All posts by Binoy Kampmark

Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments

Tagged to the Trump presidency like an insistent limpet, the investigation into Russian interference in the US elections of 2016 provides constant fodder for the unimaginative political animals in the United States. But any diet that remains unvaried is bound to induce illness or nutritional deficiency.  Variety is strength.

US politics, and its political culture, distinctly lacks nutritional health.  Estranged, polarised, and paranoid, it has ceased being a green house of hope and governance.  Little wonder, then, that its politicians see external forces of such character and effect, agents of influence that can alter the destiny of the imperium.  Scant regard is paid to a system so putrescent it had to produce a Trump or conjured up the demonic properties of a Steve Bannon.  Foreign interference remains, not merely a red herring but a fairly insignificant one.

On Friday, thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged by special counsel Robert Mueller for conspiring in interfering with “US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”  While there was tooting and trumpeting on the media circuit, the more astute were less impressed.  Various intelligence professionals preferred to see the indictments as reflecting “a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence.”

The charges, interestingly enough, omit the issue of hacked Democrat emails (Podesta and the DNC) and computer systems connected with the election itself.  They focus, rather, on such housekeeping matters as fraud and identity theft.

The first count, for instance, alleges a conspiracy by the 16 defendants to defraud the United States with the purpose of “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means to enable the Defendants to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 US presidential election.”

The defendants supposedly interfered with the administration of the Federal Election Campaign Act by the Federal Election Commission touching on political spending by foreign nationals during elections, the Justice Department’s overseeing of the Foreign Agent Registration Act regarding registering foreign agents working within the US on political matters, and the State Department’s visa program for foreign individuals entering the United States.

Then come charges of wire and bank fraud centred on Richard Pinedo, who operated “Auction Essistance”, an online business ostensibly formed to frustrate standard security safeguards of online payment companies.  This, in turn, became the vehicle for purchasing rallies and political ads.

For Andrew Prokop, these “don’t add much to what was already publicly known about exactly how Russians tried to interference with the campaign – and they don’t contain any new allegations about anyone in Trump’s orbit.”

One entity stands out in what must be regarded as the huffing effort of an information war: the kremlobots of the Internet Research Agency, supposedly behind the various rallies, online advertisements and social media agitation.  The St. Petersburg based Agency was allegedly charged with a strategy favouring Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.  Hillary Clinton and Republican contenders such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were subjects of denigration.

Such a strategy, however, would not be etched in stone.  The theme of chaos was central.  Trump may well have been favoured, but that hardly prevented the staging of both pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies in various parts of the country, including New York City.  Dysfunction and disorientation, in other words, was exploited.

The genius of the Agency lies in the art of the masquerade, turning the Internet into a medium of dancing stories, narratives and fictions.  Fake US personas were supposedly created; identities were stolen to open PayPal and bank accounts.  This was politics as theatre.

What is easier to ignore in this fuss is that material, to generate any momentum, must have some pre-existing inspiration.  The US political classes are continuing that now established tradition of treating those who vote them in as mugs, fools easily swayed by the next hoax or the next marketable story.  This hardly charitable attitude means that changes can be avoided and electoral dissatisfaction ignored. Thank god for the Kremlin.

The nature of the indictment will be exactly what Democrats, in particular, want to hear.  Trump is partly right in claiming this to be a “phony excuse for losing the election”, though detractors will naturally remove the first word of that observation.  Mueller is certainly convinced that he can make these charges stick.

In of itself, these actions, including the social media campaigns and advertising, were matters of minor significance, even if they did simulate the idea of grand chaos.  To suggest that they somehow tipped the balance is self-comfortingly delusional.  What these indictments may well inadvertently show is that such Russian operations were a form of revenge for US meddling, notably in Ukraine in 2014. The target of that meddling was the pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

Then comes the actual effect of such indictments, which even hard nosed analysts admit will be minimal.  As the staff at Lawfare (Feb 16) concede, “None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the US political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.  None is in custody.  None is likely to surrender to US authorities.  And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.”  The illusion of busy fury can be all powerful.

 

Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments

Tagged to the Trump presidency like an insistent limpet, the investigation into Russian interference in the US elections of 2016 provides constant fodder for the unimaginative political animals in the United States. But any diet that remains unvaried is bound to induce illness or nutritional deficiency.  Variety is strength.

US politics, and its political culture, distinctly lacks nutritional health.  Estranged, polarised, and paranoid, it has ceased being a green house of hope and governance.  Little wonder, then, that its politicians see external forces of such character and effect, agents of influence that can alter the destiny of the imperium.  Scant regard is paid to a system so putrescent it had to produce a Trump or conjured up the demonic properties of a Steve Bannon.  Foreign interference remains, not merely a red herring but a fairly insignificant one.

On Friday, thirteen Russians and three Russian entities were charged by special counsel Robert Mueller for conspiring in interfering with “US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”  While there was tooting and trumpeting on the media circuit, the more astute were less impressed.  Various intelligence professionals preferred to see the indictments as reflecting “a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence.”

The charges, interestingly enough, omit the issue of hacked Democrat emails (Podesta and the DNC) and computer systems connected with the election itself.  They focus, rather, on such housekeeping matters as fraud and identity theft.

The first count, for instance, alleges a conspiracy by the 16 defendants to defraud the United States with the purpose of “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means to enable the Defendants to interfere with US political and electoral processes, including the 2016 US presidential election.”

