Chelsea Manning, US army intelligence officer and whistleblower, received a commutation by President Barack Obama in January 2017 of her prison sentence after she served seven of the 35 years for convictions of espionage and related offenses. Manning leaked 750,000 classified military and diplomatic documents to Wikileaks, known as the Reykjavik 13, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, the Baghdad airstrike collateral murder video, Cablegate, the Guantanamo Bay files, the Grainai airstrike, and others. In May 2017, Manning, a trans-woman, who suffered torture and a myriad of other abuses while in US prison custody, was released, and she presently lives in New York City. She is involved with various protests and social justice actions, and maintains a presence in the media by writing columns in newspapers, as well as personal Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts. On September 13, 2017, Harvard University Kennedy School Institute of Politics named Manning a visiting fellow, however, in protest, former CIA deputy director Michael J. Morell resigned from his position as Senior Fellow at the Kennedy School. Harvard’s close ties to the CIA became even more apparent when CIA director Mike Pompeo cancelled his speaking visit to Harvard also in protest, leading the Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf on September 15 to cancel Manning’s appointment as visiting fellow (although she is invited to campus for a day to talk to students). Harvard’s actions can be seen within the larger context of fights over ‘free speech’ at American university campuses, and institutional support for CIA war criminals and tortures. Manning tweeted “honored to be the 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow. they chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure #WeGotThis”. On September 25, Manning took to Twitter, detailing that she had been barred from entry into Canada on September 22. Manning was unauthorized to enter Canada because of her felony conviction in the US. The Canadian immigration document states that “if committed in Canada, this offence would equate to an indictable offence, namely Treason…for which a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment may be imposed.” Manning stated she will formally challenge Canada’s refusal, and The Guardian reports that Manning was detailed by Canadian officials overnight before being sent back into the US.
After intense lobbying of the Trump administration, Erik Prince, founder of the private mercenary firm Blackwater, now called Academi, wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, 2017 in which he argued that the US government should privatise the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan by replacing US soldiers with his private force of 5,500, establish a ‘viceroy’ to oversee the entire colonial operation, remove all oversight, checks and auditing, and make contractors even further immune from war crimes and prosecution. This comes only a month after President Trump ordered the detonation of the largest ever non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan killing at least 90 people. In response to Trump ordering about 4,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, Prince wrote another op-ed in the New York Times on August 30, 2017, and continues to lobby for his plan with the help of his sister, Betsy DeVos, who is US Secretary of Education in the Trump administration.
In August 2017, a US federal appeals court ordered that three Blackwater security contractors, Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty, and Paul A. Slough should be resentenced for their convictions of voluntary manslaughter, and threw out their convictions of using machine guns to carry out a violent crime in the Nisour Square Bagdad massacre of 2007 that left 14 civilians dead and 17 injured. The fourth Blackwater mercenary, Nicolas A. Slatten, had his conviction of murder entirely thrown out, and now the Trump Justice Department will have to decide whether or not they will pursue a new trial. The defendants argued that the Justice Department had no jurisdiction to prosecute them for war crimes in Iraq, but the court disagreed, yet nevertheless found that the defendants’ three 30-year sentences and one life sentence were too harsh for the war crimes committed.
An unnamed US citizen fighting for the Islamic State is currently being held by the American military/Department of Defense as an ‘enemy combatant’ after having either been captured or surrendering to the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will file criminal charges in federal court or continue to use military detention against the person. A Pentagon spokesperson claimed incorrectly that, “There is nothing that prohibits detaining a US citizen as an enemy combatant at Guantanamo.”
In July 2017, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr received a $10.5 million settlement and official apology from Canada in response to his civil lawsuit over the government’s involvement of his imprisonment in 2002 at the age of 16, first at Bagram prison, and then at US Guantanamo Bay prison for 10 years. In January 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the government had violated his rights during interrogations, and acknowledged he had been tortured at Gitmo. In October 2010, Khadr plead guilty to five charges including murder in violation of the laws of war for allegedly killing sergeant Christopher Speer with a grenade during fighting between the Taliban and the US Army in 2002, making Khadr the first person since World War II to be prosecuted in a military commission for war crimes committed as a minor. He was later transferred to Canada to serve the rest of his sentence, but was released on bail in May 2015, and has appealed his US conviction arguing he falsely pleaded guilty so he could get transferred out of Gitmo back to Canada. In August 2017, Tabitha Speer, the soldier’s widow, seeks to enforce a $134M wrongful death suit won in default in Utah against Khadr by appealing to the Ontario Superior Court.
