Watch out: Malaysian Big Brother is snooping on Us


July 13, 2015

Watch out: Malaysian Big Brother is snooping on Us

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/asia-governments-spy-citizens/

john-berthelsenIf you live in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam and you are an activist, the government probably knows a lot more about the inside of your computer than you think, and more than you want it to.

On July 5, unknown hackers broke into the computers a shadowy company based in Italy that has become notorious across the world. With offices in Milan, Washington, DC and Singapore, its name is The Hacking Team, and it is one of a half-dozen such firms identified as “digital era mercenaries” because they sell products to governments to spy surreptitiously on their own citizens.

Najib in anxietyHe can go to sleep because he is using technology to snoop  and spinners to dupe Us

Top Asian clients among the countries using The Hacking Team’s services are Malaysia, the seventh-biggest spender, paying The Hacking Team US$1,861,131 for its assistance in spying on its citizens. Singapore is 10th, just behind the US, which is 9th. Singapore paid The Hacking Team US$1,209,963. Vietnam is 21st, at US$560,735, followed by Thailand at US$466,482.

According to the Massachusetts-based CSO cyber-security firm, the US Department of Defense apparently had a contract with The Hacking Team but no longer does. The FBI had an active maintenance contract until June 30 and the Drug Enforcement Agency has a renewal in progress.

The hackers, whoever they were, downloaded 400 gigabytes of internal documents, source codes and email communications with governments and dumped the haul onto the Internet. The documents tell a chilling story of helping some of the world’s most repressive countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Azerbijan and Kazakhstan. In all, 38 countries are on the list of clients. According to other sources,  The Hacking Team also expressed the intention to go after Human Rights Watch and other such activist organizations. 

berthelsen-hackers

And what do they get for their money? Here is a presentation on the company’s website to entice governments to spy. It is well worth listening to:

“You have new challenges today. Sensitive data is transmitted over encrypted channels. Often the info you want is not transmitted at all. Your target may be outside your monitoring domain. Is passive monitoring enough?  You want more. You want to look through your target’s eyes. You have to hack your target.  You have to hit many different platforms. You have to overcome encryption and capture relevant data. Being stealthy and untraceable. Deployed all over your country. That is exactly what we do. Remote Control System Galileo. The hacking suite for governmental interception. Rely on us.”

Big Bro1

“Without advanced technology, authoritarian regimes would not be able to spy on their citizens,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They sell products that are used by authoritarian governments to commit violations of human rights and freedom of information. They are Gamma, Trovicor, Hacking Team, Amesys and Blue Coat.”

Bahrain’s royal family has used Trovicor’s surveillance and interception products to spy on news providers and arrest them, according to Reporters Without Borders. Blue Coat’s deep packet inspection products have made it possible for Syria to spy on dissidents and netizens throughout the country, and to arrest and torture them. Amesys provided products to the Libyan secret police during the late Muammar Gaddafi’s reign. The Hacking Team and Gamma have provided malware to capture the passwords of journalists and bloggers.

“Online surveillance is a growing danger for journalists, citizen-journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Regimes seeking to control news and information increasingly prefer to act discreetly. Rather than resort to content blocking that generates bad publicity and is early circumvented, they prefer subtle forms of censorship and surveillance that their targets are often unaware of.”

The contract with the Malaysian government apparently was routed through the Prime Minister’s Office, “Malaysian Intelligence,” both listed as “active,” and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, now listed as “expired” according to documents made public by CSO.  Thailand’s contract, with the country’s department of corrections, was listed as expired. A full list of curated documents made available by CSO can be found here.

The Singapore government’s Infocom Development Agency is the unit that apparently purchased the Galileo software. That agency, according to its website, “formulates and develops short- and medium-term infocomm-related policies, as well as standards, codes of practices and advisory guidelines – all of which are enforceable by IDA – pertaining to issues such as licensing, interconnection, resource and competition management, to name a few. IDA also monitors local and global infocomm market trends, developments and regulatory measures, while remaining technology-neutral, to ensure that the current infocomm policies and regulatory frameworks are effective and relevant.”

According to The Hacking Company’s website, “In today’s connected world, data is moving from private devices to the social cloud. Encryption is everywhere to protect the users’ privacy from prying eyes. In the same way, encryption is hiding criminal intents from you. Don’t you feel you are going blind? Sometimes relevant data are bound inside the device, never transmitted and kept well protected … unless you are right on that device.”

The government’s target, according to the website, “can be anywhere today, while your hands are tied as soon as he moves outside the country. You cannot stop your targets from moving. How can you keep chasing them? What you need is a way to bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain. Remote Control System does exactly that.”

The system allows governments to take control of target computers and monitor them regardless of encryption and mobility. “It doesn’t matter if you are after an Android phone or a Windows computer: you can monitor all the devices. Remote Control System is invisible to the user, evades antivirus and firewalls, and doesn’t affect the devices’ performance or battery life. Hack into your targets with the most advanced infection vectors available. Enter his wireless network and tackle tactical operations with ad-hoc equipment designed to operate while on the move.

“Keep an eye on all your targets and manage them remotely, all from a single screen. Be alerted on incoming relevant data and have meaningful events automatically highlighted. Remote Control System: the hacking suite for governmental interception. Right at your fingertips.”

Leadership by moral legitimacy


June 7, 2015

Leadership by moral legitimacy

by Graham Harris*

*After completing a degree in Botany and PhD in Plant Ecology atgraham_harris Imperial College, London in the late 1960s, Professor Graham Harris worked at McMaster University in Canada for 15 years where he became a Professor of Biology and carried out research on the ecology and management of the Laurentian Great Lakes.

