Electronic Surveillance; New Frontier

From Dr Hamid Hussain

New Frontierk
In God we trust, all others we monitor’.  Intercept Operator’s motto.  National Security Agency Study, Deadly Transmissions, December 1970

 Recent revelation about use of Pegasus software for surveillance of mobile phones by several governments surprised very few. It simply confirmed what most of us believe that surveillance is now part of modern life. This information is not new.  In 2013, details about National Security Agency (NSA) running an electronic surveillance program on massive scale named PRISM became public. In 2012, information became public that a joint United States and Israeli cyber operation code named ‘Operation Olympic Games’ using an offensive computer virus Stuxnet damaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges at Natanz.  Later, Wikileaks and revelations by Edward Snowdon about large scale surveillance all over the globe only highlighted the omnipresence of surveillance in our daily lives.  United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia and Israel use extensive surveillance with state of the start equipment.

 Pegasus is a commercial program sold by an Israeli company NSO. The name is derived from the first initials of company’s three founders; Niv Carmi, Shalev Hulio and Omri Lavie. It was first bought by a US based private equity firm. In 2018, when concerns emerged about the program it was sold to a London based group. Israel recognized the importance electronic and communication revolution early.  The most authoritative account of Mossad was written by Gordon Thomas in 1999 titled Gideon’s Spies.  Director General of Mossad Danny Yatom (1996-1998) recognized early the defensive and offensive opportunities in the brave new world of computers.  He ordered research and development division to develop programs that could infiltrate computers for monitoring as well as electronic ‘microbes’ that could destroy the systems.  Today, we know these ‘microbes’ as computer ‘viruses’.

 Pegasus can infiltrate any mobile phone and gain access to contacts, phone calls, text messages and even take control of the microphone and camera for real time surveillance. The sales pitch for Pegasus was to fight crime and terrorism.  However, there were concerns about its abuse by governments and NSO launched a public relations campaign to assure human rights groups.  It sold Pegasus to governments of United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Turkey, India and Mexico. In addition to criminals and terrorists, this program was also used for surveillance of political rivals, dissidents, diplomats, journalists and human right activists and organizations. Contrary to popular belief, Pegasus is not a mass surveillance program but a targeted one.

 The company is based in Israel therefore a lot of negative fallout for Israel.  Government tried to distance itself from NSO, but no one believes that Israeli government would have allowed sale of such program to foreign governments without access to data.  Such technology sale is strictly controlled by Israeli government based on national security concerns.  It is used as a diplomatic tool to win potential allies.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used sale of such technology for improving relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf sheikhdoms.  Any Israeli government allowing sale of programs like Pegasus without having a trap door to have access to surveillance done by the clients of Pegasus will be charged with dereliction of duty. It is no surprise that countries like Russia and China develop their own programs.  They may steal state of the art technology through industrial espionage but do not buy off the shelf products as it makes them vulnerable.

 Public revelations of sale of surveillance technology to foreign clients by private Israeli companies is making many Israelis uncomfortable.  They view such sales as damaging the Israeli brand.  Israeli government has formed a high powered committee of Knesset to review the whole process of sale of surveillance technology.  Now, many Israeli civil rights groups are also concerned about domestic surveillance. In Israel there are severe restrictions on surveillance of Jewish citizens of Israel but Arab citizens and Palestinians in occupied territories have no protection.  Israeli society in general accepted this situation as a protective umbrella against extremist threats.  Details of surveillance methods are not made public and elite Signal Intelligence (SIGINTEL) Unit 8200 is involved in this surveillance.  In 2014, thirty four veterans of Unit 8200, now on reservist duty stunned Israel by writing a letter to Prime Minister refusing to serve in occupied territories.  This letter highlighted the moral dilemma faced by those serving in this field.

 Government decisions are guided by circumstances and there is risk of a slippery slope. There is no guarantee that government that asked for acquiescence of citizens in the name of security will not invoke an emergency to drag everybody in the net. The scare happened during the early phase of Corona pandemic.  In March 2020, then Defence Minister Naftali Bennett proposed that Military Intelligence and NSO should be given the task of tracking Corona virus carriers.  This meant transferring highly classified personal data of Israeli citizens collected by internal security organization Shin Bet to NSO.  Knesset alarmed by this dangerous phenomenon vetoed the idea.