In March 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a Sudanese born naturalized British citizen, who had his citizenship stripped and was barred entry from the UK, over allegations of links to the terrorist group Al-Shabaab. In July it was reported that 150 suspected terrorists and other alleged criminals were stripped of their UK citizenship and banned from returning to the UK.
After many years of legal battles, Helen Steel continued to appeal to force the UK Metropolitan police to publicly disclose that John Dines was an undercover officer who pretended to be another person, faked a relationship, and sexually manipulated her in order to surveil her and her environmental justice comrades. While Steel and seven other women who sued have received apologies and compensation from the police for the abuses they suffered, it was only in December 2016 that Undercover Police Inquiry finally officially named John Dines. Furthermore, Mark Jenner has still not been confirmed as the undercover officer who deceived ‘Alison’ into a five-year relationship because of the Met’s neither confirm nor deny (NCND) policy.
According to the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, still unconfirmed by the police are the majority of publicly exposed undercover officers (23 as of August 2017), as well as 144 unknown and unnamed undercover officers. The inquiry has found that over 1,000 political groups since 1968 were subject to surveillance by undercover police officers, although those groups and people have not been named.
The Intercept created a database and accompanying analysis of 810 prosecuted cases of ‘international terrorism’ in the US. Thirty-seven percent of those cases were FBI sting operations in which 268 involved informants and 32 did not. Thirty two of the 268 were cooperators, and 22% of them became cooperating witnesses or informants after having been caught up in other FBI terrorism stings.
Surveillance, Control, and Repression
An unnamed person who previously worked for a secret UK Metropolitan police intelligence unit alleged in a letter sent to Green party official Jenny Jones that the police were regularly reading the emails of activists, including four from Greenpeace UK, and journalists, including two from The Guardian, as part of surveillance operations. The Met’s access to the email accounts was acquired by using hacked passwords obtained by hackers employed by Indian police.
After the Westminster and London Bridge terrorist attacks in London, Prime Minister Theresa May in June 2017 proposed new anti-terrorism measures: amending human rights laws; increasing the length of time police can hold suspects without charges; further restricting the freedom and movement of suspects through house arrest, curfew, forced relocation, and creating ‘exclusion zones’ of public spaces where the suspects are not allowed to go or enter; further reducing access to communications (phone, internet, etc.); increasing the ease and number of forcible deportations; and increasing prison sentences for terrorism-related offenses. The Investigatory Powers Act was enacted into law in December 2016, which requires web and phone companies to retain everyone’s web browsing histories and communication data records for phones and texts for up to two years, as well as forcing companies to bypass or alter encryption services like Whatsapp and Signal used by named and targeted ‘terrorism’ suspects.
In November 2016, Muhammad Rabbani, the director of Cage, a British group that advocates for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay prison, was detained at London Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, and refused to give up his passwords to his electronic devices because he had confidential information from a former Gitmo prisoner gathered for his work. He was then arrested, held in prison, released, and charged under the Terrorism Act. Rabbani had been stopped and questioned many other times by border control officials, but had not previously been asked to give up his passwords and pin code. On September 25, 2017, he was convicted by a judge of one count of willfully obstructing a stop-and-search under the Terrorism Act. However, a judge ruled last year in David Miranda’s appeal of his arrest under Schedule 7 that police officers must cease reviewing and not copy information that they believe may be protected under attorney client privilege, is journalist material, or is otherwise confidential and “acquired or created in the course of any trade, business, profession or other occupation.” Between 2009 and 2016, British authorities carried out 400,058 examinations of people under Schedule 7 – 137 per day on average. The Intercept reports that during Schedule 7 searches the police may covertly download the contents of people’s phones and send the info to British intelligence GCHQ under the programs ‘phantom parrot’ and ‘lucky strike,’ according to an intelligence document from the Snowden files.
