CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says

CIA’s use of harsh interrogation went beyond legal authority, Senate report says

By Ali Watkins, Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor
April 11, 2014

— A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

The 6,300-page report is the culmination of a four-year, $40 million investigation into the detention and interrogation program by the Democrat-led committee. A final draft was approved in December 2012, but it has undergone revisions. The panel voted 11-3 on April 3 to send the report’s 480-page executive summary, the findings and conclusions to the executive branch for declassification prior to public release.

Asked to comment on the findings, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said: “Given the report remains classified, we are unable to comment. As we have stated previously, the CIA, in consultation with other agencies, will carry out an expeditious classification review of those portions of the final SSCI report submitted to the executive branch for review.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein also declined to comment except to say: “If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted.”

The investigation determined that the program produced very little intelligence of value and that the CIA misled the Bush White House, the Congress and the public about the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques, committee members have said.

The techniques included waterboarding, which produces a sensation of drowning, stress positions, sleep deprivation for up to 11 days at a time, confinement in a cramped box, slaps and slamming detainees into walls. The CIA held detainees in secret “black site” prisons overseas and abducted others who it turned over to foreign governments for interrogation.

The CIA, which contends that it gained intelligence from the program that helped identify al Qaida terrorists and averted plots against the United States, agreed with some of the report’s findings but disputed other conclusions in an official response sent to the committee in June 2013.

The report has been embroiled in a public furor since Feinstein, D-Calif., took to the Senate floor last month to accuse the CIA of possibly violating the law and the Constitution by monitoring computers used by her staff to assemble the report, and by removing and blocking access to documents.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, launched a criminal investigation at the CIA’s request into the alleged unauthorized removal of classified documents by Democratic committee staffers from the top-secret facility where they were required to review more than 6 million pages of operational emails and other documents related to the interrogation program.

Some current and former U.S. officials and military commanders, numerous experts and foreign governments have condemned the harsh interrogation methods as violations of international and U.S. laws against torture, a charge denied by the CIA and the Bush administration.

They’ve based their defense on a series of top-secret legal opinions issued by the Justice Department beginning in August 2002. At that time, the agency sought advice on whether using the harsh techniques on Zayn al Abidin Muhammad Husayn, a close aide to Osama bin Laden who went by the nom de guerre Abu Zubaydah, would violate U.S. law against torture.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn’t breach the law because those applying them didn’t have the specific intent of inflicting severe pain or suffering.

The Senate report, however, concluded that the Justice Department’s legal analyses were based on flawed information provided by the CIA, which prevented a proper evaluation of the program’s legality.

“The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” the report found.

Several human rights experts said the conclusion called into question the program’s legal foundations.

“If the CIA fundamentally misrepresented what it was doing and that was what led (Justice Department) lawyers to conclude that the conduct was legal, then the legal conclusions themselves were inaccurate,” said Andrea Prasow, senior national security counsel for Human Rights Watch. “The lawyers making those assessments were relying on the facts that were laid before them.”

“This just reinforces the view that everyone who has said the torture program was legal has been selling a bill of goods and it’s time to revisit the entire conventional wisdom being pushed by those who support enhanced interrogation that this program was safe, humane and lawful,” said Raha Wala, a lawyer with Human Rights First’s Law and Public Safety Program.

Among other findings, the report said that CIA personnel used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or their headquarters.

The conclusion that the CIA provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department reflects the findings of a top-secret investigation of the program by the CIA Inspector General’s Office that was triggered by allegations of abuse.

The CIA inspector general’s May 7, 2004, report, which was declassified, found that in waterboarding Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, deemed the chief architect of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA went beyond the parameters it outlined to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which wrote the legal opinions.

Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, while Mohammad underwent the procedure 183 times.

Those cases clashed with the CIA’s assertion _ outlined in the now-declassified top-secret August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel opinion _ that repetition of the methods “will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.”

The Office of Legal Counsel opinion stated that its finding that the harsh interrogation techniques didn’t constitute torture was based on facts provided by the CIA, and that “if these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.”

The CIA inspector general’s report found that the “continued applicability of the DOJ opinion” was in question because the CIA told the Justice Department that it would use waterboarding in the same way that it was used in training U.S. military personnel to evade capture and resist the enemy. In fact, the inspector general’s report continued, the CIA used waterboarding in a “manner different” from U.S. military training.

The CIA also failed to keep track of the number of individuals it captured under the program, the Senate report concluded. Moreover, it said, the agency held people who didn’t meet the legal standard for detention. The report puts that number at 26, McClatchy has learned.

“The CIA did not conduct a comprehensive or accurate accounting of the number of individuals it detained and held individuals who did not meet the legal standard for detention,” it found. “The CIA’s claims about the number of detainees held and subjected to its enhanced interrogation techniques were inaccurate.”

“The CIA’s records were hazy, inconsistent and at times inaccurate,” said the former U.S. official.

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Ohio geologists link small quakes to fracking

Ohio geologists link small quakes to fracking

Associated Press
April 11, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.

A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”

While earlier studies had linked earthquakes in the same region to deep-injection wells used for disposal of fracking wastewater, this marks the first time tremors in the region have been tied directly to fracking, Simmers said. The five seismic events in March couldn’t be easily felt by people.

The oil and gas drilling boom targets widely different rock formations around the nation, so the Ohio findings may not have much relevance to other areas other than perhaps influencing public perception of fracking’s safety. The types of quakes connected to the industry are generally small and not easily felt, but the idea of human activity causing the earth to shake often doesn’t sit well.

The state says the company that set off the Ohio quakes was following rules and appeared to be using common practices. It just got unlucky, Simmers said.

Gerry Baker, associate executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission, said state regulators across the nation will study the Ohio case for any implications for the drilling industry. A consortium of states has already begun discussions.

Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination — and, yes, earthquakes.

A U.S. government-funded report released in 2012 found that two worldwide instances of shaking can be attributed to actual extraction of oil and gas, as opposed to wastewater disposal in the ground — a magnitude-2.8 quake in Oklahoma and a magnitude-2.3 quake in England. Both were in 2011.

Later, the Canadian government tied quakes in British Columbia’s Horn River Basin between 2009 and 2011 to fracking. Those led to stricter regulations, which news reports indicated had little effect on the pace or volume of drilling.

But for the region encompassing Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where energy companies have drilled thousands of unconventional gas wells in recent years, it’s a first. The Utica Shale lies beneath the better-known Marcellus Shale, which is more easily accessible and is considered one of the world’s richest gas reserves.

