September 29th, 2007


The grey zone between terrorism and free speech.

Younes Tsouli, a Moroccan-born student studying in London, was one of three British students charged and convicted earlier this year for inciting terrorists. The three were obviously doing several illegal things, such as credit card fraud, money laundering through online gambling sites, efc. 

But now FBI director Robert Muller is citing them as an example of how the internet is facillitating terrorists. He's not pressing new charges against them... but he claims that Tsouli served as a "communications link" for other terrorists. In what way? Well, Muller claims that he communicated with a few groups of suspected terrorists, and that his website contained information on how to make explosives, suicide vests, etc.

What Muller doesn't mention, however, is that Tsouli ran a site with chat and an online forum, that Tsouli and team were not personally involved in any act of terrorism, and that the information they provided was a matter of public record, such as a CIA terrorism instruction manual that is currently available online at the National Security Archive of Northwestern University. The suicide vest information cited also appears to be a video that was widely available on the internet... so much so that it was broadcast by major news sources.

Fact is, both I and many, many others who regularly research the conflict use and share the same materials. Some have commenting, forums, chat, etc. Many of them communicate -- or facilitate the communication of -- others whose sympathies may be far more militant than the site's owner. And many of them are not U.S. or British citizens, and have no particular requirement to take their sides in a conflict which violates international law... at least according to the U.N. 

In other words, Director Mueller seems to be targeting communication itself -- and freedom of association -- rather than the intent behind that communication. This is an especially problematic issue on sites like LiveJournal, where people run communities that may advocate opposition to U.S. government policies, but where it is hard to determine the intent of members, or to rule out the use of such online spaces as a place for protesters / radicals / "terrorists" to meet.   

And, after a huge giveaway of individual's rights to privacy, including what amounts to an NSA sifting of all Internet traffic, and with unprecidented laws allowing the FBI access to the results of that sifting, Mueller is now saying that he needs even more access to our personal information.

"Our capacity, both by way of the expense of keeping up with that curve, as well as the transformation of our laws, just has not kept pace . . . Growth in technology requires us to have a very swift debate and take measures that are necessary to ensure that we can continue to have the kind of investigative capability ... that enables us to continue to gather information."

Hell no, Director Mueller. The FBI was given that kind of power before, and they used it to threaten and blackmail innocent Americans. That's why we took that power away from you. If I want to share publically available content relating to terrorism, National Security, or even choose to share or document some of the science behind explosives, it is within my constitutional rights to do so without potentially being subject to investigation. Because Americans shouldn't have to live in fear of who they know, what they know... they shouldn't have to live in fear of their own government.   


Musharraf the thug.

So, I hear that Pakistan's president Musharraf was given the go-ahead by their cronified supreme court to run for president again... nevermind the fact that there is a law against any military leader running for office within a set period of time from resigning his position / leaving the military.

Lots of Pakistanis are very angry, obviously...  there have been several major protests, and riot police have teargassed and batoned hundreds if not thousands, arresting and assaulting several members of the press. Several radio and TV stations have been forced by the military to stop their coverage of what is going on. This weblog claims that there is now a television blackout in Islamabad.

There is very little western media reporting with images, but I've tracked down a few over at the Arab version of Al Jazeera:

It might surprise some of my fellow Americans to note that your tax dollars helped train the Pakistani police, through the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). How much money? About $38 million a year, as of 2004... a VERY big chunk of the INL's worldwide budget. Your taxes at work?!

I decided to take a look into the world of Pakistani blogs... only to find an awful lot of dead air. Turns out that Pakistan blocked blogspot months ago, but if any of you

I read a discouraging post from one Pakistani blogger who was inadvertently Scroogled... apparently, Google forced people to migrate over to the "new Blogger" with a new authentication requirement a few months ago, but since that domain was blocked by Pakistan, many Pakistani Blogger users have been silenced, leaving their accounts to rot. A search of LiveJournal blogs listed as being from Pakistan is equally discouraging, with very little activity from actual Pakistanis, and no recent entries that mention what is going on.

To me, the way things are evolving in Pakistan seems partucularly disturbing, as there is an alliance of strange bedfellows going on. Lawyers and educated students, allying with fundamentalists. Admittedly, the great majority of the Pakistani people are on the sidelines right now, but there are some similarities between this current situation and the fall of the Shah of Iran. Hopefully, Musharraf will come to his senses, step down, and let the reformers get their way, because if he doesn't, he'll risk marginalizing the reformers and empowering the fundamentalists.

Not a pretty state of affairs. Is it any wonder that the Pentagon is urgently assessing the security of Pakistan's nukes, in case Musharraf is overthrown. Feeling safe yet?! 

Gone for the weekend, but if any of you find out anything interesting, please post it to the comments. This is just the beginning of what might be a major constitutional crisis, which risks undermining not just a pro-US government, but the entire Global War on Terror. I suspect that this story isn't going away unless Musharraf does first.