Archive | May 17th, 2014

UK’s William Hague attacks Assad’s Syria elections plan


William Hague read out an agreed statement in which the Friends of Syria vowed further help for Syria’s opposition

Presidential elections in Syria will be a “parody of democracy”, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Mr Hague said Syria’s government had an “utter disregard” for life, and President Bashar al-Assad decision to call an election for 3 June “disgusted” the international community.

The foreign secretary also announced the Syrian opposition would have its diplomatic status in the UK upgraded.

Syria’s three-year conflict has left some 150,000 people dead.

The UK is continuing to push for President Assad to stand down, but he has sought a third seven-year term in the elections.


Mr Hague hosted a meeting of the The Friends of Syria group – made up of Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US – in London.

Afterwards, he said: “We are of course united in our disgust and anger at what’s happening in Syria and the ruthless utter disregard for human life.”

The group agreed a short communique criticising the decision to hold an election at a time when millions of people were displaced and the bloodshed was continuing.

Mr Hague called on the whole international community to “reject these illegitimate elections”, saying: “We’ve also agreed unanimously to take further steps to… do everything we can to hold the Assad regime accountable for the terror it is perpetrating.”

He promised the UK government would increase its humanitarian efforts, with £30m of extra funding.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said this money would be used for “a range of different things including helping the opposition and supporting regional sustainability”.

In a separate media briefing, US Secretary of State John Kerry commented on France’s claim that the Assad government has used chemical weapons at least 14 times since October.

He said he had seen “raw data that suggests that there may have been… a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war”.

Mr Kerry added: “If it has, and it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to.”

“Out of today’s meeting, every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up – every facet. That includes political effort. It includes aid to the opposition. It includes economic efforts, sanctions,” he said.

Friends of Syria was set up in 2012 in response to moves by Russia and China to block UN resolutions against the Assad government.

The meeting comes days after UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi stepped down over lack of progress in ending the crisis.

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US general ‘admits losing war in Syria’


A political commentator says General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that the US is losing the war in Syria.

“The US top general Martin Dempsey finally admits the truth that the US-funded proxy military in Syria is losing,” Joe Iosbaker, from the United National Antiwar Coalition, told Press TV on Thursday.

Gen. Dempsey said Wednesday that his country is not providing militants in Syria what they would need to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Dempsey maintained that the foreign-backed militancy needed far more than just a rescue mission.

“They need something that eventually will be able to hold ground. And they need a counter-terror capability – all of which is responsive to Syrians,” the general stated.

America’s highest-ranking military officer offered a dour assessment about the future of Syria and warned that a succession of conflicts was likely to erupt even if the government was ousted from power.

“Why does he [Dempsey] admit this now? The Syrian army and the government of President Bashar al-Assad have been winning politically and militarily for a year,” Iosbaker said.

“He was making the case that the so-called Free Syrian Army needs superior arms,” he said. “I think the desperation of the US government is revealed with every new war and intervention they launched.”

Iosbaker concluded that the United States is “eager for a victory in Syria” because Washington “has not scored a military win for a very long time.”

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Syria: Light at the End of the Tunnel



New Eastern Outlook

The city of Homs has finally been retaken by the Syrian Arab Army. The scenes of devastation left behind by nearly 3 years of fighting are surreal, but residents – who have begun returning in small numbers – vow to rebuild the city. Fighting concluded when the Syrian government granted a ceasefire to encircled militants occupying the city’s center.

An estimated 2,000 militants evacuated the city to rural positions where government forces will be able to engage them. Lacking the cover Homs’ urban terrain provided them, and without the well entrenched positions and logistical lines they had established throughout fighting that began in 2011, militants stand little chance of continuing their campaign of violence, let alone returning to Homs.

