No Place to Hide review – Glenn Greenwald’s compelling account of NSA/GCHQ surveillance

Powered by article titled “No Place to Hide review – Glenn Greenwald’s compelling account of NSA/GCHQ surveillance” was written by Henry Porter, for The Observer on Monday 19th May 2014 10.00 UTC

Before Glenn Greenwald appeared on Newsnight last October to argue the case for the Snowden revelations on a link from Brazil, the presenter that evening, Kirsty Wark, popped into the green room to have a word with the other guests on the show, one of whom was Pauline Neville-Jones, formerly chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee. The interview, she apparently told them, would show that Greenwald was just “a campaigner and an activist”, a phrase she later used disparagingly on air.

And so the BBC went after the man, not the story. However, on this occasion, the man held his own rather well, roasting Wark and Neville-Jones with remorseless trial lawyer logic, making them look ill-prepared and silly in the process. At the time, I remember thinking that Edward Snowden had chosen exactly the right person for the job of chief advocate – a smart, unyielding, fundamentalist liberal outsider.

Some of these characteristics made me wonder if his account of the Snowden affair would be one long harangue, but No Place to Hide is clearly written and compelling. Though I have been writing about the war on liberty for nearly a decade, I found that reacquainting myself with the details of surveillance and intrusion  by America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ was simply shocking. As the stories rolled out last year, there was almost too much to absorb – from Prism, the program used by the NSA to access, among others, Google, Microsoft and Apple servers, to the UK’s Tempora, which taps fibre optic cables and draws up web and telephone traffic; from the secret collaboration of the web and phone giants to the subversion of internet encryption and spying on ordinary people’s political activities, their medical history, their friends and intimate relations and all their activities online. I published a dystopian novel in 2009 that featured a similarly intrusive program, which I named DEEPTRUTH, and let me tell you, I didn’t predict half of it.

Greenwald’s book is a tough read if you find these things disturbing. The insouciance and dishonesty of politicians – some of whom in the UK last week called for increased access to our data – as well as the muted reaction of the established media last year do not augur well for the future of nations that currently regard themselves as free. Democracy and liberty are not synonyms and what Greenwald’s book reminds us is that we may well end up as a series of hollowed-out, faux democracies, where the freedoms that we grew up with vanish almost unnoticed, like the extinction of a species of migrant bird.

He writes: “A citizenry that is aware of always being watched quickly becomes a compliant and fearful one”, as well as one that is far less likely to express legitimate dissent, of course. The irony of Snowden’s actions is that he may have hastened the chill. There are now legitimate things that many of us will never express in private, unencrypted emails or look up on the web because of surveillance.

I read No Place to Hide wondering how we let the spies probe our lives with such inadequate controls, and how on earth we fell for the propaganda that this massive apparatus was there to protect, not control, us. Greenwald quotes Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, saying: “If you have something you don’t want people to know about, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” – and later amusingly catalogues the lengths to which Silicon Valley bosses “who devalued our privacy” have gone to protect their own.

When speaking in public, he often takes on those who say they do not believe that privacy is the core condition of freedom by asking for their private information – passwords, salaries, etc. I have used the same trick. No one ever raises a hand.

The book is organised in three sections, starting with the story of how Greenwald was contacted by Snowden, Greenwald’s flight to Hong Kong with film-maker Laura Poitras and their meeting with Snowden, whose bravery and clarity of purpose Greenwald rightly praises. There follows a useful section describing the main revelations, using the original NSA/GCHQ documents, and a third that deals with Greenwald’s views on the established media and privacy. It would have been good to have a chart or timeline of the major revelations as well as a proper index. And I did feel the argument lost momentum in the middle, but on the whole this is a vigorously executed and important book.

One of the depressing parts of last summer in Britain was the failure of the quality press and the broadcasting media to react to Snowden and Greenwald is rightly contemptuous of the journalists on both sides of the Atlantic who act as proxies for authority – better an activist journalist than a lackey anytime. But let me just say I think the book does a disservice to my colleagues at the Guardian, which after all is established media. The author tips his hat occasionally but does not really acknowledge the importance of the seasoned reporter Ewen MacAskill‘s work in Hong Kong, or the team that assembled to sift the documents, decode their inner secrets, prioritise information, gain reaction, shape the stories and provide analysis.

