Critical thinking


In November last year, Ben Hayes of Statewatch provided written and oral testimony to the London session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The Tribunal heard how the EU is providing research grants to Israeli military and security companies that may be complicit in Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

See the following pages for more information:

- Written evidence submitted to the London session (see page 101)
Video proceedings of the London session
– Findings of the London session

You can watch Ben Hayes’ oral testimony by clicking on the link below.

The Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) industry has grown rapidly over the past decade. Private companies and state agencies are now collecting and analysing “publicly available” data on a vast scale.

This article by Ben Hayes, published in the Statewatch Journal last year, looks at the evolution, theory and practice of OSINT; its use by police and security agencies; the rapidly developing OSINT industry; the blurring of the boundaries between OSINT and covert surveillance; and the embrace of OSINT by the EU.

The full article is available here (pdf). It concludes:

Writing recently in the Guardian, Professor John Naughton observed:

[T]he internet is the nearest thing to a perfect surveillance machine the world has ever seen. Everything you do on the net is logged – every email you send, every website you visit, every file you download, every search you conduct is recorded and filed somewhere, either on the servers of your internet service provider or of the cloud services that you access. As a tool for a totalitarian government interested in the behaviour, social activities and thought-process of its subjects, the internet is just about perfect.

The present threat to civil liberties, however, comes neither from the internet nor totalitarian governments, but from a neo-McCarthyite witchhunt for “terrorists” and “radicals”, and a private security industry bent on developing the “perfect surveillance” tools to find them. For all the concern about Facebook’s privacy policy, that company is no more responsible for its users’ wishes to ‘broadcast themselves’ than travel agents are for tourism. Of course Facebook should offer maximum privacy protection for its users, but those of us concerned with freedom and democracy need to see the bigger picture in terms of who is doing the watching, how, and why. We must then develop the tools and communities needed to bring them under democratic control.

A study commissioned by the European Parliament’s ‘Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs’ policy department has produced a damning indictment of the European Security Research Programme (ESRP), reiterating and confirming many of the findings in Statewatch and TNI’s earlier Neoconopticon report.

The key findings of the European Parliament study are:
  • With regard to the “public-private dialogue”: EU security research and development activities have been mainly driven by a concern to bring together representatives from the ministries of Defence and Interior of the Member States and Associate countries, and representatives of major companies from the defence and security industries. In the process, representatives from civil society and parliamentarians, as well as bodies and organisations in charge of civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, including data protection authorities and fundamental rights bodies, have been largely sidestepped. The outcome of this process is a dialogue that is limited in its scope, addressing security research through the concerns of security agencies and services and the industry, without taking into account the requirements flowing from the EU’s internal area of freedom.
  • With regard to security research undertaken in the framework of FP7-Security theme: an overview of current security research projects sponsored through FP7 show an unequal distribution of funding, which is concentrated on a small number of participating countries and a small number of organisations, mostly major defence and security companies and applied research institutions. In addition, a large proportion of these projects is dedicated to developing technologies of surveillance, to the detriment of a broader reflection on the impact of such technologies for citizens and persons concerned with the EU’s security policies.
  • With regard to future developments in the field of security research in the EU: plans for the future development of EU-level security research, including the European Research and Innovation Agenda recently proposed by ESRIF, do not fundamentally challenge the abovementioned trends. While these proposals indicate a growing awareness for questions of fundamental freedoms and rights, they remain overly framed by the concerns of the defence and security industry and national and European security agencies and services.

The study also contains updated information about the extent of arms industry involvement in FP7 (see pages 23-24 of the report, link below), confirming that “it is mostly large defence companies, the very same who have participated in the definition of EU-sponsored security research which are the main beneficiaries of FP7-ST funds”. The report analysed 91 FP7 projects, worth a total of €443,2 million, and found that “companies such as the Thales group are involved in roughly one third of the projects (27), representing more than half the FP7-ST (57%) in terms of projects’ total worth (€ 253.8 million)”.

