Tag Archives: apartheid

NSA Invokes “National Defense” and the Espionage Act to Stonewall MIT Student’s FOIA Request on Nelson Mandela

NSA Invokes “National Defense” and the Espionage Act to Stonewall MIT Student’s FOIA Request on Nelson Mandela

[WASHINGTON, DC] Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD candidate Ryan Shapiro filed a lawsuit this morning against the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Defense Intelligence Agency over the spy agencies’ failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records on anti-apartheid activist and South African President, Nelson Mandela. Shapiro’s requests seek, among other records, documents pertaining to the U.S intelligence community’s role in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and Mandela’s placement on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008. Shapiro is already suing the Central Intelligence Agency over this same failure. Shapiro wants to know why the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the Agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to secure racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

Notably, in addition to invoking the Espionage Act (Title 18 U.S. Code 798), the NSA’s denial of Shapiro’s FOIA request (see embedded document) invokes “national defense” to support the agency’s refusal to even acknowledge the existence of records about Mandela. Asserts the NSA, “the fact of the existence or non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter [….] to be kept secret in the interest of national defense[.]”

A .PDF of Shapiro’s Lawsuit Filed This Morning is Available HERE

Shapiro, a FOIA specialist, is an historian of the political functioning of national security and the policing of dissent. His pathbreaking FOIA work has already led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research a threat to national security. Shapiro is represented by FOIA specialist attorney Jeffrey Light.

Two Key Features of Shapiro’s Lawsuit & Broader Pro-Transparency Effort:

1) Despite longstanding public knowledge of definite (if undefined) U.S. intelligence assistance to apartheid South Africa in general, and likely involvement in Mandela’s 1962 arrest in particular, much of the U.S. and world press has paid distressingly little attention to these issues. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, these issues, including the fact that Mandela remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008, have for the most part remained ignored or discounted. In addition to beginning to fill these massive holes in public knowledge of U.S. intelligence operations, Shapiro’s FOIA efforts will bring much-needed attention to these vital topics, as well as to the U.S. intelligence community’s continued outrageous aversion to transparency.

2) The Freedom of Information Act is broken. The Department of Justice and the CIA continue to prevent the FOIA release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program, despite the Senate Committee’s call for the report’s release. And as the Associated Press reported last week, despite entering office promising to be “the most transparent administration in history,” the Obama administration cites “national security” to censor and deny FOIA releases “more than ever.” The failures of the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA to comply with Shapiro’s FOIA requests for records on Nelson Mandela are further glaring examples of this anti-transparency trend. For this reason, Shapiro is not only turning to the courts to force agency compliance with his FOIA requests, he is also turning to the American people to address the ongoing crisis of secrecy more broadly. To this end, Shapiro is urging all persons with access to unreleased records pertaining to illegal, unconstitutional, or immoral government activities to return those records to their rightful owners, the American people. As Shapiro is quoted below, “See something, leak something.”

According to Shapiro:
Regarding the Mandela lawsuit »

“Though the U.S. intelligence community is long believed to have been involved in Mandela’s arrest, little specific public information exists regarding this involvement. Similarly, though the U.S. intelligence community is long known to have routinely provided information to the South African regime regarding the anti-apartheid movement, little specific public information exists about these activities either. Further, despite now being universally hailed as a hero and freedom fighter against gross injustice, Mandela was designated a terrorist by the United States government and remained on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008.

In bringing suit against the NSA, FBI, DIA, and CIA to compel compliance with my Freedom of Information Act requests, I seek access to records that will begin answering the following questions:

What was the extent and purpose of the U.S. intelligence community’s surveillance of Nelson Mandela prior to his arrest? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in Mandela’s arrest and prosecution? What role did the U.S. intelligence community play in the broader effort to surveil and subvert the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and for what objectives, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil Mandela following his release from prison? To what extent, if any, did the U.S. intelligence community continue providing information regarding Mandela to the apartheid regime following Mandela’s release from prison? What information did the U.S. intelligence community provide American policymakers regarding Mandela and the South African anti-apartheid movement? To what extent, and to what ends, did the U.S. intelligence community surveil the anti-apartheid movement in the United States? How did the United States government come to designate Nelson Mandela a terrorist threat to this country? How did this designation remain unchanged until 2008? And what was the role of the U.S. intelligence community in this designation and the maintenance thereof?”