 Surveillance and defensive and offensive cyber capabilities are part of modern national security apparatus.  They are new weapons like fighter jets, tanks and missiles.  Innovation is part of human story and not new, however, the revolution of modern technology is democratization of these tools. A high school dropout sitting in a dingy room with a cheap computer can bring down a hundred year old bank or turn off the electric grid of a mega city with few clicks on his keyboard. Society needs protection against these threats but also needs to put in place laws to prevent abuse by the government. Only an informed citizenry equipped with investigative tools and ever vigilance can ensure that their legitimate rights are protected at the same time when they give government the authority to use tools to protect them.

 “There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They are spying on me through my phone’ anymore.  Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.  Philip K. Dick – Died 1982

 Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

25 July 2021

Afghan Snake Pit

From Dr Hamid Hussain

01 August 2021
An informed senior Pakistani officer asked me about current parlays in the context of Afghanistan and following was my response; It can be considered analysis by an armchair Subedar Major.
Hamid

Thanks Sir.   All is well here.  U.S-Pakistan relations in short-term (6-12 months) are focused on Afghanistan.  Washington’s short list includes Pakistan using its influence (in my view now limited as Taliban have developed independent relationships with all players) to prevent Taliban from outright military takeover, not to directly undermine Ghani’s tattering government and not to object to some role for India in Afghanistan (technical support to government).

On part of Pakistan, they are trying to convince Washington that Taliban will take over sooner or later and therefore do not waste political capital on retreating Afghan players.  They have a point and Washngton understands this but can not allow Taliban take over so soon after departure as it could be damaging both internally and internationally.  If it occurs after a year or two that is fine.  Americans have not forgotten the Pakistani double cross.  There is a lot of anger in the military and intelligence community and they will be satisfied to some extent if Pakistan suffers. Recent interview of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) leader by CNN is a sign towards that direction.  For the first time, I have sensed fear among senior Pakistani brass due to the vulnerability of Pakistan to unexpected events.  Personal interest of Faiz Hamid is also at play.  He wants to portray himself as the man who can continue the policy rather than dealing with a new and unknown army Chief in 2022 (he gave the same line to the Chinese). 
 If the coming US-China conflict is centered around this region, there is a clear and present danger for a lot of damage to Pakistan. The best hope for Pakistan is that the major center of this conflict is in the South China sea while this region is simply a side show. In that case Pakistan can manage the fallout. I’m not sure if this point has sunk in Pakistan’s strategic community.

With this background, it is easy to understand possible US moves in the next 12-18 months. Move all US personnel out of harm’s way and substantially reduce financial commitment. However, at the same time use deteriorating security to get limited involvement of regional players who have their own fears and interests. This also ties into other strategic objectives of curtailing the influence of China and Russia. Just before the presidential election, in October 2020, the U.S. State Department quietly removed Eastern Turkestan Movement (ETM) from its terror list.  We will likely see more visibility of the Uighur cause in Europe and North America and re-organization of Uighur militants in ungovernable spaces of Afghanistan moving more closely to Chinese borders in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.  This will be complemented by attacks on Chinese diplomatic and economic targets in these countries.  Russia will have a mix of cooperation and competition with China in this theatre.  If it is tilted more towards competition that suits Washington.  The U.S. wants to see India more allied with Washington and prop it up against China.  If India gets some role in the region, it helps Washington to keep its hands clean. The dirty work of dealing with TTP and Baloch militants can remain with India.
The wild card as always is Afghan players.  They have learned the art of survival by working and then double crossing multiple masters.  This is necessary in view of their geographical location.  Like other highlanders i.e. Kurds, they have mastered the art of cross and double cross to perfection. At present, it is wait and watch by all Afghan players as they want two major contenders; Washington and Taliban to show their hand.  When a military power is in full swing, it is like a torrent in the stream and no one wants to come in its path. Once it passes away and water is calm then the Afghan makes his move.  In my view, a little lifting of the curtain will occur if and when the Taliban decide to go after major cities.  They are waiting for American assets to move out of the game.  They have calculated that once major military and intelligence assets are out of theatre, it will be very difficult to re-introduce them by any American leader. This will give them leverage and they hope that Americnas will come to terms with the fait accompli.
Everyone is positioning for uncertainties in the near future and it is in this context that byzantine intrigues are at play.  Pakistan has increased intelligence surveillance of TTP and Baloch militants in Afghanistan and can use local assets to target their leaders and facilities. At the same time it is also dangling negotiation carrots to Baloch militants to cash in on their fear of losing the safe haven in Afghanistan. Russia and Iran are cooperating in the important city of Herat.  Russian and Iranian intelligence agents have set up listening and operational posts, reactivating old Afghan assets and pre-positioning arms and ammunition dumps.  Russia has also increased such cooperation with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Turkmenistan is still holding out to its historical position of strict neutrality).
China has good relations with Pakistan in many sectors. However, in the context of Afghanistan, China has its concerns both in terms of Pakistan’s policy about the country as well as increased sympathy among Pakistani general population about Taliban as well as Islamic causes.  China is concerned about the safety of its personnel as well as infrastructure projects in Pakistan.  Despite the raising of two new light infantry divisions (34 and 44) by Pakistan for security of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects from the border with China at Khunjerab all the way to the port of Gwadar in Balochistan, CPEC infrastructure is vulnerable especially at both ends.  China has also increased cooperation with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and increased surveillance of the Wakhan corridor.
A new player is Turkey under neo-Ottoman dreams of Recep Erdogan. He sees himself as first leading Turkic speaking and then Sunni Muslims on a global scale. During earlier deployments of Turkish troops in Afghanistan under the flag of NATO, Turkish military and intelligence has expanded links with Abdul Rashid Dosttum.  Turkey trained a large number of Afghan Uzbeks and also positioned arms & ammunition in the region.
There are two models for the future.  One is cooperation where there is competition but still restraints that can be a win-win situation for all.  The other is perpetuation of conflict that not only keeps old wounds open but also inflicts new injuries.  Our hope is for the former but if history is a guide, our leaders always opt for the latter in our name.
“History tells us that it will get worse before it gets better’.  An Iraqi madrasa student during the height of Iraqi civil war.
Warm Regards,
Hamid

