Big Sister is watching you

By Raffique Shah
December 05, 2010

“Virtually all countries of the world…have secret CIA tracking stations.”
—Intelligence expert and author Alexander Kolpakidi (Daily Mail, November 15, 2010).

Raffique ShahTHE scandal—allegations that US agents spied in (and on) sovereign states, allies like Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland—broke around the same time the SIA mess hit the fan here in Trinidad and Tobago. American agents conducted surveillance activities against “suspected terrorists” on foreign soil. They did not inform the host countries of what they were doing, which included monitoring, photographing and filming people around their embassies and others taking part in protest rallies.

This “spy” scandal erupted weeks before Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks released hundreds of classified diplomatic communications between the US State Department and its embassies across the world. Many of them contained mundane titbits. Others, however, proved to be very embarrassing to the USA. One example was Hillary Clinton’s request for a report on Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner’s “mental health”. Clinton also ordered agents to spy on UN diplomats, including Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and members of the Security Council.

Le Monde, a reputable French newspaper, reported that Clinton’s memo detailed the kind of information the State Department was interested in: Internet passwords, credit card numbers, fingerprints, and DNA and iris scans of those targeted. Der Spiegel (German newspaper) reported, “The cables portrayed Chancellor Angela Merkel in unflattering terms.” There were many more memos and reports, including scores from Port of Spain, which, thus far, have not been spelt out.

The reason I return to this topic today is to show that while the Interception Act, passed by both Houses of Parliament recently, may help protect politicians and ordinary citizens from eavesdropping by local SIA agents, the law cannot protect us from CIA spying. Indeed, it’s not just CIA agents or informants who intercept telephonic and cyber-communications, but a host of other individuals and agencies.

As the intelligence expert quoted above said, this kind of activity is universal in nature, and it’s not new. What has changed over the years is the sophistication of equipment and devices used for eavesdropping or spying.

One’s BlackBerry or pen or laptop computer can be feeding information directly to centres located mainly in America, but not restricted to that country, that monitor, around the clock, what targeted persons say or do.

I always assume every conversation I have on my telephone is monitored somewhere in the world. Time was when I would start my discussion with a few expletives—for the listening discomfort of whoever was eavesdropping. I have few, if any, secrets, so I open up freely when I talk with others. As Trinis would say, I have no cocoa in the sun…

People in public life though, especially active politicians, should be wary of what secrets they hold and who is monitoring their activities. In doing research for the book on the 1970 mutiny that I am writing, I accessed some declassified State Department and US Embassy telegrams that are relevant to that period. They are intriguing, to say the least.

I shall not reveal much here (hell, how else would I sell my book?), but suffice it to say the British, American and Venezuelan governments’ interest in those events, and in the principal players, was fascinating. The Americans were interested not only in the leaders of the mutiny, but very much in the mind-frame of the then PM, Dr Eric Williams. There are several references to his mental state at different points in that dramatic period of our country’s history.

They also met with, and analysed, Bhadase Maharaj, a secret ally of Williams. In both men’s cases, there were unflattering remarks in the ambassador’s telegrams. One eminent local medical doctor gave his assessment of the PM’s health, especially his mental state. In Bhadase’s case, the ambassador alluded to the burly politician’s drug abuse.

From an intelligence standpoint, because Teteron was isolated, hence out of reach, their reports were woefully flawed. But right or wrong, justified or naked intrusion, the US Government, through its many agencies, continues to spy on all politicians, especially those in power, and on persons they suspect may have harmful intentions towards America.

In the latter category, many innocent persons across the world, more so Muslims or those who bear Islamic names, have fallen victim to gross incompetence on the part of their spies or agents. It is a fact that lots of “terrorists” detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere are persons guilty of nothing more than the names they bear, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Our Prime Minister and her Cabinet ministers, most of whom are unaware of how intelligence is gathered and used, should take little comfort in the passage into law of the Interception of Communications Act. The Devil, it is said, finds work for idle hands. Intelligence gathering can be a boring exercise. It is very tempting for idle minds to tune in to the conversations of persons in high society, or on those they expect to engage in juicy gossip.

The best advice I can give those holding public office is that they always conduct themselves properly. In today’s world, one does not expect people, more so politicians, to be perfect moral exemplars.

However, if you choose to pontificate to plebes, make sure your private life can withstand scrutiny. If SIA officials are not “maccoing” you, rest assured Big Brother or Big Sister is. Hillary Clinton is a powerfully “maccocious” woman.

6 thoughts on “Big Sister is watching you”

  1. “Our Prime Minister and her Cabinet ministers, most of whom are unaware of how intelligence is gathered and used, should take little comfort in the passage into law of the Interception of Communications Act.”

