Canada and Mali

I’m privileged to be supervising some great students at all levels, but Jeff Monaghan is something else*. Not surprisingly for someone who previously worked with the awesomely prolific and engaged, Kevin Walby (now over in Victoria – who may be the young researcher I most admire in surveillance studies), he mainly uses Access to Information and Privacy requests (ATIPs – under Canada’s freedom of information legislation) as a basic method, and as far as I can see he is constantly firing these things off and sorting through them for revealing nuggets. Right now, Jeff is working in the way in which Canadian development aid, like that of many wealthy nations, is becoming increasingly entwined with a security agenda, what he calls ‘security aid’. Anyway, he’s in the news today because one of his ATIPs has revealed that Canada was engaged in planning for military intervention in Mali, of some sort, over a year ago, belying their apparent public reluctance to get involved right now.


Will the Global South overtake the North in transparency?

At a time when liberal democracies in the Global North seem increasingly paranoid and cutting down both on personal freedoms and government accountability, could nations from the Global South seize the moment to become the new pace-setters on open government?

There are plenty of good examples from Latin American, but it’s in Africa that the real changes are occurring. Yes, that’s the same Africa often stereotyped as the home of endless war, corruption, military coups and dictators. Kenya, in fact, which the pessimists were portraying as being on the brink of collapse and authoritarianism after election violence a few years ago. But now, Kenya is pushing forward with massive changes in the way its government operates with an increasing tendency towards open information and other accountability initiatives, as a Guardian story is reporting.

Cynics will argue that this is just pandering to a new urban middle class, with only 26% of Kenyans having home Internet access. However, like many countries in Africa, the communications revolution us predominantly mobile and almost 65% of Kenyans have mobile telephones and will be able to access mobile versions of the new sites.

‘Turning Off’ the Internet

Boing Boing contributors have been doing a fascinating job of documenting the place of the Internet and social media in the ongoing turmoil spreading across Arabic countries. Until recently the focus had been on the use of social media tools by activists, but in the last few days, the empire has struck back. In particular the Egyptian state has effectively ‘turned off’ the Internet, cutting Net access and communications between Egypt and the rest of the world.

What’s particularly interesting is that the rulers of western ‘democracies’ seem to want similar powers. I’ve been writing about the growing movement amongst states to develop powers to split or close the Internet entirely for some time (see here, here and here, for example). Most recently, I reported on French efforts to develop Internet censorship power in wide-ranging circumstances, and as Sean Bonner on BB points out, a bill was introduced into Congress last year by, it’s that man again, Joe Liebermann, to give the USA government even greater powers to cut off civilian access to the Net entirely in the event of a ‘cyber-emergency’.

This is not a drill, people, this is happening…

UN 1267 and kafkaesque justice

I have just come back from a talk by Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen of Sudanese origin who has just in June returned to Canada after six years in Sudan. He wasn’t there by choice but because he was arrested by the Sudanese intelligence services (NISS) – who have been frequently condemned by Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – imprisoned and tortured and then prevented from returning by the Canadian government, until a Federal Court Judge, Russel Zinn, ruled in his favour.  He has never been charged with any offence let alone convicted, and it has been made clear on a number of occasions that there is no evidence against him. Furthermore he alleges (and Judge Zinn agreed) that the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS) was involved almost every step of the way, including harassing him and his family, and participating in his interrogation in the Sudan – CSIS is, of course, as unacountable as most of the intelligence agencies of supposedly democratic western states.  You can read more about the case here.

Now he’s back, but he is effectively a persona non grata, as since 2006, at the request of the US government, he has been on The Consolidated List established and maintained by the 1267 Committee with respect to Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, and the Taliban and other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with them (the ‘UN 1267 List’). This list, established by UN Resolution 1267, and administered by the permanent members of the Security Council (not the General Assembly or other more accountable UN organisations), goes much further than the US ‘No-Fly List’. It is supposedly a list of the most dangerous Al-Qaeda and Taliban members and affiliates and no signatory state is allowed to provide those listed with any financial or material assistance, including services, employment, healthcare and so on. You would think that this extraordinary (and so far as we know, indefinite) punishment would require equally extraordinary proof, but the situation is the opposite: there is no public evidence or accountability offered. It is theoretically possible to get off the list, but appeal is only to the UN 1267 List committee itself, seems to work on the principle of ‘prove that you are not a terrorist’ – an all but impossible task for anyone – and no reason for refusal is published or given to the appellant.

But the list itself is entirely public. On the website, you can find Abdelrazik, listed under ‘Individuals associated with Al-Qaeda’ – and let’s make it clear, no evidence has been offered to suggest that he is in any way associated with that terrorist organisation or its affiliates. The entries are telling in that they are basically a series of ‘known aliases’ of various degrees of apparent strength of evidence (which of course is not provided). Each group of aliases could really be anyone or any number of people for two main reasons. Firstly, there is the acknowledged lack of expertise of western intelligence agencies in Arabic and Muslim countries – just as a random example, see this article from earlier this year which makes clear that the CIA is still massively deficient in all foreign language skills. The second is the fact that any information they do have was in many cases either paid for or obtained by forced confessions through intimidation and torture, which as everyone knows, provides nothing of value and is counterproductive in a wider political sense (in addition to being wrong, of course). And to add another layer of bleak irony, some of this unreliable information is obtained from the very organisations (like NISS) condemned by the UN for their appalling human rights records! Yet a web of certainty and indefinite punitive restriction is being spun around these dubious data.

Judge Zinn in his judgement, compared the situation to that of The Trial by Franz Kafka, and it’s hard to imagine a more apt word for it than kafkaesque. He not only decried the Canadian government’s attitude to this individual case as flawed (as have been the actions of almost all the major western nations in this area), but he argued that the UN 1267 list as a whole was  “a denial of basic legal remedies and untenable under the principles of international human rights” and – I would add – morally indefensible.