Events: (Note that this is not the preferable method of finding events because not all events have been assigned topics yet)
The NSA, following up on its successful pilot program of satellite-based intelligence gathering called “Canyon” (see 1968), develops a much more sophisticated satellite surveillance program called “Rhyolite.” Rhyolite, later renamed “Aquacade,” is a breakthrough in the world of signal intelligence (sigint). Most importantly, it can monitor microwave transmissions, used extensively by the Soviet Union for its most secure transmissions. Its possibilities, says one insider, are “mind-blowing.” Britain’s own security agency, GCHQ, is a full party to Rhyolite/Aquacade. Former Army sigint officer Owen Lewis recalls in 1997, “When Rhyolite came in, the take was so enormous that there was no way of handling it. Years of development and billions of dollars then went into developing systems capable of handling it.” The NSA will pass much of the information it gathers to the GCHQ for transcription and analysis. Subsequently, the NSA will deploy new and even more sophisticated surveillance systems, code-named “Chalet” and “Vortex.” In doing so, it constructs numerous listening stations on friendly foreign soil, including the Menwith Hill facility that will later become a linchpin of the satellite surveillance program known as Echelon (see February 27, 2000). The new programs will revitalize the lapsed sigint alliance between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (see July 11, 2001). [Federation of American Scientists, 7/17/1997]
The US Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board recommended in 1970 that “economic intelligence be considered a function of national security” equal to that of other intelligence. In 1977, the NSA, CIA, and Department of Commerce forms a joint “Office of Intelligence Liaison” (later renamed the “Office of Executive Support”) specifically authorized to handle “foreign intelligence” of interest to the Commerce Department, much of it provided by the NSA. The other countries using Echelon, the NSA’s satellite surveillance program, which include Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, all operate similar programs. President Bill Clinton will extend this operation in 1993. In 1993, the European company Panavia will be specifically targeted over aircraft sales to the Middle East. In 1994, US companies will be given NSA and CIA intelligence intercepts that help them win contracts in Indonesia. Other information that will be provided by US intelligence to US and allied corporations include information about the emission standards for Japanese automobiles, 1995 trade negotiations over the US importing of Japanese luxury cars, France’s participation in the GATT trade negotiations of 1993, and the 1997 Asian-Pacific Economic Conference. [Science and Technology Assessments Office, 8/15/2000]
The United Nations passes Resolution 678. The resolution gives Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw entirely from Kuwait (see July 25, 1990) and restore its national sovereignty. The US uses UN authority to build a “coalition” of nations to support its upcoming “Desert Storm” operation designed to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait (see January 16, 1991 and After). 34 countries contribute personnel: Afghanistan, Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. West Germany and Japan do not contribute forces, but they do contribute $6.6 billion and $10 billion, respectively, to the cause. While some countries join out of a sincere belief that Iraq must not be allowed to dominate the region and control Middle Eastern oil reserves (see August 7, 1990), others are more reluctant, believing that the affair is an internal matter best resolved by other Arab countries, and some fear increased US influence in Kuwait and the region. Some of these nations are persuaded by Iraq’s belligerence towards other Arab nations as well as by US offers of economic aid and/or debt forgiveness. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007] As with all such UN resolutions, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein rejects this resolution. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]
Princess Diana at a mine field in Angola in 1997. [Source: Tim Graham / Corbis]The NSA admits that US intelligence agencies possess 1,056 pages of classified information regarding Britain’s Princess Diana. British tabloids portray the documents as rife with salacious information on Diana’s “most intimate love secrets” about her relationship with Egyptian billionaire Dodi al-Fayed, but the actual documentation may not be so lurid. The NSA recently denied a Freedom of Information request from the Internet news service APB Online about information it has collected on Diana, who died in a tragic car accident in 1997. (It is unclear whether US intelligence has any unreleased information about the circumstances of Diana’s death. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] The NSA has denied monitoring Diana on the night of her death, an allegation raised by The Observer in 2006.) [MSNBC, 12/11/2006] In the two-page letter denying the request, the NSA admits to possessing a “Diana file,” but refuses to divulge what is in that file. A US intelligence official says the information is made up of conversations between other people who mentioned Diana; the references to Diana in those intercepted conversations are “incidental.” The official says Diana was never a particular target of the NSA’s Echelon surveillance program. However, the NSA has classified 124 pages of the “Diana documents” as top secret “because their disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” According to a recent report by the European Parliament, the NSA routinely monitors virtually “all e-mail, telephone and fax communications… within Europe” (see July 11, 2001). Intelligence expert Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists says “the US and our allies promiscuously collect electronic communications around the world. Whether the descriptions of Echelon are accurate or not, that much is definitely true.” Some believe that lurid snippets of information leaked to the British press regarding Diana’s affair with Fayed, and her ambivalent relationship with Prince Charles, may have come from Echelon wiretaps and surveillance. Another FAS scientist, John Pike, says the NSA and other US intelligence agencies may have been monitoring Diana to protect her from terrorist attacks. Pike says it is also possible she may have been monitored because of her involvement in banning land mines, a position opposed by the Pentagon. [APB Online, 11/30/1998; Washington Post, 12/12/1998] Former NSA official Wayne Madsen will say in 2000, “[W]hen NSA extends the big drift net out there, it’s possible that they’re picking up more than just her conversations concerning land mines. What they do with that intelligence, who knows?” [CBS News, 2/27/2000] In August 1999, the NSA will deny another Freedom of Information request about its “Diana file” from the British newspaper The Guardian. [Guardian, 8/6/1999]
The NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance system has eavesdropped on numerous public figures, human rights organizations, charities, and even the Vatican, former British intelligence officials admit (see February 27, 2000). The NSA, which shares information with Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, has eavesdropped on, among others, Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), Mark Thatcher (the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher), the Pope, Mother Teresa, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, and others. It is unclear exactly when the NSA performed its surveillance operations, and what information it collected. The officials choose to speak out after the European Parliament announces it will open an inquiry into Echelon’s operations (see July 11, 2001). Former NSA official Wayne Madsen says, “Anybody who is politically active will eventually end up on the NSA’s radar screen.” The NSA routinely monitors charities and human rights organizations operating overseas because they often have access to information about regimes opposed to Western interests. Madsen believes the NSA spied on Diana because of her human rights work; he says that “undisclosed material held in US government files on Princess Diana was collected because of her work with the international campaign to ban landmines.” Mark Thatcher was monitored in the 1980s because of his work on the huge al-Yamamah arms contract being negotiated between Britain and Saudi Arabia. The NSA also monitored conversations by officials of the Panavia consortium, which builds the Tornado fighter plane. British Aerospace is a major partner in the consortium. “I just think of Echelon as a great vacuum cleaner in the sky which sucks everything up,” says former Canadian intelligence officer Mike Frost. “We just get to look at the goodies.” Former US computer software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked during the 1980s at the Menwith Hill listening station in Yorkshire, says, “I was aware that massive security violations were taking place. If these systems were for combating drugs or terrorism, that would be fine. But not for use in spying on individuals.” Newsham recalls being shocked when she overheard conversations by then-US senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). “It was evident American constitutional laws had been broken,” she says. [London Times, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Strom Thurmond, Wayne Madsen, Panavia, Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Christian Aid, British Aerospace, Amnesty International, Echelon, European Parliament, Margaret Newsham, Margaret Thatcher, National Security Agency, Mark Thatcher, Mike Frost
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Nicky Hager. [Source: Rotorua District Council]New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager appears before a European Parliament investigative committee to testify about the US’s satellite surveillance program, Echelon (see July 11, 2001). Hager has discovered information about Echelon’s use by the New Zealand equivalent of the NSA, the Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB). In researching Echelon’s use by the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, Hager learned of the extent of the system’s “capability to monitor the whole of governments, regional and international organizations, non-government organizations, companies and individuals throughout Europe.” Although Hager warns the committee not to focus exclusively on Echelon’s use for corporate benefits, he gives several examples of such uses in the South Pacific, including monitoring “deals to do with Japan… collecting intelligence on meat sales, which is very important for New Zealand… intelligence to do with oil prices… [and] a particularly large Japanese development project in the South Pacific where there was potential for New Zealand companies to win contracts. In other words, there were both macro-level and micro-level economic intelligence being collected.” Corporate executives routinely received such information, Hager testifies, and tells about “the fantastic amount of intelligence that was arriving, for example, monitoring international trade meetings.… From my sources, they said that whenever there was a GATT meeting or another major international meeting, there were hundreds of reports of the monitoring of the different delegations which were arriving in New Zealand and being shared between [British]/USA partners, and I have absolutely no doubt about that, because I have talked to people who saw it coming from the NSA.” [European Parliament, 4/24/2001]
