by Mr. Y

On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: “A National Strategic Narrative.” The report was issued under the pseudonym of “Mr. Y,” a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow (published under the name “X” the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union. The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.

Yet, it is investments in America’s long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?

by HANS-INGE LANGØ / April 15th, 2011

Foreign Policy‘s John Norris has picked up on an article written by two U.S. military officers that seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the press. The article, titled “A National Strategic Narrative,” is being compared to George F. Kennan’s famous article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” for laying out a new direction in U.S. foreign policy (Kennan used the pseudonym “X” for the article which was published inForeign Affairs in July 1947). The authors, U.S. Navy Captain Wayne Porter and U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark Mykleby, invite this comparison by signing it “Mr. Y” and making several references to Kennan’s important note. Whereas Kennan laid the intellectual foundation for a strategy of containtment vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, Porter and Mykleby are calling for a strategy of sustainment: “It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement. We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies.”

The authors lay out three priorities as part of this new national strategy: investing in education to build the economy; relying less on military force and utilizing other parts of the foreign policy tool box, such as development and aid, to ensure long-term security; and developing sustainable access to, cultivation and use of natural resources. These are not ideas one would normally associate with the military, but something seems to be changing at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned that the civilian side of U.S. foreign policy (e.g. the State Department and USAID) is underfunded. In a 2007 speech, he called cuts to ‘soft power’ tools during the 1990s “short-sighted,” saying it was a “gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world.” The message has not changed since then. In fact, both Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have vigorously opposed cuts to the State Department budget on repeated occasions. The Y article seems to be a continuation of this emphasis of ‘soft power’, and John Norris rightfully concludes that though the article was written in a personal capacity, “it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval.”

It is a fundamentally optimistic proposition, confident in the capability of the United States to achieve positive influence in the world and the willingness of others to cooperate, rather than compete. Both these assertions are debatable. Should the United States move away from interventionism, it could find it has more influence through soft power than blunt coercion, yet there is no guarantee for that. As others countries rise, like the United States once did, they too will seek their place in the world, testing the boundaries of cooperation and accommodation. In the next couple of decades, Asia will be ripe for conflicts as China and India assert themselves, with Japan, South Korea and a host of other countries seeking physical and economic security. That is not to say that Asia is doomed to repeat the mistakes of Europe. One could make the case that economic and cultural developments, with their accompanying interdependencies, lessen the incentives for war. While China is asserting itself through territorial claims in the South China Sea and elaborate navy exercises, Beijing is primarily concerned with keeping the economy running at a brisk pace. War is bad for business, and China’s military remains inferior to that of the United States – let alone a coalition of U.S. and other regional forces. In addition, nuclear proliferation serves as a deterrent of total war that was woefully lacking in Europe during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Yet despite these disincentives, all the major players in Asia are building up their military capabilities, and some are even making significant changes to their national security strategies in anticipation of a more threatening China. This development is taking place largely independently of U.S. actions in the region and despite security guarantees given to South Korea and Japan. The United States is even encouraging Japan to take a larger share of its own security burden, which basically means more defense spending and a more offensive posture. Perhaps this is due to fiscal concerns, as the United States can ill afford to subsidize its allies’ security forever, but it might also come from a realization that there are limits to U.S. influence in the region. The Asian powers have their own national interests irrespective of U.S. concerns. This means that even if the United States adopts a more cooperative approach to foreign policy, others might not follow.

Direct confrontation is not the only challenge facing the United States. One could even make the case that war is not even at the top of the list. Competition for natural resources and access to markets is likelier to result in lawfare, economic sanctions and other soft power confrontations than kinetic actions. To solve these issues, the United States needs a large toolbox, so Porter and Mykleby are right in this respect to focus on ‘smart power’. The danger is that a normative approach to foreign policy might crash into a real world of realpolitik and hard power. Speaking softly will only get you so far, unless you carry a big stick. Looking beyond the emphasis on ‘soft power’, there is a more fundamental message coming out of the Y article. Though a cliché it may be, one is reminded of John Winthrop and his famous sermon “City Upon A Hill” from 1630 when reading the article. The authors urge policymakers, and Americans in general, to examine the role of the United States in an increasingly interdependent world: “This Narrative advocates for America to pursue her enduring interests of prosperity and security through a strategy of sustainability that is built upon the solid foundation of our national values. As Americans we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions.”

As Jonathan Monten describes it in his excellent article “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” American exceptionalism in foreign policy has historically taken on two distinct characters: exemplarism and vindicationism. We last saw the former during the presidency of George W. Bush, when foreign policy thinking was dominated by the belief that the United States had to take active measure to promote American values of liberty abroad. Merely being an example was not enough to cause change. The latter, which is on display in the Y article, is the idea that the United States should sort out its own house first and act as a beacon of light to the world, instead of forcing its ideals on others. The practical implication of this would likely be a policy of offshore balancing, and here is the real potential of Porter and Mykleby’s proposition. This would not be isolationism – as noninterventionism is often, and mistakenly, called. It would be a policy based on the genuine belief that the United States cannot, and should not, run the world. There are limits to U.S. power, and nationbuilding schemes like the ones Iraq and Afghanistan come with huge opportunity costs both abroad and at home.

Facts and Figures: U.S. Human Rights Situation

BEIJING, April 10 (Xinhua) — China’s Information Office of the State Council, or cabinet, published a report titled “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010” here Sunday. Following is the full text:

Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010

The State Department of the United States released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 on April 8, 2011. As in previous years, the reports are full of distortions and accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the United States turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it. The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010 is prepared to urge the United States to face up to its own human rights issues.

I. On Life, Property and Personal Security

The United States reports the world’s highest incidence of violent crimes, and its people’s lives, properties and personal security are not duly protected.

Every year, one out of every five people is a victim of a crime in the United States. No other nation on earth has a rate that is higher. In 2009, an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes, 15.6 million property crimes and 133,000 personal thefts were committed against U.S. residents aged 12 or older, and the violent crime rate was 17.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice on October 13, 2010 (Criminal Victimization 2009, U.S. Department of Justice, The crime rate surged in many cities in the United States. St. Louis in Missouri reported more than 2,070 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, making it the nation’s most dangerous city (The Associated Press, November 22, 2010). Detroit residents experienced more than 15,000 violent crimes each year, which means the city has 1,600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. The United States’ four big cities – Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York – reported increases in murders in 2010 from the previous year (USA Today, December 5, 2010). Twenty-five murder cases occurred in Los Angeles County in a week from March 29 to April 4, 2010; and in the first half of 2010, 373 people were killed in murders in Los Angeles County ( As of November 11, New York City saw 464 homicide cases, up 16 percent from the 400 reported at the same time last year (The Washington Post, November 12, 2010).

The United States exercised lax control on the already rampant gun ownership. Reuters reported on November 10, 2010 that the United States ranks first in the world in terms of the number of privately-owned guns. Some 90 million people own an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which has a population of about 300 million. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on June 28, 2010 that the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms that can not be violated by state and local governments, thus extending the Americans’ rights to own a gun for self-defense purposes to the entire country (The Washington Post, June 29, 2010). Four U.S. states – Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia – allow loaded guns in bars. And 18 other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol (The New York Times, October 3, 2010). Tennessee has nearly 300,000 handgun permit holders. The Washington Times reported on June 7, 2010 that in November 2008, a total of 450,000 more people in the United States purchased firearms than had bought them in November 2007. This was a more than 10-fold increase, compared with the change in sales from November 2007 over November 2006. From November 2008 to October 2009, almost 2.5 million more people bought guns than had done so in the preceding 12 months (The Washington Times, June 7, 2010). The frequent campus shootings in colleges in the United States came to the spotlight in recent years. The United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph reported on February 21, 2011 that a new law that looks certain to pass through the legislature in Texas, the United States, would allow half a million students and teachers in its 38 public colleges to carry guns on campus. It would become only the second state, after Utah, to enforce such a rule.

The United States had high incidence of gun-related blood-shed crimes. Statistics showed there were 12,000 gun murders a year in the United States (The New York Times, September 26, 2010). Figures released by the U.S. Department of Justice on October 13, 2010 showed weapons were used in 22 percent of all violent crimes in the United States in 2009, and about 47 percent of robberies were committed with arms (, October 13, 2010). On March 30, 2010, five men killed four people and seriously injured five others in a deadly drive-by shooting (The Washington Post, April 27, 2010). In April, six separate shootings occurred overnight, leaving 16 total people shot, two fatally ( On April 3, a deadly shooting at a restaurant in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, left four people dead and two others wounded (, April 4, 2010). One person was killed and 21 others wounded in separate shootings around Chicago roughly between May 29 and 30 (, May 30, 2010). In June, 52 people were shot at a weekend in Chicago (, June 21, 2010). Three police officers were shot dead by assailants in the three months from May to July (Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2010). A total of 303 people were shot and 33 of them were killed in Chicago in the 31 days of July in 2010. Between November 5 and 8, four people were killed and at least five others injured in separate shootings in Oakland (World Journal, November 11, 2010). On November 30, a 15-year-old boy in Marinette County, Wisconsin, took his teacher and 24 classmates hostage at gunpoint (abcNews, November 30, 2010). On January 8, 2011, a deadly rampage critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed and 12 others injured in the attack (Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2011).

II. On Civil and Political Rights

In the United States, the violation of citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe.

Citizen’ s privacy has been undermined. According to figures released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in September 2010, more than 6,600 travelers had been subject to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, nearly half of them American citizens. A report on The Wall Street Journal on September 7, 2010, said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was sued over its policies that allegedly authorize the search and seizure of laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The policies were claimed to leave no limit on how long the DHS can keep a traveler’ s devices or on the scope of private information that can be searched, copied or detained. There is no provision for judicial approval or supervision. When Colombian journalist Hollman Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied on July 17, 2010, as he was ineligible under the “terrorist activities” section of the U.S.A. Patriot Act. An Arab American named Yasir Afifi, living in California, found the FBI attached an electronic GPS tracking device near the right rear wheel of his car. In August, ACLU, joined by the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly, had filed a lawsuit to expedite the release of FBI records on the investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area. The San Francisco FBI office has declined to comment on the matter “because it’ s still an ongoing investigation.” (The Washington Post, October 13, 2010). In October 2010, the Transportation Security Administration raised the security level at U.S. airports requiring passengers to go through a full-body scanner machine or pat-downs. It also claimed that passengers can not refuse the security check based on their religious beliefs. Civil rights groups contended the more intensive screening violates civil liberties including freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches (AP, November 16, 2010). The ACLU and the U.S. Travel Association have been getting thousands of complaints about airport security measures (The Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 2010).

Abuse of violence and torturing suspects to get confession is serious in the U. S. law enforcement. According to a report of Associated Press on October 14, 2010, the New York Police Department (NYPD) paid about 964 million U.S. dollars to resolve claims against its officers over the past decade. Among them was a case that an unarmed man was killed in a 50-bullet police shooting on his wedding day. The three police officers were acquitted of manslaughter and the NYDP simply settled the case with money (China Press, October 15, 2010). In a country that boasts “judicial justice,” what justice did the above-mentioned victims get? In June 2010, a federal jury found former Chicago police lieutenant Jon Burge guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice. Burge and officers under his command shocked, suffocated and burned suspects into giving confessions in the 1970s and 1980s (The Boston Globe, November 5, 2010). According to a report on Chicago Tribune on May 12, 2010, Chicago Police was charged with arresting people without warrants, shackling them to the wall or metal benches, feeding them infrequently and holding them without bathroom breaks and giving them no bedding, which were deemed consistent with tactics of “soft torture” used to extract involuntary confessions. On March 22, a distraught homeless man was shot dead in Potland, Oregon, by four shots from a police officer (China Press, April 1, 2010). An off-duty Westminster police officer was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and raping a woman on April 3 while a corrections officer was accused of being an accessory (Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2010). On April 17 in Seattle, Washington, a gang detective and patrol officer kicked a suspect and verbally assaulted him (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 10, 2010). On March 24, Chad Holley, 15, was brutally beaten by eight police officers in Houston. The teen claimed he was face down on the ground while officers punched him in the face and kneed him in the back. After a two-month-long investigation, four officers were indicted and fired (Houston Chronicle, May 4, June 23, 2010). On August 11, three people were injured by police shooting when police officers chased a stolen van in Prince George’ s County. Family members of the three injured argued why the police fired into the van when nobody on the van fired at them (The Washington Post, August 14, 2010). On September 5, 2010, a Los Angeles police officer killed a Guatemalan immigrant by two shots and triggered a large scale protest. Police clashed with protesters and arrested 22 of them (The New York Times, September 8, 2010). On November 5, 2010, a large demonstration took place in Oakland against a Los Angeles court verdict which put Johannes Mehserle, a police officer, to two years in prison as he shot and killed unarmed African American Oscar Grant two years ago. Police arrested more than 150 people in the protest (San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 2010).

The United States has always called itself “land of freedom,” but the number of inmates in the country is the world’ s largest. According to a report released by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project in 2008, one in every 100 adults in the U.S. are in jail and the figure was one in every 400 in 1970. By 2011, America will have more than 1.7 million men and women in prison, an increase of 13 percent over that of 2006. The sharp increase will lead to overcrowding prisons. California prisons now hold 164,000 inmates, double their intended capacity (The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2010). In a New Beginnings facility for the worst juvenile offenders in Washington DC, only 60 beds are for 550 youths who in 2009 were charged with the most violent crimes. Many of them would violate the laws again without proper care or be subject to violent crimes (The Washington Post, August 28, 2010). Due to poor management and conditions, unrest frequently occurred in prisons. According to a report on Chicago Tribune on July 18, 2010, more than 20 former Cook County inmates filed suit saying they were handcuffed or shackled during labor while in the custody, leaving serious physical and psychological damage. On October 19, 2010, at least 129 inmates took part in a riot at Calipatria State Prison, leaving two dead and a dozen injured (China Press, October 20, 2010). In November, AP released a video showing an inmate, being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managed to plead for help through a prison guard station window but officers looked on and no one intervened until he was knocked unconscious. The prison was dubbed “gladiator school” (China Press, December 2, 2010).

Wrongful conviction occurred quite often in the United States. In the past two decades, a total of 266 people were exonerated through DNA tests, among them 17 were on death row (Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2010). A report from The Washington Post on April 23, 2010, said Washington DC Police admitted 41 charges they raised against a 14-year-old boy, including four first-degree murders, were false and the teen never confessed to any charge. Police of Will County, Illinois, had tortured Kevin Fox to confess the killing of his three-year-old daughter and he had served eight months in prison before a DNA test exonerated him. Similar case happened in Zion, Illinois, that Jerry Hobbs were forced by the police to confess the killing of his eight-year-old daughter and had been in prison for five years before DNA tests proved his innocence. Barry Gibbs had served 19 years in prison when his conviction of killing a prostitute in 1986 was overturned in 2005 and received 9.9 million U.S. dollars from New York City government in June 2010 (The New York Times, June 4, 2010).

The U.S. regards itself as “the beacon of democracy.” However, its democracy is largely based on money. According to a report from The Washington Post on October 26, 2010, U.S. House and Senate candidates shattered fundraising records for a midterm election, taking in more than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars as of October 24. The midterm election, held in November 2010, finally cost 3.98 billion U.S. dollars, the most expensive in the U.S. history. Interest groups have actively spent on the election. As of October 6, 2010, the 80 million U.S. dollars spent by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfed the 16 million U.S. dollars for the 2006 midterms. One of the biggest spenders nationwide was the American Future Fund from Iowa, which spent 7 million U.S. dollars on behalf of Republicans in more than two dozen House and Senate races. One major player the 60 Plus Association spent 7 million dollars on election related ads. The American Federation of States, County and Municipal Employees spent 103.9 million U.S. dollars on the campaigns from October 22 to 27 (The New York Times, November 1, 2010). U.S. citizens have expressed discontent at the huge cost in the elections. A New York Times/CBS poll showed nearly 8 in 10 U.S. citizens said it was important to limit the campaign expense (The New York Times, October 22, 2010).

While advocating Internet freedom, the U.S. in fact imposes fairly strict restriction on cyberspace. On June 24, 2010, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, which will give the federal government “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under a declared national emergency. Handing government the power to control the Internet will only be the first step towards a greatly restricted Internet system, whereby individual IDs and government permission would be required to operate a website. The United States applies double standards on Internet freedom by requesting unrestricted “Internet freedom” in other countries, which becomes an important diplomatic tool for the United States to impose pressure and seek hegemony, and imposing strict restriction within its territory. An article on BBC on February 16, 2011 noted the U.S. government wants to boost Internet freedom to give voices to citizens living in societies regarded as “closed” and questions those governments’ control over information flow, although within its borders the U.S. government tries to create a legal frame to fight the challenge posed by Wikileaks. The U.S. government might be sensitive to the impact of the free flow of electronic information on its territory for which it advocates, but it wants to practice diplomacy by other means, including the Internet, particularly the social networks.

An article on the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Magazine admitted that the U.S government’s approach to the Internet remains “full of problems and contradictions” (Foreign Policy Magazine website, February 17, 2011).

III. On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The United States is the world’s richest country, but Americans’ economic, social and cultural rights protection is going from bad to worse.

Unemployment rate in the United States has been stubbornly high. From December 2007 to October 2010, a total of 7.5 million jobs were lost in the country (The New York Times, November 19, 2010). According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor on December 3, 2010, the U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent in November 2010, and the number of unemployed persons was 15 million in November, among whom, 41.9 percent were jobless for 27 weeks and more ( The jobless rate of California in January 2010 was 12.5 percent, its worst on record. Unemployment topped 20 percent in eight California counties (The Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2010). Unemployment rate of New York State was 8.3 percent in October 2010. There were nearly 800,000 people unemployed statewide, and about 527,000 people were collecting unemployment benefits from the state (The New York Times, November 19, 2010). Employment situation for the disabled was worse. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor on August 25, 2010, the average unemployment rate for disabled workers was 14.5 percent in 2009, and nearly a third of workers with disabilities worked only part-time. The jobless rate for workers with disabilities who had at least a bachelor’s degree was 8.3 percent, which was higher than the 4.5 percent rate for college-educated workers without disabilities (The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2010). The unemployment rate for those with disabilities had risen to 16.4 percent as of July 2010 (The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2010). In 2009, more than 21,000 disabled people complained to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about their experience of employment discrimination, an increase of 10 percent and 20 percent over the numbers of 2008 and 2007 (The World Journal, September 25, 2010).

Proportion of American people living in poverty has risen to a record high. The U.S. Census Bureau reported on September 16, 2010 that a total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, four million more than that of 2008. The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994 (The New York Times, September 17, 2010). In 2009, Mississippi’s poverty rate was 23.1 percent ( Florida had a total of 2.7 million people living in poverty (The Washington Post, September 19, 2010). In New York City, 18.7 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2009, as an additional 45,000 people fell below the poverty line that year (New York Daily News, September 29, 2010).

People in hunger increased sharply. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November 2010 showed that 14.7 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009 (, an increase of almost 30 percent since 2006 (The Washington Post, November 21, 2010). About 50 million Americans experienced food shortage that year. The number of households collecting emergency food aid had increased from 3.9 million in 2007 to 5.6 million in 2009 (The China Press, November 16, 2010). The number of Americans participating in the food-stamp program increased from 26 million in May 2007 to 42 million in September 2010, approximately one in eight people was using food stamps (The Associated Press, October 22, 2010). In the past four years, 31.6 percent of American families tasted poverty for at least a couple of months (The Globe and Mail, September 17, 2010).

Number of homeless Americans increased sharply. According to a report by USA Today on June 16, 2010, the number of families in homeless shelters increased 7 percent to 170,129 from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2009. Homeless families also were staying longer in shelters, from 30 days in 2008 to 36 in 2009, and about 800,000 American families were living with extended family, friends, or other people because of the economy. The number of homeless students in the U.S. increased 41 percent over that in the previous two years to one million (The Washington Post, September 23, 2010; USA Today, July 31, 2010). In New York City, 30 percent of homeless families in 2009 were first-time homeless ( The city’s homeless people increased to 3,111, with another 38,000 people living in shelters (The New York Times, March 19, 2010). New Orleans had 12,000 homeless people (News Week, August 23, 2010). An estimated 254,000 men, women and children experienced homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year. Approximately 82,000 people were homeless on any given night. African Americans made up approximately half of the Los Angeles County homeless population, 33 percent were Latino, and a high percentage, as high as 20 percent, were veterans ( American veterans served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could become homeless one year and a half after they retired, and about 130,000 retired veterans become homeless each year in the US ( Statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless showed that more than 1,000 violent offences against homeless people have occurred in the U.S. which caused 291 deaths since 1999. (The New York Times, August 18, 2010)

The number of American people without health insurance increased progressively every year. According to a report by USA Today on September 17, 2010, the number of Americans without health insurance increased from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, the ninth consecutive annual rise, which accounted for 16.7 percent of the total U.S. population. Sixty-eight adults under 65 years old died due to lack of health insurance each day on average in the US. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2010 showed that 22 percent of American adults between 16 and 64 had no health insurance (Reuters, November 10, 2010). A report issued by the Center for Health Policy Research, University of California, Los Angeles indicated that 24.3 percent of adults under 65 in California State in 2009 had no health insurance, representing a population of 8.2 million, up from the 6.4 million in 2007. Proportion of children without health insurance in the state rose from 10.2 percent in 2007 to 13.4 percent in 2009 (The China Press, March 17, 2010, citing the Los Angeles Times).

IV. On Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination, deep-seated in the United States, has permeated every aspect of social life.

An Associated Press-Univision Poll, reported by the Associated Press on May 20, 2010, found that 61 percent of people overall said Hispanics face significant discrimination, compared with 52 percent who said blacks do. The New York Times reported on October 28, 2010 that more than 6 in 10 Latinos in the United States say discrimination is a “major problem” for them, a significant increase in the last three years.

Minorities do not enjoy the same political status as white people. The New York city’s non-Hispanic white population is 35 percent, while more than 70 percent of the senior jobs are held by whites. Since winning a third term in November 2009, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced a parade of major appointments: bringing aboard three new deputy mayors and six commissioners. All nine are white. Of the 80 current city officials identified by the Bloomberg administration as “key members” on its Website, 79 percent are white. Of 321 people who advise the mayor or hold one of three top titles at agencies that report directly to him – commissioners, deputy commissioners and general counsels, and their equivalents – 78 percent are white. And of the 1,114 employees who must live in the city, under an executive order, because they wield the most influence over policies and day-to-day operations, 74 percent are white (The New York Times, June 29, 2010).

Minority groups confront discrimination in their employment and occupation. The black people are treated unfairly or excluded in promotion, welfare and employment (Chicago Tribune, March 12, 2010). It is reported that one-third of black people confronted discrimination at work, against which only one-sixteenth of the black people would lodge a complaint. The Washington Post reported on October 15, 2010 that about 30 black firefighters alleged systematic racial discrimination within the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, claiming that black employees faced harsher discipline. Shirley Sherrod, who was black, was fired by the Agricultural Department after a blogger posted her truncated comments that 24 years ago, she did not help a white farmer when she was working for a nonprofit agency established to help black farmers. The U.S. Agriculture Department in February, 2010 reached a 1.25-billion-dollar settlement in a decades-long struggle by African-American farmers who had suffered from discrimination within farm loans (The Washington Post, July 23, 2010). The New York Times reported on September 23, 2010 that by September 30, 2009, Muslim workers had filed a record 803 claims of complaints over employment discrimination, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Minority groups have high unemployment rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in July 2010, among the population 16 to 24 years of age, 2,987,000 unemployed people were white, with unemployment rate reaching 16.2 percent; 992,000 were black or African American people, with unemployment rate of 33.4 percent; 165,000 were Asians, with unemployment rate of 21.6 percent; 884,000 belonged to Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, with unemployment rate of 22.1 percent ( According to a report of the working group of experts on people of African descent to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in August 2010, unemployment was a very serious issue for the Afro-descendant community in the United States, with levels of unemployment being, proportionately, four times higher among this population than in the white community. Reference was made to a case where the New York City Fire Department was found to have discriminated against people of African descent who had applied for employment as firemen. Of the 11,000 firemen employed by the New York City Fire Department, only about 300 were of African descent, despite their being about 27 percent of the population of New York (UN document A/HRC/15/18). Nearly one-sixth of black residents in the city were unemployed in the third quarter of 2010. About 140,000 of the city’s 384,000 unemployed residents, or 36 percent, were black (The New York Times, October 28, 2010).

Poverty proportion for minorities is also high in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau announced in September, 2010 that the poverty proportion of the black was 25.8 percent in 2009, and those of Hispanic origin and Asian were 25.3 percent and 12.5 percent respectively, much higher than that of the non-Hispanic white at 9.4 percent. The median household income for the black, Hispanic origin and non-Hispanic white were 32,584, 38,039 and 54,461 U.S. dollars respectively (The USA Today, September 17, 2010). A survey released by the America Association of Retired Persons on February 23, 2010 found that over the previous 12 months, a third (33 percent) of African Americans age 45+ had problems paying rent or mortgage, 44 percent had problems paying for essential items, such as food and utilities, almost one in four (23 percent) lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, more than three in ten (31 percent) had cut back on their medications, and a quarter (26 percent) prematurely withdrew funds from their retirement nest eggs to pay for living expenses. Even in the tough employment environment, 12 percent of African Americans age 65+ returned to the workforce from retirement, while nearly 20 percent of African Americans age 45 to 64 increased the number of hours worked and 12 percent took a second job (The Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010). In 2009, there were more than 30,000 black children living in poverty in the nation’s capital, almost 7,000 more than two years before. Among black children in the city, childhood poverty shot up to 43 percent, from 36 percent in 2008. In contrast, the poverty rate for Hispanic children was 13 percent, and the rate for white children was 3 percent (The Washington Post, September 29, 2010).

The U.S. minority groups face obvious inequality in education. A latest report released by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University showed that 81 percent of white, 64 percent of Hispanic, and 62 percent of African-American students graduated from high schools in 2008 (The World Journal, December 2, 2010). As of 2008, among white men aged 55 to 64, the college completion rate was 43 percent, while 19 percent of Hispanics. Among white men aged 25 to 34, the completion rate was 39 percent, compared with 14 percent of Hispanics (The Washington Post, October 20, 2010). In New York City, the number of white adults with a master degree were three times more than Hispanics. According to a report released by the Sacramento State University, only 22 percent of Latino students and 26 percent African American students completed their two-year studies in the university, compared with 37 percent of white students (The San Jose Mercury News, October 20, 2010). A report released from New York City’ s Department of Education in January 2010 found that 6,207 or 4.7 percent-out of a total of 130,837 disciplinary incidents reported in the City’s public schools during the 2008-09 school year were bias-related with gender, race/color, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation (The China Press, January 18, 2010). The USA Today on October 14, 2010 reported that African American boys who were suspended at double and triple the rates of their white male peers. At the Christina School District in Delaware, 71 percent of black male students were suspended in a recent school year, compared to 22 percent of their white male counterparts. African-American students without disabilities were more than three times as likely to be expelled as their white peers. African-American students with disabilities were over twice as likely to be expelled or suspended as their white counterparts (USA Today, March 8, 2010).

The health care for African-American people is worrisome. Studies showed that nearly a third of ethnic minority families in the United States did not have health insurance. Life expectancy was lower and infant mortality higher than average (BBC, the social and economic position of minorities). Mortality of African American children was two to three times higher than that of their white counterparts. African American children represented 71 percent of all pediatric HIV/AIDS cases. African American women and men were 17 times and 7 times, respectively, more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than white people, and twice more likely to develop cancer.

Racial discrimination is evident in the law enforcement and judicial systems. The New York Times reported on May 13, 2010, that in 2009, African Americans and Latinos were 9 times more likely to be stopped by the police to receive stop-and-frisk searches than white people. Overall, 41 percent of the prison population was estimated to be African American. The rate of African Americans serving a life sentence was more than 10 times higher than that of whites. Males of African descent who dropped out of school had a 66 percent chance of ending up in jail or being processed by the criminal justice system (UN document A/HRC/15/18). A report said 85 percent of the people stopped in New York to receive stop-and-frisk searches over the past six years had been black or Latino (The Washington Post, November 4, 2010). According to a report of the Law School of the Michigan State University, among the 159 death row inmates in North Carolina, 86 were black, 61 were white and 12 were from other ethnic groups. During the trial process of the 159 capital cases, the number of black members taken out from the jury by prosecutors more than doubled that of non-black members. According to statistics from the Chicago Police Department, the proportion of black people being the criminals and the victims of all murder cases is the highest, reaching 76.3 and 77.6 percent respectively ( The Homicide Report of the Los Angeles Times showed 2,329 homicides in Los Angeles County from January 1, 2007 to November 14, 2010, with victims of 1,600 Latinos and 997 black people (

Racial hate crimes are frequent. The FBI said in an annual report that out of 6,604 hate crimes committed in the United States in 2009, some 4,000 were racially motivated and nearly 1,600 were driven by hatred for a particular religion. Overall, some 8,300 people fell victim to hate crimes in 2009. Blacks made up around three-quarters of victims of the racially motivated hate crimes and Jews made up the same percentage of victims of anti-religious hate crimes. Two-thirds of the 6,225 known perpetrators of all U.S. hate crimes were white (AFP, November 22, 2010).

Immigrants’ rights and interests are not guaranteed. Lawmakers in the Arizona Senate in April 2010 passed a bill to curb illegal immigration. The law requires state and local police to determine the status of people if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are illegal immigrants and to arrest people who are unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally (The Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2010). Another proposed Arizona law, supported by Republicans of the state, would deny birth certificates to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents (CNN U.S., June 15, 2010). A group of UN human rights experts on migrants, racism, minorities, indigenous people, education and cultural rights expressed serious concern over the laws enacted by the state of Arizona, saying that “a disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established”. The Arizona immigration law requires state law enforcement officers to arrest a person, without a warrant. It also makes it a crime to be in the country illegally, and specifically targets day laborers, making it a crime for an undocumented migrant to solicit work, and for any person to hire or seek to hire an undocumented migrant. The law may lead to detaining and subjecting to interrogation persons primarily on the basis of their perceived ethnic characteristics. In Arizona, persons who appear to be of Mexican, Latin American, or indigenous origin are especially at risk of being targeted under the law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on November 19, 2010 that a large group of human rights organizations prepared to hold a vigil in South Georgia in support of suspected illegal immigrants being held in a prison in Lumpkin. As of September 17, 2010, the prison was holding 1,890 inmates. Court cases for inmates at the prison were pending for 63 days on average. With regard to immigration detainees, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said, in a report to the Human Rights Council in April 2010, that he received reports of detainees being willfully and maliciously denied proper medical treatment, to which they are entitled by legislation, while they are in the custody of the national authorities. The Special Rapporteur observed during his country missions that irregular migrant workers are often homeless or living in crowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions (UN document A/HRC/14/30).

V. On the rights of women and children

The situation regarding the rights of women and children in the United States is bothering.

Gender discrimination against women widely exists in the United States. According to a report released on August 11, 2010 by the Daily Mail, 90 percent of women have suffered some form of sexual discrimination in the workplace. Just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. A report by the American Association of University Women released on March 22, 2010 showed that women earned only 21 percent of doctorate degrees in computer science, around one-third of the doctorates in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, chemistry, and math. Women doing the same work as men often get less payment in the United States. According to a report on September 17, 2010 by the Washington Post, in nearly 50 years, the wage gap has narrowed by only 18 cents. The census report released on September 16, 2010 showed that working women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The New York Times reported on April 26, 2010 that Wal-Mart was accused of systematically paying women less than men, giving them smaller raises and offering women fewer opportunities for promotion in the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history. The plaintiffs stressed that while 65 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees were women, only 33 percent of the company’s managers were (The New York Times, April 26, 2010).

Women in the United States often experience sexual assault and violence. Statistics released in October 2010 by the National Institute of Justice show that some 20 million women are rape victims in the country ( About 60,000 female prisoners fall victims to sexual assault or violence every year. Some one fifth female students on campus are victims of sexual assault, and 60 percent of campus rape cases occurred in female students’ dorms (World Journal, August 26, 2010).

According to the Human Rights Watch report released in August last year, 50 detainees in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers have been alleged victims of sexual assault since 2003. Most of these victims were women, and some of the alleged assailants, including prison guards, were not prosecuted. In one case, a guard in a Texas detention center pretended to be a doctor and sexually assaulted five women in the center’s infirmary (World Journal, August 26, 2010). According to figures from Pentagon, cited by the Time magazine on March 8, 2010, nearly 3,000 female soldiers were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9 percent from the year before. Close to one third of the retired female soldiers said they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving.

Women are also victims of domestic violence. In the United States, some 1.3 million people fall victim to domestic violence every year, and women account for 92 percent. One in four women is a victim of domestic violence at some point during her life, and the violence kills three women each day in the United States by a current or former intimate partner (CNN, October 21, 2010). In 2008, police in the New York City received reports of more than 230,000 domestic violence cases, which equals to 600 cases per day (China Press, April 3, 2010). In all homicide cases in 2009, of the female murder victims for whom their relationships to the offenders were known, 34.6 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends ( In the Santa Clara County in California, police receive more than 4,500 domestic violence related calls every year, and more than 700 women and children live in shelters to avoid domestic violence (World Journal, October 15, 2010; China Press, October 9, 2010).

Women’s health rights are not properly protected in the United States. According to the Amnesty International, more than two women die every day in the United States from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women in the past 20 years. Native American and Alaska Native women are 3.6 times, African-American women 2.6 times and Latina women 2.5 times more likely than white women to receive no or late pre-natal care (UN document A/HRC/14/NGO/13).

Children in the U.S. live in poverty. The Washington Post reported on November 21, 2010, that nearly one in four children struggles with hunger, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 60 percent of public school teachers identify hunger as a problem in the classroom. Roughly the same percentage go into their own pockets to buy food for their hungry students (The Washington Post, November 21, 2010). According to figures released on Sept. 16, 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 to 20.7 percent in 2009, up 1.7 percentage points from that in 2008 ( Poverty among black children in the Washington D.C. is as high as 43 percent (The Washington Post, September 29, 2010), and some 2.7 million children in California live in impoverished families. The number of poor children in six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area has increased by 15 to 16 percent. Statistics show that at least 17 million children in the United States lived in food insecure households in 2009 (World Journal, May 8, 2010).

Violence against children is very severe. Figures from the official website of Love Our Children USA show that every year over 3 million children are victims of violence reportedly and the actual number is 3 times greater. Almost 1.8 million are abducted and nearly 600,000 children live in foster care. Every day one out of seven kids and teens are approached online by predators, and one out of four kids are bullied and 43 percent of teens and 97 percent of middle schoolers are cyberbullied. Nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school. As many as 160,000 students stay home on any given day because they’ re afraid of being bullied ( According to a report released on October 20, 2010 by the Washington Post, 17 percent of American students report being bullied two to three times a month or more within a school semester. Bullying is most prevalent in third grade, when almost 25 percent of students reported being bullied two, three or more times a month. According to a UN report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, 20 states and hundreds of school districts in the United States still permit schools to administer corporal punishment in some form, and students with mental or physical disabilities are more likely to suffer physical punishment (UN document A/HRC/14/25/ADD.1).

Children’ s physical and mental health is not ensured. More than 93,000 children are currently incarcerated in the United States, and between 75 and 93 percent of children have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse and neglect (The Washington Post, July 9, 2010). According to a report made by the Child Fatality Review Team from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, between 2001 and 2008, injury-related deaths among children aged one to 12 years old in the United States was 8.9 deaths per 100,000. The figure for those in the New York City was 4.2 deaths per 100,000 (China Press, July 3, 2010). Thirteen children and young adults have died at a Chicago care facility for children with severe disabilities since 2000 due to failure to take basic steps to care for them (Chicago Tribune, October 10, 2010). According to a study published on October 14, 2010 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about half of American teens aged between 13 and 19 met the criteria for a mental disorder. Fifty-one percent of boys and 49 percent of girls aged 13 to 19 had a mood, behavior, anxiety or substance use disorder, and the disorder in 22.2 percent of teens was so severe it impaired their daily activities (World Journal, October 15, 2010). Pornographic content is rampant on the Internet and severely harms American children. Statistics show that seven in 10 children have accidentally accessed pornography on the Internet and one in three has done so intentionally. And the average age of exposure is 11 years old – some start at eight years old (The Washington Times, June 16, 2010). According to a survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of American teens have sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves. (, March 23, 2010). At least 500 profit-oriented nude chat websites were set up by teens in the United States, involving tens of thousands of pornographic pictures.

VI. On U.S. Violations of Human Rights against Other Nations

The United States has a notorious record of international human rights violations.

The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused huge civilian casualties. A trove, released by the WikiLeaks website on October 22, 2010, reported up to 285,000 war casualties in Iraq from March 2003 through the end of 2009. The documents revealed that at least 109,000 people were killed in the Iraq war, and 63 percent of them were civilians (World Journal, October 23, 2010). In an attack in Baghdad in July 2007, an American helicopter shot and killed 12 people, among whom were a Reuters photographer and his driver (The New York Times, April 5, 2010). On February 20, 2011, a U.S. military operation in northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, causing the most serious civilian casualties in months (The Washington Post, February 20, 2011). According to a report in the Washington Post on October 15, 2010, Iraq’ s Human Rights Ministry reported in 2009 that 85,694 Iraqis were killed from January 2004 to October 31, 2008. Iraq Body Count, an organization based in Britain, said that a total of 122,000 civilians had been killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq (Newsday, October 24, 2010).