He came to Australia in 1984 and worked for CSIRO for over 20 years where he held many research management and senior executive appointments. Graham has worked in a range of disciplines including plant ecology, freshwater and marine ecology, space science and remote sensing. He was the foundation Chief of Division for CSIRO Land and Water, and until 2003 he was Chairman of the CSIRO Flagship Programs. After completing this task he stepped down as Flagships Chair and was made a CSIRO Fellow. He left CSIRO in early 2005.

Graham is the Director of ESE Systems Pty. Ltd., a consulting company specialising in research into, and the management of, complex environmental, social and economic systems. He is an advisor to a range of universities, research agencies, private companies and government jurisdictions both in Australia and overseas.

Graham is an Affiliate Professor at the Centre for Environment, University of Tasmania and an Honorary Research Professor in the Sustainable Water Management Centre at Lancaster University, UK. He was awarded the CSIRO Chairman’s Gold Medal in 1996 and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1997. In 2002 he was elected a life member of the International Water Academy, Oslo. He was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal in April 2003 for services to environmental science and technology. Graham has published more than 140 papers, and three books. His latest book Seeking sustainability in an age of complexity was published by Cambridge University Press in June 2007.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-moral-legitimacy-graham-harris

The_Thinker_in_NTHU_TaiwanThe Thinker @NTHU, Taiwan

We still seem to be fighting Cold War battles over whether neoliberalism and individualism – the “bottom up” strategy – is the best model for modern democracies, or whether more state intervention – the “top down” control model – is preferable. The debate in the West is quite brutal with polarized politics and biased media coverage frequently providing only a partial view.

[The Web does however provide an antidote to the prevailing ethos by providing access to other points of view; blogs by George Monbiot and Harry Shutt for example.]

When confronted by complexity most of the decisions we must make are not just uncertain they are logically un-decidable (see Pascal Perez’s comments on my last post). The fundamental problem is that “facts” and models in such situations are under determined; they are inevitably supported by beliefs about what counts as evidence and what constitutes a proof, and values creep in. Without an appropriate moral stance to aid decision-making these limitations are becoming ever more obvious.-G. Harris

As we find we have to deal more and more with systems of systems – which requires both systems thinking and an appreciation of complexity – we are finding that simple slogans and remedies do not suffice (even though the air waves and the Web are flooded with them). To quote H.L. Mencken “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” The predominant debate is too simplistic and does not provide sufficient nuances or sophistication.

I am reminded of David Berlinski’s concluding words in “On systems analysis: an essay concerning the limitations of some mathematical methods in the social, political and biological sciences” (1976): viz. “Grand efforts brought low by insufficient means”.

When confronted by complexity most of the decisions we must make are not just uncertain they are logically un-decidable (see Pascal Perez’s comments on my last post). The fundamental problem is that “facts” and models in such situations are underdetermined; they are inevitably supported by beliefs about what counts as evidence and what constitutes a proof, and values creep in. Without an appropriate moral stance to aid decision-making these limitations are becoming ever more obvious.

Faced with such a situation we have both a knowledge problem and a collective action problem – and they are inextricably intertwined. The conjunction of constraints, complexity and community provides us with a perfect epistemological, political and moral storm. There is a moral space for communities to fill, but it is presently vacant. We require a new approach.

David Colander and Roland Kupers in “Complexity and the art of public policy: solving society’s problems from the bottom up” (2014) – hereafter C&K – have provided an alternative – middle ground – view on how to organise institutions and economics in a complex world. They favour what they call laissez-faire activism – combining both top down and bottom up innovation and facilitation. In a complex system of systems knowledge will always be partial, and neither the market nor state regulation will be able to provide complete solutions. History shows us the truth of this.

We can do without the brutal debates between the political right and left (they are more and more indistinguishable anyway), between the positivists and the relativists or between, say, the followers of Hayek or of Keynes. Indeed C&K show how the debate has been engineered to deliberately polarise the political and economic landscapes. The original positions of many intellectual luminaries were much more nuanced and sophisticated than is now made out. It is the old story: the messiah got it right – just beware the disciples.

Through the air waves and the Web we are flooded with emotivism. The polarised Western debate is no more than this. Statements of the form “this is good” can be taken to mean “I approve of this: do so as well”. Our moral debate consists mostly of shrill, impersonal assertions; our language of morality is in a state of disorder.–G. Harris

As Kwame Anthony Appiah has argued in “Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers” (2006) the prevalent liberalism and positivism favours the belief in value free (scientific) “facts” because we can hold and assert our own individual beliefs. Values, on the other hand, are more about things we share and how we deal with each other in communities. So values require us to discuss and debate their context and efficacy, but because the mantra is “there is no such thing as society” we rarely do this.

C&K take an optimistic view of people as “smart and adaptive” and argue that the role of government is to set norms for behaviour and to provide leadership by moral legitimacy. They agree with Kwame Anthony Appiah who argued in “The honour code: how moral revolutions happen” (2011) that it is morality and values – our shared norms – that best regulate how we deal with each other and our environment.

Alasdair MacIntyre in “After virtue” (2007, 3rd Ed.) has argued that one of the main failures of modernity has been the demise of morality and the instrumental behaviour of bureaucrats and corporate managers in commercial and institutional settings. There is much confusion of means and ends and people and the environment frequently get used and abused. This is also true of politicians and politics and it explains why there is an evident and rapid decline in trust.

