, if you can get away with it. But ignoring problems doesn't make them go away. OTOH what if everybody did it? What if we all stopped voting, stopped paying taxes, turned our backyards into vegetable patches and our street corners into bartering market-places? Could we all AFFORD to do that? Is there enough land for us all? What about climate change - will over 8 billion people be able to survive off the land 50 years from now? Not likely.

10. Art

It is possible to make money from art that carries a propaganda message, be it writing, painting, performance art, movies, etc. Again, government funding has been severely limited so only a select few manage to succeed. Street art, youtube videos and similar efforts have some impact but again there is no funding model to support on-going efforts.


Part C: Three Media Models


11. Western government-funded media

We should pause to consider the potential of government-owned media in relatively free societies like UK and Australia. Could outlets like the BBC and ABC save the day? Sadly, no. These institutions have been ruthlessly politicized, had their funds cut, and are now minimally effective. Certain programs (e.g. 4 Corners, DateLine) are capable of occasional great work, but mostly these news outlets provide bland, minimalistic reporting.

12. Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera is also worth noting. They publish opinion pieces from writers like ted Rall and Dahr Jamail, who offer radically alternative viewpoints to Western media competitors. Recent access into the NYC market hopefully presages a full-scale move into the US market (which would cause many US citizens' brains to explode). But then we should remember who finances Al Jazeera: the Qatar government's ownership is often blamed for bias. And while AJE is having a positive impact in many areas, the general dilemma of making money from online news remains. OTOH if more governments followed the AJE model, would the bastards be able to keep each other honest?

13. UK Guardian's Trustee Model

The UK Guardian newspaper's trustee-ownership media model is also worth considering. Arguably the best of a bad lot in UK newspapers at the moment, it has done some excellent work on issues like the Murdoch phone hacking scandal. Still, the recent campaign of cheap anti-WikiLeaks snark shows the Guardian is only as good as the journalists and editors it employs. Again, there are hopeful signs, but (despite the CIF section) it remains a relatively closed shop for citizen journos and unorthodox viewpoints. In any case, the newspaper division of Guardian Media Group continues operating at a loss, sustained by profitable divisions like Auto Trader. So it's not a model that can be easily copied.


Conclusions


Existing solutions are having only limited success. Things are still getting worse, not better. While many wonderful people freely contribute many hours of their time in the hope that the balance will soon be tipped, success remains far from guaranteed. We need a game-changer.

Those who get their news over the internet are becoming more educated, but the real effect of this change in news-gathering habits is still barely noticeable in wider society. If things get really bad in the global economy, and conventional news sites either shut down or lose all credibility, the existing "alternative media" may experience a boom. This MIGHT quickly turn them into critically important social hubs. Meanwhile decent news organisations are cutting back staff or going bankrupt, and even Murdoch is threatening to put his news behind a paywall (yeah, I know: good luck with that).

From an activist's point of view, what is needed is a funding model that allows top quality activists to work full-time on changing the system. Aside from the options described above, I just can't think of any such funding model. For me personally, that means (sometime soon, probably) I just will not be able to continue tweeting and writing. It's a pity, because this is what I really want to do. And I am sure there are many good, capable, hard-working and intelligent people out there who feel the same as me.

More broadly, we need to encourage an economic model where a financial value is placed on things like peace and transparency in government and business. There is an economic cost from corruption, as even the World Bank concedes. War is a racket where everybody loses except the arms manufacturers. Our planet has 7 billion people living on it right now, and we are only going to survive if we can all work together in the most peaceful and efficient ways possible. Setting up a working model to fund anti-business protest would be a good start.

What do you think? Have I left anything out? Am I being too sceptical? Where do we go from here?

Friday, August 12, 2011

We are allowed to ask questions

As a faceless member of the public (or even as a freelance journo with no reputation) you are allowed to ask questions but nobody will publish your "Crazy Conspiracy Theory" answers. And there seem to be a whole load of important questions not really being answered any more.

Hence my ABC Online article at The Drum:
So... Why are all those kids rioting in London, Manchester and Liverpool?

Why are global stock markets plummeting again? Didn't the people on TV say everything was OK now? Why has the USA's credit rating been downgraded? How could they have possibly gotten into such a mess? And what about European countries? Why are they suddenly needing IMF bailouts?

What's happening to that former IMF leader who was accused of rape? Did he do it or was he set-up, and if so by whom? Why is his replacement also in trouble? What does the IMF actually do, anyway? Why is there another famine in Africa? Isn't that why we set up the World Bank?

