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13 March 2009

Jon Stewart Destroys Jim Cramer

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3

Breaking the Taboo on Israel's Spying Efforts on the United States

By Christopher Ketcham, AlterNet
Posted on March 10, 2009, Printed on March 13, 2009

Scratch a counterintelligence officer in the U.S. government and they'll tell you that Israel is not a friend to the United States.

This is because Israel runs one of the most aggressive and damaging espionage networks targeting the U.S..  The fact of Israeli penetration into the country is not a subject oft-discussed in the media or in the circles of governance, due to the extreme sensitivity of the U.S.-Israel relationship coupled with the burden of the Israel lobby, which punishes legislators who dare to criticize the Jewish state.  The void where the facts should sit is filled instead with the hallucinations of conspiracy theory -- the kind in which, for example, agents of the Mossad, Israel’s top intelligence agency, engineer the 9/11 attacks, while 4,000 Israelis in the Twin Towers somehow all get word to escape before the planes hit.  The effect, as disturbing as it is ironic, is that the less the truth is addressed, the more noxious the falsity that spreads.

Israel's spying on the U.S., however, is a matter of public record, and neither conspiracy nor theory is needed to present the evidence.   When the FBI produces its annual report to Congress concerning "Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage," Israel and its intelligence services often feature prominently as a threat second only to China. In 2005 the FBI noted, for example, that Israel maintains "an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States."  A key Israeli method, said the FBI report, is computer intrusion.  In 1996, the Defense Intelligence Service, a branch of the Pentagon, issued a warning that "the collection of scientific intelligence in the United States [is] the third highest priority of Israeli Intelligence after information on its Arab neighbors and information on secret U.S. policies or decisions relating to Israel."  In 1979, the Central Intelligence Agency produced a scathing survey of Israeli intelligence activities that targeted the U.S. government.  Like any worthy spy service, Israeli intelligence early on employed wiretaps as an effective tool, according to the CIA report.  In 1954, the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv discovered in his office a hidden microphone "planted by the Israelis," and two years later telephone taps were found in the residence of the U.S. military attaché.  In a telegram to Washington, the ambassador at the time cabled a warning: "Department must assume that all conversations [in] my office are known to the Israelis." The former ambassador to Qatar, Andrew Killgore, who also served as a foreign officer in Jerusalem and Beirut, told me Israeli taps of U.S. missions and embassies in the Middle East were part of a "standard operating procedure."

According to the 1979 CIA report, the Israelis, while targeting political secrets, also devote "a considerable portion of their covert operations to obtaining scientific and technical intelligence." These operations involved, among other machinations, "attempts to penetrate certain classified defense projects in the United States."   The penetrations, according to the CIA report, were effected using "deep cover enterprises," which the report described as "firms and organizations, some specifically created for, or adaptable to, a specific objective."  At the time, the CIA singled out government-subsidized companies such as El Al airlines and Zim, the Israeli shipping firm, as deep cover enterprises.  Other deep cover operations included the penetration of a U.S. company that provided weapons-grade uranium to the Department of Defense during the 1960s; Israeli agents eventually spirited home an estimated 200 pounds of uranium as the bulwark in Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.  Moles have burrowed on Israel’s behalf throughout the U.S. intelligence services.  Perhaps most infamous was the case of Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American employed as a civilian analyst with the U.S. Navy who purloined an estimated 800,000 code-word protected documents from inside the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and numerous other U.S. agencies.  While Pollard was sentenced to life in prison, counterintelligence investigators at the FBI suspected he was linked to a mole far higher in the food chain, ensconced somewhere in the DIA, but this suspected Israeli operative, nicknamed "Mr. X," was never found.   Following the embarrassment of the Pollard affair -- and its devastating effects on U.S. national security, as testified by then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger (who allegedly stated that Pollard "should have been shot") -- the Israeli government vowed never again to pursue espionage against its ally and chief benefactor.

Fast-forward a quarter century, and the vow has proven empty.  In 2004, the authoritative Jane's Intelligence Group noted that Israel's intelligence organizations "have been spying on the U.S. and running clandestine operations since Israel was established."  The former deputy director of counterintelligence at FBI, Harry B. Brandon, last year told Congressional Quarterly magazine that "the Israelis are interested in commercial as much as military secrets. They have a muscular technology sector themselves."  According to CQ, "One effective espionage tool is forming joint partnerships with U.S. companies to supply software and other technology products to U.S. government agencies."