The study recommends that a comprehensive evaluation of EU-funded security research and development to date should be conducted before any decision on future funding for security research in FP8 is taken. Four options for such a review are set out:

i) an accounts and budgetary evaluation through the European Court of Auditors;

ii) a data-protection and privacy evaluation conducted by the EDPS and/or the Art.29 Working Party;

iii) a fundamental rights and freedoms assessment conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights agency;

iv) a full-spectrum evaluation conducted under the auspices of the European Parliament’s STOA unit.

Given the fundamental conflict of interests at the heart of the security research programme (in which multinational defence corporations have been able to set the research agenda and secure the lion’s share of the available funding), a review by the Court of Auditors would be most welcome. Given the limited mandates of the EDPS and FRA, however, any further review should only be conducted in the much broader STOA framework.

The study also recommends a transfer of competence for EU security research from DG Enterprise to DG Research and the “earmarking [of] a certain amount of future funds to be dedicated to security research for projects in the field of fundamental freedoms and rights (10-15%)”.

Although transferring the ESRP to DG Research would be a most welcome initiative, it seems implausible given that one of the programme’s central objectives is “industrial competitiveness” – in other words developing a globally competitive European Homeland Security industry. The second recommendation, increased funding for rights and freedoms-based research, is much more likely to happen. The question we should be asking, however, is whether this can somehow ‘offset’ or ‘human-rights proof’ the kind of security envisaged by the security-industrial complex.

What is needed more than anything in FP8 is a fundamental realignment of priorities for the entire security research programme. It is time that MEPs paid due regard to the growing body of evidence before them.

The European Parliament study, “Review of security measures in the Research Framework Programme”, is available here.

Article by Dave Cronin for IPS, quoting Ben Hayes of Statewatch, reproduced in full.

Arms traders are seeking to convince the European Union that publicly-funded scientific research grants should help develop weapons for future wars.

In a series of secret discussions, Brussels officials and representatives of the arms industry are examining if the EU’s multi-billion euro “framework programme” for research can be used for projects of a military nature.

Since the Sep. 11 attacks in Washington and New York, senior policy-makers in the European Commission, the EU’s executive wing, have been eager to ensure a greater involvement of arms manufacturers in the programme. Yet because of the reluctance of some EU governments to give the Commission a greater say in military matters, the scope of “security research” has so far been limited to projects that, according to EU officials, can be categorised as “civilian” and “non-lethal”.

About 1.4 billion euros (1.85 billion dollars) have been allocated to the “security” theme of the current framework programme, which runs from 2007 to 2013 and has an overall budget of 53 billion euros. With planning already under way for the next phase of the programme – from 2014 to 2020 – the arms industry is pushing for projects of a more explicit military nature to be funded.

Many arms industry lobbyists view the research programme as an important source of money at a time when military expenditure is being reduced throughout Europe. While the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) advocates that its members should devote at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to the military, France, Greece and Britain are the only EU countries that have met that target.

The secret talks on how science grants may aid the military are being organised by a network called SANDERA (Security and Defence policies in the European Research Area).

Burkhard Theile, a German arms industry lobbyist who is joning the talks, said he wishes to see EU research grants being used for developing new pilotless drones (also known as unmanned air vehicles, UAVs). Such weapons were used extensively by Israel to kill and injure civilians in Gaza during 2008 and 2009. They are also being used by the U.S. in carrying out extrajudicial executions – which frequently result in civilian deaths – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen.

“UAVs have both civilian and military uses and they should be funded by the Union,” Theile told IPS. “They can equally be used for border patrol or for missions like the one we have in Afghanistan.” Formerly a vice-president of Rheinmetall, a maker of tanks and warplanes, Theile now runs his own consulting firm for the arms trade.

Andrew James, a lecturer in Manchester Business School and coordinator of Sandera, acknowledged that giving the European Commission a greater say in scientific research may encounter resistance from EU governments. He said: “A number of powerful and influential stakeholders in Brussels and beyond would like to see defence in some form take funding more broadly than it does at the moment, not least because defence spending among (EU) member states is obviously declining. This is politically controversial. Not all member states would be comfortable to see the Commission getting involved in defence research.”

