WikiLeaks Performs Valuable Service By Liberating Key Documents from Lesser-Known But Still Major Trade Deal

WikiLeaks TISA graphic

In the past two days, WikiLeaks has released drafts from a lesser-known trade agreement being negotiated between 52 nations called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The publication comes just before the next round of negotiations, which will begin on July 6.

The “Core Text” of TISA, as well as chapters from negotiations on “Electronic Commerce,” “Telecommunications Services,” “Financial Services,” and “Maritime Transport Services,” were published.

WikiLeaks describes the “Core Text” of the agreement that they released from the “largest ‘trade deal’ in history” a “modern journalistic holy grail.” The media organization is not exaggerating.

Edward Alden, who used to be a reporter for the newsletter Inside US Trade, wrote in a post for the Council on Foreign Relations that WikiLeaks’ sources are “impressive.” Alden recalled how he worked in the “pre-digital age” to “encourage leaks of trade negotiating positions. “But, with the exception of the Clinton administration’s proposal for the NAFTA labor and environmental side agreements in 1993, we rarely got our hands on the texts themselves.”

In a time when corporations are being aided by governments, which are negotiating sweeping trade deals like TISA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with complete secrecy, WikiLeaks has ensured that governments do not finish negotiations without the public having some idea about this conspiracy unfolded behind closed doors.

Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke previously described TISA as an agreement that “would encompass all service sectors and modes of supply and impose a high standard for liberalization.” By liberalization, Punke means deregulation.

Quite aggressively TISA seeks to establishes rules that would tie the hands of TISA governments, preventing them from being able to craft their own regulations to protect people from exploitation by businesses or corporations. And, the very rules, which have been adopted since the 2008 economic crisis, to protect against future financial meltdowns would likely come under attack as a result of this trade deal.

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch put together an analysis [PDF] of the “Financial Services” chapter and found sweeping rules for “market access,” which “would expose governments to legal challenges before extrajudicial tribunals for banning risky financial services or products, such as the complex derivatives that fueled the financial crisis. The same rule threatens proposals to limit the size of banks so that they do not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Yet another rule opening up the world to financial risk would challenge policies, which prevent banks from being able to “hold consumers’ deposits from engaging in hedge-fund-style trading of high-risk securities.” It would be prohibited to restrict “financial inflows—used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems—and financial outflows, used to prevent suddent capital flight in times of crisis.”

“Despite increasing concerns about data privacy, sparked by revelations of the US National Security Agency’s dragnet spying, TISA would require that financial firms be permitted to transfer consumers’ personal financial data overseas, where it could be exposed to unwanted surveillance,” Beachy warns.

In some instances, TISA countries may have to roll back regulations if they were inhibiting the business of a foreign firm. (more…)

Legal Organization Representing WikiLeaks Submits Report for UN Official’s Review of Whistleblower Protections

CCR Logo
Center for Constitutional Rights Logo

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a legal organization based in New York which represents WikiLeaks and its editor-in chief Julian Assange, has submitted a report to help United Nations Special Rapporteur David Kaye complete his review on the global issue of whistleblowers and the protection of sources.

Kaye serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The review addresses how human rights law should protect journalists from having to disclose their sources and how whistleblowers are or are not protected, especially after exposing human rights violations, corruption or other abuses.

Part of the review includes a kind of survey of all governments in the world asking them how journalists are protected from being compelled to reveal sources and how whistleblowers are afforded protections. It also asked for non-governmental organizations to share their views and studies.

CCR is uniquely positioned to provide insights, given that it represents a media organization which has endured an ongoing and unprecedented investigation by the United States government into the publication of documents provided by US military whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

The legal organization asserts in its submission [PDF], “States have an obligation to protect whistleblowers, a vulnerable group that faces systematic stigmatization as a result of exercising fundamental rights to access and obtain information.”

State governments also “have a positive obligation to promote freedom of expression through cyber laws, and must not use technical violations to punish whistleblowers,” CCR argues.

“There is a serious risk that cyber laws will displace secrecy laws as a tool to prosecute whistleblowers on basis of their activities accessing and obtaining information. In the United States, the cases of Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and WikiLeaks reveal the application of “unauthorized access” computer laws to punish whistleblowers and publishers.”

