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article imageOp-Ed: Is the NSA spying on Amazon?

By Alexander Baron     Jun 25, 2013 in Politics
Four years ago, the Association of Chief Police Officers set up a project to protect "vulnerable people" from being drawn into terrorism. This appears to involve spying on their online purchases.
There can be no doubt that such vulnerable people exist. Probably the classic examples are Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, and white convert to Islamism Mohamed Abdulaziz Rashid Saeed-Alim. Reid is now behind bars in an American supermax prison, and will never be released. The former Nicky Reilly is likely to be released at some point, but he shouldn't count on it.
Both these men were radicalised by so-called clerics of hate, Reilly over the Internet by people he had never met; Reid is an even sadder case, obviously none too bright, he drifted into a life of petty crime, and converted to Islam in prison. On his release, he was targeted by someone, probably in the London area, funds were provided to send him to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he was brainwashed into believing the world would be a better place if he exploded a bomb on an aircraft killing all aboard, including himself.
Realising that Al-Qaeda's hatemongers would continue to recruit disenchanted young men like Reid and Reilly as cannon fodder in their war against the decadent West, many agencies inside and outside of government have set up both monitoring and educational projects.
Four years ago, the Association of Chief Police Officers published this document which explains the Channel project.
"Channel is not about reporting or informing on individuals in order to prosecute them. It is about communities working together to support vulnerable people at an early stage, preventing them from being drawn into violent extremism."
Yeah, right, but precisely what does this supporting vulnerable people at an early stage actually entail? How about vetting their reading material?
The following is based on an e-mail, which must necessarily remain confidential, but it seems that if a British citizen purchases certain books or related literature on-line, he or she can be so targeted. Last week, a man from the Greater London area received a phone call from a detective who told him he was he was the subject of a "non-criminal police investigation" regarding his political views and activities.
The recipient of this phone call has good reason to believe it was triggered because he bought a specific book on Amazon. That book is The Brigade by Harold A. Covington.
It is well known that the police and other authorities monitor social media and the Internet generally, but as this is a public forum, they can hardly be accused of spying.
Monitoring the ordering books or anything else on-line is a different matter, including your credit/debit card details. To obtain this information without warrant is clearly illegal.
If you are not familiar with The Brigade, you can read it for free at the Internet Archive where to date it has been downloaded over 3,000 times, which begs the question why were its purchasers flagged on Amazon? As surely they were and are.
For all his many faults, Harold Covington is no Islamist, although like most of his fellow Americans he is totally opposed to the war on terror, and for someone so emphatically right wing he has some curiously Libertarian ideas, like the abolition of both ID cards and driving licences.
So where does the NSA fit into all this? In spite of Foreign Secretary William Hague's recent emphatic denials, it is both well known and well documented that the NSA spies illegally on all UK electronic communications. Useful information thus extracted is then passed to the UK authorities, who can then claim - truthfully after a fashion - that they have not intercepted communications themselves illegally.
This sort of blanket surveillance predates the Internet by a long way. For example, in the 1970s, the British authorities bugged phone calls from every single call box in a certain area or London during an IRA bombing campaign. It is true though not widely known that in the UK, every telephone call made from a public kiosk is logged for time and date, destination and duration. This material is archived, and is normally unavailable, but rest assured it is there for the police and other authorities, with or without warrant.
The 1995 film Se7en in which Kevin Spacey plays a particularly odious serial killer, sheds light on another way in which the authorities keep tabs on us, all of us. Here, the bad guy is traced by the good guys going through library records until they find a borrower who has been checking out books on the seven deadly sins. If you believe this was dreamed up by the scriptwriters, dream on. Anyone ordering certain books, visiting certain websites, ordering large quantities of certain chemicals, or showing more than a passing interest in certain subjects will be the target of such scrutiny, on-line and in the real world, by the NSA and other agencies of domestic and/or international law enforcement worldwide.
According to the NSA, their illegal mass surveillance has led to the disruption of dozens of terrorist plots. This is wishful thinking in the extreme. In spite of the continuing but diminishing claims of the lunatic fringe, 9/11 took the American authorities completely by surprise, as did 7/7 the UK authorities, as have many other plots between and since. The most recent convictions in a UK terror case resulted from a routine police stop, and that was only because the conspirators were so dumb as to use an uninsured vehicle.
In spite of this, you can rest assured that if you take more than a passing interest in the historical novels of Wicked Harold, the Internet sermons of Anwar Al Awlaki, or the misnamed animal rights movement, they will be watching you too, in fact they probably are already.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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