The U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and other regions have also brought tremendous casualties to local people. According to a report by McClatchy Newspapers on March 2, 2010, the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops had caused 535 Afghan civilian deaths and injuries in 2009. Among them 113 civilians were shot and killed, an increase of 43 percent over 2008. Since June 2009, air strikes by the U.S. military had killed at least 35 Afghan civilians. On January 8, 2010, an American missile strike in the northwestern region of Pakistan killed four people and injured three others (The San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2010). During an American Special Operation in Afghanistan on February 12, five innocent civilians were shot to death, and two of them were pregnant mothers (The New York Times, April 5, 2010, page A4). On April 12, American troops raked a passenger bus near Kandahar, killing five civilians and wounding 18 others (The New York Times, April 13, 2010). The Washington Post reported on September 18, 2010, that from January 2010, a “kill team” formed by five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had committed at least three murders, where they randomly targeted and killed Afghan civilians, and dismembered the corpses and hoarded the human bones (The Washington Post, September 18, 2010).

The U.S. counter-terrorism missions have been haunted by prisoner abuse scandals. The United States held individuals captured during its “war on terror” indefinitely without charge or trial, according to a joint study report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2010 by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The report said the United States established detention centers in Guantanamo Bay and many other places in the world, keeping detainees secretly. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established secret detention facilities to interrogate so-called “high-value detainees”. The study said the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen G. Bradbury had stated that the CIA had taken custody of 94 detainees, and had employed “enhanced techniques” to varying degrees, including stress positions, extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding,” in the interrogation of 28 of those detainees (UN document A/HRC/13/42). The United States makes arrests outside its border under the pretext of the “war on terror.” According to a report of the Associated Press on December 9, 2010, documents released by the WikiLeaks website indicated that in 2003, some U.S. agents were involved in an abduction of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist. The U.S. agents abducted him in Macedonia, and secretly detained him in a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for five months. However, a top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin warned the German government not to issue international arrest warrants against the involved CIA agents.

The United States has seriously violated the right of subsistence and right of development of Cuban residents. On October 26, 2010, the 65th session of the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” the 19th such resolution in a row. Only two countries, including the United States, voted against the resolution. The blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba qualifies as an act of genocide under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted in 1948.

The United States refuses to join several key international human rights conventions, failing to fulfill its international obligations. To date, the United States has ratified neither the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nor the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Up to now 96 countries have ratified the Convention. The United States, however, has not ratified it. So far, a total of 193 countries have joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child as states parties, but the United States is among the very few countries that have not ratified it.

On August 20, 2010, the U.S. government submitted its first report on domestic human rights situation to the UN Human Rights Council. During the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the record on November 5, the United States received a record 228 recommendations by about 60 country delegations for improving its human rights situation. These recommendations referred to, inter alia, ratifying key international human rights conventions, rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, racial discriminations and Guantanamo prison. The United States, however, only accepted some 40 of them. On March 18, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of the UPR on the United States, and many countries condemned the United States for rejecting most of the recommendations. In the discussion on the United States, speakers from some country delegations expressed their regret and disappointment over the United States’ refusal of a large number of the recommendations. They noted that the United States’ commitment to the human rights area was far from satisfying, and they urged the United States to face up to its own human rights record and take concrete actions to tackle the existing human rights problems.

The above-mentioned facts illustrate that the United States has a dismal record on its own human rights and could not be justified to pose as the world’s “human rights justice.” However, it released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse and blame other countries for their human rights practices. The United States ignores its own serious human rights problems, but has been keen on advocating the so-called “human rights diplomacy,” to take human rights as a political instrument to defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests. These facts fully expose its hypocrisy by exercising double standards on human rights and its malicious design to pursue hegemony under the pretext of human rights.

We hereby advise the U.S. government to take concrete actions to improve its own human rights conditions, check and rectify its acts in the human rights field, and stop the hegemonistic deeds of using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.





“The whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are unknown. Human Rights organizations claim that he and his family continue to be political prisoners, and has termed him the “youngest political prisoner in the world”.[9][10] According to Chinese government claims, he is attending school and leading a normal life somewhere in China.[11] This cannot be verified by outside sources as no credible evidence has been provided to confirm or deny these claims.[11] The reason this evidence has been withheld, according to statements by Chinese authorities, is that his whereabouts are kept undisclosed to protect him[12]. Those who support Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama call upon China’s ruling party to prove that he is safe and happy.[13] As the promises of a regime well-known for widespread use of censorship[14] and propaganda[15] are rejected by vocal organizations such as the UNPO and Tibetan government in Exile, his supporters fear that he has been imprisoned or executed.[13]

The Committee of the Rights of the Child of the United Nations reviewed the Gedhun case on May 28, 1996. During hearings on the matter, Chinese authorities claimed for the first time to have “taken the child for his security”[16]. The Committee requested a visit with Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, supported by a campaign of more than 400 celebrities and associations petitioning for the visit, including eleven Nobel Prize winners.[17] These Nobel laureates included Günter Blobel, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Christian de Duve, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, Roger Guillemin, Dudley Robert Herschbach, François Jacob, Eric R. Kandel, Jean-Marie Lehn, Norman Foster Ramsey and David Trimble.

In May 2007, Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the UN Human Rights Council, asked the Chinese authorities what measures they had taken to implement the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, that the government should allow an independent expert to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima while respecting his right to privacy, and that of his parents. In a response dated 17 July 2007, the Chinese authorities said: “Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is a perfectly ordinary Tibetan boy, in an excellent state of health, leading a normal, happy life and receiving a good education and cultural upbringing. He is currently in upper secondary school, he measures 1 m 65 cm in height and is easy-going by nature. He studies hard and his school results are very good. He likes Chinese traditional culture and has recently taken up calligraphy. His parents are both State employees, and his brothers and sisters are either already working or at university. The allegation that he disappeared together with his parents and that his whereabouts remain unknown is simply not true.” This response did not answer the question about a visit or confirmation.[18]”

“The Panchen Lama is the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa (Dge-lugs-pa) sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the sect which controlled Tibet from the 16th century until the Seventeen Point Agreement). The successive Panchen lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha. The name, meaning “great scholar”, is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great). The true present (11th) incarnation of the Panchen Lama is being held prisoner by the Chinese government in 1995 and as of 2008 has not been seen in public.”

Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Beijing’s propaganda tool / 3.28.09

Beijing (AFP) — China’s controversial choice as the second highest Tibetan spiritual figure is increasingly being used by Beijing as a tool in its propaganda offensive against the exiled Dalai Lama, say experts. Rarely seen in public previously, but believed to have been educated in the Chinese capital, the 19-year-old Panchen Lama Friday expressed loyalty to Beijing, in stark contrast to the views of the Tibetan spiritual leader. “For a long time the Dalai’s separatist clique has ignore the success of Tibet’s development, plotted and planned to ruin Tibet’s social stability and wantonly attacked the policies of the central government,” he said, referring to the Dalai Lama’s exiled Tibetan administration.

The comments made in an interview with China Central Television came as he attended a symposium marking the 50th anniversary of what is officially called “the end of serfdom in Tibet” held at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. “Old Tibet was a theocratic feudal serf society, the ruling class, nobility and clergy rode on the backs of the people and exploited and persecuted them,” he said in the interview. On Saturday, China will, for the first time, celebrate the end of Tibetan “feudalism,” a day that coincides with the quelling of an anti-Chinese uprising in the Himalayan region 50 years ago.

The Panchen Lama is also scheduled to appear at the opening of the Second World Buddhist Forum in eastern China’s Wuxi city on Saturday, according to state press reports. During the last forum two years ago, the young monk with an almond-shaped face and small round glasses made his first public appearance, more than 10 years after his controversial enthronement.

Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama, exiled from his homeland for 50 years, accused China of having transformed Tibet into “a hell on earth” and of killing hundreds of thousands of Tibetans during its rule. But in an essay that appeared in the communist mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday, the Panchen Lama expressed full loyalty to the atheist ruling party. “Facts show that it is only under the leadership of the Communist Party of China that Tibet can enjoy its current prosperity and an even better future,” he wrote.

Born Gyaincain Norbu, the controversial figure was enthroned as the 11th Panchen Lama in a 1995 ceremony overseen by the Communist Party, which had rejected a boy selected by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama’s choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, immediately disappeared from public view and is believed to have been under a form of house arrest ever since.

The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989 after a tumultuous relationship with China’s communist leaders that alternated between prison and relative freedom. But even if the new Panchen Lama becomes more high-profile in China, that does not mean he is accepted as a spiritual leader by Tibetans, according to Tibetan scholars outside of China.

In Tibetan temples, it is rare to see images or photographs of him, while those of his predecessor are common. “He is a piece of propaganda. He is being used by the Beijing government,” said Samten G. Karmay, the Paris-based former head of the Association of International Tibetan Studies. “The Tibetan population does not recognise him, especially as he is saying the things that fall in with the Communist Party line.”

Although both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama belong to the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, differences between them have existed historically and the communists are not the first to try to take advantage of this, Karmay said. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty tried to play on the antagonism by attempting to make the Panchen Lama an ally.

Beijing’s manipulation of the selection of the Panchen Lama in 1995 could be a sign of what will happen after the death of the current Dalai Lama. “The Chinese government will try to name someone, but China will have a problem with legitimacy,” said Tsering Shakya, a leading Tibetan historian at the University of British Columbia. “It is certain that 100 percent of Tibetans will not recognise a child chosen by China as the Dalai Lama. But that won’t matter to Beijing. For the Chinese it is only a question of showing their power.”

China Regulates Buddhist Reincarnation
BY Matthew Philips  /  Aug. 27, 2007

In one of history’s more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” But beyond the irony lies China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it’s under Chinese control. Assuming he’s able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks. “It will be a very hot issue,” says Paul Harrison, a Buddhism scholar at Stanford. “The Dalai Lama has been the prime symbol of unity and national identity in Tibet, and so it’s quite likely the battle for his incarnation will be a lot more important than the others.”

So where in the world will the next Dalai Lama be born? Harrison and other Buddhism scholars agree that it will likely be from within the 130,000 Tibetan exiles spread throughout India, Europe and North America. With an estimated 8,000 Tibetans living in the United States, could the next Dalai Lama be American-born? “You’ll have to ask him,” says Harrison. If so, he’ll likely be welcomed into a culture that has increasingly embraced reincarnation over the years. According to a 2005 Gallup poll, 20 percent of all U.S. adults believe in reincarnation. Recent surveys by the Barna Group, a Christian research nonprofit, have found that a quarter of U.S. Christians, including 10 percent of all born-again Christians, embrace it as their favored end-of-life view. A non-Tibetan Dalai Lama, experts say, is probably out of the question.

China tells living Buddhas to obtain permission before they reincarnate
BY Jane Macartney  /  August 4, 2007

Tibet’s living Buddhas have been banned from reincarnation without permission from China’s atheist leaders. The ban is included in new rules intended to assert Beijing’s authority over Tibet’s restive and deeply Buddhist people. “The so-called reincarnated living Buddha without government approval is illegal and invalid,” according to the order, which comes into effect on September 1.

The 14-part regulation issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs is aimed at limiting the influence of Tibet’s exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, and at preventing the re-incarnation of the 72-year-old monk without approval from Beijing. It is the latest in a series of measures by the Communist authorities to tighten their grip over Tibet. Reincarnate lamas, known as tulkus, often lead religious communities and oversee the training of monks, giving them enormous influence over religious life in the Himalayan region. Anyone outside China is banned from taking part in the process of seeking and recognising a living Buddha, effectively excluding the Dalai Lama, who traditionally can play an important role in giving recognition to candidate reincarnates.

For the first time China has given the Government the power to ensure that no new living Buddha can be identified, sounding a possible death knell to a mystical system that dates back at least as far as the 12th century. China already insists that only the Government can approve the appointments of Tibet’s two most important monks, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. The Dalai Lama’s announcement in May 1995 that a search inside Tibet – and with the co- operation of a prominent abbot – had identified the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who died in 1989, enraged Beijing. That prompted the Communist authorities to restart the search and to send a senior Politburo member to Lhasa to oversee the final choice. This resulted in top Communist officials presiding over a ceremony at the main Jokhang temple in Lhasa in which names of three boys inscribed on ivory sticks were placed inside a golden urn and a lot was then drawn to find the true reincarnation.

The boy chosen by the Dalai Lama has disappeared. The abbot who worked with the Dalai Lama was jailed and has since vanished. Several sets of rules on seeking out “soul boys” were promulgated in 1995, but were effectively in abeyance and hundreds of living Buddhas are now believed to live inside and outside China.

All Tibetans believe in reincarnation, but only the holiest or most outstanding individuals are believed to be recognisable – a tulku, or apparent body. One Tibetan monk told The Times: “In the past there was no such regulation. The management of living Buddhas is becoming more strict.” The search for a reincarnation is a mystical process involving clues left by the deceased and visions among leading monks on where to look. The current Dalai Lama, the fourteenth of the line, was identified in 1937 when monks came to his village. China has long insisted that it must have the final say over the appointment of the most senior lamas. Tibet experts said that the new regulations may also be aimed at limiting the influence of new lamas.


Tibet’s missing spiritual guide / 16 May 2005

A decade ago, a six-year-old boy was named by the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was nominated as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama – the second-most important figure in Tibetan religion, culture and politics after the Dalai Lama himself. But China disagreed with the choice and arrested the boy a few days later. Mystery surrounds his fate and outside China he is known as one of the world’s youngest political prisoners. China installed their own boy, Gyaincain Norbu, as the true 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

‘Protective custody’
Campaigners say the child chosen by the Dalai Lama is held under house arrest somewhere in China, but details remain unknown. Tibet’s exiled leaders refuse to accept China’s choice and call for Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to be released. Historian Tsering Shakya of Oxford University said: “He virtually disappeared and the Chinese government took him under what they call protective custody.” Most Tibetans, experts say, wholeheartedly rejected the Chinese-chosen Panchen Lama. Arjia Rinpoche, the abbot of Tibet’s important Kumbum monastery now living in exile in the US, said the Dalai Lama’s choice held sway with Tibetans. “The Communist government still wants to promote their version of the Panchen Lama but 90% of the Tibetan people, they don’t believe,” he said.

Dalai Lama rival steps into spotlight
By Michael Bristow / 2009/03/31

China has pushed a young bespectacled monk into the spotlight in an effort to show that it governs Tibet with a benign hand. Officials have launched a vigorous propaganda battle over recent weeks, to demonstrate that Tibetans are thriving under Beijing’s direction.

And the man China selected as its Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, has been at the forefront of that campaign. Although he is only 19, the Panchen Lama has already stepped onto the public stage to praise the Chinese Communist Party.

Tibet expert Professor Robert Barnett, of New York’s Columbia University, says this is part of China’s efforts to undermine the appeal of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. “He will never really replace the Dalai Lama, but his role confuses the picture and can gradually be used to weaken the Dalai Lama’s standing,” he said. “I think [China’s] Panchen Lama is being built up very gradually as a public spokesman within the Tibetan Buddhist world.”

Lavish praise
The Dalai Lama’s choice of Panchen Lama – a young boy called Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – was rejected by China, and disappeared soon afterwards. China’s choice, Gyaincain Norbu, has been largely kept from public view since his appointment at the age of five. But now officials are keen for the world to hear about a young man they depict as a diligent student who loves horse riding and jogging. Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on Tuesday that China hoped he would help maintain the country’s “territorial integrity”.

The Panchen Lama has made three high-profile forays into the spotlight over the last few weeks to coincide with Serfs’ Emancipation Day last Saturday. This is a new holiday introduced by China to mark the day on which the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet was officially dissolved – a day China celebrates as the start of the liberation of ordinary Tibetans.

The Panchen Lama first visited an exhibition in Beijing showing the economic and social progress China says has taken place in Tibet over the last 50 years. He also penned an article that appeared in the state-controlled People’s Daily, one of China’s most important news outlets. In the article he lavished praise on the Communist Party, which he said had brought prosperity to Tibet. “[We should] uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and contribute more to national unity and the happiness of Tibetan people,” he wrote.

And just a few days ago the monk gave a speech at the Second World Buddhist Forum in China’s Jiangsu Province. Although the forum was about religion, the Panchen Lama’s speech – delivered in English – had an overtly political message. “This forum is convened in my country – China,” he said, suggesting that he does not support Tibetan independence. “This event fully demonstrates that today’s China enjoys social harmony, stability and religious freedom,” he went on. It was a rebuke to Tibetan exiles, including the Dalai Lama, who insist that China’s rule in Tibet over the last 50 years has been repressive.

Great hopes
China has made great play of its Panchen Lama’s public appearances. State-controlled Xinhua news agency published a report on the forum speech under the headline: “Panchen Lama says China enjoys religious freedom.” There was also a hint in the report of just how much China hopes this monk will be able to act as its public face on Tibetan issues. “We disciples of Tibetan Buddhism pin great hopes on him,” Xinhua quoted Jalsan, president of the Buddhist Association of Inner Mongolia, as saying. Previously, little was known about China’s Panchen Lama and how he lived his life, which has been spent largely in Beijing.

But on Tuesday Xinhua published an in-depth interview with him, revealing a host of personal details. The man Xinhua described as “elegant” said he spent most of his time studying Buddhism. But there is time for relaxation. “About 5% of my time [is] spent on entertainment, such as reading newspapers, books and sports,” he told Xinhua. “I read all kinds of books, but I like historical books most. I also read some fiction and essays in Tibetan and Chinese.”

But there was no mention in the article of the other Panchen Lama, chosen by the Dalai Lama in 1995. Two years ago, an official from the Tibetan Autonomous Region told the BBC that this Panchen Lama was living a quiet life in Lhasa, although many Tibetans say he is a political prisoner.

China says vanished Panchen Lama ‘happy’ / 12 November, 2002

A boy recognised by the Dalai Lama as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and then placed under house arrest by China is “very happy”, a Chinese Government official has said. The 13-year-old boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has been named the world’s youngest political prisoner by human rights groups. The boy has been detained since 1995, after the Dalai Lama confirmed him as the next reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second highest ranking religious official. China has named another boy in his place, and this boy – Gyancain Norbu – was pictured by state media attending the on-going Communist Party Congress in Beijing.

The exact whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima are secret. “He is 1.6 meters (5 ft 3 in) tall and weighs 65 kilos (144 pounds),” said Raidi, head of Tibet’s parliament.

Important role
The Beijing-appointed head of Tibet’s parliament said the boy was living with his family in Tibet. “He is living a very happy life,” said Raidi, who uses only one name. “He studies well at school. His parents and entire family are happy.” Raidi said the Dalai Lama’s choice was “totally null and void” and “without authorisation and arbitrary”. Tibet’s exiled leaders refuse to accept the legitimacy of China’s choice and have called for the release of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. Correspondents say one reason why the Panchen Lama is so crucial in Tibetan religion – and in Chinese-Tibetan relations – is the fact that he is charged with selecting the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 and now lives in exile in Dharmsala, India.



ASK HH,00000001358,0,0,1,0
There may not be another Dalai Lama
BY Vir Sanghvi  /  June 20, 2005

New Delhi, India — Will there ever be another Dalai Lama? Traditionally, the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan people passes from one Dalai Lama to his reincarnation. But the current Dalai Lama has raised questions about whether the institution should continue. He may, he says, be the last Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama
In 2001, the Dalai Lama declared that if the Tibetan people had an elected political leadership, then the institution of the Dalai Lama would no longer be relevant. He would be happy, he said, to live in semi-retirement, and let the institution die with him.

Now, that position has been refined slightly. “If I was to die in the next few months or before we were able to return to Tibet,” the Dalai Lama told the Hindustan Times, “there will be a new Dalai Lama. But,” he added, “if we cease to be a refugee community and can live in democratic Tibet, then I don’t think there should be a successor to me after I die.”

In the event of the Dalai Lama passing on before Beijing yields on Tibetan autonomy, the new Dalai Lama will be chosen by searching for the reincarnation of the current incumbent. But the Dalai Lama admits to having doubts about the traditional approach to searching for a reincarnation of a dead Lama. He concedes that some ‘reincarnations’ have “not been true,” and says that even in his own case, he is not the reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama.

He thinks that he is a reincarnation of some spiritual leader, perhaps the fifth Dalai Lama, because when he was younger, he had vivid dreams about his past life. “Moreover,” he says, “even though I was a very lazy boy, I always knew as much as my tutors on such subjects as Buddhist philosophy. That can only be explained if I had a past life memory.”

He concedes also that his predecessor as Dalai Lama had left detailed instructions about where to find his reincarnation, a search that led to the discovery of the current Dalai Lama.  But, he argues, this doesn’t mean that he is a reincarnation of the last Dalai Lama. “Perhaps my predecessor hired me to do the job,” he laughs. In his view, Dalai Lamas are not always reincarnated in sequence so it is not necessary that the next Dalai Lama will be his own reincarnation.

But does he know where the next Dalai Lama will be born, just as his predecessor knew about him? No, he says, he has no idea. But when the time comes for him to die and if he is still in Dharamsala, then he will know.

H.H. the Dalai Lama Says A Free, Democratic Tibet Wouldn’t Need A God-King

NEW DELHI – The supreme religious post of the Dalai Lama should be abolished if Tibet became autonomous and democratic, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said in an interview published here. “If I were to die in the next few months or before we were able to return to Tibet, there will be a new Dalai Lama,” the 69-year-old spiritual leader was quoted as telling the Hindustan Times newspaper on Tuesday. “But if we cease to be a refugee community and live in democratic Tibet, then I don’t think there should be a successor to me after I die,” he reportedly said.

His comments came as thousands of Tibetans prepare to celebrate his 70th birthday next month in north India, where the spiritual leader based himself after fleeing his homeland in 1959 when China crushed a Tibetan uprising. The office of the Dalai Lama was founded in the 15th century, and two centuries later the fifth holder of the post departed from his purely religious role to unite Tibet politically, assuming temporal as well as spiritual powers.

A successor to the Dalai Lama is chosen by searching for the reincarnation of the incumbent, but the spiritual leader in the interview questioned the age-old ritual, arguing the complex search for successors was flawed.

Born Lhamo Dhondrub on July 6, 1935 the Dalai Lama was discovered as the 14th incarnation of Tibetan Buddhism’s supreme religious leader as a toddler and enthroned at the age of four on February 22, 1940, in Lhasa. “Some reincarnations have not been true,” the Dalai Lama told the English-language daily, but he added that he was certain he was the incarnate of the fifth incumbent who held the post for 67 years after being named the Dalai Lama in 1617.

He said he had had vivid dreams of a past life as a boy. “Moreover, even though I was a very lazy boy, I always knew as much as my tutors on such subjects as Buddhist philosophy,” he said. “That can only be explained if I had a past life memory,” he said, arguing that he was not the reincarnation of his immediate predecessor.

The Dalai Lama, awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his dedication to Tibet’s non-violent liberation, has given up his original demands for his homeland’s independence and instead talks of a “meaningful autonomy” to preserve Tibet’s culture, language and environment.

During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to New Delhi in April, India recognised Tibet as part of China and pledged not to allow its territory to be used for anti-China political activities. In return Beijing accepted Sikkim, a tiny Himalayan sliver reaching into Tibet, as Indian territory.

The Dalai Lama said he had no major disagreement with India over its decision, saying his concerns were more about Tibetan autonomy than Chinese sovereignty. In the wide-ranging interview, the Dalai Lama accused China of wiping out all traces of Tibetan culture and flooding the region with immigrants, saying that in most cities now “Tibetans have been reduced to a minority”.

He conceded, however, that China had made remarkable economic progress — “almost a miracle” — and that Tibet could gain from the country’s growing prosperity if it were granted full autonomy and democracy. “Today, when the whole world is coming together, I am not saying that we want to separate,” he said. “We only want to preserve our culture and live in a democratic society. By opposing us, it is the Chinese who are being splittist.”

India has played host to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile since the spiritual leader fled Tibet disguised as a soldier in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. There now are more than 200,000 Tibetan refugees living in India by official count.


“The Qianlong Emperor was a successful military leader, presiding over a huge consolidation in the territory controlled by the Qing dynasty. The Qing also dominated Outer Mongolia after inflicting a final defeat on the Western Mongols. Throughout this period there were continued Mongol interventions in Tibet and a reciprocal spread of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. Qianlong again sent armies into Tibet and firmly established the Dalai Lama as ruler, with a Qing resident and garrison to preserve Chinese suzerainty. Further afield, military campaigns against the Burmese, Nepalese, and Gurkhas forced these peoples to submit and send tribute.”

“The death of the fifth Dalai Lama was kept hidden for 15 years, by his prime minister and possible son Desi Sangay Gyatso in order that the Potala Palace could be finished and Tibet’s neighbors not take advantage of an interregnum in the succession of the Dalai Lamas. Desi Sangay Gyatso also served as regent until the assumption of power by the Sixth Dalai Lama.”

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
BY Michael Parenti  /  July 7, 2003

Throughout the ages there has prevailed a distressing symbiosis between religion and violence. The histories of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam are heavily laced with internecine vendettas, inquisitions, and wars. Again and again, religionists have claimed a divine mandate to terrorize and massacre heretics, infidels, and other sinners.

Some people have argued that Buddhism is different, that it stands in marked contrast to the chronic violence of other religions. But a glance at history reveals that Buddhist organizations throughout the centuries have not been free of the violent pursuits so characteristic of other religious groups. (1) In the twentieth century alone, from Thailand to Burma to Korea to Japan, Buddhists have clashed with each other and with nonBuddhists. In Sri Lanka, huge battles in the name of Buddhism are part of Sinhalese history. (2)

Just a few years ago in South Korea, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order—reputedly devoted to a meditative search for spiritual enlightenment—fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its additional millions of dollars in property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various duties. The brawls left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. (3)

But many present-day Buddhists in the United States would argue that none of this applies to the Dalai Lama and the Tibet he presided over before the Chinese crackdown in 1959. The Dalai Lama’s Tibet, they believe, was a spiritually oriented kingdom, free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, pointless pursuits, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, and a slew of travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La and the Dalai Lama as a wise saint, “the greatest living human,” as actor Richard Gere gushed. (4)

The Dalai Lama himself lent support to this idealized image of Tibet with statements such as: “Tibetan civilization has a long and rich history. The pervasive influence of Buddhism and the rigors of life amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” (5) In fact, Tibet’s history reads a little differently. In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

To elevate his authority beyond worldly challenge, the first Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. (6) The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, writing erotic poetry, and acting in other ways that might seem unfitting for an incarnate deity. For this he was “disappeared” by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized status as gods, five Dalai Lamas were murdered by their enlightened nonviolent Buddhist courtiers. (7)

Shangri-La (for Lords and Lamas)
Religions have had a close relationship not only to violence but to economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into religious or secular manorial estates worked by serfs. Even a writer like Pradyumna Karan, sympathetic to the old order, admits that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches. . . . In addition, individual monks and lamas were able to accumulate great wealth through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” (8) Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries went to the higher-ranking lamas, many of them scions of aristocratic families, while most of the lower clergy were as poor as the peasant class from which they sprang. This class-determined economic inequality within the Tibetan clergy closely parallels that of the Christian clergy in medieval Europe.

Along with the upper clergy, secular leaders did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. He also was a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet. (9) Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some of its Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” (10) In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order and catch runaway serfs. (11)

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they became bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common practice for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated childhood rape not long after he was taken into the monastery at age nine. (12) The monastic estates also conscripted peasant children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In Old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. A small minority were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. (13)

In 1953, the greater part of the rural population — some 700,000 of an estimated total population of 1,250,000 — were serfs. Tied to the land, they were allotted only a small parcel to grow their own food. Serfs and other peasants generally went without schooling or medical care. They spent most of their time laboring for the monasteries and individual high-ranking lamas, or for a secular aristocracy that numbered not more than 200 wealthy families. In effect, they were owned by their masters who told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. A serf might easily be separated from his family should the owner send him to work in a distant location. Serfs could be sold by their masters, or subjected to torture and death. (14)

A Tibetan lord would often take his pick of females in the serf population, if we are to believe one 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf: “All pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished.” They “were just slaves without rights.” (15) Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture and forcibly bring back those who tried to flee. A 24-year old runaway serf, interviewed by Anna Louise Strong, welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” During his time as a serf he claims he was not much different from a draft animal, subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold, unable to read or write, and knowing nothing at all. He tells of his attempts to flee:

The first time [the landlord’s men] caught me running away, I was very small, and they only cuffed me and cursed me. The second time they beat me up. The third time I was already fifteen and they gave me fifty heavy lashes, with two men sitting on me, one on my head and one on my feet. Blood came then from my nose and mouth. The overseer said: “This is only blood from the nose; maybe you take heavier sticks and bring some blood from the brain.” They beat then with heavier sticks and poured alcohol and water with caustic soda on the wounds to make more pain. I passed out for two hours. (16)

In addition to being under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land — or the monastery’s land — without pay, the serfs were obliged to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. “It was an efficient system of economic exploitation that guaranteed to the country’s religious and secular elites a permanent and secure labor force to cultivate their land holdings without burdening them either with any direct day-to-day responsibility for the serf’s subsistence and without the need to compete for labor in a market context.” (17)

The common people labored under the twin burdens of the corvée (forced unpaid labor on behalf of the lord) and onerous tithes. They were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child, and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a new tree in their yard, for keeping domestic or barnyard animals, for owning a flower pot, or putting a bell on an animal. There were taxes for religious festivals, for singing, dancing, drumming, and bell ringing. People were taxed for being sent to prison and upon being released. Even beggars were taxed. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being placed into slavery for as long as the monastery demanded, sometimes for the rest of their lives. (18)

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their foolish and wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as an atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve upon being reborn. The rich and powerful of course treated their good fortune as a reward for — and tangible evidence of — virtue in past and present lives.

Torture and Mutilation in Shanghri-La
In the Dalai Lama’s Tibet, torture and mutilation — including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation of arms and legs — were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, runaway serfs, and other “criminals.” Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.” (19) Some Western visitors to Old Tibet remarked on the number of amputees to be seen. Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. (20)

Some monasteries had their own private prisons, reports Anna Louise Strong. In 1959, she visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, and breaking off hands. For gouging out eyes, there was a special stone cap with two holes in it that was pressed down over the head so that the eyes bulged out through the holes and could be more readily torn out. There were instruments for slicing off kneecaps and heels, or hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disembowling. (21)

The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away. (22)

Theocratic despotism had been the rule for generations. An English visitor to Tibet in 1895, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the Tibetan people were under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression” and “a barrier to all human improvement.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests . . . exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft the world has ever seen.” Tibetan rulers, like those of Europe during the Middle Ages, “forged innumerable weapons of servitude, invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. (23)

In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them, nor do laymen take part in or even attend the monastery services. The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.” (24)

Occupation and Revolt
The Chinese Communists occupied Tibet in 1951, claiming suzerainty over that country. The 1951 treaty provided for ostensible self- government under the Dalai Lama’s rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration “to promote social reforms.” At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect change. Among the earliest reforms they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build some hospitals and roads.

Mao Zedung and his Communist cadres did not simply want to occupy Tibet. They desired the Dalai Lama’s cooperation in transforming Tibet’s feudal economy in accordance with socialist goals. Even Melvyn Goldstein, who is sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and the cause of Tibetan independence, allows that “contrary to popular belief in the West,” the Chinese “pursued a policy of moderation.” They took care “to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion” and “allowed the old feudal and monastic systems to continue unchanged. Between 1951 and 1959, not only was no aristocratic or monastic property confiscated, but feudal lords were permitted to exercise continued judicial authority over their hereditarily bound peasants.” (25) As late as 1957, Mao Zedung was trying to salvage his gradualist policy. He reduced the number of Chinese cadre and troops in Tibet and promised the Dalai Lama in writing that China would not implement land reforms in Tibet for the next six years or even longer if conditions were not yet ripe. (26)

Nevertheless, Chinese rule over Tibet greatly discomforted the lords and lamas. What bothered them most was not that the intruders were Chinese. They had seen Chinese come and go over the centuries and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China. (27) Indeed the approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the present-day Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the young Dalai Lama was installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chiang Kaishek’s troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. (28) What really bothered the Tibetan lords and lamas was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they were sure, before the Communists started imposing their egalitarian and collectivist solutions upon the highly privileged theocracy.

In 1956-57, armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The uprising received extensive material support from the CIA, including arms, supplies, and military training for Tibetan commando units. It is a matter of public knowledge that the CIA set up support camps in Nepal, carried out numerous airlifts, and conducted guerrilla operations inside Tibet. (29) Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance. The Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, played an active role in that group.

Many of the Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself. (30) The small and thinly spread PLA garrisons in Tibet could not have captured them all. The PLA must have received support from Tibetans who did not sympathize with the uprising. This suggests that the resistance had a rather narrow base within Tibet. “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane. (31) In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “The Tibetan insurgents never succeeded in mustering into their ranks even a large fraction of the population at hand, to say nothing of a majority. As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.” (32) Eventually the resistance crumbled.

The Communists Overthrow Feudalism
Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They built the only hospitals that exist in the country, and established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. They constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. They also put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. (33)

The Chinese also expropriated the landed estates and reorganized the peasants into hundreds of communes. Heinrich Harrer wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. (It was later revealed that Harrer had been a sergeant in Hitler’s SS. (34)) He proudly reports that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese and “who gallantly defended their independence . . . were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.” They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants. (35)

By 1961, hundreds of thousands of acres formerly owned by the lords and lamas had been distributed to tenant farmers and landless peasants. In pastoral areas, herds that were once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, leading to an increase in agrarian production. (36)

Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But people were no longer compelled to pay tributes or make gifts to the monasteries and lords. The many monks who had been conscripted into the religious orders as children were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends, and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals. (37)

The charges made by the Dalai Lama himself about Chinese mass sterilization and forced deportation of Tibetans have remained unsupported by any evidence. Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that “more than 1.2
million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.” (38) No matter how often stated, that figure is puzzling. The official 1953 census — six years before the Chinese crackdown — recorded the entire population of Tibet at 1,274,000. Other estimates varied from one to three million. (39) Later census counts put the ethnic Tibetan population within the country at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then whole cities and huge portions of the countryside, indeed almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves — of which we have seen no evidence. The Chinese military force in Tibet was not big enough to round up, hunt down, and exterminate that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.

Chinese authorities do admit to “mistakes” in the past, particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when religious persecution reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming was imposed on the peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls over Tibet “and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades.” (40) In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal. (41)

Elites, Émigrés, and CIA Money
For the Tibetan upper class lamas and lords, the Communist intervention was a calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Those feudal elites who remained in Tibet and decided to cooperate with the new regime faced difficult adjustments.

Consider the following:
In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited the Central Institute of National Minorities in Beijing which trained various ethnic minorities for the civil service or prepared them for entrance into agricultural and medical schools. Of the 900 Tibetan students attending, most were runaway serfs and slaves. But about 100 were from privileged Tibetan families, sent by their parents so that they might win favorable posts in the new administration. The class divide between these two groups of students was all too evident. As the institute’s director noted:

Those from noble families at first consider that in all ways they are superior. They resent having to carry their own suitcases, make their own beds, look after their own room. This, they think, is the task of slaves; they are insulted because we expect them to do this. Some never accept it but go home; others accept it at last. The serfs at first fear the others and cannot sit at ease in the same room. In the next stage they have less fear but still feel separate and cannot mix. Only after some time and considerable discussion do they reach the stage in which they mix easily as fellow students, criticizing and helping each other. (42)

The émigrés’ plight received fulsome play in the West and substantial support from U.S. agencies dedicated to making the world safe for economic inequality. Throughout the 1960s the Tibetan exile community secretly received $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama’s organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama’s annual share was $186,000, making him a paid agent of the CIA. Indian intelligence also financed him and other Tibetan exiles. (43) He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked with the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment. (44)

While presenting himself as a defender of human rights, and having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama continued to associate with and be advised by aristocratic émigrés and other reactionaries during his exile. In 1995, the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline “Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right.” (45) In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who had been apprehended while visiting England. He urged that Pinochet be allowed to return to his homeland rather than be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted by a Spanish jurist to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Today, mostly through the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable-sounding than the CIA, the US Congress continues to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for “democracy activities” within the Tibetan exile community. The Dalai Lama also gets money from financier George Soros, who now runs the CIA-created Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other institutes. (46)

The Question of Culture
We are told that when the Dalai Lama ruled Tibet, the people lived in contented symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords, in a social order sustained by a deeply spiritual, nonviolent culture. The peasantry’s profound connection to the existing system of sacred belief supposedly gave them a tranquil stability, inspired by humane and pacific religious teachings. One is reminded of the idealized imagery of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in deep spiritual bond with their Church, under the protection of their lords. (47) The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic reality than does the romanticized image of medieval Europe.

It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more “spiritual” and “traditional” societies. This may be true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is still a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural embellishments. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side.

To be sure, there is much about the Chinese intervention that is to be deplored. In the 1990s, the Han, the largest ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s vast population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet and various western provinces. (48) These resettlements have had an effect on the indigenous cultures of western China and Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Chinese preeminence are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing.

Chinese cadres in Tibet too often adopted a supremacist attitude toward the indigenous population. Some viewed their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for attempting to flee the country, and for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in political “subversion.” Some arrestees were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment. (49)

Chinese family planning regulations that allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families have been enforced irregularly and vary by district. If a couple goes over the limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. Meanwhile, Tibetan history, culture, and religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus on Chinese history and culture. (50)

Still, the new order has its supporters. A 1999 story in The Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but …few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power.

“I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.” (51)

To support the Chinese overthrow of the Dalai Lama’s feudal theocracy is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in Tibet. This point is seldom understood by today’s Shangri-La adherents in the West. The converse is also true. To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. One common complaint among Buddhist proselytes in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being destroyed by the Chinese authorities. This does seem to be the case. But what I am questioning here is the supposedly admirable and pristinely spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. In short, we can advocate religious freedom and independence for Tibet without having to embrace the mythology of a Paradise Lost.

