Tag Archives: democracy

It’s the Democracy, Stupid

Cambridge Analytica, the UK political consultancy at the centre of Facebook’s election manipulation scandal, ran the campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections, according to video secretly recorded and broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4 News.

The news channel said it mounted a “sting operation” in which it said had secretly recorded top Cambridge Analytica executives saying they could use bribes, former spies and Ukrainian sex workers to entrap politicians around the world.  The New York Times and the British Observer newspaper reported on Saturday that Cambridge Analytica had acquired private data harvested from more than 50 million Facebook users to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told Channel 4’s undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns to run the East African nation…

Turnbull of Cambridge Analytica said: “We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s political party, known as the National Alliance until 2016, and subsequently as the Jubilee Party…

At a prior meeting, Turnbull of Cambridge Analytica told the reporters: “Our job is to really drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else to understand what are these really deep-seated fears, concerns. “It is no good fighting an election campaign on the facts, because actually it is all about emotion.”  Cambridge Analytica officials were recorded saying they have used a web of shell companies to disguise their activities in elections in Mexico, Malaysia and Brazil, among various countries where they have worked to sway election outcomes.

Excerpts from Cambridge Analytica stage-managed Kenyan president’s campaigns – UK TV, Reuters, Mar. 19, 2018

The Pantie Protesters and the Kazakh Dream

kazakh tenge

A few protesters brandishing lacy underwear may not look like a threat to the stability of the state. But the authorities of oil-rich Kazakhstan took no chances on February 16th when a group of demonstrators waving their knickers appeared on the streets of the financial capital, Almaty. The “pantie protesters” were rounded up and led away.  Their demonstration was ostensibly prompted by a rule regulating synthetic underwear due to come into force this summer under a new customs union between Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus…  [But the real] source of anger was the devaluation of the Kazakh currency, the tenge, on February 11th. It plunged by 19%, causing fears of a spike in inflation and a dip in living standards in a country that imports many consumer goods….

The protests are small but they hint that Mr Nazarbayev’s unspoken social contract—in which citizens trade political freedoms for relative prosperity and social stability—is becoming fragile. Tensions surfaced in 2011, when 15 people were shot dead as striking oil workers clashed with police in Zhanaozhen in the west of the country. Now the devaluation has reminded many ordinary people—maxed out on credit and exasperated by the growing rich-poor divide—that they are not living the “Kazakh dream”.

Kazakhstan’s economy: Tenge fever, Economist,  Feb. 22, 2014, at 35

 

Who is Cryptome?

Salonica.  Image from cryptome.org

Cryptome unfamiliar to the general public, is well-known in circles where intelligence tactics, government secrets and whistle-blowing are primary concerns. Since its creation in 1996, Cryptome has amassed more than 70,000 files — including lists of secret agents, high-resolution photos of nuclear power plants, and much more.

Its co-founder and webmaster, a feisty 77-year-old architect, doesn’t hesitate when asked why.  “I’m a fierce opponent of government secrets of all kinds,” says John Young. “The scale is tipped so far the other way that I’m willing to stick my neck out and say there should be none.”  Young describes several exchanges with federal agents over postings related to espionage and potential security breaches, though no charges have ever been filed. And he notes that corporate complaints of alleged copyright violations and efforts to shut Cryptome down have gone nowhere.

For Young, there’s a more persistent annoyance than these: the inevitable comparisons of Cryptome to WikiLeaks, the more famous online secret-sharing organization launched by Julian Assange and others in 2006.  Young briefly collaborated with WikiLeaks’ creators but says he was dropped from their network after questioning plans for multimillion-dollar fundraising. Cryptome operates on a minimal budget — less than $2,000 a year, according to Young, who also shuns WikiLeaks-style publicity campaigns.  “We like the scholarly approach — slow, almost boring,” says Young. He likens Cryptome to a “dusty, dimly lit library.”  That’s not quite the image that Reader’s Digest evoked in 2005, in an article titled “Let’s Shut Them Down.” Author Michael Crowley assailed Cryptome as an “invitation to terrorists,” notably because of its postings on potential security vulnerabilities.Cryptome’s admirers also don’t fully buy into Young’s minimalist self-description….

