WikiLeaks Performs Valuable Service By Liberating Key Documents from Lesser-Known But Still Major Trade Deal

WikiLeaks TISA graphic

In the past two days, WikiLeaks has released drafts from a lesser-known trade agreement being negotiated between 52 nations called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The publication comes just before the next round of negotiations, which will begin on July 6.

The “Core Text” of TISA, as well as chapters from negotiations on “Electronic Commerce,” “Telecommunications Services,” “Financial Services,” and “Maritime Transport Services,” were published.

WikiLeaks describes the “Core Text” of the agreement that they released from the “largest ‘trade deal’ in history” a “modern journalistic holy grail.” The media organization is not exaggerating.

Edward Alden, who used to be a reporter for the newsletter Inside US Trade, wrote in a post for the Council on Foreign Relations that WikiLeaks’ sources are “impressive.” Alden recalled how he worked in the “pre-digital age” to “encourage leaks of trade negotiating positions. “But, with the exception of the Clinton administration’s proposal for the NAFTA labor and environmental side agreements in 1993, we rarely got our hands on the texts themselves.”

In a time when corporations are being aided by governments, which are negotiating sweeping trade deals like TISA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with complete secrecy, WikiLeaks has ensured that governments do not finish negotiations without the public having some idea about this conspiracy unfolded behind closed doors.

Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke previously described TISA as an agreement that “would encompass all service sectors and modes of supply and impose a high standard for liberalization.” By liberalization, Punke means deregulation.

Quite aggressively TISA seeks to establishes rules that would tie the hands of TISA governments, preventing them from being able to craft their own regulations to protect people from exploitation by businesses or corporations. And, the very rules, which have been adopted since the 2008 economic crisis, to protect against future financial meltdowns would likely come under attack as a result of this trade deal.

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch put together an analysis [PDF] of the “Financial Services” chapter and found sweeping rules for “market access,” which “would expose governments to legal challenges before extrajudicial tribunals for banning risky financial services or products, such as the complex derivatives that fueled the financial crisis. The same rule threatens proposals to limit the size of banks so that they do not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Yet another rule opening up the world to financial risk would challenge policies, which prevent banks from being able to “hold consumers’ deposits from engaging in hedge-fund-style trading of high-risk securities.” It would be prohibited to restrict “financial inflows—used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems—and financial outflows, used to prevent suddent capital flight in times of crisis.”

“Despite increasing concerns about data privacy, sparked by revelations of the US National Security Agency’s dragnet spying, TISA would require that financial firms be permitted to transfer consumers’ personal financial data overseas, where it could be exposed to unwanted surveillance,” Beachy warns.

In some instances, TISA countries may have to roll back regulations if they were inhibiting the business of a foreign firm. (more…)

Legal Organization Representing WikiLeaks Submits Report for UN Official’s Review of Whistleblower Protections

CCR Logo
Center for Constitutional Rights Logo

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization based in New York which represents WikiLeaks and its editor-in chief Julian Assange, has submitted a report to help United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye complete his review on the global issue of whistleblowers and the protection of sources.

Kaye serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The review addresses how human rights law should protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and how whistleblowers are or are not protected, especially after exposing human rights violations, corruption or other abuses.

Part of the review includes a kind of survey of all governments in the world asking them how journalists are protected from being compelled to reveal sources and how whistleblowers are afforded protections. It also asked for non-governmental organizations to share their views and studies.

CCR is uniquely positioned to provide insights, given that it represents a media organization which has endured an ongoing and unprecedented investigation by the United States government into the publication of documents provided by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The legal organization asserts in its submission [PDF], “States have an obligation to protect whistleblowers, a vulnerable group that faces systematic stigmatization as a result of exercising fundamental rights to access and obtain information.”

State governments also “have a positive obligation to promote freedom of expression through cyber laws, and must not use technical violations to punish whistleblowers,” CCR argues.

“There is a serious risk that cyber laws will displace secrecy laws as a tool to prosecute whistleblowers on basis of their activities accessing and obtaining information. In the United States, the cases of Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and WikiLeaks reveal the application of “unauthorized access” computer laws to punish whistleblowers and publishers.”

The legal organization adds, “Today significant amounts of access to information, particularly by whistleblowers, is enabled by computers. Whistleblowers must not be punished for using a computer to blow the whistle. Cyber laws sanctioning whistleblowers or sources who already have access to computers, purely based on their intent to blow the whistle, raise serious problems for freedom of expression.”

The US government has prosecuted whistleblowers for violating the Espionage Act and disseminating information. In these cases, the intent of the whistleblower does not matter to prosecutors and judges. What matters is that a secrecy agreement was breached.

CCR kept close watch as the court-martial of Manning unfolded, even bringing a lawsuit on behalf of media organizations and journalists (including this one) to force the US military to be more transparent and make court-martial records available to the press. It struggled against secrecy, but one military court denied a request for relief, a military appeals court claimed to lack jurisdiction, and a federal court refused to hear the case. Finally, the military decided to start publishing documents to an online “reading room” that the press and public could access.

