Google enabled targetting of soldiers in Iraq

I got quite annoyed when I read this sensationalist rant against Google by written by Paul McNamara. McNamara bases much of his rant on quotes from this article over at the Telegraph. Basically he would have us believe that insurgents in Iraq are using two year old satellite photos on Google Earth to pinpoint their attacks against British bases in Basra.

Now I’m no military commander, but if your enemy can rely on two year old photos to plan attacks against you then shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing in your head about your own complacency? Am I the only one that thinks that it shouldn’t really be possible for insurgents to pinpoint attacks based on two year old pictures?

By their own admission the Military Intelligence (Oxymoron anyone?) state that:

We have never had proof that they have deliberately targeted any area of the camp using these images but presumably they are of great use to them.

I’m guessing a pair of binoculars and a current roadmap might actually be more useful to them. Unless the images were very recent they aren’t going to show the correct positions of tents, or ordinance or even buildings. I admit they might be useful in the wider context of planning to provide information about surrounding terrain but its not as though that information isn’t already available elsewhere.

McNamara’s opening salvo is hardly objective:

Sooner or later Google is going to have to start doing a better job of coming to grips with the collateral damage created by the ever-expanding array of wiz-bang applications that have made it a worldwide phenomenon.

There are always social implications for any new technology most people love Google Earth in fact there’s an entire sub-culture thats developed around people trying to identify buildings, boats, interesting bits of terrain etc. and posting what they have discovered up just visit here to see what I mean. Stating that by not censoring their service Google is somehow colluding with terrorists to kill soldiers is to my mind offensive, I’d agree with him if the images were real time or current but they aren’t. All this is, is scaremongering of the worst kind and I dont like it … in fact I find it quite distasteful.

C’mon the last time I tried to use Google Earth to look at my home there was a huge camper van parked outside it owned by one of the neighbours … but she sold it three years ago!

Anyway found this article over at The Register whilst its a tad irreverent it makes a great read, one of the individuals quoted (Brigadier Daya Ratnayake – Sri Lanka) makes an excellent point:

“In this era of technology, you have to live with the fact that almost everything is on the internet – from bomb-making instructions to assembling aircraft. So it’s something the military has to learn to live with and adapt.”

However what worries me the most is that doing a quick google for the search “google earth insurgents terrorists” leads me to a list of articles that regurgitate the kinds flawed views echoed by McNamara and fail to point out how woefully out of date the images are. Take this quote from Fox News’s coverage of the story:

The officer said he believes insurgents use Google Earth to identify the most vulnerable areas of bases, such as tents. The tool can get as detailed as showing specific vehicles in a desired region and has no limits to who can sign up and use it

What happened to journalistic integrity? or actually using common sense? I guess scaring the shit out of people sells newspapers a damn sight quicker than telling them the truth.

For those in any doubt here’s John Pike’s view on the issue over at GlobalSecurity.org:

“If I was going to be going through all the trouble to conduct a well-planned assault on a nuclear power plant, I’m not going to trust some Web site to do my intelligence collection, If evildoers were wanting to get imagery of say, a nuclear power plant, there’s simply so many different ways that they can do it, the fact that it’s available on an Internet Web site really doesn’t alter their attack planning requirements.”

You can also read this article written by Barry Levine which offers a more balanced view, in fact Paul I recommend that you do read it you might actually learn something useful to report back to your readers.

btw: heres Bruce Schneier’s take on it.

keeping track of history

Alan’s written an interesting piece on keeping track of history. It’s a thought provoking read and I think he raises some valid points around how hard it is, even in the information age, to find out background information about news items, in part to due to the fact that they are often written before an event actually takes place – particularly with reference to political statements. I find myself agreeing with Alan’s observation that

If journalists do not see it as their job to give such background and it is still so hard to find elsewhere, then politicians can go on deceiving themselves and their people.

