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The NSA And The Need To Know

An old proverb warns us to choose our enemies carefully, for that is who we will become. It seems to have come to pass in the world of cyberespionage.

It has been awhile since we heard much about how foreign powers, notably China, hack into our computers to steal commercial and government secrets, harass their adversaries and probe for weaknesses. It turns out we have been doing most of those things ourselves - and we are probably better at it than they are.

As a result, the U.S. government, with the help of some of its allies, has probably inflicted more damage on the American technology industry than any combination of foreign governments and organized crime outfits have managed. American-based technology firms now face a compromised ability to promise their customers, domestic or international, that their data is ever truly secure. One of our most vital national industries has been undermined, at home and especially abroad.

Last week The New York Times and ProPublica partnered with The Guardian to publish the latest chapter in the unfolding National Security Agency scandal. The article described how the NSA, along with its U.K. counterpart the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), systematically defeated the major, mainstream tools protecting the privacy of everyday communication on the Internet. The Times' disclosures show that the NSA was doing exactly what we feared foreign governments - especially China - would do, by inserting backdoors into surveillance software and security gaps into key hardware, and by bullying technology companies into collaborating with government spies. (1)

Now we know, at least to a large degree, why British authorities detained David Michael Miranda, threatened The Guardian, and gratuitously smashed some of the newspaper's computers. These were the fruits of desperation and extralegal attempts to suppress further information about what the GCHQ, and its big brother the NSA, has been doing for the past 10 to 15 years. It also helps explain the U.S. administration's desperation to catch Edward Snowden and to recover the information he had already leaked to journalists. Authorities wanted to know which parties to try to coax or coerce into suppressing the information that had not yet been released. As the extent of that information's repercussions become clear, it isn't hard to see what they were trying to keep locked down.

The Guardian responded to GCHQ's efforts by indirectly availing itself of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment in partnering with The Times and ProPublica. The news organizations' collaborative story reveals, among other information: a 10-year, systematic effort by the NSA to undermine and exploit encryption technologies; $250 million yearly expenditures on working with technology companies, either willing or coerced, to influence their product designs; and a GCHQ effort to find ways into encrypted traffic on Hotmail (now rebranded Outlook), Yahoo, Facebook and Google.

The story mentions that intelligence officials "asked" The Times and ProPublica not to publish the article. They properly refused. One of the documents makes clear that the public is not the only audience the NSA is attempting to avoid; unlike some classified information, the anti-encryption program known as "Bullrun" would have "NO 'need to know.'" (1)

These anti-encryption and surveillance practices have gone on for many years, under presidents from both parties. It shows every sign of being a major scandal. Journalists have provided us with a start, but now we are left to ask a series of vital follow-up questions.

Who authorized these programs? Once they existed, who knew about them? Who is going to be fired? Who is going to jail?

A good place to begin is with a question The Times did not answer: Which officials, exactly, asked the newspaper to withhold this story? To continue this line of inquiry, we must wonder: Does Attorney General Eric Holder know what has been going on in the NSA? Did his predecessor? Did either President Obama or former President George W. Bush know? Who authorized the NSA to bully companies like Google and Microsoft? What threats and pressure tactics did they employ to do so? Under what legal authority?

The bottom line is that Snowden was right to sound the alarm. The surveillance state that has evolved in the Internet era far exceeds anything that U.S. citizens, or their elected representatives, have agreed to support. Essentially, the government has taken the position that it can steam open every letter Americans send, photocopy the letter's contents, scan the copies for key words, and pursue the senders that it chooses to fully investigate as a result - all without telling its own citizens a thing about it. That's an assertion of powers that have been employed in the past by organizations like the KGB, the Stasi and the Gestapo.

ProPublica, in defending its decision to publish the story, took its analogy from science fiction rather than from history. "Suppose for a moment that the U.S. government had secretly developed and deployed an ability to read individuals' minds," wrote Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica's editor-in-chief, and Richard Tofel, its president. "Such a capability would present the greatest possible invasion of personal privacy. And just as surely, it would be an enormously valuable weapon in the fight against terrorism." (2) As ProPublica argues, any use of such a capability should not be kept secret, regardless of secrecy's tactical advantages. Safeguards for the capability's use would need to be developed and discussed, which secrecy would make impossible. The NSA's surveillance program represents a similar threat to civil liberties, and it needs such a discussion. But we can't discuss it if none of us know - or, in the NSA's eyes, need to know.

We like to think that our government at least took wrong actions for the right reason, and created these programs in our country's defense. But the fact is that our best defense historically has been a system of checks and balances that has endured for 200 years. Either some members of the executive branch, former and current, have chosen to override these checks and balances, or security agencies have decided to exempt themselves from effective oversight in the interest of what they perceive as the common good.

