The Berlin Street Market Killings: Reactionary legislation solves hardly anything

December 23, 2016

In the wake of the Berlin market truck killings, some voices are calling for the Schengen open borders policy in the European Union to be scrapped.  This is understandable on a visceral level – Anis Amri, a man who had been on terrorist watch lists, had apparently driven freely all over the Schengen area both before and after the killings – he had managed to travel over 1,000 miles around Europe in spite of an arrest warrant, and he was finally caught and slain by police in Milan, Italy; so he had successfully travelled from Germany to Italy while he was a high-profile murder suspect.  But scrapping the Schengen agreement because of the Amri case would be an example of reactionary legislation that would achieve very little but would pose problems for millions of law-abiding citizens.  Maybe trucks should be banned too?  After all, Amri used one to commit his crimes.

anis-amri

Anis Amri, the Berlin truck murderer killed by police in Italy

It reminds me of the reactionary gun laws passed in Britain because of “lone gunman” cases: for instance, the Hungerford massacre when Michael Ryan used assault rifles to murder 16 people in 1987 led to a ban on automatic weapons; and the Dunblane atrocity when Thomas Hamilton entered the Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and used pistols to murder 15 children and their teacher caused the government to ban virtually all handguns as well as firearms such as hunting rifles.

These two UK examples of sweeping gun control reform after single atrocities have probably saved few, if any lives.  The assault rifles used by Ryan were extremely rare in any case, and the Dunblane massacre was down to insufficient vetting of Hamilton more than the law that allowed properly-vetted individuals to buy pistols for recreation or competition shooting; because of the post-Dunblane legislation, members of the 2012 British Olympic shooting teams were unable to train in Britain, and £42 million had to be spent on special facilities where the shooting events could take place, at Woolwich Royal Artillery Barracks – facilities that were demolished after the Games. Shooting sports bodies and some politicians argued that the money would have been better spent on the lasting legacy that would be gained by refurbishing and upgrading permanent facilities at the National Shooting Centre at Bisley, which would have cost a maximum of £30 million, and which would allow British competitive sports shooting teams to practice on home soil.

The ultimate irony of these reactionary legislations is that only law-abiding citizens are affected by the laws.  Criminals who want assault rifles or handguns can buy them anyway, on the black market, where they do not have to possess licences.  Any change to the Schengen agreement would have the same effect: stopping countless citizens to move freely in the European zone because of one evil man’s actions.  It is an erosion of rights similar to those we have seen in the USA – except of course in the States guns and bullets are trivial to buy.


Britain First a terrorist organization? (No.)

June 17, 2016

After the shocking murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, shot to death in the street outside her constituency office in  Birstall, people are beginning to wonder: is Britain First a terrorist organization?

Several witnesses to the murder have confirmed that the killer, a 52 year old man named locally as Tommy Mair, shouted “Britain First!” as he slew her.  According to The Guardian, Graeme Howard, 38, who lives in nearby Bond Street, told the Guardian he heard the man shout “Britain first” before the shooting and during the arrest.  A second eyewitness, Clarke Rothwell, claimed that the man shouted “Britain First, Britain First.”

tommy-mair

Tommy Mair: allegedly shouted “Britain First” while murdering MP

Aamir Tahir, of the Dry Clean Centre, said the gunman was heard shouting “Britain first”.

He said: “The lady I work with heard two loud bangs but I wasn’t there, I was stuck in traffic at the time. I wish I was there because I would have tried to stop him.”

And, perhaps the most damning allegation:

Witness Daniel Blyth, 38, a company director from the town, told the Yorkshire Post newspaper that the assault was “unusual”. He added: “I saw seven police cars racing up Leeds Road towards Morley. They were unmarked BMWs,” he said.

“There are two helicopters flying overhead. It all seems very dramatic. I have heard that two people have been shot but I’m not who are why. It’s all very unusual for Birstall.”

So, was “Tommy Mair’s”attack a Britain First plot?  Britain First, a far-right political party campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, deny this, saying the reports were “pure hearsay”. It described the attack as a “despicable crime” and added: “We are nothing to do with it.”(“though they would say that, wouldn’t they,” ha ha bonk).  Maybe “Mair” was pissed off about the chance that Britain may vote to stay in the EU… but that still makes “Britain First!” an odd choice of warcry.  Incidentally, Jo Cox was pro-Europe.

The suspect in the MP’s death is believed to have had long-term links to the Springbok Club, a hard-right group that has campaigned against the EU.

He also purchased a gun-making manual from a far-right neo-Nazi group, new documents suggest.