The legal organization adds, “Today significant amounts of access to information, particularly by whistleblowers, is enabled by computers. Whistleblowers must not be punished for using a computer to blow the whistle. Cyber laws sanctioning whistleblowers or sources who already have access to computers, purely based on their intent to blow the whistle, raise serious problems for freedom of expression.”

The US government has prosecuted whistleblowers for violating the Espionage Act and disseminating information. In these cases, the intent of the whistleblower does not matter to prosecutors and judges. What matters is that a secrecy agreement was breached.

CCR kept close watch as the court-martial of Manning unfolded, even bringing a lawsuit on behalf of media organizations and journalists (including this one) to force the US military to be more transparent and make court-martial records available to the press. It struggled against secrecy, but one military court denied a request for relief, a military appeals court claimed to lack jurisdiction, and a federal court refused to hear the case. Finally, the military decided to start publishing documents to an online “reading room” that the press and public could access.

As an example of how whistleblowers are vulnerable to abuse, CCR recalls how UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez decided “Manning was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in pretrial custody.”

Manning wrote about her time in pretrial detention in Kuwait:

“At the very lowest point, I contemplated castrating myself, and even – in what seemed a pointless and tragicomic exercise, given the physical impossibility of having nothing stable to hang from – contemplated suicide with a tattered blanket, which I tried to choke myself with,” she recounted for The Guardian. (more…)

The Saudi Cables: Revelations from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Sudan & Egypt

wlogo-smWikiLeaks announced it would publish half a million cables and other documents from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry last week. It released nearly 70,000 files, which the organization’s publisher Julian Assange said would “lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship.”

The files, in Arabic, have mostly received a minimal amount attention in the United States press. However, multiple independent journalists around the world have been translating the documents to uncover revelations.

Ali Hadi Al-Musawi, who blogs at 1001 Iraqi Thoughts, sifted through the files for important documents on Saudi Arabia’s influence in Iraq.

“A quick scan of the available documents that relate to Iraq reveal three consistent approaches adopted by the Kingdom in an effort to extend its influence in the country,” Al-Musawi wrote. “Financial and political support for Sunni Arab tribes, politicians, and Kurdish actors that are willing to undermine the central government in Baghdad; close communication with Baath Party officers, financial support, and political asylum for families of high-ranking former officials; and regional diplomatic efforts aimed at undermining the sovereign legitimacy of the Iraqi state.”

Significantly, Al-Musawi called attention to a “three-stage plan” proposed by Saudi Arabia to “co-opt” Sunni Arab tribes and Iraqi politicians.

“The stated goal is to undermine the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki and nurture assets that are sympathetic to Saudi Arabia’s policies in Iraq,” Al-Musawi reported. “The cable recommends close coordination between the Kingdom’s foreign ministry and intelligence agency, and suggests inviting co-opted Iraqis on a regular basis to the Kingdom in order to ‘strengthen relations and exchange views and information.'”

A group of anonymous individuals in Yemen are examining the documents for revelations about Saudi Arabia and their country. The group uncovered a cable that shows the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs order the “transfer of $100,000″ to the Saudi mission to the United Nations for a “campaign” to win a seat on the Human Rights Council.

One memo marked “highly confidential and urgent” from Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal and addressed to the Crown Prince suggests the war being waged in Yemen may have something to do with an oil pipeline to the Yemen coast. It referred to a special Saudi commission’s effort to find a naval port for the Kingdom in the Arabian sea through Oman or Yemen. The commission was “made up of senior level members from the Ministries of Interior, defense, foreign affairs, finance, oil and mineral resources, transportation, economy and planning, as well as the presidency of the General Intelligence.” (more…)

WikiLeaks Releases Section of Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement That Would Affect Health Care

WikiLeaks TPP Healthcare Annex GraphicWikiLeaks has released a draft of an annex of a secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would likely enable pharmaceutical companies to fight the ability of participating governments to control the rise of drug prices. It would empower companies to mount challenges to Medicare in the United States.