Young considers himself a freedom-of-information militant, saying he is unbothered by “the stigma of seeming to go too far.” Claims that Cryptome aids terrorists or endangers intelligence agents are “hokum,” he said. “We couldn’t possibly publish information to aid terrorists that they couldn’t get on their own,” he said, depicting his postings about security gaps as civic-minded.  “If you know a weakness, expose it, don’t hide it,” he said…

As a motto of sorts, the Cryptome home page offers a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: “The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community.”  The website says Cryptome welcomes classified and confidential documents from governments worldwide, “in particular material on freedom of expression, privacy, cryptology, dual-use technologies, national security, intelligence, and secret governance.”  Young attributes Cryptome’s longevity and stature to its legion of contributors, most of them anonymous, who provide a steady stream of material to post.  Among the most frequently downloaded of Cryptome’s recent postings were high-resolution photos of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan after it was badly damaged in the March 2011 tsunami/earthquake disaster.

Cryptome also was a pivotal outlet last year for amorous emails between national security expert Brett McGurk and Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon, which led McGurk to withdraw as the Obama administration’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq.  Other documents on the site list names of people purported to be CIA sources, officers of Britain’s MI6 spy agency, and spies with Japan’s Public Security Investigation Agency….

Another exchange with the FBI came in November 2003, according to Young, when two agents paid him a visit to discuss recent Cryptome postings intended to expose national security gaps. The postings included maps and photos of rail tunnels and gas lines leading toward New York’s Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention was to be held the next year….Another confrontation occurred in 2010, when Cryptome posted Microsoft’s confidential Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, outlining its policies for conducting online surveillance on behalf of law enforcement agencies. Contending that the posting was a copyright violation, Microsoft asked that Cryptome be shut down by its host, Network Solutions. Criticism of Microsoft followed, from advocates of online free speech, and the complaint was withdrawn within a few days….

Moreover, Young urges Cryptome’s patrons to be skeptical of anything placed on the site, given that the motives of the contributors may not be known.  “Cryptome, aspiring to be a free public library, accepts that libraries are chock full of contaminated material, hoaxes, forgeries, propaganda,” Young has written on the site. “Astute readers, seeking relief from manufactured and branded information, will pick and choose…”

Excerpts from DAVID CRARY, Older, Quieter Than WikiLeaks, Cryptome Perseveres, Associated Press, Mar. 9, 2013

Right to Participate in Decisionmaking: the indigenous peoples of Peru

Peru’s official human rights ombudsman, Defender of the People Eduardo Vega, is set to convene the first the first “prior consultation” with Amazonian indigenous peoples on oil development in their territory, under terms of a new law passed earlier this year setting terms for the process. The consultation concerns a planned new round of oil contracts planned for Bloc 1AB, currently held by Argentine firm Pluspetrol, in the watersheds of the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers in the northeast of Loreto region. The Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the East (ORPIO), with an office in the city of Iquitos, it to represent the impacted indigenous peoples. Vega pledged the process would be carried out “with the utmost clarity so that rights of the indigenous peoples will be respected and the same process can serve for other consultations that will subsequently be carried out.”  But after years of conflict over resource extraction in the region and accusations of broken promises by the government, many indigenous residents remain skeptical about the process.

Peru: first “prior consultations” on Amazon oil development, WW4 Report, Sept. 15, 2012