A Shocking Decision

An interesting sidelight from Islamic history, by Ali MInai. Originally published on his blog “Barbarikon“,  reposted here with Ali Minai’s permission.

The Caliph and the Imam

A Shocking Decision

Sometime in 816 CE – year 200 in the Hijri calendar of Islam – the seventh Abbasid Caliph al-Mamun made a very strange decision. If near-contemporary historical narratives are to be believed, he offered his throne – and thus power over lands from India to Morocco – to the leader of his fiercest opponents, the Shi’a. It was a breathtakingly audacious decision – so audacious that it failed almost immediately. The eighth infallible Imam of the Shi’a, ‘Ali bin Musa al-Rida, was not interested.  Al-Mamun had to recalibrate, and he did so by nominating Ali al-Rida as his successor. The Imam demurred again, but this time the Caliph was adamant: The Imam must accept or he and his family would suffer. Imam Ali al-Rida’s family was no stranger to suffering. Almost all of his ancestors – direct descendants to the Prophet himself – had been persecuted, many martyred or imprisoned. His own father, the seventh Imam Musa al-Kadhim, had perished as a prisoner of al-Mamun’s father, the famous Harun al-Rashid of A Thousand and One Nights. Whatever the reasons, Ali al-Rida acquiesced, and on the 27th day of Ramadan in 201 AH (April 18, 817 CE), he was proclaimed “wali ‘ahd al-muslimin” – the designated successor to the 31-year old al-Mamun. Coins were soon minted asserting this new designation – the standard way of declaring authority – and the traditional black flags of the Abbasids were replaced by the green flags of the Shi’a Imams. A little more than a year later, the Imam was dead. Al-Mamun would rule for another fifteen years.

The Historical Preamble Continue reading A Shocking Decision

Capsule Review: The Tankies by Ennis and Ezquerra

“The Tankies” is a set of three linked comics from Dead Reckoning Press about a crew of the Royal Tank Regiment (whose motto  “From Mud, Through Blood, to the Green Fields Beyond.” gets regular play in the comic); in the first comic a British tank crew led by corporal Stiles in a Churchill tank fight their way out of Normandy on D-day, outgunned by German Tigers (who they outnumber many times over, but who are not going to give the Brits an easy victory). There is a great cast of characters, including a bird watching colonel, a priest who recovers bodies from destroyed tanks and will not let the tankies help him because he knows how terrible and demoralizing the sight of a tank crew roasted alive inside their tank can be, and corporal Stiles himself, the archetypical “old hand” who knows a trick or two and will not be beaten.

The same crew (now in a Sherman Firefly) star in the second comic in February 1945 as the allies roll across Germany but continue to face more resistance than the circumstances would suggest. This one is a classic one-on-one tank duel as the British crew hunt a King Tiger led by a fanatical SS officer who is still shooting his own men if they refuse to fight on; but the biggest emotional impact comes when German civilians get caught in the middle and a child loses his mother to the British crew while collecting firewood.

