Friday, March 24, 2017



Sorry Trump, Cambodia owes the U.S. nothing


It’s the height of hypocrisy, arrogance and amoral audacity for the United States to demand Cambodia — target of one of the most brutal bombing campaigns in world history — to pay back war debt accrued by the pro-U.S. puppet regime in pre-1975 Phnom Penh, but it is very much in keeping with the hypocritical, arrogant and audaciously amoral tone in Washington these days.
The $500 million bill that Uncle Sam has come knocking for is not small change, but it is a pittance compared to the destruction the U.S. wreaked on Cambodia by incessant B-52 bombing during the Vietnam War that left hundreds of thousands dead in its wake, including countless children.
How does one even begin to recompense for a cratered land littered with lost lives? How does one account for the fact that U.S. President Richard Nixon, who ordered the invasion of Cambodia, and his right-hand man, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who was the architect of the bombing, never saw a day in jail?
Guilty of war crimes, the dynamic duo were not only not prosecuted but continue to be lauded as great men of American politics. Is there no justice with a capital “J”? Does the law only apply to the weak, badgered and unconnected? Must the bookkeeper’s ledger trump decency and common sense?
Cambodia is at peace now, a country that has come back to life from a chillingly real year zero, and the zombie years that followed. Its political system leaves much to be desired, in part because it still carries the scars of the intense cycles of violence set off by the indiscriminate U.S. bombing in the first place.
War correspondents who witnessed the U.S. intervention firsthand such as Elizabeth Becker, James Pringle and William Shawcross have made it eloquently clear that Cambodia owes the U.S. nothing given the horror of the bombing and its lingering aftereffects.
Is it not the better part of valor to leave well enough alone?
The real mystery of the peace is why an experienced State Department hand and “human rights” oriented diplomat such as U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt should be so diplomatically inept as to bring up this issue, and why now. What was he thinking?
To recast the issue in the crude terms that have recently taken hold in U.S. political discourse, especially on the part of the triumphant Trumpists, it can be summed up simply as this: America is No. 1. Foreigners take advantage of U.S. generosity. Business is business. If the U.S. is owed money, make ’em pay.
While it is tempting to see this breach of decency and unbearably one-sided demand for money as typical of the “Trumpocalypse” that has now descended on Washington, it is important to point out that Heidt was appointed by President Barack Obama and personally arranged Obama’s state visit to Poland. Heidt’s resume suggests diplomatic accomplishment in human rights, conservation and, ironically enough, “economic diplomacy.” Clunk.
So what gives? Is Heidt, who served under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry during his most distinguished years in the State Department, speaking for the residual bureaucracy left behind by his former bosses, or is he already speaking for his new boss, Rex Tillerson?
It doesn’t seem possible that an ambassador who has shown sufficient respect to his host country to learn to speak some Khmer and travel to nearly every rural province should be so tone deaf and indelicate in manner as to demand repayment of money dating to the inferno of the war period.
Whose bright idea was it to demand payment based on technical determinations of dubious paperwork before the apocalypse? Is the Trump-ravaged State Department so worried about cash flow that even Cambodia is getting the squeeze?
Trump presides over a chaotic White House swirling with controversy, conflict of interest and the ever-present whiff of scandal. He has yet to round off his Cabinet and confirm powerful appointees, so it is unlikely that the Phnom Penh ambassadorial post is the object of presidential attention; it’s not even a sure thing that he could locate it on the map.
Given Cambodia’s status in U.S. eyes as a perpetual sideshow, it is understandable that an Obama appointee should remain in place until they get around to replacing him.
To give Heidt the benefit of the doubt, he may be working under duress, eager to continue in his post but forced to flip flop in accordance with the merciless values of the new administration.
If so, the principled thing would be to quit and set the record straight.
Cambodia was not a belligerent; it did not start war with the U.S., nor did it seek to. What’s more, trying to collect money after a bloody war tends not to work out well for either party, even in circumstances where the debt is demanded of a true belligerent, which passive Cambodia was not.
Punitive war reparations demanded of Germany by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the wise men of Versailles after World War I in 1919 set Europe on a course of renewed conflict. Not a few victims of victor’s justice took a dim view of the diplomatic bookkeeping of war reparations, including a disgruntled, shell-shocked corporal called Adolf Hitler.
Cambodians of all political stripes are upset, and rightly so; even to international observers unconcerned with Cambodia, the news beggars belief, a jaw-dropping case of out-of-tune diplomacy.
If Washington persists in demanding the dubious payment, based on the dubious logic that Cambodia is no longer war torn and new buildings are going up all the time, as cited by the U.S. ambassador, then the U.S. will score a game-losing own-goal, ceding what remaining influence it has in Cambodia to a country that is investing in new buildings and infrastructure, namely China.
Philip J. Cunningham is a media researcher and consultant.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017



