Category Archives: Noteworthy

How a British company enabled mass spying

When it comes to sheer quantities of information hoovered up from the global data stream, the U.S. National Security Agency is a piker compared to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], as Edward Snowden’s leaks conclusively demonstrate.

In these videos from Britain’s Channel 4 News, the extent and scope of Britain’s monitoring is revealed, focusing on the island nation’s role as the central hub for the world’s network of data cables [a fact that is leading the BRICs nations to announce plans to develop their own cable system independent of the GCHQ-monitored cables].

As noted in a text story Channel 4 News posted online:

One of the UK’s largest communications firms had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.

Cable and Wireless even went as far as providing traffic from a rival foreign communications company, handing information sent by millions of internet users worldwide over to spies.

The firm, which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Under the moniker, the company carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, it came up with suggestions on how the spies could go about tapping its network, and even had a GCHQ employee working full-time within the company.

And a 2011 document reveals that Cable and Wireless went further. The company rented space on a cable owned by Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia across the Middle East and landed in Porthcurno in Cornwall. Reliance’s transatlantic cable lands in Sennen Cove six miles to the north. And the two cables come together at nearby Skewjack Farm. Documents show that in 2011, this allowed Britain’s spies to access all traffic from Reliance’s main cable and send it to the GCHQ base up the coast in Bude.

Top secret documents from GCHQ show it was this access point, codenamed Nigella and run by Cable and Wireless, that allowed Britain’s spies to gather the private communications of millions of internet users worldwide.

The first video examines the program itself and how it works.

From Channel 4 News:

Spy cable revealed: How telecoms firm worked with GCHQ

Program notes:

An unprecedented grab of personal data: this programme reveals that a communications firm not only handed over its own information to GCHQ, but also allowed access to the internet traffic of another telecoms company.

The second video features an aborted debate between a German member of parliament — Green Party legislator Konstanin von Notz — and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand, a debate that ends abruptly when Omand storms out during questions over the controversy that erupted after it was revealed that the German provider serving the German government — including Chancellor Angela Merkel — was providing GCHQ access to its cables:

Sir David Omand walks out of live interview

Program notes:

Sir David Omand was debating German Green MP Konstantin von Notz, who is part of an inquiry into allegations that Angela Merkel’s conversations were intercepted by the NSA, on Channel 4 News’ main story.

Map of the day: A matter of perspective

From British chemist Anthony England [who lives in Holland]:

BLOG Ebola not

The Independent reports:

England, who has visited the region in the past, told The Independent that he sees “an endless amount of ill-informed” commentary on Twitter. He hopes that his map will clear up some of the confusion, which he believes is harming the efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

He said: “There [are] genuine questions from people who want to learn. But as best as I can tell there are far more from people who have read little but yet think they all the answers based on some or other hearsay – and then refuse to listen to any scientifically-minded guidance.”

But England added: “I think there is enough information out there in the world for people to know what Ebola is all about. Anyone who cares to learn the details about Ebola can easily find all the answers.”

Crowdsourced science and Fukushima

A remarkable story from Japan about the lingering radioactive legacy of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and the groundbreaking citizen effort to crowdsource monitoring of the true extent of lingering hot zones in the country.

Needless to say, their findings challenge the government’s official findings while greatly expanding the scope of monitoring efforts.

This is another of those excellent documentaries from ABC Australia, the national broadcaster under continuing attacks from that nation’s neoliberal austerian government.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst: Radiation Fallout – How Japan is still faced with the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Program notes:

On 11 March 2011, a 9-meter-high tsunami wave, triggered by the Great To-hoku Earthquake, slammed into Japan’s eastern coast. The consequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant brought the added risk of radioactive fallout to the already desperate humanitarian disaster. For the three years since, Japanese authorities and civilian groups have been struggling to clean up the environmental damage caused by this catastrophic fallout of radioactive material. Mark Horstman travels to Fukushima Prefecture in Japan to discover where the radioactive fallout has spread since the nuclear accident.

Journeyman Pictures brings you highlights from the cutting-edge science series, ‘Catalyst’, produced by our long-term content partners at ABC Australia. Every day we’ll upload a new episode that takes you to the heart of the most intriguing and relevant science-related stories of the day, transforming your perspective of the issues shaping our world.

Fighting the Ebola Virus Outbreak Street by Street

A very important video, one that looks at the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Liberia’s capital from the perspective of a healthcare worker on the very spear point of the effort to fight the disease, an ambulance driver — the very first to see cases bvefore they arrive at one of the horrendously overcrowded treatment facilities.

To really grasp the stark reality conveyed in the video report, we suggest you play it at full 1080p resolution [click on the little cogwheel and set 1080p with the Quality arrow].

From Ben C. Solomon of the New York Times:

Fighting the 2014 Ebola Virus Outbreak Street by Street

Program notes:

Some ambulance workers in Monrovia have been infected with Ebola, while others have been attacked for not getting to patients in time. A week on the road as Liberia’s capital dips deeper into crisis.

An excerpt from the accompanying story:

Racing along cracked and bumpy roads here, Gordon Kamara shouted into his cellphone over the shrieking sirens of his ambulance. The phone had been ringing nonstop since 5 a.m.

