"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘U.S. State Department’

Bi-Partisan NDAA Provision Would End Current Ban On Domestic Dissemination Of Propaganda By U.S. State Department & Pentagon

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Oldspeak:”This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer” -Will RogersNothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our “representatives”, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!” Juan Cole The thought controllers, ever brazen in their audacity, have decided to officially do away with laws alleged to “prevent” them from doing what they have been doing for the past 100 years. Not sure what will be terribly different about the propaganda, we’re currently inundated with it. More overt perhaps? That wouldn’t make much sense though, why fix what’s been working to devastating effect for a century? *Shrugs* “Ignorance is Strength

By Washington’s Blog:

Because Banning Propaganda “Ties the Hands of America’s Diplomatic Officials, Military, and Others by Inhibiting Our Ability to Effectively Communicate In a Credible Way”

Michael Hastings reports:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill….

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

***

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” “ says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

***

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

The defense bill passed the House Friday afternoon.

Juan Cole notes:

Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!

***

Of course, having a Pentagon propaganda unit at all is highly anti-democratic. The best defense of the truth is a free press. It should also be remembered that nowadays everything in Washington is outsourced, so government propaganda is often being turned over to Booz Allen or the American Enterprise Institute ….

Doing propaganda abroad has the difficulty that it doesn’t stay abroad. False articles placed in the Arabic press in Iraq were translated into English by wire services, who got stung.

Then, another problem is that the Defense Intelligence Agency analysts *also* read the false articles placed in the Arabic press by *another* Pentagon office, which they did not know about. So the analysts were passing up to the White House false information provided by their own colleagues!

Mediaite points out:

The military has been trying to find new avenues for spread U.S. propaganda on social media websites for a while now. A 2011 Wired piece details how the Department of Defense has been working on ways to monitor and engage in “countermessaging” on social media sites like Twitter.

Government Has Been Illegally Using Propaganda for Decades

Of course – even though it is currently illegal – the government has already been using propaganda against U.S. audiences for decades.   Government agencies – including both the Department of Defense and other agencies – are actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, to crush dissent (and see this), to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe.

For example:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

We noted in 2009:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that
information put out as part of the military’s psychological
operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and
television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public
diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic
audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much
larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of
Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

Raw Story reported last year that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of sock puppets:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

Wired reported last year:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Gene Howington writes that mainstream media – including NPR – have used propaganda on American audiences to shape the debate on numerous issues:

Consider the use of media outlets like NPR that made a public and conscious decision to refrain from reporting on “torture” – a word with extremely negative denotation and connotation – and instead choosing to use the euphemistic language “enhanced interrogation”. Everyone with a conscience thinks torture is a bad thing and torturers are ethically abhorrent people. It’s not only a Federal crime, cruel and unusual punishment is specifically barred by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The word choice here is designed to clearly shift public attitudes from “those guys need to be prosecuted as criminals” to “maybe they aren’t so bad after all”. NPR (aided by the Bush Administration no doubt)  chose words with a neutral/positive value load compared to the word “torture”.  Connotation plays to your emotional response over your rational response.  When the word choice becomes more subtle, the damage of connotations can be even more insidious. Compare:

  • war – limited police action
  • conquest – liberation
  • famine – widespread hunger
  • pestilence – outbreak
  • death – casualties

Indeed – in the ultimate Kafkaesque nightmare – the Pentagon recently used black propaganda to smear USA Today reporters who were investigating illegal Pentagon propaganda.

Virtually Everything Government Does Is Propaganda

It is a sad fact that virtually everything government does these days is propaganda.

For example, the government has tried to corral the American public into a certain view on the economy: One that says that the big banks are more or less healthy, that they must be saved at all costs, that we need not prosecute Wall Street fraud, and that an economic recovery is just around the corner.

Indeed, in response to virtually every problem, the government puts out spin covering up the severity of the crisis and pretending that the problem was “unexpected” and that it won’t happen again … so we can keep on doing the exact same thing. This is true in regards to the financial crisis, Wall Street fraud, nuclear accidents, oil spills, groundwater pollution and a host of other problems.