If federal investigators can spare some time away from their attempts to throw bankers in jail over the financial crisis, the rest of us could use their help. An arm of the government that believes it is a law unto itself is a much more serious threat to our national welfare and global standing. This scandal warrants thorough investigation.

We need to know.


1) The New York Times, "N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web"

2) ProPublica, "Why We Published the Decryption Story"

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Larry M. Elkin

What Vancouver Is Not

Few cities can match Vancouver's culture of fitness and commitment to healthy living, to be a smoker in Vancouver is to be as close to an outcast as one can be without actually being one. You will be met with sneers, people taking wide berths around you on the street, potential romantic interests turning up their nose at you, and should you succeed in getting invited to a public event, admitting you smoke just may cost you 5 minutes of lecturing.

Yet, for all Vancouver's fervor for fitness, the city produces a sparse few highly competitive athletes. Not zero, but too few, given its culture. Vancouver is not a breeding ground for top notch athletes. For Vancouverites, everything is a lifestyle, and to be taken in moderation, albeit seriously. The few aspiring professionals Vancouver produces are lauded by one and all, and held up as pinnacles of all that Vancouver stands for, but surely not a realistic example for the weekend warriors.

Vancouver most definitely considers itself a trendy city, and people allocate the necessary spending to stay up to date with fashion, this is clear as you walk down any street. Not only this, but underground street scene movements buck trends, creating the tension between commercial fashion and street fashion necessary for any city to call itself a fashion centre. Despite this, Vancouver is sorely lacking in leading fashion designers whose name you might have heard. Not that there aren't aspiring designers who show potential, but of those who make a name for themselves beyond Vancouver, the list is short, too short.

Vancouverites love their culture, they love experiencing new cultures, they're exceedingly open minded to new ideas and creative thinking. The concept that is, but when it comes to being creative, actually getting out of the box, again, Vancouverites fall short. Notable Vancouver artists are few, the city claims some impressive musicians as its own, but again, it's still a short, although impressive list. Bryan Adams and Sarah McLaughlin(actually from the east coast, though moved to Vancouver as a young adult), made it so big that nobody questions Vancouver's musical success, but it's been a long while since the city produced such a success, or even any real success. You could argue 9 inch nails, if you're into that kind of music.

The same goes for artists, painters, and writers. A few standouts, but again, the list is short considering Vancouver's reputation and culture as a city of arts and lifestyle, not to mention two million people. Ironically, Inuit art has found many fans in Europe and Asia, which consider it some of the world's oldest and most precious remnants of former civilizations. The Inuit people have been largely pushed aside by the Canadian government, shuffled off to reservations, or more recently, allotted their own land as a "gift." With their recognition by many nations as legitimate societies within the Canadian society, the government has a newfound respect and appreciation for them, as does the rest of the world.

Some things Vancouver does well, but yet are not widely considered part of its culture are media, particularly the alternative variety, driven by regular people, not large media outlets. Vancouverites have a healthy distrust for media, due to their environmental stance, which for many years was maligned by big business. This fits hand in glove with the tech scene, another foray which Vancouverites excel at, and which produces plenty of Vancouver blogs. Often, a Vancouver blogger is first and foremost a techie, capable of creating his own credible blog which he maintains and promotes all on his own. From there, a topic will be chosen, or most often, a general topic which leaves room for a wide variety of discussions.

Vancouverites love technology, and they're good at it too, so good that Vancouver is home to a number of world class technology companies and the birthplace of companies like EA studios and Hootsuite. Somehow though, this hasn't permeated the culture the way you might expect it to, which is very much lifestyle and balance driven. Perhaps that's why, since all work takes a back seat to lifestyle in Vancouver, the lifestyle city.

Canada phone cards
Michael Yates is a Vancouver blogger.

You Do Not Know This Positive Bangladesh!

A centered red circle atop a vast green filed represents the color scheme of Bangladesh national flag. Red symbolizes the rising sun and blood of freedom fighters in 1971 and green stands for the greenness of its land. You may not see this flag very often; some of you may even raise eyebrows and mumble "Oh! It is a poor overpopulated South Asian country kissing the Bay of Bengal." Some other may recall scenic parliament compound being one of the nicest architectural wonders, or famous Royal Bengal tiger prowling in the Sundarban forest (a world heritage), or Cox's Bazaar being the largest unbroken sea beach. Bingo! This story tells about that country, but offers a more positive Bangladesh.