The defendants supposedly interfered with the administration of the Federal Election Campaign Act by the Federal Election Commission touching on political spending by foreign nationals during elections, the Justice Department’s overseeing of the Foreign Agent Registration Act regarding registering foreign agents working within the US on political matters, and the State Department’s visa program for foreign individuals entering the United States.

Then come charges of wire and bank fraud centred on Richard Pinedo, who operated “Auction Essistance”, an online business ostensibly formed to frustrate standard security safeguards of online payment companies.  This, in turn, became the vehicle for purchasing rallies and political ads.

For Andrew Prokop, these “don’t add much to what was already publicly known about exactly how Russians tried to interference with the campaign – and they don’t contain any new allegations about anyone in Trump’s orbit.”

One entity stands out in what must be regarded as the huffing effort of an information war: the kremlobots of the Internet Research Agency, supposedly behind the various rallies, online advertisements and social media agitation.  The St. Petersburg based Agency was allegedly charged with a strategy favouring Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.  Hillary Clinton and Republican contenders such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were subjects of denigration.

Such a strategy, however, would not be etched in stone.  The theme of chaos was central.  Trump may well have been favoured, but that hardly prevented the staging of both pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies in various parts of the country, including New York City.  Dysfunction and disorientation, in other words, was exploited.

The genius of the Agency lies in the art of the masquerade, turning the Internet into a medium of dancing stories, narratives and fictions.  Fake US personas were supposedly created; identities were stolen to open PayPal and bank accounts.  This was politics as theatre.

What is easier to ignore in this fuss is that material, to generate any momentum, must have some pre-existing inspiration.  The US political classes are continuing that now established tradition of treating those who vote them in as mugs, fools easily swayed by the next hoax or the next marketable story.  This hardly charitable attitude means that changes can be avoided and electoral dissatisfaction ignored. Thank god for the Kremlin.

The nature of the indictment will be exactly what Democrats, in particular, want to hear.  Trump is partly right in claiming this to be a “phony excuse for losing the election”, though detractors will naturally remove the first word of that observation.  Mueller is certainly convinced that he can make these charges stick.

In of itself, these actions, including the social media campaigns and advertising, were matters of minor significance, even if they did simulate the idea of grand chaos.  To suggest that they somehow tipped the balance is self-comfortingly delusional.  What these indictments may well inadvertently show is that such Russian operations were a form of revenge for US meddling, notably in Ukraine in 2014. The target of that meddling was the pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

Then comes the actual effect of such indictments, which even hard-nosed analysts admit will be minimal.  As the staff at Lawfare (February 16) concede, “None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the US political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.  None is in custody.  None is likely to surrender to US authorities.  And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.”  The illusion of busy fury can be all powerful.

George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism

Nothing stimulates frankness like an imminent departure from politics.  From the deceptions, dissimulations and general obtuseness offered by the political craft, a person appointed to a diplomatic position can be reassured to lie in a different way.  Mendacity is less taxing and always more civil, away from the dirt and dust of political tussling.  Views can be expressed with more sophistication and, even occasionally, candour.

Senator George Brandis, Australia’s conservative Attorney-General, was one such creature.  A political beast given to punching holes in the law, he has been given a chance to pursue the Sylvan fields in London as Australian High Commissioner.  He will be suitable for this station, a period of easy living in London lubricated by the Australian tax payer.  As an ideological hard knocker in the Liberal Party, he has earned his stripes.

His valedictory speech to fellow parliamentarians should have created more waves than it did.  Australian journalists and commentators tend to nod off on such occasions.  A man without glamour, a product of the law, will never stir the heart.  But his words were worth noting on several levels.

Brandis has witnessed, during his tenure, a greater centralisation of security matters in the form of a Home Affairs ministry overseen by Peter Dutton, a ruffian immune to the finer points of jurisprudence.  In his farewell speech, thinly veiled swipes were taken against various figures of his own side of politics, notably those to the Right. Interestingly enough, Brandis was leaving as a self-described moderate, a champion of some holy middle ground.

Brandis noted what should be a common place assumption: that the attorney-general’s duty is to defend the rule of law, even “from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose on upon executive power”.  The senator had not “disguised” his “concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practice them.  To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself.”

His own awkward positioning as defender of the law and doyen of propriety, doesn’t survive closer scrutiny.  He cites “several robust occasions” where he supposedly took issue with recalcitrant colleagues.  One such occasion was the stance taken on stripping those convicted of terrorism charges of sole Australian citizenship.  That decision would lie with the Immigration minister, a certain Dutton.

Despite backing the authoritarian suggestion, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott met resistance from cabinet colleagues.  Brandis is reputed to have said at one meeting concerning the draconian proposal that, as attorney-general, it was his “job to stand for the rule of law”.  But in all fairness, he was hardly a voice in the wilderness, keeping company with a host of other colleagues from foreign affairs to communications who voiced similar concerns.

It was under Brandis that a security regime suspicious of journalists and loathing of whistleblowers took further root.  Definitions on espionage were adjusted to supposedly keep pace with modern technology, and legislation effectively providing immunity for the commission of crimes by Australia’s intelligence services was passed despite Brandis expressly ruling out torture as a policy.