U.S. Government to encrypt all data on laptops

Was catching up on Bruce Schneier’s blog when I came across this posting. Immediately made me think of a conversation me and several members of our skywalk team were having on Friday over lunch at one of the local pubs. We were talking about the inadequacies of various types of security measures being considered by the UK Government, in particular the laughable ID Card Scheme. Rob made some interesting points about the government push of ID Cards in the UK and the relationship or lobbying for them by PKI vendors, im hoping he’ll blog about soon….anyway…

I remember rather anecdotaly mentioning during the conversation that whilst at aQtive Justin, Alan and myself briefly worked with a company called topsoft, who almost a decade ago had developed a full disk encryption system, which they were selling to other companies and the UK DoD. FDE systems have often been considered overkill, but encrypting every bit of information on a machine does mean that you dont need to rely on the user consciously choosing what to encrypt and what not to.

It is interesting that the US Government has decided to open up this selection of a product in the form of a competition … I find myself agreeing with Schneier’s assessment that:

It’s certainly a high-stakes competition among the vendors, but one that is likely to improve the security of all products. I’ve long said that one of the best things the government can do to improve computer security is to use its vast purchasing power to pressure vendors to improve their security.

But I’ve always been really wary of the whole idea of Key Escrow, the system just seems far too easy to abuse, and some of the worse violations of privacy, encroachment of civil liberties and indeed human rights have been perpetrated by so called patriots under the banner of “national security“.

Union of Concerned Scientists report on the tactics employed by ExxonMobil – spent $16 million to spread disinformation about gobal warming.

Just came across this article over at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The UCS was an organisation that started off in the late 60’s comprised of students and faculty members at MIT. It’s since grown into an alliance of over 200,000 citizens and scientists, who are working towards a healthy environment and safer world.

I’ve been visiting their site from time to time my interest in it really began after 9/11 where scientists were discussing the plethora of security measures being proposed by governments as well the threats posed by different forms of terrorism. Their analysis was often more rationalised than the often hysterical or sensationalist reports that were fed through politicians and main stream media. However the topics they cover range from scientific integrity and ethics all the way through to specific scientific issues such as global warming or the debate on GM foods. If you have views on these issues, and others, then its definitely worth visting their site.

Anyway, this particular article relates to how ExxonMobil has not only adopted the same disinformation tactics used by the tobacco industry but also some of the same individuals and organisations, in an attempt to cloud the scientific understanding of global warming, delaying any action on the issue. They document how ExxonMobil has funneled almost $16 million to a network of 43 advocacy organisations to confuse the public on the issue of climate change.

The idealist in me hopes that the revelations in the report as well as the money trail it documents shows all the idiots who have blindly fallen for Exxon’s so called scientific arguments about how global warming isn’t happening, why and how they’ve all been played for chumps.

The cynic in me doubts that these revelations will change anything the reality is that its greed that drives politicians and big businesses to resort to these underhanded tricks because ultimately its their pockets that are being lined and for some reason they are either unable or unwilling to look beyond their quarterly profits and dividends.

I remember back when I was working at aQtive with Alan, on a hot summers day it started raining heavily, and the area around Edgbaston was flooded really badly. I commented on how freakish it was to have weather like that in the middle of summer, and I recall we had a short chat about global warming in which he stated the paradox around governments unwillingness to act on the issue was akin to watching some bloke saw through the tree limb he’s sitting on. I might be putting words in his mouth, but im pretty sure thats how he put it. It’s incomprehensible that governments are not doing more about the problem, or indeed as in the case of the US, wanting to completely ignore the issue. I often wonder if these politicians, particularly in the US, would be so closed minded on the issue if they weren’t so reliant on political contributions from the large oil companies.

Forgive my ignorance but can someone please explain to me what the difference is between a political contribution and a bribe?

"…a tragic assault upon truth and justice"

Back from my short travels, whilst I was going to post up about what I’ve been up to, which for the most part has been a lot of fun … I’ve elected not to for now … given that my thoughts have been overshadowed with something else … it’s taken me several days to rationalise my thoughts and I’ve edited this post in dribs and drabs whilst I was away … just trying to articulate what it is that bothers me. If it appears disjointed then I apologise in advance.