Glenda Besana-Ostman, a former seismologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, confirmed the finding is the first in the area to suggest a connection between the quakes and fracking. A deep-injection wastewater well in the same region of Ohio was found to be the likely cause of a series of quakes in 2012.

Under Ohio’s new permit conditions, all new drilling sites within 3 miles of a known fault or seismic activity of 2.0 magnitude or higher will be conditioned on the installation of sensitive seismic-monitoring equipment. Results will be directly available to regulators, Simmers said, so the state isn’t reliant on drilling operators providing the data voluntarily.

If seismic activity of 1.0 magnitude or greater is felt, drilling will be paused for evaluation. If a link is found, the operation will be halted.

“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said James Zehringer, director of Ohio’s natural resources department.

Ohio has also imposed an indefinite drilling moratorium at the site of the March quakes. The state is allowing oil and gas extraction to continue at five existing wells at the site.

Such events linked to fracking are “extremely rare,” said Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, who described the new rules as safeguards that will prevent similar future quakes in Ohio.


Associated Press Correspondent Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh and AP Science Writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations

Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations

By Adam Goldman and Julie Tate
The Washington Post
April 10, 2014

When U.S. Special Operations forces raided several houses in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in March 2006, two Army Rangers were killed when gunfire erupted on the ground floor of one home. A third member of the team was knocked unconscious and shredded by ball bearings when a teenage insurgent detonated a suicide vest.

In a review of the nighttime strike for a relative of one of the dead Rangers, military officials sketched out the sequence of events using small dots to chart the soldiers’ movements. Who, the relative asked, was this man — the one represented by a blue dot and nearly killed by the suicide bomber?

After some hesi­ta­tion, the military briefers answered with three letters: FBI.

The FBI’s transformation from a crime-fighting agency to a counterterrorism organization in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been well documented. Less widely known has been the bureau’s role in secret operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other locations around the world.

With the war in Afghanistan ending, FBI officials have become more willing to discuss a little-known alliance between the bureau and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that allowed agents to participate in hundreds of raids in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The relationship benefited both sides. JSOC used the FBI’s expertise in exploiting digital media and other materials to locate insurgents and detect plots, including any against the United States. The bureau’s agents, in turn, could preserve evidence and maintain a chain of custody should any suspect be transferred to the United States for trial.

The FBI’s presence on the far edge of military operations was not universally embraced, according to current and former officials familiar with the bureau’s role. As agents found themselves in firefights, some in the bureau expressed uneasiness about a domestic law enforcement agency stationing its personnel on battlefields.

The wounded agent in Iraq was Jay Tabb, a longtime member of the bureau’s Hostage and Rescue Team (HRT) who was embedded with the Rangers when they descended on Ramadi in Black Hawks and Chinooks. Tabb, who now leads the HRT, also had been wounded just months earlier in another high-risk operation.

James Davis, the FBI’s legal attache in Baghdad in 2007 and 2008, said people “questioned whether this was our mission. The concern was somebody was going to get killed.”

Davis said FBI agents were regularly involved in shootings — sometimes fighting side by side with the military to hold off insurgent assaults.

“It wasn’t weekly but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see one a month,” he said. “It’s amazing that never happened, that we never lost anybody.”

Others considered it a natural evolution for the FBI — and one consistent with its mission.

“There were definitely some voices that felt we shouldn’t be doing this — period,” said former FBI deputy director Sean Joyce, one of a host of current and former officials who are reflecting on the shift as U.S. forces wind down their combat mission in Afghanistan. “That wasn’t the director’s or my feeling on it. We thought prevention begins outside of the U.S.”

‘Not commandos’

In 1972, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, exposing the woeful inadequacy of the German police when faced with committed hostage-takers. The attack jolted other countries into examining their counterterrorism capabilities. The FBI realized its response would have been little better than that of the Germans.

It took more than a decade for the United States to stand up an elite anti-terrorism unit. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was created in 1983, just before the Los Angeles Olympics.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., home to the Army’s Special Operations Command, Delta Force operators trained the agents, teaching them how to breach buildings and engage in close-quarter fighting, said Danny Coulson, who commanded the first HRT.

The team’s mission was largely domestic, although it did participate in select operations to arrest fugitives overseas, known in FBI slang as a “habeas grab.” In 1987, for instance, along with the CIA, agents lured a man suspected in an airline hijacking to a yacht off the coast of Lebanon and arrested him.

In 1989, a large HRT flew to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, to reestablish order after Hurricane Hugo. That same year, at the military’s request, it briefly deployed to Panama before the U.S. invasion.

The bureau continued to deepen its ties with the military, training with the Navy SEALs at the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, based in Dam Neck, Va., and agents completed the diving phase of SEAL training in Coronado, Calif.

Sometimes lines blurred between the HRT and the military. During the 1993 botched assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., three Delta Force operators were on hand to advise. Waco, along with a fiasco the prior year at a white separatist compound at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, put the FBI on the defensive.

“The members of HRT are not commandos,” then-FBI Director Louis J. Freeh told lawmakers in 1995. “They are special agents of the FBI. Their goal has always been to save lives.”

After Sept. 11, the bureau took on a more aggressive posture.

In early 2003, two senior FBI counterterrorism officials traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the Joint Special Operations Command’s deputy commander at Bagram air base. The commander wanted agents with experience hunting fugitives and HRT training so they could easily integrate with JSOC forces.

“What JSOC realized was their networks were similar to the way the FBI went after organized crime,” said James Yacone, an assistant FBI director who joined the HRT in 1997 and later commanded it.

The pace of activity in Afghanistan was slow at first. An FBI official said there was less than a handful of HRT deployments to Afghanistan in those early months; the units primarily worked with the SEALs as they hunted top al-Qaeda targets.

“There was a lot of sitting around,” the official said.

The tempo quickened with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At first, the HRT’s mission was mainly to protect other FBI agents when they left the Green Zone, former FBI officials said.

Then-Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal gradually pushed the agency to help the military collect evidence and conduct interviews during raids.

“As our effort expanded and . . . became faster and more complex, we felt the FBI’s expertise in both sensitive site exploitation and interrogations would be helpful — and they were,” a former U.S. military official said.

In 2005, all of the HRT members in Iraq began to work under JSOC. At one point, up to 12 agents were operating in the country, nearly a tenth of the unit’s shooters.

The FBI’s role raised thorny questions about the bureau’s rules of engagement and whether its deadly-force policy should be modified for agents in war zones.

