Monday, July 22, 2013

Canada Aids and Abets the Spectre of Nuclear Terrorism

By Matthew Behrens
Earlier this year, Michael Walli made a blunt confession in a Tennessee court. “I was employed as a terrorist for the United States Government,” he told the judge hearing his case. And sure enough, Walli is facing down a potential 35 years in prison for what his prosecutors successfully argued was an action that fit the “federal crime of terrorism.”
            Walli is an army combat veteran of the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, and is certainly  not the first to take some personal responsibility for America’s genocidal occupation and relentless bombing of Southeast Asia  (with at least 3 million murdered). Indeed, as the recent book Kill Anything that Moves reminds us, American military units were committing so many atrocities that the Pentagon opened up its own, secretive war crimes investigation unit. 
            But his participation in such crimes is not what led Walli to that Tennessee court. Rather, it was a peaceful protest against nuclear terrorism and the U.S. construction – in clear violation of the nonproliferation treaty –  of a new generation of nuclear weapons. Unlike Iran, the U.S. has used – and threatened to use – nuclear weapons for almost 70 years, in the form of atomic bombs as well as depleted uranium-coated ammunition that has left a cancerous wasteland behind in Iraq, among other countries where it has been used by U.S. and NATO forces.
            Walli, joined by Sister Megan Rice (aged 82) and Greg Boertje-Obed, all veteran peacemakers, entered the Y12 nuclear weapons site in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on July 28, 2012, cutting through four fences and making their way right to the Enriched Uranium Materials Facility which, as the venerable magazine Nuclear Resister notes, is “the largest storehouse of bomb-grade uranium in the world. They marked the building with blood, painted disarmament messages on the wall and hung banners. Symbolic of beginning to transform swords into plowshares, they also hammered a few chips of concrete from the building’s foundation before being seen by security guards and arrested.”
            It was the latest in a 33-year legacy of scores of similar protests known as Plowshares Actions that have directly confronted militarism in its most physical forms, from pouring blood on B-52 bombers to hammering on nuclear weapons nose cones at a General Electric factory in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. All such actions have been well-planned, almost always involve a faith-based statement, and are committed to nonviolence.
            On June 20 of this year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama, according to an Associated Press dispatch filed from Berlin, appealed “for a new citizen activism in the free world” to reduce nuclear stockpiles and confront climate change. Yet his Attorney General has piled on the charges against the Plowshares activists who were engaging in just such citizen activism. All are scheduled to be sentenced in September. While lengthy prison sentences have often been the fate of those confronting the nuclear state, the equation of nonviolent protest with terrorism is consistent with what critics have long argued is one of the main purposes of so-called anti-terrorism legislation: squashing dissent.
            In his usual unctuous fashion, Obama’s dishonest speech in Berlin belied the facts of nuclear weapons development. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), at the start of 2013 eight states possessed approximately 4,400 operational nuclear weapons. Nearly 2,000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert. SIPRI also notes that if all nuclear warheads are counted – operational warheads, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and intact warheads scheduled for dismantlement – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel possess a total of approximately 17,270 nuclear weapons. As SIPRI indicates in their 2013 annual report, the five leading nuclear weapons powers “appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely.” Last year, NATO concluded that nuclear weapons would remain a core component of their arsenal and strategic planning (with no peep of protest from Canada).
            Canada’s response to this reality is, among other activities, a secretive working plan to ship large amounts of bomb grade uranium from Chalk River through the Ottawa Valley and to the United States for “reprocessing.” Anyone who thinks this uranium will not wind up in a new nuclear weapon might be interested in some oceanfront Arizona property. Until 2008, Canada had mined more uranium than any other country in the world – including the raw materials for those first flashes of unforgettable fire that decimated two of Japan’s civilian cities during World War II – and now accounts for over 15% of worldwide production. Among its largest clients are countries that continue to violate the non-proliferation treaty. At the same time, those who are front-line victims of the chain of nuclearism are indigenous people who have mined the uranium and had its waste dumped on their lands.