The "bottomless basket" of Mr. Henry Kissinger, the then US foreign minister, has turned out to be a basket of potentiality and resourcefulness in the course of time. Mr. Kissinger envisaged its bleak economic future. Surprisingly, the country has bounced back with a vengeance to find itself among the top 50 largest economies in the world, considering the GDP in purchasing power terms. Since the early 1990s Bangladesh has been registering steady and strong economic growth with an average constant rate of about 6% each year. A dream growth for most developing countries! The World Bank recognizes this surprising economic resilience terming it as "development paradox". The outstandingly stable growth also attracts global economists' attention. Goldman Sachs, a renowned American multinational investment banking firm, has identified Bangladesh as one of the eleven countries who have immense potential for growth and development. N-11 has huge potential to become largest economies in the 21st century. The United Nations also recognizes its gradual improvement in social development indexes. Bangladesh boasts of having one of those few economies that quite successfully survived the impact of global economic recession during 2008-09. Economic growth never halted during that trying period.

Bangladesh has adopted holistic approach to ensure unfettered progress. Prudent fiscal and monetary policies restrain the inflation rate within a manageable single digit. Sluggish international trade hardly contains the satisfactory growth in export rate. Garments, the big export item, earned nearly 10 billion US dollar in 2012-13 fiscal year. Fitting short and medium term macroeconomic policies set the direction and purpose well. Huge and ever increasing incoming foreign remittance keeps the economy healthy. Bangladesh has never defaulted in paying back foreign loans. For better management, Bangladesh also gives special preference to digitization process in every sector of governance. It has sets a target to materialize a "digital Bangladesh" dream by 2021.

Alongside the economic development, Bangladesh has also achieved remarkable progress in social sector. Income poverty has reduced to half. Bangladesh has ensured a firm footing by reaching many targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The UN has awarded Bangladesh government for achieving several targets of MDG well before the deadline. The country is being considered a role model for meeting most of the MDG deadlines in time. Per capita national income of this country, a long-time leader of Least Developed Countries, has already crossed the threshold of 1000 US dollar in this very year (2013).

The country's success in international arena also deserves due attention. As a responsible nation, Bangladesh takes active part in the UN peacekeeping missions. It has already attained a good standing in this respect among the nations. This role duly reflects the urge of the country in maintaining world peace. By now, Bangladesh has become world's largest contributor to peacekeeping mission.

Positive Bangladesh gleams with success in various other sectors. Though overpopulated, Bangladesh achieved enviable feat by attaining self-sufficiency in food grains. Not many of the world communities have such commendable success. Being one of the most natural disaster-prone countries, Bangladesh has a long history of natural disasters. It fights successfully with the problem and by now the ordeal has made Bangladesh a global leader in disaster management and risk reduction. Bangladesh also has leadership role in Non-government Organization (NGO) sector worldwide. BRAC, an international development NGO originated as well as based in Bangladesh, is presently the world's largest NGO of the kind, in terms of number of employees and beneficiaries. Bangladesh propounds worldwide the concepts of micro-credit and social business.

Positive Bangladesh also does not lag behind in research activities. Some recent milestone inventions have glorified the proud existence of Bangladesh in the arena of science. Despite limited resources and opportunity, the enthusiastic Bangladeshi scientists have invented the genome sequence of jute. Besides, they have also decoded the DNA make-up of a deadly fungus which is harmful to plants. Bangladesh further invented the world first SONO arsenic water filter technology. This invention helps in obtaining arsenic-free safe water. Scientists have also developed a bone graft implant technology which helps generate damaged or lost bones.

The success stories are unlimited. Strong, independent and vibrating print and electronic media of Bangladesh truly reflects the aspiration of common people. Its burgeoning civil society is rapidly gaining strong ground. Bangladesh has also achieved a stronghold in pharmaceutical industry. Bangladesh secures 12th position among the countries using mobile phones. Though 3rd largest Muslim country, Bangladesh boasts constitutionally secular stance and state mechanism itself successfully combats and downsizes religious militants.

We do believe that this is the time Bangladesh gets due positive attention. The relentless fighting spirit of 170 million Bangladesh citizens must not go unnoticed.

This is Mir Md. Amtazul Hoque from Bangladesh and I work as a legal professional. I nourish a specific target of promoting positive aspects of my Country and desire that all aspiring Bangladesh citizens and other well-wishers join this endeavor. Mir M.d Amtazul Hoque

How Important Are Rainforests to Our Global Ecosystem?

Tropical rainforests are found all across the world just below the Equator belt. Almost half of the remaining tropical rainforest is to be found in South America. One out of four ingredients in our medicine is from rainforest plants. 80% of flowers in the Australian rainforest cannot be found anywhere else. The rainforests of central Africa are home to more than 8,000 different species of plants. These amazing places cover only 6% of the world's surface but they contain over half of the world's animal and plant species.

