Archive for April 2012
Science Daily announced today that researchers at UT Dallas have developed an imager chip for potential use in cell phones and other portable electronic devices that would enable them to see through opaque materials including walls, wood, plastics, paper and other objects.
The new imaging technology capitalizes on research in the terahertz range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is close in frequency to the millimeter wave technology in use by the TSA in their new body imaging scanners in many airports.
Law enforcement agencies are actively pursuing such technology for their own use, including the New York Police Department, which is already testing such devices, developed in conjunction with the Pentagon, to check for concealed weapons.
Advocates tout such scanning technology as an improvement over stop-and-frisk, but several privacy groups have raised concerns, citing Fourth Amendment protections.
The potential application of terahertz scanning in consumer electronics raises its own serious privacy concerns. Imagine a world in which an opaque walls are easily seen through by cell phones. Coming soon?
Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News has posted a thoughtful review of Jesselyn Radack’s new memoir Traitor: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban. In Aftergood’s words:
In 2001, Ms. Radack was a Justice Department attorney and specialist in legal ethics. In response to an official inquiry, she advised that the newly captured John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban,” should not be interrogated without an attorney present — which he then was anyway. When Department officials publicly denied having received any such legal advice, and even destroyed evidence to the contrary, she exposed the deception.
Ms. Radack was not looking for a fight, but only to do the right thing. For her trouble, she was forced out of her Justice Department position, put under criminal investigation, fired from her subsequent job, reported to the state bar, and put on the “no fly” list.
Radack now works for the Government Accountability Project, a legal organization dedicated to supporting whistleblowers, which we looked at recently in a related post on the government’s ongoing abuse of anti-terrorism laws to stifle constitutionally-protected speech.
Mr. Aftergood’s full review is here.
Last week I saw a talk by Ahmed Al Omran, a Saudi journalist who maintains the excellent Saudi Jeans blog, offering eye-on-the-ground information on the Saudi political scene. The talk was part of the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s Geek Reading series.
Al Omran was early on the scene in the Saudi blogosphere. His wide readership and use of English, in a post-9/11 Saudi Arabia that is eager to improve its international image, give him some latitude to write critically of his government at times, even when comparable work in Arabic may result in arrest. Al Omran compared his own work to that of blogger Fouad al-Farhan, an Arab-language blogger who was arrested by Saudi authorities until international pressure prompted his release. The two are shown together in this Washington Post article with Al Omran on the far left.
Al Omran’s presentation could perhaps be characterized by short-term sobriety and long-term optimism. He noted a number of factors supportive of movement toward gender equality, representative democracy, freedom of speech, and free access to information in Saudi Arabia, especially including the prevalence of Internet access. He noted that the Saudi government ordered a media blackout on the news of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – no one in the country knew about it for a week. That would be unthinkable today, he observed, because of the decentralized nature of the Internet and the difficulty in effectively blocking access to sites.
In addition, many young Saudis are abroad earning a higher education – around 60,000 in the US alone, and as many in Europe and elsewhere. Many of these young people become accustomed to free access to information.
However, Al Omran cautioned, we should not be overly optimistic about the short-term. We do not know to what degree exposure to foreign ideas will result in commitment to political reform by the “scholarship generation,” as he called the current wave of students abroad. Many of whom will remain abroad, and many more will return to Saudi Arabia with the intention of leading quiet lives.
The Arab Spring did not effectively reach Saudi Arabia, and one high-profile scheduled protest, the Day of Rage, fizzled badly. Al Omran attributes the failure to reach critical mass to a number of factors, including the relative affluence of Saudi Arabia, the effectiveness of the Saudi education system in discouraging the idea of political reform, and the conservative culture of the country as a whole.
Nonetheless, 70% of Saudi Arabia’s population is under the age of thirty, and many of the nation’s rulers are in their 80s and 90s. Women are making largely-symbolic but significant gains, such as winning the right to vote and run in municipal elections, and a movement working toward the right to drive appears to be gaining traction.
This morning Der Spiegel ran an article (auf Deutsch) on Saudi Princess Basma Bin Saud Al Saud, who has been calling for a constitutional monarchy and greater equality for freedom. So who knows what the future holds? Political reform sometimes comes like bankruptcy – gradually, then suddenly.
In a new article for the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh, the superstar journalist who broke COINTELPRO, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, reports that the US government provided operational training in tactics and strategy for an officially-designated terrorist organization, the Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khal (MEK), beginning in 2005.
The MEK has made public contributions to several prominent figures in American national politics on both sides of the aisle, including Rudy Giuliani and Howard Dean. Author and lawyer Glenn Greenwald, who has been covering the surprisingly-overt support for the MEK in his column, notes that providing such assistance to a terrorist group is a federal crime in the United States, punishable by life in prison.
It’s worth noting that under the NDAA act recently signed into law by President Obama, Giuliani and Dean may now be legally detained indefinitely by the US military, with no right to due process, until such time as “hostilities end,” whatever that may mean in this case.