For a number of years, the US and eleven other countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—have been negotiating proposals for the TPP. Drafts previously released by WikiLeaks have shown that the US has been the most extreme negotiator in the process.

“This leak reveals that the Obama administration, acting at the behest of pharmaceutical companies, has subjected Medicare to a series of procedural rules, negotiated in secret, that would limit Congress’ ability to enact policy reforms that would reduce prescription drug costs for Americans – and might even open to challenge aspects of our health care system today,” according to Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.

Public Citizen is a watchdog group that has been at the forefront of challenging the TPP in the US.

The annex, which is dated December 17, 2014, expressly names the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as being covered by the trade agreement.

The watchdog group contends that the language could affect the ability of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue pharmaceutical reform and “negotiate the price of prescription drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.”

“Vital to this reform would be the establishment of a national formulary, which would provide the government with substantial leverage to obtain discounts,” Public Citizen suggests. Yet, if the TPP is adopted, this “formulary” would be subject to the agreement’s requirements, which would “pose significant administrative costs, enshrine greater pharmaceutical company influence in government reimbursement decision-making and reduce the capability of the government to negotiate lower prices.”

The Senate already approved “fast track” legislation that would give President Obama “trade promotion authority” to send the TPP to Congress for a vote. The House of Representatives will vote on “fast track” this week (as early as June 11).

The Obama administration has been highly secretive, requiring senators and their staffers to have security clearances to read the drafted TPP.

Senator Barbara Boxer was confronted by a guard who told her she could not “take notes” on the trade agreement. The guard insisted the notes would be kept in a file, which made Boxer even more outraged. (What would stop the Obama administration from using such notes to maneuver around the objections of members of Congress?) (more…)

Elites Abandoned Their Stance Against Leaks to Help Save Petraeus from Suffering in Jail

When David Petraeus faced a potential jail sentence for leaking classified information to his biographer, an array of corporate, military and political elites wrote letters to a federal judge requesting leniency. A number of those people were individuals who have called for leak prosecutions and have used their power to spread fear about the dangers of national security leaks.

The former CIA director and military general improperly possessed “Black Books” containing the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and other classified information, including notes from his discussions with President Barack Obama. He provided Paul Broadwell access to these books after she asked to use them as source material. He even lied to FBI special agents about leaking to his biographer and lied on a CIA “security exit form.”

However, despite the fact that the Obama administration has aggressively prosecuted others for similar conduct, the government did not seek any jail time for Petraeus. The judge sentenced Petraeus to two years of probation and fined him $100,000. Perhaps, this was the result of pressure from Petraeus’ powerful friends.

Thirty-four letters written to Judge David C. Keesler and originally filed under seal were released on Monday. It was the result of a lawsuit led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Letters were written by Tom Donilon, former Obama national security adviser, William McRaven, former commander of US Special Operations Command, Stephen Hadley, former assistant to the president for national security affairs under George W. Bush, Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Lindsey Graham and former Senator Joe Lieberman.

Graham and Lieberman refrained from commenting on what Petraeus did. Yet, Graham has previously accused the Obama administration of leaking details of classified operations to make the president “look good.” Lieberman introduced the SHIELD Act when he was a senator, an unconstitutional law that would have given the government more power to crack down on leaks.

Feinstein has fought for more criminal investigations into unauthorized disclosures and suggested NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden committed “treason.” She wrote, “As the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a senior commanding officer of the US Army, he understands the importance of protecting classified information. This past experience makes him regret even more deeply his conduct in this matter.”

McRaven said during the Aspen Security Forum in 2012:

…[W]e’re never happy when leaks occur, obviously. I mean, we go to great lengths to protect our national security. Very great lengths to protect our sources and methods. So all of that, we guard very carefully. Unfortunately, not everybody guards that very carefully.

And I think what you’ve seen is the secretary and the president and Capitol Hill are taking these leaks very, very seriously, as they should, and we need to do the best we can to clamp down on it. Because sooner or later, it is going to cost people their lives, or it’s going to cost us our national security.

However, there was apparently no need to clamp down on Petraeus because, as McRaven put it, “Few, if any Generals I know, and I know a lot of them, gave as much, did as much or accomplished as much as Dave Petraeus.” (more…)