Worldwide war spending, including for nuclear weapons, now tops $1.75 trillion, an amount perhaps so infinite that it becomes meaningless. As hunger and other social ills plague billions of people, few in the political world dare question this massive waste of resources,  including the over $20 billion annually flushed down Canada’s own rathole of militarism. Indeed, the official NDP opposition last ran on a platform of equaling the Harper government’s war spending.
            As we approach the landmark days in August marking the anniversaries of the murderous use of atomic weapons against the undefended cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is a good time to not only reflect on the nature of nuclearism, but militarism itself. We must also remember the firebombing of Tokyo and Dresden, the napalming and carpet bombing of Southeast Asia, the NATO terror bombings of the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq – clearly war crimes as defined at Nuremberg – as well as all atrocities supposedly committed in the name of religion, freedom, and democracy.
            Militarism creates its own state of permanent exception: anything done in the name of “national defense” is above the law, any calls for accountability are laughed off as unpatriotic, and resistance is treated as heresy. While eminent scholars Richard Falk and Robert Jay Lifton once argued that nukes were “indefensible weapons,” perhaps it is time to shift our frame to the whole business of war as not only indefensible, but completely incompatible with democracy. Shifting the language might help as well, reminding people that War is Always Terrorism.
 Canada’s own War Department, it was recently revealed, is so bloated, so over-funded, that it has been sitting on a pile of over $2 billion in unspent cash. While social programs suffer, the homeless die on Canadian streets, and women cannot find shelter from male violence, the War Department remains a sinkhole of taxpayer monies, the largest single use of discretionary federal spending and one that is increasingly immune to oversight given its refusal to share details – even with officials such as the Parliamentary Budget Officer – of its operations and spending plans. Indeed, the Ottawa Citizen reports that former CSIS head Richard Fadden, now a deputy minister at the War Department, has recently written to say he will not provide Parliament with any details on new warships, armoured vehicles, and other unnecessary purchases.
            All this serves as part of a long-standing trend in which democracy is sacrificed on the altar of a war economy.  Whether it is the clear deception that the Harper government continues to employ to try and sucker Canadians into spending scores of billions on stealth fighter bombers, shutting down Parliament to prevent hearings on Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghans, or the secretive plans to ship by truck highly radioactive uranium down Highway 417 along the Ottawa River so the U.S. can continue to upgrade its nuclear weapons, it is clear that the objections of citizens have  been pushed to the side as an unwanted annoyance.
            This is, of course, not new. Indeed, shortly after the passage of Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, resisters against militarism, who were holding weekly vigils in 2002 to transform Toronto’s Moss Park Armoury into housing for the homeless and underhoused, found "Security Zone in Effect” signs around the perimeter, language coming directly out of the Anti-terrorism Act and clearly aimed at the organizers from Homes not Bombs. Similarly, at Hancock Air Force Base in New York State, special injunctions seeking to bar peaceful protesters from the entrance have been issued to maintain the silence around the drone strikes that are launched from within. At protests outside Canada’s drone manufacturer of choice, L3 Wescam, protesters were threatened with civil action for nonviolent trespass. 
            The antidote for such diseases as militarism and the secrecy that undergirds it is democratic participation, perhaps through education, boycott and protest. For others, it may take the form of direct interference with the tools of global genocide via Plowshares Actions or the nonviolent civil resistance action that last week saw 23 people arrested at a Honeywell plant in Kansas City, where key components for that new generation of nuclear weapons are being developed.
            Not everyone is prepared to risk jail for their conscience. But at the very least, we can support those who, with love in their hearts and a passion for justice that burns brighter than any weapons flash, continue to push back against the state of exception called militarism. One thing everyone can do is write a letter to members of Transform Plowshares now looking at being jailed until 2048 – essentially life imprisonment –  for their simple act of saying “No.”. They are also encouraging people to send letters to the judge who will sentence them in September. More information is available at