“Not today! Not today!” Mr. Kamara, an ambulance nurse, yelled later in the day. “We are on the opposite side of town!”

The calls have all been the same in recent weeks: from friends, friends of friends, extended family, complete strangers. All of them have loved ones sick with Ebola and beg him to come quickly. Seven days a week, Mr. Kamara and his crew span Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, in a donated, old American ambulance — with California license plates still attached.

“It never stops,” said Mr. Kamara, getting another call the moment he hangs up.

The 15 or so ambulance teams bolting around the city have had many days of hard choices like this. Hundreds of new Ebola cases are reported each week in Monrovia, with many more never accounted for. And over the course of the epidemic, only a small percentage of them have ever made it to a hospital.

John Oliver, at it again: Civil asset forfeiture

Yep, the ongoing assault on malicious hypocrisy that is HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is at it again, this time with a takedown of rapacious looters acting under the color of authority provided by those Bill of Rights destroying provision of the PATRIOT ACT and its subsequent enabling acts:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Civil Forfeiture

Program notes:

Did you know police can just take your stuff if they suspect it’s involved in a crime? They can!

It’s a shady process called “civil asset forfeiture,” and it would make for a weird episode of Law and Order.


And some outtakes with Jeff Goldblum:

Oliver’s singular skill in employment of the reductio ad absurdum is particularly devastating in exposing the single-minded arrogant greed and entitlement assumed by too many cops in the wake of 9/11 and their ennoblement by the mainstream media because of the unquestionably heroic actions of so many police officers [and firefighters, lest we forget] on that dreaded day.

We seem to have forgotten that abuses by armed officers of the state fueled the American Revolution itself and gave rise to the Bill of Rights, with its checks on precisely such abuse.

But the carefully stoked fear of terrorism blinded too many to the inevitable consequences of empowering poorly educated men and women [mostly men] with powers seize loot for their own enrichment and for the enhancement of their own sense of power.

The one question is, will it take another revolution to end it?And, gee, wouldn’t a nice chilly margarita be nice right about now?

Neoliberal destruction of Canadian science

One of the great tragedies of neoliberalism in the developed North is its use as a bludgeon to smash views of science and history that don’t reflect the profit first, people second imperative that lies at the rotten heart of neoliberalism.

In part, the agenda demands a kind of revisionism celebrating imperial and corporate acquisition and industrialism at the expense of a nuanced view of history and science.

So we have to salute CBC news for going against the grain of Stephen Harper’s neoliberal government in Ottawa and creating a powerful documentary exploring the depths of cultural and scientific depravity demanded by Harper and his minions, and their relentless destruction of anything and anyone standing in their way.

From CBC News:

The Silence of the Labs

Program notes:

In the past few years, the federal government has cut funding to hundreds of renowned research institutes and programs. Ottawa has dismissed more than 2,000 federal scientists and researchers and has drastically cut or ended programs that monitored smoke stack emissions, food inspections, oil spills, water quality and climate change. Now some scientists have become unlikely radicals, denouncing what they call is a politically-driven war on knowledge. In Silence of the Labs, Linden MacIntyre tells the story of scientists – and what is at stake for Canadians – from Nova Scotia to the B.C. Pacific Coast to the far Arctic Circle.

Three cheers for CBC News, whose executives had to realize their straightforward journalism was raising a lightning rod certain to draw the electrified rage of the political hacks whose dastardly deeds they expose.

Protests: They’re not just for Hong Kong

While the world’s media have been focused on the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong, they’re not the only demonstrations happening around the world today, first as witnessed in two clips from RT.

First up, protests in Rome again the European Central Bank, a financial engine of the austerity machine now gobbling up the last of the commons across South Europe:

Police clash with anti-ECB protesters in Italy

Program notes:

Thousands of protesters marched against austerity policies as the European Central Bank held a meeting at the Palace of Capodimonte in Naples, Thursday. Police deployed tear gas and water cannon against a group of protesters who attempted to climb the wall and enter the palace complex.

Next, from Argentina, a protest by indigenous people long troubled by land grabs and illegal forest-clearing mobilized to action by a death:

RAW: Cops clash with indigenous Mapuche in Chile

Program notes:

Chilean national police officers clashed with protesters from the indigenous Mapuche community, who gathered outside of the presidential palace in the capital, Santiago, on Wednesday. Mapuche demonstrated to bring attention to the death of a fellow Mapuche who was reportedly run over by a tractor trailer after entering a private plot of land in the Araucania region.

And in Paraguay, thousands of teachers and students have hit the streets to protest cuts in the national education budget.

From TeleSUR English:

Paraguay: Teachers protest budget cuts in public education

Program notes:

Teachers from all over Paraguay took to the streets in the capital city of Asuncion, in defense of public education in the country.

Finally, from Iran’s Press TV, a look at seniors in Paris who have hit the streets to protest cuts in social security benefits by the austerian “socialist” [sic] government of François Hollande:

Protesters in France held a rally against the economic policies of government

Program notes:

Protesters in France have held a rally against the economic policies of the government. The protest came after Paris cut social security payments for nearly half a million citizens. Ramin Mazaheri reports.