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Luminous Animal

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Current location: San Francisco
Member since: Thu Jul 24, 2003, 02:06 PM
Number of posts: 27,310

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A Tribute to Chelsea Manning from Tunisia

This is a fantastic article written by Tunisian activist Sami Ben Gharbia

Chelsea Manning and the Arab Spring

What we call the Arab Spring was the result of many seemingly small things, butterfly effects. One of them was a courageous woman named Chelsea Manning. If the U.S. will take 35 years from Chelsea Manning’s life, may it console her that she has given us, Arabs, the secret gift that helped expose and topple 50 years of dictatorships.

For me, it all started in mid-October of 2010, with a direct message on Twitter from a good friend of mine. He belonged to a circle of digital activists with whom I worked closely with for years on many advocacy projects in the Arab World, from anti-censorship strategies and campaigns to building and training non-violent protests movements. In that DM he urgently asked me to speak over encryption with him. After one single OTR chat session, he sent me an encrypted zip file containing a trove of around 400 texts files organized in about 15 folders. All the folders were named after Arab countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain, etc. I didn’t know what was in them. He told me just before ending the chat session: do something with them, I trust you and trust your knowledge and judgment.

At that time I was based in Berlin, after having to flee my home in Tunisia 13 years before to avoid becoming a political prisoner. I had a position as Advocacy Director at Global Voices, a non-profit that supported international citizen media. That gave me the freedom to choose where I lived; I just needed a laptop and a good Internet connection. I’d also co-founded nawaat.org seven years earlier, a collective political blog focused on Tunisia, and censored in Tunisia by the government of Ben Ali.

I went out with my laptop and sat on the terrace of Morena cafe in the anti-establishment and counterculture neighborhood Kreuzberg. By then, I was one of a handful of people on the planet who had access to this sensitive dataset. I jumped into Tunisia’s folder, opened the first file and lit a cigarette, then the second file, the third, and the rest of the thirty files related to my country, with almost the same number of cigarettes. It was the Wikileaks U.S. State Department Cables, widely known as Cablegate, with all the political scandals, nepotism, and corruption of the disgraced Ben Ali regime. I didn’t have time to read the other Arab countries’ files. I knew I had in front of me a valuable set of documents that could be turned into action. This is what we were looking for during the last decade of strategizing and theorizing about citizen dissent media, diaspora media, exiled media, digital activism: the ability to inform and transform. This was momentum.

Posted by Luminous Animal | Wed Aug 28, 2013, 01:24 PM (5 replies)

Greenwald interview: NSA cannot break the code on Miranda's thumb drives.

JF: [ed. note: Miranda was apparently carrying large amounts of encrypted documents and communications when stopped in Heathrow.] Why are you so confidant the world’s best code breakers can’t break the encryption in [Miranda’s] seized computers?

GG: Because I have read the documents of the world’s best code breakers, and they have talked about their inability to crack certain types of encryption.

JF: How do you think history will remember this whole affair? It is still unfolding but nonetheless, a lot has already gone down. What is Glenn Greenwald’s prediction on the historic legacy of all this?

GG: I think this will be the time the world realizes that the US and its closest allies are trying to build a surveillance system that has as its primary objective the elimination of privacy globally, by which I mean that everyone’s communications electronically will be collected, stored, analyzed and monitored by the US government.
I think it will be seen as the moment that the United States showed its true face to the world in terms of attacks on journalism and their desire to punish anyone who brings transparency.

JF: What precautions would you give to the average internet user vis-a-vis encryption?

GG: I think encryption is vital; I hope that people will use encryption in every way possible. It helps prevent intervening in their private communications, and they should definitely start using encryption.

Posted by Luminous Animal | Mon Aug 26, 2013, 12:21 PM (203 replies)

"Why wasn’t I consulted is the fundamental question of the web,”

“It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.”

This need, Ford went on to explain, was “…the thing people talk about when they talk about nicer-sounding things like ‘the wisdom of crowds’ or ‘cognitive surplus.’”