Indeed, it sometimes seem like the only thing the government does these days is to provide propaganda on behalf of special interests so they can make more money.

 

 

War Inc: No U.S.Troops, But An Army Of Private Military Contractors Left In Iraq

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Oldspeak:“Don’t believe the hype about U.S. military withdrawl from Iraq. It’s largely symbolic. The war has been privatized. Your taxpayer money will still be paying 10s of 1000s of employees of Private Military Corporations contracted by the and Department of State to stay there with guns and military equipment to protect 15,000 ‘diplomats’ at an ‘Embassy’ that closer resembles a fortress the size of Vatican City. (Conspicuously absent in this article is the 10s of 1000s of contractors who will remain there working for the Department Of Defense, and other government agencies) And you’ll be paying 3-5 times as much you were paying for regular U.S. soldiers to be there. The kicker is most of these contractors aren’t even Americans, their foreign nationals a.k.a. Mercenaries. Not only has America’s many sectors of America’s economy been outsourced, so has its Military… “War is a global economic phenomenon” -Mos Def  It’s one of the most profitable enterprises on the planet. “War Is Peace”

By Tom Bowman @ NPR:

The U.S. troops have left Iraq, and U.S. diplomats will now be the face of America in a country that remains extremely volatile.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, along with several consulates, will have some 15,000 workers, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic operation abroad. Those diplomats will be protected by a private army consisting of as many as 5,000 security contractors who will carry assault weapons and fly armed helicopters.

Embassy personnel will ride in armored vehicles with armed guards, who work for companies with names like Triple Canopy and Global Strategies Group.

Their convoys will be watched from above. Another company, DynCorp International, will fly helicopters equipped with heavy machine guns.

“Yes, we will have security contractors in Iraq,” says Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official overseeing the security force. “But if you go back a year, the Department of Defense had around 17,000 security contractors in Iraq along with 150,000 or so armed service men and women.”

Kennedy insists those security guards will be nothing like the Army and Marine Corps.

“We run. We go. We do not stand and fight,” Kennedy says. “We will execute a high-speed U-turn and get as far away from the attackers as we possibly can.”

Enough Oversight?

But Dov Zakheim, a former top Pentagon official, doesn’t think that’s so realistic.

“If you’re coming under fire and you happen to have a gun in your hand, you’re a former military person — are you really going to cut and run?” Zakheim said.

Zakheim served on the Commission on Wartime Contracting. That commission questioned whether it’s wise to hire a private army for Iraq and whether the State Department can oversee thousands of security guards.

The order to fire is given by that U.S. government, State Department security professional. So the [private] contractors just don’t open fire.

- State Department official Patrick Kennedy

“First of all, there’s going to be so many of them, and so few people from the State Department to supervise them,” he said.

Kennedy, the State Department official, insists there will be enough oversight. Each time a U.S. diplomatic convoy moves out in Iraq, he says, a federal government supervisor will go along. And that federal agent, says Kennedy, will have complete authority should a convoy come under attack.

“The order to fire is given by that U.S. government, State Department security professional,” he says. “So the contractors just don’t open fire.”

But private security contractors did fire back in 2007 while protecting a State Department convoy in Baghdad. Seventeen Iraqis were killed by guards working for the company then-called Blackwater.

The shooting created a major controversy, and a U.S. investigation later found the convoy was not under threat.

The State Department has a shaky record overseeing armed guards. A recent congressional study found that many contractor abuses in Iraq during the war were caused by those working for the State Department, not the military.

“This isn’t what the State Department does for a living. This isn’t part of their culture,” says Zakheim. “They are being thrown into something that they have never managed before.”

Modest Existing Force

The State Department already has its own security force that protects diplomats — the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. But that force of 2,000 covers the entire world.

Zakheim says that in the short term, the State Department should reach out to the Pentagon to come up with more inspectors and more auditors to help oversee the contractor security force in Iraq.

For now, that contractor force doesn’t include Blackwater — which has just renamed itself for a second time and is now called Academi.