Indeed, Homs – considered by the West who has sponsored the militants, as the “capital of the revolution” – is a symbol of what is to come across the rest of Syria. Similar ceasefires will alleviate urban centers that had been invaded and occupied by militants – many of whom are not even Syrian – and push the fighting into Syria’s rural regions where those that insist on continuing hostilities will be systematically eliminated by Syrian security forces.

Homs is the third largest city in Syria – its liberation from foreign militants is a significant turn in the still ongoing conflict. Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, still suffers under heavily contested occupation by foreign militants emanating from and receiving support by NATO-member Turkey.

As Syria approaches the end of wide-scale conflict that began in 2011 under the cover of US-engineered political destabilization and foreign-sponsored terrorism, it will be important for the Syrian government to recognize political opposition who had refrained from subversion and violence to address grievances and help move Syria forward and beyond attempts to divide and destroy the nation. However, attempts by the West to claim Syria is “divided” are patently false. Had Syria been truly divided, it is unlikely the government in Damascus would have weathered the nation-wide conflict, which included several sorties by Israeli warplanes directly on Damascus, as well as high-level assassinations, economic warfare, and a steady stream of billions of dollars in arms and equipment over Syria’s borders in the hands of foreign terrorists, facilitated by NATO and its regional partners.

The war in Syria is not over, but a light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. Syria’s ability to thwart NATO’s ambitions within and along its borders will translate to a loss of legitimacy and momentum elsewhere for NATO in the region and around the world. Syria and its allies must continue to resist and more importantly, successfully rebuild the nation stronger both domestically, and in regards to its ties internationally, once the conflict is concluded.

Lessons Learned 

Other nations must take note of both Syria’s successes and initial failures. This includes Syria’s inability to communicate its side of the story to global audiences, relying almost entirely on Russia’s RT, Iran’s PressTV, and a growing alternative media that did include many capable Syrians. Both Syria and other nations around the world resisting foreign destabilization, must develop professional media networks able to communicate to international audiences to undermine if not entirely block attempts by foreign interests to hijack and control their respective national agendas.

Additionally, as seen in Egypt, attempts to use “pro-democracy” protests as cover for widespread armed terrorist campaigns, must be confronted immediately and decisively. Syria’s hesitation before and during 2011, in fear of attracting international condemnation, allowed terrorists a window of opportunity to build up their logistical and tactical capabilities behind the cover of so-called opposition movements like Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. It could be argued that in 2011, global opinion would have prevented such a decisive move by Damascus and opened the door to early foreign intervention as was seen in Libya. Today, however, Syria’s sacrifices have opened the door for other nations to move without hesitation against similar ploys.

The West is Overreaching 

The so-called “Arab Spring” in 2011 was the beginning of one of the most ambitious hegemonic geopolitical reorderings in modern history. However, in an age where word spreads at the speed of light, engineered subversion peddled as popular unrest possessed a very limited lifespan, one the West grossly exceeded in its attempts to reorder nations from Libya, to Syria, Iran, and even Russia and China. The result was the very public exposure of the West’s regime-change industrial complex, complete with faux-NGOs, its human rights racket, and the inner workings of its covert military operations everywhere from Libya to Syria, and even snipers brought in by Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” mobs.

The West committed so much along such a broad arch that should it fail, it stands to lose everything. From Libya to Ukraine, it appears indeed the West is failing. Just as other hegemonic powers have done in the past in their bid for global domination, the West’s current posture is one of overreaching politically, strategically, and even culturally. The growing backlash is compounded by the West’s inability to concede defeat, or even partial defeat and withdrawal. Just as Adolf Hitler’s Blitzkrieg, the West’s global arch of chaos will end inevitably in failure with a host of enemies following it when it finally has no other choice but to retreat back to its own doorstep.

The West’s failure in Syria is not an isolated event. Under the scrutiny of an increasingly aware global audience, what the West has attempted in Iraq, Libya, and now Syria, will cost it immensely when next it tries to subvert the political order of a foreign nation. In Ukraine now, this is demonstrated very clearly.