“There was hand-wringing,” Yacone said. “These were absolutely appropriate legal questions to be asked and answered.”

Ultimately, the FBI decided that no change was necessary. Team members “were not there to be door kickers. They didn’t need to be in the stack,” Yacone said.

But the FBI’s alliance with JSOC continued to deepen. HRT members didn’t have to get approval to go on raids, and FBI agents saw combat night after night in the hunt for targets.

In 2008, with the FBI involved in frequent firefights, the bureau began taking a harder look at these engagements, seeking input from the military to make sure, in police terms, that each time an agent fired it was a “good shoot,” former FBI officials said.

‘Mission had changed’

Members of the FBI’s HRT unit left Iraq as the United States pulled out its forces. The bureau also began to reconsider its involvement in Afghanistan after nearly a dozen firefights involving agents embedded with the military and the wounding of an agent in Logar province in June 2010.

JSOC had shifted priorities, Joyce said, targeting Taliban and other local insurgents who were not necessarily plotting against the United States. Moreover, the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan had plummeted to fewer than 100, and many of its operatives were across the border, in Pakistan, where the military could not operate.

The FBI drew down in 2010 despite pleas from JSOC to stay.

“Our focus was al-Qaeda and threats to the homeland,” Joyce said. “The mission had changed.”

FBI-JSOC operations continue in other parts of the world. When Navy SEALs raided a yacht in the Gulf of Aden that Somali pirates had hijacked in 2011, an HRT agent followed behind them. After a brief shootout, the SEALs managed to take control of the yacht.

Two years later, in October 2013, an FBI agent with the HRT was with the SEALs when they stormed a beachfront compound in Somalia in pursuit of a suspect in the Nairobi mall attack that had killed dozens.

That same weekend, U.S. commandos sneaked into Tripoli, Libya, and apprehended a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist named Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai as he returned home in his car after morning prayers. He was whisked to a Navy ship in the Mediterranean and eventually to New York City for prosecution in federal court.

Word quickly leaked that Delta Force had conducted the operation. But the six Delta operators had help. Two FBI agents were part of the team that morning on the streets of Tripoli.

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South Sudan: UN Indifferent to Displaced People

South Sudan:  UN Indifferent to Displaced People

Doctors Without Borders
April 9, 2014


Claudia Blume/MSF

Displaced people in the Tomping camp are crowded into low-lying parts of a UN compound prone to flooding.

NEW YORK—In a shocking display of indifference, senior officials with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have refused to improve living conditions for 21,000 displaced people living in a flood-prone part of a UN peacekeeping base in the capital Juba, where they are exposed to waterborne diseases and potential epidemics, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

The displaced people in the Tomping camp are crowded into low-lying parts of a UN compound prone to flooding. Diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, and skin diseases already account for more than 60 percent of the cases seen at MSF’s clinic in the camp, before the rainy season has begun in earnest. Despite repeated requests from humanitarian organizations, UNMISS is taking no action in Tomping to improve the chances of survival. MSF is questioning the UN’s commitment to meeting the needs of South Sudan’s most vulnerable people, hundreds of thousands of whom have been displaced by conflict since December 2013.

“The UNMISS decision not to improve conditions in Tomping is shameful,” said Carolina Lopez, MSF emergency coordinator. “People are living in natural drainage channels because there is no other space. And the rains, which will last the better part of six months, are becoming heavier. If nothing is done right now, the already horrific consequences could become fatal.”

During the first rainfall of the season, 150 latrines in Tomping collapsed, their contents mixing with floodwater. Prior to that there were still far too few latrines in the camp, with one per 65 persons. The minimum standard in emergency humanitarian settings is one latrine for 20 persons.

A UN plan to establish an alternative site for the displaced has been mired in implementation delays and is now unrealistic because of the onset of rains. Repeated requests by MSF and other organizations to expand Tomping camp into available non-flooded space within the UN compound, at least as a temporary lifesaving measure, have been inexplicably refused.

“Whether as a permanent or interim solution, expanding the camp into the dry parts of the UN compound must happen immediately,” said Lopez.

On April 3, Hilde Johnson, the head of UNMISS, stated that the Tomping camp is “at imminent risk of turning into a death trap.” She then announced that it would be closed in May. However, only 1,118 residents have been moved from the camp over the past five weeks to “Juba House,” another UNMISS base on the outskirts of the city. Although the plan may have been a valid option one month ago, moving 20,000 people to an unprepared space as seasonal rains begin is unrealistic, MSF said.

“They say there is not enough space in Tomping, but this is a sickening argument when on the other side of the barbed wire from where displaced persons are crowded there are dry parking lots and storage spaces,” Lopez said.

Furthermore, many of the camp residents say they would not want to move to Juba House because they would feel less secure there. MSF urges UNMISS to ensure that any movements are voluntary.

Tomping is only the most visible example of the widespread unmet humanitarian needs in South Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of other people are displaced throughout the country, including tens of thousands in other UNMISS camps where MSF is witnessing a disturbing lack of preparedness for the impending floods.

In the UNMISS base at Malakal, in Upper Nile State, provisional MSF medical data indicate alarming mortality rates, while preparations to improve the situation are minimal.

In Minkamman, in Lakes State, some 82,000 people who fled fighting in Bor are living in appalling conditions in an open camp, albeit not in a UN compound. MSF runs four clinics in the camp, carrying out 2,000 consultations per week. The MSF team is very concerned about waterborne diseases due to sanitation gaps in the camp.

Delays related to an inflexible UN system mean that drawn up response plans are often not implemented.

“The UN mission in South Sudan reported to the UN Security Council on March 18 that ‘Protection of Civilians’ is a key priority,” said Jerome Oberreit, MSF Secretary General. “We urge the UN leadership to remember that protection means more than just corralling people in a guarded compound. Adequate living conditions are also essential, and require urgent, pragmatic action. People must be safe from disease as well as safe from violence.”

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More than 100 scientists and economists call for rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

More than 100 scientists and economists call for rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Elizabeth Shope
Natural Resources Defense Council
April 7, 2014

Today, more than 100 scientists and economists called on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would bring some of the world’s dirtiest fuel from under Canada’s Boreal forest to the Gulf Coast mainly for export. They write in the letter, “The world is looking to the United States to lead through strong climate action at home. This includes rejecting projects that will make climate change worse such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.” The letter comes at a critical time when President Obama and Secretary Kerry are in the process of making their determination about whether the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is in the national interest. The signers of the letter are leaders in science and economics, including in climate change research. They added their voices to the 2 million public comments sent to President Obama and Secretary Kerry calling for a rejection of Keystone XL, and to the more than 200 business voices whose letter to Secretary Kerry calling for rejection of Keystone XL was released last week.