75,000 Turkish citizens have been arrested, detained, or dismissed from their jobs by the authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for offenses including downloading the encrypted messaging app ByLock. Turkish authorities cracked the supposedly secure app, thereby allowing them to identify people and networks of connections. During trials, the Turkish government has claimed the app was exclusively used by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, deemed a terrorist, despite the fact that the app is used in 41 countries. The findings were published in a legal report commissioned by opponents of the Turkish government.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 11 travelers (10 U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident) whose smartphones and laptops were searched without warrants at the U.S. border. The lawsuit seeks to establish that the government must have a warrant based on probable cause to suspect a violation of immigration or customs laws before conducting such searches. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers conducted nearly 15,000 electronic device searches in the first half of fiscal year 2017, putting CBP on track to conduct more than three times the number of searches than in fiscal year 2015 (8,503), and some 50 percent more than in fiscal year 2016 (19,033).
In April, Trump proposed ‘extreme vetting’ of travelers coming to the US from 38 countries that partici-pate in the visa waiver program, including the UK, EU countries, Australia, and Japan. New screening could include forcing people to give up their cell phones and laptops so DHS and CBP could look at contacts and personal data; give up their social media handles and passwords; pass an ‘ideological’ test; and more. On October 18, 2017, new rules will go into effect that allow the DHS to collect information about all immigrants including visa holders and naturalized US citizens including their “social media handles, aliases, identifiable information and search results”, and “publicly available information obtained on the internet, public records, public institutions, commercial data providers”.
In January, Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ (Executive Order 13769) lowered the number of refugees who could be admitted to the US to 50,000, suspended the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely, suspended the entry of refugees from the six other countries for 120 days, and suspended the entry of people, including lawful permanent residents of the US, for 90 days from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. In March, Executive Order 13780 replaced and superseded the previous one, and included changes such as dropping Iraq from the list, removing the exemption for religious minorities in the banned countries, and excluding green-card and visa holders already within the US. More than 700 people were detained and 60,000 visas were revoked. The Supreme Court reinstated key provisions of the order in June 2017 which had been suspended by the lower courts. However, on September 24, the Trump administration issued a new executive order amending the previous one, which was partially set to expire that day. The new order has significant changes: people, based on their immigration or non-immigration statuses, from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela will be indefinitely barred from entering the US; Iraqis will be subject to enhanced screenings; and nothing is stated about refugees. The type of ban varies between countries, for example, for Venezuela, the ban targets only certain government officials and their families; for North Korea and Syria, all immigrants and non-immigrants are banned; for Libya and Yemen, immigrants and those on certain types of visa are banned. The Supreme Court is asking the litigants suing over the order to file new briefs, given these changes.
DHS is pushing a plan to require all Americans to submit to facial-recognition scans at airports when departing the country. As of now, airports in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, NYC, and Washington D.C. have pilot programs with more locations to be added. DHS claims it will delete the scans in 14 days, but that the scans could also be kept longer based upon “appropriate privacy reviews and approvals.” DHS stated that the only way to ensure a person is not forced to give biometric information to the government is to not travel internationally.
Republicans and President Trump continue to attempt to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, with a variety of technology companies marketing their products to surveil and track undocumented immigrants. The company Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies (known as BI2) has given sheriffs in the 31 counties along the border a free three-year trial of iris scan technology, both mobile and stationary, which will be used to collect biometric data. BI2 maintains a database of 987,000 iris scans from over 180 law enforcement jurisdictions, which would be used to compare the data taken from undocumented people.
Another report found that half of all Americans, about 117 million adults, are identifiable in facial-recognition databases maintained by police, and the FBI maintains its own database with data coming from driver’s licenses, passports, visa applications, and other government-approved identifications. Facial recognition algorithms are proven to be biased, racist, and inaccurate when analyzing data of people of color, attempting to produce matches in data sets, and matching life surveillance video to facial recognition data.
On September 21, 2017, the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who was located by police using a Stingray cell site simulator because authorities had not first attained a warrant based upon probable cause. This ‘search’ and the use of the attained information was deemed unconstitutional. Devices like this that locate people via their cell phones, and in some cases also intercept calls and text messages, are routinely used by numerous government agencies including the FBI, ICE, IRS, and police.
The new Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 will be up for a vote soon in the US Senate, and Section 623 states “that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actions and should be treated as such a service by the United States.” If Wiki-Leaks is designated as a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” even more resources would be used to shut down the organization, prosecute its workers and supporters, stop their journalism, and gather more evidence for the ongoing grand jury investigation into Assange and WikiLeaks.
