Archives for category: Politics

Through improbable circumstances I was able to get two of the authors of the joint Stanford-NYU Law Clinic report on U.S. covert “targeted killing” drone policy in Pakistan to come speak at SAIS last Friday. The report–Living Under Drones–is an excellent read, covering interviews with folks from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas  in Pakistan, analysis of media coverage of the policies, legal analysis (both domestic and international law) of the policies, and finally strategic considerations. The two hour event was awesome and engaging (and had Pakistani food to boot!), with a lot of discussion afterward. I kind of saw it as my last hurrah here at SAIS.

For one of my classes this semester I got to write a short paper on US covert drone policy in Pakistan, it’s a good overview of the big issues in my mind–definitions of “militants”, “signature strikes”, “double taps”, and a lack of medium- to long-term US goals–though short on policy prescriptions (can’t have everything in such a paper). Feel free to give it a read if you like, let me know what you think. I’ve often wanted to share the papers I write for classes so I figure this is a good excuse :)

This is an article I wrote that was posted on, an initiative of the Bertelsmann Foundation where “people come together to create forward-looking change.”

Courtesy of kerolic on Flickr

Last October, news surfaced that the U.S. technology company Blue Coat Systems had provided the censorship equipment used by Syria in the government’s repression of its citizens. The company initially denied the charge, first brought by the European hacker collective Telecomix with traffic data taken from within Syria, but with increased media scrutiny the company later admitted having sold the equipment through intermediary distributors in Europe, unaware of its final destination. Had the sale been direct, it would be in violation of the 2004 export ban on all US goods to Syria except medicine and food. Because it was indirect and supposedly without the company’s knowledge, there are few avenues for reprimanding the company. That the company’s surveillance and censorship technology was later found in Myanmar as well, a country under similar export control measures, has only intensified the scrutiny of these companies and the porous legal regimes that allow their trade to continue to flourish.

The episode reinforced an unfortunate reality where the business decisions of U.S. technology companies are at odds with stated U.S. foreign policy priorities such as Internet freedom and undermine international humanitarian and human rights concerns in repressive regimes such as Syria and Myanmar. Indeed, the golden standard for Internet censorship–China’s Golden Shield Project, popularly known as the Great Firewall–was built with technology from U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Websense. Such companies insisted at the time that their technologies were politically and morally neutral, and that they had no control over how their technology was used. But although these technological services “do not entail the day to day management of networks” as Cisco argued, these companies do provide service and training support for their products.


Courtesy of GusEds on Flickr

Some companies have distanced themselves from such positions over time. The use of Websense’s web filtering technology in Yemen had been publicized since 2004 by theOpenNet Initiative, but after increased domestic and international media pressure the company voluntarily discontinued its service to Yemen in late 2010. After the Blue Coat controversy broke in October 2011, Websense published a statement exhorting other U.S. technology companies not to deal with governments that would use the technology to suppress the rights of its citizens, even if the company had the legal ability to engage in such business. Whether such industry self-regulation can be sufficient is doubtful, especially given the difficulty of proving a company such as Blue Coat knowingly sold the technology to the government in question and the many international companies in the industry not influenced by such self-regulation.

But domestic measures are being considered. After the Blue Coat controversy broke in October 2011, an investigative article in the Wall Street Journal publicized that the Chinese company Huawei was selling and servicing surveillance and censorship technology to Iran. These two developments have led to increased U.S. government scrutiny of the ability for existing laws and regulations to combat this trade. Furthermore, NGOs such as Accesshighlight the need for any legislative or executive action to make clear that such trade restrictions and export controls target the technology itself, and not only be applied to states of U.S. concern such as Syria or Iran.

Courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

And now the test both for the U.S. government and for the self-regulation of U.S. technology companies has arrived. In late February 2012, the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority put out a request for proposals for a “National URL Filtering & Blocking System” for the country. The Pakistani NGO Bolo Bhi protested the move by sending a petition to the major technology companies around the world that might submit a proposal, and the response has been heartening. Websense and Cisco responded with official statements citing corporate social responsibility in their decision not to pursue the Pakistani request for proposals. Sandvine, Verizon, and McAfee also responded briefly that they would not submit bids. The only U.S. company not to respond to Bolo Bhi’s petition has been none other than Blue Coat Systems. (2012-03-20 update: Blue Coat tells CNET it will not bid on the project, one day after the request has rumored to be withdrawn.) In addition, the three international companies Bolo Bhi approached have not responded: the Canadian company Netsweeper and the two major Chinese telecommunication companies Huawei and ZTE. With strong prodding from civil society organizations, the U.S. industry was mostly successful in not participating in the censorship proposal request from Pakistan. However, the deficiencies of such industry self-regulation—Blue Coat and the international companies—suggest the need for the U.S. government to extend its current concern over the export of surveillance technology to Syria, Myanmar, and Iran to any country, including allies such as Pakistan.