The National Security Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 jolted media professionals from their complacent slumber.  The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance duly issued a statement claiming that the legislation “overturns the public’s right to know.  It persecutes and prosecutes whistleblowers and journalists who are dealing with whistleblowers. It imposes ludicrous penalties of up to 10 years jail on journalists. It imposes outrageous surveillance on journalists and the computer networks of their media employers”.

The words of MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren furnish us a corrective to Brandis as defender and stalwart of rights.  “At a time when the parliament should be defending and promoting freedoms in our society it has instead chosen to strip them away.”  A figure suspicious of the activities of the Fourth Estate can hardly be counted as a friend of the rule of law.

For all his claimed loyalties to a profession he has supposedly cherished, to legal principles that he might have defended with zeal, Brandis’ achievements must be regarded as more modest.  In certain instances, he did genuine harm to the patchwork of Australian liberties and protections, all vulnerable to the dictates of parliament.

Educating Prime Minister Abbott about such fanciful notions as the rule of law would have been challenging, but less acceptable is the normalised state of security Australia finds itself.  Instead of halting it, the senator propelled it.  Courting the reassurances of the police state, in other words, proved to be a recurring feature of the Brandis era, notably under Abbott and Turnbull.  In some exceptional instances, it pays to keep the law away from lawyers.

Assange, Judge Arbuthnot and the Arrest Warrant

Justice is an elastic concept.  Like other terms in law, it has room to expand and contract.  But one weakness burdens legal strictures that supposedly have an objective reality to them: power.  Power brutish, power as a spectral force, and power arbitrarily exercised.

Any reading of Julian Assange’s case must be, to that end, understood as a dynamic less of law than power.  Having challenged its operations in the international system, he was bound to be its recipient.  In assessing his conditions of detention on the Ecuadorean embassy in London, black letter lawyers prefer an interpretation without the influence of power, clean and clear.  Focus is had on individual volition and purpose: up stakes, Assange, and face the legal music!  That music remains the score sheet of a warrant for his arrest.

Such reasoning is woefully inadequate given the feathers the man has rustled.  A number of states, the United States most preeminent amongst them, has demanded his pound of flesh.  Mike Pompeo of the Central Intelligence Agency has admitted with refreshing candour how US authorities are considering avenues on prosecuting Assange and those associated with WikiLeaks.

Having soiled many a stable with the work of WikiLeaks and disclosures of classified information, treating Assange as a minor offender, one merely deserving of a parking ticket, is entirely erroneous.  But it is a view that persists, even after the collapse of the Swedish case against him.

Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot, taking a view shared by many members of her profession, proved inelastic in assessing Assange’s appeal against the arrest warrant.  She did not, for instance, feel that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had much truck in its 2016 decision favourable to him.

Assange, she was more or less surmising, was an unconscionable brat, a person who believed laws insufficient to bind him.  “I find arrest is a proportionate response even though Mr Assange has restricted his own freedom for a number of years.”  The arch manipulator had to come clean and descend from his Olympus.

“The impression I have, and this may well be dispelled if and when Mr Assange finally appears in court, is that he is a man who wants to impose his terms on the course of justice.  He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favour.”

Some observers were not immune to the sense that the judge had gotten personal.  Rather than focusing on the finer points of the ruling, a moral assessment was in order. “At times,” went ABC correspondent Lisa Millar, “it felt like a character assessment that went beyond what was needed for this ruling.”

The only way Judge Arbuthnot could understand Assange’s case was like any other defendant, an understanding both flawed and naïve.  “Defendants on bail up and down the country and requested persons facing extradition, come to court to face the consequences of their own choices.  He should have the courage to do so.”

The problem with this reasoning is that the “choices” in question have been shown to be thinly manipulated grounds, notably those centred on a prosecutor’s brief from Sweden that was pursued till it expired with time.  At no point was Assange ever charged for sexual offences, a niggling point that the righteous followers of positive law forget.

When concessions were finally made to interview him in the Ecuadorean embassy on his Swedish sojourn, nothing of substance emerged. What did, however, lurk with sinister force was the role played by British authorities to prolong the matter.

It is beside the point that Assange may leave his confines at any time.  But removing a police presence before a minefield doesn’t remove the mines.  He may well walk out and face the heralds of law.  But the issue of skipping bail is not a stand-alone matter of legal delinquency. The grounds for extraditing him to Sweden have evaporated, making the issue academic. What remains is the prospect of surrender to the United States, a point that is far from negligible.

None of this matters to the judge, who decided she knew geopolitical malice, or issues of trust, better than most. “I do not accept that Sweden would have rendered Mr Assange to the United States.”

A good dose of speculation followed.  “If that had happened there would have been a diplomatic crisis between the UK, Sweden and the US, which would have affected international relationships and extradition proceedings between states.”

Not in the least.  What all three states have demonstrated are strong ties in terms of extradition, common grounds when it comes to dealing with international trouble makers.  The Lauri Love decision does, admittedly, offer some room for hackers and those of Assange’s ilk to avoid the fate of ending up in the US prison system.

Far from precipitating a crisis, rendering Assange or extraditing him would have been seen as the ridding of a problem, removing a chaos maker, as it were, from the already troubled soup of international relations.  Charmingly for such judicial officials as Judge Arbuthnot, the rule of law remains immune from political influence, despite scant evidence of its practice.