So is Britain First a terrorist organization that should be proscribed, like the Islamist groups that have preached jihad against the West?  Probably not.  But if I shouted “Allahu Akbar!” while shooting politicians, I’m sure the security services would be looking for any link, no matter how tenuous, between me and ISIL etc.

Just let me make it clear: I’m not claiming that Britain First is a terrorist group, nor that there’s any link between this murderer and the organization.  I’m just asking questions.  Which is one of the rights I get living in democratic Europe rather than Syria or the USA.  So don’t get mad at me.  I didn’t invent these stupid bastards.


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Apple vs the FBI: Go on, Apple!

February 18, 2016

At the FBI’s urging, a federal magistrate has ordered Apple to create a program that will allow the FBI to get into an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters.  They claim this a one-off thing; they just want to gain access to the shooter’s phone.  On the radio I heard a federal justice spokesman explain it like this:  “If the FBI had a warrant to enter and search a house, but the house had a combination lock that would permanently lock the door if the wrong combination was entered a few times, the FBI would knock the door in using a tank.  All we want is for Apple to supply us with the tank.”

But that is nonsense.  If the locked-door scenario happened, the FBI would bring their own tank to knock the door in.  They wouldn’t ask a lock manufacturer to build the tank for them.

The US government have wanted a back-door into Apple’s iPhones for a while now. This has especially been the case since September 2014, when Apple introduced new encryption into its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock them for investigators. This was a departure from the past, when investigators could get access to a device if they sent it to Apple headquarters with a search warrant.

The US authorities are painting this as strictly an anti-terrorism move, and that it would apply only to the iPhone in question.  But that is plain wrong.  Ever since the Ed Snowden revelations, FBI director James Comey has been trying to figure out a way around the software as he and Apple’s Tim Cook have traded barbs publicly and privately.  And now he and his colleagues are using thie San Bernadino murders as a way to create case law that could force tech companies to provide back doors into their products.  The FBI claim they want Apple to create a master key just for the one iPhone; but once the precedence had been set, the authorities would use the Apple master key whenever they felt like it, and would be on sure ground to insist other Silicon Valley companies do the same.

Security professionals have pointed out that back doors are not the way to carry out investigations: see here and here for just a couple of examples.  The tragic San Bernadino shootings are, I’m sorry to say, just a way for the US authorities to get the back doors they want on faulty reasoning.  I’m happy Apple have contested this court order.  I don’t like Apple products or their propriety approach, but I’m at one with them that individual freedom is paramount.  After all, isn’t individual freedom what we are trying to defend from people like ISIS?

In addition to that: criminals might get hold of back door tools and use them to steal identities, bank details etc; and oppressive foreign governments might use them to persecute pro-democracy activists.  The authorities will obviously claim that no one will be able to access these master keys.  But the US government, among others, have suffered theft of data frequently; and foreign governments have spies, whose job is to steal secret tools and information.

To go back to the locked door and tank scenario: in this case the US authorities should bring their own tank – the NSA.  Or do they really expect us to believe that the NSA couldn’t crack this one phone?

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Apple: doing the right thing


Why putting back doors in message apps will not stop terrorism

February 17, 2016

I’m not a security expert.  So why don’t you listen to one?  This video is Bruce Schneier, a well-known security and cryptography expert, taking questions at DEFCON 23.  He addresses the issue of back doors at about 07:20, but the entire video is worth watching.

If you don’t want to watch it, I’ll paraphrase:   The feds say that ISIS recruits via Twitter.  A recruiter will get into conversation with people,  and the feds can monitor that okay.  But then the recruiter says “go download secure-app X” and all of a sudden the authorities can’t monitor them any more.  This makes the cops sad.  So they want to put back doors in all the messaging apps.  But that is not going to solve the problem!

(About 09:10) “This is not a scenario that any type of back door solves. The problem isn’t that the main security apps are encrypted. The problem is that there is one security app that is encrypted. The ISIS guy can say ‘Go download Signal, go download Mujaheddinsecrets, go download this random file encryption app I’ve just uploaded on Github ten minutes ago.’ The problem is not the encryption apps that the authorities want to get into, the problem is general purpose computers.  The problem is the international market for software.”  Back doors are not the solution for the problem the authorities claim to have.

You’d have to put back-doors in all messaging apps.  Not just the mainstream ones.  Not the not-so-popular niche apps that some people like to use.  ALL apps.  Including ones created by ISIS guys and uploaded to whatever-server-wherever-whenever.  “So we need to stop talking about that [back doors] or we’re going to end up with some really bad policy.” [about 10.00]

 

 


The govt need “back doors” to thwart terror attacks? Bullshit: they just need to do their jobs properly.