The scientists and economists write to President Obama and Secretary Kerry:

As you both have made clear, climate change is a very serious problem. We must address climate change by decarbonizing our energy supply. A critical first step is to stop making climate change worse by tapping into disproportionately carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands bitumen. The Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the energy-intensive strip-mining and drilling of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.

Fuels produced from tar sands cause 17% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced fuels over their full lifecycle, and, as the scientists note, “over the 50-year expected lifespan of the pipeline, the total emissions from Keystone XL could amount to as much as 8.4 billion metric tons CO2e. These are emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy.” Tar sands extraction also causes significant air and water pollution; communities downstream are experiencing high rates of rare cancers and other health problems; transporting tar sands is risky; and refining tar sands causes pollution and public health problems.

So it’s no wonder that so many prominent scientists and economists are expressing concern about this risky project. And it is not the first time that scientists have expressed concern with past letters to President Obama in August 2011, to Congressional Leadership in February 2012, and to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July 2012. With this latest letter, the number of scientists speaking out has grown considerably.

The list of signers to this most recent scientist and economist letter includes:

  • Dr. Philip W. Anderson, who won the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Sir Nevill Francis Mott and John Hasbrouck van Vleck. They won the prize ”for their fundamental theoretical investigations of the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems.”
  • Dr. Kenneth J. Arrow, who won the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics (officially titled “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”) alongside John Hicks “for their pioneering contributions to general economic equilibrium theory and welfare theory.” Dr. Arrow has had a profound impact on the field of economics, going on to teach five other Nobel prize winners and receiving the National Medal of Science in 2004 – the nation’s highest scientific honor – for his contributions to the field. Dr. Arrow has also served as a convening lead author for IPCC assessments.
  • Numerous lead authors and coordinating lead authors for United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports.
  • Fellows of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) including Dr. James McCarthy, Dr. Richard Norgaard, and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer, and Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC) including Dr. Mark Jaccard, Dr. Lawrence Dill, and Dr. Mark Winston. AAAS indicates that “Election as a Fellow of AAAS is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Fellows are recognized for meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications.” Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada are “Canadian scholars, artists, and scientists, peer-elected as the best in their field. The fellowship of the RSC comprises distinguished men and women from all branches of learning who have made remarkable contributions in the arts, the humanities and the sciences, as well as in Canadian public life.”
  • Winners of Heinz Awards in the Environment, and in the Human Condition – including Dr. Gretchen Daily, Drs. Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Dr. George Woodwell, Dr. James Hansen, and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer. The Heinz Award in the Human Condition “honors individuals who have developed and implemented significant new programs to improve the human condition,” while the Heinz Award in the Environment “honors individuals who like John Heinz, have confronted environmental concerns with a spirit of innovation and who demonstrate the same blend of action and creativity in approaching the protection of our environment.”
  • Winners of the Volvo Environment Prize, which is awarded for “Outstanding innovations or scientific discoveries,” including Dr. Paul Ehrlich, who won it jointly with John Holdren (now President Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology issues) in 1993; Dr. George Woodwell (2001), and Gretchen Daily (2012).
  • Leading Canadian scientists and economists including Dr. David Suzuki, a renowned geneticist and science broadcaster; Dr. Mark Jaccard, who has contributed a large body of research regarding the design and application of energy-economy models that assess the effectiveness of sustainable energy and climate policies, including serving as a convening lead author for the Global Energy Assessment; and  Dr. David Keith, 2006 winner of Canadian Geographic’s “Environmentalist of the Year” – who is both a Harvard Professor and President of a Calgary, Alberta company that works on ways to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.

This list does not even begin to touch the accomplishments, awards, and contributions to society of the scientists and economists who signed this letter. These are important voices for President Obama and Secretary Kerry to listen to. If you want to weigh in, you can add you voice at You can also join NRDC, Sierra Club, and other groups in Washington, DC on April 26, 2014 when we join with the Cowboy Indian Alliance to call on President Obama to Reject Keystone XL and protect our land, air, water, and climate.

Tar sands mine in Alberta Canada Credit Jennifer Grant The Pembina Institute.jpg

Tar Sands Mine in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Jennifer Grant/The Pembina Institute.

The full letter text follows:

April 7, 2014

Dear President Obama and Secretary Kerry,

As scientists and economists, we are concerned about climate change and its impacts. We urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline as a project that will contribute to climate change at a time when we should be doing all we can to put clean energy alternatives in place.

As you both have made clear, climate change is a very serious problem. We must address climate change by decarbonizing our energy supply. A critical first step is to stop making climate change worse by tapping into disproportionately carbon-intensive energy sources like tar sands bitumen. The Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the energy-intensive strip-mining and drilling of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.

President Obama, you said in your speech in Georgetown last year that “allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

We agree that climate impact is important and evidence shows that Keystone XL will significantly contribute to climate change. Fuels produced from tar sands result in more greenhouse gas emissions over their lifecycle than fuels produced from conventional oil, including heavy crudes processed in some Gulf Coast refineries. As the main pathway for tar sands to reach overseas markets, the Keystone XL pipeline would cause a sizeable expansion of tar sands production and also an increase in the related greenhouse gas pollution. The State Department review confirmed this analysis under the scenario that best meets the reality of the opposition to alternative pipeline proposals and the higher costs of other ways of transporting diluted bitumen such as rail. The review found:

“The total lifecycle emissions associated with production, refining, and combustion of 830,000 bpd of oil sands crude oil is approximately 147 to 168 MMTCO2e per year. The annual lifecycle GHG emissions from 830,000 bpd of the four reference crudes examined in this section are estimated to be 124 to 159 MMTCO2e. The range of incremental GHG emissions for crude oil that would be transported by the proposed Project is estimated to be 1.3 to 27.4 MMTCO2e annually.”

To put these numbers into perspective, the potential incremental annual emissions of 27.4 MMTCO2e is more than the emissions that seven coal-fired power plants emit in one year. And over the 50-year expected lifespan of the pipeline, the total emissions from Keystone XL could amount to as much as 8.4 billion metric tons CO2e. These are emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy.