Through the air waves and the Web we are flooded with emotivism. The polarised Western debate is no more than this. Statements of the form “this is good” can be taken to mean “I approve of this: do so as well”. Our moral debate consists mostly of shrill, impersonal assertions; our language of morality is in a state of disorder.

At the moment there seem to be few sanctions for unethical or even criminal behaviour in many spheres of public life. Despite clear indications of criminal activities associated with the financial crash of 2008 and of irregularities in global markets since – collusion and market rigging – very few sanctions or criminal prosecutions have been pursued. Worse there is no evidence that anyone feels shame or remorse. The guardians have been inactivated.

Environmental degradation is, likewise, a moral issue. No amount of attempts to monetise environmental values or design market-based instruments will alter this. Easily quantifiable substances like water and carbon dioxide may be traded, but for complex 2nd order cybernetic entities like ecosystems everywhere is different. Concepts like markets for ecosystem services and biodiversity offsets are therefore a fraud. We cannot swap like for like and ill-defined incommensurate values cannot be monetised. Offset payments to a conservation fund are a sop for the conscience.

To arrest the decline in trust and moral behaviour Appiah and MacIntyre argue that we need a return to concepts of virtue, honour, shame and esteem. To grease the wheels of society we need a debate about codes of honour that are compatible with morality and professional ethics. We can have positive regard for people who meet certain standards of behaviour and we can sanction those who do not. Those standards need to be debated, clearly stated and enforced.

C&K see a key role for government in providing the leadership and in setting those norms. Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit have noted in “The economy of esteem: an essay on civil and political society” (2005) that because we all (should) have a stake in making society work the cost of policing an honour world is very low and we do not have to worry about who is guarding the guardians. We all have a role to play.

Now I am sure some will argue that liberalism and modernism have defeated such outdated concepts, but the failings of Western politics since the 1970s are now clear: instrumental reason, rising inequality, environmental degradation, lack of political will and moral corruption. Governance and leadership by moral authority and legitimacy? Now wouldn’t that be something to behold!

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda


January 23, 2015

Najib’s Political Battles Pose a Challenge to his Foreign Policy Agenda

By Murray Hiebert and Nigel Cory
January 22, 2015
Murray Hiebert is Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Nigel Cory is a researcher with the Sumitro Chair.

4th PM of MalaysiaChallenges at home suggest Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could face an uphill battle in pursuing his foreign policy goals in the year ahead. The long-simmering battle between Najib and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has erupted into a public spat that must have Najib looking over his shoulder given Mahathir’s role in ousting his predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.

As a result Najib finds himself flanked on the right by Perkasa,the equivalent of the Tea Party within his ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), and on the left by the opposition coalition led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. No move Najib makes will please all Malaysians, and perhaps not even many, in this constrained environment.

The public mudslinging between Najib and Mahathir could weaken and distract the Prime Minister even as 2015 presents opportunities for Malaysia to make its mark on the international stage. Malaysia’s ruling party generally hides internal conflict from public view.But the escalation in political maneuvering between two of the party’s key leaders has changed this dynamic.

Old corruption charges have been rehashed against Daim Zainuddin,Daim an outspoken critic of Najib. Daim isan UMNO insider, financial power broker, and two-time Finance Minister under Mahathir. He is seen as a proxy forthe former Prime Minister and, to real insiders, may even be the one pulling the strings on his former boss.

The government-controlled media took the unusual step of covering the case against Daim in detail, which some interpreted as a coordinated political attack and which prompted proxies on both sides to take the fight to the internet.

The split between Najib and Mahathir burst into the open when the latter, now 89, publicly withdrew his support for Najib in an August 2014 blog. Mahathir blamed Najib for the ruling coalition’s poor showing in the 2013 national elections, attacked him for his efforts in 2011 to abolish the draconian Internal Security Act, and criticized his earlier plans to scale back the affirmative action program that provides special privileges for the country’s Malay majority. On all these issues, Mahathir has strong support from UMNO’s most conservative wing.

The bitter dispute between the two men and their respective camps appears to have picked up in earnest after a dinner between them in December did not go well. A thorny issue reportedly discussed at the meeting was the sovereign fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which has been plagued by charges of mismanagement and corruption and is reportedly suffering from billions of ringgit in nonperforming loans. Najib is chair of the fund’s advisory board.

Mahathir retains significant public and political influence in Malaysia as an elder statesman, particularly among conservative Malays. His profile stems from enduring public popularity, especially among older  members of society who are nostalgic about his 22 years in power. Mahathir’s political influence within UMNO has loomed large  over his successors since he stepped down in 2003. He leveraged this influence to undermine and ultimately remove his anointed successor, Abdullah, in 2009. Then Deputy Prime Minister Najib stepped up to become Prime Minister.He most certainly sees the possibility of history repeating itself.

And Malaysia’s economy is not going to provide any respite for Najib. The sharp drop in oil prices has created some stiff headwinds for Malaysia’s economy. Oil and gas exports account for a fifth of the country’s exports and a third of government revenue. It was therefore little surprise that Najib on January 20 announced $1.5 billion in spending cuts and said Malaysia’s economic growth has been revised down from 6 percent to between 4.5 and 5.5 percent for 2015.

anwar-ibrahim-recentUnder withering attacks from Mahathir and party conservatives, Najib has backed off many of his earlier political and economic reform plans. In recent months, his government has been criticized by the United States and human rights organizations for repeatedly using the colonial-era Sedition Act against critics. Anwar Ibrahim is awaiting a court verdict on another round of sodomy charges that could once again see him sent to prison. The verdict, expected in the next few weeks, would undoubtedly lead to further criticism from the international community.