Finally, it should be noted that the criticism posed herein is not intended as a personal attack on the Dalai Lama. He appears to be a nice enough individual, who speaks often of peace, love, and nonviolence. In 1994, in an interview with Melvyn Goldstein, he went on record as having been since his youth in favor of building schools, “machines,” and roads in his country. He claims that he thought the corvée and certain taxes imposed on the peasants “were extremely bad.” And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation. (52) Furthermore, he reportedly has established “a government-in-exile” featuring a written constitution, a representative assembly, and other democratic essentials. (53)

Like many erstwhile rulers, the Dalai Lama sounds much better out of power than in power. Keep in mind that it took a Chinese occupation and almost forty years of exile for him to propose democracy for Tibet and to criticize the oppressive feudal autocracy of which he himself was the apotheosis. But his criticism of the old order comes far too late for ordinary Tibetans. Many of them want him back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented.

In a book published in 1996, the Dalai Lama proffered a remarkable statement that must have sent shudders through the exile community. It reads in part as follows:

Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes- that is the majority — as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. . . .

The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist. (54)

And more recently in 2001, while visiting California, he remarked that “Tibet, materially, is very, very backward. Spiritually it is quite rich. But spirituality can’t fill our stomachs.” (55) Here is a message that should be heeded by the affluent well-fed Buddhist proselytes in the West who cannot be bothered with material considerations as they romanticize feudal Tibet.

Buddhism and the Dalai Lama aside, what I have tried to challenge is the Tibet myth, the Paradise Lost image of a social order that was little more than a despotic retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty, so damaging to the human spirit, where vast wealth was accumulated by a favored few who lived high and mighty off the blood, sweat, and tears of the many. For most of the Tibetan aristocrats in exile, that is the world to which they fervently desire to return. It is a long way from Shangri-La.

{Michael Parenti is an internationally known author and lecturer. He is one of the nation’s leading progressive political analysts. Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 1962. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad. Parenti’s most recent books are To Kill a Nation (Verso); The Terrorism Trap (City Lights); and The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome (New Press). You can find more information about Michael Parenti at}

1.  Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet,
and the Dalai Lama (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995),
2.  Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2000), 113.
3.  Kyong-Hwa Seok, “Korean monk gangs battle for temple turf,” San
Francisco Examiner, December 3, 1998.
4.  Gere quoted in “Our Little Secret,” CounterPunch, 1-15 November
5.  Dalai Lama quoted in Donald Lopez Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La:
Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago and London: Chicago University
Press, 1998), 205.
6.  Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, The Timely Rain: Travels in New
Tibet (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964), 119.
7.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 123.
8.  Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of
Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape (Lexington, Kentucky:
University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 64.
9.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 62 and 174.
10.  As skeptically noted by Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 9.
11.  See the testimony of one serf who himself had been hunted down by
Tibetan soldiers and returned to his master: Anna Louise Strong,
Tibetan Interviews (Peking: New World Press, 1929), 29-30 90.
12.  Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashì-Tsering, The
Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashì-Tsering (Armonk,
N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).
13.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 110.
14.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15, 19-21, 24.
15.  Quoted in Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25.
16.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 31.
17.  Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 5.
18.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 175-176; and Strong, Tibetan
Interviews, 25-26.
19.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 113.
20.  A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet rev. ed. (Armonk,
N.Y. and London: 1996), 9 and 7-33 for a general discussion of feudal
Tibet; see also Felix Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance (Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 241-249; Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet
1913-1951, 3-5; and Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, passim.
21.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 91-92.
22.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 92-96.
23.  Waddell, Landon, and O’Connor are quoted in Gelder and Gelder,
The Timely Rain, 123-125.
24.  Quoted in Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 125.
25.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 52.
26.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 54.
27.  Heinrich Harrer, Return to Tibet (New York: Schocken, 1985), 29.
28.  Strong, Tibetan Interview, 73.
29.  See Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The CIA’s Secret War in
Tibet (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002); and
William Leary, “Secret Mission to Tibet,” Air & Space, December 1997/
January 1998.
30.  Leary, “Secret Mission to Tibet.”
31.  Hugh Deane, “The Cold War in Tibet,” CovertAction Quarterly
(Winter 1987).
32.  George Ginsburg and Michael Mathos Communist China and Tibet
(1964), quoted in Deane, “The Cold War in Tibet.” Deane notes that
author Bina Roy reached a similar conclusion.
33.  See Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance, 248 and passim; and Grunfeld,
The Making of Modern Tibet, passim.
34.  Los Angeles Times, 18 August 1997.
35.  Harrer, Return to Tibet, 54.
36.  Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 36-38, 41, 57-58; London
Times, 4 July 1966.
37.  Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 29 and 47-48.
38.  Tendzin Choegyal, “The Truth about Tibet,” Imprimis (publication
of Hillsdale College, Michigan), April 1999.
39.  Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet, 52-53.
40.  Elaine Kurtenbach, Associate Press report, San Francisco
Chronicle, 12 February 1998.
41.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 47-48.
42.  Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 15-16.
43.  Jim Mann, “CIA Gave Aid to Tibetan Exiles in ’60s, Files Show,”
Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1998; and New York Times, 1 October,
44.  Reuters report, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 January 1997.
45.  News & Observer, 6 September 1995, cited in Lopez, Prisoners of
Shangri-La, 3.
46.  Heather Cottin, “George Soros, Imperial Wizard,” CovertAction
Quarterly no. 74 (Fall 2002).
47.  The Gelders draw this comparison, The Timely Rain, 64.
48.  The Han have also moved into Xinjiang, a large northwest province
about the size of Tibet, populated by Uighurs; see Peter Hessler, “The
Middleman,” New Yorker, 14 & 21 October 2002.
49.  Report by the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A
Generation in Peril (Berkeley Calif.: 2001), passim.
50.  International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, A Generation in
Peril, 66-68, 98.
51.  John Pomfret, “Tibet Caught in China’s Web,” Washington Post, 23
July 1999.
52.  Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, 51.
53.  Tendzin Choegyal, “The Truth about Tibet.”
54.  The Dalai Lama in Marianne Dresser (ed.), Beyond Dogma: Dialogues
and Discourses (Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1996).
55.  Quoted in San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2001

Iran busts ‘spy pigeons’ near nuclear site / Oct 20, 2008

“Security forces in Natanz have arrested two suspected “spy pigeons”
near Iran’s controversial uranium enrichment facility, the reformist
Etemad Melli newspaper reported on Monday. One of the pigeons was
caught near a rose water production plant in the city of Kashan in
Isfahan province, the report cited an unnamed informed source as
saying, adding that some metal rings and invisible strings were
attached to the bird. “Early this month, a black pigeon was caught
bearing a blue-coated metal ring, with invisible strings,” the source
was quoted as saying of the second pigeon. The source gave no further
description of the pigeons, neither their current status nor what
their fate will be. Natanz is home to Iran’s heavily-bunkered
underground uranium enrichment plant, which is not far from Kashan.
The activity is the focus of Iran’s five-year standoff with the West,
which that fears it aims to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran vehemently
denies the charge. Last year, Iran issued a formal protest over the
use of espionage by the United States to produce a key intelligence
report on the country’s controversial nuclear programme.”


BY Saleh Eskandari / July 10 / from Iranian newspaper Resalat /
translated by BBC

“A few weeks ago, 14 squirrels equipped with espionage systems of
foreign intelligence services were captured by [Iranian] intelligence
forces along the country’s borders. These trained squirrels, each of
which weighed just over 700 grams, were released on the borders of the
country for intelligence and espionage purposes. According to the
announcement made by Iranian intelligence officials, alert police
officials caught these squirrels before they could carry out any task.
Fixing GPS devices, bugging instruments and advanced cameras in the
bodies of trained animals like squirrels, mice, hamsters, etc, are
among modern methods of collecting intelligence. Given the fast speed
and the special physical features of these animals, they provide
special capabilities for spying operations. Once the animals return to
their place of origin, the intelligence gathered by them is then
offloaded. . . .”

BY Carol Highfill / November 1996

Lost or Stolen Birds
“Bands are one method of identifying a lost or stolen bird. No matter
how careful bird owners and breeders are, the unthinkable sometimes
happens and a bird flies away. It may be found by a conscientious
person who would like to return the bird to its owner. If the bird is
wearing a band, the task becomes much easier. Many bands are traceable
and a finder (with help from a pet store, veterinarian or breeder) may
be able to trace the bird and its owner. If a finder advertises that a
bird has been found, the true owner can prove his ownership of this
particular bird if he has the band number. If a bird has been stolen,
the thief will often remove the band to prevent discovery. However,
there are documented cases where birds have been recovered years later
due to identification of the leg band. Removal of the band by a thief,
decreases the value of the bird and some thieves take their chances.
Reputable breeders and pet stores will question the history of an
unbanded bird. Anyone buying a bird as a pet should also question any
bird which is not banded. The ability to remove a leg band is one of
this method’s drawbacks when compared to chipping or fingerprinting.”


“War of the Birds is the untold story of how carrier pigeons – members
of the elite MI-14 secret service division – are the forgotten heroes
of the Secret Service during the Second World War, playing a vital
role in securing the Allied Victory. Focusing on the efforts of five
forgotten Secret Service heroes of World War II – all of whom have
feathers – War of the Birds is a surprisingly suspenseful and dramatic
documentary about the war taking place in the air between Nazi and
Allied birds as they struggled to deliver crucial military
intelligence. Although today pigeons are seen as vermin, their role in
communicating information between the Allies in Britain and their
troops and agents in occupied Europe was paramount. In cases where
radio transmission and other forms of communication was not available
these brave birds, which have an in-built sense of direction over vast
distances and incredible flying power, saved the day. Drawing upon
emotive interviews and archival footage, we hear the miraculous tales
of pigeons like ‘White Vision’, which miraculously flew 60 miles over
heavy seas against 25mph winds to save 11 crew members from certain
death; ‘Mary of Exeter’ which flew for the Allied forces for five
years, getting wounded 22 times before finally being killed on duty;
and ‘Scotch Lass’ which returned to England from Holland with vital
microphotographs that saved hundreds of lives. Over fifty pigeons won
the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Congressional Medal of
Honour, after the Allies won the war. These brave birds survived enemy
bullets, Nazi attack falcons and flight exhaustion to defeat Hitler
and his forces and change the course of history. This documentary
serves to remind a new generation of the importance of pigeons in a
pre-digital and internet world.”

“One well known Kennoway pigeon fancier, Jim Hamilton, has raced the
birds for most of his life and even provided pigeons for the
government during the second world war. The exhibition tells the story
of one such pigeon named Winkie, who was based at RAF Leuchars during
the conflict. On February 23, 1942, the damaged Beaufort that Winkie
was travelling on ditched suddenly while returning from a strike off
the Norwegian coast. She broke free from her cage and flew back to
base 129 miles away, arriving wet and exhausted. After assessing
Winkie along with other circumstances, a sergeant was able to advise
where to search for the plane and the crew were soon rescued. As a
result, she was the first pigeon to be awarded the Dickin Medal, which
is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.”

Decorated animal heroes
BY Hugo Potter / February 18 2007

· Paddy (1944) Carrier pigeon made the fastest recorded crossing of
the Channel to deliver messages from Normandy for D-Day.
· GI Joe (1946) Famous messenger pigeon which averted a bomb attack on
the Italian village of Colvi Vecchia, saving more than 1,000 lives.
· Judy (1946) English Pointer ship’s dog, alerted crew to approaching
aircraft. The only animal officially registered as a prisoner of war.
· Simon (1949) Ship’s cat served during the Chinese civil war.
Survived canon shell injuries to kill off a rat infestation on HMS
· Roselle (2002) Guide dog who led her blind owner and a woman blinded
by debris from the World Trade Center during the attacks of 9/11.
· Sam (2003) Dog serving with the Royal Candian Regiment in Bosnia.
Disarmed a gunman and guarded refugees against a hostile crowd.


Pigeon’s war medal up for auction / 26 October, 2004
“A bravery medal awarded to a pigeon for flying over enemy territory
carrying vital information during World War II is to be auctioned. The
bird, called Commando, was bred in Haywards Heath, Sussex, and carried
out 90 trips in German-occupied France. It brought back messages to
the UK in metal canisters strapped to its legs. Commando was given the
Dickin Medal for animal bravery in 1945 – one of only 54 to be given
out. It is to be auctioned at Spink in London on 4 November. Commando
was bred by pigeon fancier Sid Moon in a loft in the West Sussex town.
Mr Moon served with the Army Pigeon Service in World War I and made
his pigeons available to the war effort in 1939. Fewer than one in
eight of the birds sent on the missions returned home. They often fell
victim to German marksmen, birds of prey, bad weather or exhaustion.
But Commando survived the trips and was awarded the animal equivalent
of the Victoria Cross. The medal is being auctioned by Mr Moon’s
granddaughter Valerie Theobold and is expected to fetch between £5,000
and £7,000. She said: “The thing I remember is the noise of the
pigeons and probably also the smell of the pigeons. “But it is quite
interesting to think that all those pigeons carrying all those
messages through the war were coming from the loft.” Another of Mr
Moon’s relatives, John Theobold, said: “It was terribly hard for the
agents or for the people who were occupied trying to get message out
by radio because if they were caught they were shot. “So pigeons were
one way of getting information back that was crucial.””

‘War secrets’ pigeon trainer dies / 1 April, 2004
“Northamptonshire’s Dowager Viscountess Dilhorne, who trained pigeons
to carry World War II secret communications from the continent, has
died aged 93. During the war the then Mary Manningham-Buller trained
carrier pigeons in a small Oxfordshire village. The birds were used by
secret agents and resistance fighters, flying back to her with coded
messages on their legs. The funeral of the Viscountess, who died on 25
March, will be held on Friday at Deene Park, Corby. She was the widow
of the 1st Viscount Dilhorne, formerly Reginald Manningham-Buller, who
was Lord Chancellor from 1962-64. He became the Conservative MP for
Daventry, later South Northamptonshire, in 1943 and left the Commons
for the Lords on becoming a peer in 1962. For many years after the war
Mary Manningham-Buller did not discuss her secret work for the
government, even though she had discovered that some of the messages
carried by her pigeons had been of critical importance to the
military. Lady Dilhorne was born Mary Lilian Lindsay, one of eight
children of David Lindsay, Lord Balcarres. Her mother was Constance
Lilian, youngest daughter of the MP for Huntingdon Sir Henry Pelly.
The Viscountess is survived by a son and three daughters. One, Eliza
Manningham-Buller, has been director-general of the Security Service
since 2002.”


Scientists create remote-controlled pigeon / February 27, 2007
“Chinese scientists have succeeded in implanting electrodes in the
brain of a pigeon to control the bird’s flight remotely, state media
have reported. The Xinhua News Agency said scientists at the Robot
Engineering Technology Research Centre at Shandong University of
Science and Technology in eastern China used the micro-electrodes to
command the bird to fly right or left, and up or down. The implants
stimulated different areas of the pigeon’s brain according to
electronic signals sent by the scientists via computer, mirroring
natural signals generated by the brain, Xinhua quoted chief scientist
Su Xuecheng as saying. It was the first such successful experiment on
a pigeon in the world, said Mr Su, who conducted a similar successful
experiment on mice in 2005. The report did not specify what purpose
the pigeons may perform.”

CIA recruited cat to bug Russians
BY Charlotte Edwardes / 03 Nov 2001

“The CIA tried to uncover the Kremlin’s deepest secrets during the
1960s by turning cats into walking bugging devices, recently
declassified documents show. In one experiment during the Cold War a
cat, dubbed Acoustic Kitty, was wired up for use as an eavesdropping
platform. It was hoped that the animal – which was surgically altered
to accommodate transmitting and control devices – could listen to
secret conversations from window sills, park benches or dustbins.
Victor Marchetti, a former CIA officer, told The Telegraph that
Project Acoustic Kitty was a gruesome creation. He said: “They slit
the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as
an antenna. They made a monstrosity. They tested him and tested him.
They found he would walk off the job when he got hungry, so they put
another wire in to override that.” Mr Marchetti said that the first
live trial was an expensive disaster. The technology is thought to
have cost more than £10 million. He said: “They took it out to a park
and put him out of the van, and a taxi comes and runs him over. There
they were, sitting in the van with all those dials, and the cat was
dead.” The document, which was one of 40 to be declassified from the
CIA’s closely guarded Science and Technology Directorate – where
spying techniques are refined – is still partly censored. This implies
that the CIA was embarrassed about disclosing all the details of
Acoustic Kitty, which took five years to design. Dr Richelson, who is
the a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in Washington,
said of the document: “I’m not sure for how long after the operation
the cat would have survived even if it hadn’t been run over.” The memo
ends by congratulating the team who worked on the Acoustic Kitty
project for its hard work. It says: “The work done on this problem
over the years reflects great credit on the personnel who guided
it . . . whose energy and imagination could be models for scientific
pioneers.” By coincidence, in 1966, a British film called Spy With a
Cold Nose featured a dog wired up to eavesdrop on the Russians. It was
the same year as the Acoustic Kitty was tested.”

MI5’s secret plan to recruit gerbils as spycatchers
BY Michael Smith / 29 Jun 2001

MI5 considered using a team of highly-trained gerbils to detect spies
and terrorists flying into Britain during the 1970s, Sir Stephen
Lander, the service’s director-general, revealed yesterday. The plan
was based on the ability of gerbils to detect a rise in adrenalin from
changes in the scent of human sweat. Sir Stephen said the Israelis had
put the idea into practice, placing gerbil cages to the side of
security checks for travellers at Tel Aviv airport. A suitably placed
fan wafted the scent of the suspect’s sweat into the cage.

The gerbils were trained by Pavlovian response to press a lever if
they detected increased adrenalin, receiving food as a reward. The
system was never put into practice by MI5 because the Israelis were
forced to abandon it after they found that the gerbil could not tell
the difference between terrorists and passengers who were scared of
flying. Speaking at a conference at the Public Record Office in Kew,
Sir Stephen said MI5 archives contained a complete volume on the idea
– which was based on Canadian research for the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police – written in the 1970s.

Although Dame Stella Rimington made a practice of speaking publicly in
an attempt to change MI5, yesterday’s Missing Dimension conference was
only the second occasion that Sir Stephen has done so. The conference
marks a new PRO exhibition on espionage, Shaken Not Stirred, starting
today, which includes exhibits on a number of spies including Mata
Hari and a spy paid the equivalent of £6.5 million by King George I to
spy on the Stuarts. The Missing Dimension refers to the fact that most
histories are written before intelligence files have been released and
so omit a crucial element of what occurred and why. Sir Stephen
admitted that it would be a long time before MI5 would be able to
release details of its Cold War activities.




‘Coltan is the colloquial African name for columbite-tantalite, a
metallic ore from which is extracted the elements niobium and
tantalum. Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics
products such as cell phones, DVD players, and computers. Export of
coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European
and American markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance
the present-day conflict in the Congo, with one aid agency asserting
that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa,
especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly
connected to Coltan profits.”’



Inside Africa’s PlayStation War
BY John Lasker / 08 July 2008

In the rugged volcanic mountains of the Congo the conflict known as
Africa’s World War continues to smolder after ten grueling years. The
conflict earned its name because at the height of the war eight
African nations and over 25 militias were in the combatant mix. But
more recently the conflict was given another name: The PlayStation
War. The name came about because of a black metallic ore called
coltan. Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of
millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN and several NGOs claim some of the
most active thieves were the Rwandan military, several militias
supported by the Rwandan government, and also a number of western-
based mining companies, metal brokers, and metal processors that had
allegedly partnered with these Rwandan factions.

After it is refined, coltan becomes a bluish-gray powder called
tantalum, which is defined as a transition metal. For the most part,
tantalum has one significant use: to satisfy the West’s insatiable
appetite for personal technology. Tantalum is used to make cell
phones, laptops and other electronics made, for example, by SONY, a
multi-billion dollar multinational based in Japan that manufactures
the iconic PlayStation, a video game console. And while allegations of
plundering coltan from a nation in desperate need of revenue seem bad
enough, the UN also discovered that Rwandan troops and rebels were
using prisoners-of-war and children to mine for the “black gold.”

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in
Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms,”
said British politician Oona King, who was a Member of Parliament from
1997 to 2005. Most of the fighting from Africa’s World War ended in
2003 following a peace accord. But reports of troop tension,
instability and rampant sexual violence against women continue to
emerge from where the war was at its most intense: the eastern portion
of the DRC, near the city of Goma and in the DRC province of North
Kivu. This is a region where millions of Congolese live among active
volcanoes and endangered Mountain Gorillas.

But even if many have put down their guns, a London-based non-
government office called Rights and Accountability in Development
(RAID) continues to fight its own battle against scores of Western-
based mining companies that continued to work in the DRC, or purchase
minerals and metals allegedly stolen from the DRC, as the war raged
on. These companies, such as Eagle Wings Resources International of
Ohio, Cabot Corporation of Boston, Mass., and Chemie Pharmacie Holland
of the Netherlands, were charged with having stolen millions of
dollars worth of resources out of the DRC, or made millions processing
stolen resources from the DRC, namely coltan.

When the war started in 1998, the UN and others believed that one area
of the conflict was the product of tribal and ethnic rivalries. The
Rwandan government, for instance, told the world they invaded the DRC,
their neighbor to the West, to go after those who committed atrocities
during the 1994 genocide that killed over 800,000 people. Yet,
according to the UN, the Rwandans were shedding blood for something
far cheaper; they were shooting it out for the mines that pockmarked
the volcanic mountains of DRC’s eastern regions. These mines contained
deposits of cobalt, uranium, gold and, of course, coltan.

A UN Panel of Experts investigation would expose the resource war in
2001, releasing several reports entitled “The Illegal Exploitation of
Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC”. The reports
made disturbing charges against scores of multinational mining
companies, like Eagle Wings Resources International and Chemie
Pharmacie Holland. The UN alleged the mining companies directly and
indirectly fueled the war, paralyzing the DRC government, and using
the conflict to keep the coltan flowing cheaply out of the Congo. Some
companies were also accused by the UN of aligning with elements of the
warring parties.

Fast forward to 2008, and RAID, which is funded by the Queen Elizabeth
House, remains determined to convince several of the world’s most
powerful governments to investigate the UN’s allegations. Stealing
natural resources amidst the chaos of a war violates guidelines set-
forth by the Organization for Economic Co-operation, which administers
these ethical standards endorsed by over 30 nations, says RAID. The
International Criminal Court has also started its own investigation,
and RAID is calling on all named governments to cooperate with the

But there’s one major problem: nearly all of the governments,
including the US State Department, have essentially brushed RAID off.
They’re refusing to initiate an investigation despite the assurance,
for example, of Richard S. Williamson, who was US Ambassador to the UN
at the time. He told the UN Security Council “the United States
government will look into the allegations against these companies and
take appropriate measures [and] not turn a blind eye to these

Not long after the report from the UN Panel of Experts went public,
the UN exonerated all US companies. RAID says diplomatic pressure from
the US and other governments made the UN cave. “The US government
was one of the most determined to quash the UN Panel’s reports but this
is also true of Canada, the UK and Belgium,” says Tricia Feeney,
executive director of RAID. “All (US companies) were exonerated. The
UN Panel said the cases had been resolved.”

Feeney says just because the UN laid down, doesn’t mean the companies
are innocent. “Essentially the UN was forced to drop the case but as
they explained (in their reports), ‘resolved’ didn’t mean that the
initial allegations were unsubstantiated,” she says. “The (US)
companies have tried to hide behind the technicality of ‘resolved’ but
the UN itself made clear that this classification didn’t mean that the
companies had not behaved in the way described in the UN reports.”

The UN said it stands by the report, but added it is up to the
governments to make their own investigation and prosecute if need be.
RAID says the UN has cowered because if Western-based mining
companies are prosecuted out of Africa, China may step in. It is widely
known the West grows more concerned by the day as China continues to
sign more and more resource concessions with African nations, such as
Sudan and Nigeria.

In interviews over the phone, several of the named companies insisted
they were not involved with any wrongdoing in the Congo. The CEO of
Eagle Wings Resources International, for instance, who did not offer
his name for publication, swore “on the Bible” he was unaware his
company may have been acting unethical. Both a mining company and
coltan broker, Eagle Wings was one of a handful of US companies
accused of using child labor in one of their mines in eastern DRC.
Eagle Wings was also an alleged business partners with an “elite
network” of Rwandan military officers, politicos and businessmen.
Accusations of child labor have bankrupted Eagle Wings, said the CEO.
After finding out his company had been charged by the UN, his
customers abandoned him.

But even if the mining companies take the brunt of the blame from RAID
and the UN, some experts say there’s a whole other dynamic when it
comes to blame for the “The PlayStation War”. When the war began in
1998, the race for every adult in the West to have a cell phone was
well past the starting line. A computer in every household was also
becoming a reality. And by the end of 2000, millions of Americans were
still waiting for a PlayStation 2, a second-generation video game
console, which SONY says was having manufacturing issues.

To fulfill the personal-tech desires of hundreds of millions of
consumers, SONY and other manufacturers needed electric capacitors.
These capacitors were made with tantalum, which is able to withstand
extreme heat. So as multiple technological revolutions occurred in
unison at the end of the 1990s, the worldwide demand for tantalum
began to boil. Like today’s demand for oil, this fever puts tremendous
stress on tantalum’s supply chain. From the beginning of 1999 to the
beginning of 2001, the world price of tantalum went from US $49.00 a
pound to $275.00 a pound. At the same time, the demand and price of
coltan also began skyrocketing; coltan is needed to make tantalum.

By 1999, the Rwandan army and several closely linked militias had
swarmed over the hills of eastern DRC and took many coltan mines by
force, said the UN. The Rwandan army that year would eventually make
at least $250 million by selling DRC coltan with the help of mining
companies and metal brokers. The estimates of the war’s dead range
from hundreds of thousands to several million. A couple million
Congolese are believed to have been displaced.

American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors
would eventually swear off coltan from the Congo because of human
rights violations, making suppliers certify origins. “But it may be a
case of too little, too late,” stated the UN Panel of Experts. “Much
of the coltan illegally stolen from Congo is already in laptops, cell
phones and electronics all over the world.”

David Barouski, a researcher and journalist from Wisconsin, says it is
certain that the coltan from this conflict is also in SONY video game
consoles across the world. “SONY’s PlayStation 2 launch (spring of
2000) was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that
began in early 1999,” said Barouski, who has witnessed the chaos of
eastern DRC firsthand. “SONY and other companies like it, have the
benefit of plausible deniability,” he said, “because the coltan ore
trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a
processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original
coltan ore came from, and frankly don’t care to know.” He adds, “But
statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY
made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan.”

SONY still uses tantalum in some of its parts, Satoshi Fukuoka, a
spokesperson SONY from Japan, said in an e-mail. He said they are
satisfied with responses from suppliers the tantalum they use is not
“illegally mined Congo coltan”. This also goes for past purchases of
tantalum parts as well, he said, but he did not specify how far back
they began demanding parts without Congo coltan. Fukuoka said the
PlayStation 2, PSP and PlayStation 3, “are manufactured mostly from
independent parts and components that manufacturers procured

“The material suppliers source their original material from multiple
mines in various countries. It is therefore hard for us to know what
the supply chain mix is,” he said. “I am happy to state to you that to
the best of our knowledge, (SONY) is not using the material about
which you have expressed concern.” Like the war in the Congo itself,
the price of coltan has since cooled and is being priced at levels
pre-1999, as the demand for the “black gold” declines. Nevertheless,
experts such as Barouski say another Congo resource will take its
place as the next “hot commodity”, and the emergence of another
African resource war will not be far behind.



Blood on Your Phone? Unlikely It’s ‘Conflict Coltan’
Tales of coltan—tantalum ore—derived from exploitation in the Congo
seem mythical. But only a new tracking test could prove it
BY Jack Ewing / November 17, 2008

It sounded like a compelling story. During a visit to South Africa in
October, I saw a news report in which a refugee from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo described in wrenching terms how demand for a
metal used in consumer electronics is fueling a new outbreak of
bloodshed in the mineral-rich region.

A bit of searching on Google supported the notion that mobile-phone
users are helping create a humanitarian catastrophe because they make
a market for illegally mined coltan ore from the war zone in eastern
Congo. “Is there blood on your mobile phone?” asked Danish relief
group DanChurchAid on a Web page that dates back to 2006 but is still
available. But when I began investigating, the truth turned out to be
more nuanced—providing a lesson in how difficult it can be to know
whether your buying habits are socially responsible. In fact, the
story demonstrates how difficult it is for companies to be socially
responsible even if they try.

A Tantalum Shortage in 2000
The mineral in question is known as coltan, which is actually African
slang for ore that contains tantalum, a metal prized for electronics
use because of its resistance to corrosion and heat. In fact, mobile
phones do contain tantalum, as do a host of other products, including
MP3 players, gaming consoles, and even aircraft engines. A typical
Nokia handset has a tantalum capacitor, a component that temporarily
stores electrical charges, according to the Finnish handset maker.

The electronics industry is clearly sensitive to charges that it uses
“conflict coltan,” which was a big issue several years ago. In 2000,
during an earlier round of fighting in the Congo that killed millions
of people, fears of a global tantalum shortage—not related to the
conflict—pushed the price of the refined product to as high as $300
per pound, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s at least
four times the current price. Tantalum became one of a host of minerals
—including gold, tin, and cobalt—exploited by various factions in the
Congo to purchase weapons or enrich themselves.

If you live in a lawless corner of the Congo, coltan might seem like
an attractive business, at least compared to subsistence farming. The
ore lends itself to so-called artisanal mining: Local people can dig
it up and concentrate it using homemade sluices, similar to how
California pioneers panned for gold. Guerilla factions in the Congo,
as well as their government backers in countries such as Rwanda or
Uganda, make money by controlling the coltan mines directly or by
extracting payoffs from small-scale miners and dealers.

Not So Much Congolese Tantalum
The coltan trade was even lucrative enough to attract the
international arms mafia. According to a 2003 U.N. report, one coltan
smuggler was Viktor Bout, a notorious former KGB agent now being held
in a Thai jail as he fights extradition to the U.S. on charges he
supplied weapons to terrorist groups. Bout used a fleet of cargo
planes to haul loads of illegally mined coltan and other minerals from
the Congo to foreign buyers, according to the U.N. “There are profits
to be made because it can be moved relatively easily,” says Jason
Burkitt, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London who follows the
mining industry. “It lends itself to entrepreneurial types, whether
they’re local business people or warlords.”

But does that mean your mobile phone is helping General Laurent
Nkunda— whose ethnic Tutsi militia recently overran swaths of eastern
Congo— buy AK-47s and land mines? That would be a stretch. As it
happens, the Congo is not a major source of tantalum. Most comes
from Australia, followed by Canada and such African countries as
Ethiopia and Mozambique. The U.S. Geological Survey groups the
Congo under “other” tantalum sources that together account for just
2% of world production. Recycled tantalum also is available. Even
tantalum from the Congo isn’t necessarily tainted: Foreign and
domestic companies mine it legally in some areas, providing an
important source of livelihood.

In addition, the earlier tantalum controversy inspired companies to
take steps to ensure their metal comes from legitimate sources. German
metals company H.C. Starck, which buys ore and refines it into
tantalum powder for industrial use, says it gets most of its raw
material from Australia and none from Africa.

Impossible to Be Certain
Nokia says it requires component suppliers to certify that none of
their tantalum comes from the Congo and it periodically checks
compliance. In any case, Nokia says that the mobile-phone industry
accounts for 2% of total tantalum demand and that each mobile phone
contains only 40 milligrams of the stuff.

The odds that your phone contains conflict coltan are pretty long. But
activists say the point is that even the relatively small amounts of
coltan coming from the Congo are providing revenue for the warring
factions. “I agree that a small percentage of coltan is coming from
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but this small percentage is
very important to the DRC,” says Esther de Haan, a researcher at Dutch
activist group makeITfair, who notes that unsafe working conditions
are also a huge concern. “Companies are responsible for going down the
supply chain and finding out where [their supply] is coming from.”

London-based humanitarian group Global Witness has also revived the
conflict coltan issue, on Nov. 14 calling on companies to ensure they
are not buying coltan or other minerals such as tin ore or gold from
the North and South Tivu regions of the Congo, where the fighting is
taking place. But it is nearly impossible for companies to say with
absolute certainty that no tantalum of dubious origin makes it into
the supply chain. Shady operators have an incentive to buy black
market ore, which is cheaper because it avoids the costly customs-
clearance process that legitimate importers must undergo. Most
developed countries have strict controls. But some Chinese ports wave
shipments through, industry sources say. Once the ore has been refined
to nonradioactive tantalum powder, it’s impossible to trace.

Tracking Coltan Fingerprints
There may be a new way to keep illegally mined coltan and other
valuable metals off the market. Frank Melcher, a scientist at
Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in
Hanover, leads a team that has devised a way to identify where ore
comes from. Every coltan mine has its own geological history and
composition. Melcher’s team has already catalogued 600 unique coltan
“fingerprints,” and can tell precisely where ore comes from, even when
batches from different locations are mixed together.

With backing from the German government, Melcher is pushing to set up
a system in which legitimate mines would register their coltan
fingerprints. An independent organization would spot-check ore and
reject any that isn’t in the approved database. “Our goal is to
establish a certified trading chain between traders and consumers,”
Melcher says. Such a system could also be used to ensure that mines
provide decent working conditions and meet environmental standards.
The problem is that the testing procedure is costly and time-
consuming. But Melcher sounds optimistic that companies that use
components containing tantalum will support his plan. “They don’t want
to be in the news again,” he says.

Frank Melcher
email : F.Melcher [at] bgr [dot] de

Congo, Democratic Republic: Cell phones, forest destruction and death

Could anyone imagine that cell phones are tainted with the blood of
3.2 million deaths since 1998? Also, that the same thing happens with
some children’s video games? And that mega-technologies contribute to
forest depredation and spoliation of the rich natural resources of
paradoxically impoverished peoples?

In the case of these new high techs, it is Coltan that is at stake —
the minerals columbium and tantalite, or Coltan for short. Tantalite
is a rare, hard and dense metal, very resistant to corrosion and high
temperatures and is an excellent electricity and heat conductor. It is
used in the microchips of cell phone batteries to prolong duration of
the charge, making this business flourish. Provisions for 2004 foresee
sales of 1,000 million units. To these properties are added that its
extraction does not entail heavy costs –it is obtained by digging in
the mud– and that it is easily sold, enabling the companies involved
in the business to obtain juicy dividends.

Even though Coltan is extracted in Brazil, Thailand and much of it
from Australia –the prime producer of Coltan on a world level– it is
in Africa where 80% of the world reserves are to be found. Within this
continent, the Democratic Republic of Congo concentrates over 80% of
the deposits, where 10,000 miners toil daily in the province of Kivu
(eastern Congo), a territory that has been occupied since 1998 by the
armies of Rwanda and Uganda. A series of companies has been set up in
the zone, associated to large transnational capital, local governments
and military forces (both state and “guerrilla”) in a dispute over the
control of the region for the extraction of Coltan and other minerals.
The United Nations has not hesitated to state that this strategic
mineral is funding a war that the former United States Secretary of
State, Madeleine Albright called “the first African world war” (and we
understand by world wars, those in which the great powers share out
the world), and is one of its causes.

In August 1998, the Congolese Union for Democracy (Rassemblement
Congolais pour la Démocratie-RCD), launched a rebellion in the city of
Goma, supported by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA). Since then, in a
struggle in which, behind the myth of ethnic rivalries, are hidden the
old colonial powers that continue to ransack the wealth of post-
Colonial Africa, the war has been rife between two, loosely defined
parties. On the one hand the RDC and the Governments of Rwanda and
Uganda, supported by the United States, relying on the military bases
such as that built in Rwanda by the United States company Brown &
Root, a branch of Halliburton, where Rwandese forces are trained and
logistic support is provided to their troops in the DRC, together with
United States combat helicopters and spy satellites. The other party
is made up of the Democratic Republic of Congo (led by one of Kabila’s
sons, after his father was assassinated by the Rwandese), Angola,
Namibia and Zimbabwe.

However, behind these states are the companies sharing out the zone.
Various joint companies have been set up for this purpose, the most
important one being SOMIGL (the Great Lakes Mining Company), a joint
company set up in November 2000, involving Africom, Premeco, Cogecom
and Cogear, (the latter two are Belgium companies –it should be
remembered that DRC, formerly the Belgium Congo, was a Belgium
colony), Masingiro GmbH (a German company) and various other
companies that ceased their activities in January 2002 for various reasons
(a drop in Coltan prices, difficult working conditions, suspension of
Coltan imports from DRC) and are waiting for better conditions: Sogem
(a Belgian company), Cabot and Kemet (U.S.) the joint United States-
German company Eagles Wings Resources (now with headquarters in
Rwanda), among others.

The transport companies belong to close family members of the
presidents of Rwanda and Uganda. In these virtually military zones,
private air companies bring in arms and take out minerals. Most of the
Coltan extracted is later refined by a small number of companies in
Germany, the United States, Kazakhstan and the Far East. The branch of
Bayer, Starck produces 50% of powdered tantalite on a world level.
Dozens of companies are linked to the traffic and elaboration of this
product, with participation of the major monopolizing companies in
Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.
As if this were not enough, the Trade, Development and Industry Bank,
created in 1996 with headquarters in the capital city of Rwanda,
Kigali, acts as correspondent for the CITIBANK in the zone, and
handles large amounts of money from Coltan, gold and diamond
operations. Thirty-four companies import Coltan from the Congo, among
these, 27 are of western origin, mainly Belgium, Dutch and German.