Regarding the crisis of secrecy more broadly »

“Democracy cannot meaningfully exist without an informed citizenry, and such a citizenry is impossible without broad public access to information about the operations of government. Secrecy is a cancer on the body of democracy. The Bush administration initiated a disastrous welter of anti-transparency initiatives, yet the Obama administration has been, if anything, worse. Despite entering office promising unprecedented openness, the Obama administration has provided just the opposite, including bringing more Espionage Act prosecutions of whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined, and invoking “national security” to deny FOIA requests “more than ever.” FOIA is broken, and this sad reality is just one component among many of the ongoing crisis of secrecy we now face.

The records of government are the property of the people. Yet, unknown billions of pages are needlessly hidden from the American people behind closed doors and “classified” markings. Undefined “national security” concerns ostensibly legitimize this secrecy. Yet, as wrote Judge Murray Gurfein in his ruling against the Nixon administration’s infamous attempt to prevent the New York Times from publishing the leaked “Pentagon Papers,” “The security of the Nation is not at the ramparts alone. Security also lies in the value of our free institutions.”

Building upon the Pentagon Papers ruling, we as a nation need to foster a broader understanding of “national security.” In the interest of preserving the national security borne not of secrecy and state surveillance, but rather of the free exchange of ideas made possible by “our free institutions,” I call upon all persons with access to unreleased records pertaining to illegal, unconstitutional, or immoral government activities to return those records to their rightful owners, the American people.

It’s not surprising those in power wish to keep their actions secret. What’s surprising is how readily we tolerate it. We are all familiar with the security-oriented signage instructing us to “See something, Say something.” In the interest of promoting a fuller conception of national security, I add, “See something, Leak something.” The viability of our democracy may depend upon it.”

To arrange an interview with Ryan Shapiro please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010. A high resolution copy of the photo of Ryan Shapiro above is available royalty-free × photo credit Stephanie Crumley.  You can follow Ryan Shapiro on twitter at @_rshapiro

The Peace Process

I know we’re not supposed to talk about this, it’s too controversial in this country to talk about Israel or Zionism, and it’s easier to pretend that it doesn’t perpetuate the longest standing current day human rights crisis in the world.  It would, I’m sure, make many of us more comfortable if human rights activists could just stop reminding us that Israel is a modern day Apartheid state with Jim Crow laws, and we wouldn’t have to face the fact that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israel lobby) is pushing for a constant pro-Israel agenda in our country on the backs of millions of brown Palestinian children.  (See The Israel Lobby, by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.)  But being a brown Muslim vegan woman, it just wouldn’t feel like my every day life if I didn’t take on the most uncomfortable and heinous injustices in the world.  I’ve lived in Palestine so I have a special duty to never forget.

 

I don’t even get hopeful, excited or even mildly interested now whenever a new “peace” process starts, because I know the game and the story.  We need only look back to see our history repeating itself to understand that these peace talks are never meant to create peace.  They are meant to keep the cycle of violence going until it can reach its ethnically cleansed conclusion.

 

So a bit of history: Zionism is the idea that Jewish people are the racially superior chosen people who deserve the exclusive right to all of historic Palestine.  Now I must be clear that not all Jewish people think this, and many including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, the Neturei Karta and countless others are outspoken critics of this racism and won’t allow it to happen in their name.  Modern day Zionism’s father Theodor Hertzl had the vision back in the late 1800’s that Jewish people needed a homeland that was ethnically and racially Jewish.  The World Zionist Organization (WZO) founded in the late 1800’s set their eyes on historic Palestine (at that time occupied by the British) as one day being exclusively a Jewish homeland free of its Palestinian inhabitants.  This vision included “from the river to the sea”, meaning from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes all of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).  This vision was made reality in 1948 when the British mandate ended, the UN along with the British betrayed the Palestinians out of a promise to their homeland and partitioned Palestine into two states (one exclusively Jewish, one Palestinian), and Zionist forces captured even more than the already unilaterally unjust UN partition plan and murdered and pillaged over 400 Palestinian villages, driving out those who were able to survive the onslaught into neighboring nations Lebanon and Jordan or to the east and west of historic Palestine (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) where many still reside in refugee camps to this day.  The current day occupation was finalized in 1967 when Israel fully seized control over the remaining Palestinian lands the West Bank and Gaza.  (For an excellent account of the history Noam Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle, chapter 4).