    That was not the point of the Interception of Communications Act. The Prime Minister knows that the SIA was functioning outside the perimeters of the law. That means that what it was doing was ILLEGAL.

    In a democracy it is illegal to spy on citizens, however, the US does a lot of spying in fact their history of spying tools used during the “cold war” is legendary. Their spying is based on a very broaden set of words. If you use those words on the telephone, email or other forms of communication immediately someone is listening or that information is recorded. For instance some of the words may be Pakistan, Bin Laden, Al Quaida etc. Many terrorist or jehadis have been caught that way.

    What Manning was doing was listening in on specific individuals and their conversations. Which indicates to me that he was “bored” or wanted “maximum” control. Or just a politician who wanted to steal other people ideas before they used it. Either way it was wrong and a waste of tax dollars while criminals were given the green light to kidnap, kill and do whatever they wanted. That is point of contention.

    The SIA as a legal entity can now track drug dealers and those who want to do the nation harm. However, electronic info is not admissiable in a court of law. So really it is much ado about nothing, but is it???

  2. WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord
    Embassy dispatches show America used spying, threats and promises of aid to get support for Copenhagen accord

    Government reports violations of limits on spying aimed at U.S. citizens
    The federal government has repeatedly violated legal limits governing the surveillance of U.S. citizens, according to previously secret internal documents obtained through a court battle by the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Feds Warrantlessly Tracking Americans’ Credit Cards in Real Time
    Federal law enforcement agencies have been tracking Americans in real-time using credit cards, loyalty cards and travel reservations without getting a court order, a new document released under a government sunshine request shows.

    1. America is becoming more and more a police state. The need to know who is where and what they are doing is overiding the cause of civil liberties. Thus the terrorist are winning.

  3. If one sifts through enough mud, one might find a gem or two.
    Perhaps politicians in TnT might take up walking as a hobby? Changing the route every day could confuse those trying to listen in to your conversation, live conversation that is. Whatever you say by cell phone, landline, e-mail and such is monitored constantly, and not only by the CIA, others spy on them too, and sometimes minor army factotums, disgruntled by some slight, real or imagined, give the whole game away to Wikkileaks or some other purveyor, for filthy lucre.

    What I find interesting today, is that “two Israelis” removed the socalled secret files, was one of them the guy found living in Arouca a couple or three years back? He was hustled off to Venezuela by the Israelis, who have an embasy there. I always thought he had been sent in to take out Abu BAkr, but fell in love with the country, and maybe a woman or two, who, for money, stole our country’s immigration stamp so he could renew his own documents. Some people will sell their mothers!

    There are spies all over the place. I was quite surprised some years back, when a young man, son of my friend, who had come to live with us on the east coast of the USA was offered a chance to play basketball on the British National Team. He had been borrn in Britain, and returned to TnT when he was three or four. When he distinguished himself as a college ballplayer for Temple U. Britain reached out to him.

    Yet, the “spies”often blunder. During the Invasion of Grenada, their spy must have spent all his/her time on the waterfront in St. George’s harbour sipping those fantastic mango and rum drinks, because the invading Americans shot up Ft St George, thinking it was a military post, like Ft. Hood or Ft. Dix. It was a paediatric hospital for handicapped children, and some were see falling out of windows, in their wheelchairs. This did not do the US image any good, nor did the remark that Grenada was “a wonderful piece of real estate”.hell, there were people living there!

    Intelligence people seem to get things right maybe 60% of the time. They have never succeeded in preventing a coup or corrupt election in any African country.Know why? Its the minerals under the soil. One can negotiate better with a corrupt official than with a patriot. Dick Cheney knows that too well in the case of Nigeria(That’s why they are going to put him on trial)Lumumba was not prepared to sell out his country, so someone apparently arranged a plane crash for him.
    The world continues its merry way. Corrupt rich countries continue to be corrupt. Poor countries continue to be corrupted,including their mineral resources,rivers, streams and their women and children.
    It is our destiny, perhaps to peep like mice, and hide from the big cats, until the cats begin fighting each other. Then the mice escape, for a while, at least..

  4. Sounds like the fears of King Herod when he learned that a true King was coming to remove him from the throne.

  5. Not just big sister. Is the whole family. There are too many international criminal activities operating and it has made life very difficult/hard for alot of good folks. This is the only way. Most of us are not comfortable with the idea. How else are they to solve unsolvable crimes? When the chrystal ball is broken, the deck of cards are missing values,the seeah man gone blind, the divination is misinterpreted, and the magnetic north is on the move, ect… Until we the people of this world practice kindness towards all, they will continue to monitor the use of their equiptment that we all buy for our personal use.

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