The US and the United Nations officially declare Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to be a terrorist organization. JI is considered to be al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and other nations support the UN declaration. The Indonesian government had previously maintained that JI did not even exist, but immediately changed its position on JI after the Bali bombings earlier in the month (see October 12, 2002). However, even though the Indonesian government supports the UN declaration, it does not actually declare JI an illegal organization within Indonesia. [New York Times, 10/24/2002; Associated Press, 10/31/2002] It will take until 2008 for an Indonesian court to officially declare JI an illegal organization (see April 21, 2008). The key breakthrough to identifying the bombers takes place on November 2, 2002. The first suspect, an alleged JI operative named Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, is arrested on November 5. [BBC, 12/3/2002] Indonesia officially declares JI the prime suspect in the bombings on November 16. [Jakarta Post, 1/3/2003]
The 2005 NPT Review Conference, held once every five years to review and extend the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968), is an unusually contentious affair, and the US is at the center of the imbroglio. After the 2000 NPT Review Conference (see Late May, 2000), the US, under George W. Bush, refused to join in calls to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT—see September 10, 1996). The US’s recalcitrance is, if anything, magnified five years later. Many representatives of the NPT signatories focus their ire upon the US, even though two signatories, Iran and North Korea, are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “violating either the spirit or the letter of the treaty” in developing their own nuclear weapons. Other nations send their foreign ministers to the conference, and in turn the US could have been expected to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (In 1995 and 2000, the US had sent, respectively, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to represent the US.) Instead, the US sends State Department functionary Stephen Rademaker. Not only is Rademaker’s lesser rank a studied insult to the conference, Rademaker himself is an ardent conservative and a protege of arms control opponent John Bolton. Rademaker enters the conference prepared to use the forum to browbeat Iran and North Korea; instead, he finds himself defending the US’s intransigence regarding the CTBT. The New Agenda Coalition, made up of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand—all allies of the US—focuses on “the troubling development that some nuclear-weapon states are researching or even planning to develop new or significantly modify existing warheads,” a Bush administration priority (see May 1, 2001 and December 13, 2001). “These actions have the potential to create the conditions for a new nuclear arms race.” Even Japan, usually a solid US ally, says that all nuclear-armed states should take “further steps toward nuclear disarmament.” Canada, the closest of US allies both in policy and geography, is more blunt, with its representative saying, “If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.” And outside the conference, former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook lambasts the US in an op-ed entitled “America’s Broken Unclear Promises Endanger Us All,” blasting the Bush administration for its belief that “obligations under the nonproliferation treaty are mandatory for other nations and voluntary for the US.” For his part, Rademaker says just before the conference, “We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world, and, by doing that, try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda.” In 2008, Scoblic will interpret Rademaker’s statement: “In other words, the administration was not going to engage in diplomacy even if it would encourage other states to see things our way—which only meant that it was quite certain they never would.” [United Nations, 5/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277-280]
Rayed Abdullah. [Source: Scoop]Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. [Associated Press, 6/9/2006; New Zealand Herald, 6/10/2006] However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” [Stories that Matter, 10/9/2006]
The Commonwealth Fund, a private organization founded to improve America’s health care system, releases a study that finds the US spends more on health care than any nation on earth, yet “consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries.” The report is based on a number of surveys conducted with patients along with information from primary care physicians. “The US spends twice what the average industrialized country spends on health care but we’re clearly not getting value for the money,” says Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. Compared with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Britain, “the US health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high-performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The US is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes. The inclusion of physician survey data also shows the US lagging in adoption of information technology and use of nurses to improve care coordination for the chronically ill.” These findings are similar to those of studies conducted in 2004 and 2006. “The most notable way the US differs from other countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage,” the study’s authors note. “Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term ‘medical home.’ It is not surprising, therefore, that the US substantially underperforms other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below-average incomes.” The study’s executive summary concludes: “For all countries, responses indicate room for improvement. Yet, the other five countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States. These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the US health care system could do much better in achieving better value for the nation’s substantial investment in health.” Britain receives the highest overall ranking in the study, followed by Germany, and then by New Zealand and Australia, which tie for third. Canada is placed fourth. [Commonwealth Fund, 5/15/2007; Agence France-Presse, 5/15/2007]