Najib’s domestic challenges could pose risks for his foreign policy goals in 2015. This year is shaping up as an important one for Malaysia given its chairmanship of ASEAN and its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. As ASEAN chair, Malaysia can be expected to play a key role in pressing the grouping to take steps to complete regional economic integration, keep tensions in the disputed South China Sea under control, and explore ways to bolster the role of the East Asia Summit.

TPPA Protest

Negotiators of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Malaysia joined in 2010, are scrambling to complete the trade agreement by March. But for Malaysia to get to the finish line will require some tough decisions by Najib and his cabinet in such areas as state-owned enterprises, pharmaceuticals, and investor dispute mechanisms. Even before his latest broadsides against Najib, Mahathir, who oversaw Malaysia’s earlier transformation into an industrial powerhouse, had  harply criticized the TPP as an attempt by foreign powers to colonize Malaysia. Anwar and the opposition have also sought to foil Najib’s reform effort.

The coming months could provide an opportunity for Malaysia and theNajib and ObamaUnited States to put more substance into the comprehensive partnership they announced last April when President Barack Obama visited Malaysia. But the visit marked only the beginning of the process, which requires more work by both sides to achieve deeper ties, including such things as stepped up cabinet-level exchanges,more military cooperation and intelligence sharing, and closer economic ties.

Najib’s golf outing with Obama in early January showed the depth of personal camaraderie between the two leaders, which could help them achieve greater depth to the comprehensive partnership before Obama visits again in November. However, the sharp criticism Najib received for golfing in Hawaii while parts of Malaysia faced terrible flooding highlights some of the challenges he could face in the months ahead as he seeks to deepen the country’s regional and global foreign policy opportunities.

The United States will need to make some tough decisions in the coming months about how to engage Najib and Malaysia. The country is a vital partner and a key to strengthening ASEAN. The White House will face pressure from various advocacy groups to limit or curtail engagement and there will be congressional pressure during the TPP approval process. The administration will have to step carefully but be guided by the strategic need to support political and economic reform in Malaysia. For his part, Najib will need to harden his resolve to pursue that reform.

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17


July 20, 2014

MY COMMENTWe have been hit by two tragedies, MH 370 and MH 17 a few days ago,Din Merican both within a space of four months. MH370 is still shrouded in secrecy and  it is a public relations disaster; our leaders and public and security officials handled the foreign media poorly. MH17 was brought down by Russian made missiles in the hands of Ukrainian rebels backed by  Prime Minister Putin’s government. Our political leaders and officials are again in the eyes of media. Let them handle the situation better this time.

Those who are behind this dastardly violence must be brought to account. Our diplomats and those of countries which lost their citizens and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon must act in concert to ascertain the facts about the downing of this ill-fated 777 aircraft. At home, the new Transport Minister has to ensure that there are no cover-ups, blame games, excuses, and conflicting or contradictory statements. Please provide facts as they come to light, and do it well and ensure that there are no fumbles.

I am glad that our Prime Minister has allowed debate in our Parliament on MH37. I hope Parliamentarians on both sides of Dewan Rakyat can be rational and constructive in their deliberations so that we can achieve consensus on what we should do to restore national self confidence and pride in our national flag carrier, Malaysian Airlines.

No shouting matches please. Bung Mokhtar types must not be allowed to disrupt the debate or make fools of themselves. In this time of national crisis, UMNO-BN and Pakatan Rakyat must stand together. The debate should result in a plan of action for the government. To nudge the debate along orderly lines, there should be a White Paper to Parliament on MH17 in which the government can present its views on what it has its mind to deal with the aftermath of MH 17.Din Merican

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-18/malaysia-can-t-botch-another-air-tragedy

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17

by William Pesek (07-18-14)

There’s nothing funny about Malaysia Airlines losing two Boeing 777s and more than 500 lives in the space of four months. That hasn’t kept the humor mills from churning out dark humor and lighting up cyberspace.

Liow_Tiong_Lai-MH17_PC

Actor Jason Biggs, for example, got in trouble for tweeting: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysia Airlines frequent flier miles?” A passenger supposedly among the 298 people aboard Flight 17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine yesterday uploaded a photo of the doomed plane on Facebook just before takeoff in Amsterdam, captioning it: “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”

That reference, by a man reportedly named Cor Pan, was to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, whose disappearance in March continues to provide fodder for satirists, conspiracy theorists and average airplane passengers with a taste for the absurd. On my own Malaysia Air flight last month, I was struck by all the fatalistic quips around me — conversations I overheard and in those with my fellow passengers. One guy deadpanned: “First time I ever bought flight insurance.”

MH17 CrashThere is, of course, no room for humor after this disaster or the prospect that the money-losing airline might not survive — at least not without a government rescue. This company had already become a macabre punch line, something no business can afford in the Internet and social-media age. It’s one thing to have a perception problem; it’s quite another to have folks around the world swearing never to fly Malaysia Air.

Nor is no margin for mistakes by Malaysia or the airline this time, even though all signs indicate that there is no fault on the part of the carrier. The same can’t be said for the bumbling and opacity that surrounded the unexplained loss of Flight 370. Even if there was no negligence on the part of Malaysia Air this week, the credibility of the probe and the willingness of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government to cooperate with outside investigators — tests it failed with Flight 370 — will be enormously important.