The Belgium air company, Sabena is one of the means of transporting
the mineral from Kigali (capital city of Rwanda) to Brussels, and
associated to American Airlines, announced last 15 June the suspension
of the service, under strong pressure from the world campaign “No
blood on my cell phone!” (or: “Pas de sang sur mon GSM”), exhorting
people not to buy cell phones containing Coltan due to its
repercussion on the prolongation of the civil war in the Congo. As a
result of this campaign, the Belgium research institute International
Peace Information Service (IPIS) produced a document in January 2002
“Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European Companies and the
Coltan Trade,” which documents the leading role played by the
companies in promoting the war through their cooperation with the
military and exhorting that the international consideration of the
Coltan trade be given priority over its local aspects.

The main zones where Coltan is extracted are located in forest zones,
such as the Ituri forest (see WRM bulletin No. 67). The entry of
military commandos and workers (many of them farmers who have been
dispossessed of their lands and resources, seeking the promise of
better income), the installation of mining camps, the construction of
routes to reach and take out the coveted mineral, all this goes to
conspire against the forest as a whole. Formerly fulfilling functions
for the region and the neighbouring peoples, the forest, once the
traditional lands of the hunting and gathering indigenous peoples,
such as the Mbuti and a reserve for gorillas and okapis –a relative
of the giraffe– the habitat of elephants and monkeys, has become the
scenario for war and depredation.

The African journalist, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong has even stated that
“Coltan in general terms is not helping the local people. In fact, it
is the curse of the Congo.” He has revealed that there is evidence
that this material contaminates, pointing out its connection with
congenital deformations in babies in the mining zone, which are born
with bandy legs. Far from clean and innocent, these technologies, on
which the concentration of capitals is based and built, have acquired
through their “globalisation” their highest expression, contaminating
and breaking up the web of life in its multiple and rich
manifestations. In the meanwhile, over the tombs of the 2000 African
children and farmers who die every day in the Congo, can we
absentmindedly continue to use our cell phones?

{Article based on information from: “Supporting the War Economy in the
DRC: European Companies and the Coltan Trade” and “European
companies and the Coltan Trade: an Update”, International Peace
Information Service, ;
“Basta de matanzas y saqueo en el Congo”, Solidarité Europe-Afrique,
Belgium, ; “La fiebre
del coltan: el imperialismo continúa”, Ramiro de Altube, Observatorio
de Conflictos, correo electrónico: , ; “La fiebre del
coltan”, Ramón Lobo, El País Spain, 2/09/2001,; “UN
report accuses Western companies of looting Congo”, Chris Talbot,
26/10/2002, ;
“The Trouble With Coltan”, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, }


Coltan and Gorillas
The main area where Coltan is mined, also contains the Kahuzi Biega
National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. In Kahuzi Biega National
Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to
130 as the ground is cleared to make mining easier. Not only has this
reduced the available food for the Gorillas, the poverty caused by the
displacement of the local populations by the miners has lead to
Gorillas being killed and their meat being sold as “bush meat” to the
miners and rebel armies that control the area. Within the Dem. Rep. of
Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the
number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Dem. Rep. of Congo
national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only
3,000 now remain.

Due to the damage caused to the Gorilla population and their natural
habitat, companies that use Coltan are now starting to demand that
their Coltan only comes from legitimately mined sources and is not a
byproduct of the war. American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker
of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their
coltan ore does not come from Dem. Rep. of Congo or from neighbouring
countries. Such moves could lead to “Gorilla Safe ” cellphones being
marketed, much in the same way that Tuna meat is now sold as “Dolphin

Other sources
There are few alternative sources of Coltan apart from the Dem. Rep.
of Congo, although the University of St Andrews geologist, Dr Adrian
Finch recently reported that he has found Coltan inside extinct
volcanoes in the remote North Motzfeldt region of Greenland. Dr Finch
has now received a two year funding plan from the Carnegie Trust and
Gino Watkins Fund to investigate the commercial viability of mining
the volcanoes.

What to do ?
There is very little the “man on the street” can do to prevent Coltan
exploitation as it is not a “visible” component of cellphones that can
be differentiated when shopping, but continuing pressure on circuit
board manufacturers has lead to many demanding that their Coltan
supplies only come from legitimate sources. Similar pressure on other
users of Coltan can also help to ensure that only legitimately mined
and sold Coltan is used in circuit boards. At a government level,
pressure on local politicians to drive awareness of the ongoing civil
war in the Dem. Rep. of Congo and help to secure a resolution will
help to prevent the extinction of the Mountain Gorilla.

The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (T.I.C.), the industry
organisation representing producers, processors and consumers of
tantalum and niobium around the world, said that it deplores the
reported activities of illegal miners in the Kahuzi-Biega National
Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of
Congo. It was agreed at the T.I.C. Executive Committee meeting in
Brussels on April 3rd 2001 that the organisation would take a stand
regarding the use and production of coltan mined in these World
Heritage Sites.




Every year, an estimated 400 million units of obsolete electronics are
scrapped. Four billion pounds of electronic waste, or e-waste, was
discarded in the United States in 2005, accounting for between 2% and
4% of the municipal solid waste stream. As much as 87.5% of this was
incinerated or dumped in landfills. Of the remaining 12.5% collected
for “recycling,” industry sources claim that about 80% is exported to
developing countries where it is processed in primitive conditions,
severely endangering the environment, workers and communities.
Pollution created by irresponsible e-waste processing can also come
back to haunt those in the exporting countries as well in the form of
air pollution fallout via long-range transport.

The world faces an e-waste crisis because of the following factors:
* Huge volumes: The dual forces of rapid obsolescence of
electronic gadgetry combined with astronomically burgeoning use have
created mountains of e-waste—the largest growing waste stream our
economy produces.
* Toxic design: Electronic equipment contains some of the most
toxic substances known: mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium,
and brominated flame retardants, among others. Thus, when this
equipment becomes waste, it is toxic waste. When burned, even worse
toxins can be formed such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons that can cause cancer and birth-defects. Until recently,
far too little emphasis has been placed by manufacturers on
eliminating toxic materials.
* Poor design and complexity: e-waste is full of many different
materials (such as multiple kinds of metals, plastics and chemicals)
that are mixed, bolted, screwed, snapped, glued or soldered together.
This makes separation for recycling difficult. Further, little
attention has been paid to designing equipment for recycling.
Therefore, recycling either requires intensive labor or sophisticated
and costly technologies.
* No financial incentive to recycle: There’s usually not enough
value in most electronic waste to cover the costs of responsibly
managing it in developed countries unless laws require such management
as a service industry. For this reason it is exported to countries
where workers are paid low wages and the infrastructure and legal
framework is too weak to protect the environment, workers and
* Reuse abuse: Sending equipment and parts for reuse – an
important solution – can easily be abused by falsely labeling scrap as
reusable or repairable equipment. Often this “reusable” equipment ends
up getting dumped in countries lacking any infrastructure to properly
manage it.
* Policy of “free trade in toxic waste”: In the U.S. and Canada,
the laws governing export of trade in hazardous electronic waste are
tragically inadequate, and thus these two countries are the primary
sources of the global crisis. The U.S. is the only developed country
in the world that has failed to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an
international treaty controlling trade in hazardous waste from richer
to poorer countries. In 1995, that treaty adopted a full ban on
exports from rich to poorer countries. Both the U.S. and Canada
actively oppose this prohibition. In Canada, the Basel Convention is
not properly implemented, allowing almost all e-waste to flow abroad
freely. In both countries, then, it is perfectly legal for businesses
to maximize profit by exporting toxic electronics to developing
countries, even when this export is a violation of the laws of
importing countries. The export of toxic electronic waste to
developing countries disproportionately burdens them with a toxic
legacy and allows for externalization of real costs.
* Prison laborers employed to process e-waste: Unlike other
countries in the world, the U.S. sends much of its hazardous e-waste
to U.S. prisons to process in less-regulated environments without the
worker protections and rights afforded in the private sector.
Moreover, such operations amount to government subsidies, undermining
the development of responsible private-sector recycling infra-
structure and distorting the economics of recycling.
* Private data is imbedded in electronic devices: Computers, PDAs,
mobile phones and even printers and fax machines hold private data
such as social security, bank account and credit card numbers and
private emails. These can be used by criminals involved in identity
theft to hijack bank accounts and conduct blackmail and extortion if
this data is not completely eradicated. Loss of confidential data is
another form of liability and irresponsibility stemming from improper
e-waste disposal.
* Lack of regulation requiring proper management: U.S. regulations
mostly exempt the electronic waste stream from environmental laws and
active OSHA oversight. Further, according to the laws of Canada and
the U.S., most toxic electronic waste is still perfectly legal to
dispose of in non-hazardous waste landfills and incinerators.

Documented harm
In 2002, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition released the ground breaking report and film Exporting Harm:
The High Tech Trashing of Asia, that exposed the toxic “recycling” of
discarded electronics in China. A second film and report released in
2005 by BAN, The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa,
showed similar tragic results happening in Africa, this time in the
name of ‘reuse’ and ‘bridging the digital divide.’ Images of men,
women and children burning tons of toxic circuit boards, wires, and
plastic parts exposed the fast-cheap-and-dirty side of our consumption
of computers, televisions, faxes, printers, etc. Furthermore, BAN
analyzed hard-drives from exported computers collected in Africa and
found massive amounts of private data freely available for criminal
exploitation. We have also discovered that when U.S. prisoners are
used as cheap labor, they are exposed to these poisons as well. The
Federal Prison Industries’ UNICOR, which processes much of the e-waste
in the US, is now the focus of a Department of Justice investigation
for the toxic exposures prisoners suffer. Finally as much as 87
percent of discarded toxic e-waste is simply dumped in municipal
landfills or incinerators, ill equipped to contain or destroy such
toxic waste.

Unfortunately this grossly irresponsible waste mismanagement and toxic
trade is the norm in the North American recycling industry. It is
still all too commonplace for recyclers and even electronics
manufacturers, aided by the inadequate or non-existent policies of the
Canadian and U.S. governments, to leave the dirty and dangerous work
of managing our toxic waste to the poorest of the poor in developing
countries. The resulting environmental hazards and social injustice
ravage the land and people in these developing nations. Furthermore,
these poisons come back to our shores and into our bodies via long-
range air and ocean pollution, toxic imports and contaminated food.
Government failure: externalizing our toxic impacts

To date, unlike the 27 member countries of the European Union, the
United States and Canada have failed to create legislation providing a
national system to finance and responsibly deal with toxic e-waste.
Instead, an e-waste anarchy is sanctioned, where we can exploit the
cheap and dirty ‘solutions’ that ‘externalize’ (or pass on) the real
toxic impacts and their costs to others – poor communities in
developing countries, disempowered prisoners in this country, or local
municipalities and taxpayers who suffer from this material getting
dumped in local landfills or incinerated, polluting soil, air and
water. Further, the U.S. and Canada have failed to ratify or properly
implement the Basel Convention that prescribes international rules to
prevent such toxic waste trade.

US Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) recently published a report entitled, “Electronic Waste: EPA
Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger
Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation.“ [
new.items/d081044.pdf] The GAO report describes, in no uncertain
terms, the complete inadequacy of legislation to control e-waste
exports and the lack of EPA enforcement of the minimal regulations
that do exist, resulting in a flood of toxins to the developing world.

Instead of properly regulating electronic waste management and trade,
the EPA has tried to bring interest groups together to create
voluntary solutions. These efforts have ended in failure or have
produced little more than minimalist, ‘lowest-common denominator’
standards, which seemingly please everyone, including waste exporters,
but result in continued abuse to the environment and human health. One
of these efforts is the recently released “R2” Standard for
Responsible Recycling.

Meanwhile, in lieu of an appropriate federal response, states and
municipalities must cope with the national failure by passing a
variety of local laws and state laws. However, the U.S. Constitution
forbids these local governments from legislating international trade,
so states and municipalities are helpless to prohibit the flood of e-
waste leaving our shores. It is in this unregulated landscape, that
responsible electronics recycling companies are challenged to compete
against unscrupulous brokers, and exporters and those who deceptively
call themselves “recyclers.” These bad actors simply load up seagoing
containers and ship U.S. hazardous electronics to the highest bidders
globally. Almost always, this results in the wastes shipped to a
developing country to be processed by cheap, unprotected labor to
maximize profits. These “low road” operators are thriving while the
responsible companies, with their safer, more expensive methods,

Toxic “E-Waste” Gets Cached in Poor Nations, Report Says
BY Ben Harder / November 8, 2005

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This familiar environmentalist slogan outlines
an approach to minimizing how much trash ends up in landfills,
incinerators, and waterways. The concept is being employed to cope
with one potentially hazardous form of waste—electronic junk such as
old computers, cell phones, and televisions. But the process for
managing this so-called e-waste may get coopted for unscrupulous
purposes more often than it’s legitimately used, a recent report
suggests. “A lot of these materials are being sent [to developing
nations] under the guise of reuse—to bridge the digital divide,” said
Richard Gutierrez, a toxics policy analyst for the Seattle, Washington-
based Basel Action Network. Last month the activist organization
issued a report titled “The Digital Dump.” The paper concludes that
three-quarters of the supposedly reusable electronics shipped to
Africa’s largest port are broken.

One of the problems is that no one certifies whether donated machines
work before they hit the seaways. Because of this, the report says, e-
waste is a growing problem in Lagos, Nigeria, and elsewhere in the
developing world. Much of the waste ends up being discarded along
rivers and roads. Often it’s picked apart by destitute scavengers, who
may face dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals in the broken

Traders in places like Lagos are willing to receive this cast-off
junk, though many of their governments officially forbid it, Gutierrez
said. The importers sell the working machines. Then they pay workers a
pittance to burn the plastic casings and wire insulation in broken
machines and strip out sought-after materials such as gold and copper.
The low-tech recovery process could expose workers and the local
environment to lead, cadmium, mercury, and other hazardous materials
used to build electronics. Workers can also be exposed to carcinogenic
compounds called dioxins that are byproducts of incinerated plastics.

“Green Passport”
According to Gutierrez, this shadow economy exists because the guise
of recycling and reusing electronics gives dealers “a green passport”
to ship waste around the globe. Most of the waste comes from developed
nations that should know better, he said. “Forty-five percent of the
junk that’s coming in [to Lagos] is coming from the United States,” he
said. “Another 45 percent comes from Europe, and the other 10 percent
from Japan and Israel.” The European Union, Israel, Japan, and the
United States have signed the Basel Convention, which forbids
countries from exporting hazardous waste, including electronics.
“There is some responsibility that the developing nations must take
upon themselves,” Gutierrez said. But, he added, “a greater element of
this responsibility should fall on the exporting state.”

China, for example, has become a cache for vast amounts of e-waste.
The nation is beginning to take action to stem the flow of hazardous
material across its borders. “The Chinese government, after many years
of denial, is finally beginning to take the helm,” said Ted Smith,
founder and senior strategist of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
Gutierrez noted that even if China enforces its existing laws and
keeps e-waste out, “it will flow to the next country with lax
environmental standards.” E-waste, he said, “follows the path of least
economic resistance.”

“That’s why we need to regulate this at the source end,” Smith agreed.
Laws should prevent e-waste exportation and require manufacturers to
shoulder the responsibility of recycling their products in the most
cost-effective manner, he said. Such a shift would make electronics
more expensive in the short term, he acknowledged, but environmental
damage and health hazards would be minimized. Gutierrez added that as
many toxic compounds as possible should be banned from new
electronics. Europe has already banned lead, cadmium, and a half dozen
other materials still permitted in U.S. products.

Problems Ahead
Gordon Davy, an engineer with technology firm Northrop Grumman in
Baltimore, Maryland, said such regulation would be coercive. Consumers
in developed countries would have to pay more for new electronics, and
poor laborers elsewhere would lose the income they now get from
stripping apart dead electronics. Davy also questions whether e-waste
is harming people. “Pollution in the third world is clearly
deplorable,” he said. “But as far as health consequences [of e-waste
is concerned], the environmental activists need to provide supporting
evidence. They need to identify and count their victims.” Gutierrez
countered, “We’re dealing with toxic substances that have been studied
to death. We need not come up with further studies. It would be an
overanalysis of an obvious problem.”

“The e-waste crisis is relatively young,” he said. “The problems [that
people] are being exposed to will germinate for years.” By the time
chronic diseases such as cancer arise, it will be too late to avert a
public-health disaster, he said. Smith, of the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, concurred. “Right now [e-waste] doesn’t seem to be causing
any enormous environmental hazards. But over the next several
generations it’s going to create a problem.” University of Maryland
student Haibing Ma is planning ahead. The graduate student from China
aims to develop a framework that could help his homeland deal with its
e-waste problem.

While working toward a solution, Ma is loath to add to the problem, so
he purchased his computers from Hewlett Packard. That manufacturer is
one of several that have announced so-called takeback policies,
promising to safely dispose of obsolete equipment returned by
consumers. “I mailed one monitor back to HP last semester,” Ma said.
“But the [shipping] charge … we pay ourselves.” With other
electronics, manufacturers provide no such choice. “The television is
the problem,” Ma said. “We have so many different producers, and none
of them have a clear takeback policy.” When his TV dies, Ma says,
he’ll put it in the waste bin. “We don’t know where it will go.”

Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste / Nov. 9, 2008

60 Minutes is going to take you to one of the most toxic places on
Earth – a place government officials and gangsters don’t want you to
see. It’s a town in China where you can’t breathe the air or drink the
water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead.

It’s worth risking a visit because much of the poison is coming out of
the homes, schools and offices of America. This is a story about
recycling – about how your best intentions to be green can be
channeled into an underground sewer that flows from the United States
and into the wasteland. That wasteland is piled with the burning
remains of some of the most expensive, sophisticated stuff that
consumers crave. And 60 Minutes and correspondent Scott Pelley
discovered that the gangs who run this place wanted to keep it a
secret. What are they hiding? The answer lies in the first law of the
digital age: newer is better. In with the next thing, and out with the
old TV, phone or computer. All of this becomes obsolete, electronic
garbage called “e-waste.”

Computers may seem like sleek, high-tech marvels. But what’s inside
them? “Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of
these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain
damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers,” Allen Hershkowitz, a
senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, explained. “The problem with e-waste is
that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream
worldwide,” he said. Asked what he meant by “fastest-growing,”
Hershkowitz said. “Well, we throw out about 130,000 computers every
day in the United States.” And he said over 100 million cell phones
are thrown out annually.

At a recycling event in Denver, 60 Minutes found cars bumper-to-bumper
for blocks, in a line that lasted for hours. They were there to drop
off their computers, PDAs, TVs and other electronic waste. Asked what
he thought happens once his e-waste goes into recycling, one man told
Pelley, “Well my assumption is they break it apart and take all the
heavy metals and out and then try to recycle some of the stuff that’s
bad.” Most folks in line were hoping to do the right thing, expecting
that their waste would be recycled in state-of-the-art facilities that
exist here in America. But really, there’s no way for them to know
where all of this is going. The recycling industry is exploding and,
as it turns out, some so-called recyclers are shipping the waste
overseas, where it’s broken down for the precious metals inside.

Executive Recycling, of Englewood, Colo., which ran the Denver event,
promised the public on its Web site: “Your e-waste is recycled
properly, right here in the U.S. – not simply dumped on somebody
else.” That policy helped Brandon Richter, the CEO of Executive
Recycling, win a contract with the city of Denver and expand
operations into three western states. Asked what the problem is with
shipping this waste overseas, Richter told Pelley, “Well, you know,
they’ve got low-income labor over there. So obviously they don’t have
all of the right materials, the safety equipment to handle some of
this material.”

Executive does recycling in-house, but 60 Minutes was curious about
shipping containers that were leaving its Colorado yard. 60 Minutes
found one container filled with monitors. They’re especially hazardous
because each picture tube, called a cathode ray tube or CRT, contains
several pounds of lead. It’s against U.S. law to ship them overseas
without special permission. 60 Minutes took down the container’s
number and followed it to Tacoma, Wash., where it was loaded on a
ship. When the container left Tacoma, 60 Minutes followed it for 7,459
miles to Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.

It turns out the container that started in Denver was just one of
thousands of containers on an underground, often illegal smuggling
route, taking America’s electronic trash to the Far East. Our guide to
that route was Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, a
watchdog group named for the treaty that is supposed to stop rich
countries from dumping toxic waste on poor ones. Puckett runs a
program to certify ethical recyclers. And he showed 60 Minutes what’s
piling up in Hong Kong. “It’s literally acres of computer monitors,”
Pelley commented. “Is it legal to import all of these computer
monitors into Hong Kong?”

“No way. It is absolutely illegal, both from the standpoint of Hong
Kong law but also U.S. law and Chinese law. But it’s happening,”
Puckett said. 60 Minutes followed the trail to a place Puckett
discovered in southern China – a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste
– the town of Guiyu. But we weren’t there very long before we were
picked up by the cops and taken to City Hall. We told the mayor we
wanted to see recycling. So he personally drove us to a shop. “Let me
explain what’s happening here,” Pelley remarked while in Guiyu. “We
were brought into the mayor’s office. The mayor told us that we’re
essentially not welcome here, but he would show us one place where
computers are being dismantled and this is that place. A pretty tidy
shop. The mayor told us that we would be welcome to see the rest of
the town, but that the town wouldn’t be prepared for our visit for
another year. “So we were allowed to shoot at that location for about
five minutes,” Pelley explained further. “And we’re back in the
mayor’s car headed back to City Hall, where I suspect we’ll be given
another cup of tea and sent on our way out of town with a police
escort no doubt.” And we were. But the next day, in a different car
and on a different road, we got in.

“This is really the dirty little secret of the electronic age,” Jim
Puckett said. Greenpeace has been filming around Guiyu and caught the
recycling work. Women were heating circuit boards over a coal fire,
pulling out chips and pouring off the lead solder. Men were using what
is literally a medieval acid recipe to extract gold. Pollution has
ruined the town. Drinking water is trucked in. Scientists have studied
the area and discovered that Guiyu has the highest levels of cancer-
causing dioxins in the world. They found pregnancies are six times
more likely to end in miscarriage, and that seven out of ten kids have
too much lead in their blood. “These people are not just working with
these materials, they’re living with them. They’re all around their
homes,” Pelley told Allen Hershkowitz. “The situation in Guiyu is
actually pre-capitalist. It’s mercantile. It reverts back to a time
when people lived where they worked, lived at their shop. Open,
uncontrolled burning of plastics. Chlorinated and brominated plastics
is known worldwide to cause the emission of polychlorinated and
polybrominated dioxins. These are among the most toxic compounds
known on earth,” Hershkowitz explained. “We have a situation where
we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century

The recyclers are peasant farmers who couldn’t make a living on the
land. Destitute, they’ve come by the thousands to get $8 a day.
Greenpeace introduced us to some of them. They were afraid and didn’t
want to be seen, but theirs are the hands that are breaking down
America’s computers. “The air I breathe in every day is so pungent I
can definitely feel it in my windpipe and affecting my lungs. It makes
me cough all the time,” one worker told Pelley, with the help of a
translator. “If you’re worried about your lungs and you’re burning
your hands, do you ever think about giving this up?” Pelley asked.
“Yes, I have thought of it,” the worker said. Asked why he doesn’t
give it up, the worker told him, “Because the money’s good.”

“You know, it struck me, talking to those workers the other day, that
they were destitute and they’re happy to have this work,” Pelley told
Puckett. “Well, desperate people will do desperate things,” Puckett
replied. “But we should never put them in that situation. You know,
it’s a hell of a choice between poverty and poison. We should never
make people make that choice.” Pelley, Puckett, and the 60 Minutes
team passed by a riverbed that had been blackened by the ash of burned
e-waste. “Oh, man, this is – it’s unbelievably acrid and choking,”
Pelley said, coughing. “This is an ash river. This is detritus from
burning all this material and this is what the kids get to play in,”
Puckett explained.

After a few minutes in the real recycling area, we were jumped.
Several men struggled for our cameras. The mayor hadn’t wanted us to
see this place, and neither did the businessmen who were profiting
from it. They got a soil sample that we’d taken for testing, but we
managed to wrestle the cameras back. What were they afraid of?
“They’re afraid of being found out,” Puckett said. “This is smuggling.
This is illegal. A lot of people are turning a blind eye here. And if
somebody makes enough noise, they’re afraid this is all gonna dry up.”

Back in Denver, there’s no threat of it drying up. In fact, it was a
flood. And Brandon Richter, CEO of Executive Recycling, was still
warning of the dangers of shipping waste to China. “I just heard
actually a child actually died over there breaking this material down,
just getting all these toxins,” he said. Then Pelley told him we’d
tracked his container to Hong Kong. “This is a photograph from your
yard, the Executive Recycling yard,” Pelley told Richter, showing him
a photo we’d taken of a shipping container in his yard. “We followed
this container to Hong Kong.”

“Okay,” Richter replied.
“And I wonder why that would be?” Pelley asked.
“Hmm. I have no clue,” Richter said.
“The Hong Kong customs people opened the container…and found it full
of CRT screens which, as you probably know, is illegal to export to
Hong Kong,” Pelley said.
“Yeah, yep,” Richter replied. “I don’t know if that container was
filled with glass. I doubt it was. We don’t fill glass, CRT glass in
those containers.”
“This container was in your yard, filled with CRT screens, and
exported to Hong Kong, which probably wouldn’t be legal,” Pelley said.
“No, absolutely not. Yeah,” Richter said.
“Can you explain that?” Pelley asked.
“Yeah, it’s not – it was not filled in our facility,” Richter said.

But that’s where 60 Minutes filmed it. And we weren’t the only ones
asking questions. It turns out Hong Kong customs intercepted the
container and sent it back to Executive Recycling, Englewood,
Colorado, the contents listed as “waste: cathode ray tubes.” U.S.
customs x-rayed the container and found the same thing. 60 Minutes
showed Richter this evidence, and later his lawyer told us the CRTs
were exported under Executive Recycling’s name, but without the
company’s permission. “I know this is your job,” Richter told Pelley.
“But, unfortunately, you know, when you attack small business owners
like this and you don’t have all your facts straight, it’s
unfortunate, you know?”

But here’s one more fact: the federal Government Accountability Office
set up a sting in which U.S. investigators posed as foreign importers.
Executive Recycling offered to sell 1,500 CRT computer monitors and
1,200 CRT televisions to the GAO’s fictitious broker in Hong Kong. But
Executive Recycling was not alone. The GAO report found that another
42 American companies were willing to do the same.

Who Was Following Whom?
BY Solly Granatstein / Nov. 11, 2008

It was clear from the outset that this was a place with something to
hide. We had come to southern China to set up a TV shoot, but we were
the ones being filmed. A slim Chinese man, in his early 30’s, with
short-cropped hair, was taking our picture with his cell phone. He was
standing about 20 yards from me and our fixer, Lamy Li. It’s hard to
say what gave it away, but there was no doubt he was an undercover
cop. When I turned toward him, he walked briskly in the opposite

Lamy and I had been walking through the grim town of Guiyu attempting,
with marginal success, to speak with workers. The skies were low and
grey. Plumes of dank smoke rose from salvage workshops and piles of
burning waste. Guiyu is a community of 60,000 where most of the people
are employed in the mining of precious metals from electronic waste,
also known as “‘e-waste.” E-waste is junked old computers, TV’s, cell
phones, printers, most of it toxic, and much coming to this shabby
corner of China from wealthier environs like America.

What we saw in Guiyu was gut-wrenching. I had read in scientific
journals that given all the toxic compounds contained in electronic
products, breaking them down is hazardous work. But that was nothing
like witnessing it in person. The place was a hell on earth of acrid
smoke and noxious smells. The pungent air scorched the back of our
throats. On my way to Guiyu, a scientist in Hong Kong had said, “Every
part of Guiyu has a different, terrible smell.” Now I knew what she

Through the smoke, workers could be seen dismantling electronic
components by hand, or melting them down over coal fires, for the tiny
bits of precious metals inside. Some were clearly underage, and most
were working with little protection, with neither gloves to protect
their hands nor masks to shield their lungs. The salvage operations
took place in the same shanties where the workers and their children

Just before we encountered the undercover cop who took our picture, we
had a run-in with one of the owners of the salvage works. He was
overseeing gold extraction from circuit boards. His workers dipped the
boards into large drums of hydrochloric and nitric acid, using a
technique, known as aqua regia, that dates from the Middle Ages.
Plumes of orange smoke rose from the drums and doubtlessly seared the
lungs of the workers. The whole operation took place on the edge of a
river. The acid leeched into the water, which had long since become
undrinkable. As if to advertise where he worked, the boss wore a
prominent gold medallion that swung from a gold chain around his neck.
When he saw the two of us, he started yelling at Lamy. “Get out of
here! You’re not welcome here! Get out!” We did just that.

This visit was just a reconnaissance mission, to know what we would be
filming upon the arrival of our correspondent, Scott Pelley, and the
camera crews. I figured there was no point in drawing any more
attention to ourselves than I already had simply by being a non-
Chinese person walking around in this remote town. So when I saw our
picture being taken by the cop with the cell phone, I suggested to
Lamy that we leave.

It was gloomy and wet when we came back to town the next morning.
Lamy had arranged to meet a man who would be able to introduce us to
some workers. We drove our small car to an appointed corner, he jumped
into the back seat, and we drove off. The worker liaison was a small, wiry
fellow in a tan rain slicker. He had scarred, dark skin with handsome
features and a wary smile. As we rounded a corner and parked against
the edge of a building, he told us that the town authorities had
recently warned workers that they would spend 30 days in jail if they
spoke with foreign reporters. Lamy explained to me that the workers
are migrants from other parts of China. Since they’re not official
citizens of this province, they have no right to health care or other
protections. “I keep thinking that they are totally vulnerable” she

A short distance in front of the car, I noticed a man standing under
an umbrella in an alley way. “Isn’t that the same dude who was taking
our picture yesterday?” I asked Lamy. It was difficult to tell. His
face was partially obscured. Not wanting the worker liaison to be
discovered, we drove away and out of town. Our driver, a local, was
rattled and refused to drive for us again.

That evening, Lamy and I were in front of our hotel in Shantou, the
big city that’s a couple hours away from Guiyu. We hailed a taxi to
take us to a meet a local scientist who’s studied the effects of e-
waste operations on Guiyu’s children. I had read the studies. Seven
out of ten kids have blood lead levels in the Centers for Disease
Control’s danger zone. Then: There he was again, or so it seemed. The
same plainclothes cop was walking up the hotel driveway. I said, “Hey,
look! Isn’t that him?” Lamy said, “Stop! Now you’re scaring me!” But a
second look confirmed it. It was the same guy, two days later and a
hundred miles away from where we had first seen him. Suddenly, things
seemed serious. All the more so for Lamy who lives and works in Hong
Kong, under the authoritarian cloud of Chinese rule.

Not knowing what else to do, we proceeded with our original plan. We
hopped into a cab and headed across town. The cop jumped into a large
black sedan and followed close behind us. He had seen that we had
noticed him and dropped any pretense that he wasn’t trailing us. Our
taxi driver was a young guy whose hair was bleached at the ends and
who seemed more excited than scared when we told him that we were
being followed. He hit the accelerator, while the sedan fell behind
and got stuck in traffic. We managed to make a U-turn and whooped as
we saw our pursuers watch helplessly as we sped past in the other
direction. A minute later, we stopped congratulating ourselves. There
was a black sedan, a different one, right on our tail.

“I’ve lived in Shantou all my life,” our taxi driver proclaimed. “I
know the back streets. I’ll be able to lose them.” We sped around a
highway ramp and made a quick turn down a side street. The sedan
behind us took the same turn. We cut into an even smaller street and
plowed through a crowd of pedestrians. Three more turns in quick
succession. We came to a stop in an alley and waited. Several minutes
passed. The coast was clear. We made our way out of the neighborhood
back onto a main road. Within seconds, a third black sedan was close
behind us.

Our taxi driver stopped chattering. Lamy said he was probably scared
by the fact that our pursuers had so many vehicles and resources-that
is, they couldn’t be anyone other than a powerful security force. Lamy
was frightened herself. Part of her unease had to do with the fact
that we didn’t even know exactly who was following us. Were they Guiyu
town police or the provincial security services? Could they be agents
of some national intelligence directorate? There was even an off-
chance that they were local Mafiosi, the hired muscle of e-waste
businessmen who wanted to keep outside scrutiny away from their black
market operations. And how much did these people know about us and
our plans? Had they bugged our hotel room or our phones? Anything
seemed possible.

We gave up evasive maneuvers and went to the meeting. In a local
restaurant, while we spoke to the scientist and took notes, the
corners of our eyes tried to keep track of all the plainclothes
security men lounging in the street outside keeping track of us. At
the end of the evening, after being trailed back to our hotel, Lamy
marched straight up to one of the van that had been following us and
motioned for the driver to roll down the window. “Who are you? Why are
you following us?” she demanded. Fearlessly. “We’re going to call the
police if you don’t cut it out!” The driver panicked, had not expected
this. “I wasn’t! It’s not true!” he kept saying, and drove off.

Lamy and I talked late into the night. If we were followed night and
day, how were we going to be able to film this story, to document what
we had seen in Guiyu? The cops could shut us down as soon as our
cameramen started shooting. Was it even worthwhile to bring the rest
of our team to China? And if we were being constantly surveyed, how
could we possibly interview e-waste workers without putting their
lives in danger? Was there a way we could avoid being followed?

I called Scott Pelley, who was on a different shoot in northern
Canada, and discussed the situation with him at length. It was
agonizing. There was a decent chance that he would fly halfway around
the world and that we would not emerge with a story. Finally, we
decided. Though we agreed that there were no guarantees, we knew we
had to give it a try. Lamy and I figured that the only way to lose our
security escort was to leave the province altogether. We had to
convince the authorities that we were done with the place. The next
morning, Lamy flew to Hong Kong to meet the rest of our team. I had a
single entry visa and wouldn’t be able to return if I left the
Mainland. I flew an hour away to the city of Guangzhou, then hopped on
a bus to the city of Shenzhen. These were evasive maneuvers in the

A day later, our entire team gathered in Shenzhen. In addition to me
and Lamy, our full contingent included correspondent Scott Pelley; our
wonderful and efficient associate producer Nicole Young; two exemplary
cameramen, David Lom and Brad Simpson (who is also the CBS News
Beijing bureau chief); and assistant cameraman Jackie Chen. There were
also two non-journalists we’d invited along: Jim Puckett, the founder
of a toxic waste watchdog group called the Basel Action Network; and
Jamie Choi, a specialist in corporate environmental responsibility
with Greenpeace-Beijing. Very early the morning after that, we set off
on the 5-hour drive to the wasteland of Guiyu. Since we were now with
our camera crews, most of what happened next was deftly captured on
videotape. Much of that is in the 60 Minutes story.

We managed to speak with a group of workers in a location far from
Guiyu where, thank goodness, our gathering was not discovered. They
told us about the conditions of their work. They guessed, judging from
the script on the components, that much of the waste came from faraway
English-speaking countries like ours. Later, after we had left the
workers, our vehicles were stopped by the Guiyu police, and we were
brought to City Hall. The mayor prohibited us from filming in his
town. His police escorted us to the city limits.

We returned the next day nonetheless and began committing to
videotape the atrocious scenes we had come to document. Very quickly,
a gang of about a dozen men materialized and started roughing us up,
trying to grab the cameras that had recorded their dirty secret. Swinging
a tripod from side to side, I fought off two men who had grabbed either
end of David Lom’s camera. These men were enraged. One of them
clambered atop a mound of dirt, shouting, and threw fist-sized
batteries at us. Our situation was all the more perilous because our
drivers had driven away, fearing that they would be beaten up or that
their cars would be wrecked by the gang.

As a group, we walked away from the recycling area toward the center
of town. We were followed by men on motorbikes and in cars who waved
taxis away and beckoned us to into their vehicles so we could all
return to the mayor’s office. “Come with us. You’re not safe here,”
said these men who had just attacked us. In the end, we waited them
out. Scott came up with the brilliant and effective line that if they
took us back to the mayor’s office, we would consider it an arrest and
let the Foreign Ministry in Beijing know what had happened. “Oh no,
you’re not being arrested!” they assured us nervously. Suddenly, not
only were we free to leave the town, but the mayor and his men gave us
a lift for the two-hour ride to Shantou.

Somehow we had managed to escape with only a few scrapes and
bruises. Nicole Young, our AP, suffered the gravest injury: a sizable florid
bruise on her hip where she had pressed the tripod that a large man
tried to wrest from her. Most important, we got away with the tapes we
had shot. We had only been able to film for about 10 or 15 minutes
before we were attacked. But the wasteland was so awful, even that was

A day earlier, the workers we had secretly interviewed summed up their
experience of the wasteland. They had been peasant farmers, unable to
eke a living from the land. Now they spent their days melting circuit
boards, burning their hands, enduring headaches and shortness of
breath. They realized the work was hazardous, but felt they had little
choice. They were, as Lamy said, utterly vulnerable-both to the toxic
work and to the gangs who run this place. “The people in Guiyu have no
consideration for laws,” one of them said when asked why they
preferred to remain anonymous. “They treat people who come here to
work like thieves. And if someone from another province gets beaten
up, nobody in the government will take care of them. It’s totally
okay. You give a bit of money to the officials, and everything is
taken care of. The people there are very savage-like. And we don’t
want to be hurt.”

BY Luca Gabino / 9/2007

For years, I’ve heard fables and legends about a mysterious cemetery
somewhere in China. I heard whispers on the internet and from Chinese
friends about mountains of broken computers, heaps of chips,
motherboards, and printer cartridges virtually filling the streets of
a South Asian village. But it was kept quiet by the notoriously tight-
lipped Chinese government. It was kind of like the elusive elephant
graveyard, but with technological offal and guarded by mean
communists. I decided that I would make it my mission to go there.