What’s been bothering me over the last few days is The Execution of Saddam of Hussein on Eid. It’s safe to say the event divided opinion amongst the group of people I was with – and it was a pretty diverse group of folks from all around Europe. Not enough to completely ruin our excursion but enough to give us all pause, and a need to debate the issue. What did suprise me was that everyone agreed the trial was a farce, but the penalty he received was probably what he deserved.

Before I go on, I guess I need to qualify anything further with some caveats: I’m in no way a supporter of Saddam, or sympathiser or trying to defend any of his actions. I couldn’t possibly describe myself as a pacifist and I’m certainly not against the death penalty … which was a truth I discovered whilst working with Amnesty International when I was younger … I started off with spirited idealism which was fine up until the point I came to believe that for some crimes death was an appropriate sentence, which unfortunately wasn’t in line with Amnesty’s views and I moved on … although I do have great respect for the work that organisation does.

So if I think he did deserve to die for his crimes, why am I bothered about it, or writing this?

My concern is with the farce that was his trial and the politically motivated execution that took place on the holiest day in the Islamic calendar. I’m hardly the most devout of Muslims … like many people I’m trying to find my faith, yet as despondent as I am even I was stunned by the insensitivity of executing him on the day that they chose to. For anyone who cant understand why that bothers me, imagine the distaste you might feel, for example, as a Christian, if Mr Bush or Blair was executed on Christmas Day for Crimes against Humanity? Put it this way I know this single event overshadowed the Eid celebrations for every Muslim I know.

Before I go on I have to thank Wikipedia, it truly is an invaluable resource when researching anything these days and I’ve certainly been using it a lot particularly in finding some of the materials I reference in this discussion.

I want to start by talking about the trial.

When Saddam was captured and it was evident that he would face trial, like many people I assumed that this monster would be tried in the International Criminal Court, he would undoubtedly be charged with Crimes against Humanity and given the unstable state of Iraq, and the fact that it is currently occupied, surely it would be in the interest of justice and truth for the trial to be neutral and held under the auspices of being fair and independent – I just couldn’t see how the national judicial system would be able to provide that. As with the Nazi’s at Nuremberg the facts of Saddam’s atrocities would thus be documented for the world to see.

As a student of history I like to believe that we can learn from the mistakes of the past. The Nuremberg Trials, whilst flawed in some ways, where formed by the Allies under Truman and Churchill’s genuine hope at the time that they were keen for justice to be done, and to be seen to be done. On September the 30th 1946 the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg gave its judgement on 22 Nazi War Criminals. I believe its greatest achievement was in providing a fair trial under the most difficult of circumstances to a group of men who most people felt deserved it the least. Nuremberg uncovered the horrors of those atrocities, detailed them for the world to see, the ramifications of which still haunt us today.

I was studying the aftermath of the second world war at college, and how Nazi war criminals were brought to justice, when I first I read this, and the warning it carries:

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

– Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg

Interestingly I’m not the only one … I came across this article written by Curtis Doebbler, one of the defence lawyers assigned to Saddam. Doebbler describes in no uncertain terms how the Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) handled the case. He points out what I believe the fundamental flaw behind this trial:

The trial was undertaken by a court set up and controlled by the United States, an occupying power. This violates the express provisions of international humanitarian law in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Which is compounded by the revelation he makes that …

In addition the US has allegedly written the final decision as they wrote the closing statement for the defense after the judge forced the defense lawyers chosen by the defendants out of the courtroom.

It’s seems incomprehensible to me that a foreign power that clearly wanted him dead could write the closing statement for the defense in his trial, it also makes a mockery of President Bush’s assertion that “Saddam was executed after receiving a fair trial”. Now I don’t know if its possible that Saddam could ever have received a fair trial anywhere, but at least call it what it was, a scripted show put on for the benefit of making some impotent gesture to create the appearance of propriety. The entire proceeding was a denigration of law and should rightly outrage our sense of justice … and perhaps the reason it doesn’t is because he was a monster. But even if he was should that diminish our responsibility to the ideals we supposedly believe in? It’s hard to extol the virtues of democracy if were willing to shelve them in order to get rid of a thorn in our side.