Best-selling author James Bamford now adds another twist in this history of infiltration in a book published last October, "The Shadow Factory," which forms the latest installment in his trilogy of investigations into the super-secret National Security Agency.  Bamford is regarded among journalists and intelligence officers as the nation’s expert on the workings of the NSA, whose inner sanctums he first exposed to the public in 1982. (So precise is his reporting that NSA officers once threw him a book party, despite the fact that he continually reveals their secrets.)  The agency has come a long way in the half-century since its founding in 1952.  Armed with digital technology and handed vast new funding and an almost limitless mandate in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Bamford writes, the NSA has today "become the largest, most costly, and most technologically sophisticated spy organization the world has ever known."  The NSA touches on every facet of U.S. communications, its mega-computers secretly filtering "millions of phone calls and e-mails" every hour of operation.  For those who have followed the revelations of the NSA’s "warrantless wiretapping" program in the New York Times in 2005 and the Wall Street Journal last year, what Bamford unveils in "The Shadow Factory" is only confirmation of the worst fears: "There is now the capacity," he writes of the NSA’s tentacular reach into the private lives of Americans, "to make tyranny total."

Much less has been reported about the high-tech Israeli wiretapping firms that service U.S. telecommunications companies, primarily AT&T and Verizon, whose networks serve as the chief conduits for NSA surveillance.  Even less is known about the links between those Israeli companies and the Israeli intelligence services.  But what Bamford suggests in his book accords with the history of Israeli spying in the U.S.: Through joint partnerships with U.S. telecoms, Israel may be a shadow arm of surveillance among the tentacles of the NSA.  In other words, when the NSA violates constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure to vacuum up the contents of your telephone conversations and e-mail traffic, the Israeli intelligence services may be gathering it up too -- a kind of mirror tap that is effectively a two-government-in-one violation.


On its face, the overseas outsourcing of high-tech services would seem de rigueur in a competitive globalized marketplace.  Equipment and services from Israel’s telecom sector are among the country’s prime exports, courtesy of Israeli entrepreneurs who have helped pioneer wireless telephony, voicemail and voice recognition software, instant messaging, phone billing software, and, not least, "communications interception solutions."  Israeli telecom interception hardware and software is appraised as some of the best in the world.

By the mid-1990s, Israeli wiretap firms would arrive in the U.S. in a big way.  The key to the kingdom was the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which was Congress’ solution for wiretapping in the digital age.   Gone are the days when wiretaps were conducted through on-site tinkering with copper switches.  CALEA mandated that telephonic surveillance operate through computers linked directly into the routers and hubs of telecom companies -- a spyware apparatus matched in real-time, all the time, to American telephones and modems.  CALEA effectively made spy equipment an inextricable ligature in telephonic life.  Without CALEA, the NSA in its spectacular surveillance exploits could not have succeeded.

AT&T and Verizon, which together manage as much as 90 percent of the nation’s communications traffic, contracted with Israeli firms in order to comply with CALEA.  AT&T employed the services of Narus Inc., which was founded in Israel in 1997.  It was Narus technology that AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, a 22-year technician with the company, famously unveiled in a 2006 affidavit that described the operations in AT&T’s secret tapping room at its San Francisco facilities.  (Klein’s affidavit formed the gravamen of a lawsuit against AT&T mounted by the Electronic Freedom Foundation, but the lawsuit died when Congress passed the telecom immunity bill last year.)  According to Klein, the Narus supercomputer, the STA 6400, was "known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets."  The Narus system, which was maintained by Narus technicans, also provided a real-time mirror image of all data streaming through AT&T routers, an image to be rerouted into the computers of the NSA.

According to Jim Bamford, who cites knowledgeable sources, Verizon’s eavesdropping program is run by a competing Israeli firm called Verint, a subsidiary of Comverse Technology, which was founded by a former Israeli intelligence officer in 1984.  Incorporated in New York and Tel Aviv, Comverse is effectively an arm of the Israeli government: 50 percent of its R&D costs are reimbursed by the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade.  The Verint technology deployed throughout Verizon’s network, known as STAR-GATE, boasts an array of Orwellian capabilities.  "With STAR-GATE, service providers can access communications on virtually any type of network," according to the company’s literature.  "Designed to manage vast numbers of targets, concurrent sessions, call data records, and communications, STAR-GATE transparently accesses targeted communications without alerting subscribers or disrupting service."  As with the Narus system, the point is to be able to tap into communications unobtrusively, in real time, all the time.  A Verint spinoff firm, PerSay, takes the tap to the next stage, deploying "advanced voice mining," which singles out "a target’s voice within a large volume of intercepted calls, regardless of the conversation content or method of communication."   Verint’s interception systems have gone global since the late 1990s, and sales in 2006 reached $374 million (a doubling of its revenues over 2003).  More than 5,000 organizations -- mostly intelligence services and police units -- in at least 100 countries today use Verint technology.