It was one of the most impressive journalistic operations I have ever seen and without it Glenn Greenwald would have floundered and, indeed, have been dismissed more easily as an activist journalist. He has done a great job of exposition and advocacy and for that he should be praised, but credit should be shared. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

USA vs Azerbaijan: what we learned

PLEASE NOTE: Add your own commentary here above the horizontal line, but do not make any changes below the line. (Of course, you should also delete this text before you publish this post.)

Powered by article titled “USA vs Azerbaijan: what we learned” was written by Graham Parker, for on Wednesday 28th May 2014 13.19 UTC

Diamonds are for now

So the dust is beginning to settle on USA’s first warm up game of this trio of games leading into the World Cup, and we got to see a second successive outing for Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield diamond — the formation that offsets putting another attacker up with Jozy Altidore by sitting a midfielder to screen the defense and employing wide midfielders such as Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya who are able to play both sides of the ball.

Some of the sparkle of the diamond was sadly lost just before kick off with the withdrawal of Clint between him and the advancing Bradley was forestalled by the US captain’s absence. More on that in a moment.

It also meant that in the first half at least, DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson tended to stay at home as the wide defenders, though when it became apparent just how deep Azerbaijan were sitting, their replacements Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin got forward more on the overlap in the second half.

Bedoya and Zusi did well enough to suggest that in terms of their overall contribution to the team, they’ll still be the incumbents in those positions for the Ghana game, but with Diskerud replacing the former, and getting a goal, and Davis replacing the latter and taking the set pieces that led to both goals, as well as making several dangerous moves to make himself available all around the Azerbaijan box, Klinsmann was given a pleasant headache.

Klinsmann was also perhaps given just a little bit of ammo when he’s asked for the umpteenth time why Landon Donovan wasn’t selected. The coach could at least argue that the shuttling work required by the wide men in the diamond was not quite a fit for Donovan. It still seems a stretch but it’s at least more conceivable than him being the odd man out in a 4-2-3-1 selection.

There was another positive too in that Jermaine Jones, for all that he looked to fade a little at the end of the game (these players have been playing for their positions and going hard in training for the best part of two weeks, at the end of a long season), largely held his discipline as the screening midfielder. He’ll be tested again if the USA line up like this against Ghana’s speedy wide players — he may end up lunging for one too many balls as he steps across to support his exposed full backs. But the USA do at least have a specialist replacement on the squad in Kyle Beckerman should Jones acquire a yellow too many. The diamond stays for now.

Without Dempsey, Altidore has to find own inspiration

Eventually the USA found a way through against an obdurate but tiring Azerbaijan defense. It took set pieces, but they found a way. What was a real shame was not seeing how a fit and in form Dempsey could have animated the US attack from the start.

As it was, Chris Wondolowski showed willingness when he was thrown into the game without a warm up. He missed a decent chance early and had another header tipped over the bar midway through the first half, but his poacher’s movement put a little more subtle pressure on Altidore to work in tighter spaces, than the more surging quick interplay of Dempsey might have done.

Wondolowski got into decent positions though, but like Altidore, he didn’t get the ball in the net. Instead Aron Johansson flicked a powerful near post header late on to double the USA lead and do his personal credentials no harm when he was subbed in. The AZ man has just come off a prolific season in the Dutch league (sound familiar?). Johansson has repeatedly said he’s better playing with another striker, while had Wondolowski’s chances come when he might have expected them i.e. as a late second half sub himself, still working off Altidore but against tiring defenders losing him through his movement in the box, you’d expect him to do better. But in different ways both men showed what they can do playing off another striker.