For a nation like Syria, the West’s well-earned distrust across the remainder of the globe will translate into an extra layer of protection during the closing stages of its current battle, and against future attempts to subvert and destroy its sovereignty and existing political order. The light is at the end of the tunnel for Syria, but to ensure it, and other nations emerge out the other end, they must take to heart the lessons learned from the US-engineered “Arab Spring” and begin laying the foundation of a multipolar world capable of not only resisting unipolar ambitions, but stopping them entirely before they lay waste to yet another nation.

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Syria conflict: Times journalists beaten by Zio-Wahhabi’s Rat’s during capture


Times photographer Jack Hill (left) and reporter Anthony Loyd have both won awards for covering conflicts

Times photographer Jack Hill (left) and reporter Anthony Loyd have both won awards for covering conflicts


A reporter and a photographer working for British newspaper The Times have been badly beaten while being briefly held by a rebel gang in Syria.

Anthony Loyd and Jack Hill were returning to Turkey from Aleppo when they were seized on Wednesday.

They were reportedly freed after members of the Islamic Front, a coalition of rebel groups, intervened.

Dozens of journalists have been killed, injured or kidnapped in Syria since the conflict began in 2011.

The men had been on a three-day trip to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which has come under fierce aerial bombardment as government forces try to end a long-standing stalemate in the city.

Shot in leg

They were on their way back to the Turkish border when their car was intercepted and they were taken to a warehouse in a nearby town.

Mr Loyd, a reporter for the Times, was shot twice in the legs, and both men were badly beaten to stop them trying to escape, the newspaper said.

The journalists, who have both won awards for covering conflicts, reportedly recognised their captors as being the same as those charged with providing them safe passage to the Turkish border.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut says it seems the pair were double-crossed by the very rebel group that was supposedly protecting them.

The men crossed the border to Turkey on Wednesday evening after being released, the Times reports.

Syria has become one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

More than 60 have been killed in the country since the beginning of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad three years ago.

The conflict has left some 150,000 people dead and forced millions to flee their homes.

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Five MSF staff freed after being held captive by Zio-Wahhabi RAT’s for months in Syria


Members of a family walk past damaged buildings as they head to inspect their home in the Wadi Al-Sayeh district at the al-Khalidiyeh area in Homs May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

Members of a family walk past damaged buildings as they head to inspect their home in the Wadi Al-Sayeh district at the al-Khalidiyeh area in Homs May 14, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki


Five staff members of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have been freed after being kidnapped in northwestern Syria in early January by an armed group, the aid group said in a statement on Thursday.

MSF, known for sending doctors to conflict zones, said that for security reasons it had closed a hospital and two medical centres in The Jabal Akkrad area in Syria’s northwestern Latakia province.

“The reduction of humanitarian aid is a direct consequence of the kidnapping of aid workers,” MSF said in the statement, adding that approximately 150,000 people in the wartorn area had been deprived of its help.

MSF did not specify the nationalities of the kidnapped staff, their jobs, or how they had been released. MSF said three were freed on April 4 and two on May 14, who are now on their way to meet relatives. All are physically well, MSF said.

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Syrian elections: democratic reform threatens western ‘regime change’ agenda


The 3 June ballot paper - 28 May for Syrians in other countries which have an Embassy.

The 3 June ballot paper – 28 May for Syrians in other countries which have an Embassy.

Tim Anderson

There is no doubt that incumbent President Bashar al Assad remains hot favourite for Syria’s June 3 elections. Even NATO’s advisers put his support at around 70%.

However the country’s first competitive presidential elections in recent times threatens to add a ‘normality’ to Syria’s previously one party system, a normality the western powers are desperate to avoid.

Hence Washington’s decision to deliver new weapons systems (like anti-tank missiles) to the al Qaeda-style ‘rebel’ groups, even when it has become clear that the Government and national army are prevailing in most parts of the country.