What troubles Bamford is that executives and directors at companies like Narus and Verint formerly worked at or maintain close connections with the Israeli intelligence services, including Mossad; the internal security agency Shin Bet; and the Israeli version of the NSA, Unit 8200, an arm of the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence Corps.  Unit 8200, which Bamford describes as "hypersecret," is a key player in the eavesdropping industrial complex in Israel, its retired personnel dispersed throughout dozens of companies.  According to Ha’aretz, the Israeli daily, "Many of the [eavesdropping] technologies in use around the world and developed in Israel were originally military technologies and were developed and improved by [Unit 8200] veterans."  A former commander of Unit 8200, cited by Bamford, states that Verint technology was "directly influenced by 8200 technology….[Verint parent company] Comverse’s main product, the Logger, is based on the Unit’s technology."   The implications for U.S. national security, writes Bamford, are "unnerving."  "Virtually the entire American telecommunications system," he avers, "is bugged by [Israeli-formed] companies with possible ties to Israel’s eavesdropping agency."  Congress, he says, maintains no oversight of these companies’ operations, and even their contracts with U.S. telecoms -- contracts pivotal to NSA surveillance -- are considered trade secrets and go undisclosed in company statements.

U.S. intelligence officers have not been quiet in their concerns about Verint (I reported on this matter in CounterPunch.org last September).  "Phone calls are intercepted, recorded, and transmitted to U.S. investigators by Verint, which claims that it has to be ‘hands on’ with its equipment to maintain the system," says former CIA counterterrorism officer Philip Giraldi.  The "hands on" factor is what bothers Giraldi, specifically because of the possibility of a "trojan" embedded in Verint wiretap software.   A trojan in information security hardware/software is a backdoor that can be accessed remotely by parties who normally would not have access to the secure system.   Allegations of widespread trojan spying have rocked the Israeli business community in recent years.  "Top Israeli blue chip companies," reported the AP in 2005, "are suspected of using illicit surveillance software to steal information from their rivals and enemies."  Over 40 companies have come under scrutiny.  "It is the largest cybercrime case in Israeli history," Boaz Guttmann, a veteran cybercrimes investigator with the Israeli national police, told me.  "Trojan horse espionage is part of the way of life of companies in Israel.  It’s a culture of spying."

In a wide-ranging four-part investigation into Israel-linked espionage that aired in December 2001, Carl Cameron, a correspondent at Fox News Channel, reported the distress among U.S. intelligence officials warning about possible trojans cached in Verint technology.   Sources told Cameron that "while various FBI inquiries into [Verint] have been conducted over the years," the inquiries had "been halted before the actual equipment has ever been thoroughly tested for leaks."   Cameron also cited a 1999 internal FCC document indicating that "several government agencies expressed deep concerns that too many unauthorized non-law enforcement personnel can access the wiretap system."   Much of this access was facilitated through "remote maintenance."

The Fox News report reverberated throughout U.S. law enforcement, particularly at the Drug Enforcement Agency, which makes extensive use of wiretaps for narcotics interdiction. Security officers at DEA, an adjunct of the Justice Department, began examining the agency’s own relationship with Comverse/Verint.  In 1997, DEA had transformed its wiretap infrastructure with the $25 million procurement from Comverse/Verint of a technology called "T2S2" -- "translation and transcription support services" -- with Comverse/Verint contracted to provide the hardware and software.  The company was also tasked with "support services, training, upgrades, enhancements and options throughout the life of the contract," according to the DEA’s "contracts and acquisitions" notice.  In the wake of the Fox News investigation, however, the director of security programs at DEA, Heidi Raffanello, was rattled enough to issue an internal communiqué on the matter, dated Dec. 18, 2001.  Directly referencing Fox News, she worried that "Comverse remote maintenance" was "not addressed in the C&A [contracts and acquisitions] process….It remains unclear if Comverse personnel are security cleared, and if so, who are they and what type of clearances are on record….Bottom line we should have caught it."  It is not known what resulted from DEA’s review of the issue of remote maintenance and access by Comverse/Verint.

Bamford devotes a portion of his argument to the detailing of the operations of a third Israeli wiretap company, NICE Systems, which he describes as "a major eavesdropper in the U.S." that "keeps its government and commercial client list very secret."  Formed in 1986 by seven veterans of Unit 8200, NICE software "captures voice, email, chat, screen activity, and essential call details," while offering "audio compression technology that performs continuous recordings of up to thousands of analog and digital telephone lines and radio channels."  NICE Systems has on at least one occasion shown up on the radar of U.S. counterintelligence.  During 2000-2001, when agents at the FBI and the CIA began  investigating allegations that Israeli nationals posing as "art students" were in fact conducting espionage on U.S. soil, one of the Israeli "art students" was discovered to be an employee with NICE Systems.  Among the targets of the art students were facilities and offices of the Drug Enforcement Agency nationwide. The same Israeli employee of NICE Systems, who was identified as a former operative in the Israeli intelligence services, was carrying a disk that contained a file labeled "DEA Groups."  U.S. counterintelligence officers concluded it was a highly suspicious nexus: An Israeli national and alleged spy was working for an Israeli wiretap company while carrying in his possession computer information regarding the Drug Enforcement Agency -- at the same time this Israeli was conducting what the DEA described as "intelligence gathering" about DEA facilities.