Vault7 and the electronic panopticon

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming! Coming for your devices. Not just big things like TVs and automobiles, but things you keep in your pocket, things that you keep by your pillow at night. But rest assured, if the Russians are looking to invade your privacy, the Americans are already there.
Wikileak’s release of Vault7 documents, though neither confirmed nor denied by the CIA, indicates that the people that America pays to keep America safe have the ability to reach into the darkest corner of private lives; the living room, the bedroom, confidential chats, private photos.
What’s more, if Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is to be believed, the CIA, in self-goal of bureaucratic bungling, has misplaced the crown jewels of U.S. surveillance, putting at risk secret state-of-the-art hacking tools.
Initial media reports compared Wikileaks latest information coup with Edward Snowden’s monumental hack of the National Security Agency, but it’s really apples and oranges.
Snowden’s revelations were seismic in terms of the sheer global scale of surveillance, pointing to the indiscriminate electronic vacuuming up of mind-boggling volumes of information, whereas Assange’s leaks provide corroboration about the secret tools that can carry out focused, pinprick attacks on personal electronic devices.
They can reach into your pocket, the phone by your ear, the living room couch and the computer chips that guide your car.
Infiltration is everywhere, and even if the CIA’s claim of not spying on Americans in America can be taken at face value (the legal loopholes used by the U.S. intelligence community are legendary, especially when you leave U.S. territory) the day of Big Brother is here.
Not only do phone-sized devices and TV’s bombard the user with commercial propaganda and fake news, but they can observe the user in real time.
The ability to log keystrokes and remotely manipulate the most cherished of electronic devices is no longer Orwellian nightmare but documented reality.
The idea that cars, indeed even airplanes, can be hacked and remote controlled is almost too scary to contemplate, though no evidence has been provided that suggests this spine-tingling capability has actually been put to use.
U.S. intelligence, which President Donald Trump and his supporters have accused of playing politics through surveillance and selected leaks, has itself been on the receiving end of massive leaks. The old canard that people need not be afraid of surveillance if they are not doing anything wrong obviously does not apply to the government itself.
It was the hubris, illegality and lack of internal discipline on the part of the NSA that drove Snowden, by his own account, to expose NSA perfidy to the world, a convolutedly patriotic act by his own lights.
Facebook and Google, Apple and Samsung collect private information with a rapacious zeal that makes even intelligence professionals blush, especially since the privately held firms are subject to no democratic oversight and are quick to exploit and monetize their information troves. Yet now they assail the NSA and CIA for not sharing the zero-day exploit flaws in their own products. Kettle meets pot.
Trump famously made the nasty aside that “there is still a thing called execution” when he learned of Snowden’s leak, but when the Democratic National Committee hack exposed his political opponent during the campaign he loudly proclaimed “I love Wikileaks!”
The populist billionaire has a clownish persona, and is rather quick to flip-flop on the issues. “The Donald” seems to lack a coherent personality, let alone a coherent ideology, other than to be of service to himself. When it comes to “the cyber” as he calls it, it’s been a series of back flips and somersaults. He wants to empower the security state but is incensed that Trump Tower might have been bugged.
But think about it. If every phone call, email, text message and ambient conversation made in the vicinity of the pocket device of an ordinary citizen is subject to being scooped up in the name of national security, how could the giant, gold-tinted Trump Tower in the heart of Manhattan escape the jaded gaze of the surveillance state?
In a sharp violation of Beltway protocol, Trump has doubled down on his doubts, accusing his predecessor of tapping his phones, and while Obama almost certainly didn’t personally authorize the intrusion, it doesn’t mean such an intrusion did not take place.
Does anyone, let alone Trump, the most-watched man in the world, have any reasonable expectation of privacy in today’s electronic Panopticon?
Even supposing the CIA is scrupulous in not looking at American’s data, their cavalier attitude about sharing the same with British snoops who operate under lax rules with no constitutional restraints means that no one in America is really immune to the X-ray vision of the state. And that’s the good news.
What’s really worrisome about Assange’s latest shot across the bow is that non-state actors with even fewer scruples than the British elite can utilize tools and exploits pioneered by the CIA.
It’s tempting for knee-jerk patriots to blame the damaging leaks on the Russians, but it is equally plausible that the leaks come from the belly of the beast, well within the Beltway, where insiders, acting in the tradition of Snowden, want to expose the risks posed by those who are empowered to protect.
Electronic inter-connectedness brings convenience and instant communication but at what cost? In its wake comes manipulative malware, undetected infiltration and loss of personal privacy.
Whether wittingly or unwittingly, the latest information dump seems to favor the paranoid vision of Trump and his Republican libertarian supporters rather than the deep state business-as-usual outlook of the Democratic Party candidate he defeated, Hillary Clinton.
Philip J. Cunningham is a media researcher and consultant.