As I have written before, the botched response to Flight 370 was a case study in government incompetence and insularity. After six decades in power, Najib’s party isn’t used to being held accountable by voters, never mind foreign reporters demanding answers. Rather than understand that transparency would enhance its credibility, Malaysia’s government chose to blame the international press for impugning the country’s good name.

The world needs to be patient, of course. If Flight 370’s loss was puzzling, even surreal, Flight 17 is just MH 17plain tragic. It’s doubtful Najib ever expected to be thrown into the middle of Russian-Ukraine-European politics. Although there are still so many unanswered questions — who exactly did the shooting and why? — it’s depressing to feel like we’re revisiting the Cold War of the early 1980s, when Korean Air Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet.

More frightening is how vulnerable civilian aviation has become. Even if this is the work of pro-Russian rebels, yesterday’s attack comes a month after a deadly assault on a commercial jetliner in Pakistan. One passenger was killed and two flight attendants were injured as at least 12 gunshots hit Pakistan International Airlines Flight PK-756 as it landed in the northwestern city of Peshawar. It was the first known attack of its kind and raises the risk of copycats. The low-tech nature of such assaults — available to anyone with a gripe, a high-powered rifle and decent marksmanship — is reason for the entire world to worry.

The days ahead will be filled with post-mortems and assigning blame. That includes aviation experts questioning why Malaysia Air took a route over a war zone being avoided by Qantas, Cathay Pacific and several other carriers. The key is for Malaysian authorities to be open, competent and expeditious as the investigation gains momentum. Anything less probably won’t pass muster.

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted


July 20, 2014

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted

by Neil Khor (07-19-14)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

MASPride of Malaysia dented by Tragedy

COMMENT: The loss of 298 lives as MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine has come too soon on the heels of the loss of MH 370. An airline that had a near perfect record for the past 30 years since its inception is now suddenly the most blighted in the aviation industry.

Crying for Loss of Loved OnesThe manner in which we recover, and there is no doubt that we will, shall determine our collective destiny as a nation. Like many Malaysians, I was in shock and disbelief at midnight on Thursday as news of the loss of MH17 filtered through social media. Since the loss of MH 370, I have made it a point to fly MAS whenever possible come what may.

I have grown up with MAS, as a toddler traveling from Penang to Singapore in the 1970s right through my student days at UM, when the airline was kind enough to extend to students with AYTB (Asian Youth Travel Bureau) cards tremendous discounts allowing us to go home on the cheap.

In those days, it was a grueling nine-hour bus ride down Malaysia’s trunk roads from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. A MAS flight not only provided comfort and speed, it assured that students got home safely.

Like the airline, those of us born in the 1970s, have come of age to find a world changed beyond all recognition. It is not that we cannot adapt to change but the changes have come so rapidly and so brutally that nobody has had the time to make sense of it all. We may have been brought up to believe in God and Country (Rukunegara) but globalisation have altered our allegiances.

Similarly, the aviation industry, too. has not fared too well in this globalised world. The pacific period, from the 1960s to 2000, is over.

In those days, emerging nations like Malaysia personified themselves through national airlines. We broke away from Singapore to form MAS, which not only flew the flag but also assumed the burden of unprofitable but necessary domestic routes. The growing up years was characterised by good service, which by the 1980s, was amongst the best in the world.

Flying on MAS was a privileged and entire families would go to the airport to receive or send relatives off. It was definitely not the era of “everybody can fly” but rather “now you have arrived”. Cheap fossil fuels and better-designed plans made flying cheaper and more accessible. By the time the budget airlines appeared in the sky, the entire attitude towards aviation had changed as well.

MH17 Crash Site2 National carriers had to compete like any other in the industry resulting in spectacular bankruptcies, including that of Japan Airlines! With this fundamental change, attitudes towards flying also transformed. Malaysian society changed the most in the last 15 years. The Internet continues to be a great leveler. No single Prime Minister, no matter how powerful, can decide with impunity or set the tone of discussion on national issues like Dr Mahathir Mohamad.In short, MAS like many other “national” organisations has continued to come up short, never meeting the rising tide of expectations. Since September 11, 2002 when two planes slammed into New York’s Twin Towers, air travel has never been the same. I remember traveling from Minneapolis to Louisville in Kentucky with a guide dog as a fellow passenger.

There was hardly any security with checkpoints that were no more stringent than at a bus stop.  That was in 1999 but today the US is imposing full body scans, check-ups on laptops and security scanning of mobile phones. Soon security procedures will take as long as inter-continental flights in all major airports.

From the sad and painful experience of losing MH370, we have learned that the aviation industry itself has not kept up with technological change, with planes entering blind spots and much dependent on 1940s radar technology. There is also very little improvement on how to track planes to ensure better monitoring. Till this day, black box technology still relies on batteries that only last a maximum of 30 days.Now four months onwards, we have lost MH17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over a route that was deemed officially safe by the IATA. Yes, some airlines have avoided this route over the Ukraine but many airlines flying from Europe to Asia were using this prescribed route.

Political maturity in short supply

How high an airplane fly is also dictated by the air traffic controller of the country whose territory one is flying across presumably they know what other flying objects will be flying over their airspace at the same time. As someone who flies on MAS, Emirates and SIA regularly from Malaysia to Europe, this route above the Ukraine is very familiar.