A former senior counterintelligence official in the Bush administration told me that as early as 1999, "CIA was very concerned about [Israeli wiretapping companies]" -- Verint in particular.  "I know that CIA has tried to monitor what the Israelis were doing -- technically watch what they were doing on the networks in terms of remote access.  Other countries were concerned as well," said the intelligence official.  Jim Bamford, who notes that Verint "can automatically access the mega-terabytes of stored and real-time data secretly and remotely from anywhere," reports that Australian lawmakers in 2004 held hearings on this remote monitoring capability. "[Y]ou can access data from overseas," the lawmakers told a Verint representative during the hearings, "but [the legislature] seems restricted to access data within that system."  The Australians found this astonishing.  In 2000, the Canadian intelligence service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, conducted "a probe related to allegations that [Israeli] spies used rigged software to hack into Canada's top secret intelligence files," according to an article in the Toronto Star.  Several sources in the U.S. intelligence community told me the Canadians liaised with their American counterparts to try to understand the problem.  According to the Bush administration official who spoke with me, "the Dutch also had come to the CIA very concerned about what the Israelis were doing with this."  The Dutch intelligence service, under contract with Verint, "had discovered strange things were going on -- there was activity on the network, the Israelis uploading and downloading stuff out of the switches, remotely, and apparently using it for their own wiretap purposes.  The CIA was very embarrassed to say, ‘We have the same problem.’  But the CIA didn’t have an answer for them.  ‘We hear you, we’re surprised, and we understand your concern.’"  Indeed, sources in the Dutch counterintelligence community in 2002 claimed there was "strong evidence that the Israeli secret service has uncontrolled access to confidential tapping data collected by the Dutch police and intelligence services," according to the Dutch broadcast radio station Evangelische Omroep (EO). In January 2003, the respected Dutch technology and computing magazine, C’T, ran a follow-up to the EO story, headlined "Dutch Tapping Room not Kosher." The article states: "All tapping equipment of the Dutch intelligence services and half the tapping equipment of the national police force [is] insecure and is leaking information to Israel."

"The key to this whole thing is that Australian meeting," Bamford told me in a recent interview. "They accused Verint of remote access and Verint said they won’t do it again -- which implies they were doing it in the past.  It’s a matter of a backdoor into the system, and those backdoors should not be allowed to exist.  You can tell by the Australian example that it was certainly a concern of Australian lawmakers."

Congress doesn’t seem to share the concern.  "Part of the responsibility of Congress," says Bamford, "is not just to oversee the intelligence community but to look into the companies with which the intelligence community contracts.  They’re just very sloppy about this."  According to the Bush administration intelligence official who spoke with me, "Frustratingly, I did not get the sense that our government was stepping up to this and grasping the bull by the horns."  Another former high level U.S. intelligence official told me, "The fact of the vulnerability of our telecom backbone is indisputable.  How it came to pass, why nothing has been done, who has done what -- these are the incendiary questions."  There is also the fundamental fact that the wiretap technologies implemented by Verint, Narus and other Israeli companies are fully in place and no alternative is on the horizon.  "There is a technical path dependence problem," says the Bush administration official. "I have been told nobody else makes software like this for the big digital switches, so that is part of the problem.  Other issues," he adds, "compound the problem" -- referring to the sensitivity of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

And that, of course, is the elephant in the room.  "Whether it’s a Democratic or Republican administration, you don’t bad-mouth Israel if you want to get ahead," says former CIA counterterrorism officer Philip Giraldi.  "Most of the people in the agency were very concerned about Israeli espionage and Israeli actions against U.S. interests. Everybody was aware of it.  Everybody hated it.  But they wouldn’t get promoted if they spoke out.  Israel has a privileged position and that’s the way things are.  It’s crazy.  And everybody knows it’s crazy."

Christopher Ketcham writes for Vanity Fair, Harper’s, GQ and many other magazines. He is working on a book about the history of Israeli espionage in the United States. He can be reached at cketcham99@mindspring.com.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/130891/

Chomsky on Obama, the US, and the Middle East, 2/27/09

12 March 2009

Gore Vidal talks to Jay Parini, January 10, 2009

Click the title to view. Available for a time for free from the good folks at CSPAN.

Noam Chomsky @ Boston College, Feb 2009

11 March 2009

Noam Chomsky on I/P: ‘Chance of political settlement open,' Frontline, Volume 26 - Issue 06, Mar. 14-27, 2009


Interview with Noam Chomsky on the situation in West Asia following the Israeli assault on Gaza.