Shut up: torture techniques in clandestine prisons

The al Qaeda suspects who were subjected to so-called harsh interrogation techniques, and the lawyers charged with defending them at the Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, are not allowed to talk about the treatment they consider torture.  Defense attorneys say that and other Kafkaesque legal restrictions on what they can discuss with their clients and raise in the courtroom undermine their ability to mount a proper defense on charges that could lead to the death penalty.  Those restrictions will be the focus of a pretrial hearing that convenes this week.  Prosecutors say every utterance of the alleged al Qaeda murderers, and what their lawyers in turn pass on to the court, must be strictly monitored precisely because of the defendants’ intimate personal knowledge of highly classified CIA interrogation methods they endured in the agency’s clandestine overseas prisons.  Defense attorneys called that view extreme.  “Everything is presumptively top secret. So if my client had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch, I couldn’t tell you that,” Cheryl Bormann, who represents defendant Walid bin Attash, said after the May arraignment of the men charged with plotting the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.  At one point in the arraignment, another of bin Attash’s attorneys, Air Force Captain Michael Schwartz, was explaining why his client refused to cooperate. Just when things got interesting, a security officer cut the audio feed to the media and others observing the proceedings from behind a soundproof glass wall with a 40-second audio delay.  “The reason for that is the torture that my client was subjected to by the men and women wearing the big-boy pants down at the CIA, it makes it impossible …,” Schwartz said during the blocked portion of the arraignment, according to a partial transcript later declassified.  Prosecutors have said in court filings that any revelations about the defendants’ interrogations could cause “exceptionally grave damage.”

Civil libertarians argue that if those interrogation methods really are top secret, then the CIA had no business revealing them to al Qaeda suspects.  Defense attorneys will challenge the secrecy rules at the pretrial hearing that begins on Wednesday at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base.  Prosecutors have about 75,000 pages of evidence to turn over to defense attorneys in the 9/11 case, but they won’t do it until the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, issues protective orders aimed at safeguarding the material.

Hundreds of men suspected of supporting al Qaeda or the Taliban were rounded up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and shipped to Guantanamo in response to the September 11 attacks. (Of the 779 men who have been held at Guantanamo since the prison operation began in 2002, 168 remain.)  The CIA took custody of the “high-value” captives believed to have top-level information that could help the U.S. and its allies prevent further attacks.  It held them incommunicado for three or four years and transferred them among secret overseas prisons, questioning them with interrogation methods that defense attorneys say amounted to torture and which the Obama administration has since banned.  Some details of the program, including waterboarding, mock executions and sleep deprivation, have already been disclosed by Bush and the CIA itself. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA official, recently defended them in news interviews to promote his book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Action After 9/11 Saved American Lives.”

Yet in both the 9/11 case and that of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who is accused of sending suicide bombers to ram a boat full of explosives into the side of the USS Cole off Yemen in 2000, the government presumes that every word spoken by the defendants, in the past and in the future, is classified at the highest level — “Top Secret,” with a “Sensitive Compartmented Information,” which is routinely shortened to TS/SCI.  The defendants’ words are also “born classified,” a status their lawyers said has previously been used only to safeguard details about nuclear weapons. So are all documents and legal motions related to their cases, which cannot be made public unless they’re cleared by a Department of Defense Security Classification Review team.  How that team works is a secret.  “I’ve never seen them. I’ve never communicated (with them). No one has ever been able to tell me that,” said James Connell, a lawyer for 9/11 defendant Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.  The Pentagon would say only that the review team includes both civilians and uniformed military personnel and that it can take up to 15 business days to make its decisions.

Proscribed topics include details of the defendants’ capture, where they were held and under what conditions, the names and descriptions of anyone who transferred, detained or interrogated them and the methods used to get information from them, according to the court documents.

Defense lawyers say the classification system used at Guantanamo violates President Barack Obama’s 2009 order that prohibits using secrecy labels to conceal lawbreaking or prevent political embarrassment. They say it also “eviscerates” the legal defense protections Congress set down in the law that authorizes the Guantanamo tribunals.  The government’s secrecy rules mean that every lawyer, paralegal and expert on the prosecution and defense teams must undergo an extensive background check and obtain a TS/SCI clearance. Once they get clearance, they are briefed on what has to stay secret. The document that forms the basis of the presumptive classification is itself secret.  “It is ridiculous,” said Army Captain Jason Wright, one of the lawyers for accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “The briefing is classified, so I can’t discuss what I can and cannot discuss.”