What's happening in the Middle East? Why is Iraq still such a bloody mess, after all these years? How many people have died there? Why are the Taliban still so strong in Afghanistan? When are our soldiers coming home? What exactly are we trying to achieve over there? Why are the local warlords still allowed to profit from heroin crops? Why are we propping up president Karzai, if he doesn't even like us?

Why is Pakistani turning against the USA? Why were they hiding Osama Bin Laden? Weren't they supposed to be helping us? What's happening to their nuclear weapons? Are we going to support India instead now? What about China? Is it true they hold the global purse-strings these days? How does that work, if they are all supposed to be communists?

And what about Saudi Arabia? How can they be opposed to violence in Syria, when they invaded Bahrain to attack protesters? Why didn't the USA say more about that? Is it because Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain? Why don't Western leaders speak up against Saudi mistreatment of women, and their repression of the ethnic Shiah community? Is it because the Saudis have so much money invested in Wall Street, and buy so many arms?

Why is Gaddafi still in power? And why is NATO fighting Gaddafi in Libya, but not standing up to Assad, or North Korea, or Burma? Is Mugabe still running Mozambique? Whatever happened to him? Why don't we care anymore?

Whatever happened to that UK Iraq War enquiry? If Blair lied about Iraq WMDs, why didn't he go to jail? Why do so many people believe Dr David Kelly was murdered? Who would do such a thing? Did Blair really sex up the intelligence? Is that why Cheney set up his Office Of Special Plans? Has he released the minutes of his pre-war energy taskforce meetings with oil executives?

Why did those World Trade Centre buildings collapse like that, especially Building Seven which wasn't even hit by a plane? Why didn't Bush want to have an enquiry? Why wouldn't he talk without Cheney in the room? Why didn't the 9/11 commission disclose those warnings to Condoleeza Rice? Why was her old friend Philip Zelikow in charge of it all? Why were those Mossad agents celebrating on a NYC rooftops as the towers burned? Are they going to have another inquiry? Why not?

Who was behind those US anthrax attacks in October 2001? Why did the FBI chase the wrong guy for so long? Why did they drive that other guy to suicide? How come they still can't prove that he did it? And how come Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI who oversaw so many failures, just got an extraordinary two-year job extension, with a unanimous US Senate approval vote?

Why is former president George W Bush so quiet these days? Why is Karl Rove working for Fox News? Why hasn't Obama closed Guantanamo Bay? Why has warrantless wire tapping increased 400 per cent under Obama, when he said he was against it? And if the USA is in such bad financial trouble, how come the Pentagon still gets budget increases?

Who are these #Anonymous people on the internet? What do they want? Why are they attacking all those websites? Are they connected with WikiLeaks? Why hasn't that Assange guy been charged with anything yet? Did he really rape those Swedish girls or was it all just a set-up? If WikiLeaks has done nothing illegal, why are people calling for his assassination? Why have WikiLeaks funds been cut off by major global financial institutions like PayPal, Mastercard and Visa? Why isn't the government doing anything about that?

Why is the media still talking about idiots who claim climate change is not real? Why does the cost of living keep going up? Why is tertiary education so expensive nowadays? Why is food now being traded as a commodity, driving up food prices in the Third World? Was that Goldman Sachs's idea? Why didn't any of them go to jail after GFC #1?

Is Rupert Murdoch going to jail? Is he still being protected by Scotland Yard? What does he want, money or power? If business donations provide the money behind right-wing political parties, how does that help democracy? Why should corporations have the same rights as individuals? Is justice only for those who can afford it? And if so, why should ordinary people continue to respect the rule of law?

Why does Australia always vote against UN resolutions supporting the Palestinian people? Why did Labor get rid of Rudd, since Gillard is just the same or worse? Why didn't Senator Mark Arbib lose his job, when he was outed as a US intelligence source? Why can't the Liberals put up a better candidate than Tony Abbott? Is John Howard still pulling strings in the back room?

Why is our economy becoming totally reliant on mining exports to China? If we really want to stop climate change, why do we keep selling our coal to China? What happens when our minerals run out, or China's economy stops growing? When is the housing bubble going to burst? Why is renting so expensive? Why doesn't the Government just build more houses? Is that a favour to the banks, to maintain artificially high prices?