ISRAEL continues to terrorise and bomb at will. West Asia waits for a malicious twist to the already dead road map. A viable Palestinian state now seems to be like something in the distant future. A bloody retribution, a tit-for-tat flare-up; that is all that is left after the terrible Christmas massacre in Gaza. While young children played soccer and families slept in residential neighbourhoods, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) unleashed one of the severest attacks on Gaza in the last month of 2008, this time determined to enforce a military solution to the daily skirmishes on the border, thereby deterring the incorrigible Hamas belligerence.

In truth, it was Israel that first broke the ceasefire on November 1, 2008, and justified its air and ground attacks on Gaza as the final move to end the daily nuisance of missiles from across the border. It is a fact that in spite of the siege of the past two months no missiles were fired by Hamas. Israel has thrown to the wind the rules laid by the Fourth Geneva Convention, of the Nuremberg Principles, of all of the laws of war generated in the 20th century.

The West Asia problem is now the concern of the global community and is no longer singularly within American turf. In the past, the United States had always, without fail, rejected any such international intervention. However, Prof. Noam Chomsky argues, with no provision of an international vigilance force to oversee the implementation of any peace plan, Israel has the option to do what it pleases and has support from the U.S. for its incorrigible stance of “rejectionism”.

Sadly, the United Nations Security Council has been rendered ineffective by the U.S. veto, though more than 150 members in the General Assembly have voted for the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. There is no doubt that without the authorisation of the U.S. government and its support of Israel not a single military attack on Palestine can take place. Israel is a military base and complies with U.S. foreign policy. Military confrontation, control of gas wells on the borders of Gaza, as well as motives of expansionism have been the apparent interests of the two partners. Since the 1973 encroachment into the Egyptian Sinai, any diplomatic resolution to end the impasse between the two nations has been consistently elusive. With the recent destruction of Gaza, the solution has become all the more protean.

Public opinion in Israel calls for giving up land in Palestine in exchange for peace, but the country’s leaders look on. Their convictions as “Christian Zionists” seem to bestow on them the theological right to continue doing what they do despite what happens to a few million Palestinian “terrorists”. In the meantime, the two nations sink neck deep into uncontrolled violence, leaving behind an unsolvable conundrum.

If Washington was sincere and committed to move West Asia towards peace, there should have been some sign of a reprimand to Israel for its recent attack on Gaza. In the light of the recent history of peace initiatives and unrestrained violence, there seems to be only one way out: an international solution on the lines of what took place in East Timor through the pressure exerted by international opinion. One cannot change the nature of the West Asia problem through war or bloodshed, and democracy cannot come on the wings of a bomber.

Then where does the solution lie? While it cannot come from the Right in Israel, the Left remains unelectable. In Palestine, on the other hand, there is no check on militant agitation. Peace can never come from top down; it is the people at the bottom who can put an end to violence and terrorism.

Will the new President in the White House invest his full powers to bring the two antagonists to the table and negotiate for a solution to one of the most serious political issues of our time? Or will he continue to put forward the American propensity to befriend Israel as a priority that would supersede an objectivity that his presidency promises to the world? The Clinton plan of bringing durable peace by returning to the 1967 boundaries, of sharing Jerusalem and permitting Palestinian refugees to return to their homes remains a viable model for President Barack Obama to follow unless he reinvents a road map that will anticipate the end of hostility.

At the end of the day, it will depend on the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. to persuade the American leadership to either initiate peace or escalate conflict in West Asia. Obama will scarcely be left with a choice against such a formidable force from within his own fortress. The world waits to see whether he succeeds in introducing a comprehensive diplomatic initiative towards Iran along with the prioritising of the Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

In the light of the West Asia “ulcer”, Prof. Shelley Walia asked Prof. Noam Chomsky for his views on this conundrum. Chomsky, as is well known, has probably been the single most important voice in international politics for several decades. His main works, from Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (with Edward S. Herman) to Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, from Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy to Perilous Powers: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice (with Gilbert Achcar and Stephen R. Shalom [editor]), along with his daily interventions, have challenged the deceptions of media reportage and of the devious agendas of Western regimes. As Edward Said emphasised some years ago, “Noam Chomsky is one of the most significant challengers of unjust power and delusions; he goes against every assumption about American altruism and humanitarianism.”

Chomsky was kind enough to take time off from his busy schedule and answer a number of questions on the Arab-Israel conflict. His invigorating zeal remains unabated, as is visible from his remarkable consistency of involvement with issues of human rights and peace. Excerpts from the interview:

Coming directly to the reasons for the Israeli attack on Gaza, do you believe that there could be a larger plan at work that has as its planner the U.S. aiming to finally provoke Iran to enter the ongoing conflict?