Mohammed’s lawyers have asked the UN special rapporteur for torture, Juan E. Mendez, to investigate claims that their client was tortured. But they could only share with Mendez the information that has been publicly declassified.  “We are prohibited from sharing any details of his mistreatment, even to the special rapporteur,” Wright said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a challenge arguing that the government has no legal authority to classify information that it not only disclosed to the defendants but forced them to learn.  “The question here is: Can the government subject people to torture and abuse and then prevent them from talking about it?” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.  The ACLU said the claim of broad authority to gag defendants infringes on the American public’s right to open trials and goes far beyond what the courts have allowed, namely that censorship must be narrowly tailored and aimed at protecting a compelling government interest.

Excerpt, Jane Sutton and Josh Meyer, Insight: At Guantanamo tribunals, don’t mention the “T” word, Reuters, Aug. 20, 2012

Eviction of Indigenous Peoples from National Parks

On the second anniversary of a landmark ruling by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), Minority Rights Group International (MRG) condemns the Kenyan government’s lack of commitment to ensuring justice for the Endorois people and urges the authorities to immediately restore ownership to the community of their ancestral lands around the Lake Bogoria National Reserve.

Although the Commission recognised, for the first time in the continent, indigenous peoples’ rights over traditionally occupied land and their right to be involved in, and benefit from, any development affecting their land, the Endorois still have no land title, have received no compensation for the loss they suffered during almost 40 years, nor a significant share in tourism revenue from their land.  Kenya adopted a new Constitution in August 2010, which, together with a new National Land Policy, supported the Commission’s decision in recognising indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands.

‘Two years on from the African Commission’s ruling the Endorois are still waiting for justice to be brought home. The government’s lack of engagement with the community is of extreme concern and, inevitably, it raises questions about their commitment to the high ideals to be found in Kenya’s new Constitution,’ says Carla Clarke, MRG’s Head of Law….  ‘In view of Kenya’s new Constitution, which provides for the establishment of a National Land Commission to review past abuses and recommend appropriate redress, it is particularly important that the government implements the Commission’s decision without further delay,’ added Carla Clarke.

Endorois land was originally appropriated by the Kenyan government in the 1970s to create the Lake Bogoria National Reserve. On 2 February 2010, the African Union adopted a decision of the ACHPR which declared firstly that the expulsion of Endorois from their lands was illegal, and secondly that the Kenyan government had violated certain fundamental rights of the community protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international instruments.

The Endorois are a semi-nomadic indigenous community of approximately 60,000 people, who for centuries have earned their livelihoods from herding cattle and goats in the Lake Bogoria area of Kenya’s Rift Valley.  When tourists flock to Lake Bogoria, famous for its flamingos and geysers, they have little idea of the high cost the Endorois paid for their eviction. The vast majority of the community still live in severe poverty, have little or no electricity, walk miles to collect water in an area stricken by drought, and are often dependent on relief food.

Since the creation of the wildlife reserve, the Endorois have been unable to gather the plants they once relied on for medicinal purposes, conduct religious ceremonies at their sacred sites or visit the graves of their ancestors.

 

Two years on from African Commission’s ruling, Kenya continues to drag its feet in recognising indigenous peoples’ ownership of wildlife park, MRG urges government to act, Reuters, Feb. 3, 2012

Protesting the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement

Lithuania’s central bank said Friday (Jan. 27, 2012) it had been hit by a cyber-attack, but had eventually overcome the assault on its website and other online services.  In a statement, the bank said that the denial-of-service attack — in which many outside computers overload the target’s IT system — from a group of countries took place early Friday morning…The bank said that the attacks were launched from computers apparently located in countries including Canada, China, Russia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United States…No public claim of responsibility had been made for the attack so far.  It was not clear if it was linked to Lithuania’s signature Thursday of a controversial international online anti-piracy accord.  Critics of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) warn that it could significantly curtail online freedom, and several governments have come under attack by groups including “hacktivist” grouping Anonymous.