A rainforest can be described as a tall, dense jungle. The reason it is called a "rain" forest is because of the high amount of rainfall it gets per year. The climate of a rain forest is very hot and humid so the animals and plants that exist there must learn to adapt to this climate.

Today tropical rainforests are disappearing from the face of the globe at a very quick rate. An area of a rainforest the size of a football field is being destroyed each second. Even though international concern is finally growing, rainforests continue to be destroyed faster than 80,000 acres a day. World rainforest cover now stands at around 2.5 million square miles, an area about the size of the United States of America or Australia and it represents around 6% of the world's land surface. A lot of this area has been influenced by human activities and no longer has "full biodiversity".

But why are the trees disappearing? They are being destroyed by human activities, both ignorantly and also sometimes purposefully. In the past 50 years much of the rainforest in Africa and Asia has been destroyed. Large areas of rainforest are being cut down, often in order to remove just a few logs, and rainforest is being destroyed at double the rate of all previous estimates. Unfortunately this means that there is a very high rate of extinction, as the wildlife depending on the forest dies with it.

One example of this is cattle ranching. Lots more people are beginning to eat beef in large quantities, so more cattle have to be bred to meet the demand. However, what many people do not realize is that cattle are one of the worst animals to breed. They create lots of methane in the atmosphere and they ruin the land after a few years by continually going over it with their heavy weights, puling up the grass by the roots when they eat.

In damp moist areas like the UK and northern Europe, this doesn't matter. However, cattle ranching in hot tropical places like the Amazon rainforest, there are no trees to catch the rain when it falls onto the land where the cattle are being farmed. Why are there no trees? Because they have been cut away to make room for cattle and their ranchers.

Whenever it is not raining here, it is hot, and the wet mud dries and becomes hard and difficult. Even grass will no longer be able to grow in the soil. The soil is not protected and is being dissolved by rain so that it becomes just dirty brown puddles, and there is simply no way for new growth to occur, for the earth to renew itself. Eventually, in this manner, and many more besides there will be no forest left and no space to grow it back on.

Of course, I am talking of only one of many many reasons why the rainforest is disappearing. Some other examples include the burning of the forests, mining oil and natural gas, and logging.

The solution to this problem must be based on what is possible, and depends on developing a new conservation policy built on the principle of "sustainable use and development of rainforests". Efforts to bring back ruined forests along with the launch of protected areas are crucial in securing rainforests for the long-term benefits they can provide us.

Charities like "Rainforest Concern" have specific projects to help the conservation and protection of rainforests. One of the projects that this particular charity has is called; "The Choco-Andean Corridor Project" in Ecuador. The objective is to create "habitat connectivity" to help species survival by linking the last unprotected forests between the Maquipucuna, Mindo y Pululahua reserves to the Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve and going north to the Awa Reserve in the province of Esmeraldas. They have been working on this project since 1993. That's over 10 years!

What can we do to help? We can start by trying not to buy anything grown in rainforest regions, and to not buy furniture made from tropical wood, such as mahogany. However, staying in the UK, there isn't a lot that we can do, other than helping to sponsor charities and giving donations to help them out.

Some people do not realise how important the Tropical Rainforest is to everyone on the planet. For a start, it helps to regulate our planet; turning our waste carbon dioxide into oxygen again for us to use. They absorb the carbon dioxide that we exhale, and provide the oxygen we need to breathe. When rainforest trees are burnt they release that carbon dioxide, which pollutes the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Deforestation is in fact considered the second major driver of climate change, responsible for 18-25% of global annual carbon dioxide emissions!

They also act like a sponge for the world's water, soaking it up from the soil and releasing it back into the atmosphere. In fact, it is commonly believed that the Amazonian rainforests alone store more than half of the planet's rainwater! Without rainforests continually recycling huge quantities of water, feeding the rivers, lakes and irrigation systems, droughts would become more common, potentially leading to widespread famine and disease.

So, tropical rainforests are vital to our planet, and to us. They are even often nicknamed "The lungs of Mother Earth". We have to do our best to help save them by supporting the charities who try everyday to keep the rainforests in check. We should also cut down on imports from rainforests and keep an eye on where our oil, food and furniture come from. Hopefully, one day, we can save the rainforests and, because of that, save the planet as well.

Want to read more from this interesting author?? There are a couple of things you can do. First, go to this site to read writer related articles as well as chapters from her novel. Second, go to this site for articles pertaining to all sorts of issues. J M Hart