Monday, July 8, 2013

Thick as A Brick: Disturbing Questions in RCMP Canada Day Bust

(July  8,
By Matthew Behrens
The July 1 arrests of BC residents Amanda Korody and John Nuttall – charged with planning to blow up a pressure cooker cluster bomb at the BC legislature – raise many disturbing questions about the nature of the Canadian government’s “counter-terrorism” operations. Equally troubling has been media coverage playing up hot-button themes that trigger fears of marginalized people, whether they be drug addiction and reliance on social assistance to heavy metal music and the popular catch-all description for anyone who doesn’t quite fit in to a sick society: mental illness.

   As anyone can gather from news reports, the two suspects have not trod the easiest of paths, and the pair’s friends doubt they would be capable of planning, much less executing, the alleged acts. Their right to privacy has also been invaded, with media thumbing through their personal effects in an apartment that, remarkably, was not taped off as a potential crime scene by the police.

   Interestingly, following a month of revelations about massive spying on the global citizenry, the attempt by the Mounties to scare up a little self-serving attention by trumpeting themselves as The Heroes Who Saved Canada Day appears to have fallen flat, as many are questioning what role undercover operatives may have played in facilitating the apparent attack. RCMP Assistant Commissioner Wayne Rideout noted at the press conference announcing the arrests, “We employed a variety of complex investigative and covert techniques to control any opportunity the suspects had to commit harm. These devices were completely under our control, they were inert, and at no time represented a threat to public safety.”

   In other words, they appear to have had someone on the inside with a great deal of influence over events, either a Mountie or someone from CSIS, the spy agency that  allegedly spoke to the Mounties about the case in February. As the Vancouver Province noted in an editorial, “On April 2, police had enough evidence leading to charges of facilitating a terrorist activity and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, but the couple was not arrested. On June 25, there was enough evidence for Nuttall to be charged with making or possessing an explosive substance, but again there were no arrests.” Did the RCMP stagemanage things so that the connection to Canada Day would provide them with a blast of patriotic coverage?

Sting Operations
   The questions point to practices south of the border, where the great majority of so-called terrorism arrests are in fact set up by and facilitated by the agents who then bust them: the FBI. A 2011 investigation by Mother Jones magazine examined the FBI strategy of “pre-emption” and “disruption” –  the latter a term used by the RCMP in the present case – and found that the agency targets “tens of thousands of law-abiding people, seeking to identify those disgruntled few who might participate in a plot given the means and the opportunity. And then, in case after case, the government provides the plot, the means, and the opportunity.”

   Mother Jones quotes lawyer Martin Stolar, who defended one man caught in a 2004 FBI sting, as noting that with many of the terrorism cases, “defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents. They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.”

   The magazine points out that with three exceptions, “all of the high-profile domestic terror plots of the last decade were actually FBI stings,” all of which tend to target socially marginalized individuals.
   Were the BC arrests part of an RCMP/CSIS sting operation?  Some recall that the so-called Toronto 18 case may never have gotten off the ground without the able assistance of undercover, paid government informants who facilitated key elements of the case. In the case of Mr. Nuttall, his paintballing friend was quoted as saying, “Personally, I think he was hanging out with the wrong people and they screwed with his head a little bit.” Was one of the apparent “wrong people” a government agent encouraging Mr. Nuttall? And is the RCMP above staging terrorism arrests?

History of Illegal Acts
If history is any indication, the answer would be no. Much of the Mounties’ lengthy history of corruption, illicit activity, and outright lawbreaking was summed up nicely in a 1970 memo from then RCMP Commissioner W.L. Higgitt. Labeled “RCMP Protection for Members Engaged in Sensitive or Secret Operations,” the Commissioner wrote: “Though it has not been the subject of general conversation, and should not be, it may have been considered necessary in the past, and may continue to be necessary in the future, to transgress the common, civil, or criminal law of the Country in order to work effectively or to achieve the desired results in a given case. More recently it has come to my attention that some members involved in delicate operations are concerned with the protection they and their families will receive in the event that an operation goes sour and they become subject to civil or criminal processes as a result.”

Later in the memo, the Commissioner advises that “where the member acts within the scope of the direction or the expressly approved plan, he will be protected to the greatest extent possible from criminal, quasi-criminal or civil responsibility. In the event complete protection cannot be afforded, a solicitor will be appointed to protect the member’s interests. The Force will accept responsibility to pay any fine or reward levied against our member. In the event of incarceration for a period of time, the member will be paid as usual and on release will be employed again by the Force….Information contained herein should be disseminated on a ‘need to know’ basis to the members of your command.”

This attitude of impunity for crimes committed riddles the RCMP like a cancer. It is why the RCMP authorized the questioning of Canadian Abdullah Almalki, then detained in Syria, knowing those questions would lead to his torture, without a thought for his human rights, much less the complicity in torture provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada or Canada’s legally binding obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Things are no better at CSIS where, as investigative reporter Andrew Mitrovica pointed out in his expose Covert Entry, Canada’s spies have "routinely broken the law, treating the rights and liberties of Canadians as no more than a nuisance...[it is] riddled by waste, extravagance, laziness, nepotism, incompetence, corruption and law-breaking." There is a culture of impunity at CSIS, whose agents often refer to a Ways and Means Act: "if you have a way to get things done, the means -- legal or not -- are justified."