Lithuanian central bank hit by cyber-attack, Agence France Presse, Jan. 28, 2012

Text of ACTA (pdf)

Negotiating History

Rapporteur

We Have Every Right to Be Furious About ACTA

One More Reason to Occupy Nigeria: the severe environmental damage

The Nigerian cell of the Anonymous collective has continued its ongoing campaign against government corruption issuing a statement listing its demands.  Sent to the International Business Times on Tuesday via email the statement has since been re-posted on Pastebin – indicating that it is likely authentic.  In it the collective promised to continue mounting its ongoing series of cyber assaults against the Nigerian government should its demands for “justice” and an end to violence against protesters not be met. Specifically Anonymous Nigeria’s demands were six-fold:

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU CUT THE COST OF GOVERNMENT BY 60%

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU ELIMINATE WASTE IN GOVERNMENT

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU TACKLE CORRUPTION AND POLITICAL PATRONAGE

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU REDUCE THE PUMP PRICE OF FUEL TO N65

“WE DEMAND THAT YOU FIND OUT AND PROSECUTE MEMBERS OF THE FUEL CABAL,” read Anonymous’ statement. Later adding the final demand:

“WE DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE END TO THE KILLING OF INNOCENT PROTESTERS”

The statement follows the collective’s unified and ongoing support of all Occupy movements. Though the root cause of the Occupy movement is difficult to discern, the earliest call-to-arms stemmed from a blog post in Adbusters magazine.  Inspired by the Arab Spring and Spain’s Democracia real YA platform, Adbusters called for all like-minded individuals unhappy with the current global political and economic system to march on Wall Street and mount an ongoing sit-in-protest.

The post quickly captured the imagination of several groups, leading to the #occupywallstreet hash-tag trending on Twitter. The movement gained significant mainstream attention outside of Adbusters’ native U.S. base when the Anonymous collective took notice and publicly voiced its support.  Reiterating Adbusters’ post, Anonymous issued the above video on its AnonOps website citing a series of undisclosed actions perpetrated by “corrupt” governments and corporations as its motivation for the sit-in.  Since Adbusters’ and Anonymous’ call-to-arms the Occupy movement has spread to cities across the world, seeing citizens pitch tents in public squares and mount sit-in-protests against the world’s current political and economic systems. In all the campaigns Anonymous has openly voiced its support for the movement, publicising its live video feeds and reporting any incidents of police violence against protesters.

The Nigerian cell of Anonymous has followed this pattern, publicly voicing its support and reporting any incidents of violence against Occupy protesters. The group has already taken credit for identifying the deaths of in-excess of 10 participants in the Occupy Nigeria protest. Ending its statement Anonymous Nigeria promised it would continue its “peaceful” protest – many Anons list identify themselves as pacifists and are hostile to any and all acts of physical violence

Alastair Stevenson, Occupy Nigeria: Anonymous Demand End to Government Corruption, Jan. 11, 2012

Democracy Not for the Many: the Mass Surveillance Industry

Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries. Dec. 1, 2011, WikiLeaks began releasing a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 intelligence contractors in the mass surveillance industry. Working with Bugged Planet and Privacy International, as well as media organizations form six countries – ARD in Germany, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the UK, The Hindu in India, L’Espresso in Italy, OWNI in France and the Washington Post in the U.S. Wikileaks is shining a light on this secret industry that has boomed since September 11, 2001 and is worth billions of dollars per year. WikiLeaks has released 287 documents today, but the Spy Files project is ongoing and further information will be released this week and into next year.

International surveillance companies are based in the more technologically sophisticated countries, and they sell their technology on to every country of the world. This industry is, in practice, unregulated. Intelligence agencies, military forces and police authorities are able to silently, and on mass, and secretly intercept calls and take over computers without the help or knowledge of the telecommunication providers. Users’ physical location can be tracked if they are carrying a mobile phone, even if it is only on stand by.

But the WikiLeaks Spy Files are more than just about ’good Western countries’ exporting to ’bad developing world countries’. Western companies are also selling a vast range of mass surveillance equipment to Western intelligence agencies. In traditional spy stories, intelligence agencies like MI5 bug the phone of one or two people of interest. In the last ten years systems for indiscriminate, mass surveillance have become the norm. Intelligence companies such as VASTech secretly sell equipment to permanently record the phone calls of entire nations. Others record the location of every mobile phone in a city, down to 50 meters. Systems to infect every Facebook user, or smart-phone owner of an entire population group are on the intelligence market.