I doubt it. It would have been highly unlikely for Iran to respond more than verbally to the attack. There is a straightforward reason, I believe. Israel wants to take over the valuable parts of the West Bank and to leave the remnants of Palestinian society barely viable. And it, of course, wants to do so without disruption. It has succeeded, by violence, to suppress resistance within the West Bank. But the other part of occupied Palestine, Gaza, is still not completely under control. For other reasons, Israel has refused to abide by any of the ceasefires that have been reached and intends to maintain the siege that is suffocating Gaza. Invasion was a means to suppress resistance to its ongoing (U.S.-backed) crimes in the occupied territories.

The fertile part of Gaza represents about a third of the Gaza Strip, this being the part Israel has always wanted to retain owing to its economic productivity and sale of produce to Europe. How would you then react to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza a few years ago? Is it because the maintenance and protection of Israeli settlers was proving rather costly for the Israeli government or because the U.S. nudged [then Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon in that direction, or because Sharon had his own agenda?

The motives do not seem obscure. Gaza has been turned into a disaster area under Israeli military occupation of 38 years. A few thousand Israeli settlers take a substantial part of the scarce land and resources and have to be protected by a large part of the Israeli army. Sane Israeli hawks understand that it makes no sense to continue with these arrangements. The settlers, who were subsidised to establish themselves there, are now being subsidised to settle elsewhere, leaving the population of Gaza to rot in a virtual prison. The few scattered West Bank outposts that are being abandoned are also simply an annoyance for Israel.

The “disengagement plan” is in reality an expansion plan, as was made plain at once. The presentation of the plan was coupled with an announcement of tens of millions of dollars for West Bank settlements and infrastructure development, a further expansion of the programmes designed to ensure that valuable land and resources will be incorporated within Israel, while Palestinians will be left in scarcely viable cantons. The shameful “separation wall” is one particularly ugly feature of these programmes. The actions are gross violations of international law and elementary human rights but can continue as long as they are supported by the reigning superpower. American citizens are the only ones who can put an end to these continuing and very severe crimes.

The operation was a complete scam, a repeat of “Operation National Trauma ’82” as the press called it at the time, carefully orchestrated, a media triumph, intended to convey the message: “Never again must Jews suffer so; the West Bank is ours.”

Would you agree that there is the complicity of [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas with the Palestinian contras who are backed by the U.S. and Israel? He does not have the authority, moral or otherwise, to call together the Palestinian people for anything.

Abbas is in a difficult position, no doubt. He does not want to accept the results of the democratic election that was won by his rival Hamas. With U.S. support, he attempted a military coup in Gaza, but that was beaten back and Hamas took over total control. His forces have been trained and armed by the U.S. and its regional allies, and assigned the task of suppressing any opposition in the West Bank, in particular, opposition to Israeli crimes in Gaza. One result is that he has very little credibility. There may be some chance of a unity government. It is possible that Israel’s decision to violate the ceasefire by invading Gaza on November 4, 2008, was intended to disrupt planned meetings in Cairo to establish a unity government. The pretexts offered were too absurd to merit comment.

How far do you think that the military action of Israel is disproportionate to the ends that it hopes to achieve? Is it legitimate under international law? Israel is crossing every red line of the Fourth Geneva Convention, of the Nuremberg Principles, of all of the laws of war that were developed in the 20th century. It has the backing of the U.S. and thus feels cocksure of its actions.

That depends on what we think it hoped to achieve. The attack did succeed in killing many civilians and destroying villages, institutions, and infrastructure, while also devastating much of the agricultural land and the limited industrial capacity of Gaza. The actions were “proportional” to achieving such ends, which we can only assume were the real ones. Of course, all of this is in gross violation of international law, as is U.S. support for it. In fact, all of this is in direct violation of U.S. law, which bans the use of U.S.-supplied arms apart for “legitimate self-defence”, and it is transparent that Israel’s actions do not fall under that category.

Do you think that there may be some reason for going into the attack on Gaza at a juncture when the Bush administration was leaving office and Barack Obama was to be sworn in on January 20? Was there a feeling that the U.S. government at that point would not react in any negative way? Labour gained 50 per cent more in the elections, mainly because Ehud Barak was the man who was mostly identified with this operation. He was the Minister of Defence, as you know. Or, do you think it is just overreaction?

We know from Israeli sources that the attack was meticulously planned in advance. It would only make sense, from Israel’s point of view, to carry out the attack so that it could do maximal damage but end immediately before Obama’s inauguration, which is what happened. That way Obama could pretend that he could not comment on it, because “there is only one President” (that didn’t prevent him from commenting on many other things, including bitter condemnation of the Mumbai terror and the “hateful ideology” behind it). And since the attack had formally ended immediately before the inauguration, he could maintain his silence after assuming the presidency, thereby continuing Bush’s policies, as he has done on other matters as well.