From the Pakistan case the way forward seems relatively clear. NGO pressure must continue on U.S. telecommunications companies to incorporate human rights considerations into their businesses decisions abroad, including pushing companies to follow Websense’s lead and join the Global Network Initiative or other multi-stakeholder venues concerning Internet and communications-related freedoms so that they can better understand how such technology is not “morally neutral.” In addition, the U.S. government must improve its efforts to make it in the interest of these U.S. companies to incorporate human rights considerations into their actions, whether through export controls on the technology, due diligence or other regulatory requirements for the industry. Furthermore, the U.S. government must incentivize international companies to comply with these requirements, whether through U.S. Government procurement rules that block companies who do not engage in industry best practices, pursuing international regulations, or other measures. With both Syria and Iran—the U.S. Government’s current countries of concern—engaged in soliciting and using censorship technologies, this is an ideal time to pressure the U.S. to pass laws or enact measures to support the initiatives of NGOs and some in industry to regulate the industry, not only to level the competitive playing field in the international industry but to lift the moral standards of it as well.

Newspapers Friday March 9th. I don’t think this happens often.

According to a recent Gallup poll, the only state/district of the US that’s confident in the state of its economy is the District of Columbia (polled at index level +11). The next most confident state is North Dakota, at -13 (i.e. pessimistic)… Full stats on the Gallup page here. A large disconnect with the nation, and a sad state of affairs.

A Chinese classmate was taken to the police station this morning, interrogated and made to sign documents saying she won’t attend the upcoming sit-down protest against the chopping-down of the Chinese parasol trees in Nanjing (see the previous post). And she’ll have to spend this coming Saturday at the station to prove she isn’t attending the sit-down. If any Center students happen upon the protest, she’ll be held directly responsible. The police found out about her spreading the news of the event through our student-run Google Groups listhost, meaning another Chinese student at the Center decided that making this student’s life hell was worth it.

And that my friends is my sad story of the day.

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In the context of the last post, it seems that the people of Nanjing have more local problems to worry about. Apparently the new mayor has decided to destroy the iconic trees that line the streets of Nanjing (planted back in the KMT era when Nanjing was the capital), ostensibly for subway construction. That’s correct, it makes no sense. There have been sit-downs and protests since the policy began to be implemented. Here’s an English article about it:


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Today was misty and wet. Took an afternoon constitutional out to a nearby square (more of a traffic roundabout) to see a flower market I’d read about online, but besides furtive glances from other student-age persons also looking at the posted maps of the area, no flower market was to be found. Nanjing has nothing to report.

Edit: apparently there were two locations for the market this past week. Dunno if the other location had anything. Will see next week.

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“你们是什么单位的?” This was the question posed to us by an adorable little kid sitting in the audience as we squeezed into the back of a small auditorium to hear a guqin concert on campus this past Thursday. After some thought we decided that we were from the Nanjing University work unit. 单位 (danwei, work unit or organization) was a word that I for whatever reason didn’t think was really used that much anymore, more of a lexicon novelty from the Maoist days, but apparently work units are still going strong. The kid was surprised to learn after he asked that we don’t play basketball (but all Americans play basketball!) and let us know that his dad’s work unit has a basketball team.

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Something of interest I ran into yesterday, apparently during the US’ first Universal Periodic Review in front of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday the US pointed to the ongoing John Durham-led DOJ investigation of the torture tapes the CIA destroyed in 2005 as evidence of US fulfillment of Convention Against Torture obligations regarding waterboarding/torture/etc. The only issue with such a claim is that apparently the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges about the destruction of the tapes just ended yesterday.

Some quotes from the referenced AP article:

“I think that the Obama administration defines waterboarding as torture as a matter of law under the convention against torture and as part of our legal obligation… it’s not a policy choice,” Koh told journalists after being asked about the report.

Asked whether the United States was still considering investigation or federal prosecution of those who might have ordered such a practice in the past, Koh said the matter was being examined by Special Prosecutor John Durham in Connecticut.

Those investigations are ongoing. So the question is not whether they would consider it, they’re going on right now,” he explained.

Did the US government just miss further humiliation at the UPR by only three days? For an idea of some of the terror cases those destroyed tapes would have influenced had they not been destroyed/”lost” see this old Slate article. (For example, back during Moussaoui’s trial the CIA testified that they had not taped their interrogations of him.)

In unrelated news, W goes on the media circuit to shill his memoir, with the Post headline: “In new memoir, Bush makes clear he approved use of waterboarding“… That the US is legally required by its CAT obligations to pursue these admitted cases of torture seems lost inside the law-vacuum the Obama administration has perpetuated.

(Note that the ending of the statute of limitations on the destruction of evidence does not change the ability of the DOJ to investigate other facets of the Bush Administration’s systematic use of torture; it rather emphasizes the extraordinary inability of the Obama DOJ to go after even the lowest of the hanging fruit.)

A photo I ran across on this China Media Project article about the massive anti-Japanese protests in Chengdu and Xi’an on this Saturday the 16th really struck me. These were protests centered around the contested Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which are uninhabited but lie on oil and natural gas reserves. For whatever reason the article didn’t translate the sign the Xi’an protesters are holding, so I will (click for larger view):

“China’s biggest responsibility is surely exterminating Japan”

These are young, college-age (and probably college-educated) Chinese, nowadays often called Fènqīng 愤青 “angry youth” (short for 愤怒青年) for their strong nationalistic views. I think the picture is a good example of how quickly extreme vitriol appears in relations between the PRC and Japan. The complex relationship between the Chinese government and the Fènqīng is an interesting topic for another time.