I slowly discovered that 80 percent of all the electronic toxic waste
collected around the world ends up in Guiyu, a small town in the
southern China province of Guangdong. The town imports more than 1
million tons of this stuff every year. Almost 90 percent of Hong
Kong’s computers end up there, but 60 percent of the total waste
originates in the USA. The exact location of Guiyu has been kept
secret by the authorities, but I already knew that Shenzhen was the
biggest city in Guangdong and that it was just an hour and a half away
from Hong Kong.

Even with Hong Kong being Chinese again, we had to go through customs
to get into Shenzhen. We boarded the bus to Cheng Dian, guessing it
was the nearest city to Guiyu. On the bus the situation got even
creepier when the hostess pulled out a video camera and started
filming each passenger for “security reasons.” I was the only
Westerner on board. During the three-hour bus ride the same advert
looped on the in-bus televisions. It showed Shenzhen as a city of fun,
happiness, and luxury. Looking out the window at the gray factories,
the sea of cement, and the columns of smoke I had to ask myself if any
of the other passengers were falling for it. Toward the end of the
journey I found a university student who spoke a little English.
Taking a chance, I asked her where Guiyu was. She acted quite
perplexed at first and replied that no such place existed. But I could
tell she knew something, so I begged her until she scribbled
directions on a piece of paper.

We arrived in Cheng Dian at night and I took a room in a cheap hotel.
I spent the next day trying to find someone who would tell us more
about Guiyu. The locals denied its existence. Fortunately I found a
taxi driver who was willing to take me there for the relative mountain
of cash that is 40 euros. I handed him the directions that the girl on
the train had written for me, and we set off in almost total darkness.
The driver eventually dropped me off at the only hotel in the
proximity of Guiyu. From the car, all I could see was a big white
block of cement surrounded by garbage. I stepped out into the most
surreal landscape I have ever seen.

It was a sea of garbage. The heaps of trash began accumulating next to
the hotel walls and did not stop for as far as the eye could see. The
whole town was a construction site, with the old wooden barracks being
replaced by unfinished houses. You can still spot Guiyu’s rural past
in the barracks that once clearly constituted most of the town, but
the e-waste economy required more accommodation for the 200,000
migrant workers who moved to Guiyu in the past six years. Everywhere
around us people were busy carrying or unloading computer parts. Huge
piles of outer shells lay next to construction sites, layers and
layers of motherboards and CD players were dumped in the courtyards,
and thousands of bags of chips spilled inside and outside, forming
massive mountains between the tiny dwellings. Children were dividing
tiny chips by color in the street.

Adults were grilling circuit boards on barbecue grills. They melted
the soldering and removed the chips, and then the women would
separate the parts in different bags and wash them with water. After
the circuit boards were soaked in acid to recuperate bits of gold, they
were finally either burned or buried.

I witnessed kids between the ages of five and ten working in barracks
with no ventilation, with people all around them burning everything
from the metal components of computers to wires to extract the copper.
When the PVC and the brominated flame retardant around the wires
burn, they emit high levels of chlorinated dioxins and furans, two of the
most persistent organic pollutants. As a result, the local river is so
contaminated that the levels of acidity are almost total. The water
contains an estimated 2,400 times the recommended levels of lead, and
it’s not hard to notice: The river is literally black from the toner
of printer cartridges and from washing the burned motherboards. The
toner contains carbon black, a known carcinogen, but the locals wash
themselves, their clothes, and their food with this water. It’s so
toxic that even boiling it doesn’t come close to purifying it. Above
the water, the air was thick with smoke. Around it, the land is so
irreparably poisoned that nothing can grow. All the food and drinking
water is imported from out of town.

On my third day in Guiyu, I managed to get to the main dump. The
mountains of computer parts I had seen so far were nothing compared
with what awaited. The roads were in a constant state of traffic jam
with trucks, motorbikes, and even mules carrying parts to be
“recycled.” It was hell. Thick smoke hung like storm clouds. It hurt
to breathe.

As I stopped to take pictures, a furious woman came out of nowhere,
charging me with her broom, trying to grab my camera. Not wanting to
cause trouble in an illegal toxic-waste dump in southern China, I ran
back to the car. She followed, waving her broom around like a baseball
bat, banging on the windows. She broke the windshield. She was blind
with rage, trying to break the remaining bits of glass off with her
bare hands. When she saw she couldn’t do it she stuck her broom
through the hole she’d made and started smacking me in the head.

Then the police showed up to—I naively thought—rescue me from the
crazy woman. I was very wrong. They ordered me to wait in the car
while they interrogated all the witnesses except for the woman, whom
they let calmly walk back to her barrack. People crowded around the
car and stared at me as if I were an exotic animal in a cage. After an
hour the police told my driver to follow them to the station, where I
was interrogated for an hour with the aid of a translator. I told them
I was a university student on vacation. I had previously hid the
better rolls of film, so I could hand them the ones that were no good
to me. They let me go back to my hotel, chauffered by the poor driver
whose car had been beaten up by the crazy old woman.

A few days later there was a knock at my hotel door. It was the cops
again. They took me back to the station, where I was questioned by six
cops. I thought they were going to beat the shit out of me. After an
hour of repeating myself, I convinced them that I was merely a student
on holiday. They believed me! That is, until they got the owner of the
hotel to show them the ID card I’d used to sign in. Under job
description, it said “photographer.” Whoops. The interrogation started
again. I played it dumb, hung my head, and told them I was just a
silly student who takes amateur pictures and has no idea what is going
on in their town. Three hours later they finally released me and I
hightailed it right the fuck out of Guiyu. I will never go back.


‘I think within ten years that we will have strategies that re-grow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones’  – Dr Stephen Badylak, Univ. of Pittsburgh

The man who grew a finger
BY Matthew Price  /  30 April 2008

In every town in every part of this sprawling country you can find a
faceless sprawling strip mall in which to do the shopping. Rarely
though would you expect to find a medical miracle working behind the
counter of the mall’s hobby shop. That however is what Lee Spievak
considers himself to be. “I put my finger in,” Mr Spievak says,
pointing towards the propeller of a model airplane, “and that’s when I
sliced my finger off.”

It took the end right off, down to the bone, about half an inch. “We
don’t know where the piece went.” The photos of his severed finger tip
are pretty graphic. You can understand why doctors said he’d lost it
for good. Today though, you wouldn’t know it. Mr Spievak, who is 69
years old, shows off his finger, and it’s all there, tissue, nerves,
nail, skin, even his finger print.

‘Pixie dust’
How? Well that’s the truly remarkable part. It wasn’t a transplant. Mr
Spievak re-grew his finger tip. He used a powder – or pixie dust as he
sometimes refers to it while telling his story.

Mr Speivak’s brother Alan – who was working in the field of
regenerative medicine – sent him the powder. For ten days Mr Spievak
put a little on his finger. “The second time I put it on I already
could see growth. Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and
was a finger. “It took about four weeks before it was sealed.” Now he
says he has “complete feeling, complete movement.” The “pixie dust”
comes from the University of Pittsburgh, though in the lab Dr Stephen
Badylak prefers to call it extra cellular matrix.

Pig’s bladder
The process he has been pioneering over the last few years involves
scraping the cells from the lining of a pig’s bladder. The remaining
tissue is then placed into acid, “cleaned” of all cells, and dried
out. It can be turned into sheets, or a powder.

How it works in detail
It looks like a simple process, but of course the science is complex.
“There are all sorts of signals in the body,” explains Dr Badylak. “We
have got signals that are good for forming scar, and others that are
good for regenerating tissues. “One way to think about these matrices
is that we have taken out many of the stimuli for scar tissue
formation and left those signals that were always there anyway for
constructive remodelling.” In other words when the extra cellular
matrix is put on a wound, scientists believe it stimulates cells in
the tissue to grow rather than scar. If they can perfect the
technique, it might mean one day they could repair not just a severed
finger, but severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.

Clinical trial
They hope soon to start a clinical trial in Buenos Aires on a woman
who has cancer of the oesophagus. The normal procedure in such cases
is often deadly. Doctors remove the cancerous portion and try to
stretch the stomach lining up to meet the shortened oesophagus. In the
trial they will place the extra cellular matrix inside the body from
where the portion of oesophagus has been removed, and hope to
stimulate the cells around it to re-grow the missing portion.

So could limbs be re-grown? Dr Badylak is cautious, but believes the
technology is potentially revolutionary. “I think that within ten
years that we will have strategies that will re-grow the bones, and
promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones. And that
is a major step towards eventually doing the entire limb.” That kind
of talk has got the US military interested. They are just about to
start trials to re-grow parts of the fingers of injured soldiers.

Skin burns
They also hope the matrix might help veterans like Robert Henline re-
grow burnt skin. He was almost killed in an explosion while serving in
Iraq. His four colleagues travelling with him in the army Humvee were
all killed. He suffered 35% burns to his head and upper body. His ears
are almost totally gone, the skin on his head has been burnt to the
bone, his face is a swollen raw mess. So far he has undergone surgery
25 times. He reckons he has got another 30 to go. Anything that could
be done in terms of regeneration would be great he says. “Life
changing! I think I’m more scared of hospitals than I am of going back
to Iraq again.” Like any developing technology there are many
unknowns. There are worries about encouraging cancerous growths by
using the matrix. Doctors though believe that within the so called
pixie dust lies an amazing medical discovery.

Stephen F. Badylak, DVM, MD, PhD
email : badylaks [at] upmc [dot] edu


Humans can regrow fingers?  /  BY Julia Layton

When a hobby-store owner in Cincinnati sliced off his fingertip in
2005 while showing a customer why the motor on his model plane was
dangerous, he went to the emergency room without the missing tip. He
couldn’t find it anywhere. The doctor bandaged the wound and
recommended a skin graft to cover the top of his right-middle stub for
cosmetic purposes, since nothing could be done to rebuild the finger.
Months later, he had regrown it, tissue, nerves, skin, fingernail and

This particular hobbyist happened to have a brother in the tissue-
regeneration business, who told him to forego the skin graft and
instead apply a powdered extract taken from pig’s bladder to the raw
finger tip. The extract, called extracellular matrix, lays the
framework that cells use to generate any given body part. It’s like a
cellular scaffolding, and all animals have it. It holds the signals
that direct cells to divide, differentiate and build themselves into a
specific form.

Extracellular matrix is a component of body tissue that functions
outside of the body’s cells (thus the “extracellular” designation).
It’s made up mostly of collagen, a type of protein. So extracellular
matrix extracted from the bladder of a pig does not actually have any
of the pig’s cells in it. In human fetuses, the substance works in
concert with stem cells to grow and regrow everything from heart
aortas to toes. Fetuses can regrow almost anything that gets damaged
while in the womb. Scientists have long believed that when a fetus
reaches full development, this extracellular matrix stops functioning.
But with evidence that applying extracellular matrix from a pig can
initiate certain types of regeneration in humans, they’re wondering if
they can trigger human extracellular matrix to start working again.
After all, according to regeneration researcher Dr. Stephen Badylak of
the University of Pittsburgh, children up to the age of two have been
known to regrow fingertips with no outside help.

Pig-extracted extracellular matrix is already used by veterinarians to
help horses repair torn ligaments. In people, it’s used to treat
ulcers, closing a hole in the tissue that lines the stomach. It
employs an entirely different process than the typical mammalian
healing mechanism. Let’s take the case of a person who loses the tip
of a finger. When the finger is severed, the cells die, and their
contents seep into the surrounding tissue. This alerts the immune
system to a problem. The immune system’s response to cell death is
inflammation and scar tissue. The formation of scar tissue prevents
any future cellular development in the area. That’s why scars last —
cells are prevented from doing a repair job on that skin.

But when extracellular matrix is applied to a wound, it doesn’t
trigger an immune response. Instead, when it begins to break down into
surrounding tissue, it causes the cells in that tissue to start
repairing the damage the way they would in a developing fetus (or a
salamander that loses a limb) — they divide and rebuild, creating
new, normal tissue, not scar tissue.

Combined with developments in stem-cell research, this extracellular
matrix may work miracles in the area of regeneration science. As of
early 2007, testing of the effects of extracellular matrix is being
carried out on a military base in Texas. Scientists are using the
powdered pig extract on Iraq War veterans whose hands were damaged in
the war. They’re opening the wounds and applying the component to
finger stubs in an attempt to regrow them. The researchers conducting
the study say they don’t expect to regrow the entire finger, but are
hoping to regrow enough of a finger to allow for some utility. They
don’t believe it will regenerate bone, but nothing is for sure right
now. That man in Cincinnati had only lost his finger tip, at the lower
part of the nail; he hadn’t lost the entire finger.

Help from pigs aside, many wonder if the extracellular matrix in
humans is unable to function or is simply in a latent state, awaiting
some sort of trigger. Do humans in fact have the same regenerative
capacity as salamanders, which can regrow an entire limb, and
researchers just haven’t found a way to activate the mechanism? It’s
not just amphibians that can regrow body parts: Deer regularly regrow
lost antlers, composed of bone, tissue, cartilage and skin — the same
things that make up human limbs. Could there possibly be an internal
switch that would reactivate the regeneration capacity that humans
possess in the womb? Regenerative medicine is actively pursuing
answers to these questions. And in the meantime, if applying powdered
pig extract to a snipped finger can in fact facilitate regrowth, the
possibilities for medicine are startling. Spinal injuries, amputated
limbs and damaged organs could all be coaxed back into a complete,
healthy state if science finds the right combination of treatments.



Science Finds New Ways to Regrow Fingers
BY Malcom Ritter  /  February 19, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Researchers are trying to find ways to regrow
fingers, and someday, even limbs with tricks that sound like magic
spells from a Harry Potter novel.  There’s the guy who sliced off a
fingertip but grew it back, after he treated the wound with an extract
of pig bladder. And the scientists who grow extra arms on salamanders.
And the laboratory mice with the eerie ability to heal themselves.

Powdered Pig Extract – The Stuff of Magic?
This summer, scientists are planning to see whether the powdered pig
extract can help injured soldiers regrow parts of their fingers. And a
large federally funded project is trying to unlock the secrets of how
some animals regrow body parts so well, with hopes of applying the the
lessons to humans. The implications for regrowing fingers go beyond
the cosmetic. People who are missing all or most of their fingers, as
from an explosion or a fire, often can’t pick things up, brush their
teeth or button a button. If they could grow even a small stub, it
could make a huge difference in their lives. And the lessons learned
from studying regrowth of fingers and limbs could aid the larger field
of regenerative medicine, perhaps someday helping people replace
damaged parts of their hearts and spinal cords, and heal wounds and
burns with new skin instead of scar.

A Story of Regeneration
But that’s in the future. For now, consider the situation of Lee
Spievack, a hobby-store salesman in Cincinnati, as he regarded his
severed right middle finger one evening in August 2005. He had been
helping a customer with an engine on a model airplane behind the shop.
He knew the motor was risky because it required somebody to turn the
prop backwards to make it run the right way. “I pointed to it,”
Spievack recalled the other day, “and said, ‘You need to get rid of
this engine, it’s too dangerous.’ And I put my finger through the
prop.” He’d misjudged the distance to the spinning plastic prop. It
sliced off his fingertip, leaving just a bit of the nail bed. The
missing piece, three-eighths of an inch long, was never found. An
emergency room doctor wrapped up the rest of his finger and sent him
to a hand surgeon, who recommended a skin graft to cover what was left
of his finger. What was gone, it appeared, was gone forever.

If Spievack, now 68, had been a toddler, things might have been
different. Up to about age 2, people can consistently regrow
fingertips, says Dr. Stephen Badylak, a regeneration expert at the
University of Pittsburgh. But that’s rare in adults, he said.
Spievack, however, did have a major advantage, a brother Alan, a
former Harvard surgeon who’d founded a company called ACell Inc., that
makes an extract of pig bladder for promoting healing and tissue

Federal Government Clears Use on People
It helps horses regrow ligaments, for example, and the federal
government has given clearance to market it for use in people. Similar
formulations have been used in many people to do things like treat
ulcers and other wounds and help make cartilage. The summer before Lee
Spievack’s accident, Dr. Alan Spievack had used it on a neighbor who’d
cut his fingertip off on a tablesaw. The man’s fingertip grew back
over four to six weeks, Alan Spievack said.

Lee Spievack took his brother’s advice to forget about a skin graft
and try the pig powder. Soon a shipment of the stuff arrived and Lee
Spievack started applying it every two days. Within four weeks his
finger had regained its original length, he says, and in four months
“it looked like my normal finger.” Spievack said it’s a little hard,
as if calloused, and there’s a slight scar on the end. The nail
continues to grow at twice the speed of his other nails. “All my
fingers in this cold weather have cracked except that one,” he said.
All in all, he said, “I’m quite impressed.”

Powder Being Used on Wounded Soldiers
None of this proves the powder was responsible. But those outcomes
have helped inspire an effort to try the powder this summer at Fort
Sam Houston in San Antonio, on soldiers who have far more disabling
finger loss because of burns. Fingers are particularly vulnerable to
burns because they are small and their skin is thin, says David Baer,
a wound specialist at the base who’s working on the federally funded
project. The five to 10 patients in the project will be chosen because
they have major losses in all their fingers and thumbs, preventing
them from performing the pinching motion they need to hold a
toothbrush, for example. The soldiers will have the end of a finger
stub re-opened surgically, with the powder applied three times a week.

Nobody is talking about regrowing an entire finger. The hope is to
grow enough of a finger, maybe even less than an inch, to do pinching.
And it is just a hope. “This is a real shot in the dark,” says
Badylak, who’s participating in the project. “There’s literally
nothing else these individuals have to try. They have nothing to
lose.” But from a scientific standpoint, he said, “this isn’t ready
for prime time.” For one thing, it’s not completely clear what
happened inside Lee Spievack’s finger.

Magic Finger Regrowth from Pig Cells?
The broad outline is pretty straightforward. The powder is mostly
collagen and a variety of substances, without any pig cells, said
Badylak, who’s a scientific adviser to ACell. It forms microscopic
scaffolding for incoming human cells to occupy, and it emits chemical
signals to encourage those cells to regenerate tissue, he said. Those
signals don’t specifically say “make a finger,” but cells pick up that
message from their surroundings, he said. “We’re not smart enough to
figure out how to regrow a finger,” Badylak said. “Maybe what we can
do is bring all the pieces of the puzzle to the right place and then
let Mother Nature take its course.” But “we are very uninformed about
how all of this works,” Badylak said. “There’s a lot more that we
don’t know than we do know.”

Some animals, of course, can regenerate tissue without help from any
powder. Badylak and other scientists are involved in a separate,
Pentagon-funded project to uncover and harness their secrets. This
work might someday lead to regenerating entire limbs.

Salamander Study
One animal they’re studying is the salamander, a star of the
regeneration field. Chop off a salamander’s arm, and it will grow back
in a matter of weeks. Why? The short answer is that rather than making
a scar to heal quickly, as people do, the salamander forms a mound of
cells called a blastema. This is a regeneration factory: If you cut
off a salamander hand and transplant the resulting blastema to the
creature’s back, it will grow out a hand there.

David Gardiner at the University of California, Irvine, is studying
the secrets of the salamander by growing extra arms on the creatures.
That allows for more controlled conditions than amputating arms and
trying to follow what happens, he said. So how do you make a
salamander grow an extra arm? Make a shallow wound on the upper arm.
Re-route a nerve to the site so it will pump out critical chemical
signals that promote the creation of blastema cells. And insert a tiny
piece of skin from the other side of limb you just wounded, to help
provide a blueprint for what needs to be done. The recipe sounds like
“you put it in a cauldron under a full moon,” Gardiner observed.

The creatures are so lethargic it’s hard to tell if they can use their
extra arms, he noted. But the research shows that beyond establishing
a blueprint for a new arm, this mix of cells sends out a chemical
S.O.S. to attract other kinds of cells from the salamander’s body to
help construct a new appendage. Just how many chemical signals are
involved, and what they are, remain to be discovered.

Then there’s the specially bred mouse strain that befuddled Ellen
Heber-Katz a decade ago, and has since become a focus of her research.
Heber-Katz, of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, was using the
mouse strain known as MRL in a study of autoimmune diseases. Her team
punched tiny holes in the animals’ ears as markers. About three weeks
later, Heber-Katz noticed a troubling thing. “There were no ear
holes,” she recalled the other day. “We ear-punched again, and they
closed up and disappeared…. We were just so shocked.”

Like salamanders, the mice were growing blastemas instead of scars.
They also heal damage to their hearts. But for regrowing digits, even
this mouse falls short. If a toe is cut off at some point other than
the tip, the remnant produces a cell mass that looks like a small
blastema, but it doesn’t grow the missing part back. (An ordinary
mouse just develops a scar.) At least, the MRL mouse “looks like it’s
trying,” Heber-Katz said.

In studying the mice and salamanders, scientists will pursue several
questions. What genes rev up to produce regrowth? What biochemical
signals are involved? What is the role of specific cells? Can this
knowledge be used to regrow a digit on a mouse? Scientists say it’s
not clear when this research might help people. As for Spievack, the
model-airplane enthusiast, he’s had enough personal experience in this
area. “I don’t plan on cutting anything more off to find out if I can
grow that back,” he said.

Ellen Heber-Katz
email : heberkatz [at] wistar [dot] org


Tiger Penis Soup
“This recipe was graciously given by “Miss Casey”, the head waitress
at the Pu Chung Pao resturant in Taizhong, Taiwan. If you prefer, you
can buy a bowl of this tasty?? soup for a mere 400 dollars. This
recipe makes 8 bowls of Tiger Penis Soup.

* 1 tiger penis, dried
* 24 other spices and medicines, including rhino horn, bear gall
bladder, tiger bone, and ginseng

Soak the tiger penis in water for one week. Simmer with the 24 spices
and medicines for 24-26 hours. Serves 8

Tiger Penis has long been valued by practicioners of eastern medicine
as an aphrodesiac. The penis can be taken in soup, ground in wine, or
soaked in rice alcohol for 6 months. Results vary, and recent
interviews indicate that the recent influx of Viagra into the
traditional markets of China, South Korea, and Taiwan has caused the
demand for tiger penis to drop. Apparently Viagra has more reliable
results than penis of tiger. That could also be due in part to the
common substitution of ox or deer tendons for real tiger penis by some
unscrupulous shop owners.

Medicinal uses of tiger parts has contributed greatly to the
extinction of some species of tigers, and the near-extinction of
others. Worldwide tiger populations, over 100,000 at the turn of the
century are now estimated to be around 9,000. Despite the outlawing of
killing tigers for body parts in virtually all the places where they
are found, a brisk trade still exists in tiger medicine. In April,
1999 and survey was taken of Chinese markets in New York’s Chinatown
by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international non-profit
organization. Sixty three percent of the markets surveyed either sold
or claimed to sell goods containing tiger parts.

Traditional Chinese medicine gives body parts of certain animals the
ability to transfer the power of that animal to a human consuming or
wearing that body part. The tiger is able to mate vigorously and
repetitivly over several days. The average length of these mating is
only 15 seconds, however. hmmmmmmm.”

Other traditional uses for tiger body parts are:
whiskers – give protection from bullets, give user courage, and
prevent toothache.
eyeballs – rolled into pills, prevent and treat epilepsy and
brains – mixed with oil and rubbed over body – cures laziness and acne
bones – mixed into wine, cures rheumatism
tail – rubbed on body, said to cure skin problems
heart – cooked and eaten, imparts strength, courage, and cunning

Viagra may be saving endangered species after all  /  07 October 2005

Chinese men are selectively switching from traditional Chinese
medicine (TCM) to Viagra to treat erectile dysfunction, but sticking
with tradition for ailments such as arthritis, indigestion and gout,
according to new research published in Environmental Conservation. The
finding supports a prediction made by Australian and Alaskan
researchers at the advent of Viagra’s commercial release in 1998 that
the new impotence drug might reduce demand for several species that
are over-harvested to treat impotence with TCMs. Animals such as
seals, sea horses and tigers have long been hunted because
practitioners of TCM use their body parts for their presumed healing
and virility qualities.

The researchers surveyed 256 Chinese men, aged 50 to 76, who sought
treatment at a large TCM clinic in Hong Kong. The men were questioned
about their previous and current use of TCM and Western treatments for
arthritis, indigestion, gout and impotence. The study’s lead authors
are Dr Bill von Hippel, a psychologist from the University of New
South Wales (Sydney, Australia), and Dr Frank von Hippel, a biologist
from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The von Hippel brothers cite
three key findings from the research. “First, significantly more men
had formerly used a TCM treatment for impotence than were current
users. Second, they were significantly more likely to be using a
Western treatment for impotence than a TCM treatment. Finally, among
men who formerly used either Western or TCM treatments for impotence,
they were more likely to switch from a TCM treatment to a Western drug
than vice versa. In fact, nobody had switched from a Western drug to a
TCM treatment for impotence. “This was in contrast to their behaviour
with the other three ailments – arthritis, indigestion and gout, where
the men were more likely to be current users of a TCM treatment than a
Western treatment,” says Bill von Hippel.

These findings stand in contrast to prior research suggesting a
mistrust of Western medicine in Asian markets. “When we proposed that
Viagra might make inroads into TCM treatments for impotence,
conservationists told us we were naïve and that TCM consumers were
unwilling to use a product outside their own medical tradition,” says
Bill von Hippel. “For example, there is still strong demand for tiger
bone among TCM apothecaries who use it in the treatment of pain
relief, despite the widespread availability of aspirin.”

“But the failure to achieve an erection isn’t comparable to having a
headache or the many other ailments for which consumers still prefer
TCM treatments. Furthermore, Viagra differs from many other Western
drugs, in that the effects are rapid and visible to the naked eye. The
fact is that prior to the commercial availability of Viagra in 1998,
no product in any medical tradition had been proven to be an effective
and non-intrusive treatment of erectile dysfunction. So despite their
history of using traditional medicines and their alleged suspicions of
Western medicine, the men we interviewed chose the product that works
best,” Bill von Hippel says. These findings are consistent with
previous research by the von Hippels showing evidence of a post-Viagra
decline during the 1990s in the harvesting of three species used in
TCM impotence treatments. The pair attributed some of this decline to
Viagra, despite scepticism among many academics and wildlife experts.
In 2002, the global market for TCM products and treatments was valued
at more than $20 billion, according to the Chinese firm Shenzhen
Matrix Information Consulting.

Funding statement
The research was assisted by research grants from Pfizer Inc.

William von Hippel
email : billvh [at] psy [dot] uq [dot] edu [dot] au

Frank von Hippel
email : affvh [at] uaa [dot] alaska [dot] edu / frank [at] uaa [dot] alaska [dot] edu

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

China’s Weathermakers Prep for Olympics
BY Irene Klotz  /  Feb. 1, 2008

China, which is preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing,
has taken on a task that would flummox even Hurcules: controlling the
weather. Determined to prevent rain from dampening the spirits — not
to mention the crowds — on opening day ceremonies, the government
plans to seed any threatening clouds with chemicals to dispel, or at
least delay, rainfall.

Though it sounds like a classroom assignment from Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry, weather modification programs have been
around for more than 50 years. California and 10 western states in the
United States regularly lace clouds with various substances to
increase snow and rain, though the practice has not passed full
scientific muster. The problem is there are too many factors that
affect the weather, making naturally occurring phenomena difficult to
separate from man-made triggers.

Not that people haven’t tried. Roscoe Braham, who pioneered weather
modification experiments at the University of Chicago in the 1950s,
always believed it would be possible to change the weather, but years
and years of tests were inconclusive. “It was unfortunate,” Braham
said in an interview with Discovery News from his retirement home in
North Carolina. “There was no strong scientific base for changing the

“The atmosphere and nature are so broad and so big and the best
efforts that man can put forth are really small in that respect,”
added Braham, who now serves as Scholar-in-Residence for North
Carolina State University’s Department of Marine, Earth and
Atmospheric Sciences. “If (proof) exists, we’re looking for a rather
small needle in a huge haystack of hay. You don’t even know what it
looks like, you don’t even know what success would be,” he said.

That’s not to say the techniques were disproved, either. A March 2007
study for the California Energy Commission by the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation found that cloud-seeding programs statewide produced
300,000 to 400,000 acre-feet of water annually. The water, mostly in
the form of melted snow, benefits agriculture and the state’s
hydroelectric power industry. It also augments recreational and
municipal supplies.

To make or mitigate rain, target clouds are injected with chemicals
such as silver iodide, which has a crystalline structure almost
identical to ice, or with dry ice, which changes the clouds’
structure. Braham recalls watching the transformation take place from
aboard research aircraft. “Dry ice is most effective. You just crush
it up and spew it out. A hole will develop in the cloud,” within about
10 minutes, Braham said. “It’s always mesmerizing to see this change.”

The chemical transforms water droplets, which cause a cloud’s opacity,
into ice crystals. That leaves a clear patch which, over time, fills
in. As for China’s Olympic feat, Braham said it would be nice if the
experiment was run and published prior to the big day so it could be
weighed on its scientific merits. Otherwise, he, for one, would award
the gold medal for weather to Mother Nature.

RAIN MITIGATION,0,39372.story
China plans to halt rain for Olympics
BY Barbara Demick  /  January 31, 2008

BEIJING — It is yet another attempt by man to triumph over nature.
Determined not to let anything spoil their party, organizers of the
2008 Summer Olympics said Wednesday that they will take control over
the most unpredictable element of all — the weather. While China’s
Olympic athletes are getting ready to compete on the fields, its
meteorologists are working the skies, attempting the difficult feat of
making sure it doesn’t rain on the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies. “Our
team is trained. Our preparations are complete,” declared Wang
Jianjie, a spokeswoman from the Beijing Meteorological Bureau,
addressing a news conference at the headquarters of the Beijing
organizing committee.

The Chinese are among the world’s leaders in what is called “weather
modification,” but they have more experience creating rain than
preventing it. In fact, the techniques are virtually the same. Cloud-
seeding is a relatively well-known practice that involves shooting
various substances into clouds, such as silver iodide, salts and dry
ice, that bring on the formation of larger raindrops, triggering a
downpour. But Chinese scientists believe they have perfected a
technique that reduces the size of the raindrops, delaying the rain
until the clouds move on.

The weather modification would be used only on a small area, opening
what would be in effect a meteorological umbrella over the 91,000-seat
Olympic stadium. The $400-million stadium, nicknamed the “bird’s nest”
for its interlacing steel beams, has no roof. “This is really a very
complex process in terms of selecting the place and the time,” said
Wang Yubin, an engineer from the meteorological bureau. “Probably we
will have to decide one day before or very close to the event.” Jeff
Ruffalo, a public relations advisor to the Beijing Olympics, believes
this is a first for the Summer Olympics, which in recent years have
taken place in drier cities — Athens, Sydney, Barcelona.

Summer is the rainy season in Northeast Asia. Originally, the Beijing
Olympics were to open July 25, but meteorologists urged that the date
be pushed back as late as possible. Still, the chances of rain in
Beijing on Aug. 8 are close to 50%. Training with the Olympics in
mind, the meteorologists have been practicing their “rain mitigation”
techniques since 2006. They have had a couple of dry runs, so to speak
— a China-Africa summit and a panda festival in Sichuan province,
among others.

The Chinese have been tinkering with the weather since the late 1950s,
trying to bring rains to the desert terrain of the northern provinces.
The bureau of weather modification was established in the 1980s and is
now believed to be the largest in the world. It has a reserve army of
37,000 people — most of them sort of weekend warriors who are called
to duty during unusual droughts. The bureau has 30 aircraft, 4,000
rocket launchers and 7,000 antiaircraft guns, said Wang Guohe,
director of weather modification for the Chinese Academy of

“We have the largest program in the world with the most people
involved and the most equipment, but it is not really the most
advanced,” Wang said. That honor belongs to the Russians, who he says
used sophisticated cloud-seeding in 1986 to prevent radioactive rain
from the Chernobyl reactor accident from reaching Moscow. Although
many scientists dispute the effectiveness of weather modification,
Wang insists that it has been successful in China on a limited scale.
“If you’re talking about a small rainfall, you can eliminate it,” Wang
said. “But if it’s going to be raining cats and dogs, there’s nothing
man can do about it.”

The People’s Weather  /  BY Tom Scocca

At this summer’s Beijing Olympics, China puts a 50-year experiment to
the test: Officials are betting weather modification can keep the sun
shining on the Games. Despite shaky science, the government is
confident (not for the first time) that man can best nature. Whatever
their chances, there’s plenty at stake—because all that development
and urban renewal won’t look so good beneath a curtain of smog.

One thing worth considering when you tamper with nature is what sort
of nature you’re tampering with. Nature is not kind to the city of
Beijing. China’s capital is arid, nearly a desert, and its natural
weather patterns are fickle and harsh. Winter is marked by howling
Siberian winds; summer, by sweltering monsoon heat. In lieu of
showers, springtime is best known for seasonal dust storms that sweep
down from Central Asia. Fall is parched and gusty too, but the dust
settles down. This basic brutality is overlaid with levels of
pollution like those of England’s Industrial Revolution. Many things
blot out the sunshine, and most have nothing to do with rain: factory
and power plant emissions, construction dust, smoke from stoves
burning scrap wood or pressed coal. There are more than 3 million cars
on the streets—and the count is said to be growing by 400,000 vehicles
annually. It is not unusual to check the AccuWeather international
forecast on the New York Times website and find that while other
cities’ weather is “mostly sunny” or “overcast,” Beijing’s is “smoky.”
In February 2007, authorities finally abandoned a longstanding policy
in which haze was referred to as wu, Mandarin for fog, and just called
it what it is—mai, or haze.

So the government aims to manipulate the city’s weather. This is a
matter of plain bureaucracy, not science fiction. Ren ding sheng tian,
went an old aphorism embraced by Mao Zedong: Man must defeat the
heavens. The People’s Republic has a colorful history of battling
nature with colossal, often ill-starred public-works projects.
Imperial flood-control schemes, for instance, begat today’s Three
Gorges Dam, designed to be the world’s largest hydroelectric station—
and denounced by critics as an environmental disaster. The Weather
Modification Office (WMO) is an arm of the Beijing Meteorological
Bureau, which is the local branch of the Chinese Meteorological
Administration. There are 31 provincial or municipal weather-
modification offices in China. The administration employs 52,998
people by its own count. Beijing’s WMO has sixteen full-time employees
who direct the activities of several dozen part-time weather
modifiers, mostly local farmers. The farmers maintain 21 emplacements
of antiaircraft guns and 26 rocket launchers, which fire munitions
loaded with silver iodide into the clouds. In the winter, when clouds
are lower, the modifiers burn chemical charges in special stoves. A
small squadron of planes, flown from a military airfield, delivers
silver iodide or dry ice into the clouds from above. In the clouds,
the silver iodide mingles with tiny droplets of water—leading, in
theory, to the formation of ice particles, which melt into heavier
drops and then fall as rain.

The operations of the weather modifiers lend themselves to a kind of
science folklore. Beijingers and foreigners in the city harbor pet
theories about signs that the government may be tampering with a
particular day’s weather—they include unusually fat raindrops, rain
from clear skies, or remarkably well-timed breaks of sunshine. Such
divination both over- and underestimates the Beijing Meteorological
Bureau’s activity. “Normally, if conditions permit, yes, we would
modify,” says Zhang Qiang, the deputy director of theWMO. But
miraculous transformations have not been the goal—at least until now.

This year, much of Zhang’s time is taken up with a new obligation.
Beijing is preparing for the coming Summer Olympics with an all-
encompassing effort involving new subway lines, trophy architectural
projects, and an urban renewal campaign that has cut huge swaths
through what’s considered the old city. Over it all hovers the problem
of the weather—which Chinese officials have been manipulating for 50
years now—and what to do about it. The Beijing Games are meant to mark
China’s emergence on the world stage as a 21st-century global
superpower. China would like that stage to be clean and dry.

The Olympics will take place during the brief but emphatic wet season;
on average, more than half the city’s annual precipitation falls in
July and August. The National Stadium, a tangled-looking lattice of
monumental steelwork known as the “Bird’s Nest,” is open to the skies.
The original design, by groundbreaking Swiss architecture firm Herzog
& de Meuron, included a retractable roof that was eventually scrapped
in a cost-cutting maneuver.

So the weather administration is responsible for standing between the
Olympics and the real possibility of an untimely downpour. History
suggests the natural chance of rain during the opening and closing
ceremonies is 50 percent, Beijing bureau deputy chief engineer Wang
Yubin announced at a press conference about weather and the Olympics
last year. Officials are hoping the same technology that’s meant to
bring more rain can also make it rain less or make the rain fall
somewhere else. Wang was accompanied by Zhang and by representatives
of the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, the Research Institute of
Urban Meteorology, and the Central Meteorological Observatory. They
discussed the interagency work of the Beijing Olympic Meteorological
Services Center, a temporary weather authority that will blanket the
city with real-time mini-forecasts. “We find that our measure is quite
effective if it deals with rainfall in a limited area,” Wang
explained. If there is widespread or heavy rain, he warned, “at
present we cannot reduce this rainfall to the minimum, to be frank.”

The Beijing rainmaking command center occupies a large seventh-floor
room in the bureau’s compound, near the Jingmi Canal on the west side
of the city. I visited it on a late-spring day last year. One wall was
taken up by windows that could have been called panoramic, had they
faced out on something other than a Beijing afternoon.

If weather is what you see and feel when you go outside, then the
majority of Beijing’s weather is manmade, with or without the help of
the WMO. On this particular day, the city looked as if someone had
shaken out a giant sack of instant concrete over it. The Fragrant
Hills, less than five miles to the west, were invisible from outside
the bureau.