As an example of how whistleblowers are vulnerable to abuse, CCR recalls how UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez decided “Manning was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in pretrial custody.”

Manning wrote about her time in pretrial detention in Kuwait:

“At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with,” she recounted for The Guardian. (more…)

The Roundup for July 2nd, 2015

Rest in peace Nicolas Winton

Greece And The Giant Grexit, Day 3

– Greece is still in default and it must go to step two: a Grexit

– Germany is very angry with Greece and say the Greek government is using scapegoats for its own problems

– Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras: We are being “blackmailed” by the troika and must vote no in the referendum

– Eurozone leaders refused to meet with Greece before the referendum vote

– Greek Financial Minister Yanis Varoufakis: There is no way we can leave the euro even if we vote no

– Moody’s, the credit rating firm, downgraded Greece’s credit rating (more…)

Over Easy: Around the World

Kensington Palace Orangery serves easy eggs, you see
Kensington Palace Orangery serves easy eggs, you see

(Picture courtesy of Herry Lawford at flickr.com.)

Welcome to Thursday’s Over Easy, a continuation of Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner and its tradition of giving an overview of news our everyday media doesn’t cover, issues that we ought to consider outside the U.S. scene. As, again today, you’re hearing from Over There direct, we have a couple of changes, and the computer doesn’t want to reproduce my domestic egg picture.

From RT, Wikileaks publishes TiSA agreement documents which if authentic show multinational corporations wielding powers over governments in the treaty.

WikiLeaks has published secret “core text” related to the controversial trade agreement currently being negotiated behind closed doors between the US, EU and 23 other countries. Big corporations look to be the biggest winners in the deal.

Leaked documents of TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement) negotiations reveal that the treaty is looking to undermine “governments involved in the treaty” by supporting multinational companies instead of local businesses, according to a WikiLeaks press release.

The deadline for nuclear agreement between Iran and western nations (P5 + 1) has been extended from the original one that was to occur on June 30.  A five year plan issued by Ayatollah Khomeini included economic and military objectives, claiming that the nuclear development has peaceful purposes.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif returned to the talks on Tuesday, along with Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) chief Ali Akbar Salehi and Hossein Fereidoun, President Rouhani’s younger brother and special adviser.

The presence of Mr Salehi was a sign of Iran’s serious desire to accelerate the negotiations and achieve a comprehensive deal, Iran’s state news agency Irna said.

On Monday, the US warned that a framework deal agreed in Switzerland in April had to remain the basis for a comprehensive agreement.

Argentine Chief Minister Anibal Fernandez praised Greece’s rejection of EU demands to shrink their economy, describing it as similar to Argentina’s spurning court demands that the country pay off vulture capitalists.   He described the buying up of Greek debt now going on as another example of the attempt to suck up other countries’ economies into their own coffers by these corrupting financial institutions.

“Tsipras demands adjustment to be held. They say they want to be in the EU and not leave the eurozone, but they want a wayout like the one Argentina had. Néstor (Kirchner) used to say ‘the dead don´t pay.’ Here, they want (Greece) to die, the government to fall and make decisions of another type to plunder the Greek,” the head of ministers said referring to Néstor Kirchner, President Cristina Fernández’s late husband and predecessor in the post.

In 2003, in his first speech as head of state of Argentina in the United Nations General Assembly, Kirchner said “the dead don’t pay” alluding to the country’s financial situation with the credit organism commanded by Christine Lagarde.

Predicted increased ‘el Nino’ effects in 2015 – 16 are anticipated to be threatening world supplies of wheat, coffee and sugar in particular.   Copyright restrictions do not allow the inclusion of text here, but readers may follow the link for descriptions of the shortages, and abundance elsewhere, which will be entailed.

As you no doubt have all heard, we’re having a heatwave, but today it’s lots cooler and clouds have moved in.   That will make the ‘tube’ a lot nicer.   Have also seen we’re on the way to another record heat year in 2015, just like last year.   My sympathies go out to our Pacific NW and Hawaii, as well as other places around the world that are suffering.

Never.Give.Up.

Why Won’t Greece Take a Deal?

Ultimately, it’s about pride.

By John Kiriakou

Greece is in dire straits. As a Greek American, it hurts to watch.

Without emergency loans from its European partners, Greece will default on its debts and likely be forced out of the Eurozone. That means tougher times ahead for Greece, Europe, and international financial markets.

In exchange for a short-term loan, European powers led by Germany want the Greek government to impose brutal new austerity measures on its people. So why won’t Greece take the deal?

First, some background: Past Greek governments are largely to blame for the country’s fiscal woes.

In 1981, Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou famously told his finance minister to “spend it all.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Greece became the first European country to allow all workers to retire with a full pension at the age of 55. A worker in a “dangerous industry” could retire even earlier. But “dangerous industries” ended up including everybody from hairdressers to radio disc jockeys.