I have also flown frequently to neighbouring Georgia, crossing the Caspian and Black seas. There was really no way to have anticipated that a civilian plane would be shot down. If the European authorities had red-flagged the area as two other Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down, they should have banned all commercial flights over Ukraine airspace.

Having lost two aircraft involving the loss of more than 500 souls is a very bitter pill for Malaysians to accept. For the longest time we have developed and made giant progressive strides forward. Yes, political maturity is still an on-going battle.

Religious and racial extremism is on the rise but most of us have enough to eat, some even able to share with the less fortunate by supporting soup kitchens.

Never take things for grantedMalaysia is still a great country, blessed with natural resources and a cultural diversity that is the envy ofMH17 Crash site 2 the world. But the loss of our two MAS flights has taught us never to take things for granted. Whilst we can plan and make the best preparations, we cannot foresee how these plans will unfold.

In the case of MAS, some hard decisions may have to be taken to make it viable again. There is no loss of face if we have to start again from scratch. To all those who have lost friends, families and loved ones in MH370 and MH17, my most heartfelt and sincere condolences.

Malaysians the world over are united in grief and sorrow. But I am sure we will emerge stronger and better, at least strive to be better people to ensure a stronger nation going forward.

NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia’s future.
 

 

 

Our World is beyond George Orwell’s Worst Nightmare


July 13, 2014

Our World is beyond George Orwell’s Worst Nightmare

by John Pilger (07-11-14)@www.alternet.org

In politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground…Today’s grand illusion is of an information age when, in truth, we live in a media age in which incessant corporate propaganda is insidious, contagious, effective and liberal.–J. Pilger

John PilgerThe other night, I saw George Orwell’s 1984 performed on the London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation, Orwell’s warning about the future was presented as a period piece: remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and Orwell himself had never said, “To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.”

Acclaimed by critics, the skilful production was a measure of our cultural and political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned. “What a mindfuck,” said the young woman, lighting up her phone.

As advanced societies are de-politicised, the changes are both subtle and spectacular. In everyday discourse, political language is turned on its head, as Orwell prophesised in 1984. “Democracy” is now a rhetorical device.  Peace is “perpetual war.” “Global” is imperial. The once hopeful concept of “reform” now means regression, even destruction. “Austerity” is the imposition of extreme capitalism on the poor and the gift of socialism for the rich: an ingenious system under which the majority service the debts of the few.

In the arts, hostility to political truth-telling is an article of bourgeois faith.  “Picasso’s red period,” says an Observer headline, “and why politics don’t make good art.” Consider this in a newspaper that promoted the bloodbath in Iraq as a liberal crusade. Picasso’s lifelong opposition to fascism is a footnote, just as Orwell’s radicalism has faded from the prize that appropriated his name.

A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then Professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that “for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”. No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake for utopian dreams, no Byron damns the corruption of the ruling class, no Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin reveal the moral disaster of capitalism. William Morris, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw have no equivalents today. Harold Pinter was the last to raise his voice.  Among the insistent voices of consumer- feminism, none echoes Virginia Woolf, who described “the arts of dominating other people … of ruling, of killing, of acquiring land and capital”.

At the National Theatre, a new play, Great Britain, satirises the phone hacking scandal that has seen journalists tried and convicted, including a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Described as a “farce with fangs [that] puts the whole incestuous [media] culture in the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule”, the play’s targets are the “blessedly funny” characters in Britain’s tabloid press. That is well and good, and so familiar. What of the non-tabloid media that regards itself as reputable and credible, yet serves a parallel role as an arm of state and corporate power, as in the promotion of illegal war?

The Leveson inquiry into phone hacking glimpsed this unmentionable. Tony Blair was giving evidence, complaining to His Lordship about the tabloids’ harassment of his wife, when he was interrupted by a voice from the public gallery. David Lawley-Wakelin, a film-maker, demanded Blair’s arrest and prosecution for war crimes. There was a long pause: the shock of truth. Lord Leveson leapt to his feet and ordered the truth-teller thrown out and apologised to the war criminal. Lawley-Wakelin was prosecuted; Blair went free.

Blair’s enduring accomplices are more respectable than the phone hackers. When the BBC arts presenter, Kirsty Wark, interviewed him on the tenth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, she gifted him a moment he could only dream of; she allowed him to agonise over his “difficult” decision on Iraq rather than call him to account for his epic crime. This evoked the procession of BBC journalists who in 2003 declared that Blair could feel “vindicated”, and the subsequent, “seminal” BBC series, The Blair Years, for which David Aaronovitch was chosen as the writer, presenter and interviewer. A Murdoch retainer who campaigned for military attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, Aaronovitch fawned expertly.

Since the invasion of Iraq – the exemplar of an act of unprovoked aggression the Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” — Blair and his mouthpiece and principal accomplice, Alastair Campbell, have been afforded generous space in the Guardian to rehabilitate their reputations. Described as a Labour Party “star”, Campbell has sought the sympathy of readers for his depression and displayed his interests, though not his current assignment as advisor, with Blair, to the Egyptian military tyranny.

As Iraq is dismembered as a consequence of the Blair/Bush invasion, a Guardian headline declares: “Toppling Saddam was right, but we pulled out too soon”. This ran across a prominent article on 13 June by a former Blair functionary, John McTernan, who also served Iraq’s CIA installed dictator Iyad Allawi. In calling for a repeat invasion of a country his former master helped destroy , he made no reference to the deaths of at least 700,000 people, the flight of four million refugees and sectarian turmoil in a nation once proud of its communal tolerance.