We are allowed to ask questions. But only the Very Serious People are allowed to provide answers. And if their answers make no sense, it doesn't matter. We are not allowed to ask follow-up questions.

So we are left to come up with our own answers, based on the evidence we can find. Our explanations, if they are even noticed, are ridiculed as "Conspiracy Theories". And then, when they are proven right, they are dismissed as "Old News". The Very Serious People have already "Moved On" to new agendas.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

How WikiLeaks Is Helping Change Malaysia

My latest post at WLCentral.org today:
Late last year, Malaysian Opposition Leader Dr Anwar Ibrahim was being labelled "WikiLeaks' first Malaysian victim" after the Sydney Morning Herald released a US cable suggesting he had knowingly "walked into" a sex trap. But the purported evidence quickly dissolved into hearsay when Singapore's intelligences services could not substantiate their allegations of "technical intelligence". A cable released later showed US officials pressuring the Malaysian government to drop the sex charges against Dr Anwar because they had no credibility, either at home or abroad.

Current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak accuses Anwar Ibrahim of leading a “small group” of malcontents with the purpose of toppling his government. That "group" is a coalition of non-governmental organisations, The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, more popularly known as "Bersih" (which means "clean" in Malay). Its stated aim is to clean up the electoral system and ensure fair elections in Malaysia.

“It’s not so much about electoral reform," insists the Malaysian PM. "They want to show us as though we’re like the Arab Spring governments in the Middle East.”

The parallels are worth examining, even though Bersih campaigners insist their sole focus is clean elections, not regime overthrow.

The first "illegal" Bersih rally, in November 2007, was dispersed by Malaysian riot police with tear gas and chemical bursts. Thirteen men and two women were arrested. The government ignored continuing demands for electoral change, so a second street demonstration (Bersih 2.0) was organised for 9th July 2011. Despite extraordinary government attempts to block entrance to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, between 10,000 and 50,000 people joined the protest. The police response has been criticized as heavy-handed, with over 1,600 people arrested, including several Bersih leaders. Dr Anwar, taken to hospital after a tear gas attack, was just one among thousands of injured demonstrators. One person died during a scuffle with police, who later denied responsibility.

After the protest, 30 members of the Parti Sosialis Malaysia (Malaysian Socialist Party, or PSM) remained in extended detention, with 24 eventually charged under Societies Act for allegedly possessing and distributing banned protest pamphlets. Another 6 members (the "EO6") were held for 28 days without trial under the draconian Emergency Ordinance (EO) of 1969. They were released after a series of candle-light vigils, some of which police also dispersed with violent tactics.

Protestors turned to social media to tell their stories and maintain the Bersih movement's momentum. The #BersihStories tag became popular on Twitter, with people eager to share their own experiences of the July 9th protest. Police responded by releasing selective videos, encouraging citizens to report on protestors, and charging individuals who made "false reports against the force".

A former US ambassador to Malaysia, John Malott, is one of many outspoken critics of the Malaysian government's heavy-handed Bersih 2.0 crackdown.

“Malaysia is certainly not Libya or Syria or Yemen. Najib is not a Qaddafi. But still, I was surprised to see that Najib is still saying that the Bersih movement is a veiled attempt to topple his administration through street demonstrations, like those that are now claiming Middle Eastern despots,” Malott told the Malaysia Chronicle newspaper.

“Well, if that is Bersih’s goal, then why did Najib act like an Arab Spring government? It’s only a question of degree. The Malaysian police did not use lethal force, but the mentality is the same. Suppress whoever disagrees with you. Maybe you don’t use tanks, but you use water cannon. It’s not bullets, it’s tear gas. But the authoritarian mindset is exactly the same as the leaders of the Arab Spring governments.”

Government defenders dismiss such talk as further evidence of US meddling in Malaysian affairs. They point to a WikiLeaks cable where US officials warn Washington against being seen as too closely allied with Dr Anwar's opposition, lest he be perceived as a US puppet. In another leaked cable, however, a former US ambassador warns that the ruling UMNO party are "willing to blacken Malaysia’s reputation to ensure the end to opposition leader (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim’s political challenge."

“Malaysia has seen Operasi Lalang, it has seen the Sedition Act and ISA used liberally, and more recently it has seen denial of service attacks on the alternative media to keep people from reading what the Government doesn’t want them to know," said Malott, when asked about the potential for a more wide-spread violent crack-down.

“What is the probability of it happening? I don’t know. But if it does happen, then as you said, it will come as a great shock to everyone who has been holding a very different image of Malaysia."