The murky light could have passed, to the untrained eye, for a sign
that a shower was imminent, but the weather modifiers weren’t
stirring. In a bank of ten computer screens across the room from the
windows, only two were on—one showing a radar display, another showing
graphs of cloud temperature and water content. A voice broadcast over
speakers delivered a forecast: overcast again tomorrow, lasting
possibly until the next day.

Near the doorway of the weather-modification room was a relief model
of the municipality in tans and greens with white tags marking the
bureau facilities. The city proper is dead flat, resting on an inland
offshoot of the Huabei coastal plain. Around it is a deep bowl formed
by overlapping mountain ranges—the Taihang to the west and the Yan to
the north and northwest. Many of the tags, marking firing stations,
were scattered on the high ground in Beijing’s rural districts.
A row of past and present cloud-seeding rockets stood on the floor
beside the relief map, including an olive, waist-high RYI-6300, the
model currently in use. A 37-millimeter silver-iodide antiaircraft
shell completed the set. The Beijing bureau buys its equipment from
State-Owned Factory No. 556 in Wuhai City, Inner Mongolia, a former
military plant that now makes weather-control gear and industrial
blasting fuses.

Over the past decade, Beijing has sought to improve its air quality by
moving heavy industry out of town to neighboring Hebei Province and
the port city of Tianjin. Even the venerable Shougang Iron Works, a
mascot of China’s industrial might, is being uprooted for the
Olympics. But when the wind blows off the ocean, from the south and
the east, it carries the factory-choked air of Hebei and Tianjin up
the coastal plain, until the mountains funnel it to a halt over the
capital. The city’s Environmental Protection Bureau keeps an annual
tally of “blue-sky days” on which air quality falls into the two
lowest classes of its five-level pollution scale (at level five,
residents are warned to stay indoors and avoid exercise). Each year
brings a new, higher quota of blue-sky days for the city to meet; in
2007, the target was 245 days. The city logged 246, thanks to December
30 and 31—a pair of sunny days that followed a two-week stretch of
filthy ones. International media outlets also noted that the
government had scored an improbably large number of days that just
cleared the cutoff for “blue-sky” status.

Technically, summer is less polluted than other seasons, in part
because the lower portion of the atmosphere known as the planetary
boundary layer is higher, fewer people are burning coal, and the
government doesn’t include ozone—the primary component of smog—in its
pollution index. Regardless, Olympic officials are making contingency
plans for rescheduling events if certain days are too dirty. Athletes
worried about particulates in their lungs may descend on the city
wearing filter masks, taking them off for public appearances and
competition only. Last year, the International Olympic Committee
president, Jacques Rogge, expressed his concern to CNN about
scheduling “endurance sports like the cycling race, where you have to
compete for six hours. These are examples of competitions that might
be postponed or delayed to another day.”
Weather modification has a vexed and winding history, but China’s
position is straightforward: It is the world’s number one nation in
the field, however debated the field itself may be. The country spends
up to $90 million annually on weather-manipulation projects, and the
Meteorological Law of the People’s Republic of China directs
“governments at or above the county level” to “enhance their
leadership over weather modification” and “carry out work in this
field.” According to Yao Zhanyu, a weather-modification expert and
professor at the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, climate control
was first proposed by weather bureau chief Tu Changwang in 1956. Mao
gave it his blessing: “Manmade rain is very important,” he commented.
“I hope that meteorological professionals put more effort into it.” By
the summer of 1958, the first rain-seeding flights took place in Jilin
and Gansu provinces. This August—when the Olympics’ opening ceremonies
take place—a more modest public celebration in Jilin province will
honor 50 years of weather modification by the People’s Republic.

China’s meteorologists, though, weren’t the first to try cloud
seeding. The General Electric Laboratory launched the first field
experiments in 1946. The original principle established by the GE
experiments was sound, and momentum for research grew so much that at
one point in the ’70s, the United States spent $20 million annually on
projects. Forty years ago, it was at least as plausible to trigger a
downpour as to send a man to the moon, according to Hugh Willoughby, a
meteorology professor at Florida International University who took
part in major rain-making and hurricane-taming studies during the ’70s
and early ’80s. But if American scientists want to pursue weather
modification today, he says, “The burden of proof is really on them.”
Presently the country spends only $500,000 on the science.

GE’s original starting point was that seeding can cause ice to form in
cold clouds, or droplets to condense in warm ones. Yet cloud physics,
it turns out, is considerably more complex than rocket science: The
moon is an object of known size, moving predictably through space at a
distance of about 240,000 miles. To put a man on the moon, he is put
in a spaceship on a rocket and shot closer and closer to the target. A
cloud seeder, by contrast, is never shooting at the same target twice.
Not only is today’s cloud unlike yesterday’s, it is unlike the cloud
it was five minutes ago. Its top is unlike its bottom, and the two may
be changing places. Liquid water in it may be colder than neighboring
ice. Rain falling inside it may never reach the ground.

Six decades after its enthusiastic beginnings, weather modification
has been granted few successes by American scientists. In mountainous
areas, seeding seems to be able to moderately increase snowfall in the
winter. Insurance companies paid fewer hail-damage claims over the
years in counties where private anti-hail contractors were at work.
Recent studies also suggest that seeding clouds in the tropics with
salt seems to produce more rain, though later and farther away than
current theories can explain. According to a 2003 National Academy of
Sciences Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate report, progress in
weather modification “is not possible without a concerted and
sustained effort at understanding basic processes in the atmosphere.”
In their own studies, Chinese scientists have concluded that their
cloud seeding increases rainfall by 10 to 25 percent. They have seeded
clouds not only to offset drought and fill reservoirs but even to
fight forest fires. Talks have been underway with officials in Spain
and Egypt, who are said to be interested in the purchase of
modification instruments, and in 2005 China signed a bilateral
agreement with Cuba to begin operations there. “We’re not that far
ahead of other countries,” the WMO’s Zhang explains. “It’s just
because we’re still working at it continuously, trying to tackle these
problems, that we have results.”

The greatest recent triumph of weather modification in Beijing wasn’t
planned as a weather-control operation at all. In fall 2006, Beijing
hosted a pan-African summit. It was preceded by a rushed
beautification job in which workers hung floating red lanterns and
photomural billboards along major roadways and filled in medians with
new sod and saplings. To prevent congestion, the city’s traffic
authorities banned most government vehicles from the roads, cutting
traffic by a quarter. An obliging west wind swept away traces of the
old gridlock just before the summit. The sky turned a gorgeous
autumnal blue—a Hudson Valley sky, not a Huabei Plain one. The azure
stayed all week. It was beyond anything the Meteorological Bureau had
ever accomplished.

In August 2007, the city tried a repeat performance. While the
Meteorological Services Center utilized its rain-fighting artillery,
Beijing tried an even more drastic traffic cutback—alternately
allowing only odd- or even-numbered license plates on the road. But
what was announced as a two-week trial only ran for four days because
of a bureaucratic miscommunication. The haze remained.

The rain-prevention trial ending that same month was also
inconclusive. The technique employed in that effort was a variant on
the usual plan to make more rain, which is related to the technique
for stopping hail. Both depend on the supply of particles in the air
to serve as nuclei for rain formation. In a brewing hailstorm, Zhang
says, think of the available droplets of supercooled water as mantou—
steamed bread rolls—and the supply of ice-precipitating nuclei as
monks. “If you give 1,000 mantou to 100 monks, each of them is going
to burst to death,” Zhang said.  (Mantou are notoriously filling.) In
hail-formation terms, the overloaded monks would come crashing out of
the clouds as dangerously large hailstones. But by firing silver-
iodide shells into clouds, you’re adding more monks to the scene. “So
in the end,” Zhang said, “each monk gets two or three mantou.” The
resulting ice pellets should be small enough to melt on their way
down, arriving as raindrops. The metaphor leaves out a few things—hail
also requires powerful thermal updrafts to serve as a buffet line that
allows for feeding the monks—but it captures the basic strategy. Thus,
if you continue to reduce each monk’s portion of mantou, eventually no
one gets enough to eat, and the droplets stay in the cloud.

The concentration of nuclei in the air, with and without seeding, is
one of the great outstanding questions of weather-modification
science. The silver iodide monks are beside the point if the mantou
have already been nibbled to bits, and the skies over China are rich
with aerosol particles from dust and pollution. In a paper published
in Science last year, Yao Zhanyu and a team of researchers concluded
that in the mountains near Xi’an, heavy pollution can suppress
rainfall by 30 to 50 percent.

In his office at the Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Yao explained
the strategy for protecting the National Stadium. China had tried rain-
prevention ventures before, Yao said—at the Tiananmen Square
celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 1999,
for instance, and at the 10th National Games in Nanjing in 2005—but
the leading practitioner of anti-rain seeding was the former Soviet
Union. Yao, a compact and muscular man with thin-rimmed glasses,
pointed to a floor tile to represent the Olympic grounds. He traced
three semicircles, one inside the next, where the mountains would be.
The majority of summer storms, Yao said, come from the northwest, the
west, or the southwest. Starting at the outermost line, the modifiers
plan to seed approaching storms to encourage rainfall, in the hopes
that they rain themselves out. By the nearest line, the goal will be
instead to overseed the surviving clouds to suppress rain entirely. So
rain seeding and anti-rain seeding “are not two strategies that are
contradictory to each other,” Yao said. “We have to use them both.”

But the theory and technology were no match for last year’s monsoon.
August was marked by powerful downpours and flooding in the city. One
evening that month, I went to a neighborhood restaurant under clear
skies. By the time I finished dinner, it was as if the streets were
being sprayed with a celestial firehose: A row of mature trees had
been downed, cabs crept through water up to their hubcaps, and
pedestrians waded with their pants rolled past their knees.
Thunder was rumbling at the Xinzhuang Village firing station when I
arrived one afternoon last June, riding up a dirt lane in a city
taxicab. Beijing’s whole network of modifiers had been at work earlier
in the week, the WMO said, and the humidity hadn’t budged. The launch
site was on a ridgetop 1,400 feet above sea level in the middle of a
50-acre orchard run by a farmer named Jing Baoguo. An island platform
stood in the middle of an irrigation reservoir, under a striped
canopy, with catwalks leading to and from it. Along the far side of
the enclosure was a grape arbor; on the near side, tomato plants
flanked weather instruments.

The artillery stood off to the right: two antiaircraft guns, their
barrels poking out over the fence top, and a pair of blocky rocket
launchers mounted on single-axle trailers. In front of a large shed
sat a silver-iodide RGY-1 burner, a gleaming barrel-shaped contraption
with three wheels, a conical nose, and a long chimney that looked like
a barbecue smoker. By the side wall of the shed was a white doghouse
with a medium-sized black dog inside.

Jing, a wavy-haired man in earth tone slacks and a pullover, leased
the orchard six years ago, after working as a purchaser in a local
trading organization. After his trees suffered hail damage that year,
the Beijing Meteorological Bureau approached him about becoming a
weather modifier and setting up a station on his land. The Xinzhuang
site is one of four the bureau has added since 2001, with farmers
supplying the property, local government funding construction, and the
bureau supplying the guns and other equipment. The modifiers are paid
50 yuan, or about $7, for every shell fired, which would typically top
out at six on a day like today.

Heavy clouds were blowing overhead and a sprinkle of rain began to
fall. This was a rain-enhancement opportunity. An assistant, wearing a
round straw hat, ducked into the shed and began bringing out rockets,
one by one, and loading them into the nearest launcher. He slid each
one home, lining up the tailfins with slits in the firing tubes. The
launcher held a half-dozen rockets at once.

Jing and his assistant swung the launcher around and cranked it
skyward. Orders for modification begin with an advisory from the
Beijing bureau to its district sub-bureaus, alerting them to a
suitable weather system. The district offices mobilize the local
stations and direct them to fire. Via cell phone, the station got the
final orders: No firing today. Air traffic controllers, the ultimate
authority, had vetoed the operation. “Lots of airplanes circle this
area,” said Jing.

We retreated to the platform in the middle of the irrigation tank,
where Jing had put out apricots and cherries. Rain fell on the canopy,
and Jing poured hot mineral water from a thermos. He had originally
been skeptical of modification, he said, but at least in the case of
hail prevention, “it definitely works.” Pointing to an apricot, Jing
added, “Before the guns were installed, the hail was as big as this.”

The thundershower passed. The rocket launcher was still pointing
upward as I left in my taxi. Between air traffic and the southerly
origins of the storm, the bureau later stated, none of the other
weather-modification stations had been able to fire either. As we
returned to the expressway, though, drops began sprinkling the
windshield and then pelting it. Lightning flashed. Before long, we
were in a downpour again. We rode home through the unassisted rain.


Champion Pulls Out of Olympic Race Due to Pollution
BY Gregory Mone  /  03.10.2008

Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie has announced that he will not race in
the marathon at this year’s Beijing Olympics due to the potential
pollution. Gebrselassie, the world record holder in the event, says he
suffers from exercise-induced asthma, and that the risk to his health
would be too great for him to run that race, though he does plan to
compete in the shorter 10,000 meter event. China has announced
numerous plans to clean the air prior to the Games—the country has
said it will limit traffic in the city, shut down factories and even
attempt to modify the weather with technology. But as we’ve written
before, these local measures might not suffice, as some scientists
have found that much of Beijing’s pollution often comes from far-off
sources. Gebrselassie isn’t the only athlete to protest. Other runners
have expressed concern about the foul air, and officials have
suggested that these longer races may be delayed by a few hours or
longer in the case of intense smog.

Construction Halted Ahead of Games
BY Andrew Jacobs  /  April 15, 2008

BEIJING — City officials laid out an ambitious series of measures on
Monday that will freeze construction projects, slow down steel
production and shut down quarries in and around this capital during
the summer in an attempt to clear the air for the Olympics. Even spray-
painting outdoors will be banned during the weeks before and after
sporting events, which begin here on Aug. 8. Although officials
initially suggested that the city’s wholesale transformation would be
complete long before the opening ceremonies, the announcement
nonetheless represents the most detailed plan yet for how Beijing
might reach its longstanding pledge to stage “green Games” in one of
the world’s most polluted cities. In the past, officials had suggested
that the city’s makeover would be completed well before the Games,
possibly by the end of 2007.

But the two-month construction ban announced Monday will instead begin
on July 20. Government directives will also force coal-burning power
plants to reduce their emissions by 30 percent through most of the
summer. Officials said 19 heavily polluting enterprises, including
steel mills, coke plants and refineries, would be temporarily
mothballed or forced to reduce production. Gas pumps that do not have
vapor-trapping devices will be closed, cement production will stop and
the use of toxic solvents outdoors will be forbidden.

If Beijing’s air remains unacceptably sullied in the days leading up
the Games, officials said, they would take “stringent steps” to curb
polluting industries, although they declined to say what those might
be. “We will do everything possible to honor the promise,” Du
Shaozhong, deputy director of the city’s Environmental Protection
Bureau, told reporters. “Just tell everybody they don’t have to

Some Olympic officials and athletes remain unpersuaded. Although the
government has made notable strides in reducing the brown haze from
coal-burning heaters and stoves, the unabated surge in car ownership
has erased many of those gains. There are about 3.5 million vehicles
choking Beijing’s roadways, with about 1,200 new cars joining the
honking parade each day.

Last August, in a four-day exercise that will probably be repeated
this summer, authorities forced more than half of Beijing’s cars and
trucks off the road. Officials said they would present plans to
restrict traffic later. In recent months, independent scientists who
have sampled Beijing’s air have said levels of ozone and particulate
matter from diesel engines remain five times as high as maximum
standards set by the World Health Organization.

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge,
said a particularly smoggy day could prompt officials to postpone
outdoor endurance events. Mr. Du, the environmental official,
dismissed suggestions that Beijing had failed to substantially reduce
harmful pollution. He said that the number of Blue Sky days, those
with acceptably clean air according to the city’s monitoring system,
has more than doubled since 1998. There were just 100 such days then,
he said, compared with 246 last year. He said levels of nitrogen
dioxide and sulfur dioxide had dropped significantly in recent years.

However, an independent study released in January by an American
environmental consultant, Steven Q. Andrews, found irregularities in
the monitoring system that cast doubt as to how much air quality had
actually improved. The authorities said they had reduced pollution by
forcing local factories to upgrade pollution-control equipment and
compelling about 200 of the most hopelessly noxious ones to shut down
for good. Even on a day when the horizon was notably hazy and the
fumes from idling cars undeniably acrid, Mr. Du urged a roomful of
reporters to tell the public how much better Beijing’s air had become
in recent years. “Please assure all the athletes,” he said.

But even if they find the city’s air cleaner than expected, visitors
may be disappointed by the indoor environment. Earlier in the day,
government officials announced that a proposed smoking ban, which is
to take effect on May 1, had been modified in the face of opposition
by business owners. Smoking will be restricted in hospitals, schools
and stadiums, but it will be permitted in bars and restaurants.

Selling Out? A Defense of Commercial Engagement in China
BY Tom Doctoroff  /  April 23, 2008

After a recent posting in which I argued against an Olympic boycott,
the anti-China blogosphere let out a primal scream, accusing me, and
other expatriates within the China-based business community, of
“coddling dictators” and “selling out to totalitarianism.” One hot-
tempered netizen went so far as to suggest we were “worse than
terrorists,” earning a cheap buck while supporting the whims of an
amoral Communist party, one willing to do anything to maintain power
— from the crushing of domestic dissent to propping up illegitimate
regimes around the globe. The anti-China, anti-business faction is

Guns and Monks: A Public Relations Fiasco

This article will not attempt to justify the recent actions of the
Chinese government. In fact, while no (Han) PRC citizen supports a
“free” Tibet, its recent handling of the Tibetan protests has been
antediluvian and ham handed, a public relations disaster that
embarrasses even Shanghai taxi drivers. But Western observers should
take a deep breathe and ask a simple question: What in heaven’s name
could have motivated such a diplomatic strategic misfire?

There are only three and a half months until the Beijing Olympics. The
entire nation wants nothing more than to impress the world with its
industrial modernity, social progress and international outlook. The
Games have been built up here as a Second Coming, an economic and
cultural inflection point that announces China’s arrival as a new
superpower, shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, a proud
declaration that the Han worldview is not only legitimate but also
more enduring than any other culture’s value system. At the dawn of a
“Pacific century,” one during which both West and East can each, at
last, hold up half the sky, why on earth would the apparatchiks clash
with sympathy-inspiring monks and then, archaically and hysterically,
blame the whole thing on the machinations of the “splittist” Dalai
Lama, a figure beloved through the world? What were they thinking? How
could they be so, well, irrational?

Tibet and “Unity”: Sacred Ambition

A simple question deserves a simple answer. The government is scared
of chaos. So, too, is the entire population. In Han eyes, stability is
the lynchpin of progress. In the Chinese universe, change is constant
and absolutes, moral or otherwise, do not exist. Man’s inherent state
is precarious but he can move forward if unpredictability is
minimized. As a result, religious, political, and philosophical forces
are geared toward propagating order. Chinese were, and continue to be,
obsessive about balance and predictability. Daoism’s yin and yang
(i.e., feminine versus masculine forces) are an integration of the “ba
gua,” or eight natural elements evenly divided between feminine and
masculine forces that can be combined in only sixty-four pre-set ways.
The lunar calendar is cyclical, always morphing from yin to yang, with
each “animal” corresponding to one of twelve “earthly branches.” Lucky
dates for marriage, auspicious office openings, and astrological
license plates are all structure-obsessed manifestations of a
preordained temporal rotation that must be both understood,
critically, managed.

In this context, the sacred goal of strengthening China’s “unity” is
more than a nationalistic impulse after decades of colonial
degradation and economic humiliation. A cohesive China, void of
secessionist elements, implies no less than the unification of heaven
and earth, harmony that underpins the nation’s continued economic rise
and geo-political ascent. True or not, rational or not, it’s what 100%
of Chinese believe. When chaos erupts, fear strikes the deepest corner
of the Han heart. Disorder presages decline and decay. And, today more
than ever, Chinese are “optimistically anxious,” dazed by country’s
economic miracle yet on the qui vive about the bottom falling out.

Capitalistic Institutions: Civil Society’s Lynchpin

Contrary to the perceptions of some, Western capitalism is not about
maximizing profit at the expense of civil society, rule of law and
human rights. Quite the contrary, it is founded on the assumption that
the individual, not the clan, represents that basic productive unit of
society so his economic — and, by extension, political — interests
must be protected. It is institution-based. Efficient allocation of
capital is lubricated by impartial institutions such as: a) banks that
make lending decisions based on quantified risk and return, b) the
wide available of credit, and c) corporate governance structure that
rewards transparency and long-term shareholder gain. (Chinese
businesses have been traditionally fueled by guanxi, personal
relationships rooted in mutual obligation.)

The rationalism inherent in on-the-ground commercial engagement is
appreciated in China — so, too, is the American system of checks and
balances — for it makes the Chinese feel safe. Sermons about human
rights elicit, at best, yawns and, more often, accusations of cultural
tone deafness. The business community, yes, has a moral obligation
advance the cause of liberty but, to be effective, their arguments
must be couched in terms of “efficiency,” not idealistic abstractions
or dewy pleas for universal brotherhood.

Western Business and Reform

And, lo! Modern capitalism — again, anchored in an assumption that
individual interests must be protected — has already altered China’s
economic, corporate and social landscape. It is the “bridge” on which
the PRC connects to a world that is infinitely dissected but rarely
understood. On a deeper but unarticulated level, the presence of
American and European businesses in China’s midst challenges
traditional assumptions that the outside world — the Western world —
is inherently unfriendly. China’s “dark side” emerges when it feels
threatened. Heels are dug in. Shields are raised. From the robotic
blankness of the sales girl who does not understand the competitive
advantages of her product line to old world factionalism encouraged by
bosses who fear their underlings, insecurity breeds dysfunction. On
the other hand, when the Chinese feel protected, they look up and out,
productively, non-belligerently and non-passive aggressively, eager to
connect with a broader world and bigger opportunity.

As a result, Western business has helped push China to “our side” in
important ways:

Meritocratic Advancement. In a land laden with stultifying basso
profundo propaganda and soul crushing political correctness, foreign
companies have instilled China’s middle class with a new truth:
capability, not connections, leads to professional advancement. JWT,
for example, boasts more than 1,000 mainland staff, with each
receiving formal performance evaluations that determine promotions and
raises; furthermore, 50% of our senior management is local. Western
organizations reward true “leadership” — i.e., the courage to
persuade others to accept a new point of view — and reject mumbling
yes-men. Although most Chinese are still uncomfortable with non-
quantifiable performance benchmarks, a new generation of self-
possessed, innovation-driven, confident MNC-trained leadership is
slowly-but-surely emerging.

Transparent Corporate Governance. As suggested above, the Chinese
revere efficiency. One of the country’s most inspiring characteristics
remains an uncanny ability to dispassionately assess current strengths
and weakness and then, meticulously and incrementally, identify steps
toward a higher plane of performance. In the PRC, the success of
multinational corporations — they beat domestic companies across a
broad swathe of categories from cars (GM) and shampoo (P&G) to
camcorders (Sony) and ice cream parlors (Haagen Dazs) — has persuaded
leaders to acknowledge the linkages between: a) transparent
information flow and stock price gains, b) board structure/shareholder
rights and long-term profit and c) consistent accounting standards and
access to capital. (The central government also recognizes the
dysfunction of old-style shadows and darkness, hence its eagerness to
join the World Trade Organization while subjecting itself to the harsh
glare of membership. Since accession in 2001, the gradual opening of
several sectors, notwithstanding “sensitive” industries such as media
or telecommunications, has impressed many Western observers.)

Is Shanghai’s opaque stock market any more rational than a Las Vegas
gambling binge? Not yet. Are state-owned enterprises still encouraged
to fritter away “excess” profit in the form of Cartier watches and
corporate “team building” trips to Macau? Yes. But, make no mistake:
global accounting companies such as KPMG and Price Waterhouse Coopers
are doing gangbuster business on the mainland, and not only by
policing MNCs. They have penetrated Chinese C-Suites by prying open
books, one ledger at a time. Another example: HSBC’s small and medium
enterprise (SME) client base is exploding; the bank lends RMB to
thousands of start ups that know securing a loan depends on reporting
normalized profit.

It’s the Consumer, Stupid! Consumers have finally begun assert their
rights as buyers, an impulse that barely existed ten years ago.
Ironically, the multinational corporations that first introduced the
concept of “shopper satisfaction” are frequent targets of ire. Procter
& Gamble’s SK-II elicited howls of indignation for “hurting the
feelings of Chinese” because it failed to offer a refund when a
“suspicious” chemical showed up in its skin cream. Nestle’s “arrogant”
handling of “tainted” baby formula, fodder for indignant internet
attacks in chat rooms across the country, made the nation seethe. But,
at long last, the patriarchical Communist party, the self-appointed
protector of national welfare, has been cut by its own double-edged
sword. In 2007, the Shanghai municipal government was forced to cancel
plans to extend a high-speed railway into the downtown area due to
middle class property price concerns. And a scandal which has seen
half of China’s mobile phone users spammed with unwanted text
messages, many from state-owned telcos, has “drawn the ire of the
government which has vowed to fight against offending texters.”

Rome: Not Built in a Day

Am I naïve enough to suggest that Communist China has miraculously
morphed into a society in which the needs of the “little guy” are
always addressed? No. Property rights still do not extend to land
ownership (all real estate is leased). The judiciary is still light
years away from impartiality, with many judges either poorly trained
or still beholden to local power brokers. The banking system, all too
often, is rigged against the interests of the entrepreneur; raising
capital for non-state-owned entities can be an exercise in extreme
frustration. But China is, step by step, evolving into a more rational
and fair environment in which policy makers pragmatically acknowledge
the relationship between civil (and human) rights and sustained
growth. Whether we like to admit it or not, the People Republic is
becoming a quasi-“normal” environment, business and otherwise. It is
only a matter of time before more a modern (albeit not Western)
political structure emerges to address 21st century capitalistic

Many “advanced” Chinese societies — Singapore and, yes, Hong Kong —
still regard strong central authority as a bulwark against disorder.
Therefore, representative democracy, an inalienable right in Western
society, will not take root any time soon in China, a country burdened
with crushing poverty and urgent infrastructural demands, not to
mention a radically-different world view. But Americans and Europeans
who rail against a “red menace” and are blind to the progress that has
been made, help neither the Chinese nor the world.

The road to Rome is long and the Chinese have only just started on
their journey. And we expatriate businessmen (and women) are certainly
not saints; Yahoo’s sell out to the Communist censors reminds us of
our fallibility. Nonetheless, we can be proud of our contribution to a
more prosperous, stable nation and world order.

Chinese Gobi Desert Threatens Beijing

The Chinese Gobi desert threatens to take over China’s capital city of
Beijing. The vast and ever expanding Gobi Desert devours 2,460 square
miles of Chinese soil each year. This is an area roughly the size of
the State of Delaware. Frequent violent sandstorms threaten to
overcome Beijing. Sand dunes now tower just 43 miles from the ancient
capital. In spite of efforts to contain the desert it is relentlessly
marching south at a brisk 12-15 mile per year clip.

Why is Asia’s largest desert growing so quickly? It is because of a
process scientists call desertification. Over population strips the
desert of meager tree, plant, and grass cover. Without sufficient
protection bare sands are quickly spread by the wind. The desert
ecosystem enters a positive feedback stage where each deterioration in
stable conditions accelerates the pace of change.  China’s rapid
economic growth comes at a great price. The fast approaching desert
threatens to encroach upon the Chinese capital city of Beijing before
the Summer Olympics in 2008. The Chinese are trying to stop the
southern spread of the Gobi by constructing a Green Wall. Beijing
officials set aside $8 billion to construct a natural wall of trees
spanning more than 2,000 miles.

However, there is a problem. Trees need water. And air pollution
inhibits precipitation. Researchers from Israel’s Hebrew University of
Jerusalem and the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences found
that on hazy days, precipitation from the top of Mount Hua in China’s
northwestern Shaanxi province is cut by up to 50%. Rampant air
pollution is one of the terrible prices that China has paid for rapid
economic growth. Consequently, one quarter of China currently finds
itself buried beneath sand. And now climate change threatens to make
the dry region even dryer. China’s immediate need for water remains
paramount. Two out of every three major Chinese cities have less water
than they need. Cities in northeast China have roughly five to seven
years left before they completely run dry.


NY City Subpoenas Creator of Text Messaging Code
BY Colin Moynihan  /  March 30, 2008

When delegates to the Republican National Convention assembled in New
York in August 2004, the streets and sidewalks near Union Square and
Madison Square Garden filled with demonstrators. Police officers in
helmets formed barriers by stretching orange netting across
intersections. Hordes of bicyclists participated in rolling protests
through nighttime streets, and helicopters hovered overhead.

These tableaus and others were described as they happened in text
messages that spread from mobile phone to mobile phone in New York
City and beyond. The people sending and receiving the messages were
using technology, developed by an anonymous group of artists and
activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy, that allowed
users to form networks and transmit messages to hundreds or thousands
of telephones.

Although the service, called TXTmob, was widely used by demonstrators,
reporters and possibly even police officers, little was known about
its inventors. Last month, however, the New York City Law Department
issued a subpoena to Tad Hirsch, a doctoral candidate at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology who wrote the code that created

Lawyers representing the city in lawsuits filed by hundreds of people
arrested during the convention asked Mr. Hirsch to hand over
voluminous records revealing the content of messages exchanged on his
service and identifying people who sent and received messages. Mr.
Hirsch says that some of the subpoenaed material no longer exists and
that he believes he has the right to keep other information secret.
“There’s a principle at stake here,” he said recently by telephone. “I
think I have a moral responsibility to the people who use my service
to protect their privacy.”

The subpoena, which was issued Feb. 4, instructed Mr. Hirsch, who is
completing his dissertation at M.I.T., to produce a wide range of
material, including all text messages sent via TXTmob during the
convention, the date and time of the messages, information about
people who sent and received messages, and lists of people who used
the service.

In a letter to the Law Department, David B. Rankin, a lawyer for Mr.
Hirsch, called the subpoena “vague” and “overbroad,” and wrote that
seeking information about TXTmob users who have nothing to do with
lawsuits against the city would violate their First Amendment and
privacy rights.

Lawyers for the city declined to comment. The subpoena is connected to
a group of 62 lawsuits against the city that stem from arrests during
the convention and have been consolidated in Federal District Court in
Manhattan. About 1,800 people were arrested and charged, but 90
percent of them ultimately walked away from court without pleading
guilty or being convicted. Many people complained that they were
arrested unjustly, and a State Supreme Court justice chastised the
city after hundreds of people were held by the police for more than 24
hours without a hearing.

The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, has called the convention a
success for his department, which he credited with preventing major
disruptions during a turbulent week. He has countered complaints about
police tactics by saying that nearly a million people peacefully
expressed their political opinions, while the convention and the city
functioned smoothly. Mr. Hirsch said that the idea for TXTmob evolved
from conversations about how police departments were adopting
strategies to counter large-scale marches that converged at a single

While preparing for the 2004 political conventions in New York and
Boston, some demonstrators decided to plan decentralized protests in
which small, mobile groups held rallies and roamed the streets. “The
idea was to create a very dynamic, fluid environment,” Mr. Hirsch
said. “We wanted to transform areas around the entire city into
theaters of dissent.”

Organizers wanted to enable people in different areas to spread word
of what they were seeing in each spot and to coordinate their
movements. Mr. Hirsch said that he wrote the TXTmob code over about
two weeks. After a trial run in Boston during the Democratic National
Convention, the service was in wide use during the Republican
convention in New York. Hundreds of people went to the TXTmob Web site
and joined user groups at no charge.

As a result, when members of the War Resisters League were arrested
after starting to march up Broadway, or when Republican delegates
attended a performance of “The Lion King” on West 42nd Street, a
server under a desk in Cambridge, Mass., transmitted messages
detailing the action, often while scenes on the streets were still

Messages were exchanged by self-organized first-aid volunteers,
demonstrators urging each other on and even by people in far-flung
cities who simply wanted to trade thoughts or opinions with those on
the streets of New York. Reporters began monitoring the messages too,
looking for word of breaking news and rushing to spots where mass
arrests were said to be taking place. And Mr. Hirsch said he thought
it likely that police officers were among those receiving TXTmob
messages on their phones.

It is difficult to know for sure who received messages, but an
examination of police surveillance documents prepared in 2003 and
2004, and unsealed by a federal magistrate last year, makes it clear
that the authorities were aware of TXTmob at least a month before the
Republican convention began.

A document marked “N.Y.P.D. SECRET” and dated July 26, 2004, included
the address of the TXTmob Web site and stated, “It is anticipated that
text messaging is one of several different communications systems that
will be utilized to organize the upcoming RNC protests.”


Tad Hirsch
email : tad [at] media [dot] mit [dot] edu

John Henry
Institute for Applied Autonomy
email : iaa [at] appliedautonomy [dot] com


TXTmob: Text Messaging For Protest Swarms
BY Tad Hirsch and John Henry

Abstract: “This paper describes cell phone text messaging during the
2004 US Democratic and Republican National Conventions by protesters
using TXTmob – a text-message broadcast system developed by the
authors.  Drawing upon analysis of TXTmob messages, user interviews,
self-reporting, and news media accounts, we describe the ways that
activists used text messaging to share information and coordinate
actions during decentralized protests. We argue that text messaging
supports new forms of distributed participation in mass mobilizations.




Competition to Offer Prizes and SMS Platform to Grassroots NGOs  /
Sep. 17, 2007
nGOmobile initiative highlights the benefits of mobile technology in
the developing world

CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 17 /PRNewswire/ — Mobile technology
organization has launched its latest non-profit mobile
initiative – nGOmobile, a competition to help grassroots NGOs take
advantage of text messaging.

The explosive entry of mobile technology into the developing world has
opened up a raft of opportunities for the non-profit sector. Text
messaging has proved itself to be remarkably versatile, helping remind
patients to take their medicine, providing market prices to farmers
and fishermen, distributing health information, allowing the reporting
of human rights abuses and promoting increased citizen participation
in government. While the list may be long, not everyone has been able
to reap the benefits.

nGOmobile is a competition aimed exclusively at grassroots non-profit
Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working for positive social and
environmental change throughout the developing world. “Behind the
scenes, the often unsung heroes of the NGO community battle against
the daily realities of life in developing countries, where it can take
all day to fulfill the simplest task,” said Ken Banks, Founder of “These people don’t lack passion and commitment, they
lack tools and resources” said Banks.”

Grassroots NGOs around the world are invited to submit short project
ideas explaining how greater access to mobile technology – and SMS
text messaging in particular – would benefit them and their work. The
competition is open from today until 14th December 2007 with the
winners announced in January 2008.

The top four entries, chosen by a distinguished panel of judges, will
each win a brand new Hewlett Packard laptop computer, two Nokia mobile
phones, a GSM modem,’s own entry-level text messaging
platform – FrontlineSMS – and to top it all, a cash prize of US$1,000.

Sponsors of the competition include Hewlett Packard, Nokia,
ActiveXperts, 160 Characters, Wieden+Kennedy, mBlox and Perkins Coie

Panel of Judges Ken Banks, Founder, Neerja Raman, From
Good to Gold Mike Grenville, Editor, 160 Characters Micheline Ntiru,
Nokia’s Head of Corporate Social Investment for the Middle East and
Africa Bill Thompson, Journalist/commentator Renny Gleeson, Global
Director of Digital Strategies at Wieden+Kennedy The competition
website can be found at

Ken Banks, Founder
email : ken [dot] banks [at] ngomobile [dot] org

About Since 2003, has been helping local,
national and international non-profit Non-Governmental Organizations
(NGOs) make better use of information and communications technology in
their work. Specializing in the application of mobile technology, it
provides a wide range of ICT-related services drawing on over 22
year’s experience of its Founder, Ken Banks. believes that
all non-profits, whatever their size and wherever they operate, should
be given the opportunity to implement the latest mobile technologies
in their work, and actively seeks to provide the tools to enable them
to do so.





BY Jeffrey Kosseff   /  March 25, 2003

At first glance, it looks like a 9-1-1 log or a transcript from the
police scanner:

05:37pm Protesters damage cars on Second and Davis.
05:38pm March spreading north into Oldtown.
05:43pm Morrison Bridge closed again.

But the communications Thursday during antiwar protests in downtown
Portland weren’t from the police. Instead, they were part of 126 text
messages sent out to 65 protesters’ cell phones, pagers and e-mail

Protesters say they have long searched for an efficient and quick way
of sharing news of bridge shutdowns, flag burnings and pepper
spraying. And they seem to have found it in a relatively young
wireless technology that is reliable, cheap and instantaneous, sending
short bursts of text onto many cell-phone screens at once.

“It definitely helped spread the news around,” said Michael Plump, a
24-year-old computer programmer who organized a text-messaging system
to improve communication among protesters.

Spreading news of developments takes too long with cell-phone calls
because organizers can reach only one person at a time. Walkie-talkies
aren’t reliable or secure enough. And most people don’t have laptops
with wireless e-mail access.

Plump said that since police pepper-sprayed him at a protest during
President Bush’s Aug. 23 visit to Portland, he has wanted to get more
involved with peace protests. “I wanted to help people know where the
police actions were occurring and where they were pepper spraying so
they could get away from it,” Plump said.

Web of reports

So he developed a Web-based program that allows protesters to enter
their cell phone or pager numbers or e-mail addresses into an online
database, which he promoted on Portland activist Web sites. Most
people received the alerts on cell phones or pagers, though a few
received e-mails.