The final comic has Stiles (now a Sergeant) commanding a Centurion (at last a tank better than the competition) in Korea as the Chinese attack in the battle of the Imjin river. There is no tank versus tank combat here, just masses of Chinese infantry swarming over the tanks trying to destroy them with primitive pole charges and sticky bombs while the tank crews hunker inside and “de-louse” neighboring tanks with their machine guns.

The comics are fabulously drawn and very well written. And there is an excellent afterword that gives more background about the battles where these comics are set and discusses how and why the Germans fought so hard so late in the war. It also describes the real life events that inspired some of the more unbelievable or strange things described in the comics (the colonel taking a walk in the open under fire, the priest who recovers bodies, the shell down the barrel, the swarming Chinese infantry being “de-loused” off tanks and suchlike). I had not read “war comics” since my teen years, but am thoroughly enjoying the ones I have seen from Dead Reckoning in the last few years. This set by Carlos Ezquerra (a late-great titan of the comics industry) and Garth Ennis captures the horrors of tank warfare in a way that mere prose rarely can. If you are interested in tanks, world war two or just a good war comic, this is well worth a look.

  • Publisher : Dead Reckoning (March 15, 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1682475972
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1682475973

Browncast: Sri Thiruvadanthai on the Indian Economy etc

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode Srikant, Akshar and I talk to Sri Thiruvadanthai, who goes by @teasri on Twitter and is a very erudite finance and economics guy with much to say about the Indian economy, reforms, China, etc.. Well worth listening.

Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan; the dark side chronicles

An old post written by Dr Asif Javed (who has also included this in his book, an interesting collection of articles published as “The Doctor from the East”

Bhutto Legend: Myth and Reality
By Dr Asif Javed
Williamsport, PA

“I feel that your services to Pakistan are indispensable. When the history of our country is written by objective historians, your name will be placed even before that of Mr. Jinnah.” The writer of this infamous piece of consummate flattery was a young Z.A. Bhutto, and the recipient, Sikander Mirza, who should be in the political hall of shame, if one were ever to be erected in Pakistan.

Balawal Zardari has recently made a lot of noise about Z.A. Bhutto’s trial and demanded apology for the unjust verdict handed out to his grandfather. It has become very fashionable lately to call it a “judicial murder”. This writer is not a lawyer nor am I a politician; I do, however, belong to the unfortunate generation that witnessed the events of his grandfather’s time in power, and fall from it. It is said that legends ossify over time; in Bhutto’s case, certainly that appears to be so. Bhutto worship has become a relentless train that shows no signs of slowing down; instead, it keeps gathering speed. In the process, the established historical facts are being denied or distorted, and myths are being created. KK Aziz may easily write another volume of Murder of history based upon what we have seen recently.
Z.A. Bhutto was widely admired for his genius. Henry Kissinger may not have been way off the mark when he remarked, “Elegant, eloquent, subtle. . . .I found him brilliant, charming, of global stature in his perceptions. . . .He did not suffer fools gladly.”It is however, the other side of ZAB—the dark one—that needs to be revisited. In the process, perhaps we, as a nation, may learn some lessons and see things in the right perspective. Khalid Hasan, a life long admirer, who knew ZAB first hand, and worked as his press secretary, may have written the most balanced and insightful short biography of ZAB. He has summed it up eloquently: “ZAB had all the makings of a classical hero, carrying the seeds of self destruction in him—he was a flawed genius, a god who turned out to have feet of clay. . . .ZAB had many personal failings, including an inability to trust others, a congenital suspicion of friends and high sensitivity to personal criticism.”

With rare insight and objectivity, KH writes: “There is no evidence that US government or any of his agencies played a role in the overthrow of Bhutto—the time has come for us to accept that much of what has happened to our country and our leaders has been the result of our own mistakes. . . .ZAB believed that a country should have only one central figure as leader and all power should flow from him. It is a tragedy that a man of Bhutto’s intelligence, education and sense of history did not appreciate that Pakistan could only survive as a federal state with the provinces enjoying the maximum autonomy. Bhutto could not abide rival claimants to power even if they were elected to their office. He could not work with the opposition run provincial governments in Quetta and Peshawar and squeezed them out; that was his undoing. Bhutto forgot that power in order to be kept, must be dispersed.” KH also notes that it was Bhutto who revised ISI’s charter to include domestic political intelligence.