George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism

Nothing stimulates frankness like an imminent departure from politics.  From the deceptions, dissimulations and general obtuseness offered by the political craft, a person appointed to a diplomatic position can be reassured to lie in a different way.   Mendacity is less taxing and always more civil, away from the dirt and dust of political tussling.  Views can be expressed with more sophistication and, even occasionally, candour.

Senator George Brandis, Australia’s conservative Attorney-General, was one such creature.  A political beast given to punching holes in the law, he has been given a chance to pursue the Sylvan fields in London as Australian High Commissioner.  He will be suitable for this station, a period of easy living in London lubricated by the Australian tax payer.  As an ideological hard knocker in the Liberal Party, he has earned his stripes.

His valedictory speech to fellow parliamentarians should have created more waves than it did.  Australian journalists and commentators tend to nod off on such occasions.  A man without glamour, a product of the law, will never stir the heart.  But his words were worth noting on several levels.

Brandis has witnessed, during his tenure, a greater centralisation of security matters in the form of a Home Affairs ministry overseen by Peter Dutton, a ruffian immune to the finer points of jurisprudence.  In his farewell speech, thinly veiled swipes were taken against various figures of his own side of politics, notably those to the Right. Interestingly enough, Brandis was leaving as a self-described moderate, a champion of some holy middle ground.

Brandis noted what should be a common place assumption: that the attorney-general’s duty is to defend the rule of law, even “from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose on upon executive power”.  The senator had not “disguised” his “concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practice them.  To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself.”

His own awkward positioning as defender of the law and doyen of propriety doesn’t survive closer scrutiny.  He cites “several robust occasions” where he supposedly took issue with recalcitrant colleagues.  One such occasion was the stance taken on stripping those convicted of terrorism charges of sole Australian citizenship.  That decision would lie with the Immigration minister, a certain Dutton.

Despite backing the authoritarian suggestion, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott met resistance from cabinet colleagues.  Brandis is reputed to have said at one meeting concerning the draconian proposal that, as attorney-general, it was his “job to stand for the rule of law”.  But in all fairness, he was hardly a voice in the wilderness, keeping company with a host of other colleagues from foreign affairs to communications who voiced similar concerns.

It was under Brandis that a security regime suspicious of journalists and loathing of whistleblowers took further root.  Definitions on espionage were adjusted to supposedly keep pace with modern technology, and legislation effectively providing immunity for the commission of crimes by Australia’s intelligence services was passed despite Brandis expressly ruling out torture as a policy.

The National Security Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 jolted media professionals from their complacent slumber.  The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance duly issued a statement claiming that the legislation “overturns the public’s right to know.  It persecutes and prosecutes whistleblowers and journalists who are dealing with whistleblowers. It imposes ludicrous penalties of up to 10 years jail on journalists. It imposes outrageous surveillance on journalists and the computer networks of their media employers”.

The words of MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren furnish us a corrective to Brandis as defender and stalwart of rights.  “At a time when the parliament should be defending and promoting freedoms in our society it has instead chosen to strip them away.”  A figure suspicious of the activities of the Fourth Estate can hardly be counted as a friend of the rule of law.

For all his claimed loyalties to a profession he has supposedly cherished, to legal principles that he might have defended with zeal, Brandis’ achievements must be regarded as more modest.  In certain instances, he did genuine harm to the patchwork of Australian liberties and protections, all vulnerable to the dictates of parliament.

Educating Prime Minister Abbott about such fanciful notions as the rule of law would have been challenging, but less acceptable is the normalised state of security Australia finds itself.  Instead of halting it, the senator propelled it.  Courting the reassurances of the police state, in other words, proved to be a recurring feature of the Brandis era, notably under Abbott and Turnbull.  In some exceptional instances, it pays to keep the law away from lawyers.

 

 

George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism

Nothing stimulates frankness like an imminent departure from politics.  From the deceptions, dissimulations and general obtuseness offered by the political craft, a person appointed to a diplomatic position can be reassured to lie in a different way.   Mendacity is less taxing and always more civil, away from the dirt and dust of political tussling.  Views can be expressed with more sophistication and, even occasionally, candour.

Senator George Brandis, Australia’s conservative Attorney-General, was one such creature.  A political beast given to punching holes in the law, he has been given a chance to pursue the Sylvan fields in London as Australian High Commissioner.  He will be suitable for this station, a period of easy living in London lubricated by the Australian tax payer.  As an ideological hard knocker in the Liberal Party, he has earned his stripes.

His valedictory speech to fellow parliamentarians should have created more waves than it did.  Australian journalists and commentators tend to nod off on such occasions.  A man without glamour, a product of the law, will never stir the heart.  But his words were worth noting on several levels.

Brandis has witnessed, during his tenure, a greater centralisation of security matters in the form of a Home Affairs ministry overseen by Peter Dutton, a ruffian immune to the finer points of jurisprudence.  In his farewell speech, thinly veiled swipes were taken against various figures of his own side of politics, notably those to the Right. Interestingly enough, Brandis was leaving as a self-described moderate, a champion of some holy middle ground.

Brandis noted what should be a common place assumption: that the attorney-general’s duty is to defend the rule of law, even “from political colleagues who fail to understand it, or are impatient of the limitations it may impose on upon executive power”.  The senator had not “disguised” his “concern at attacks upon the institutions of the law – the courts and those who practice them.  To attack those institutions is to attack the rule of law itself.”