Ford, in his funny and slightly cynical way, was identifying a quality so profound to the Internet its people usually didn’t even realize it was new. This idea that participation was more important than qualification, that what made your opinion important was that you had an opinion. This was a new thing in the world, with its own magic. The Why-Wasn’t-I-Consulted faction showed up as open source and free software. It was there when bloggers took on the hoary greats of the news business. It powered Wikipedia, which shocked the world by doing better than anything the old world of accredited expertise could do. The un-consulted could not only appear as a creative force; they could appear as critique, suddenly coalescing into an Anonymous DDOS, or a street protest. They began to make their demands known, from Spain to Cairo to New York, talking across borders and ideological divides, creating distributed media, and above all, having opinions on things.

In January of 2011, Tunisians were exercising their need to be consulted with a word: “Dégage!” Meaning, roughly, “Get out!”, directed at Ben Ali from Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts and most importantly, hundreds of thousands of human voices on the street.

If this is democracy, it is a democracy the world has never known. A kind of kudzu of democracy, small, tenacious, and demanding its way into every crack of the edifices of the old world.

“Why wasn’t I consulted?” is the fundamental question of post-network democracy, and the fundamental question of the Internet, to which the state mechanisms have so far replied: “Who the hell do you think you are?”

Posted by Luminous Animal | Sat Aug 24, 2013, 12:45 AM (6 replies)

I wonder who the NY Times mule was?

The Times’s involvement in the story also brings into sharp relief a second question: Whether carrying classified documents across national borders can be an act of journalism. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin recently compared David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, to a “drug mule” for having sought to bring a thumb drive with classified documents from Brazil into the United Kingdom; British officials detained Miranda and confiscated data he was carrying.

Now the Times or an agent for the paper, too, appears to have carried digital files from the United Kingdom across international lines into the United States. Discussions of how to partner on the documents were carried out in person between top Guardian editors and Times executive editor Jill Abramson, all of whom declined to comment on the movement of documents. But it appears likely that someone at one of the two papers physically carried a drive with Snowden’s GCHQ leaks from London to New York or Washington


Posted by Luminous Animal | Fri Aug 23, 2013, 04:00 PM (18 replies)

GLAAD's transgender media guide

I pulled some of the information but all of it is worthwhile to read:


Problematic: "transgenders," "a transgender"
Preferred: "transgender people," "a transgender person"
Transgender should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Do not say, "Tony is a transgender," or "The parade included many transgenders." Instead say, "Tony is a transgender man," or "The parade included many transgender people."

Problematic: "transgendered"
Preferred: "transgender"
The adjective transgender should never have an extraneous "-ed" tacked onto the end. An "-ed" suffix adds unnecessary length to the word and can cause tense confusion and grammatical errors. For example, it is grammatically incorrect to turn transgender into a participle, as it is an adjective, not a verb, and only verbs can be used as participles by adding an "-ed" suffix.

Problematic: "sex change," "pre-operative," "post-operative"
Preferred: "transition"
Referring to a sex change operation, or using terms such as pre- or post-operative, inaccurately suggests that one must have surgery in order to transition. Avoid overemphasizing surgery when discussing transgender people or the process of transition.


Defamatory: "deceptive," "fooling," "pretending," "posing" or "masquerading"
Gender identity is an integral part of a person's identity. Do not characterize transgender people as "deceptive," as "fooling" other people, or as "pretending" to be, "posing" or "masquerading" as a man or a woman. Such descriptions are defamatory and insulting.

Defamatory: "she-male," "he-she," "it," "trannie," "tranny," "shim," "gender-bender"
These words only serve to dehumanize transgender people and should not be used.

Defamatory: "bathroom bill"
A new term created and used by far-right extremists to oppose non-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. The term is geared to incite fear and panic at the thought of encoun­tering transgender people in public restrooms. Use non-discrimination law/ordinance instead.


Always use a transgender person's chosen name. Often transgender people cannot afford a legal name change or are not yet old enough to change their name legally. They should be afforded the same respect for their chosen name as anyone else who lives by a name other than their birth name (e.g., celebrities).

Whenever possible, ask transgender people which pronoun they would like you to use. A person who identifies as a certain gender, whether or not that person has taken hormones or had some form of surgery, should be referred to using the pronouns appropriate for that gender.