In the meantime, the government hired everybody who wanted or needed a job. The public sector ballooned to unsustainable levels, and practically everybody was retiring early at full pension.

Later on, conservative governments jumped on the bandwagon too, handing fat government benefits to their supporters. Tax evasion ran rampant and the entire political system was corrupted.

The system was bound to collapse, and collapse it did. A few years ago, Greece’s neighbors and the International Monetary Fund loaned the country money to make ends meet.

But instead of eating the losses on their banks’ bad investments, the Europeans — and especially the Germans — demanded harsh austerity cuts that shredded Greece’s social safety net, gutted the public sector, and plunged the country deeper into despair.

Fed up with the resulting poverty and unemployment, Greeks rejected their mainstream political parties in the last election and replaced them with the left-wing Syriza party. Led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Syriza campaigned on protecting Greece’s now-huge underclass from Europe’s dictates.

Why would the Greeks risk losing everything by not continuing with a well-defined program of pension cuts and layoffs?

The answer isn’t hard to understand.

First, Syriza rejects balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Over 40 percent of Greeks now live at or under the poverty level. Middle-class people who worked all their lives have been thrown out of their jobs and have no hopes of getting another. Unemployment for young Greeks hovers around a whopping 50 percent.

Tellingly, suicides in Greece are up over 35 percent since the economy fell apart in 2009, and a “brain drain” of educated professionals to other countries is running apace.

Second, Europeans are ignoring the concept of saving face. The European ultimatum to Greece doesn’t respect the country’s election results or allow the government to claim even a partial victory. Add in the Greeks’ lingering resentment toward the Germans over Nazi atrocities in World War II, and you get an even more difficult situation.

There’s still hope for a last-minute breakthrough. If that doesn’t happen, though, the money will dry up and the Greek economy will fall further apart. Yet compared to endless austerity, that might not be the end of the world.

It may be ugly for a while: Stock markets will slide, Greece will have to re-invent its currency, and the economic depression Greece has endured may last several years longer. But the Greeks will survive, and so will everybody else.

And despite their pain, the poor will know that their government did this for them. The Greek people will know that they weren’t beholden to the Germans or to the International Monetary Fund.

It’s not just about the money. It’s about pride.

—————–

OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. OtherWords.org.

The United States and Cuba may be opening embassies in Havana and DC by end of July

The United States and Cuba are going to open embassies in Havana and Washington D.C., possibly before the end of July, as they seek to normalize relations after a 60 year trade embargo by the United States failed to topple Fidel Castro’s regime. His brother Raul has been running the country since 2008 when Fidel stepped aside due to an illness.

This is wonderful news. I lived in Havana for six years when I was a kid and have many fond memories. I learned English and Spanish at the same time and do not recall not being able to speak Spanish. My father was a Foreign Service Officer stationed in Havana. We left Cuba as Fidel Castro’s revolution against Batista was getting started. He was a horrible dictator in thrall to the United States, many of its corporations, and the Mafia. He exploited his people ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

I never agreed with the embargo or breaking diplomatic relations. I think such steps are always counterproductive and usually only hurt the poor, the mentally ill and the marginalized. Children often suffer the worst as was the case in Iraq during the embargo imposed by the Clinton administration. Approximately one million children died in Iraq. I believe countries should always maintain diplomatic relations, especially during troubled times. Peaceful resolutions to conflict are impossible without communication.

Go here for a summary of the players and the issues by NBC News.

I can hardly wait to touch down on Cuban soil.

WikiLeaks Reveals List of German Officials Spied Upon by NSA, Confirms Merkel Had Calls Intercepted

WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials
WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials

WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.

The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:

Merkel - Personal Assistant Intercept

 

The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.

The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.

Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.

The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.

“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.

“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”

The revelations related to US spying on German officials come after two releases highlighting US spying on French officials. (more…)

Drug Money Laundered by Two Florida Police Agencies, And Stark Corruption at All Levels of Government

Screen shot of Miami Herald's page for "License to Launder" series
Screen shot of Miami Herald’s page for “License to Launder” series

Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.

The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.

It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.

Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.

The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.

The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.

Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:

—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.

—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.

—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)

The Roundup for July 1st, 2015

A new month!

Greece and the Giant Grexit, Day 2

– Greece missed its June 30 payment to the International Monetary Fund

– Mark Weisbrot: “Are the European authorities trying to get rid of the Greek government?“; Good question

In general, this crisis was expected and European officials are seriously considering a Grexit

– President Barack Obama: While Greek crisis will not affect U.S. financial system, it will affect Europe’s

– Some Greeks marched in the capital for a “Yes” vote, who may reflect the conservative side of Greece

Part one of two with professors William Black and Michael Hudson on why the troika insists on getting Greece to a deal, which would help out foreign banks 

– It is right to say the Greek referendum holds significant consequences for the future of the euro

– Dean Baker: “The NYT Is Wrong: Greece Shouldn’t Accept Endless Depression Because Default Might Be Painful(more…)