Of everything I’ve read around these proceedings nothing captivated me as much as a short interview I saw, whilst away, on BBC News 24 with Ramsey Clark who said the following in answer to the question: “The execution itself is it any justice?”

Its a tragic assault upon truth and justice, and the consequences for the future can be dire not only to the people of Iraq and the passions it will inflame and perhaps ripple beyond, but to the idea and hope for international law. The court reeked of prejudice … before the trial started the judge said we don’t need a trial we just need a hanging.

You can view the interview here on the BBC site.

Alarmingly of all the atrocities that Saddam is known to have committed his trial was based around a single atrocity, the killing of 143 Shiites from Dujail, in retaliation for the failed assassination attempt of 8 July 1982. Why is this alarming? Well why not put him on trial for the Halabja Poison Gas Attack? It also falls under the description of a Crime against Humanity, it was an even more barbaric act than the one for which he was ostensibly executed. In answering this question you come to what I think was the truth behind his trial and the reason the US and other nations were so eager for him to be tried for the single atrocity, that would appease the overwhelmingly Shiite government, and for the court not to venture into anything else. The answer lies in how Saddam came to power and the assistance he received.

In 1958, a year after Saddam had joined the Ba’ath party, army officers led by General Abdul Karim Qassim overthrew Faisal II of Iraq. The Ba’athists opposed the new government, and in 1959, Saddam was involved in the attempted United States-backed plot to assassinate Qassim. Concerned about Qassim’s growing ties to Communists, the CIA gave assistance to the Ba’ath Party and other regime opponents. This paved the way for Saddam to eventually become the leader of Iraq and an ally of the US. For a more detailed account read this.

In 1979 Iran’s Shah was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. This alarmed the west and they needed a buffer between themselves and Khomeini and his expansionist Islamic state. That’s why they armed the Iraqi dictator with amongst other things the materials with which to build … chemical weapons, I’d insert a quip here about what happened to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction but it isn’t as though anyone gives a flying f*** if its the Americans dishing out WMD’s to their buddies 😉 … Ok im being unfair …. its important to point out that it wasn’t just the US but a number of other nations who must share the responsibility … these nations are listed here. In fact I wonder if any of the companies listed here ever faced legal proceedings or even censure for their part in equipping the regime, or ever revealed how much money they made from these transactions ( as well as who they made political contributions too at the time 😉 )

Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

During the war, Iraq used Western supplied chemical weapons against Iranian forces fighting on the southern front and Kurdish separatists who were attempting to open up a northern front in Iraq with the help of Iran.[16]

On March 16, 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, killing 5,000 civilians, and maiming, disfiguring, or seriously debilitating 10,000 more. (see Halabja poison gas attack) [10]. The attack occurred in conjunction with the 1988 al-Anfal campaign designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of areas of northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq,[17] but Saddam’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attack[18] and the US supported the claim until the early 1990s.

So perhaps the real reason Saddam’s trial was so short was that a proceeding as thorough and competent as the Nuremberg trial would have revealed in detail not only the historic truth of what happened at Halabaja, but of all the other atrocities that the US, and other regional powers, colluded with him in. That might have been a bit much for our western sensibilities to palette. Not to mention demands from survivors and their relatives for reparations, compensation etc. etc. and thats exactly what would happen since one of the results of the Nuremberg Trials was drafting of The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in 1968, which basically meant there was no period of limitation for crimes against humanity … to further expound on this:

Article 2. If any of the crimes mentioned in article I is committed, the provisions of this Convention shall apply to representatives of the State authority and private individuals who, as principals or accomplices, participate in or who directly incite others to the commission of any of those crimes, or who conspire to commit them, irrespective of the degree of completion, and to representatives of the State authority who tolerate their commission