Let’s be clear about these elections, it is not some simple political choice to hold them at this time. They are required by Syria’s constitution, before the end of President Bashar’s term in July. To ignore this requirement, to suspend the constitution, would have deepened rather than help resolve the crisis.

Of course, a major test will be voter turn-out. Prospects for participation have improved strongly with the recent elimination of armed groups from Homs, Syria’s third largest city. A turn-out rate that exceeded that of 2012 would be a good sign for Syria’s democratic process.

Turnout in the 2012 Assembly and constitutional reform votes was estimated at a little over 51%; not high, but higher than the 2010 US Congressional elections participation rate of 41.6%. Remember, at that time, the Muslim Brotherhood-backed ‘Free Syrian Army’ was threatening and delivering death to those who participated in the voting.

No doubt the FSA’s al Qaeda-style successors are making the same threats now. But Syria’s army has backed them into a few corners. The last thing these sectarian fanatics want is any sort of democracy.

It is precisely because of the constitutional changes in 2012 that Syrian voters now have presidential choices, apart from the incumbent. The other candidates are Maher Hajjar, an independent communist from Aleppo, and businessman Hassan al-Nouri.

All three candidates have accepted a set of ‘national principles’ which include support for the Syrian Arab Army as ‘the protector of Syria against any foreign aggression and internal sabotage’. There is no Washington or Paris-backed candidate calling for an Islamic state; such sectarianism remains banned under the constitution.

However neither Hajjar nor al-Nouri can be dismissed as simple patsies for President Bashar.  Under current rules each had to secure the support of at least 35 MPs in the current 200+ parliament; and MPs can only back one candidate. That means there is substantial electoral support for the two non-Ba’ath Party candidates, albeit support for those who back a ‘secular’ or pluralist nation.

Getting over the 35-MP hurdle, the new candidates still face the fact that President Bashar counts not only on the backing of the 60% of MPs who belong to the Ba’ath Party. The Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) and the Communist Party have also thrown their weight behind him. Bashar is increasingly seen as a symbol of resistance and national unity, and essential to winning the war.

In actual policy terms some more conventional themes have emerged. Hajjar, as the left candidate, remains a pan-Arabist and backs redistributive policies alongside huge capital works, to address unemployment. He also aims to attack corruption, probably the key complaint of the wider reform movement in recent years.

For his part, Al-Nouri, as the right-wing candidate, stresses a type of ‘modernization’ called the ‘smart free economy’, with emphasis on public-private partnerships. Indeed many of the major investments in Syria in recent years, like the large tourist hotels, have been joint venture operations. The small business sector, of course, is extensive.

As a candidate, Bashar al Assad sits at the centre left of this new configuration. His government has maintained free health and education, throughout economic hard times and war and, if anything, the conflict has deepened Bashar’s commitment to state investment. He was always seen as a reformer and moderniser but now, importantly, he is seen as a ‘rock’ which has successfully defended Syria against the western-backed sectarian Islamists. That is what will clinch the vote for him. He seems likely to get a higher vote than his Ba’ath party colleagues did in the Assembly elections of 2012.

By failing to engage with the reform process at the Geneva 2 talks in January (when there still existed the possibility of constitutional change) the exiled, Muslim Brotherhood-led ‘opposition’ have effectively shot themselves in the collective foot.

Rather like the pro-coup opposition in Venezuela, ten years ago, they rejected ‘normal’ politics in the hope that backing from the big powers would deliver them government by violence and deception. They rejected dialogue and reform for attacks on schools, hospitals, and ordinary people, blaming the government for their own sectarian massacres. That strategy backfired and they have now excluded themselves from Syrian political life for many years.

Syria’s democratic reform process is advancing, despite the ongoing terrorist war, and it threatens to derail the western ‘regime change’ agenda. The al Qaeda-style groups have served to unite the reform movement with pro-government forces. For these reasons, Syria’s June 3 vote will be a patriotic election.