His own awkward positioning as defender of the law and doyen of propriety doesn’t survive closer scrutiny.  He cites “several robust occasions” where he supposedly took issue with recalcitrant colleagues.  One such occasion was the stance taken on stripping those convicted of terrorism charges of sole Australian citizenship.  That decision would lie with the Immigration minister, a certain Dutton.

Despite backing the authoritarian suggestion, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott met resistance from cabinet colleagues.  Brandis is reputed to have said at one meeting concerning the draconian proposal that, as attorney-general, it was his “job to stand for the rule of law”.  But in all fairness, he was hardly a voice in the wilderness, keeping company with a host of other colleagues from foreign affairs to communications who voiced similar concerns.

It was under Brandis that a security regime suspicious of journalists and loathing of whistleblowers took further root.  Definitions on espionage were adjusted to supposedly keep pace with modern technology, and legislation effectively providing immunity for the commission of crimes by Australia’s intelligence services was passed despite Brandis expressly ruling out torture as a policy.

The National Security Amendment Act (No 1) 2014 jolted media professionals from their complacent slumber.  The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance duly issued a statement claiming that the legislation “overturns the public’s right to know.  It persecutes and prosecutes whistleblowers and journalists who are dealing with whistleblowers. It imposes ludicrous penalties of up to 10 years jail on journalists. It imposes outrageous surveillance on journalists and the computer networks of their media employers”.

The words of MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren furnish us a corrective to Brandis as defender and stalwart of rights.  “At a time when the parliament should be defending and promoting freedoms in our society it has instead chosen to strip them away.”  A figure suspicious of the activities of the Fourth Estate can hardly be counted as a friend of the rule of law.

For all his claimed loyalties to a profession he has supposedly cherished, to legal principles that he might have defended with zeal, Brandis’ achievements must be regarded as more modest.  In certain instances, he did genuine harm to the patchwork of Australian liberties and protections, all vulnerable to the dictates of parliament.

Educating Prime Minister Abbott about such fanciful notions as the rule of law would have been challenging, but less acceptable is the normalised state of security Australia finds itself.  Instead of halting it, the senator propelled it.  Courting the reassurances of the police state, in other words, proved to be a recurring feature of the Brandis era, notably under Abbott and Turnbull.  In some exceptional instances, it pays to keep the law away from lawyers.

 

 

Fearing Peace: Olympic Diplomacy in Action

Mike Pence was a man with a mission.  At stages through the opening parts of the Winter Olympics in South Korea, he looked like a man on a mission.  With diplomatic gestures flowering all around with weedy vigour in Pyeonchang, he was intent on fighting them.  The gardener of empire had his implements at the ready.

The US Vice-President had a brief: ignore, stall, and frustrate.  Most of all, be wary of being wooed.  “We’ll continue,” he warned on Thursday, “to seize every opportunity to ensure that North Korea does not use the powerful imagery and backdrop of the Olympics to paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons and conducting the kind of missile launches that are threatening our nation and threatening neighbours across the region.”

He proceeded to meet four North Korean defectors.  He had been in Japan announcing “the toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against Pyongyang yet, exhorting troops at Yokota Air Base to guard against “the rogue regime in North Korea”.  At the opening ceremony, he refused to engage with his North Korean counterparts.  That ice, at least for the moment, would remain in place.

The fact that progress is being made by both Koreas in a multi-decade conflict goes against the grain of US foreign policy. (Admittedly, this grain varies depending on mood, timing and person.)  Rather than expressing sighs of relief that the two Koreas, who ultimately are the only ones who matter in any final accord, are speaking, larger powers are poking around the corner.  They are the potential spoilers.

President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, could not resist noting the moment of symbolic unity.  The effect of both Koreas marching into the stadium under one flag hit the mark.  “All the athletes around me, all the spectators here in the stadium, and all Olympic fans watching around the world… we are all touched by this wonderful gesture.”

High jinks of sort would have been hard to avoid.  The North Korean cheer leaders, for instance, greeted athletes with a flag sporting the disputed islands of Dokdo.  (For Japan, these are known as Takeshima.)  This ribbing was cheekier given South Korea’s continued insistence on ownership. “This issue,” according to Dong-Joon Park and Danielle Chubb, “brings together all Koreans, no matter what their political inclination – a rare occurrence in a country that is itself deeply ideologically and politically divided.”

For all that, the most important niggler was that of division.  Soft power would be used to prise apart and isolate.  Would Seoul and Washington be separated, their warm, strategic relationship cooled by the seductive advances of Pyongyang?  And what of a persistently prickly Japan, locked, by virtue of security and circumstance, in an at times awkward alliance with South Korea and the United States?

Pyongyang has certainly been stocking up on its soft power inventories, disseminating them in short sharp bursts. Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, supplied an ample “spear” in the “charm offensive” by attending the opening ceremony.

North Korean pop singer Hyon Song-wol of Excellent Horse-like Lady fame had also been doing the rounds in the South to inspect the venue where the DPRK Samjiyon Orchestra would perform, prompting concerns that she might be a good disguise as a Trojan Horse.

Rather than seeing this as opportunity, some of the paladins in Washington fear a near hypnotic control being exerted by Pyongyang.  The DPRK agenda here is to retain a nuclear capability while also seeking closer ties with South Korea, all the time attempting to isolate the US. “North Korea,” suggested former South Korean vice foreign minister Kim Sung-han, “appears to be winning gold.”