Rather than being financed as a “security” project, the work of Sandera is covered by the section of the EU’s research programme reserved for social science and humanities.

Academics from the Free University in Berlin have expressed concern that the research programme is focusing less on issues of a genuinely social nature. A paper drawn up by Tanja Boerzel, a professor at the university, laments how EU-financed social science projects are often driven by the interests of private companies. Although about half of all academic staff at leading European universities work in social sciences, only 2 percent of the EU’s research programme is allocated to this field, the paper says.

Ben Hayes, a campaigner with the civil liberties organisation Statewatch, argued that the research programme should concentrate more on social than on military issues. “There is a huge conflict of interest in allowing the military and security lobby to set the research agenda, to be able to define the priorities and then to apply for the funding on offer,” he said. “They are developing their wares with taxpayers’ money and then selling them back to the state. This is a hugely misdirected allocation of taxpayers’ money and scarce resources.”

Mark English, the European Commission’s spokesman on science, said that the EU executive expects to increase the amount of grants given to social research from 84 million euros next year to almost 111 million euros in 2013. He also denied that there are discussions taking place about using EU grants for military purposes.

But a study published in October by the European Parliament, the EU’s only directly elected institution, concluded that the arms industry is already adept at drawing down funds from the Union’s budget. The report said that it is “mostly large defence companies, the very same who have participated in the definition of EU-sponsored security research which are the main beneficiaries.” The leading recipients of these grants to date include Verint, an Israeli maker of surveillance equipment, and the German and French firms Fraunhofer and Thales.

Although Israel is not formally a member of the European Union, it has been a participant in the EU’s science activities since the 1990s. A recent paper by the Quaker Council on European Affairs noted that Israel “appears to be standing out” in its ability to receive funding earmarked for security research. The Quakers expressed concern about how companies that have supplied weapons used against Palestinians and provided services to illegal settlements in the West Bank are among the recipients of EU research grants. The report said: “Israeli industries that profit from the occupation in Palestine should not be eligible to apply for EU funding.”

The original text of this article can be found here.

Statewatch and TNI’s “Neoconopticon” report has now been downloaded more than 200,000 times from www.statewatch.org.

This figure does not include downloads from TNI or other websites hosting the document.

The Quaker Council for European Affairs has published a briefing paper on “Security Co-operation between the EU and Israel” (pdf) – a topic that features regularly on this blog (see Israel posts).

The report makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Dual use technology, security and military research should be clearly separated from the other research areas. Industries working in the military sector should not have access to other research funds.
  • Israeli industries that profit from the occupation in Palestine should not be eligible to apply for EU funding. Israel is able to control the Palestinian territories thanks to its military supremacy which depends on the hardware and software provided by its homeland security.
  • Cut the funds for unmanned vehicles. UAV are currently banned in the European skies because of possible dangers to regular air traffic. Furthermore Israeli UAVs have been used indiscriminately against civilians during the Gaza War and therefore the EU should not subsidise Israeli UAV producers.

Ben Hayes of Statewatch will be giving evidence on EU subsidies for Israeli Homeland Security companies to the London session of the Russel Tribunal on Palestine on the 21st November 2010.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, which organised the recent “Drone Wars” conference in London,  has published a briefing on the rise of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, in armed conflict.

It raises a number of serious concerns about the introduction of armed drones into modern warfare, including high levels of civilian casualties, the use of drones in targeted killings and the idea of a ‘Playstation Mentality’ whereby the geographical and psychological distance between the drone operator and target lowers the threshold for launching an attack.

The Drone Wars conference brought together over 80 academics, peace activists, and concerned citizens. Delegates took part in a range of talks and workshops aiming to find practical ways of challenging this new, lethal, robotic technology that is being brought in with very little public debate.

Convenient Killing: Armed Drones and the ‘Playstation Mentality’ [PDF, 1.3MB]

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