EyeWatch out someone’s snooping

“Blair embodies corruption and war,” wrote the radical Guardian columnist Seumas Milne in a spirited piece on 3 July. This is known in the trade as “balance”. The following day, the paper published a full-page advertisement for an American Stealth bomber. On a menacing image of the bomber were the words: “The F-35. GREAT For Britain”. This other embodiment of “corruption and war” will cost British taxpayers £1.3 billion, its F-model predecessors having slaughtered people across the developing world.

In a village in Afghanistan, inhabited by the poorest of the poor, I filmed Orifa, kneeling at the graves of her husband, Gul Ahmed, a carpet weaver, seven other members of her family, including six children, and two children who were killed in the adjacent house. A “precision” 500-pound bomb fell directly on their small mud, stone and straw house, leaving a crater 50 feet wide. Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer’s, had pride of place in the Guardian’s advertisement.

The former US Secretary of State and aspiring President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, was recently on the BBC’s Women’s Hour, the quintessence of media respectability. The presenter, Jenni Murray, presented Clinton as a beacon of female achievement. She did not remind her listeners about Clinton’s profanity that Afghanistan was invaded to “liberate” women like Orifa. She asked  Clinton nothing about her administration’s terror campaign using drones to kill women, men and children. There was no mention of Clinton’s idle threat, while campaigning to be the first female President, to “eliminate” Iran, and nothing about her support for illegal mass surveillance and the pursuit of whistle-blowers.

Murray did ask one finger-to-the-lips question. Had Clinton forgiven Monica Lewinsky for having an affair with husband? “Forgiveness is a choice,” said Clinton, “for me, it was absolutely the right choice.” This recalled the 1990s and the years consumed by the Lewinsky “scandal”. President Bill Clinton was then invading Haiti, and bombing the Balkans, Africa and Iraq. He was also destroying the lives of Iraqi children; Unicef reported the deaths of half a million Iraqi infants under the age of five as a result of an embargo led by the US and Britain.

The children were media unpeople, just as Hillary Clinton’s victims in the invasions she supported and promoted – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — are media unpeople. Murray made no reference to them. A photograph of her and her distinguished guest, beaming, appears on the BBC website.

In politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground. When I began a career in Britain’s Fleet Street in the 1960s, it was acceptable to critique western power as a rapacious force. Read James Cameron’s celebrated reports of the explosion of the Hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, the barbaric war in Korea and the American bombing of North Vietnam. Today’s grand illusion is of an information age when, in truth, we live in a media age in which incessant corporate propaganda is insidious, contagious, effective and liberal.

In his 1859 essay On Liberty, to which modern liberals pay homage, John Stuart Mill wrote: “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.” The “barbarians” were large sections of humanity of whom “implicit obedience” was required.  “It’s a nice and convenient myth that liberals are peacemakers and conservatives the warmongers,” wrote the historian Hywel Williams in 2001, “but the imperialism of the liberal way may be more dangerous because of its open-ended nature: its conviction that it represents a superior form of life.” He had in mind a speech by Blair in which the then prime minister promised to “reorder the world around us” according to his “moral values”.

Richard Falk, the respected authority on international law and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, once described a “a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence”. It is “so widely accepted as to be virtually unchallengeable”.

Tenure and patronage reward the guardians. On BBC Radio 4, Razia Iqbal interviewed Toni Morrison, the African-American Nobel Laureate. Morrison wondered why people were “so angry” with Barack Obama, who was “cool” and wished to build a “strong economy and health care”. Morrison was proud to have talked on the phone with her hero, who had read one of her books and invited her to his inauguration.

Neither she nor her interviewer mentioned Obama’s seven wars, including his terror campaign by drone, in which whole families, their rescuers and mourners have been murdered. What seemed to matter was that a “finely spoken” man of colour had risen to the commanding heights of power. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon wrote that the “historic mission” of the colonised was to serve as a “transmission line” to those who ruled and oppressed. In the modern era, the employment of ethnic difference in western power and propaganda systems is now seen as essential. Obama epitomises this, though the cabinet of George W. Bush – his warmongering clique – was the most multiracial in presidential history.

As the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the jihadists of ISIS, Obama said, “The American people made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better destiny.” How “cool” is that lie? How “finely spoken” was Obama’s speech at the West Point military academy on 28 May. Delivering his “state of the world” address at the graduation ceremony of those who “will take American leadership” across the world, Obama said, “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it. International opinion matters, but America will never ask permission …”

In repudiating international law and the rights of independent nations, the American President claims a divinity based on the might of his “indispensable nation”. It is a familiar message of imperial impunity, though always bracing to hear. Evoking the rise of fascism in the 1930s, Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being.”  Historian Norman Pollack wrote: “For goose-steppers, substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.”

In February, the US mounted one of its “colour” coups against the elected government in Ukraine, exploiting genuine protests against corruption in Kiev. Obama’s national security adviser Victoria Nuland personally selected the leader of an “interim government”. She nicknamed him “Yats”. Vice President Joe Biden came to Kiev, as did CIA Director John Brennan. The shock troops of their putsch were Ukrainian fascists.