The next General Election could be held as soon as October. PM Najib's ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (National Front), which has been in power since 1957, must now decide whether to keep cracking down hard on Bersih protests, or placate opponents by moving towards more transparent elections.

With allegations by Dr Anwar that overseas votes are being manipulated, and despite Najib's lip service on electoral reform, the signs are not promising.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has so far released only 37 cables from the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, including 13 in the last month. Another 957 cables are apparently yet to be released. The run-up to the next election promises to remain interesting, and the world is watching.

LINKS:

You can can follow the Bersih movement on Twitter using the #Bersih or #Bersih2 hashtags, or see a collection of #BersihStories tweets at: http://bersihstories.org/

Official Bersih Website: http://bersih.org/

Bersih Stories on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bersih-Stories/105957342833919

Lulz, Security, Justice and the FBI

As posted at WLCentral.org recently:

The recent news of alleged LulzSec spokesperson Topiary's arrest took the media spotlight away from WikiLeaks supporters' demonstration against PayPal. But it also raises questions about how online laws are applied, and the credibility of those who enforce them.

While doubts remain over whether the police have arrested the right person, Topiary's twitter account has been reduced to a single tweet: "You cannot arrest an idea."

Topiary served as LulzSec's witty media front-man and his clever humour was tempered by a strong sense of justice.

"Laws are to be respected when they're fair, not obeyed without question," he said in a recent interview. "Revolution, to me, is bringing down the big guy while not forgetting to stand up for the little guy."

Topiary's arrest is just the latest in a string of arrests which are set to turn the spotlight back onto the US justice system. Many Anonymous supporters doubt the evidence being used against alleged juvenile hackers, while the WikiLeaks legal case against financial services like Visa, PayPal and Mastercard will generate even more public scrutiny.

It's worth noting that the US Department of Justice's much-vaunted case against NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake fell apart spectacularly, while US-CERT director Randy Vickers recently resigned without explanation after a string of embarrassing failures.

Meanwhile, FBI head Robert Mueller has been given two more years in the agency's top job. A day after President Barack Obama signed a law allowing him to serve two years beyond the statutory 10-year limit, Mueller's position was secured by a 100-0 Senate vote.

Mueller was appointed by President George W. Bush just a week before the 9/11 attacks in 2001. He has been widely accused by civil liberties groups of abusing powers granted under the controversial Patriot Act. Again, it's worth asking why his re-appointment has been so avidly endorsed.

On Mueller's watch the FBI has:

1. Completely failed to resolve the 2001 anthrax terrorist attacks. After harrassing an innocent suspect for years, the FBI settled out of court and turned their attention to another US government employee, Dr Bruce Ivins. The stress of the investigation drove him to an alleged suicide, and yet the evidence against him remains inconclusive and the anthrax attack controversy remains unresolved.

2. Responded in the most minimalistic fashion to Wall Street corruption.

3. Supported an amateurish smear of WikiLeaks after a contracted agency detected suspicious activity on Swedish servers using "so-called Internet protocol addresses".

4. Provided support for ex-President Saleh's corrupt dictatorship in Yemen.

5. Trained Egyptian government torturers.

6. Targeted US citizens for simply taking an interest in US foreign policy, and particularly harrassed US citizens who take trips to Israel and Palestine.

7. Allowed Pakistani agents to masquerade as fake FBI agents on US soil.

The FBI worked closely with PayPal to identify hackers in the December 2010 #OpPayBack protest, after Paypal gave FBI investigators a list of 1000 IP addresses supposedly linked to the Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. The FBI is also targeting protestors who participated in a DDoS operation against Koch Industries, while ignoring similar attacks on the WikiLeaks website.

So what laws have been broken here, and how should they be punished? Is a modern digital DDoS attack on PayPal equivalent to a traditional sit-in protest outside a shop or a minister's office? How should those who participate in such online communal protests be prosecuted, as opposed to the "big guns" who direct the traffic from their Low Orbital Ion Canons?

And if people are doing nothing illegal, is it OK to just change the law?

As the protracted extradition case against Julian Assange has demonstrated, the wheels of justice move slowly, and such delays tend to favour accusers over defendants. The financial blockade of WikiLeaks remains in place, and Assange remains under house arrest, despite widespread criticism.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks supporters are being urged to consider alternatives to PayPal. And Topiary's voice remains very much alive.