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‘Executed’ Kim Jong-Un girlfriend reappears on North Korea television

Singer was reported to have been killed by firing squad last year for making a sex tape but has turned up on state TV alive and well

Hyon Song-Wol in a previous pop video

Hyon Song-Wol in a previous music video


A North Korean singer said to be Kim Jong-Un’s ex-girlfriend and rumoured to have been executed last year has appeared on state television, apparently alive and well.

Pyongyang’s state TV showed Hyon Song-Wol, the head of a band known as Moranbong, delivering a speech at a national art workers rally in Pyongyang on Friday.

She expressed gratitude for Mr Kim’s leadership and pledged to work harder to “stoke up the flame for art and creative work”.

The reappearance of Hyon – best known for her hit song Excellent Horse-like Lady – came after months of speculation about whether or not she was alive.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun and South Korean media said in September that Hyon, members of the Unhasu Orchestra and other state musicians had been executed by firing squad for taping themselves having sex.

South Korea’s spy chief Nam Jae-Joon added weight to the reports when he said in October that he was “aware” of the alleged execution.

“We are aware of the execution of some 10 people associated with the Unhasu Orchestra”, two lawmakers quoted Mr Nam as saying at a closed door parliamentary session, according to Yonhap news agency.

The Asahi said the rare execution of state performers had been ordered to prevent rumours spreading about the supposedly decadent lifestyle of Ri Sol-Ju, North Korea’s first lady, while she was an entertainer.

North Korea angrily denied the reports, calling them an “unpardonable” crime.

The North’s state news agency KCNA said the reports were the work of “psychopaths” and “confrontation maniacs” in the South Korean government and media.

“This is an unpardonable, hideous provocation hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership,” a KCNA commentary said in September.

In an apparent attempt to prove the rumours untrue, North Korean radio in October aired a performance by the orchestra.


I$raHell forced to confront a guilty secret

Remember Nakba 1948

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

For 66 years Israel’s founding generation has lived with a guilty secret, one it successfully concealed from the generations that followed. Forests were planted to hide war crimes. School textbooks mythologized the events surrounding Israel’s creation. The army was blindly venerated as the most moral in the world.

Once, Nakba – Arabic for “Catastrophe”, referring to the dispossession of the Palestinian homeland in 1948 – would have failed to register with any but a small number of Israeli Jews. Today, only those who never watch television or read a newspaper can plead ignorance.

As marches and festivals are held today by Palestinians across the region to markNakba Day – commemorating the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and the erasure of more than 500 villages – Israelis will be watching.

In fact, the Israeli media have been filled with references to the Nakba for the past 10 days, since Israel celebrated its Independence Day last week. The two anniversaries do not quite coincide because Israel marks its founding according to the Hebrew calendar.

More than 20,000 staged a “March of Return” to one destroyed village, Lubya, buried under a forest… Long tailbacks forced thousands of Israeli Jews to get a close-up view as they crawled past the biggest Nakba procession in Israel’s history.

While Israeli Jews were trying to enjoy guilt-free street parties last week, news reports focused on the activities of their compatriots – the Palestinians who remained inside the new state of Israel and now comprise a fifth of the population. Estimates are that one in four of these 1.5 million Palestinian citizens is from a family internally displaced by the 1948 war.

More than 20,000 staged a “March of Return” to one destroyed village, Lubya, buried under a forest near Tiberias and close to a major Israeli highway. Long tailbacks forced thousands of Israeli Jews to get a close-up view as they crawled past the biggest Nakba procession in Israel’s history.

For others, images of the marchers waving Palestinian flags and massively outnumbering Israeli police and a counter-demonstration by Jewish nationalists were seen on TV news, websites and social media.

The assault on Israel’s much cherished national mythology is undoubted. And it reflects the rise of a new generation of Palestinians no longer willing to defer to their more cautious, and traumatized, elders, those who directly experienced the events of 1948.