When citizens overthrew the dictatorships in Egypt and Libya this year, they uncovered listening rooms where devices from Gamma corporation of the UK, Amesys of France, VASTech of South Africa and ZTE Corp of China monitored their every move online and on the phone.  Surveillance companies like SS8 in the U.S., Hacking Team in Italy and Vupen in France manufacture viruses (Trojans) that hijack individual computers and phones (including iPhones, Blackberries and Androids), take over the device, record its every use, movement, and even the sights and sounds of the room it is in. Other companies like Phoenexia in the Czech Republic collaborate with the military to create speech analysis tools. They identify individuals by gender, age and stress levels and track them based on ‘voiceprints’. Blue Coat in the U.S. and Ipoque in Germany sell tools to governments in countries like China and Iran to prevent dissidents from organizing online.  Trovicor, previously a subsidiary of Nokia Siemens Networks, supplied the Bahraini government with interception technologies that tracked human rights activist Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar. He was shown details of personal mobile phone conversations from before he was interrogated and beaten in the winter of 2010-2011.

In January 2011, the National Security Agency broke ground on a $1.5 billion facility in the Utah desert that is designed to store terabytes of domestic and foreign intelligence data forever and process it for years to come.  Telecommunication companies are forthcoming when it comes to disclosing client information to the authorities – no matter the country. Headlines during August’s unrest in the UK exposed how Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the Blackberry, offered to help the government identify their clients. RIM has been in similar negotiations to share BlackBerry Messenger data with the governments of India, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

There are commercial firms that now sell special software that analyze this data and turn it into powerful tools that can be used by military and intelligence agencies.  For example, in military bases across the U.S., Air Force pilots use a video link and joystick to fly Predator drones to conduct surveillance over the Middle East and Central Asia. This data is available to Central Intelligence Agency officials who use it to fire Hellfire missiles on targets.  The CIA officials have bought software that allows them to match phone signals and voice prints instantly and pinpoint the specific identity and location of individuals. Intelligence Integration Systems, Inc., based in Massachusetts – sells a “location-based analytics” software called Geospatial Toolkit for this purpose. Another Massachusetts company named Netezza, which bought a copy of the software, allegedly reverse engineered the code and sold a hacked version to the Central Intelligence Agency for use in remotely piloted drone aircraft.  IISI, which says that the software could be wrong by a distance of up to 40 feet, sued Netezza to prevent the use of this software. Company founder Rich Zimmerman stated in court that his “reaction was one of stun, amazement that they (CIA) want to kill people with my software that doesn’t work.”

Excerpt from Wikileaks Spy Files

How to Criminalize a Whole Nation:the United States Supports Biometrics in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has many dubious distinctions on the international-rankings front: 10th-poorest, third-most corrupt, worst place to be a child, longest at war. To that may soon be added: most heavily fingerprinted.  Since September, Afghanistan has been the only country in the world to fingerprint and photograph all travelers who pass through Kabul International Airport, arriving and departing.

A handful of other countries fingerprint arriving foreigners, but no country has ever sought to gather biometric data on everyone who comes and goes, whatever their nationality. Nor do Afghan authorities plan to stop there: their avowed goal is to fingerprint, photograph and scan the irises of every living AfghanIt is a goal heartily endorsed by the American military, which has already gathered biometric data on two million Afghans who have been encountered by soldiers on the battlefield, or who have just applied for a job with the coalition military or its civilian contractors.

The Kabul airport program is also financed by the United States, with money and training provided by the American Embassy. Americans, like all other travelers, are subject to it.  “Some of the embassies are quite exercised about it,” one Western diplomat said. Such a program would be illegal if carried out in the home countries of most of the occupying coalition. The United States and Japan fingerprint all foreigners on arrival; South Korea plans to start doing so in January. (Brazil retaliated against the American program by fingerprinting arriving Americans only.) Officials at the American Embassy declined to comment specifically on the program; a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security denied it had anything to do with it.