But the company’s president, Ted Wright, says, “What we’d like to do is follow through with all our changes so that we can do business in Iraq in the future.”

Iraq has so far barred the company from doing business; it hasn’t forgotten that those Blackwater security guards opened fire in Baghdad.

 

 

Why Is The U.S. State Department Using Public Money To Pimp For Monsanto?

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

 Oldspeak:Yet another Bush Era policy carried through to the Obama Era. Why is U.S. Gov’t  still using front groups and “philanthropic” foundations to “push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont”, even though GE crops have been shown to cause “infertility and have significant impact on the health of plants, animals and humans; a whole host of deleterious effects like toxic pesticides that remain present in the blood of mothers and babies,  rises in food allergies, diabetes, obesity, autism,  immune system dysfunction, asthma, cancer and heart disease, low birth-weight babies, and infant mortality? Why is this government pressuring other governments to approve consumption of “food” they know is not good for them on behalf of private corporations, who with their products have cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in potential food export revenues. Simple really. The Corporatocracy is in control. And they want to control the population of this planet. Why else would you knowingly push for the widespread use of products known to sterilize and kill people?  Public health and well being is always secondary to profit.” My comments from the related story below, reposted. Nothing has changed since august. The U.S. Government has been funding and promoting the development of GMO’s since 1990, I don’t imagine it will change anytime soon, as far too few people are aware, or even care about the demonstrably dangerous and toxic chemicals causing long term damage in the environment, animals and humans. “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Continue To Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

By Jill Richardson @ Alter Net:

People in India are up in arms about eggplant. Not just any eggplant — the fight, which is also raging in the Philippines, is over Monsanto’s Bt eggplant. Even as increasing scientific evidence concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.

The State Department is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends all across the world. Here’s a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said, “Without agricultural biotechnology, our world would look vastly different. One of our challenges is how to grow more crops on the same land. This is where biotechnology plays a role.”

Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops. These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world. And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea of the future.

So why is Fernandez making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the State Department’s Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works “to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad.” And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.

Within EEB lies the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs(ABT), which has worked to promote biotechnology for nearly a decade, at least. The word “biotechnology” was added to the office’s name in 2003. ABT seeks to address “barriers and opening markets for American farm products, contributing to the development of effective food aid policies, promoting rural development and increasing agricultural productivity through biotechnology.”

Among other things, ABT is responsible for doling out half a million dollars per year in Biotechnology Outreach Funds. This amounts to pennies compared to the overall federal budget, but it goes a long way, as grants are often around $20,000 apiece, especially considering the cumulative impact of their use in promoting biotechnology around the world each year since 2003. Biotech Outreach Fund requests for 2010 included:

  • request from the U.S. embassy in Ecuador for $22,900 to fly five Ecuadorian journalists to the United States “to participate in a one-week biotech tour” to influence public opinion of biotechnology.
  • request from the U.S. embassies in Brazil and Mozambique for $64,590 to hold a trilateral three-day seminar on biotechnology in Maputo, Mozambique.
  • request from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia for $5,500 to bring biotechnology experts from South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and possibly the U.S. to a workshop on biotechnology held by the Ethiopian government.

The requests above were revealed in secret cables leaked by WikiLeaks. While the cables did not divulge which requests were accepted, they do tell the story of State Department employees whose jobs consist of promoting biotechnology around the world. Between 2005 and 2006, then senior adviser for agricultural biotechnologyMadelyn E. Spirnak traveled to Guatemala, Egypt, Slovenia, Taiwan, Turkey, South Africa, Ghana, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland to promote biotechnology.

In South Africa, Spirnak spent a week meeting with “government officials, researchers, private sector representatives and officials from the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to discuss agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues.” The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill. According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs. The memo reads: “Note: we informed both Pioneer [DuPont] and Monsanto the following day about the two new positions and they immediately saw the benefits from encouraging qualified applicants to apply.”

The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top. Both Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice before her sent out annual memos to all U.S. embassies outlining State Department policy on biotechnology. In December 2009, Clinton wrote, “Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology’s role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production.”