The contribution of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to climate change is real and important, especially given the commitment of the United States and other world leaders to stay within two degrees Celsius of global warming. And yet, the State Department environmental review chose an inconsistent model for its “most likely” scenarios, using business-as-usual energy scenarios that would lead to a catastrophic six degrees Celsius rise in global warming.  Rejecting Keystone XL is necessary for the United States to be consistent with its climate commitments. Six degrees Celsius of global warming has no place in a sound climate plan.

Secretary Kerry, in your speech in Jakarta, you said, “The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie – warning us – compelling us to act.” Rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be a decision based on sound science.

The world is looking to the United States to lead through strong climate action at home. This includes rejecting projects that will make climate change worse such as the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.


John Abraham, Ph.D.


University of St. Thomas


Philip W. Anderson, Ph.D.

Nobel Prize (Physics 1977)

Emeritus Professor

Princeton University


Tim Arnold, Ph.D.

Assistant Project Scientist

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Kenneth J. Arrow, Ph.D.

Nobel Prize (Economics 1972)

Professor emeritus of Economics and of Management Science and Engineering

Stanford University


Roger Bales, Ph.D.

Professor of Engineering

University of California, Merced 


Paul H. Beckwith, M.S.

Part-time professor: climatology/meteorology

Department of Geography

University of Ottawa


Anthony Bernhardt, Ph.D.

Physicist and Program Leader (retired)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory


Damien C. Brady, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Marine Science

Darling Marine Center

University of Maine


Julie A. Brill, Ph.D.

Director, Collaborative Program in Developmental Biology, and Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics

University of Toronto

Senior Scientist, Cell Biology Program

The Hospital for Sick Children


Gary Brouhard, Ph.D.

Department of Biology

McGill University


Ken Caldeira, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist

Carnegie Institution for Science


Grant Cameron, Ph.D.

Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP)

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Shelagh D. Campbell, Ph.D.

Professor, Biological Sciences

University of Alberta


Kai M. A. Chan, Ph.D.

Associate Professor & Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services)

Graduate Advisor, RMES Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability

University of British Columbia


Eugene Cordero, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Meteorology and Climate Science

San Jose State University


Rosemary Cornell, Ph.D.

Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Simon Fraser University


Gretchen C. Daily, Ph.D.

Bing Professor of Environmental Science

Stanford University


Timothy Daniel, Ph.D.


U.S. Federal Trade Commission


Miriam Diamond, Ph.D.


Department of Earth Sciences

Cross-appointed to:

Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Sciences

Dalla Lana School of Public Health

School of the Environment

Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences

University of Toronto


Lawrence M. Dill, Ph.D., FRSC

Professor Emeritus

Simon Fraser University


Simon Donner, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Geography

University of British Columbia


Roland Droitsch, Ph.D.


KM21 Associates


Nicholas Dulvy, Ph.D.

Professor, Canada Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity

and Conservation Biological Sciences

Simon Fraser University


Steve Easterbrook, Ph.D.

Professor of Computer Science

University of Toronto


Anne Ehrlich, Ph.D.

Biology Department

Stanford University


Paul R. Ehrlich, Ph.D.

Bing Professor of Population Studies and

President, Center for Conservation Biology

Stanford University


Henry Erlich, Ph.D.


Center for Genetics

Children’s Hospital Research Institute


Alejandro Frid, Ph.D.

Science Coordinator

Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance


Konrad Gajewski, Ph.D.

Laboratory for Paleoclimatology and Climatology

Department of Geography

University of Ottawa


Eric Galbraith, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Department of Earth and Planetary Science

McGill University


Geoffrey Gearheart, Ph.D.

Scientist, Center for Marine Biodiversity and Biomedicine

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Alexander J. Glass, Ph.D.

Emeritus Associate Director

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory


John R. Glover, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Biochemistry

University of Toronto


Ursula Goodenough, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Biology

Washington University in St. Louis


Stephanie Green, Ph.D.

David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow

Oregon State University


Steven Hackett, Ph.D.

Professor of Economics

Associated Faculty, Energy Technology & Policy

Humboldt State University


Joshua B. Halpern, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Chemistry

Howard University


Alexandra Hangsterfer, M.S.

Geological Collections Manager

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


James Hansen, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor

Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions

Columbia University Earth Institute


John Harte, Ph.D.

Professor of Ecosystem Sciences

Energy and Resources Group

University of California, Berkeley


H. Criss Hartzell, Ph.D.


Emory University School of Medicine


Danny Harvey, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Geography

University of Toronto


Rodrick A. Hay, Ph.D.

Dean and Professor of Geography

College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences

California State University Dominguez Hills


Karen Holl, Ph.D.

Professor of Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Cruz


Robert Howarth, Ph.D.

The David R. Atkinson Professor of

Ecology & Environmental Biology

Cornell University


Jonathan Isham, Jr., Ph.D.

Professor of Economics

Middlebury College


Andrew Iwaniuk, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

University of Lethbridge


Mark Jaccard, Ph.D., FRSC


School of Resource and Environmental Management

Simon Fraser University


Louise E. Jackson, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources

University of California Davis


Pete Jumars, Ph.D.

Professor of Marine Sciences

Darling Marine Center

University of Maine


David Keith, Ph.D.

Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS); and,

Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University


Jeremy T. Kerr, Ph.D.

University Research Chair in

Macroecology and Conservation

Professor of Biology

University of Ottawa


Bryan Killett, Ph.D.

Jet Propulsion Lab


Keith W. Kisselle, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Biology & Environmental Science

Academic Chair of Center for Environmental Studies

Austin College


Janet E. Kübler, Ph.D.

Senior Research Scientist

California State University at Northridge


Sherman Lewis, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Political Science

California State University Hayward


Michael E. Loik, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies

University of California, Santa Cruz


Michael C. MacCracken, Ph.D.

Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs

Climate Institute


Scott A. Mandia, M.S.

Professor/Asst. Chair, Department of Physical Sciences

Suffolk County Community College


Michael Mann, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor and Director of Earth System Science Center

Penn State University


Adam Martiny, Ph.D.

Associate Professor in Marine Science

Department of Earth System Science

University of California, Irvine


Damon Matthews, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and

Concordia University Research Chair

Geography, Planning and Environment

Concordia University


James J. McCarthy, Ph.D.

Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography

Harvard University


Susan K. McConnell, Ph.D.

Susan B. Ford Professor

Dunlevie Family University Fellow

Department of Biology

Stanford University


Dominick Mendola, Ph.D.