It is widely believed that Bhutto was hanged for a crime that he did not commit. It is rarely, if ever, asked, who then was the real perpetrator? Continue reading Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan; the dark side chronicles

Browncast: Frank: a well informed Indian talks about India

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Image

This episode is somewhat unique in that the guest is anonymous. “Frank” tweets on twitter as @Frankisalegend1 and has a background in business and finance. He is well informed and well read and we had an interesting chat about Indian politics, recent history and his fascination with Steve McQueen.

 

 

Browncast: Dr Seema Anand, author of “The arts of seduction”

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

 

Details

In this episode Mukunda and guest-host Shahada talk to Dr Seema Anand. Dr Anand according to her Times of India intro is “a London-based mythologist and a practising storyteller. She lectures on the Kama Sutra and Eastern erotology”.

Check it out.

Blasphemy and blasphemy laws in Pakistan

This was on old post about blasphemy laws that I wrote in 2015. It is on the site, but hard to search for, so i decided to repost it now that blasphemy is again in the news with protesters in Pakistan demanding the French ambassador be expelled, the country in lockdown and several people including policemen already killed in riots. It is possible that the main driver of this particular episode is something else entirely (for example, cracks in the ruling junta or between GHQ and Imran Khan) but the blasphemy meme-complex provides the fuel for this fire, even if it is being cynically used by some oversmart idiot in the ruling elite/intelligence agencies.

Most of this is picked out of a past post about the cruel blasphemy execution (by being burned alive) of a Christian couple in Pakistan. I am reposting because blasphemy is in the news again and I cannot count the number of times someone has managed to say “colonial era blasphemy laws in Pakistan” in a misleading manner. I wanted to have a post handy where I could direct them, so here it is, a quick overview of the blasphemy issue in Pakistan

A blasphemy law was part of the 19th century Indian Penal code as section 295.. It was not a bad law at all and the lazy habit of blaming it for later blasphemy law crap in the Indian subcontinent is just that: a lazy habit.

Here is section 295 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860:

 Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.—Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defile­ment as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The aim of the law was to prevent/punish things like someone throwing a dead pig into a mosque or a cow’s head into a temple. An actual physical desecration is to be punished. This seems like an eminently sensible law  and cannot really be blamed for all the evils that came later. But in the 1920s there was a famous case in Lahore where a Hindu publisher was arrested by the colonial authorities after Muslims agitated against him for having published a book called Rangila Rasul (“merry prophet”). The British colonial authorities tried to prosecute him for hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims, but the high court in Lahore (quite properly) found him innocent because there was no law on the books against just publishing a book, no matter how offensive it may be to some religious group. Fearing future communal discord from such provocations, the British then had the legislative assembly add section 295A to the law in order to criminalize deliberate attempts to “outrage the religious feelings of any community”. This section states:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with fine, or with both. 

But even with this new and expanded article 295A in place, prosecutions for blasphemy were few and far between until, in the 1980s, General Zia added two new sections to the law in Pakistan and really set the ball rolling.  These infamous sections are labelled 295B and 295C.

295-B:  Defiling the copy of Holy Qur’an. Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

295-C: use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – who ever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine.

Note that the law no longer requires that the offense be malicious in intent. Intent is no longer an issue. Insulting the Quran or the prophet, even unintentionally, is now punishable by death. To seal the deal, in 1991 the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan struck down the option of life imprisonment and made the death penalty obligatory. 
And of course, the new amendments only apply to blasphemy against Islam, not against all religions (in this sense, the new laws are more “rational” and internally coherent, since all religions blaspheme against all other religions as a matter of course, so the original law was not coherent in principle, though still workable in practice). Between 1984 to 2004, 5,000 cases of blasphemy were registered in Pakistan and 964 people were charged and accused of blasphemy; 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 others. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy were killed extra-judicially during that time. More have died since. Eighty-six percent of all the cases were reported in Punjab.

Every time the shit hits the fan, many liberal people start hoping that this blasphemy law can be changed to finally stop or slow down this torrent of prosecutions and killings. Others have noted that the law is not the problem, free-lance enforcement of a broader blasphemy meme in the Muslim community is the problem and will likely persist even if the law is repealed. In my view the law is not the only problem, but it IS a very potent symbol of the surrender of state and society in front of the blasphemy meme. Repeal of the law will not kill that meme, but repeal of the law will be an equally powerful signal that things have changed and that state and society no longer approve of the killing of blasphemers. It will not end the problem, but it will be the beginning of the end. Repeal of the law is not a sufficient condition for this nightmare to end, but it is a very important necessary condition.

Unfortunately, I don’t think such repeal or amendment is actually likely in the foreseeable future. My predictions: Continue reading Blasphemy and blasphemy laws in Pakistan