From 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday, about 15 protesters throughout
downtown Portland phoned or sent e-mail and text messages to Plump’s
friend, Casey Spain. Spain summarized developments into a few words
and sent them on to the 65 cell-phone numbers in the database. Plump,
who was in downtown Portland throughout the protests, said cheers
erupted whenever Spain sent news of activists storming a bridge or

And even amid the chaos, the protesters found time for text-messaging

08:27pm Rummor — police may be planning assult from under Burnside
08:28pm Someone plase scout under the bridge please!
08:31pm Police may be eating donuts under the bridge.

Cell-phone text messaging is gaining popularity. According to
Telephia, a California research firm, 24 percent of U.S. cell-phone
subscribers used text messaging in the first quarter of this year, up
from 20 percent the previous quarter.

Verizon service up

Verizon Wireless, which charges 10 cents to send and 2 cents to
receive each text message, has seen its news-alert service double
since January for headlines about the military and Federal Bureau of
Investigation. “A lot of people use text messaging now, and it has
been going up all the time,” said Georgia Taylor, a Verizon Wireless

Wireless companies began offering text messaging in the United States
about two years ago, said Goli Ameri, president of eTinium, a Portland
telecommunications consulting firm. It is not yet as popular in the
United States as it is in Asia and Europe. Intel recently ranked
Portland the top city in the nation for the use of wireless
technology, so Ameri said she isn’t surprised that people here are
finding new uses for text messaging.

“Portland is a pretty tech-savvy city,” she said. “That’s why you see
so many of these new technologies get introduced here first.”

{email : jeffkosseff [at] news [dot] oregonian [dot] com}


Videos Challenge Accounts of Convention Unrest
BY Jim Dwyer  /  April 12, 2005  /  New York Times

Dennis Kyne put up such a fight at a political protest last summer,
the arresting officer recalled, it took four police officers to haul
him down the steps of the New York Public Library and across Fifth

“We picked him up and we carried him while he squirmed and screamed,”
the officer, Matthew Wohl, testified in December. “I had one of his
legs because he was kicking and refusing to walk on his own.”

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the
first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the
Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day
after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single
witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the
prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr.
Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library
steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was
nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking
part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom
he signed complaints.

A sprawling body of visual evidence, made possible by inexpensive,
lightweight cameras in the hands of private citizens, volunteer
observers and the police themselves, has shifted the debate over
precisely what happened on the streets during the week of the

For Mr. Kyne and 400 others arrested that week, video recordings
provided evidence that they had not committed a crime or that the
charges against them could not be proved, according to defense lawyers
and prosecutors.

Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going
to pick up sushi.

Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same
police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had
been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop
behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more
complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop’s lawyer,
prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician
had cut the material by mistake.

Seven months after the convention at Madison Square Garden, criminal
charges have fallen against all but a handful of people arrested that
week. Of the 1,670 cases that have run their full course, 91 percent
ended with the charges dismissed or with a verdict of not guilty after
trial. Many were dropped without any finding of wrongdoing, but also
without any serious inquiry into the circumstances of the arrests,
with the Manhattan district attorney’s office agreeing that the cases
should be “adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.”

So far, 162 defendants have either pleaded guilty or were convicted
after trial, and videotapes that bolstered the prosecution’s case
played a role in at least some of those cases, although prosecutors
could not provide details.

Besides offering little support or actually undercutting the
prosecution of most of the people arrested, the videotapes also
highlight another substantial piece of the historical record: the
Police Department’s tactics in controlling the demonstrations, parades
and rallies of hundreds of thousands of people were largely free of
explicit violence.

Throughout the convention week and afterward, Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg said that the police issued clear warnings about blocking
streets or sidewalks, and that officers moved to arrest only those who
defied them. In the view of many activists – and of many people who
maintain that they were passers-by and were swept into dragnets
indiscriminately thrown over large groups – the police strategy
appeared to be designed to sweep them off the streets on technical
grounds as a show of force.

“The police develop a narrative, the defendant has a different story,
and the question becomes, how do you resolve it?” said Eileen Clancy,
a member of I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of
videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers for use by defense

Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman, said that videotapes often do not
show the full sequence of events, and that the public should not rush
to criticize officers simply because their recollections of events are
not consistent with a single videotape. The Manhattan district
attorney’s office is reviewing the testimony of Officer Wohl at the
request of Lewis B. Oliver Jr., the lawyer who represented Mr. Kyne in
his arrest at the library.

The Police Department maintains that much of the videotape that has
surfaced since the convention captured what Mr. Browne called the
department’s professional handling of the protests and parades. “My
guess is that people who saw the police restraint admired it,” he

Video is a useful source of evidence, but not an easy one to manage,
because of the difficulties in finding a fleeting image in hundreds of
hours of tape. Moreover, many of the tapes lack index and time
markings, so cuts in the tape are not immediately apparent.

That was a problem in the case of Mr. Dunlop, who learned that his
tape had been altered only after Ms. Clancy found another version of
the same tape. Mr. Dunlop had been accused of pushing his bicycle into
a line of police officers on the Lower East Side and of resisting
arrest, but the deleted parts of the tape show him calmly approaching
the police line, and later submitting to arrest without apparent

A spokeswoman for the district attorney, Barbara Thompson, said the
material had been cut by a technician in the prosecutor’s office. “It
was our mistake,” she said. “The assistant district attorney wanted to
include that portion” because she initially believed that it supported
the charges against Mr. Dunlop. Later, however, the arresting officer,
who does not appear on the video, was no longer sure of the specifics
in the complaint against Mr. Dunlop.

In what appeared to be the most violent incident at the convention
protests, video shot by news reporters captured the beating of a man
on a motorcycle – a police officer in plainclothes – and led to the
arrest of one of those involved, Jamal Holiday. After eight months in
jail, he pleaded guilty last month to attempted assault, a low-level
felony that will be further reduced if he completes probation. His
lawyer, Elsie Chandler of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem,
said that videos had led to his arrest, but also provided support for
his claim that he did not realize the man on the motorcycle was a
police officer, reducing the severity of the offense.

Mr. Browne, the police spokesman, said that despite many civilians
with cameras who were nearby when the officer was attacked, none of
the material was turned over to police trying to identify the
assailants. Footage from a freelance journalist led police to Mr.
Holiday, he said.

In the bulk of the 400 cases that were dismissed based on videotapes,
most involved arrests at three places – 16th Street near Union Square,
17th Street near Union Square and on Fulton Street – where police
officers and civilians taped the gatherings, said Martin R. Stolar,
the president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers
Guild. Those tapes showed that the demonstrators had followed the
instructions of senior officers to walk down those streets, only to
have another official order their arrests.

Ms. Thompson of the district attorney’s office said, “We looked at
videos from a variety of sources, and in a number of cases, we have
moved to dismiss.”


Texting It In: Monitoring Elections With Mobile Phones
BY KatrinVerclas  /  August 11, 2007

In Sierra Leone’s national election today, 500 election observers at
polling stations around the country are reporting on any
irregularities via SMS with their mobile phones. Independent
monitoring of elections via cell phone is growing aqround the world,
spearheaded by a few innovative NGOs.

The story starts in Montenegro, a small country in the former
Yugoslavia. On May 21, 2006 the country saw the first instance of
volunteer monitors using SMS, also known as text messaging, as their
main election reporting tool. A Montenegrin NGO, the Center for
Democratic Transition (CDT), with technical assistance from the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) in the United States, was the
first organization in the world to use text messaging to meet all
election day reporting requirements.

Since then, mobile phones have been deployed in six elections in
countries around the world, with volunteers systematically using text
messaging in election monitoring. Pioneered by NDI, SMS monitoring is
becoming a highly sophisticated rapid reporting tool used not just in
a referendum election like in Montenegro, but in parliamentary
elections with a plethora of candidates and parties and complex data
reported via SMS. This was the case in Bahrain, a small country in the
Middle East, where monitors reported individual election tallies in a
series of five to fourty concurrent SMS messages, using a
sophisticated cosding system, with near accuracy.

Today’s election in Sierra Leone is lead by the National Election
Watch (NEW), a coalition of over 200 NGOs in the country. Assisted by
NDI, NEW has monitors at 500 of the 6171 polling stations. Monitors
report on whether there are any irregularities via SMS back to
headquarters. This election is particularly significant for the
country: It is the first presidential election since U.N. peacekeepers
withdrew two years ago. It considered a historic poll that many hope
will show that the country can transfer power peacefully after a long
civil war and military coups. In the run-up to the election there was
sporadic violence in Freetown; making the independent monitoring by
NGOs particularly relevant and necessary.

Election monitoring is a highly technical discipline, with a
sophisticated set of methodologies and extensive volunteer training.
Preparation for an election monitoring exercise involves volunteer
training and advance planning that often starts months before an
election.  Election monitors, typically led by domestic non-
governmental organizations (NGOs) often with the help of foreign
technical assistance providers like NDI, can report on multiple
dimensions.  They may, depending on the election, report on
quantitative data such as real-time voter turnout and even on actual
election results. In those cases, monitors use the data to provide a
“quick count” projection of the election results.  If a “quick count”
is conducted then a statistical random sample of polling places is
carefully selected to ensure the validity of projections.

Monitors also report on qualitative data about how well the election
is executed. This may include information on whether polls are opening
on time, whether there are enough ballots available, whether there is
free access to polling places, and whether there is any evidence of
intimidation or any other irregularities.

Reports are transmitted using an agreed-upon set of codes from a
representative sample of polling places around the country. In Sierra
Leone, for example, there are monitors stationed at 500 polling places
in every part of the country who text in reports at regular intervals.

In many contested elections, especially in emerging democracies, speed
of reporting is of the essence. It is critical that NGOs and
independent civil society organizations report data accurately and
quickly even before official results are released, especially when
fraud is feared. Mobile phones have been an important tool in this
regard. They are, of course, not a new phenomenon in election
monitoring; after all, cell phones have been around for a while now.
But prior to NDI showcasing that SMS is a viable and reliable
communication medium in elections, mobile phones were used merely to
transmit reports verbally that then still had to be transcribed in a
time-consuming and error-prone manual process.

Chris Spence, Director of Technology at NDI recalls: “In 2003, we had
24/7 shifts of college students in five locations across Nigeria
entering data from paper forms that were faxed or hand-carried into
the data centers. Timeliness and quality control were huge issues when
nearly 15,000 forms containing dozens of responses each had to be
manually entered into a database. Today, in the elections where we’ve
used SMS, you watch the data flow into the database directly when it
is time for the monitors to report. The system automatically sends
confirmation messages back to the observer in an interactive exchange
of SMS messages, so accuracy increases. At reporting time, it is quite
amazing to see the numbers change on the screen as the sms messages
pour into the database.”

In addition to increased speed and greater accuracy of reporting, SMS
election monitoring has a noteworthy ancillary benefit: the real-time
ability by headquarters to communicate with observers throughout the
election day by sending text reminders and updates keeps volunteers
motivated and engaged. SMS and phone contact also provides vital
opportunities for security updates should political conditions take a
turn for the worst.  As a result, morale amongst the volunteers soars
there is far less polling station abandonment.

In order for large-scale SMS election monitoring to succeed, a number
of conditions have to be in place. When NDI assisted an Albanian
consortium of NGOs in the local elections there in 2006, all the right
elements were present: NDI was working with an experienced and
reliable local NGO partner; SMS bulk messaging was available for all
of the mobile phone companies; the phone companies worked with the
NGOs and were available and ready during election day to deal with any
problems on the spot; phone companies and the bulk SMS vendors were
able to handle thousands of messages per minute to a few numbers at
reporting times, wireless coverage even in rural areas was excellent,
and the phone companies provided so-called interconnect ability that
allowed monitors to send messages from all of the different carriers
to one reporting number.

In Sierra Leone where most of the carriers lack international gateway
interconnect ability, the NGO coalition there will need to set up a
series of local phone numbers so that observers can text to a number
within their own provider network.  This necessitates a much more
rudimentary and complicated setup: Seven phones are tethered to a
laptop and observers are texting directly to those phones without any
bulk messaging intermediary.  Messages arrive in the phone and are
passed to computer, the software reads it using custom scripts, and
the data is compiled in an Access database ready for analysis.
Concerns about the phones handling a high volume of messages in this
situation necessitates a more complicated reporting strategy whereby
each observer will report all of data in a single text message using a
simple coding scheme.  Because Sierra Leone has more spotty wireless
coverage, election monitors in rural areas will have to travel to
areas where there is coverage to send in their reports at the end of
the day.

An important consideration is the cost of a wide-scale program. To
date NDI has found this method of reporting much more economical than
other strategies.  Pricing for bulk sms from a provider like Clickatel
is relatively inexpensive. In the Albanian election, for example, the
bulk messaging costs for a total of some 41,000 messages received and
sent from 2100 monitors was $2400 US Dollars — an extremely
inexpensive way to receive such massive amounts of data.

NDI uses a software called SMS Reception Center, built by a developer
in Russia and costing all of $69 USD. NDI tweaked the scripts over
time, and paid the developer to improve the product for its purposes
and specific local conditions.

In addition to the technical issues and costs inherent in running a
large-scale operation, Spence notes a number of strategic issues to
consider: The NGO partner on the ground needs to be experienced in
electoral monitoring, the information collected needs to be suitable
for the limited text messaging format of 160 chracters, and text
messaging needs to be commonly used and part of the local culture.
Notes Spence: “In all the countries we have worked, one thing we do
not have to do is train anyone how to text.”

In Nigeria earlier this year, a local NGO, the Human Emancipation
Project, ran a small-scale citizen monitoring program that used
untrained citizen reporters to send in SMS messages to one number. The
NGO compiled and aggregated the incoming messages and issued a report
after the election. Using a grassroots software tool, Frontline SMS,
organizers reported that about 8,000 individuals texted in some kind
of report. This is a very different method from the systematic
election monitoring conducted by NGO observer organizations and their
technical assistant providers where a more rigorous protocol is
adhered to. There is merit in engaging every-day citizens to protect
their country’s elections even if these efforts do not produce
reliable and verifiable election results and reports in the manner
that systematic election monitoring does. The Nigerian effort was
widely covered BBC News, and other outlets.

In the two years since the first large-scale SMS monitoring in
Montenegro, there have been rapid improvements in mobile services as
competition in the wireless industry has increased worldwide, and
there is growing interest and understanding on the part of NGOs that
systematic election monitoring is not as difficult as it first may
seem. As election monitoring via SMS becomes standardized and NGOs
gain experience, there is no reason for mobile phones and SMS not to
play a greater role in other areas of civic participation. For
example, imagine citizen oversight of public works projects where
people might report on whether a clinic is actually built as indicated
in a local budget. Other applications may be monitoring and
accountability of elected officials, and dissemination of voter
registration information such as the address of where to register, or
the nearest polling station. Several pilot projects in the United
States showed promising results in increasing voter turnout by text
message reminders. The future is bright for innovative ways in which
cell phones are used by citizens to participate and engage in their
countries as the mobile revolution unfolds.


Moving beyond Nigeria’s mobile rough patch
BY Judy Breck  /  August 27th, 2007

Reuters is reporting this morning that “Nigeria Aims to Let Mobile
Phone Users Keep Numbers.” The plan is to allow subscribers to keep
their numbers as they switch among providers — hopefully to improve
service through competition. The report includes this description of
the roughness of present service in Nigeria, which is interesting to
realize. Mobile has been making a positive transition in Africa in
spite of the problems described below. When mobile service gets
better, the transition should have important new impetus one would

Nigeria’s booming mobile phone market has grown from scratch to over
30 million subscribers in six years, making it one of the fastest-
growing in the world.

It is seen as having potential for many more years of rapid growth as
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with 140 million people, the
majority of whom do not have phones.

However, the quality of service from mobile phone providers has always
been patchy and it has deteriorated over time.

Subscribers often have to dial several times before a call goes
through. Sometimes no calls go through for hours. When they do
connect, the lines are often so bad that callers cannot hear each
other. Calls frequently cut off after a few seconds and text messages
can be delayed by hours.

Mobile operators argue that services are impaired by frequent
blackouts, forcing companies to provide their own power with costly
diesel generators, and constant vandalism and armed attacks on
facilities and staff.


Monks Are Silenced, and for Now, Internet Is, Too
BY Seth Mydans  /  October 4, 2007

BANGKOK, Oct. 3 — It was about as simple and uncomplicated as shooting
demonstrators in the streets. Embarrassed by smuggled video and
photographs that showed their people rising up against them, the
generals who run Myanmar simply switched off the Internet. Until
Friday television screens and newspapers abroad were flooded with
scenes of tens of thousands of red-robed monks in the streets and of
chaos and violence as the junta stamped out the biggest popular
uprising there in two decades.

But then the images, text messages and postings stopped, shut down by
generals who belatedly grasped the power of the Internet to jeopardize
their crackdown. “Finally they realized that this was their biggest
enemy, and they took it down,” said Aung Zaw, editor of an exile
magazine based in Thailand called The Irrawaddy, whose Web site has
been a leading source of information in recent weeks. The site has
been attacked by a virus whose timing raises the possibility that the
military government has a few skilled hackers in its ranks.

The efficiency of this latest, technological, crackdown raises the
question whether the vaunted role of the Internet in undermining
repression can stand up to a determined and ruthless government — or
whether Myanmar, already isolated from the world, can ride out a
prolonged shutdown more easily than most countries.

OpenNet Initiative, which tracks Internet censorship, has documented
signs that in recent years several governments — including those of
Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — have closed off Internet access,
or at least opposition Web sites, during periods preceding elections
or times of intense protests. The brief disruptions are known as “just
in time” filtering, said Ronald J. Deibert of OpenNet. They are
designed to quiet opponents while maintaining an appearance of
technical difficulties, thus avoiding criticism from abroad. In 2005,
King Gyanendra of Nepal ousted the government and imposed a weeklong
communications blackout. Facing massive protests, he ceded control in

Myanmar has just two Internet service providers, and shutting them
down was not complicated, said David Mathieson, an expert on Myanmar
with Human Rights Watch. Along with the Internet, the junta cut off
most telephone access to the outside world. Soldiers on the streets
confiscated cameras and video-recording cellphones. “The crackdown on
the media and on information flow is parallel to the physical
crackdown,” he said. “It seems they’ve done it quite effectively.
Since Friday we’ve seen no new images come out.” In keeping with the
country’s self-imposed isolation over the past half-century, Myanmar’s
military seemed prepared to cut the country off from the virtual world
just as it had from the world at large. Web access has not been
restored, and there is no way to know if or when it might be.

At the same time, the junta turned to the oldest tactic of all to
silence opposition: fear. Local journalists and people caught
transmitting information or using cameras are being threatened and
arrested, according to Burmese exile groups. In a final, hurried
telephone call, Mr. Aung Zaw said, one of his longtime sources said
goodbye. “We have done enough,” he said the source told him. “We can
no longer move around. It is over to you — we cannot do anything
anymore. We are down. We are hunted by soldiers — we are down.”

There are still images to come, Mr. Aung Zaw said, and as soon as he
receives them and his Web site is back up, the world will see them.
But Mr. Mathieson said the country’s dissidents were reverting to
tactics of the past, smuggling images out through cellphones, breaking
the files down for reassembly later. It is not clear how much longer
the generals can hold back the future. Technology is making it harder
for dictators and juntas to draw a curtain of secrecy. “There are
always ways people find of getting information out, and authorities
always have to struggle with them,” said Mitchell Stephens, a
professor of journalism at New York University and the author of “A
History of News.”

“There are fewer and fewer events that we don’t have film images of:
the world is filled with Zapruders,” he said, referring to Abraham
Zapruder, the onlooker who recorded the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy in 1963. Before Friday’s blackout, Myanmar’s hit-and-
run journalists were staging a virtuoso demonstration of the power of
the Internet to outmaneuver a repressive government. A guerrilla army
of citizen reporters was smuggling out pictures even as events were
unfolding, and the world was watching.

“For those of us who study the history of communication technology,
this is of equal importance to the telegraph, which was the first
medium that separated communications and transportation,” said Frank
A. Moretti, executive director of the Center for New Media Teaching
and Learning at Columbia University. Since the protests began in mid-
August, people have sent images and words through SMS text messages
and e-mail and on daily blogs, according to some exile groups that
received the messages. They have posted notices on Facebook, the
social networking Web site. They have sent tiny messages on e-cards.
They have updated the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

They also used Internet versions of “pigeons” — the couriers that
reporters used in the past to carry out film and reports — handing
their material to embassies or nongovernment organizations with
satellite connections. Within hours, the images and reports were
broadcast back into Myanmar by foreign radio and television stations,
informing and connecting a public that hears only propaganda from its

These technological tricks may offer a model to people elsewhere who
are trying to outwit repressive governments. But the generals’ heavy-
handed response is probably a less useful model. Nations with larger
economies and more ties to the outside world have more at stake.
China, for one, could not consider cutting itself off as Myanmar has
done, and so control of the Internet is an industry in itself. “In
China, it’s massive,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet
Project and an adjunct professor at the graduate school of journalism
at the University of California, Berkeley.

“There’s surveillance and intimidation, there’s legal regulation and
there is commercial leverage to force private Internet companies to
self-censor,” he said. “And there is what we call the Great Firewall,
which blocks hundreds of thousands of Web sites outside of China.” Yet
for all its efforts, even China cannot entirely control the Internet,
an easier task in a smaller country like Myanmar.

As technology makes everyone a potential reporter, the challenge in
risky places like Myanmar will be accuracy, said Vincent Brossel, head
of the Asian section of the press freedom organization Reporters
Without Borders. “Rumors are the worst enemy of independent
journalism,” he said. “Already we are hearing so many strange things.
So if you have no flow of information and the spread of rumors in a
country that is using propaganda — that’s it. You are destroying the
story, and day by day it goes down.” The technological advances on the
streets of Myanmar are the latest in a long history of revolutions in
the transmission of news — from the sailing ship to the telegraph to
international telephone lines and the telex machine to computers and
satellite telephones.

“Today every citizen is a war correspondent,” said Phillip Knightley,
author of “The First Casualty,” a classic history of war reporting
that starts with letters home from soldiers in Crimea in the 1850s and
ends with the “living room war” in Vietnam in the 1970s, the first war
that people could watch on television. “Mobile phones with video of
broadcast quality have made it possible for anyone to report a war,”
he said in an e-mail interview. “You just have to be there. No trouble
getting a start: the broadcasters have been begging viewers to send
their stuff.”


Shanghai’s Middle Class Launches Quiet, Meticulous Revolt
BY Maureen Fan  /  January 26, 2008

SHANGHAI — Bundled against the cold, the businessman made his way
down the steps. Coming toward him in blue mittens was a middle-aged
woman. “Do you know that we’re going to take a stroll this weekend?”
she whispered, using the latest euphemism for the unofficial protests
that have unnerved authorities in Shanghai over the past month. He

Behind her, protest banners streamed from the windows of high-rise
apartment blocks, signs of middle-class discontent over a planned
extension of the city’s magnetic levitation, or maglev, train through
residential neighborhoods. The couple checked to make sure no
plainclothes police were nearby and discussed where security forces
had been posted in recent days. “Did you take any photos?” the man
asked. Yes, she said, promising to send them to him so he could post
the evidence online. In a minute, the exchange was over, but the news
would soon be added to the steady flow of reports being posted on
blogs and community bulletin boards, as well as in housing compounds
along the proposed extension — which residents contend will bring
noise pollution and possibly dangerous radiation to their

The sudden “strolls” by thousands of office workers, company managers,
young families and the elderly in this sleek financial hub are the
latest chapter in a quiet middle-class battle against government
officials. The protesters are going about their mission carefully, and
many speak anonymously for fear of retribution in a country that
stifles dissent. The Communist Party has a massive security apparatus
that closely monitors what it views as subversive activity. The party
sometimes allows public protests if they serve its political
interests, such as the ouster of corrupt officials.

But the protests here have been unusual. They are led by homeowners
and professionals — people who may not previously have had much to
complain to the government about but whose awareness of their
individual rights has grown along with their prosperity. Police, who
have routinely put down rural protests by poor farmers, have found it
more difficult to intimidate an affluent, educated crowd in a major

The demonstrations do have at least one recent precursor, and it is
one Shanghai residents acknowledge using for inspiration. In the
picturesque seaside city of Xiamen, thousands of middle-class
residents have managed at least temporarily to halt the construction
of a $1 billion chemical factory because of environmental concerns.
Demonstrators in that city, in Fujian province, relied on the Internet
and cellphone text messaging to organize strolls and other opposition.
“We learned from Xiamen,” said Gu Qidong, 36, a Shanghai protester and
freelance sales consultant in the health-care industry. “We have no
other way besides this. We once asked if we could apply for a march
permit, and the police said they would never approve it.”

As in Xiamen, Shanghai residents have spent countless hours
researching their cause. They have posted fliers sprinkled with such
phrases as “electromagnetic compatibility” and wooed residents and
news media with slick PowerPoint presentations that question whether a
55-yard-wide safety buffer envisioned for each side of the rail
extension would be sufficient to keep noise and vibration from
reaching their apartments.

They say the existing maglev route, which takes passengers from an out-
of-the-way suburban subway stop to one of the city’s international
airports in less than eight minutes, is a showy waste of money. When
it opened four years ago, they note, the line operated at less than 20
percent capacity; after ticket prices were lowered, it ran at 27
percent capacity.

Armed with knowledge of the law, the Shanghai residents became angry
that public officials had neither given proper notice of their plans
for the extension nor held a public hearing. And so they decided they
had no alternative but to “take a stroll” or “go shopping.” They
started small, and they were careful to say they did not oppose the

First, a small group of protesters met at a shopping center the
morning of Jan. 6, shouting “Reject the maglev!” and “We want to
protect our homes!” They left after an hour, regrouping later in a
neighborhood near where the extension would be built.

A few days later, hundreds of people went to a mall that is popular
with tourists and made an evening stop in another affected
neighborhood. By Jan. 12, thousands of people were gathering at
People’s Square and on Nanjing Lu, both high-profile locations in
downtown Shanghai, shouting “People’s police should protect the
people!” and “Save our homes!”

The growing boldness of the protesters has prompted city officials to
emphasize that residents should find “normal” channels to vent their
unhappiness. “We will forestall and defuse social tensions,” Shanghai
Mayor Han Zheng said in his annual government report Thursday, in what
appeared to be a tacit nod to the protesters’ concerns.

After each stroll, residents upload photos and videos to Chinese Web
sites, which are often blocked by the government, and to YouTube, a
site that isn’t. The project has turned neighbors who did not know
each other into close friends and allies who now compare notes and
strategize. “They can’t arrest everybody,” said Yao, a 58-year-old
protester who asked that his full name not be used because he is a
manager at a state-owned enterprise. “We haven’t done anything wrong,”
said Wang Guowei, 51, a manager in a Chinese-Japanese plastics venture
whose family lives near the planned extension. “We always follow the
Chinese constitution, we never violate the law. And in our many
contacts with the police, they say we are within the law.”

A victory for the protesters here does not seem as likely as the one
activists achieved in Xiamen. Proud city officials hope the maglev
extension will further cement Shanghai’s reputation as the mainland’s
most advanced city when the train connects the city’s two airports and
the site of the 2010 World Expo. City officials have already made some
concessions. An original plan to extend the train from Shanghai to the
city of Hangzhou, for example, was scrapped in May. The new extension
proposal announced Dec. 29 lops almost two miles off the old plan, and
one section of track would be underground. But opponents say such
concessions are small.

Critics of the government plan point out that even some residents who
use the train are skeptical of the usefulness of an extension. “I’d
rather see an ordinary railway connecting” Pudong international and
Hongqiao airport. “It’s cheap, and it’s almost the same convenience,”
said Chen Min, 37, an airline pilot who rides the train each time he
flies abroad. “Does China really need more maglev trains? Does China
really need expensive things?”

Shanghai municipal officials declined requests for comment. At a news
conference this week, government spokeswoman Jiao Yang said Shanghai
Maglev Transportation Development Co., the Shanghai Academy of
Environmental Science and the Municipal Urban Planning Administration
would analyze public opinion “seriously.”

Without the entire city united against the project, residents concede
they are not optimistic the extension will be scrapped. “But we must
insist on our position. We require our government to respect the law,
and public construction must follow a legal framework and the right
procedure,” said the 54-year-old businessman who asked another
protester for her photos. “Our action is a way to wake up people’s
awareness of their civil rights.”

Facebook used to target Colombia’s FARC with global rally

Internet site to spawn protests in 185 cities Monday against rebel
group’s methods
BY Sibylla Brodzinsky  /  February 4, 2008

Bogotá, Colombia – Hundreds of thousands of Colombians are expected to
march throughout the country and in major cities around the world
Monday to protest against this nation’s oldest and most powerful rebel

What began as a group of young people venting their rage at the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Facebook, an Internet
social-networking site, has ballooned into an international event
called “One Million Voices Against FARC.”

“We expected the idea to resound with a lot of people but not so much
and not so quickly,” says Oscar Morales, who started the Facebook
group against the FARC, which now has 230,000 members. Organizers are
expecting marches in 185 cities around the world.

The event is another example of how technology – such as text
messaging on cellphones – can be used to rally large numbers of people
to a cause. Some observers say it’s less a response to the FARC’s
ideology than it is global public outrage over kidnapping as a weapon.

Colombia continues to be the world’s kidnapping capital with as many
as 3,000 hostages now being held. Anger over the practice has risen in
recent months after two women released by the FARC last month after
six years in captivity recounted the hardships they and other hostages

Monday’s protests have the support of the government, many
nongovernmental organizations, and some political parties but its main
battle cry of “No More FARC” has also polarized some Colombians rather
than bringing them together.

While few Colombians support the Marxist insurgent army that has been
fighting the Colombian state for more than 40 years, many people are
uncomfortable with the message of Monday’s rally. They would prefer a
broader slogan against kidnapping and in favor of peace and of
negotiations between the government and the rebels to exchange
hostages for jailed rebels. The leftist Polo Democratico Party said it
will hold a rally in Bogotá in favor of a negotiation but would not
march. Some senators say they will march against Venezuelan President
Hugo Chávez, and other participants say they will be marching in favor
of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Consuelo González de Perdomo, one of the two women released by the
FARC on Jan. 10 said she would not be marching at all.

The families of the 45 remaining FARC hostages will not march either.
“The way the march was called aims to polarize the country,” says
Deyanira Ortiz, whose husband, Orlando Beltrán Cuéllar, has been held
by the FARC for six years. “It’s not for the freedom of the hostages
but against the FARC. And that doesn’t serve any purpose.”

Instead, the families and released FARC hostages will gather in
churches to pray for the release of their loved ones and for a
humanitarian agreement.

Rosa Cristina Parra, one of the original organizers of the march said
the position of the hostage families is “completely understandable”
and will not detract from the importance of the event. “We cannot
forget the other victims of the FARC, the land-mine victims, the
displaced people,” she says.



NYC, the NYPD, the RNC, and Me
Fortress Big Apple, 2007  /  BY Nick Turse

One day in August, I walked into the Daniel Patrick Moynihan
United States Courthouse in lower Manhattan. Nearly three years before
I had been locked up, about two blocks away, in “the Tombs” — the
infamous jail then named the Bernard B. Kerik Complex for the now-
disgraced New York City Police Commissioner. You see, I am one of the
demonstrators who was illegally arrested by the New York City Police
Department (NYPD) during the protests against the 2004 Republican
National Convention (RNC). My crime had been — in an effort to call
attention to the human toll of America’s wars — to ride the subway,
dressed in black with the pallor of death about me (thanks to
cornstarch and cold cream), and an expression to match, sporting a
placard around my neck that read: WAR DEAD.

I was with a small group and our plan was to travel from Union
Square to Harlem, change trains, and ride all the way back down to
Astor Place. But when my small group exited the train at the 125th
Street station in Harlem, we were arrested by a swarm of police,
marched to a waiting paddy wagon and driven to a filthy detention
center. There, we were locked away for hours in a series of razor-wire-
topped pens, before being bussed to the Tombs.

Now, I was back to resolve the matter of my illegal arrest. As I
walked through the metal detector of the Federal building, a security
official searched my bag. He didn’t like what he found. “You could be
shot for carrying that in here,” he told me. “You could be shot.”

For the moment, however, the identification of that dangerous
object I attempted to slip into the federal facility will have to
wait. Let me instead back up to July 2004, when, with the RNC fast-
approaching, I authored an article on the militarization of Manhattan
— “the transformation of the island into a ‘homeland-security state'”
— and followed it up that September with a street-level recap of the
convention protests, including news of the deployment of an
experimental sound weapon, the Long Range Acoustic Device, by the
NYPD, and the department’s use of an on-loan Fuji blimp as a “spy-in-
the-sky.” Back then, I suggested that the RNC gave New York’s
“finest,” a perfect opportunity to “refine, perfect, and implement new
tactics (someday, perhaps, to be known as the ‘New York model’) for
use penning in or squelching dissent. It offered them the chance to
write up a playbook on how citizens’ legal rights and civil liberties
may be abridged, constrained, and violated at their discretion.”
Little did I know how much worse it could get.

No Escape

Since then, the city’s security forces have eagerly embraced an
Escape From New York-aesthetic — an urge to turn Manhattan into a
walled-in fortress island under high-tech government surveillance,
guarded by heavily armed security forces, with helicopters perpetually
overhead. Beginning in Harlem in 2006, near the site of two new luxury
condos, the NYPD set up a moveable “two-story booth tower, called Sky
Watch,” that gave an “officer sitting inside a better vantage point
from which to monitor the area.” The Panopticon-like structure —
originally used by hunters to shoot quarry from overhead and now also
utilized by the Department of Homeland Security along the Mexican
border — was outfitted with black-tinted windows, a spotlight,
sensors, and four to five cameras. Now, five Sky Watch towers are in
service, rotating in and out of various neighborhoods.

With their 20-25 neighborhood-scanning cameras, the towers are
only a tiny fraction of the Big Apple surveillance story. Back in
1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that there were
“2,397 cameras used by a wide variety of private businesses and
government agencies throughout Manhattan” — and that was just one
borough. About a year after the RNC, the group reported that a survey
of just a quarter of that borough yielded a count of more than 4,000
surveillance cameras of every kind. At about the same time, military-
corporate giant Lockheed Martin was awarded a $212 million contract to
build a “counter-terrorist surveillance and security system for New
York’s subways and commuter railroads as well as bridges and tunnels”
that would increase the camera total by more than 1,000. A year later,
as seems to regularly be the case with contracts involving the
military-corporate complex, that contract had already ballooned to
$280 million, although the system was not to be operational until at
least 2008.

In 2006, according to a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA)
spokesman, the MTA already had a “3,000-camera-strong surveillance
system,” while the NYPD was operating “an additional 3,000 cameras”
around the city. That same year, Bill Brown, a member of the
Surveillance Camera Players — a group that leads surveillance-camera
tours and maps their use around the city, estimated, according to a
Newsweek article, that the total number of surveillance cameras in New
York exceeded 15,000 — “a figure city officials say they have no way
to verify because they lack a system of registry.” Recently, Brown
told me that 15,000 was an estimate for the number of cameras in
Manhattan, alone. For the city as a whole, he suspects the count has
now reached about 40,000.

This July, NYPD officials announced plans to up the ante. By the
end of 2007, according to the New York Times, they pledged to install
“more than 100 cameras” to monitor “cars moving through Lower
Manhattan, the beginning phase of a London-style surveillance system
that would be the first in the United States.” This “Ring of Steel”
scheme, which has already received $10 million in funding from the
Department of Homeland Security (in addition to $15 million in city
funds), aims to exponentially decrease privacy because, if “fully
financed, it will include…. 3,000 public and private security
cameras below Canal Street, as well as a center staffed by the police
and private security officers” to monitor all those electronic eyes.

Spies in the Sky

At the time of the RNC, the NYPD was already mounted on police
horses, bicycles, and scooters, as well as an untold number of marked
and unmarked cars, vans, trucks, and armored vehicles, not to mention
various types of water-craft. In 2007, the two-wheeled Segway joined
its list of land vehicles.

Overhead, the NYPD aviation unit, utilizing seven helicopters,
proudly claims to be “in operation 24/7, 365,” according to Deputy
Inspector Joseph Gallucci, its commanding officer. Not only are all
the choppers outfitted with “state of the art cameras and heat-sensing
devices,” as well as “the latest mapping, tracking and surveillance
technology,” but one is a “$10 million ‘stealth bird,’ which has no
police markings — [so] that those on the ground have no idea they are
being watched.”

Asked about concerns over intrusive spying by members of the
aviation unit — characterized by Gallucci as “a bunch of big boys who
like big expensive toys” — Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly
scoffed. “We’re not able to, even if we wanted, to look into private
spaces,” he told the New York Times. “We’re looking at public areas.”
However, in 2005, it was revealed that, on the eve of the RNC
protests, members of the aviation unit took a break and used their
night-vision cameras to record “an intimate moment” shared by a
“couple on the terrace of a Second Avenue penthouse.”

Despite this incident, which only came to light because the same
tape included images that had to be turned over to a defendant in an
unrelated trial, Kelly has called for more aerial surveillance. The
commissioner apparently also got used to having the Fuji blimp at his
disposal, though he noted that “it’s not easy to send blimps into the
airspace over New York.” He then “challenged the aerospace industry to
find a solution” that would, no doubt, bring the city closer to life
under total surveillance.

Police Misconduct: The RNC

As a result of its long history of brutality, corruption, spying,
silencing dissent, and engaging in illegal activities, the NYPD is a
particularly secretive organization. As such, the full story of the
department’s misconduct during the Republican National Convention has
yet to be told; but, even in an era of heightened security and
defensiveness, what has emerged hasn’t been pretty.