Senior Development Engineer

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Faisal Moola, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Forestry

University of Toronto; and,

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies

York University


William Moomaw, Ph.D.

Professor, The Fletcher School

Tufts University


Jens Mühle, Dr. rer. nat.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Richard B. Norgaard, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus of Energy and Resources

University of California, Berkeley


Gretchen North, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology

Occidental College


Dana Nuccitelli, M.S.

Environmental Scientist

Tetra Tech, Inc.


Michael Oppenheimer, Ph.D.

Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs

Princeton University


Wendy J. Palen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Earth to Ocean Research Group

Simon Fraser University


Edward A. Parson, Ph.D.

Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law

Faculty Co-Director

Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment

UCLA School of Law


Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, Ph.D.

Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences

The University of Chicago


Richard Plevin, Ph.D.

Research Scientist

NextSTEPS (Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways)

Institute of Transportation Studies

University of California, Davis


John Pollack, M.S.

Meteorologist; and,

National Weather Service forecaster (retired)


Jessica Dawn Pratt, Ph.D.

Education & Outreach Coordinator

Center for Environmental Biology

University of California, Irvine


Lynne M. Quarmby, Ph.D.

Professor & Chair

Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

Simon Fraser University


Rebecca Rolph, M.S.

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology

Hamburg, Germany; and,

Klimacampus, University of Hamburg


Thomas Roush, MD

Columbia University School of Public Health (retired)


Maureen Ryan, Ph.D.

Research Associate, Simon Fraser University; and,

Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Washington


Anne K. Salomon, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

School of Resource and Environmental Management

Simon Fraser University


Casey Schmidt, Ph.D.

Assistant Research Professor

Desert Research Institute

Division of Hydrologic Sciences


Peter C. Schulze, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology & Environmental Science
Director, Center for Environmental Studies

Austin College


Jason Scorse, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Monterrey Institute of International Studies

Middlebury College


Jamie Scott, MD, Ph.D.

Professor and Canada Research Chair

Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry

Faculty of Science and Faculty of Health Sciences

Simon Fraser University


Michael A. Silverman, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Simon Fraser University


Leonard S. Sklar, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Earth & Climate Sciences Department

San Francisco State University


Jerome A. Smith, Ph.D.

Research Oceanographer

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Richard C. J. Somerville, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Brandon M. Stephens, M.S.

Graduate Student Researcher

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


John M. R. Stone, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor

Carleton University


David Suzuki, Ph.D.

Emeritus Professor

Sustainable Development Research Institute

University of British Columbia


Jennifer Taylor, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

University of California, San Diego


Michael S. Tift, M.S.

Doctoral Student

Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Cali Turner Tomaszewicz, M.S.

Doctoral Student, Biological Sciences

Department of Ecology, Behavior & Evolution

University of California, San Diego


Till Wagner, Ph.D.

Scientist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

University of California, San Diego


Barrie Webster, Ph.D.

Professor (retired)

University of Manitoba


Richard Weinstein, Ph.D.


University of Tennessee, Knoxville


Anthony LeRoy Westerling, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of

Environmental Engineering and Geography

University of California, Merced 


Mark L. Winston, Ph.D., FRSC

Academic Director and Fellow, Center for Dialogue

Simon Fraser University


George M. Woodwell, Ph.D.

Member, National Academy of Sciences, and

Founder and Director Emeritus

The Woods Hole Research Center


Kirsten Zickfeld, Ph.D.

Professor of Climatology

Simon Fraser University

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Mexican Workers in the Continental Crucible

Mexican Workers in the Continental Crucible

Richard Roman and Edur Velasco
The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA)
April 2014

The central purpose of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which celebrated its twentieth anniversary on January 1, was the consolidation of the neoliberal domestic agendas of the three member countries. Private corporate interests and the governing bodies of the three countries systematically sought to decrease labor costs and militancy, erect barriers against economic nationalism, and push the public sector and common goods into the profit streams of private capital. By incorporating low-wage, low-rights Mexico into the continental production system, a process that was well under way before NAFTA, big business sought both to discourage labor militancy as well as to harmonize labor costs downward in Canada, the United States, and in the older industrialized and unionized regions of Mexico. NAFTA “constitutionalized” these transformations by treaty, seeking to make them near impossible to change. As Jaime Zabludovsky, the coordinator of Mexico’s negotiating team for NAFTA put it: “By consolidating the opening of its economy in an international treaty with its powerful neighbor, Mexico made economic reforms permanent and, thus, extended the planning horizons for domestic and foreign investors.”

And now, 20 years later, the roadblock of the nationalized Mexican oil company, PEMEX, already permeated by disguised and partial policies of privatization, has largely been removed by the energy reforms recently passed in Mexico (see Cypher in this report).

State power has not declined in Mexico’s transition from a one-party state to a regime of constrained electoral competition and an imagined “free market.” The Mexican state continues to play a central role in shaping the economy and repressing resistance. Its coercive role is greater than ever as shown in the rise of human rights abuses throughout the country. The liberalization of the electoral system has taken place within the straightjacket of growing corporate hegemony and the increasing fusion of state and big business. Public assets continue to be sold to private capital at very low prices; workers’ rights continue to be violated by business and the regime, and those workers who challenge these violations face brutal repression through state and private violence

The publically owned goods (natural resources, especially mines and energy) won in the Mexican revolutionary process are all being transferred to the hands of the rich and powerful. And the drug war, a real conflict between rival factions of the state-drug cartel complex, is being fought out in the very regions of recent industrialization, such as the northern border, and in the key regions of transport of global commodities, such as the state of Michoacán. The brutal drug war is a powerful, if unintended, force of intimidation against attempts at collective organization and public protest.

The ongoing war of big business against workers in Mexico, as well as the continuing transfer of the national patrimony to corporate hands, has been sped up in the first year of the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. One of Peña Nieto’s first actions in office was to arrest Elba Esther Gordillo, the corrupt, authoritarian head of the national teachers’ union who had once been a powerful force in Peña Nieto’s own party. It was clear to all Mexicans that Gordillo was arrested not for her well known and officially tolerated self enrichment, but for her opposition to the new president’s neoliberal agenda in the field of public education. This was a clear message to teachers and to all unionists that any resistance to neoliberal transformation of education was hopeless, a message modeled on a similar action at the beginning of the presidency of Carlos Salinas, Peña Nieto’s mentor, against the head of the oil workers’ union.