But still, neither man really showed how they might potentially animate that other striker, and while resting Dempsey at any sign of a twinge made a lot of sense at this stage of the build-up, it was an undoubted anticlimax not to see him attempt to draw Altidore into the game more. As it was, the Sunderland man had one turn and shot on the edge of the box, a few ponderous half chances that never became shots, and some decent hold up play on occasion. The USA need more from him, but without Dempsey, he’ll have to find a lot more himself.

The number 10 came good

In an article on Sports Illustrated’s blog, Grant Wahl ran through who was likely to take the number 10 shirt for the USA, with the team being obliged to number the squad 1-23 for the World Cup. It meant that one of the more symbolic shirt numbers in the game generally, and certainly a symbolically laden number for the USA — given that it was most recently worn by Landon Donovan — would have to be worn by somebody. Wahl made a compelling case that there were few American players who would particularly relish the expectation that came with it, before pointing to Mix Diskerud as the most likely candidate — less because he’d relish it and more because he was the type of capricious character least likely to be weighed down by it.

Diskerud did indeed suit up in the number 10 shirt, and did indeed seem totally unfazed. After being introduced as a late sub, he scored the opening goal five minutes later, and generally looked like a man who was always willing to take the first-time shot without unduly second-guessing himself. He’s done this repeatedly in his US career — entering a game for a dynamic-shifting cameo — though he hasn’t always convinced when thrown in from the start of games. But he was certainly able to slot into one of those wide diamond midfield roles and look dangerous with his movement in the time he was on the field, and he remains one of the more intriguing wild cards Klinsmann has at his disposal.

Diskerud’s not a classic number ten by any stretch, but at his best he plays with the type of zest and fearlessness that means that, for example, you might not miss seeing a different number 10 quite as much as you thought you might.

It’s hard to simulate the margin for error

There will always be testing moments in international games, though ideally there are few that you bring on yourself, especially when your opponents are of the calibre of Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

So what to make of Matt Besler’s sloppy pass that led to Tim Howard having to tip a shot over with a reaction stop? Or the first half foul on the edge of the box that saw a free kick go just to the side of Howard’s upright? Or a tired Jones allowing Aliyev to force him off the ball and bear down on goal late on? Or the occasional cheap loss of possession throughout the team, that would have seen a more ambitious and quicker team break in numbers?

In isolation these moments were past quickly and did not interrupt the prevailing impression of US dominance, but in games where the US can expect to be on the back foot a lot more, the pressure surrounding any errors will be a lot greater, and the opposition’s ability to exploit them will be exponentially greater too.

So this was one area of the Azerbaijan game where it was hard to draw meaningful conclusions about how effective this formation and USA personnel were. And not the only area — Azerbaijan were no match stylistically for anything the USA will face in Brazil. What they were were a reasonably affective sparring partner as the USA worked out some kinks in a game situation. And like good sparring partners they folded pretty much around the time we might have expected a well-drilled but limited team to do so — late in the second half.

Turkey won’t fold this weekend, and they should ask a lot more direct questions. We’ll get a more recognizable model of at least one of the tactical tasks facing the USA, as well as a slightly better simulation of the eventual margin for error they will be working with in Brazil, as the departure tour moves on to Red Bull Arena. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

World Cup 2014: at the Brazil finals a goggle-eyed man will be king

PLEASE NOTE: Add your own commentary here above the horizontal line, but do not make any changes below the line. (Of course, you should also delete this text before you publish this post.)

Powered by article titled “World Cup 2014: at the Brazil finals a goggle-eyed man will be king” was written by Marina Hyde, for The Guardian on Wednesday 28th May 2014 15.00 UTC

Perhaps the creepiest thing about the Sochi Winter Olympics – apart from the bit where it turned out they’d just been a curtain raiser for a land grab – was the use of a security system called VibraImage, which is a programme that analyses live images of people to assess whether they pose a security risk. According to the New York Times, it measures “tiny muscle vibrations in the head and neck known as vestibular-emotional reflexes”, and was used on all spectators “to detect someone who appears unremarkable but whose agitated mental state signals an imminent threat”.