It was not an attack on Hamas but on the whole structure of the society of Palestinians. Hospitals, universities, mosques were not spared. And if you keep citizens under such a harsh siege there are no options but to retaliate. The only democratic election in West Asia should have been given time to prove itself. Hamas is not guilty. Israel is for breaking the ceasefire and killing civilians. The aim is to see that democracy does not succeed. In spite of the siege of the past two months, no bombs were thrown by Hamas. Any comments?

A recent poll of Muslim opinion found that large majorities “see U.S. support for democracy in Muslim countries as conditional at best. Only very small minorities say ‘the U.S. favours democracy in Muslim countries whether or not the government is cooperative with the U.S.’. The most common response is that the U.S. favours democracy only if the government is cooperative, while nearly as many say that the U.S. simply opposes democracy in the Muslim countries.” I am quoting from the summary by one of the world’s most respected polling agencies. The large majority are surely correct, and the same principle holds elsewhere. As the most strongly pro-government scholarship has conceded, the U.S. has supported democracy if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic objectives. Europe is, of course, the same.

Western intellectuals and their allies elsewhere naturally prefer a different story, but as is often the case, the victims have much clearer insight into reality than the servants of power.

Do you agree that the provocation has come from Israel and not Hamas. It broke the ceasefire two months earlier and is conveniently blaming Hamas. And then it is asking the residents to leave Gaza. How is it possible? Where should they go when there is that crippling blockade in operation? This notion that Israel has a right to defend itself – against whom?

A state has the right of self-defence by force only if it has exhausted peaceful means. In this case, Israel plainly had peaceful means that it refused to pursue: ceasefire, and termination of criminal actions in the occupied territory. Accordingly, it cannot appeal to the right of self-defence.

Do you not think that the result of this kind of provocation will bring about the third Intifada instead of peace and security? Do you think the last chance for negotiations is now destroyed? The Hamas leadership in Damascus is against any ceasefire.

Before the attack, the Israeli government was aware that Hamas, including the Damascus political leadership, was calling for a ceasefire – but a real one, which would end the siege. A siege is an act of war. Israel has always insisted on that. In fact, Israel launched two wars (1956, 1967) in large part on the claim that its access to the outside was partially limited, which is far less than a siege. The possibility of a political settlement remains open. As before, it turns on whether the U.S. will abandon the strong rejectionist policies it has pursued (with Israel), in international isolation, since the mid-1970s.

President Barack Obama. "For some reason, many people prefer illusions about him."

Would you say that the two-nation theory is now in jeopardy, especially now with the escalation of war? Palestinians will now have to seek refuge in Jordan or Egypt if Israel decides to push them out of the West Bank. Egypt and, to some extent, Jordan have been thrown off balance by the withering criticism they have faced. The alliance of Iran, Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas – the quartet that is fighting against a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – is critical of Jordan and Egypt as well of the two-state solution.

I think your description, while conventional, is an error, a reflection of the force of Western propaganda. The facts are quite clear. There has been an overwhelming consensus in support of a two-state settlement since 1976, when the U.S. first vetoed a Security Council resolution to this effect put forth by the Arab states (including Syria, which still supports it). It is now supported by virtually everyone, including Hamas, which has repeatedly and quite publicly called for it. Iran has made clear that it would back the position of the Arab states, which formally support this policy, and call for normalisation of relations with Israel in that context. Hizbollah’s position is that it will not disrupt anything that Palestinians accept. That leaves the U.S. and Israel, the leaders of the rejection front since the 1970s. There has been one break in U.S.-Israeli rejectionism: negotiations in Taba, Egypt, in January 2001, which were coming very close to an agreement when Israel terminated them prematurely.

It is not too late for the two rejectionist states to return to what was almost achieved there, and if the U.S. decided to do so, Israel would surely go along. Unfortunately, Obama has clearly rejected that position. In his first foreign policy declaration, he praised the Arab League position as “constructive” and urged the Arab states to proceed with normalisation of relations with Israel. But he carefully omitted the crucial precondition for normalisation: a two-state settlement. He is an intelligent man and chooses his words carefully. He could hardly have been more explicit in rejecting the international consensus.

What do you think is Egypt’s role in the peace process at this juncture? Its role as the chief negotiator in the Muslim world has been sagging owing to its declining economic situation and escalating poverty.

The Egyptian dictatorship despises Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which would surely do very well in Egypt if it were permitted to participate in a free election. But even if it tries to be an honest negotiator, Egypt can do nothing as long as the U.S. maintains its rejectionist stance, not only in words but by providing the decisive military, economic and diplomatic support for Israel’s systematic and of course criminal actions to take what it wants in the West Bank. And we should add “ideological support”, such as the absurd propaganda claims about who is blocking a two-state settlement, which are widely believed, thanks to U.S. power.