January 1, 2016

Govts everywhere are talking up their need for back-doors in encryption etc by saying how the Paris killers got away with so much because of their encryption opsec skillz… but it turns out their opsec is flaky as shit and backdoors wouldn’t be nearly as useful to the cops as listening to the repeated warnings they’d got from Turkey.

Wired.com reported that “news reports of the Paris attacks have revealed that at least some of the time, the terrorists behind the attacks didn’t bother to use encryption while communicating, allowing authorities to intercept and read their messages…

“Reports in France say that investigators were able to locate some of the suspects’ hideout this week using data from a cellphone apparently abandoned by one of the attackers in a trashcan outside the Bataclan concert hall where Friday’s attack occurred, according to Le Monde. Authorities tracked the phone’s movements prior to the attack, which led them to a safehouse in a Paris suburb where they engaged in an hours-long shootout with the other suspects early Wednesday. These would-be attackers, most of whom were killed in the apartment, had been planning to pull off a second round of attacks this week in Paris’s La Defense business district, according to authorities.”

Other reports indicate that a previous ISIS terrorist plot targeting police in Belgium was disrupted in that country last January because Abdelhamid Abaaoud—suspected mastermind of both that plot and the Paris attacks—had failed to use encryption. He also carelessly left behind a cellphone in Syria, which contained unencrypted pictures and videos, including one now-infamous video showing him smiling from a truck as he dragged bodies of victims through a street.

The killers were guilty of serious OPSEC failures… sometimes they didn’t use encryption at all, sometimes they left plaintext evidence lying round where anyone could find it. But as crappy as the terrorists were, the French cops were worse: Turkish authorities have said they tried to warn French authorities twice about one of the suspects but never got a response.

But Western authorities, notably the US and the Brits, have been complaining that they need their secret back-doors to beat the killers, even suggesting that  “US companies like Apple and Google have blood on their hands for refusing to give intelligence and law enforcement agencies backdoors to unlock customer phones and decrypt protected communications”.

My question for the authorities is this: if encryption products have back doors built into them for law enforcement to use, isn’t it likely that crooks will also be able to use these back doors to steal our personal info, IDs, banking details, our entire fucking lives?  The govt are constantly losing top secret laptops on trains and in taxis, and computer intruders regularly bust into official data centres and make off with piles of sensitive data.  Do the authorities think their new back doors will somehow be magically better than all the fucked up attempts at secrecy and security they’ve tried before?

US-paramilitaries

Also, if the authorities get their way, they will be able to find out anything they want to about us.  Maybe (ha ha) that’s not a big problem right now.  But who knows what changes in governments will happen?  Far-right parties are getting more popular all the time.  And look at US presidential hopeful cock Trump: one press of a button and he’ll know exactly where to go to round up the Muslims he hates and send them to be tortured and killed by his friend Assad in Syria.

Don’t listen to the authorities when they say why they “need” the ability to access every bit of data on us.  They don’t need it.  They want it.  Just as they’ve always wanted new ways to eliminate those they don’t like.

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Foreign Policy doesn’t fuel domestic terrorism? Get real!

December 9, 2015

A lot of “centre-ground” (and right-from centre)  commentators and “moderate” Labour MPs are pissed off that Stop The War Coalition think that French foreign policy regarding Syria might have provoked the shootings and bombings in Paris in November – and that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has not distanced himself from the anti-war group.

It was blogged in the Spectator site:

Labour MPs appear to be just as annoyed by Jeremy Corbyn’s links to the Stop The War coalition as they are about his comments on shoot to kill. In the questions following David Cameron’s Commons statement on the Paris attacks, several MPs used the opportunity to make coded attacks on Stop The War for a blog it published, titled ‘Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East’. It has been since been removed (cached version here) and Corbyn said he was glad it was deleted — but he has yet to condemn the fact it was published in the first place.

And the Daily Mail reported that

One Labour MP said the suggestion that the French people were to blame for the attack was ‘akin at the time of the Second World War to blaming the Jews for their deaths under the Nazis’.

Frontbencher Hilary Benn refused to rule out resigning if Mr Corbyn attended the event [a Stop The War Coalition Christmas fundraiser] as Labour MPs lined up to condemn their leader’s opposition to armed police shooting to kill terrorists.

This is so disingenuous, and not the first time politicians and political commentators have come out with this nonsense that somehow Western military action abroad doesn’t provoke terror acts at home.  Tony Blair, UK prime minister in 2005, denied at the time that the 7/7 bombings were in any way provoked by British military action in Iraq – and he’s still denying it.  But, after the bombings, a video was acquired by an Arab TV station in which Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the suicide bombers, said the attack was in response to British military foreign policy in the region.