Mmm. Back when he was still a science-fiction-writing insurance salesman, the Scientology founder, L Ron Hubbard, is said to have remarked: “If you want to get rich, start a religion.” Hubbard would go on to prove that thesis most resoundingly – and one of these days, I may set about trying to prove a theory of my own, which is that one of the best ways to fill your boots in the early 21st century is to set yourself up as an expert in sports security. The more biometric-sounding, the better.

I should point out that VibraImage has been deemed by some to be as amazingly effective as those £13 novelty golf ball finders marketed as bomb detectors in Iraq. Or indeed, as the early facial recognition software that was secretly brought in at vast expense to screen every attendee at the 2001 Super Bowl – thereafter nicknamed the Snooper Bowl – and which resulted in zero arrests, despite initial misleading claims by the firm who provided it.

“We passionately believe that face recognition improves personal privacy,” insisted its CEO – and 13 years of technological advances on, that trade-off seems to be a done deal for the Brazil World Cup. Considering the country’s security measures for Engineering and Technology magazine, a US facial recognition expert inquired rhetorically: “Do you want extra security or to protect people’s right to privacy?”

Depends who’s in charge, is the usual official answer. Apparently without irony, the US State department warned Americans planning to travel to Sochi to “understand that they have no expectation of privacy”. The US loyally held off casting similar aspersions before the London Olympics, despite our capital being the most surveilled city on earth and its Games preparation involving the “UK’s biggest mobilisation of military and security forces since the Second World War”.

But then, nothing says major sporting event these days like the words “largest military operation in peacetime”. In fact, the only surprise is that Fifa and the International Olympic Committee have yet to trademark the phrase. (Incidentally, it wouldn’t be a World Cup if we didn’t highlight a few of the auto-satirical trademarks upon which Fifa has insisted, so you should know that this time round they have annexed “pagode” – an entire genre of Brazilian music – as well as Natal 2014. Natal is one of the tournament’s host cities – but it is also the word for Christmas, so please salute world football’s governing body for insisting its ownership of “Christmas 2014” lasts until 31 December.)

As far as military hardware goes, Brazil will naturally deploy fighter jets, and has splashed out some of the 0m security budget on 50 of the US military bomb-disposal robots used in Afghanistan, as well as two m Israeli drones to patrol the skies. The drone manufacturer describes its product as “perfectly suited for the homeland security challenges at these [sporting] events”.

Football, eh? Bloody hell.

Whether VibraImage will be used in Brazil is unclear – it is certainly rumoured to be, among sections of the security industry, with experts citing the traditional cooperation and copycatting between successive hosts of sporting mega-events.

What we do know for sure is that police patrolling the tournament will use facial-recognition goggles to scan people, with the glasses able to clock 400 faces a second and check them against a database of 13m. Thirteen million what, you may wonder – but alas, that has yet to be made clear in any of the breathlessly impressed, Robocop-referencing reports on the matter. According to its own PR, the system can scan targets up to 12 miles away. (Whether it can find your golf ball remains classified at present.)

Other known knowns for Brazil inform us that the traditional two-kilometre exclusion zones Fifa establishes around stadiums to shut out street vendors are apparently being upcycled into barriers designed to keep away any protesters, which would seem an escalation of sorts on behalf of the organisers and their Zurich overlords. Then again, at the last World Cup Fifa was finally able to trademark justice itself, via South Africa’s “Fifa World Cup Courts”, where people could commit a crime on a Wednesday and be sentenced to 15 years on the Friday.

In any sane world, it would be judged that the World Cup has become so financially and morally expensive that it would be far better for the tournament to be given a permanent residency somewhere, in the manner of a megastar fed up with touring being set up in Las Vegas. Qatar would seem the obvious choice, being deliciously unburdened by rights legislation and apparently so empty that in some cases entire cities are being constructed to stop some of the 2022 stadiums looking quite as preposterously lonesome or mirage-like as they might otherwise have done.

But the world, obviously, is far from sane. So we can only remark on sport’s increasing indispensability to the security-industrial complex, and look excited – but not suspiciously excited – about the mere subplot of a tournament to come. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.