Evidently, the formulation of the U.S.’ West Asia policy is dependent on the pro-Israel lobby and their Zionist supporters within the government. The brutal military occupation within Palestine has evoked little concern or response from the U.S. government, and its silence, therefore, indicates its complicity with the pro-Israel lobby that controls the U.S. political agenda. Do you agree?

No, I don’t agree. I think that is a very serious misunderstanding of how policy is made. True, lobbies have influence. There are many dramatic cases. Take Cuba. A large majority of Americans have wanted to end the embargo and have normal relations for years, powerful business interests (energy, agribusiness, pharmaceutical, and others), but the political parties won’t touch it because of the Cuban-American vote in Florida and a few other States.

To be sure, there are state interests, and those probably dominate. But the lobby has had a powerful effect. Even a tiny lobby like the Armenian lobby came very close to severely harming U.S. relations with Turkey, a major ally, last year, by getting Congress to (almost) pass an Armenian genocide resolution.

In the case of Israel, it’s convenient for U.S. analysts to blame the Israel lobby for policies they don’t like. That leaves us “clean”, just misled by a lot of bad Jews. There’s some truth to it, as in the case of other lobbies. But it’s much exaggerated.

The debates over the influence of the lobby are typically quite abstract: they have to do with sorting out influences that mostly converge – strategic-economic, lobby. The test is when U.S. government policies and the lobby conflict, as often happens. In that case, invariably, the lobby disappears, knowing better than to confront real power. Just happened last summer, once again, in an important case: the lobby was intent on ramming through Congress a resolution calling for a virtual blockade of Iran, a very high priority for Israel. At first they rounded up congressional support, enough to pass it, until the White House hinted quietly that it was opposed, not wanting to be dragged into a war with Iran. The measure (HR 362) was dropped; the lobby was silent. Not uncommon.

The debates also are paralysing. They have no implications for activism, except one. If the claims are correct, then I’ve been wasting my time for years in talking, writing, organising, activism. I should instead put on a tie and jacket and go to the corporate headquarters of Intel, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, and a host of other major corporations investing in Israel, and should explain to them, politely, that they are harming their interests by doing so, and should use their political and economic power to put the lobby out of business, as they can do in five minutes. No one adopts that tactic. But why?

Why is Obama quiet? It suits him to speak on economic matters or Iraq, but on Israeli atrocities he has not made a single statement.

Obama made it clear long before that he is a passionate supporter of Israeli policies. In his campaign, he emphasised that he was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution in 2006 barring any interference with Israel’s criminal aggression in Lebanon. He also called for Jerusalem to be the permanent and undivided capital of Israel, a position so outrageous that his campaign had to claim publicly that his words did not mean what he said. I wrote about this a year ago, in a book published before the elections, simply relying on his formal positions. For some reason, many people prefer illusions about him. But one cannot charge him with concealing his extremist positions.

Do you think Israel has crossed the line of humanity and legality in its recent onslaught on Gaza?

We should describe this as a U.S.-Israeli assault. It surely crosses both lines, but hardly for the first time.

Prof. Shelley Walia is a Fellow and Dean, International Students, at Panjab University, Chandigarh. He teaches Literary and Cultural Theory at the Department of English.

10 March 2009

2000 Interview with Stephen Jay Gould, Harvard University

And here's the actual lecture the interview refers to: "Evolution and the 21st Century."

Economist Ha-Joon Chang on “The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism”


The US government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the US economy in the wake of the financial crisis. But what steps are being taken to address the crisis on a global scale? The worldwide financial crisis is forcing some to rethink the neoliberal policies widely blamed for the financial collapse. We speak with University of Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang, author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

Noam Chomsky on the Economic Crisis

More here:

09 March 2009

The U.S. Financial System Is Effectively Insolvent, Nouriel Roubbini, Forbes

It ain't pretty. This guy's been right about this crisis all along. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and we all better pray he's about to be very wrong. But I rather doubt it.

Noam Chomsky on Ward Churchill

Scott Horton Interviews Noam Chomsky, AntiWar Radio

March 3rd, 2009

Noam Chomsky, author of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, discusses the roots of U.S. imperialism, the often overlooked opportunity costs of empire, the exaggerated strength of U.S. economic rivals, the continuation of the Great Game into the 21st century, how the Western World’s observance of the Durand Line exacerbates problems in Afghanistan, the empire’s loss in Iraq, the U.S. doctrine of punishing Iran just to make an example out of them and the Israeli policy of incremental displacement of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories.

MP3 here. (41:12)

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and widely regarded as the father of modern linguistics. He is the author of Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy,Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies and dozens of other books on politics and linguistics.