By April 2005, New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer was already
reporting that, “of the 1,670 [RNC arrest] cases that have run their
full course, 91 percent ended with the charges dismissed or with a
verdict of not guilty after trial. Many were dropped without any
finding of wrongdoing, but also without any serious inquiry into the
circumstances of the arrests, with the Manhattan district attorney’s
office agreeing that the cases should be ‘adjourned in contemplation
of dismissal.'” In one case that went to trial, it was found that
video footage of an arrest had been doctored to bolster the NYPD’s
claims. (All charges were dropped against that defendant. In 400 other
RNC cases, by the spring of 2005, video recordings had either
demonstrated that defendants had not committed crimes or that charges
could not be proved against them.)

Since shifting to “zero-tolerance” law enforcement policies under
Mayor (now Republican presidential candidate) Rudolph Giuliani, the
city has been employing a system of policing where arrests are used to
punish people who have been convicted of no crime whatsoever,
including, as at the RNC or the city’s monthly Critical Mass bike
rides, those who engage in any form of protest. Prior to the Giuliani
era, about half of all those “arrested for low-level offenses would
get a desk-appearance ticket ordering them to go to court.” Now the
proportion is 10%. (NYPD documents show that the decision to arrest
protesters, not issue summonses, was part of the planning process
prior to the RNC.)

Speaking at the 2007 meeting of the American Sociological
Association, Michael P. Jacobson, Giuliani’s probation and correction
commissioner, outlined how the city’s policy of punishing the presumed
innocent works:

“Essentially, everyone who’s arrested in New York City, in the
parlance of city criminal justice lingo, goes through ‘the system’….
if you’ve never gone through the system, even 24 hours — that’s a
shocking period of punishment. It’s debasing, it’s difficult. You’re
probably in a fairly gross police lockup. You probably have no toilet
paper. You’re given a baloney sandwich, and the baloney is green.”

In 2005, the Times’ Dwyer revealed that at public gatherings since
the time of the RNC, police officers had not only “conducted covert
surveillance… of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking
part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist
killed in an accident,” but had acted as agent provocateurs. At the
RNC, there were multiple incidents in which undercover agents
influenced events or riled up crowds. In one case, a “sham arrest” of
“a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising
confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.”

In 2006, the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reported
“that hundreds of Convention protesters may have been unnecessarily
and unlawfully arrested because NYPD officials failed to give adequate
orders to disperse and failed to afford protesters a reasonable
opportunity to disperse.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had no hesitation about rejecting the
organization’s report. Still, these were strong words, considering the
weakness of the source. The overall impotence of the CCRB suggests a
great deal about the NYPD’s culture of unaccountability. According to
an ACLU report, the board “investigates fewer than half of all
complaints that it reviews, and it produces a finding on the merits in
only three of ten complaints disposed of in any given year.” This
inaction is no small thing, given the surge of complaints against NYPD
officers in recent years. In 2001, before Mayor Bloomberg and Police
Commissioner Kelly came to power, the CCRB received 4,251 complaints.
By 2006, the number of complaints had jumped by 80% to 7,669. Even
more telling are the type of allegations found to be on the rise (and
largely ignored). According to the ACLU, from 2005 to 2006, complaints
over the use of excessive force jumped 26.8% — “nearly double the
increase in complaints filed.”

It was in this context that the planning for the RNC
demonstrations took place. In 2006, in five internal police reports
made public as part of a lawsuit, “New York City police commanders
candidly discuss[ed] how they had successfully used ‘proactive
arrests,’ covert surveillance and psychological tactics at political
demonstrations in 2002, and recommend[ed] that those approaches be
employed at future gatherings.” A draft report from the department’s
Disorder Control Unit had a not-so-startling recommendation, given
what did happen at the RNC: “Utilize undercover officers to distribute
misinformation within the crowds.”

According to Dwyer, for at least a year prior to those
demonstrations, “teams of undercover New York City police officers
traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe” to conduct
covert surveillance of activists. “In hundreds of reports, stamped
‘N.Y.P.D. Secret,’ [the NYPD’s] Intelligence Division chronicled the
views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking
the law, [including] street theater companies, church groups and
antiwar organizations, as well as environmentalists and people opposed
to the death penalty, globalization and other government policies.”
Three elected city councilmen — Charles Barron, Bill Perkins and
Larry B. Seabrook — were even cited in the reports for endorsing a
protest event held on January 15, 2004 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr.’s birthday.

In August, the New York Times editorial page decried the city’s
continuing attempts to keep documents outlining the police
department’s spying and other covert activities secret:

“The city of New York is waging a losing and ill-conceived
battle for overzealous secrecy surrounding nearly 2,000 arrests during
the 2004 Republican National Convention…. Police Commissioner Ray
Kelly seemed to cast an awfully wide and indiscriminate net in seeking
out potential troublemakers. For more than a year before the
convention, members of a police spy unit headed by a former official
of the Central Intelligence Agency infiltrated a wide range of groups…
many of the targets … posed no danger or credible threat.”

The Times concluded that — coupled with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
efforts to disrupt and criminalize protest during the convention week
— “police action helped to all but eliminate dissent from New York
City during the Republican delegates’ visit. If that was the goal,
then mission accomplished. And civil rights denied.”

Police Commissioner Kelly had a radically different take on his
department’s conduct. Earlier this year, he claimed that “the
Republican National Convention was perhaps the finest hour in the
history of the New York City Department.”

Police Misconduct: 2007

“Finest” might seem a funny term for the NYPD’s actions, but these
days everyone’s a relativist. In the years since the RNC protests, the
NYPD has been mired in scandal after scandal — from killing unarmed
black men and “violations of civil rights” at the National Puerto
Rican Day Parade to issuing “sweeping generalizations” that lead to
“labeling almost every American Muslim as a potential terrorist.” And,
believe it or not, the racial and political scandals were but a modest
part of the mix. Add to them, killings, sexual assaults, kidnapping,
armed robbery, burglary, corruption, theft, drug-related offenses,
conspiracy — and that’s just a start when it comes to crimes members
of the force have been charged with. It’s a rap sheet fit for Public
Enemy #1, and we’re only talking about the story of the NYPD in the
not-yet-completed year of 2007.

For example, earlier this year a 13-year NYPD veteran was
“arrested on charges of hindering prosecution, tampering with
evidence, obstructing governmental administration and unlawful
possession of marijuana,” in connection with the shooting of another
officer. In an unrelated case, two other NYPD officers were arrested
and “charged with attempted kidnapping, armed robbery, armed burglary
and other offenses.”

In a third case, the New York Post reported that a “veteran NYPD
captain has been stripped of his badge and gun as part of a federal
corruption probe that already has led to the indictment of an Internal
Affairs sergeant who allegedly tipped other cops that they were being
investigated.” And that isn’t the only NYPD cover-up allegation to
surface of late. With cops interfering in investigations of fellow
cops and offering advice on how to deflect such probes, it’s a wonder
any type of wrongdoing surfaces. Yet, the level of misconduct in the
department appears to be sweeping enough to be irrepressible.

For instance, sex crime scandals have embroiled numerous officers
— including one “accused of sexually molesting his young
stepdaughter,” who pled guilty to “a misdemeanor charge of child
endangerment,” and another “at a Queens hospital charged with
possessing and sharing child pornography.” In a third case, a member
of the NYPD’s School Safety Division was “charged with the attempted
rape and sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl.” In a fourth case, a
“police officer pleaded guilty…. to a grotesque romance with an
infatuated 13-year-old girl.” Meanwhile, an NYPD officer, who molested
women while on duty and in uniform, was convicted of sexual abuse and
official misconduct.

Cop-on-cop sexual misconduct of an extreme nature has also
surfaced…. but why go on? You get the idea. And, if you don’t, there
are lurid cases galore to check out, like the investigation into
“whether [an] NYPD officer who fatally shot his teen lover before
killing himself murdered the boyfriend of a past lover,” or the
officer who was “charged with intentional murder in the shooting death
of his 22-year-old girlfriend.” And don’t even get me started on the
officer “facing charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and
conspiracy to commit robberies of drugs and drug proceeds from
narcotics traffickers.”

All of this, and much more, has emerged in spite of the classic
blue-wall-of-silence. It makes you wonder: In the surveillance state
to come, are we going to be herded and observed by New York’s finest

It’s important to note that all of these cases have begun despite
a striking NYPD culture of non-accountability. Back in August, the New
York Times noted that the “Police Department has increasingly failed
to prosecute New York City police officers on charges of misconduct
when those cases have been substantiated by the independent board that
investigates allegations of police abuse, officials of the board say.”
Between March 1, 2007 and June 30, 2007 alone, the NYPD “declined to
seek internal departmental trials against 31 officers, most of whom
were facing charges of stopping people in the street without probable
cause or reasonable suspicion, according to the city’s Civilian
Complaint Review Board.” An ACLU report, “Mission Failure: Civilian
Review of Policing in New York City, 1994-2006,” released this month,
delved into the issue in even greater detail. The organization found
that, between 2000 and 2005, “the NYPD disposed of substantiated
complaints against 2,462 police officers: 725 received no discipline.
When discipline was imposed, it was little more than a slap on the

Much has come to light recently about the way the U.S. military
has been lowering its recruitment standards in order to meet the
demands of ongoing, increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, including an increase in “moral waivers” allowing more
recruits with criminal records to enter the services. Well, it turns
out that, on such policies, the NYPD has been a pioneering

In 2002, the BBC reported that “New York’s powerful police union….
accused the police department of allowing ‘sub-standard’ recruits onto
the force.” Then, just months after the RNC protests, the New York
Daily News exposed the department’s practice of “hiring applicants
with arrest records and shoving others through without full background
checks” including those who had been “charged with laundering drug
money, assault, grand larceny and weapons possession.” According to
Sgt. Anthony Petroglia, who, until he retired in 2002, had worked for
almost a decade in the department’s applicant-processing division, the
NYPD was “hiring people to be cops who have no respect for the law.”
Another retiree from the same division was blunter: “It’s all judgment
calls — bad ones…. but the bosses say, ‘Send ’em through. We’ll
catch the problem ones later.'”

The future looks bright, if you are an advocate of sending the
force even further down this path. The new choice to mold the
department of tomorrow, according to the Village Voice, the “NYPD’s
new deputy commissioner of training, Wilbur ‘Bill’ Chapman, should
have no trouble teaching ‘New York’s Finest’ about the pitfalls of
sexual harassment, cronyism, and punitive transfers [because h]e’s
been accused of all that during his checkered career.”

In the eerie afterglow of 9/11, haunted by the specter of
terrorism, in an atmosphere where repressive zero-tolerance policies
already rule, given the unparalleled power of Commissioner Kelly —
called “the most powerful police commissioner in the city’s history”
by NYPD expert Leonard Levitt — and with a police department largely
unaccountable to anyone (as the only city agency without any effective
outside oversight), the Escape from New York model may indeed
represent Manhattan’s future.

Nick Turse v. The City of New York

So what, you might still be wondering, was it that led the
security official at the federal courthouse to raise the specter of my
imminent demise? A weapon? An unidentified powder? No, a digital audio
recorder. “Some people here don’t want to be recorded,” he explained
in response to my quizzical look.

So I checked the recording device and, accompanied by my lawyer,
the indomitable Mary D. Dorman, made my way to Courtroom 18D, a
stately room in the upper reaches of the building that houses the
oldest district court in the nation. There, I met our legal nemesis, a
city attorney whose official title is “assistant corporation counsel.”
After what might pass for a cordial greeting, he asked relatively
politely whether I was going to accept the city’s monetary offer of
$8,500 — which I had rejected the previous week– to settle my
lawsuit for false arrest. As soon as I indicated I wouldn’t (as I had
from the moment the city started the bidding at $2,500), any hint of
cordiality fled the room. Almost immediately, he was referring to me
as a “criminal” — declassified NYPD documents actually refer to me as
a “perp.” Soon, he launched into a bout of remarkable bluster,
threatening lengthy depositions to waste my time and monetary
penalties associated with court costs that would swallow my savings.

Then, we were all directed to a small jury room off the main
courtroom, where the city’s attorney hauled out a threatening prop to
bolster his act — an imposingly gigantic file folder stuffed with
reams of “Nick Turse” documents, including copies of some of my
disreputable Tomdispatch articles as well as printouts of suspicious
webpages from the American Empire Project — the obviously criminal
series that will be publishing my upcoming book, The Complex.

There, the litany of vague threats to tie me down with
depositions, tax me with fees, and maybe, somehow, send me to jail for
a “crime” that had been dismissed years earlier continued until a
federal magistrate judge entered the room. To him, the assistant
corporation counsel and I told our versions of my arrest story —
which turned out to vary little.

The basic details were the same. As the city attorney shifted in
his seat, I told the judge how, along with compatriots I’d met only
minutes before, I donned my “WAR DEAD” sign and descended into the
subway surrounded by a phalanx of cops — plainclothes, regular
uniformed, Big Brother-types from the Technical Assistance Response
Unit (TARU), and white-shirted brass, as well as a Washington Post
photographer and legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild —
and boarded our train. I explained that we sat there looking as dead
as possible for about 111 blocks and then, as the Washington Post
reported, were arrested when we came back to life and “tried to change
trains.” I asked, admittedly somewhat rhetorically why, if I was such
a “criminal,” none of the officers present at my arrest had actually
showed up in court to testify against me when my case was dismissed
out of hand back in 2004? And why hadn’t the prosecutor wanted to
produce the video footage the NYPD had taken of the entire action and
my arrest? And why had the city been trying to buy me off all these
years since?

Faced with the fact that his intimidation tactics hadn’t worked,
the city attorney now quit his bad-cop tactics and I rose again out of
the ditch of “common criminality” into citizenship and then to the
high status of being addressed as “Dr. Turse” (in a bow to my PhD).
Offers and counteroffers followed, leading finally to a monetary
settlement with a catch — I also wanted an apology. If that guard
hadn’t directed me — under threat of being shot — to check my
digital audio recorder at the door, I might have had a sound file of
it to listen to for years to come. Instead, I had to be content with
the knowledge that an appointed representative of the City of New York
not only had to ditch the Escape from New York model — at least for a
day — pony up some money for violating my civil rights, and, before a
federal magistrate judge, also issue me an apology, on behalf of the
city, for wrongs committed by the otherwise largely unaccountable

The Future of the NYPD and the Homeland-Security State-let

I’m under no illusions that this minor monetary settlement and
apology were of real significance in a city where civil rights are
routinely abridged, the police are a largely unaccountable armed
force, and a culture of total surveillance is increasingly the norm.
But my lawsuit, when combined with those of my fellow arrestees, could
perhaps have some small effect. After all, less than a year after the
convention, 569 people had already “filed notices that they intended
to sue the City, seeking damages totaling $859,014,421,” according to
an NYCLU report. While the city will end up paying out considerably
less, the grand total will not be insignificant. In fact, Jim Dwyer
recently reported that the first 35 of 605 RNC cases had been settled
for a total of $694,000.

If New Yorkers began to agitate for accountability — demanding,
for instance, that such settlements be paid out of the NYPD’s budget
— it could make a difference. Then, every time New Yorkers’ hard-
earned tax-dollars were handed over to fellow citizens who were
harassed, mistreated, injured, or abused by the city’s police force
that would mean less money available for the “big expensive toys” that
the “big boys” of the NYPD’s aviation unit use to record the private
moments of unsuspecting citizens or the ubiquitous surveillance gear
used not to capture the rest of the city on candid camera. It wouldn’t
put an end to the NYPD’s long-running criminality or the burgeoning
homeland security state-let that it’s building, but it would, at
least, introduce a tiny measure of accountability.

Such an effort might even begin a dialogue about the NYPD, its
dark history, its current mandate under the Global War on Terror, and
its role in New York City. For instance, people might begin to examine
the very nature of the department. They might conclude that questions
must be raised when institutions — be they rogue regimes, deleterious
industries, unaccountable corporations, or fundamentally-tainted
government institutions — consistently, over many decades, evidence a
persistent disregard for the law, a lack of accountability, and a deep
resistance to reform. Those directly affected by the NYPD, a nearly
38,000-person force — larger than many armies — that has
consistently flouted the law and has proven remarkably resistant to
curtailing its own misconduct for well over a century, might even
begin to wonder if it can be trusted to administer the homeland
security state-let its top officials are fast implementing and, if
not, what can be done about it.


Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San
Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for His first book, The Complex, an exploration of the
new military-corporate complex in America, is due out in the American
Empire Project series by Metropolitan Books in 2008. His new website (up only in rudimentary form) will fully launch in the
coming months.

Why security matters

Every email takes a perilous journey. A typical email might travel
across twenty networks and be stored on five computers from the time
it is composed to the time it is read. At every step of the way, the
contents of the email might be monitored, archived, cataloged, and

However, it is not the content of your email which is most
interesting: typically, a spying organization is more concerned by
whom you communicate with. There are many ways in which this kind of
mapping of people’s associations and habits is far worse than
traditional eavesdropping. By cataloging our associations, a spying
organization has an intimate picture of how our social movements are
organized–a more detailed picture than even the social movements
themselves are aware of.

This is bad. Really bad. The US government, among others, has a long
track record of doing whatever it can to subvert, imprison, kill, or
squash social movements which it sees as a threat (black power, anti-
war, civil rights, anti-slavery, native rights, organized labor, and
so on). And now they have all the tools they need to do this with
blinding precision.

We believe that communication free of eavesdropping and association
mapping is necessary for a democratic society (should one ever happen
to take root in the US). We must defend the right to free speech, but
it is just as necessary to defend the right to private speech.

Unfortunately, private communication is not possible if only a few
people practice it: they will stand out and open themselves up to
greater scrutiny. Therefore, we believe it is important for everyone
to incorporate as many security measures in your email life as you are

Email is not secure

You should think of normal email as a postcard: anyone can read it,
your letter carrier, your nosy neighbor, your house mates. All email,
unless encrypted, is completely insecure. Email is actually much less
secure than a postcard, because at least with a postcard you have a
chance of recognizing the sender’s handwriting. With email, anyone can
pretend to be anyone else.

There is another way in which email is even less private than a
postcard: the government does not have enough labor to read everyone’s
postscards, but they probably have the capacity and ability to scan
most email. Based on current research in datamining, it is likely that
the government does not search email for particular words but rather
looks for patterns of association and activity.

In the three cases below, evidence is well established that the
government conducts widespread and sweeping electronic survillence.

full-pipe monitoring
According to a former Justice Department attorney, it is common
practice for the FBI to practice “full-pipe monitoring”. The process
involves vacuuming up all traffic of an ISP and then later mining that
data for whatever the FBI might find interesting. The story was first
reported on January 30, 2007 by Declan McCullagh of CNET

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action
lawsuit against AT&T on January 31, 2006, accusing the telecom giant
of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating
with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive and illegal
program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.

Because AT&T is one of the few providers of the internet backbone
(a so called Tier 1 provider), even if you are not an AT&T customer is
is likely that AT&T is the carrier for much of your interent traffic.
It is very likely that other large internet and email providers have
also worked out deals with the government. We only know about this one
because of an internal whistleblower.

For legal domestic wiretaps, the U.S. government runs a program
called Carnivore (also called DCS1000).

Carnivore is a ‘black box’ which some ISPs are required to install
which allows law enforcement to do ‘legal’ wiretaps. However, no one
knows how they work, they effectively give the government total
control over monitoring anything on the ISP’s network, and there is
much evidence that the government uses carnivore to gather more
information than is legal.

As of January 2005, the FBI announced they are no longer using
Carnivore/DCS1000 and are replacing it with a product developed by a
third party. The purpose of the new system is exactly the same.

ECHELON is a spy program operated cooperatively with the
governments of the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia,
and New Zealand. The goal is to monitor and analyze internet traffic
on a wide scale. The EU Parliament has accused the U.S. of using
Echelon for industrial espionage.

Call database

On May 10, USAToday broke the story that the NSA has a database
designed to track every phone call ever made in the US. Although this
applies to phone conversations, the fact that the government believes
that this is legal means that they almost certainly think it is legal
to track all the email communication within the US as well. And we
know from the AT&T case that they have the capability to do so.

You can do something about it!

What a gloomy picture! Happily, there are many things you can do.
These security pages will help outline some of the simple and not-so-
simple changes you can make to your email behavior.

* Secure Connections: by using secure connections, you protect
your login information and your data while is in transport to
* Secure Providers: when you send mail to and from secure email
providers, you can protect the content of your communication and also
the pattern of your associations.
* Public Key Encryption: although it is a little more work, public
key encryption is the best way to keep the content of your
communication private.

See the next page, Security Measures, for tips on these and other
steps you can take. Remember: even if you don’t personally need
privacy, practicing secure communication will ensure that others have
the ability to freely organize and agitate.

Practice secure behavior!
These pages include a lot of fancy talk about encryption. Ultimately,
however, all this wizbang cryto-alchemy will be totally useless if you
have insecure behavior. A few simple practices will go a long way
toward securing your communications:

1. Logout: make sure that you always logout when using web-mail.
This is very important, and very easy to do. This is particular
important when using a public computer.
2. Avoid public computers: this can be difficult. If you do use a
public computer, consider changing your password often or using the
virtual keyboard link (if you use for your web-mail).
3. Use good password practice: you should change your password
periodically and use a password which is at least 6 characters and
contains a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols. It is better
to use a complicated password and write it down then to use a simple
password and keep it only in your memory. Studies show that most
people use passwords which are easy to guess or to crack, especially
if you have some information about the interests of the person. You
should never pick a password which is found in the dictionary (the
same goes for “love” as well as “10v3” and other common ways of
replacing letters with numbers).
4. Be a privacy freak: don’t tell other people your password. Also,
newer operating systems allow you to create multiple logins which keep
user settings separate. You should enable this feature, and logout or
“lock” the computer when not in use.

Use secure connections!
What are secure connections?

When you check your mail from the server, you can use an
encrypted connection, which adds a high level of security to all
traffic between your computer and Secure connections are
enabled for web-mail and for IMAP or POP mail clients.

This method is useful for protecting your password and login. If you
don’t use a secure connection, then your login and password are sent
over the internet in a ‘cleartext’ form which can be easily
intercepted. It is obvious why you might not want your password made
public, but it may also be important to keep your login private in
cases where you do not want your real identity tied to a particular
email account.

How do I know if I am using a secure connection?

When using web browser (Firefox, Safari, etc.)
If you are using a web browser to connect to Riseup, you can look at
three things to check to see if you are using a secure connection.

The first is easy, are you using Internet Explorer? If so, switch to
Firefox. The security problems with Internet Explorer are too numerous
to mention and making the switch to Firefox is an easy step in the
right direction.

Secondly, look up at the URL bar, where the address is. If it starts
with “https://” (NOTE the ‘s’), then you have a secure connection, if
its just “http://” (NO ‘s’), then you are not using a secure
connection. You can change that “http” to “https” by clicking on the
URL bar and adding the ‘s’ and then hit to load the page securely.

The third way to tell is by looking for a little padlock icon. It will
either appear in the URL location bar, or in the bottom corner of the
window, it should appear locked, if the lock doesn’t exist, or the
lock picture looks like it is unlocked, you are not using a secure
connection. You can hover your mouse over the padlock to get more
information, and often clicking (or sometimes right-clicking) on the
lock will bring up details about the SSL certificate used to secure
the connection.

If you click on the padlock, you can verify Riseup’s certificate
fingerprints, this is a very good idea! Follow these directions to
verify our fingerprint.

When using a mail client (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.)
For POP and IMAP, your mail client will have the option of enabling
SSL or TLS. For sending mail (SMTP), both SSL and TLS will work, but
some ISPs will block TLS, so you might need to use SSL. For more
specific, step-by-step configurations for your mail client, see our
mail client tutorials and SMTP FAQ.

The limits of secure connections

The problem with email is that takes a long and perilous journey. When
you send a message, it first travels from your computer to the mail server and then is delivered to the recipient’s mail
server. Finally, the recipient logs on to check their email and the
message is delivered to their computer.

Using secure connections only protects your data as it travels from
your computer to the the servers (and vice versa). It does
not make your email any more secure as it travels around the internet
from mail server to mail server. To do this, see below.

Use secure email providers
What is StartTLS?

There are many governments and corporations who “sniff” general
traffic on the internet. Even if you use a secure connection to check
and send your email, the communication between mail servers is almost
always insecure and out in the open.

Fortunately, there is a solution! StartTLS is a fancy name for a very
important idea: StartTLS allows mail servers to talk to each other in
a secure way.

If you and your friends use only email providers which use StartTLS,
then all the mail traffic among you will be encrypted while in
transport. If both sender and recipient also use secure connections
while talking to the mail servers, then your communications are likely
secure over its entire lifetime.

We will repeat that because it is important: to gain any benefit from
StartTLS, both sender and recipient must be using StartTLS enabled
email providers. For mailing lists, the list provider and each and
every list subscriber must use StartTLS.

Which email providers use StartTLS?
Currently, these tech collectives are known to use StartTLS:


We recommend that you and all your friends get email accounts with
these tech collectives!
Additionally, these email providers often have StartTLS enabled:

* universities:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
* organizations:,
* companies:,,,,,,,,, greennet (

What are the advantages of StartTLS?
This combination of secure email providers and secure connections has
many advantages:

* It is very easy to use! No special software is needed. No
special behavior is needed, other than to make sure you are using
secure connections.
* It prevents anyone from creating a map of whom you are
communicating with and who is communicating with you (so long as both
parties use StartTLS).
* It ensures that your communication is pretty well protected.
* It promotes the alternative mail providers which use StartTLS.
The goal is to create a healthy ecology of activist providers–which
can only happen if people show these providers strong support. Many of
these alternative providers also also incorporate many other important
security measures such as limited logging and encrypted storage.

What are the limitations of StartTLS?
However, there are some notable limitations:

* Your computer is a weak link: your computer can be stolen,
hacked into, have keylogging software or hardware installed.
* It is difficult to verify: for a particular message to be
secure, both the origin and destination mail providers must use
StartTLS (and both the sender and recipient must use encrypted
connections). Unfortunately, it is difficult to confirm that all of
this happened. For this, you need public key encryption (see below).

Use public-key encryption
If you wish to keep the contents of your email private, and confirm
the identity of people who send you email, you should download and
install public-key encryption software. This option is only available
if you have your own computer.

Public-key encryption uses a combination of a private key and a public
key. The private key is known only by you, while the public key is
distributed far and wide. To send an encrypted message to someone, you
encrypt the message with their public key. Only their private key will
be able to decrypt your message and read it.

The universal standard for public-key encryption is Pretty Good
Privacy (PGP) and GNU Privacy Guard (GPG). GPG is Free Software, while
PGP is a proprietary product (although there are many freeware
versions available). Both work interchangeably and are available as
convenient add-ons to mail clients for Linux, Mac, and Windows.

For information configuring your mail client to use public key
encryption, see our mail client tutorial pages. In particular, see the
tutorials for Apple Mail and Thunderbird. Otherwise, you should refer
the to documentation which comes with your particular mail client.

Although it provides the highest level of security, public-key
encryption is still an adventure to use. To make your journey less
scary, we suggest you keep these things in mind:

* Be in it for the long haul: using public-key encryption takes a
commitment to learning a lot of new skills and jargon. The widespread
adoption of GPG is a long way off, so it may seem like a lot of work
for not much benefit. However, we need early adopters who can help
build a critical mass of GPG users.
* Develop GPG buddies: although most your traffic might not be
encrypted, if you find someone else who uses GPG try to make a
practice of communicating using only GPG with that person.
* Look for advocates: people who use GPG usually love to
evangelize about it and help others to use it to. Find someone like
this who can answer your questions and help you along.

Although you can hide the contents of email with public-key
encryption, it does not hide who you are sending mail to and receiving
mail from. This means that even with public key encryption there is a
lot of personal information which is not secure.

Why? Imagine that someone knew nothing of the content of your mail
correspondence, but they knew who you sent mail to and received mail
from and they knew how often and what the subject line was. This
information can provide a picture of your associations, habits,
contacts, interests and activities.

The only way to keep your list of associations private is to to use an
email provider which will establish a secure connection with other
email providers. See Use secure email providers, above.

What are certificates?

On the internet, a public key certificate is needed in order to verify
the identity of people or computers. These certificates are also
called SSL certificates or identity certificates. We will just call
them “certificates.”

In particular, certificates are needed to establish secure
connections. Without certificates, you would be able to ensure that no
one else was listening, but you might be talking to the wrong computer
altogether! All servers and all services allow
or require secure connections. It can sometimes be tricky to coax a
particular program to play nice and recognize the
certificates. This page will help you through the process.

If you don’t follow these steps, your computer will likely complain or
fail every time you attempt to create a secure connection with

What is a certificate authority?
Certificates are the digital equivalent of a government issued
identification card. Certificates, however, are issued by private
corporations called certificate authorities (CA).

I thought you were against authority?
We are, but the internet is designed to require certificate
authorities and there is not much we can do about it. There are other
models for encrypted communication, such as the decentralized notion
of a “web of trust” found in PGP. Unfortunately, no one has written
any web browsers or mail clients to use PGP for establishing secure
connections, so we are forced to rely on certificate authorities. Some
day, we hope to collaborate with other tech collectives to create a
certificate (anti) authority.

Your certificate is not recognized – what should I do?
We recently installed new certificates that should solve this issue
for webmail and mail client users. However, users accessing the secure
pages for,, and will still receive this annoying error message. The
problem is that these servers use a CA Cert root certificate, which is
not on the list of “trusted” certification authorities. So, in order
to use the certificates without receiving the error message, you will
need to import the CA Cert Root Certificate.

What are the fingerprints of’s certificates?
Some programs cannot use certificate authorities to confirm the
validity of a certificate. In that case, you may need to manually
confirm the fingerprint of the certificate. Here are some
fingerprints for various certificates:

Hash: SHA1

1. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: BA:73:F5:45:E0:98:54:E5:6D:BA:5C:4B:98:EF:1A:A9:4B:C1:47:9D
* md5:  88:12:94:4D:D5:43:FE:22:84:4E:67:C9:0C:1E:DC:DA

2. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: F2:1D:DC:23:89:36:15:F9:1B:2C:66:F0:93:99:6E:C8:EB:2C:43:BB
* md5:  A1:3E:38:19:39:70:DA:F0:0E:B1:58:D9:1A:67:41:AD

3. SSL fingerprint for
* sha1: 13:C8:86:19:53:52:C7:A1:B8:03:B0:53:1A:E9:DA:FF:AD:A9:BB:24
* md5:  84:32:84:43:81:13:16:56:0F:CE:68:A9:CF:29:4D:8D
Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)


When should I verify these fingerprints?
You should verify these fingerprints whenever they change, or you are
using a computer that you do not control (such as at an internet cafe,
or a library). Verify them if you are suspicious, be suspicious and
learn how to verify them and do it often.

How do I verify these fingerprints?
To verify these fingerprints, you need to look at what your browser
believes the fingerprints are for the certificates and compare them to
what is listed above. If they are different, there is a problem.

In most browsers, the way you look at the fingerprints of the
certificate that you were given is by clicking on the lock icon that
is located either in the URL location bar, or in the bottom corner of
your browser. This should bring up details about the certificate being
used, including the fingerprint. Some browsers may only show the MD5
fingerprint, or the SHA1 fingerprint, some will show both. Usually one
is good enough to verify the validity of the fingerprint.

I want to learn more

Great, this is an important topic and we encourage you to read this
piece which clearly articulates in a non-technical way the problems
involved in certificate authorities as well as outlining some
interesting suggestions for ways that the existing architecture and
protocols can be tweaked just a little bit to change the situation for
the better.


Policy at
We strive to keep our mail as secure and private as we can.

* We do not log your IP address. (Most services keep detailed
records of every machine which connects to the servers. We keep only
information which cannot be used to uniquely identify your machine.)
* All your data, including your mail, is stored by in
encrypted form.
* We work hard to keep our servers secure and well defended
against any malicious attack.
* We do not share any of our user data with anyone.
* We will actively fight any attempt to subpoena or otherwise
acquire any user information or logs.
* We will not read, search, or process any of your incoming or
outgoing mail other than by automatic means to protect you from
viruses and spam or when directed to do so by you when



Security resources for activists

This site contains a quick overview of email security. For more in-
depth information, check out these websites:
Helping activists stay safe in our oppressive world.
A series of briefings on information security and online safety for
civil society organizations.
Guide to Email Security Using Encryption and Digital Signatures
Computer Security for the Average Activist
An introduction to activism on the internet


FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool
BY Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh  /  December 1, 2006

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic
surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile
phone’s microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

The technique is called a “roving bug,” and was approved by top U.S.
Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York
organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance
techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.

Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his
attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby
conversations. The FBI views Ardito as one of the most powerful men in
the Genovese family, a major part of the national Mafia.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this
week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the “roving
bug” was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to
permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a
suspect’s cell phone.

Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned
whether the phone was powered on or off.” Some handsets can’t be fully
powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia
models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set. While the
Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time a
remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the
technique has been discussed in security circles for years.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular
telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the
purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.”
An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can
“remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the
owner’s knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its
owner is not making a call.”

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially
vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said
James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked
closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and
made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that
without having physical access to the phone.”

Because modern handsets are miniature computers, downloaded software
could modify the usual interface that always displays when a call is
in progress. The spyware could then place a call to the FBI and
activate the microphone–all without the owner knowing it happened.
(The FBI declined to comment on Friday.) “If a phone has in fact been
modified to act as a bug, the only way to counteract that is to either
have a bugsweeper follow you around 24-7, which is not practical, or
to peel the battery off the phone,” Atkinson said. Security-conscious
corporate executives routinely remove the batteries from their cell
phones, he added.

FBI’s physical bugs discovered

The FBI’s Joint Organized Crime Task Force, which includes members of
the New York police department, had little luck with conventional
surveillance of the Genovese family. They did have a confidential
source who reported the suspects met at restaurants including Brunello
Trattoria in New Rochelle, N.Y., which the FBI then bugged.

But in July 2003, Ardito and his crew discovered bugs in three
restaurants, and the FBI quietly removed the rest. Conversations
recounted in FBI affidavits show the men were also highly suspicious
of being tailed by police and avoided conversations on cell phones
whenever possible.

That led the FBI to resort to “roving bugs,” first of Ardito’s Nextel
handset and then of Peluso’s. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones
approved them in a series of orders in 2003 and 2004, and said she
expected to “be advised of the locations” of the suspects when their
conversations were recorded.

Details of how the Nextel bugs worked are sketchy. Court documents,
including an affidavit (p1) and (p2) prepared by Assistant U.S.
Attorney Jonathan Kolodner in September 2003, refer to them as a
“listening device placed in the cellular telephone.” That phrase could
refer to software or hardware.

One private investigator interviewed by CNET, Skipp Porteous
of Sherlock Investigations in New York, said he believed the FBI
planted a physical bug somewhere in the Nextel handset and did not
remotely activate the microphone. “They had to have physical
possession of the phone to do it,” Porteous said. “There are several
ways that they could have gotten physical possession. Then they
monitored the bug from fairly near by.”

But other experts thought microphone activation is the more likely
scenario, mostly because the battery in a tiny bug would not have
lasted a year and because court documents say the bug works anywhere
“within the United States”–in other words, outside the range of a
nearby FBI agent armed with a radio receiver.

In addition, a paranoid Mafioso likely would be suspicious of any ploy
to get him to hand over a cell phone so a bug could be planted. And
Kolodner’s affidavit seeking a court order lists Ardito’s phone
number, his 15-digit International Mobile Subscriber Identifier, and
lists Nextel Communications as the service provider, all of which
would be unnecessary if a physical bug were being planted.

A BBC article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely
employ the remote-activiation method. “A mobile sitting on the desk of
a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug,”
the article said, “enabling them to be activated at a later date to
pick up sounds even when the receiver is down.”

For its part, Nextel said through spokesman Travis Sowders: “We’re not
aware of this investigation, and we weren’t asked to participate.”
Other mobile providers were reluctant to talk about this kind of
surveillance. Verizon Wireless said only that it “works closely with
law enforcement and public safety officials. When presented with
legally authorized orders, we assist law enforcement in every way
possible.” A Motorola representative said that “your best source in
this case would be the FBI itself.” Cingular, T-Mobile, and the CTIA
trade association did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mobsters: The surveillance vanguard

This isn’t the first time the federal government has pushed at the
limits of electronic surveillance when investigating reputed mobsters.
In one case involving Nicodemo S. Scarfo, the alleged mastermind of a
loan shark operation in New Jersey, the FBI found itself thwarted when
Scarfo used Pretty Good Privacy software (PGP) to encode confidential
business data. So with a judge’s approval, FBI agents repeatedly snuck
into Scarfo’s business to plant a keystroke logger and monitor its

Like Ardito’s lawyers, Scarfo’s defense attorneys argued that the then-
novel technique was not legal and that the information gleaned through
it could not be used. Also like Ardito, Scarfo’s lawyers lost when a
judge ruled in January 2002 that the evidence was admissible. This
week, Judge Kaplan in the southern district of New York concluded that
the “roving bugs” were legally permitted to capture hundreds of hours
of conversations because the FBI had obtained a court order and
alternatives probably wouldn’t work.

The FBI’s “applications made a sufficient case for electronic
surveillance,” Kaplan wrote. “They indicated that alternative methods
of investigation either had failed or were unlikely to produce
results, in part because the subjects deliberately avoided government

Bill Stollhans, president of the Private Investigators Association of
Virginia, said such a technique would be legally reserved for police
armed with court orders, not private investigators. There is “no law
that would allow me as a private investigator to use that type of
technique,” he said. “That is exclusively for law enforcement. It is
not allowable or not legal in the private sector. No client of mine
can ask me to overhear telephone or strictly oral conversations.”

Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been
done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to
surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems
like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations.
When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in,
passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were
being monitored.

Malicious hackers have followed suit. A report last year said Spanish
authorities had detained a man who write a Trojan horse that secretly
activated a computer’s video camera and forwarded him the recordings.