The refugees who helped Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, between the time he fled the Mira Hotel, where he met with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and prior to boarding the flight with Sarah Harrison to Moscow, are in grave danger of being deported from Hong Kong after their asylum claims were rejected in mid July 2017. The refugees, three from Sri Lanka and one from the Philippines, have been interviewed numerous times by officials about what they know about Snowden, and their impending deportation may be reprisal for helping Snowden. The refugees’ involvement was dramatized in Oliver Stone’s movie, Snowden, and extensive details about their personal histories were publicised in Handelsblatt and the National Post. Lawyers from the non-profit organization For the Refugees are attempting to bring the refugees and their children to Canada, but the process is moving very slowly, and the refugees may be deported back to their home countries where their lives will be in imminent danger.
On September 15, 2017, a Washington D.C. Superior Court judge denied the motions to dismiss charges of felony rioting including inciting a riot, engaging in a riot, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction against almost 200 people who were protesting Trump on inauguration day in the capital, and were subjected to mass arrest when they were kettled by the police. About half of the protesters are also charged with one count of assault of a police officer. If convicted, the defendants, often referred to as the J20 for the group that planned the protests, could each face decades in federal prison. The defendants are charged as one large group rather than as individuals based on the claim they were all part of the ‘black block’, with the government using aiding and abetting and conspiracy liability charges so that each defendant may be liable for the acts of others. The government also does not yet need to show any evidence against each individual of alleged criminal behavior, and the defense is not allowed to see how the grand jury decided the charges against the group of protestors. The DOJ issues three search warrants for three defendants’ and the disruptj20 facebook accounts, which would include their passwords, security questions, credits cards, info on all their friends and the 6000 associates who liked the J20 facebook event. Facebook had previously been under a gag order to not reveal the search warrants or inform the three defendants. The DOJ also had a search warrant to get the IP addresses of all 1.3 million people who visited the disruptj20 website, but the web host DreamHost fought the search in court, and now the DOJ is appealing.
During the Dakota Access Pipeline (#DAPL) protests lead by thousands of Native Americans, water protectors near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s land, over 300 people were injured by violence from police, militarised private security forces, the national guard, and 831 people have been arrested and charged with various offenses. There have been 459 dismissed charges as well as 100 guilty pleas, 12 acquittals, and 11 guilty verdicts on other charges. Many suspects have multiple charges filed in single cases. Three hundred twenty-eight cases were open as of September 14, 99 are inactive with warrants, and one is on appeal. One of the open cases is against Red Fawn, a Native American medic who denies all charges including the claim that while being subjected to unlawful arrest and being handcuffed she drew the police officer’s gun, and fired it. She was initially charged with attempted murder, and is now charged with felony counts of civil disorder, discharge of a firearm in relation to a felony crime of violence and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. The Intercept published several investigative articles about links between state and federal counter-terrorism work, state police, and the private security firm TigerSwan to surveil, spread misinformation, and arrest water protectors. The FBI joint terrorism task force (JTTF) has been documented attempting to interrogate three water protectors. A JTTF officer also went to the hospital room of Sophia Wilansky, who had her arm grievously injured by a concussion grenade shot by the police during protests, where the officer attempted to talk to her and stole her clothing. Energy Transfer Partners, the oil company building the pipeline across unseeded Lakota territory, has sued Greenpeace International, Earth First!, and other groups, accusing them of inciting terrorist actions, vandalism, causing loss of revenue, bad publicity, and operating corrupt organizations. ETP is seeking unspecified monetary damages, which would be tripled under U.S. racketeering laws; a court order barring the groups from further protests; and an order for the groups to return money to donors.
In April 2017, Swedish start-up hub Epicenter, which consists of 100 companies and 2,000 workers, started a program for employees to volunteer to be implanted with a microchip that functions as a swipe card to open doors, operate printers, make purchases at the café, login to computers, and more. In Wisconsin, Three Square Market/32M is the first US company to institute a voluntary program to implant employees with a RFID chip for similar purposes.
On March 8, the US House’s Education and Workforce Committee passed a bill, HR 1313 Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, which would allow employers to collect genetic and health information of employees and their family members, and share that information with federal and state agencies in relation to receiving health care plan premium cost reductions from the government. If the bill passes the full US Congress, it would allow employers to require employees to submit to genetic testing in order to be enrolled in employee health care ‘wellness’ plans, and could lead to genetic discrimination by employers against employees. Presently, the 2008 genetic privacy and non-discrimination law prohibits employers from requiring employees to submit to genetic testing, although it does allow for ‘voluntary’ testing and gathering of employee genetic and health data.