For the first time since 1945, a neo-Nazi, openly anti-Semitic party controls key areas of state power in a European capital.  No Western European leader has condemned this revival of fascism in the borderland through which Hitler’s invading Nazis took millions of Russian lives. They were supported by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), responsible for the massacre of Jews and Russians they called “vermin”. The UPA is the historical inspiration of the present-day Svoboda Party and its fellow-travelling Right Sector. Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok has called for a purge of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum”, including gays, feminists and those on the political left.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has ringed Russia with military bases, nuclear warplanes and missiles as part of its Nato Enlargement Project. Reneging on a promise made to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that Nato would not expand “one inch to the east”, Nato has, in effect, militarily occupied eastern Europe. In the former Soviet Caucasus, Nato’s expansion is the biggest military build-up since the Second World War.

A Nato Membership Action Plan is Washington’s gift to the coup-regime in Kiev. In August, “Operation Rapid Trident” will put American and British troops on Ukraine’s Russian border and “Sea Breeze” will send US warships within sight of Russian ports. Imagine the response if these acts of provocation, or intimidation, were carried out on America’s borders.

In reclaiming Crimea — which Nikita Khrushchev illegally detached from Russia in 1954 – the Russians defended themselves as they have done for almost a century. More than 90 per cent of the population of Crimea voted to return the territory to Russia. Crimea is the home of the Black Sea Fleet and its loss would mean life or death for the Russian Navy and a prize for Nato. Confounding the war parties in Washington and Kiev, Vladimir Putin withdrew troops from the Ukrainian border and urged ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine to abandon separatism.

In Orwellian fashion, this has been inverted in the west to the “Russian threat”. Hillary Clinton likened Putin to Hitler. Without irony, right-wing German commentators said as much. In the media, the Ukrainian neo-Nazis are sanitised as “nationalists” or “ultra nationalists”. What they fear is that Putin is skilfully seeking a diplomatic solution, and may succeed. On 27 June, responding to Putin’s latest accommodation – his request to the Russian Parliament to rescind legislation that gave him the power to intervene on behalf of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians – Secretary of State John Kerry issued another of his ultimatums. Russia must “act within the next few hours, literally” to end the revolt in eastern Ukraine. Notwithstanding that Kerry is widely recognised as a buffoon, the serious purpose of these “warnings” is to confer pariah status on Russia and suppress news of the Kiev regime’s war on its own people.

A third of the population of Ukraine are Russian-speaking and bilingual. They have long sought a democratic federation that reflects Ukraine’s ethnic diversity and is both autonomous and independent of Moscow. Most are neither “separatists” nor “rebels” but citizens who want to live securely in their homeland. Separatism is a reaction to the Kiev junta’s attacks on them, causing as many as 110,000 (UN estimate) to flee across the border into Russia. Typically, they are traumatized women and children.

Like Iraq’s embargoed infants, and Afghanistan’s “liberated” women and girls, terrorised by the CIA’s warlords, these ethnic people of Ukraine are media unpeople in the west, their suffering and the atrocities committed against them minimised, or suppressed. No sense of the scale of the regime’s assault is reported in the mainstream western media. This is not unprecedented. Reading again Phillip Knightley’s masterly The First Casualty: the war correspondent as hero, propagandist and myth maker, I renewed my admiration for the Manchester Guardian’s Morgan Philips Price, the only western reporter to remain in Russia during the 1917 revolution and report the truth of a disastrous invasion by the western allies. Fair-minded and courageous, Philips Price alone disturbed what Knightley calls an anti-Russian “dark silence” in the west.

On 2 May, in Odessa, 41 ethnic Russians were burned alive in the trade union headquarters with police standing by. There is horrifying video evidence.  The Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh hailed the massacre as “another bright day in our national history”. In the American and British media, this was reported as a “murky tragedy” resulting from “clashes” between “nationalists” (neo-Nazis) and “separatists” (people collecting signatures for a referendum on a federal Ukraine). The New York Times buried it, having dismissed as Russian propaganda warnings about the fascist and anti-Semitic policies of Washington’s new clients. The Wall Street Journal damned the victims – “Deadly Ukraine Fire Likely Sparked by Rebels, Government Says”. Obama congratulated the junta for its “restraint”.

On 28 June, the Guardian devoted most of a page to declarations by the Kiev regime’s “president”, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko.  Again, Orwell’s rule of inversion applied. There was no putsch; no war against Ukraine’s minority; the Russians were to blame for everything. “We want to modernise my country,” said Poroshenko. “We want to introduce freedom, democracy and European values. Somebody doesn’t like that. Somebody doesn’t like us for that.”

According to his report, the Guardian’s reporter, Luke Harding, did not challenge these assertions, or mention the Odessa atrocity, the regime’s air and artillery attacks on residential areas, the killing and kidnapping of journalists, the firebombing of an opposition newspaper and his threat to “free Ukraine from dirt and parasites”. The enemy are “rebels”, “militants”, “insurgents”, “terrorists” and stooges of the Kremlin. Summon from history the ghosts of Vietnam, Chile, East Timor, southern Africa, Iraq; note the same tags. Palestine is the lodestone of this unchanging deceit. On 11 July, following the latest Israeli, American equipped slaughter in Gaza – 80 people including six children in one family — an Israeli general writes in the Guardian under the headline, “A necessary show of force”.

In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; it was her Triumph of the Will that reputedly cast Hitler’s spell. I asked her about propaganda in societies that imagined themselves superior. She replied that the “messages” in her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on a “submissive void” in the German population. “Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked. “Everyone,” she replied, “and of course the intelligentsia.”

John Pilger‘s documentaries have won academy awards in both the U.K. and the U.S. His new film, “Utopia,” was released in Australia in January.

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