At the time the BBC reported:

On the tape the bomber said: “Our words are dead until we give them life with our blood.

“I and thousands like me have forsaken everything for what we believe.”

He said the public was responsible for the atrocities perpetuated against his “people” across the world because it supported democratically elected governments who carried them out.

“Until we feel security, you will be our targets,” he said.

“Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.

“We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.”

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala told BBC News:

“Mr Khan has allowed his hatred to distort his moral compass.

“However, this tape does serve to confirm that the war in Iraq and our policies in the Middle East have indeed led to a radicalisation amongst a section of Muslim youth.”

The same is happening now.  While it would be ridiculous to claim that the people slain in Paris somehow “deserved it”, it must be acknowledged that the terrorists – all French or Belgian citizens who had connections with ISIL – did see the French military action in Iraq and Syria as a provocation.

Corbyn can see the connection, and now his political rivals – in Labour and in other parties – want to use his honesty as another lever to undermine him.

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Did members of the British Army’s ‘Jewish Brigade’ go on to become terrorists?

October 8, 2015
Jewish Brigade 'terrorists'

Jewish Brigade ‘terrorists’ (image stolen from http://www.israelnationalnews.com)

On 25 September the Imperial War Museum apologized for an exhibit that allegedly portrayed Jewish soldiers who fought the Nazis during World War Two as ‘terrorists’.

The exhibit featured a display on the Jewish Brigade of the British Army that was described as ‘terrorist activities‘.

According to www.israelnationalnews.com,

A poster of Jewish warriors was captioned: “Terrorist activities: Men of the First Battalion Jewish Brigade during a march past”; adding, “The Jewish Brigade was formed in September 1944 and fought in Italy under the British Eighth Army. Many of its members went on to join the Hagana and other illegal formations.”

The Hagana was the largest of several Jewish paramilitary groups which operated during the British occupation of Israel, known at the time as British Mandatory Palestine.

It took a less active role than more radical resistance groups such as the Irgun and Lehi in fighting the British occupation, focusing primarily on defending existing Jewish communities – though its more elite strike-force, the Palmach, did at times carry out offensive operations against Arab militias and British occupation forces. As the precursor to the IDF it played a central role in fending off the combined Arab invasion during the War of Independence.

I have reproduced the offensive picture above.  The poster was captioned:

‘Terrorist activities: Men of the First Battalion Jewish Brigade during a march past’; adding, ‘The Jewish Brigade was formed in September 1944 and fought in Italy under the British Eighth Army. Many of its members went on to join the Hagana and other illegal formations.

The Hagana’s elite strike-force, the Palmach, did at times carry out offensive operations against Arab militias and British occupation forces. As the precursor to the IDF it played a central role in fending off the combined Arab invasion during the War of Independence.  In other words, the Palmach (and, by association, the Hagana) was a terrorist organization, as were the Irgun and Lehi.  I fail to understand what the problem is in saying this: apart from that dead horse ‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’  Yawn, pass me a comfy duvet.

As “Emmanuel Goldstein” has written:

Without Menachem Begin’s Irgun terrorists’ King David Hotel bombing, the Officer’s Club Bombing, the “Night of the Beatings”, the Acre Prison Break, the Sergeant’s Affair, and the many other attacks on the British military, the Union Jack would still be flying over the Holy Land today.

A case can even be made that Begin’s terrorists were responsible for hastening the end of the British Empire. When in India, Malaya, Burma, Ceylon, Cyprus, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Jamaica, etc they saw how a few Jews in Palestine had forced the withdrawl of the British, they were emboldened to follow likewise.

Bearing mind all the current talk about apologizing for slavery and even paying reparations [link][another link], wouldn’t now be a good time for Israel to say sorry about their terrorist atrocities (King David Hotel, Officer’s Club Bombing, Night of Beatings’, etc etc ad nauseum)?  Let’s not forget that Irgun, after some extremely deadly teething troubles, integrated into the Israeli Defence Force we all know and love; and that in 1980 the Israeli state instituted the ‘Lehi Ribbon‘, basically a medal for Lehi terrorists, making Lehi respectable and a source of pride.  The latter part of the Wikipedia article about the Lehi group enumerates some of its acts of terror and violence, and there is a whole article about attacks and atrocities by Irgun.  Will the Israeli state make an apology, even a mealy-mouthed conditional ‘sorry’?  I doubt it.


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