These youth see themselves as representing not only their immediate relatives but Palestinians in exile who have no chance to march back to their village. Many of Lubya’s refugees ended up in Yarmouk camp in Damascus, where they are suffering new horrors, caught in the midst of Syria’s civil war.

Palestinians in Israel are also being galvanized into action by initiatives like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plans to legislate Israel as a Jewish state. They see this as the latest phase of an ongoing nakba – an attempt to erase their nativeness, just as the villages were once disappeared.

Palestinians are making a noise about the Nakba on every possible front – and not just on Nakba Day. Last week media around the world reported on one such venture: a phone app called iNakba that maps the hundreds of destroyed villages across Israel. Briefly it became one of the most popular iPhone downloads, connecting refugees through new technology. iNakba visibly restores a Palestine that Israel hoped literally to have wiped off the map.

The assault on Israel’s much cherished national mythology… reflects the rise of a new generation of Palestinians no longer willing to defer to their more cautious, and traumatized, elders, those who directly experienced the events of 1948..

The app is the initiative of Zochrot, an Israeli organization that is jointly run by Jews and Palestinians. They have been finding ever more creative and provocative ways to grab headlines.

They arrange regular visits to destroyed villages that a growing number of curious Israeli Jews are participating in, often in the face of vehement opposition from the communities built on the rubble of Palestinian homes.

Zochrot has created a Hebrew information pack on the Nakba for teachers, though education officials ban it. Last year it staged the first Nakba film festival in Tel Aviv. It is also creating an archive of filmed interviews with Israeli veteran fighters prepared to admit their part in expulsions.

Zochrot also held last year the first-ever conference in Israel discussing not just the principle but how to put into practice a right of return for the millions of Palestinian refugees across the region.

Palestinian youth are taking up the idea enthusiastically. Architects are designing plans for new communities that would house the refugees on or near their old lands.

Refugee families are trying to reclaim mosques and churches, usually the only buildings still standing. Israeli media reported last month that internal refugees had been attacked as they held a baptism in their former church at al-Bassa, now swamped by the Jewish town of Shlomi.

The people are sending a message to the leadership in Ramallah that it cannot forget or sideline the right of return… Otherwise we will take the issue into our own hands. (Abir Kopty, Palestinian activist)

Workshops have been arranged among refugee groups to imagine what a right of return might look like. Youth from two Christian villages, Iqrit and Biram, have already set up camps at their old churches, daring Israel to hound them out like their grandparents. Another group, I Won’t Remain a Refugee, is looking to export this example to other villages.

The size of the march to Lubya and the proliferation of these initiatives are a gauge of how Palestinians are no longer prepared to defer to the Palestinian leadership on the refugee issue or wait for an interminable peace process to make meaningful progress.

“The people are sending a message to the leadership in Ramallah that it cannot forget or sideline the right of return,” says Abir Kopty, an activist with the Lubya march. “Otherwise we will take the issue into our own hands.”

Meanwhile, progress of a kind is being made with Israeli Jews. Some have come to recognize, however reluctantly, that a tragedy befell the Palestinians with Israel’s creation. But, as another march organizer notes, the struggle is far from over. “That is a first step. But now they must take responsibility for our suffering and make amends.”

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With eyes on 2016, Clinton offers ‘obligatory bow to I$raHell’


A political commentator says Hillary Clinton has offered “her obligatory bow to the Israeli lobby” because that is the only way to run for president in the United States.

In a speech Wednesday to the American Jewish Committee’s global forum in Washington, Clinton–the former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic frontrunner for the presidency–boasted of her record of support for Israel, saying she is proud of her part in keeping “our relationship rock-solid.”

She reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel. “I have been proud to do my part to keep our relationship rock-solid over the years.”

It is not an accident that Clinton made the remarks before her Jewish audience, Mark Dankof, former US Senate candidate, told Press TV in a phone interview on Thursday.