ABT’s work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID’s work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals: developing GMOs for introduction in the Global South and pushing nations in Asia and Africa to write biosafety laws. Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean “laws that keep Monsanto’s intellectual property rights on genetically engineered crops safe.”

USAID’s work funding the development of GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (now known as ABSP I), a project based at Michigan State University’s Institute for International Agriculture that ran until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably called ABSP II) that continues today.

Like its predecessor, ABSP II is funded by USAID. However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations, and several corporations — including Monsanto. ABSP II projects include the development and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda (similar to the GM cotton already grown in the United States); and perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Using Monsanto’s technology, Bt eggplant includes a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in its DNA. Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin. When the gene is engineered into a crop, the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the United States.

MAHYCO (Maharashta Hybrid Seed Company), which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto, applied to grow Bt eggplant commercially in India, but the application was denied after massive public outcry. India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant. Adoption of Bt eggplant threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant relatives.

Now, Bt eggplant is facing opposition in the Philippines, where anti-GMO activists have destroyed Bt eggplant in protest. The Filipino NGO SEARICE (Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), which works on the conservation of traditional varieties and on expanding farmers’ rights, also opposes the introduction of Bt eggplant. (And, back in India, the government of India has now gone on the offensive, filing a biopiracy suit against Monsanto over the Bt eggplant.)

Given the two decades of State Department support for GMOs — and its bullying behavior toward countries that don’t wish to grow them or eat them — the question isn’t why a senior state department official is making a major speech extolling biotechnology, but rather, why the State Department isn’t listening to experts, including U.S. citizens, who provide evidence countering the usefulness and safety of biotechnology and supporting alternative methods of agricultural development. For a government department that frequently calls for “science-based” policy, ignoring the totality of evidence on biotechnology is not very science-based.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

State Department Travel Warning: If You Try To Sail To Gaza, Israel May Kill You

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Oldspeak:”What a sad irony it is that an Administration that WOULD NOT HAVE EVEN BEEN POSSIBLE without citizen protest, sacrifice, struggle, and eventual elimination of state-sanctioned discrimination and apartheid right here in the USA is discouraging Americans’ practice of  citizen protest, sacrifice, struggle, with the goal eventual elimination of state-sanctioned discrimination and apartheid in Israel? Where would African-Americans be in this country today if our elders accepted their governments centuries old refusals to recognize their human and civil rights? 3/4ths human? Second class citizens? Freedom and dignity are birthrights, not conditions to be negotiated in some “peace treaty”. Those brave souls should have named their ship “The Audacity of Nope.” Free Gaza.

By Ali Gharib @ Think Progress:

The State Department today released an updated travel warning for Israel and the Occupied Territories. The update signified that it was issued “to warn against participation in any attempt to reach Gaza by sea.” The warning is likely in light of the so-called “Freedom Flotilla” of humanitarian activists setting out any day now to break the blockade of Gaza enforced by the Israeli military.

Last year, a similar attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine people, including an American.

The State Department warning said:

The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. [...] On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt.

The U.S. citizen killed was Furkan Doğan, a 19 year old permanent resident of Turkey who witnesses said was shot five times by Israeli commandos that made an early morning raid against the ship he was aboard. (Eight others, all Turkish nationals, were also killed.) The U.S. did not undertake or ask for any special investigations and seemed to accept the validity of Israel’s own investigations, which cleared the Jewish State’s armed forces of any wrong doing.

Both the blockade of Gaza and the raid on ships in international waters have had their legality questioned. Yesterday, the Israeli military attacked two Palestinian fishing boats off the Gaza coast, but within the limits Israel set for them.

State Department spokesperson Mark Toner recently said U.S. citizens who partook in the flotilla to break the Gaza blockade were putting themselves at risk:

We have made clear through the past year that groups and individuals who seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that entail a risk to their safety.

During his recent visit to Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that “America has no better friend than Israel.” As Matthew Yglesias pointed out, the statement is “absurd.” This seems borne out by a travel warning that tells citizens not to try to get to Gaza by sea so that they don’t risk getting shot by their country’s “best friend.”

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