Peña Nieto, as Salinas before him, has shown a willingness to authorize ferocious repression. Mexico’s electoral liberalization has been accompanied by a deepening repressiveness of the regime as described in many of the articles in this report. Space for electoral competition has been opened up within limits at the same time that space for workers’ struggles has been sharply narrowed by state, private, and corporatist union repression and now by labor law changes designed to undermine if not completely destroy workers’ rights and unions (see Alexander and La Botz in this report).


The working class constitutes the vast majority of the Mexican population, a population that is overwhelmingly urban. Sixty-three percent of Mexicans live in cities or municipal centers with over 100,000 people, that is, 75 million of a total population of 120 million as of mid-2014. Official statistics in 2013 show that there were 52 million people in the economically active population as of the last quarter of that year, of which 20 million were women, the highest share in Mexico’s history. If we add the 8 million workers born in Mexico who work in the United States, we arrive at a grand total of 60 million people in the Mexican labor force. The average wage of workers covered by the Mexican Social Security system (i.e. formal-sector workers), both blue collar and white collar, is $2.60 per hour as compared to $12.50 per hour of foreign-born Latino workers within the United States. If we only looked at blue-collar workers within Mexico’s formal sector, the hourly wage would only be $1.30 per hour. But the vast majority of wageworkers are actually in the informal sector where wages and working conditions are even worse.

The neoliberal reorganization of the Mexican economy and its integration into a continental production system has involved a massive geographical relocation of industry and a restructuring of the labor market and labor processes. Just as factories left the U.S. midwest and northeast in the 1980s and early 1990s to head for the anti-union south and southwest, so factories left central Mexico and re-established themselves near the northern border both to escape areas of strong union traditions as well as to take part in the continentalization of North American production. As the north was sparsely populated, new workers, from a variety of regions and backgrounds, were recruited for the then-expanding sector of assembly plants known as maquilas or maquiladoras.

The first wave of maquilas—electronics and textiles—mainly recruited young women for their plants. But in later waves of maquila development, especially in auto parts, men were the main recruits. The recent character of migrations to the border, along with extremely repressive corporate and government policies, has made collective organization and resistance very difficult, though there have been recurrent attempts to organize genuine unions (see Quintero in this report).

The decline in unionization rates in the country has been a decisive factor in the decline in real wages in recent decades. The rate of unionization of the working population decreased from 22.4% to 13% between the first half of the 1990s to 2012. Having said that, however, we must add that Mexican unions—excluding the very large number that are phantom unions with only a paper existence—are hybrid institutions that blend features of a state institution, a party machine, and an authoritarian union. Their leaders have been part of a state-linked elite whose career paths often flowed from their role in authoritarian unions to important positions in the ruling party, the government, state enterprise, and even the private sector. Their personal advancement depended on controlling their members. They were the “labor lieutenants” of Mexico’s one-party, state-guided capitalism and continue to play that role for Mexico’s neoliberal capitalism. In the past, a challenge to a corporatist union in any important sector was seen as a challenge to the state. Now, it is seen as a challenge to the new regime of neoliberal authoritarianism and its fluid, and fragile system of labor control.

There are very few independent unions, and even fewer that are both independent and democratic. And all, whatever their ideology and structure, have to function within the iron cage of Mexico’s sophisticated system of labor exploitation (see Almazán, Alzaga, Muñoz, and Quintero in this report). Mexican workers face the challenge of gaining democratic control of existing state-linked unions and building new ones, two aspects of the same struggle.

A common thread in the struggles of electrical workers, maquila workers, and miners alike is over the right to choose their own union. A second common thread is the right to dignity, including safe working conditions, respect for labor rights, funding for the school system (in the case of teachers), and freedom from harassment and arbitrary management practices.

The task of navigating between the immediate and short-term interests of the members and the long-term goals and necessity of transformation is a terribly difficult one for unions, whatever the strategy, structure, and politics of the union. It is all the more complex and difficult in Mexico’s situation of multiple crises (economic, political legitimacy, drug war, violence). And the complexity is deepened by the trans-border character of the Mexican working class and of integrated continental production, which would make major conflicts in Mexico resonate almost immediately throughout much of North America.


The Mexican working class has been formed and has formed itself in the shifting cauldron of class dynamics within two nations that have become more and more economically integrated. Mexican industrial workers, on both sides of the border, are often part of an increasingly continental system of production. And all Mexican workers in the United States, whether in the industrial or the service sector, are linked through their own lives, their families, their collective organizations, and their experiences to the working classes both in Mexico and the United States. Developments in either society, especially developments in the struggles for labor, democratic, and social rights, are likely to have important ramifications on their consciousness and politics. Hopes, sentiments, ideas, accountings of experiences, and strategies will travel both ways along the length of this transnational working class through myriad means. There are the beginnings of formal transnational organizations of Mexican workers as well as a variety of formal and informal links within bi-national Mexican communities (see Gonzalez and Santos-Briones in NACLA Report, Vol. 46, No 4).

Mexican workers provide a vast reservoir of cheap and vulnerable labor to U.S. capitalism, both in Mexico and in the United States. Over 58% of Mexicans who are employed in the formal economy are employed continentally—either in the United States itself or in activities that are part of a continental production process, such as maquilas, auto assembly, trucking, export agriculture, and mining. One of four industrial workers in Mexico is employed in a maquila and as many as one of three employed Mexican nationals are working in the United States. One of six workers in the United States in 2010 was Latino and it is estimated that Mexicans make up 63% of the 50 million Latinos in the United States.

The deep integration of the continent makes a continental labor response necessary and possible. However, the prospects of such a response depend on the political evolution in the Mexican working class on both sides of the border, the political evolution of unions in North America, and more general developments in the politics and economy of each country. A continental movement will have to struggle in the framework of each of the three NAFTA states. The attempt to lock in neoliberal domestic changes, as articulated by Jaime Zabludovsky, has to be challenged at the level of each national state. But because of the very integration of the continent and the pre-eminent power and ambition of the U.S. capitalist class and state, the struggles, to be successful, have to be both national and continental at the same time. The transformation of the continent could well start in its politically weakest, albeit most repressive link, Mexico, but to be successful it would have to extend well beyond Mexico.