The forum was held on “the 66th anniversary of the founding of the ‘state of Israel’. The 66th anniversary of all the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the disposition of three-quarters of a million of Palestinians from their land with all the genocide and terror that has taken place since then,” he said.

Dankof stressed that Clinton addressed the forum in order to show her “obeisance” to Israel. “Once again what is important for every American politician – both in the Republican and the Democratic parties – is to show absolute obeisance to Israel.”

“Whether it’s Palestine, or Syria or Iran or Ukraine, the chief politicians of both of the major political parties in this country who want to run for president are going to have to bow before the Israeli throne.”

Dankof said there are a handful of politicians from both camps “who are owned by the Israeli interests, the Israeli lobby, the Jewish banking system and the Jewish news media in the United States, and these individuals will use the full faith and credit of the United States and the American military, etc to advance not American interests in the world, but Israeli interests in the world”.

“This is a relationship that is not in the interest of the American people. It is destroying their economy. It is destroying their international credibility at the same time that Israel is stealing them blind,” he noted.

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How Edward Snowden is helping the I$raHell tech business



The NSA leaks have spooked Europe, which is tightening its security standards — and I$raHell will benefit, says an expert

Times of Israel

Israeli cyber-security companies that can promise to effectively protect user information from prying eyes may want to send rogue NSA operative Edward Snowden a thank-you letter. It’s because of Snowden, in large part, that the European Union is significantly tightening its rules on what data companies are allowed to access and how they are allowed to process that data — providing new opportunities for Israeli firms.

“For Israeli companies, the new rules may appear to be onerous, but there could be a great business opportunity for many of them in Europe as a result,” according to Patrick Van Eecke, one of the leading legal experts in Europe on cyber-security policy issues. “There are many companies around the world that specialize in collecting data, but they are not clear on the implications of Europe’s new policies — and as a result, there is opportunity for companies from Israel, many of which do understand the policies.” 

Van Eecke is a partner in the Technology, Media & Commercial department of the Brussels office of DLA Piper, the world’s largest international law firm, and is considered by several professional organizations to be one of the world’s top 20 information technology lawyers. “You’d be hard pressed to find someone more knowledgeable than Van Eecke about European IT legal issues, and you won’t find anyone who is more humble regarding that knowledge,” said Jeremy Lustman, head of DLA Piper’s Israel office since 2008, introducing Van Eecke at a special seminar in Tel Aviv dedicated to cyber-legal issues.

At issue is a revamping of the privacy laws that have driven legislation in European Union countries since 1995. In 2012, the European Commission unveiled a draft European General Data Protection Regulation that will, when it is implemented (probably next year, according to Van Eecke) further tighten already strict restrictions on the collection and use of personal data in the ways companies like Google and Facebook have done for the past decade or so. “Since the revelations by Snowden on how the National Security Administration in the US spied on European leaders, there is much more political pressure on European leaders to prevent such incidents from repeating themselves,” said Van Eecke.

Already, laws in most EU countries prevent the collection of data that can be associated with an individual — living or dead — either directly or indirectly. Companies like Facebook and Google that claim to collect “anonymous” information must prove not only that they don’t take names, phone numbers, email addresses and other data that can identify an individual when they scan user pages or Gmail messages for keywords (which they use to present ads to users), but that they cannot get to that information by checking a user’s IP address (even a dynamic one assigned by an ISP) or any other method.

Those laws apply not only to companies domiciled in EU countries, but to any company that does business with EU customers. “It could even apply to cookies that are put by companies like Google, which operates from the US but puts a cookie on the computers of European users.” In a famous lawsuit from several years ago, said Van Eecke, Google was forced to put an expiration date on cookies, even though its lawyers tried to argue that, as an American company, the EU privacy laws did not apply to it (Google has since opened offices in most European countries, and has revamped its policies to comply with EU legislative demands).