In such an assessment, the DPRK “delegation and athletes are getting all the spotlight, and Kim Jong-un’s sister is showing elegant smiles before the South Korean public and the world.  Even for the moment, it appears to be a normal state.”

The Olympic moment was something of an intoxicated binge, a high point that could, in time, dissipate into depressed normality.  Former senior US diplomat Douglas Paal suggested how “tough” it was “not to get caught up in the emotions of an Olympics event”.

Another ally to be discomforted in this moment of diplomacy is Japan.  The fact that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, decided to grace Friday’s opening ceremony with his troubling presence raised the spectre of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.  (Some 470 abductions are said to have taken place between the 1960s and 1980s.)  He also proceeded to irritate his South Korean hosts by insisting that joint military drills with the US would resume immediately after the Olympics.

South Korea has, in turn, been attacked by various Japanese figures for being soft and sympathetic to their North Korean brethren. “South Korean President Moon Jae-in,” stressed Kazuhiro Araki, head of the Unidentified Persons Investigation Committee at the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea, “is pro-Pyongyang and he has used the Winter Olympics to protect North Korea from the pressure that was being applied by Japan and the US.”

The Korea Central News Agency was certainly attuned to the efforts of Japanese politicians to muddy waters.  “If Japan runs amok, defying our warnings,” went a release on January 26, “the Korean people will surely force Japan to pay a very high price for its crimes with their strong fists.”

As for Pence, North Korean soft power, at least behind the scenes, may have had its seductive effect.  From icy standoffishness at the ceremony, he would say aboard Air Force Two on Sunday that the United States would be open, despite the ongoing “maximum pressure” campaign, to talks without preconditions with Pyongyang.

There was the natural caveat, the now genetically programmed refrain. “The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step towards denuclearization.” Conditions, without preconditions, a muddled state of affairs that will not necessarily trouble the negotiating wing of the DPRK.

Barnaby Joyce, Sex and Finance

The insatiable appetite of Anglophone cultures for the prurient is of a different order to others.  But it is an appetite tinged by horror, squeamishness and concern.  Added to that such traditional markers, not to mention such markers as marriage, family and conservative values, and the whole thing becomes indigestible.

Australian politics is awash with only one story at the moment.  There are no grand schemes and visions, only the prospect of whether the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce did wrong by his family in impregnating a political staffer. (That now former staffer, Vikki Campion, is afforded various names in the relationship argot: partner, girlfriend, assistant, bun-in-oven carrier.)

The nature of this explosive interest, repeatedly advertised as a lack of interest (“we don’t have an interest in his private life”) has a tinny quality to it, largely given the general awareness amongst government members, staffers and the Canberra press gallery about Mr. Joyce’s extra-marital pursuits. The Daily Telegraph, needing copy to fill certain, generally vapid columns, decided to break the tacit consensus.  Where there is sex, there is hypocrisy.

Any “sex scandal” immediately triggers a discussion about how the political figure operates in public, and the world of private endeavour.  Aristotle famously suggested a division between political pursuit and household matters.  The French continue to maintain a somewhat artificial distinction between the two, deeming the transgression of the personal as separate from the political.  As with everything else, this is a matter of degree and weight.  Privacy can be used as an unwarranted cover for abuse.

Parallels have bitten.  The interminably present Michelle Grattan, who knows Canberra’s press gallery circles with a cloying intimacy, compares the Joyce-Campion affair with that of Jim Cairns’ and staffer Junie Morosi. The latter, taking place in the torrid years of the Whitlam government, was different, claims Grattan, because Morosi “was a political player, through her enormous influence on her boss.”

Of Joyce-Campion, Grattan offered a different reading. “No-one suggests Campion, who was deliberately transferred out of Joyce’s office nearly a year ago, was a political mover-and-shaker.”  But Joyce had been, Grattan could sense with razor sharp intuition, “more distracted and difficult, though his citizenship imbroglio was a factor too.”

These observations are, at best, trite.  The exertion of sexual influence can spill over into other realms.  If you gaze long enough at the sexualised politician, the bed hopping political operator, you are bound to see sex and office converge, even conflate.  Pillow talk is political talk; the affairs of the heart are also affairs of the next meeting, the next agenda, the next trip funded by the public purse.  Bedrooms are places of breeding of all sorts, conspiracies included.  The hatchet man or woman, keen to find a story on the linking of the two spheres of public office and private endeavour, is bound to find a link, however forced.

The focus of these revelations has shifted from the softly-softly dimension (respect for privacy; observance for boundaries) to hard political realities, notably those centred on finance.  The sexual, in other words, is becoming political.  Money is starting to talk.

This transformation is an example of political anthropology in action.  Limits are being tested, and these are dangerous to the political parties concerned.  It should be axiomatic that affairs between staffer and politician, often of the extra-marital sort, find form in a distant capital, away from family and domestic comfort.  Animal behaviour, and needs, press on relentlessly, a rage that requires satiation.  Ultimately, Joyce’s profile counts, soaring, albeit laboriously, over others.

The Nationals feel that their primary retail product in politics, one seemingly indestructible (Teflon coated against the gaffe; immune to punishment for such slips ups as his dual citizenship) has been soiled.  The Australian Labor Party smell the prospect of impropriety in terms of finances.  After all, the Australian Prime Minister keeps insisting on “jobs growth”, and Joyce may well have taken this to heart in encouraging colleagues to form a position (or positions) specifically for the future mother of his child.  These include one in the office of Resource Minister Matt Canavan and subsequent to that, the Nationals whip Damian Drum.