Biometric data is also being gathered by the American military at all of Afghanistan’s eight major border crossings, in a program that it plans to hand over to the Afghan government at the end of this month. So far, that program gathers only random samples at border crossings, because traffic is so heavy, but since it began in April it has already added 200,000 people to the military’s biometrics database.  The military wants to use biometrics to identify known or suspected insurgents, and to prevent infiltration of military bases and Afghan security forces. “The technology removes the mask of anonymity,” said Capt. Kevin Aandahl of the Navy, a spokesman for the military’s detainee operations, which include the biometrics program.

Gathering the data does not stop at Afghanistan’s borders, however, since the military shares all of the biometrics it collects with the United States Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security through interconnected databases.  Even the civilian-run airport program collecting fingerprints and photographs feeds its information into computers at the American Embassy, as well as at the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and its intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, according to Mohammad Yaqub Rasuli, the head of the Kabul International Airport.

Mr. Rasuli acknowledges that the airport screening has had a rocky start. “We are happy with the system, but the airlines and the passengers are not that happy,” he said.  Delays of up to two hours have resulted from the screening, which takes at least three minutes per passenger. With six screening stations at most, the process becomes laborious, and so many travelers recently have been missing their flights that the airlines routinely delay takeoffs.  “Someone who is not used to this system, it can take 10 to 15 minutes each,” said Mohammed Fawad, deputy director of immigration at the airport.

Reporters at the airport have on several occasions witnessed immigration officers just waving through some passengers as crowds backed up; others were allowed to skip their thumbprints to speed things along. One man had his hand fingerprinted upside down, with nails facing the scanner.  “It is some sort of cultural deficiency,” Mr. Rasuli said. “After six months, everyone will be happy with it.” The next step will be a national identity card with biometric data on every citizen, he said. “A lot of our problems will be solved with this.”….

The military has done somewhat better with its program, according to Col. Fred Washington, director of the United States Army’s biometrics task force. Since 2007, when biometric collection began in Afghanistan, biometrics have been used to identify 3,000 suspects on either Watch List 1 or Watch List 2, the American military’s two most serious classifications for possible insurgents or terrorists. In many cases, fingerprints found on bomb remains have identified the bomb maker, he said.  “People are accepting it because they know it’s making their country secure,” Colonel Washington said.

Mohammad Musa Mahmoodi, executive director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said, “Given the circumstances in Afghanistan, fighting terrorism and insurgency, government can take measures to protect its citizens.” “To be honest, we’ve got more important problems to worry about,” he said.  Civil liberties groups abroad are more concerned. “The situation in Afghanistan is unprecedented, but I worry that we could move into that situation in the United States without even realizing we’re doing it,” said Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

There have been some signs of Afghan sensitivities as well. A military-financed program to gather biometric data in the city of Kandahar in 2010, during the push to control insurgency there, was so unpopular that President Hamid Karzai promised local elders to have it canceled, which it was, according to Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the governor in Kandahar Province.  And the Afghan government has yet to pass legislation providing for the biometric screening of the entire population that it has announced it plans to carry out for the national identity card.

As a result, the military has not conducted wholesale sweeps of communities to gather biometrics, Colonel Washington said, although in just the past year 12,000 soldiers have been trained to use the B.A.T. — the Biometric Automated Toolset. “We can’t go door to door,” he said.  The Commander’s Guide to Biometrics in Afghanistan, however, encourages documenting as many Afghans as possible.  “Every person who lives within an operational area should be identified and fully biometrically enrolled with facial photos, iris scans, and all 10 fingerprints (if present),” the guide says. (That was apparently a reference to Afghanistan’s many amputees.)  While the B.A.T. equipment is portable, it is not always easy to use, and the results can sometimes be unpredictable.

A reporter from The New York Times, an American of Norwegian rather than Afghan extraction, voluntarily submitted to a test screening with the B.A.T. system. After his fingerprints and iris scans were entered into the B.A.T.’s armored laptop, an unexpected “hit” popped up on the screen, along with the photograph of a heavily bearded Afghan.  The “hit” identified the reporter as “Haji Daro Shar Mohammed,” who is on terrorist Watch List 4, with this note: “Deny Access, Do Not Hire, Subject Poses a Threat.”

By ROD NORDLAND, Afghanistan Has Big Plans for Biometric Data, NY Times,Nov. 19, 2011