Throwing in Islam
Meanwhile, less attention has been paid to pathetic attempts to throw Islamic references into the mix, with desperate efforts to find a landlady or neighbor who can testify to hearing loud “Islamic” recordings coming from the basement and the RCMP’s bizarre contention that although there is no international connection, the two appear to be “Al-Qaeda-inspired” and “self-radicalized,” two canards that have little connection to reality. (While the Globe and Mail was invading the couple’s privacy, they reported on finding amongst their books a copy of the Bible, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and albums by Jethro Tull and Nine Inch Nails.)

   “She was into the rave scene, and then she became goth, then she was a big activist, then she was someone who worked out hardcore,” a friend of suspect Amanda  Korody was quoted as saying. “Before he was a proud Canadian,” said a friend of John Nuttall.  “Later he said, ‘All I care about is Allah’ and that Canadians and Americans shouldn’t even be in Iraq or Afghanistan at all.” 

   Taken together, these quotes represent a broad swath of Canadian opinion and experience, with the underlying brush that now tars as tainted anyone associated with such activities or beliefs.  Yet, unlike some leaders in Canada’s diverse Muslim community, no one from Canada’s goth or workout scenes has been called upon to condemn the alleged acts or to engage in RCMP “community consultations”. Nor is it likely that LA Fitness chains will now be infiltrated by undercover agents to root out the discontented health nuts pedaling their sweaty way atop an elliptical while reading columns on their ipads.

   Continual references to the two as apparent “converts” to Islam begs the question: what religion were they following during previous years of mixed up lives, and why has that not been part of media reporting? It also plays into the insidious idea that, regardless of how many times Muslim community leaders plead that they are loyal and peaceful Canadians, the “influence” of their religion is what is ultimately dangerous, a powerful subtext that is repeated with each new scare headline about the growth of Islam in Canada (now estimated at a whopping 3.2% of the total population). In other words, it is bad enough when people born Muslims are alleged to be involved in nefarious activities; it appears to be even worse when “one of ours”, i.e., white Canadians, are sucked into the faith. Such pernicious thinking underlined much of the Red Scare: it was not so much the danger of Communists themselves as it was their ability to infect our precious bodily fluids with their subversive thoughts, and before one knew it, former boy scouts were marching against the bomb and for civil rights.

Mounties Want You to Like Them
   Like the scandal-plagued CSIS, the RCMP is desperate for good press these days, and the language in their early July press conference verged on a plea to like them on Facebook.  “These arrests are another example of the effectiveness of our Integrated National Security Enforcement Team who worked tenaciously to prevent this plan from being carried out,” said RCMP Assistant Commissioner James Malizia, perhaps a shout-out to CSIS, still reeling from revelations in late May that they failed to inform the RCMP about the Canadian navy’s Jeffrey Delisle selling secrets to the Russians. 

   But the RCMP love-in that followed the arrests of two people in the alleged VIA Rail plot in April does not appear to have been replicated here. (In April, NDP leader Tom Muclair discarded the niceties of presumption of innocence when he led a standing ovation in the House of Commons for the Mounties after he said, without offering any proof of the allegations, that “I’d like to begin by thanking law enforcement officials, as well as a brave religious leader from the Toronto Muslim community who, as we learned yesterday, helped to prevent a potentially devastating attack on Canadian soil."

   In a final irony, the week before the Mounties rode to the rescue to save Canadians from folks who allegedly planned to “produce explosive devices designed to cause injury and death,” those very same weapons, cluster bombs, were the subject of an ongoing attempt by Ottawa to water down the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Senate hearings. Rather than ratifying the convention as is, Ottawa has introduced a range of measures that, as the Mennonite Central Committee points out, Creates loopholes and exceptions on the use of cluster munitions that undermine the Treaty as a comprehensive ban on an inhumane weapon; omits many of the positive obligations of the Treaty, including the destruction of stockpiles; the promotion of Treaty norms; the prohibition of investment in cluster bomb production; and the provision of support for victims.” 

   Ultimately, a government that seeks to enable state use of cluster munitions appears possibly involved in an effort to encourage two hapless souls to build such a bomb, then arrest the couple as a notch in the war on terror, and convince Canadians that the authorities have decent human values at their core. Such logic would appear, in the words of a song in Mr. Nuttall’s Jethro Tull collection, to be thick as a brick.