Deputy Labor leader, Tanya Plibersek, flagged something of a blueprint for what is to come to the ABC on Sunday.  “I don’t think [Joyce] needs to account for his personal behaviour, his relationships, to the public.”  But “the area of the expenditure of taxpayers’ funds” was a matter of “genuine public interest”, namely, whether jobs were specifically created for Campion, or whether there had been “the expenditure of taxpayer funds on travel.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, whose portfolio oversees the employment of political staff, is clearly asking everyone else to move on – there is nothing to see on that score.  Campion “is clearly somebody who is qualified to do the job and she was hired in certain positions based on merit and there’s nothing really further to add.”

The question on all lips, from press gallery hacks to the morally indignant, is whether Joyce will survive.  Crystal ball gazer and political tea leaf reader Niki Savva feels that the coffin is being readied for Joyce’s political career.  On the ABC’s Insiders program, Savva unequivocally claimed that “his career is over. Maybe not in the short term but certainly in the medium term.”  That, ultimately, will be a matter for the political apparatchiks who are now pouring over the squalid details.

Lauri Love, Hacking and Extradition

“Horse-trading determines who goes to jail and for how long.  That is what plea bargaining is.  It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.”

US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy (2012)

The February 5 decision of the British court refusing to permit the extradition of hactivist Lauri Love was more than an opinion. It was a reproach.  While a quiet confidence had been expressed that the decision would go his way, not permitting his extradition might also dint various trans-national security efforts.  Prosecutors were taking note.

Love had been accused of hacking into the systems of various US institutions: the FBI, NASA and the US Central Bank.  Such accusations were so grave as to endanger Love with a potential prison sentence of 99 years – provided the US authorities could convince the courts that extradition from the UK was warranted.

They were initially successful, convincing District Court Judge Tempia sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that any harm Love might suffer was conjectural.  Despite being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, antibiotic resistant eczema and major depression, not to mention finding that Love was a high suicide risk, the 2016 ruling favoured extradition.  Love’s appeal was heard on November 29-30 by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Mr Justice Ouseley.

US prosecutors do not take kindly to hactivists.  Aaron Schwartz, known for developing the RSS software undergirding the syndication of information on the Internet, remains one of the most notable, and tragic, casualties in this instance. What he faced was a weapon commonly used in such instances, the brutally all capturing Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.  His alleged crime was to have enabled free access to an academic website, JSTOR through the MIT computer network.  This anti-capitalist sin meant a possible fine of up to $1 million with a princely jail term of 35 years. Schwartz preferred suicide.

Supporters of Love preferred to focus on keeping the trial local, citing the case of Gary McKinnon, who was also pursued for computer hacking offences.  Attempts to seek McKinnon’s extradition failed due to the refusal by the then Home Secretary and current UK Prime Minister Theresa May, to do so.

“After careful consideration of all the relevant material,” May explained in October 2012, “I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite him would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.”  In light of that case, vulnerable defendants can make the claim for a forum bar, thereby preventing the extradition from going through in cases where it “would not be in the interests of justice”.

With all that said, adding the “forum bar” to the UK Extradition Act 2003 in 2013 did not alter the reluctance on the part of judges to prevent extradition requests on grounds of forum.  Prosecutorial wisdom, it seemed, was to be respected. They, the assumption went, would have a deeper sense of the facts.

Central to the entire process was the possibility that Love would, in reaching the United States, even have access to a fair trial.  Would he, for instance, be fit to plead?  The pre-trial detention facilities at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, located in Manhattan, or the Metropolitan Detention Centre at Brooklyn were cited as inadequate in supplying mental health care.  This was even more significant given that Love has been found to be a suicide risk.

A crucial factor in the Love case was the absence of the prosecutor’s belief as to whether the United Kingdom was not the most appropriate forum to try the defendant.  Previous decisions had essentially deemed this a neutral matter.  As the High Court explained in Shaw v Government of the United States of America [2014] EWHC 4654 (Admin), “The judge has to ask whether there is a belief; but if there is not, then he cannot have any further ‘regard’ to this factor.”

The judges in Love’s case effectively repudiated this approach, claiming that the absence of prosecutorial belief on the subject of the appropriate forum was a more than telling factor in considering extradition.  Such “silence is a factor which tells in favour of the forum bar”.

The utterance sent legal analysts into a spin of speculation.  The absence of a prosecutor’s belief regarding the appropriateness of forum had certainly been a common practice.  The decision in Love, claimed Ben Lloyd, suggested that prosecutors had to show greater diligence in making their claim for extradition, certifying, for instance, that the UK was not appropriate. The lack of involvement of a domestic prosecutor, for instance, “could be taken as a factor in favour of the operation of the forum bar” (§34).

The judges did not stop there.  The lower court had, in their view, erred in not accepting the seriousness of the material supplied by Professor Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry.  According to that medical assessment, Love’s custody in the United States would be crippling.  “His ability to cope with the proceedings in the trial, to make rational decisions, and to give evidence in a satisfactory manner would be severely compromised.”