If it is not possible to ask a transgender person which pronoun he or she prefers, use the pronoun that is consistent with the person's appearance and gender expression. For example, if a person wears a dress and uses the name Susan, feminine pronouns are appropriate.

It is never appropriate to put quotation marks around either a transgender person's chosen name or the pronoun that reflects that person's gender identity.
Posted by Luminous Animal | Thu Aug 22, 2013, 12:51 PM (24 replies)

How to trap a whistleblower

Tell them that going through "proper channels" will provide meaningful redress to their concerns, not injure them
Last week, President Obama misled the public when he told a comedian Jay Leno that protected legal channels exist that Edward Snowden could have used to challenge government misconduct:

I can tell you that there are ways, if you think that the government is abusing a program, of coming forward. In fact, I, through Executive Order, signed whistleblower protection for intelligence officers or people who are involved in the intelligence industry.

This message is false. And the President repeated it at his press conference a few days later. Obama is referring to Presidential Policy Directive #19. If the President had bothered to read his own Executive Order, he would have known that it was not implemented at all when Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency. Further, it fails to provide protected legal channels to contractor positions such as Snowden’s.

Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the NSA, is living proof of how insidious the “channels” argument is. Shortly after 9/11, he complained about NSA programs that were embryonic versions of what Snowden is now revealing. He complained that NSA foreign collection programs were being turned inward on Americans. One of those programs, Stellar Wind, stripped off data anonymization features, auditing trails, and other privacy protections that were available in a cheaper, effective, and non-intrusive program called ThinThread.

Drake complained to his boss, to the NSA Inspector General, and—with three other retired NSA colleagues and a former House intelligence staffer–to the Department of Defense Inspector General. The Inspector General substantiated their claims, but immediately classified its report to keep it out of public view. (Most portions are now unclassified and never had to be.)

Drake then served as a material witness in two key 9/11 investigations. He told Congress about multiple secret domestic surveillance programs, including Stellar Wind, and critical indications and warning intelligence about al Qaeda and associated movements pre- and post-9/11, which NSA did not share.


Posted by Luminous Animal | Sat Aug 17, 2013, 01:47 PM (7 replies)

A Guide to What We Now Know About the NSA's Dragnet Searches of Your Communications


It's lengthy but worth it. These are the last four paragraphs:

According to the slides released by The Guardian and Greenwald's reporting, XKeyScore allows analysts to search the metadata and content residing on any XKeyScore server by different selectors — name, email address, telephone number, IP address, keywords, and even language or type of Internet browser — "without prior authorization." Searches might either turn up content — which analysts can then view or listen to — or help an analyst identify an anonymous user who is, for example, searching for "suspicious stuff" or speaking a language "out of place" for a given region. Some slides also suggest that the XKeyScore searches can also query data stored in other NSA databases. And Ambinder insinuates that anything targeted through XKeyScore can be directed into one of the government's more permanent metadata and content databases, some of which the Post's Barton Gellman described in June.

In an online video shortly after the revelations began, Snowden claimed that "sitting at [his] desk," he could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if [he] had a personal email." The government's reaction was both harsh and emphatic. Gen. Alexander went so far as to testify to the Senate Appropriations Committee not only that Snowden's claim was "false," but that "I know of no way to do that."

The Guardian slides give us good reason to believe that Snowden was telling the truth, and that Alexander was being coy. Greenwald reports that Snowden has stated that supervisors often find ways to circumvent the very targeting procedures that are meant to confine the NSA's searches: "It's very rare to be questioned on our searches," he said, "and even when we are, it's usually along the lines of: ‘let's bulk up the justification.'" As far back as 2009, members of Congress were raising alarms about the NSA's collection under the FAA, including Rep. Rush Holt's ominous warning that "[s]ome actions are so flagrant that they can't be accidental."

* * *

We'll have to wait for additional revelations — or, preferably, official disclosures by the government — to fully understand how XKeyScore, and the government's other FAA surveillance capabilities, actually work, and how much power NSA analysts have to circumvent the agency's own procedures. But what we already do know gives us plenty of important reasons to reject it as a model for surveillance that is compatible with the Constitution.
Posted by Luminous Animal | Fri Aug 9, 2013, 08:43 PM (10 replies)
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