Stella Rimington (2004) [Source: Associated Press]Stella Rimington, a former director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, says the US response to 9/11 was “a huge overreaction.” She adds, “[It] was another terrorist incident. It was huge, and horrible, and seemed worse because we all watched it unfold on television.… I suppose I’d lived with terrorist events for a good part of my working life, and this was, as far as I was concerned, another one.” She says that President Bush’s successor should stop using the expression “war on terror”. “It got us off on the wrong foot, because it made people think terrorism was something you could deal with by force of arms primarily. And from that flowed Guantanamo, and extraordinary rendition, and… Iraq.” The Iraq War has motivated some jihadi terrorists to attack the West, she says. [Guardian, 10/18/2008]
UN Human Rights Council logo. [Source: China Human Rights Net]The Obama administration announces that the US will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush administration had chosen not to participate in the council, saying that it would not countenance the influence of nations who repress their populations. “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.… We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” Elections for three seats on the 47-member council will take place in May. The other countries on the ballot are Belgium and Norway. New Zealand agreed to withdraw from the ballot in favor of the US candidacy; New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained, “Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.” A human rights advocate tells the Washington Post: “This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective. I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.” Human rights activists have pressured the US to join the council since its inception in March 2006. The council took the place of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which lost credibility when it allowed nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe to join and thus thwart criticism of their treatment of their citizens. Bush officials had refused to join the new body, saying that they did not believe the new organization represented any improvement over its predecessor. Then-US ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that the US would have more “leverage in terms of the performance of the new council” by not participating in it and thus signaling a rejection of “business as usual.” Bolton says of the Obama administration’s decision: “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. This is the theology of engagement at work. There is no concrete American interest served by this, and it legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Obama officials concede that the council has failed to do its job adequately, and focused too much on abuse allegations by Israel to the exclusion of allegations against nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says: “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible.” The US intends to join the council “because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.” [Washington Post, 3/31/2009]
In his first speech to the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, President Obama says all nations bear responsibility for addressing the global problems of nuclear proliferation, war, climate change, and economic crises. “We must build new coalitions that bridge old divides,” Obama says. “All nations have rights and responsibilities—that’s the bargain that makes [the UN] work.” Obama acknowledges that high expectations accompanying his presidency are “not about me,” adding that when he took office at the beginning of the year: “Many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and mistrust. No world order which elevates one nation above others can succeed in tackling the world’s problems. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Obama devotes a considerable portion of his speech to discussing the challenges inherent in finding a peaceful solution to settlements in the Middle East. He calls for the resumption of Israel-Palestine negotiations “without preconditions,” and also uses his speech to indicate that the US has returned to the global arena as a team player.
Warm but Restrained Reception - Although warmly received, applause appears slightly restrained, perhaps an indication that expectations for the Obama presidency are becoming more realistic, given the global problems with which most nations now struggle. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opens the 64th Session’s proceedings by saying, “Now is the time to put ‘united’ back into the United Nations.”
Followed by Libyan Leader - Libya’s President Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi follows Obama and speaks for over an hour, vehemently criticizing the UN’s power structure as uneven, archaic, and unjust. From a copy of the preamble to the UN Charter, al-Qadhafi reads: “It says nations are equal whether they are small or big—are we equal in the permanent seats? No, we are not equal. Do we have the rights of the veto? All nations should have an equal footing. For those who have a permanent seat, this is political feudalism. It shouldn’t be called the Security Council; it should be called the Terror Council.” Despite reigning in Libya for over 40 years, this is al-Qadhafi’s first UN General Assembly speech. [BBC, 9/23/2009]
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