In the words of the judges,  “it is clear from the rest of his evidence that severely worsening depression, with the possible onset of psychotic imagery was exactly what Professor Kopelman anticipated” (§31). Such factors were more than mere conjectures.

Love also had a demonstrable connection to family and home.  “His entire wellbeing is bound with the presence of his parents.  This may now have been enhanced by the support of his girlfriend.  The significance of breaking those connections… demonstrates their strength” (§43).

Having been foiled in both the McKinnon case and that of Love, US prosecutors will have to identify different routes when nabbing their quarry.  Hacktivists weighed down by the baggage of mental health will prove a particularly difficult proposition.  The greatest challenge remains: convincing British judges of the suitability of a judicial forum beset by decline and ruin.

 

Lauri Love: Hacking and Extradition

Horse-trading determines who goes to jail and for how long.  That is what plea bargaining is.  It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.

— US Supreme Court Justice Kennedy (2012)

The February 5 decision of the British court refusing to permit the extradition of hactivist Lauri Love was more than an opinion. It was a reproach.  While a quiet confidence had been expressed that the decision would go his way, not permitting his extradition might also dint various trans-national security efforts.  Prosecutors were taking note.

Love had been accused of hacking into the systems of various US institutions: the FBI, NASA and the US Central Bank.  Such accusations were so grave as to endanger Love with a potential prison sentence of 99 years – provided the US authorities could convince the courts that extradition from the UK was warranted.

They were initially successful, convincing District Court Judge Tempia sitting at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that any harm Love might suffer was conjectural.  Despite being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, antibiotic resistant eczema and major depression, not to mention finding that Love was a high suicide risk, the 2016 ruling favoured extradition.  Love’s appeal was heard on November 29-30 by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Mr Justice Ouseley.

US prosecutors do not take kindly to hactivists.  Aaron Schwartz, known for developing the RSS software undergirding the syndication of information on the Internet, remains one of the most notable, and tragic, casualties in this instance. What he faced was a weapon commonly used in such instances, the brutally all capturing Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.  His alleged crime was to have enabled free access to an academic website, JSTOR through the MIT computer network.  This anti-capitalist sin meant a possible fine of up to $1 million with a princely jail term of 35 years. Schwartz preferred suicide.

Supporters of Love preferred to focus on keeping the trial local, citing the case of Gary McKinnon, who was also pursued for computer hacking offences.  Attempts to seek McKinnon’s extradition failed due to the refusal by the then Home Secretary and current UK Prime Minister Theresa May, to do so.

“After careful consideration of all the relevant material,” May explained in October 2012, “I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite him would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.”  In light of that case, vulnerable defendants can make the claim for a forum bar, thereby preventing the extradition from going through in cases where it “would not be in the interests of justice”.

With all that said, adding the “forum bar” to the UK Extradition Act 2003 in 2013 did not alter the reluctance on the part of judges to prevent extradition requests on grounds of forum.  Prosecutorial wisdom, it seemed, was to be respected. They, the assumption went, would have a deeper sense of the facts.

Central to the entire process was the possibility that Love would, in reaching the United States, even have access to a fair trial.  Would he, for instance, be fit to plead?  The pre-trial detention facilities at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, located in Manhattan, or the Metropolitan Detention Centre at Brooklyn were cited as inadequate in supplying mental health care.  This was even more significant given that Love has been found to be a suicide risk.

A crucial factor in the Love case was the absence of the prosecutor’s belief as to whether the United Kingdom was not the most appropriate forum to try the defendant.  Previous decisions had essentially deemed this a neutral matter.  As the High Court explained in Shaw v Government of the United States of America [2014] EWHC 4654 (Admin), “The judge has to ask whether there is a belief; but if there is not, then he cannot have any further ‘regard’ to this factor.”

The judges in Love’s case effectively repudiated this approach, claiming that the absence of prosecutorial belief on the subject of the appropriate forum was a more than telling factor in considering extradition.  Such “silence is a factor which tells in favour of the forum bar”.

The utterance sent legal analysts into a spin of speculation.  The absence of a prosecutor’s belief regarding the appropriateness of forum had certainly been a common practice.  The decision in Love, claimed Ben Lloyd, suggested that prosecutors had to show greater diligence in making their claim for extradition, certifying, for instance, that the UK was not appropriate. The lack of involvement of a domestic prosecutor, for instance, “could be taken as a factor in favour of the operation of the forum bar” (§34).

The judges did not stop there.  The lower court had, in their view, erred in not accepting the seriousness of the material supplied by Professor Kopelman, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry. According to that medical assessment, Love’s custody in the United States would be crippling.  “His ability to cope with the proceedings in the trial, to make rational decisions, and to give evidence in a satisfactory manner would be severely compromised.”

In the words of the judges,  “it is clear from the rest of his evidence that severely worsening depression, with the possible onset of psychotic imagery was exactly what Professor Kopelman anticipated” (§31). Such factors were more than mere conjectures.

Love also had a demonstrable connection to family and home.  “His entire wellbeing is bound with the presence of his parents.  This may now have been enhanced by the support of his girlfriend.  The significance of breaking those connections… demonstrates their strength” (§43).

Having been foiled in both the McKinnon case and that of Love, US prosecutors will have to identify different routes when nabbing their quarry.  Hacktivists weighed down by the baggage of mental health will prove a particularly difficult proposition.  The greatest challenge remains: convincing British judges of the suitability of a judicial forum beset by decline and ruin.