It’s certainly widely believed that the proliferation of weapons in this manner was aided by the CIA as well as the knowledge to build them. At some level this would have had to have been authorised directly or tacitly by individuals in government … mmm I’m beginning to understand why the United States never signed up to the International Criminal Court (from Wikipedia):

To date, 104 countries have ratified or acceded to the court, including nearly all of Europe and South America, and nearly half of all African countries.[5] A further 35 states have signed but not yet ratified the treaty,[6] which under the law of treaties obliges states to refrain from “acts which would defeat the object and purpose” of the treaty.[7] The USA and Israel have “unsigned” the Rome treaty in order to avoid these obligations.

I guess in their own way Truman and Churchill had a better understanding or belief in the ideals of law and justice than their current successors do; Nuremberg was their testament to those ideals. Whilst the Iraqi Special Tribunal will stand as a Testament to their contemporaries.

Oh well I guess it’s ok to demonise some foreign monster … just don’t do anything to remind us how we created that monster … colluded with him in committing his atrocities … oh and please don’t tell us that some of those other monsters that helped him … well they’re still out there … getting rich off it …. some of them are even running the countries we live in probably planning their next regime change.

Sarcasm aside, has his death accomplished anything. Has it given justice to his victims? Perhaps in some sense it has, although I wonder if those victims can ever truly have justice whilst the representatives of powers that colluded with him and the companies that profited from their deaths will probably never face trial for their part in these atrocities. If it had been a relative of mine killed in Halabja I wouldn’t just want Saddam swinging from the gallows but everyone else that colluded with him, how could I possible rest knowing that some of those just as responsible were still out there.

His death certainly isn’t going to end the violence in Iraq, if anything, as Ramsey Clark stated it will probably “inflame passions” further. To execute him on the day that most Sunni’s celebrated Eid in Iraq (and much of the world) will be seen by many as a deliberate affront given that Shiites celebrated Eid the following day. The subtext in this decision alone is hard to ignore, to consider that it was an innocent coincidence is beyond my ability to stomach.

A video released on the internet that was recorded by someone actually present at the execution shows how Saddam was heckled and taunted by his Shiite captors right up to the moment he was hanged, I haven’t linked to the movie itself, you can find it on Google Video if you want to see it. Far from appearing frightened or defeated he was defiant right to the end admonishing the hecklers for their lack of bravery in taunting a shackled man. He managed to retain his dignity in the moment of his death not succumbing to fear or begging for mercy … defiant to the end. He actually managed to appear more dignified than those tormenting him at his execution … and that doesn’t bode well for this supposedly democratic new government in Iraq – their neolithic incompetence in this entire affair has turned a monster into a martyr and that’s a gross travesty of justice – but I guess it’s disingenuous to lay the blame entirely at their feet … its not as though they actually govern the country or make any decisions.

I think I’ll end this discussion firstly with this statement by Louis Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

“All sections of Iraqi society, as well as the wider international community, have an interest in ensuring that a death sentence provided for in Iraqi law is only imposed following a trial and appeal process that is, and is legitimately seen as, fair, credible and impartial.

“That is especially so in a case as exceptional as this one.”

and this reflection by Richard Dicker, of the Human Rights Watch.

“The test of a government’s commitment to human rights is measured by the way it treats its worst offenders…

“It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughly reviewed the 300-page judgment and the defence’s written arguments in less than three weeks’ time… The appeals process appears even more flawed than the trial…

“History will judge the deeply flawed Dujail trial and this execution harshly.”

As for Iraq’s future … I have to admit that at the moment it appears bleak. The country is in the midst of a civil war, and whilst that’s not a fact politicians in the west are willing to acknowledge one only has to look at the daily body count to appreciate the tragic reality of the situation. I cant help but feel that things are going to get a lot worse, before they get better. The flawed trial, the subsequent execution and its timing have only served to deepen the sectarian divides, not only within Iraq but across the whole of the middle east.

I cant help but wonder whether that was someone’s intention all along?