And things are set to get even more secure in the EU, said Van Eecke. The updated legislation will feature new controls, such as requiring specific consent from users for each type of use of their data, e.g., showing them relevant banner ads. This could be a devastating blow to any company in the “big data” business, which relies on copious amounts of information on what sites users surf to, how long they remain on a site, etc. In fact, just calling yourself a Big Data company, Van Eecke said, “will be enough to raise red flags with regulators, and an invitation for extra scrutiny.” There will also be the user’s right to be “forgotten,” with companies in a wide range of industries — insurance, medical, etc. – required to erase the records of customers who demand it.

Companies will also have to appoint a “privacy coordinator” under the new rules — one who cannot be fired, and who will ensure that the strict rules are followed. And in a piece of legislation that “you really have to be European to understand,” said Van Eecke, the EU will step into the role of parent, prohibiting children under 12 from giving their own consent to the collection of data by any means — and forbidding parents from granting consent on behalf of their kids.

It comes down to the way Europe works, based on traditions going back hundreds of years, said Van Eecke. “There are major philosophical differences between Europe and the US. In Europe they see a need to legislate just about everything — and if there isn’t a law allowing it, it’s not permitted. In the US, if it’s not prohibited, it’s allowed.”

That difference reflects itself in the data protection legislation the US and Europe have developed over the years. In the EU, the regulation seeks to take into account as many scenarios as possible, and apply a uniform policy to them. Congress in the US has not passed any such comprehensive laws, but instead has focused on specific sectors. One example is the medical profession, which must comply with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which includes provisions for safe storage of electronic medical records.

Countries around the world follow one of these models. Following the US model are China, Thailand, Turkey, India, Canada, and others; the EU model is followed by South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Australia — and Israel.

Because Israel’s legislation is very close to that of Europe, Israel is on an EU “white list,” which means that European companies do not have to seek special government permission before exchanging data with Israeli companies, unlike the case with countries like China, which EU countries cannot exchange data with unless they get permits. This saves Israeli companies a great deal of paperwork and bureaucratic rigamarole — not to mention time and money, said Van Eecke.

The US, obviously, is not on Europe’s white list — but it has another arrangement with the EU. “The US is covered under a ‘safe harbor’ agreement, for which US companies qualify by filling out a questionnaire that certifies them as complying with European data regulations.” That nobody checked the level of compliance (a company’s claim that it was in compliance, until now, was sufficient) wasn’t such a major issue — until the Snowden revelations, said Van Eecke.

And with those revelations comes Israel’s big EU opportunity. “The Europeans are understandably very upset that companies like Google and Microsoft shared data about them with the NSA,” said Van Eecke. “They are threatening to end the Safe Harbor agreement with the US, and you can be sure that governments are going to be watching every move of the American companies very closely.”

Already, The New York Times reported last week, companies like Microsoft and IBM have lost business in the EU and elsewhere; a report by Forrester Research cited in the Times story said that US companies could face as much as $180 billion — 25 percent of industry revenue — in lost business in the cloud computing, web hosting and outsourcing markets because of compliance issues. And under the new legislation, the stakes will be higher than ever. “The EU is proposing a fine of up to 4% of a company’s annual turnover, instead of nominal sums, as is the case now,” said Van Eecke. “Imagine what that would do to the bottom line of a company like Facebook.”

As a result, companies around the world are racing to figure out ways to comply with the EU rules — and Israel has some of the solutions they need. “One way to ensure compliance is to develop systems that truly anonymize data,” said Van Eecke. “A one-way cryptography key, in which the company gets data from users with all information encrypted, would satisfy the requirements. Security companies that can provided trusted third-party solutions for data transfer between users, cloud servers, and company databases that ensure that there are no data leaks or transfer of personal information on the way will do well too.

“Israel has many interesting companies working in the Big Data area, as well,” said Van Eecke, “and if they partner with cyber-security companies that have effective data protection, they will do very well in this new, hyper-secure era.”

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on How Edward Snowden is helping the I$raHell tech business

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