The Zionist vision of claiming all of historic Palestine (which includes current day West Bank and Gaza which have been touted as the future Palestinian state) still remains in effect.  Israel has never had and will never have any intention of relinquishing any of this land to Palestinians for the creation of a future state since claiming all of the land has always been the mission, hence the ongoing 60 plus year occupation.  This is also why Israel has never officially declared its national borders since their land grab is unfinished.  In order to enforce this slow land grab, Israel has in violation of the 4th Geneva Conventions heavily carved up the West Bank with illegal settlements with the intention of annexing the land.  The Israeli settlements slowly claim this settled land, deliberately located on top of the largest water aquifers in the West Bank (Ariel settlement for example), in order to take the land and the majority of the water for Israel.  It is also no coincidence that the Apartheid Wall (which has been ruled unlawful by the International Court of Justice for where it confiscates Palestinian land off of the 1949 armistice line or “green” line) snaking through the West Bank deliberately encircles the settlements on the Israeli side of the Wall, again particularly Ariel, in order to steal the water and land from the Palestinians.  The fact that a temporary freeze on these illegal settlements is somehow a bargaining chip or bonus point for Israel just demonstrates how far we have fallen in understanding what is really happening on the ground in Palestine.

 

The farce of Israel’s “peace” offers is evidenced through the numerous peace talks and Israel’s offers for a “two state solution” consisting of chopped up pieces of land.  The Israeli offers of a state would be as is, the West Bank carved up by settlements where Palestinian villages would not be connected, making up a “swiss-cheese” like state, and the Gaza Strip would be as is, this open air prison physically amputated from the West Bank.  Oh and you can forget about Jerusalem.  Any two state solution offers from the Palestinians proposing a state in the West Bank and Gaza based on pre-1967 borders without the illegal settlements cutting up the land (and supported by numerous UN resolutions) in whole are roundly rejected by Israel.  And Palestinians are always left to blame for rejecting the Israeli proposal of a “peace” offer, that also includes banning the future state of Palestine from ever having an army, being able to trade openly with their neighbors, and with Israel reserving the right to control their airspace and national borders.  In other words, still an occupation.  Not to mention these redundant peace processes constantly revolve around a dead solution.  The two state solution is not even an offer of a real contiguous, autonomous nation, and is reminiscent of the South African model of an occupying power negotiating an ethnically pure state on the lands already stolen from an indigenous population while offering the original inhabitants a separate but not so equal state on the worst parts of the land left.  These negotiations do not dare mention the one democratic, secular state solution where one’s rights are not based on one’s race or religion but rather on the fact that they are humans with inalienable rights to democracy and self determination.  One person, one vote.  If we have learned anything from U.S. and South African Apartheid history, it is that separate is never equal.  (For a detailed explanation of the one state solution, see Ali Abunimah’s book One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli- Palestinian Impasse.)

Yet Israel knows that by offering these crumbs to the Palestinian leadership, it will be rejected as any people would reject this offer, Israel will be allowed to claim that they offered “peace” while not offering to dismantle illegal settlements, stop the deliberate shooting of children, strangulation of water and access to farm land (read: access to food and the only source of employment left for Palestinians), the air strikes, the siege on Gaza, and provide medical care as is the legal requirement of an occupying body, and Israel will somehow still come out the victor.  All the peace negotiations have ever been about is placating the international community and the Palestinians while Israel continues its land grab, genocide and ethnic cleansing until one day Israel will fulfill the WZO vision of claiming all of historic Palestine free of Palestinians.  It’s simply stalling, a delay tactic, a diversion from what is really happening.  Israel and Israeli companies are also making vast sums of money with this perpetual occupation and genocide and the requisite weapons and security technology.  (See Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, chapter 20).  So it’s a win win for them.  And the cycle continues.

 

The important conclusion to take away from all of this is to understand that all the misery Israel inflicts on Palestinians is deliberate, not just out of racism but out of the intent to make life so miserable for Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and occupied Gaza Strip that the Palestinians will be driven out of the their homes and the land will be free for Israel’s taking.

I do live in hope that one day these so called peace negotiations will actually talk about peace, about Israel ending its brutal 6 decade long occupation of Palestine, 6 decade long Apartheid regime, and allow the refugees living in camps for up to 62 years to come home, as mandated by the UN and international law.  (See for example UN resolution 194).  If for no one else, I hold this hope alive for so many of the Palestinian children I met while living in the West Bank who dreamt of being able to at least travel to the neighboring village to see their families, to visit Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa, to be free of Walls and checkpoints, to not lose another friend to Israeli sniper fire.  And to simply have an innocent childhood.  That is, for those who are left alive to have that hope.


– Bina Ahmad is an attorney, human rights and animal rights social justice activist.  She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and an Ahmadi Muslim, a heavily persecuted sect in Islam.  She has worked on social justice issues her entire life, and worked with organizations such as Human Rights Watch, the New York branch of the ACLU, Al-Haq (the oldest Palestinian Human Rights NGO based in Ramallah, West Bank), and PETA.  She strives to make the connection between human and animal oppression, and hopes you will join her in the struggle
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