There are many important local struggles taking place in Mexico as well as in Canada and the United States. The challenge is to help these movements grow and coalesce with each other into larger regional, national, and continental movements. But to have any hope of halting and challenging the neoliberal juggernaut, they will eventually have to challenge capitalist power at the national and continental level. The building of such a movement will necessarily require an inspiring vision of transformation and major organizational resources sooner or later, whether the movement starts as actions from below or a strategy from the major organized unions of North America. These unions can only play this role if they themselves transform their vision, their strategies, and their politics, and propose a continental economic strategy that facilitates solidarity and not competition. Such a strategy could be built around a set of immediate, concrete demands that directly challenge Mexico’s low-wage, low-rights regime and the neoliberal transformation of all of North America. These demands could include the right to freely choose a union, the right to a job, the right to migrate or stay home, the right to a living wage, and the right to safe working conditions. Such a movement would, of course, face great repression in Mexico, and continental and international workers’ solidarity would be crucial to its survival. La lucha sigue.

Richard Roman is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Toronto. Edur Velasco Arregui is a member of the law department, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico City, and former secretary general of SITUAM, the university union. They are the authors of Continental Crucible: Big Business, Workers and Unions in the Transformation of North America (2013).

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The Snowden Saga: A Shadowland of Secrets and Light

The Snowden Saga:  A Shadowland of Secrets and Light

by Vanity Fair
April 8, 2014

Photo Illustration by Sean McCabe.

“Every person remembers some moment in their life where they witnessed some injustice, big or small, and looked away, because the consequences of intervening seemed too intimidating,” former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden tells Vanity Fair about his motivation for leaking tens of thousands of secret documents. “But there’s a limit to the amount of incivility and inequality and inhumanity that each individual can tolerate. I crossed that line. And I’m no longer alone.”

Snowden’s extensive response is part of a 20,000-word narrative in Vanity Fair’s May issue, by special correspondent Bryan Burrough and contributing editors Suzanna Andrews and Sarah Ellison. The article is the first comprehensive account—bolstered by interviews with dozens of key players—providing an inside look at how a geeky dropout from the Maryland suburbs found himself alone in a Hong Kong hotel room, releasing some of America’s most carefully guarded secrets to the world.

Told in Two

Snowden writes to Vanity Fair about the N.S.A.’s allegations that he never filed a formal complaint (and directly challenges it to deny he contacted internal oversight); about why he’s not a spy; about what he calls the “post-terror generation”’s views on defending the Constitution; about the crucial ways in which he differs from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; about his amusement at being labeled a right-winger; and more.

Among the highlights of Snowden’s response:

Snowden challenges allegations that he never filed a formal complaint about the N.S.A. to internal oversight and compliance bodies: N.S.A. deputy director Rick Ledgett, who led the internal investigation of Snowden, claimed Snowden made no formal complaints. And if he complained personally to anyone, Ledgett tells Vanity Fair, he or she has not acknowledged it.

In response to this claim, Snowden replies, “The N.S.A. at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the N.S.A.’s lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail. I directly challenge the N.S.A. to deny that I contacted N.S.A. oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer to this question [from the N.S.A.].”

When asked about his initial reaction to the revelation that Snowden was the leak, Ledgett tells Vanity Fair there was a personal sense of betrayal, stating, “It was like getting kicked in the stomach.”

On using his personal credit card in Hong Kong to prevent spy accusations: Snowden tells Vanity Fair that when he checked into the Mira, a hotel in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, he used his personal credit card so the government could immediately verify he was entirely self-financed, was independent, and had, over time, withdrawn enough financial resources to survive on his own without assistance. He writes, “My hope was that avoiding ambiguity would prevent spy accusations and create more room for reasonable debate. Unfortunately, a few of the less responsible members of Congress embraced the spy charges for political reasons, as they still do to this day. But I don’t think it was a bad idea, because even if they won’t say it in public, intelligence-community officials are regularly confirming to journalists off the record that they know with a certainty that I am not an agent of any foreign government.”

On rumors concerning the number of documents he has: Snowden cautions about some of the numbers that investigators have publicized, especially the 1.7 million figure, which, he tells Vanity Fair, is “simply a scare number based on an intentionally crude metric: everything that I ever digitally interacted with in my career.” He adds, “Look at the language officials use in sworn testimony about these records: ‘could have,’ ‘may have,’ ‘potentially.’ They’re prevaricating. Every single one of those officials knows I don’t have 1.7 million files, but what are they going to say? What senior official is going to go in front of Congress and say, ‘We have no idea what he has, because the N.S.A.’s auditing of systems holding hundreds of millions of Americans’ data is so negligent that any high-school dropout can walk out the door with it?’ ”

“I know exactly how many documents I have,” Snowden continues. “Zero.” But for the other players involved, “I’m not sure we’ll ever know who has what,” The Guardian’s U.S. editor, Janine Gibson, says.

On what he calls the “post-terror generation’s” views on defending the Constitution: “What we’re seeing today in America is a new political movement that crosses party lines. This post-terror generation rejects the idea that we have to burn down our village in order to save it—that the only way to defend the Constitution is to tear it up.”

On allegations that he has “a doomsday cache” in his possession: In response to whispers in the intelligence community that Snowden has “a doomsday cache” in his possession, Snowden retorts, “Who would set up a system that incentivizes others to kill them?”

On the crucial ways he differs from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: “We don’t share identical politics. I am not anti-secrecy. I’m pro-accountability. I’ve made many statements indicating both the importance of secrecy and spying, and my support for the working-level people at the N.S.A. and other agencies. It’s the senior officials you have to watch out for.”

Why he admires WikiLeaks: “They run toward the risks everyone else runs away from. No other publisher in the world is prepared to commit to protecting sources—even other journalists’ sources—the way WikiLeaks is.”

On how he’s amused by reports of his “right-wing politics” and would describe his political thought as “moderate”: Snowden tells Vanity Fair he’s amused by reports of his “right-wing politics, based on what seem to be Internet rumors and third-hand information.” He continues, “I’d describe my political thought as moderate.”

Sources close to the situation discuss Snowden’s living arrangements in Moscow and his desire to be granted asylum in Germany or another democratic state: One source close to Snowden tells Vanity Fair that he and WikiLeaks staffer Sarah Harrison moved multiple times and at one point lived with an American family outside Moscow. Snowden and Harrision’s time together “was a little bit of a love-hate thing,” says a person close to WikiLeaks. “They were stuck in close quarters there for a long time.” Snowden is fastidious and Harrison is not, this person says. Harrison moved to Berlin in November, but shortly before she did, a German politician had dinner with her and Snowden, who expressed a desire to be granted asylum in Germany or another democratic state. Mostly, the politician says, Snowden wished he could go home.

For the full story, subscribe now and get the digital edition, available April 10 for download.

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