Saturday 12 April 2014

Outsourcing security to outsiders (Pakistan Observer)

M D Nalapat
Friday, April 11, 2014 - The top three english-language newspapers in India are the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and the Hindu. Ironically, despite its name, the last is the newspaper in India most opposed to what are lazily called “Hindu nationalists” by NATO media and academics, while the Hindustan Times has remained faithful to its earliest traditions of supporting the Congress Party, including during the difficult years pre-Independence when doing so invited the ire of the British raj. The Times of India was a loyal mouthpiece of the British till freedom arrived in 1947,after which it changed. For the past two decades, the newspaper has been open in its admission that the profit motive is what guides much of its content, having originated the concept of “Paid News”, in which politicians, business tycoons and socialites pay money in order to garner publicity in its extensively-read columns.

Because of having worked in that newspaper for a decade, and having dealt with its key people for longer, this columnist admits to a bias in its favour. However, this time around, it is a report in the Hindustan Times that deserves attention, and this is that a committee set up by the Prime Minister’s Office to work out ways to maximise internet security has among its members a senior executive of AT & T (American Telephone & Telegraph), one of the many entities in the US that cooperate with the US government to eavesdrop on citizens of countries across the world. In the course of AT & T handing over huge caches of data on global citizens to the US government and its spy agencies, the company broke several domestic laws, but was protected by the US Congress, which passed a law giving it retrospective immunity for its actions.

The fact is that AT & T cannot be blamed for having assisted the government of the country in which it is headquartered, as otherwise it would not have been possible for it to carry on business in the US. Whether it be AT & T or Microsoft or any of the many tech companies in the US that have made it a matter of routine to allow spy agencies in the world’s richest democracy to access the private emails and conversations of citizens across the globe, they would not have been able to ignore “requests” coming from the National Security Agency and even the CIA. The international community owes it to Edward Snowden for information on this practice.

Had democracies in Europe been true to their oft-professed claim of supporting the cause of liberty, they would not have turned their backs on the whistle-blower in the manner that they have done. Apart from them, China too ensured that it got rid of Snowden in a hurry, while India under Manmohan Singh has made it plain that the former NSA consultant is not welcome. This is a shame, as Snowden would have been an excellent source for input on the nature of current surveillance programs and how to safeguard citizens against such intrusions into their privacy Whether it be in the Reserve Bank of India or in other sensitive institutions, the Manmohan Singh government has followed a policy that in effect says that what is good for the US is good for India, when in fact the perceived national interests of both may on occasion diverge substantially.

The result has often been that policies get formulated which benefit US interests, often at the expense of domestic concerns. In the case of the supersensitive Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of the Government of India, set up to assist the government in working out an agreed position on global internet governance and in protection against intrusion, the MAG has two senior officers of AT & T in its list of members, Virat Bhatia and Naveen Tandon. It would strain credulity to believe that these individuals - who are clearly looking for career advancement within their company - would place Indian national interests above that of the corporation they are working for, and the country in which AT & T is located. It will be remembered that it was this company through which President Richard Nixon and Nobel Peace Prizeman Henry A Kissinger ensured that chaos broke out in Chile in 1973 that resulted in the murder of President Salvador Allende.

An investigative reporter, Jack Anderson, secured tapes of conversations between AT & T executives of the level as the two MAG members and officials in the Nixon administration. These folks discussed elaborate plans to destabilise the elected government in Chile for the benefit of the CIA. So complete is the integration of US companies with the administration that in the Crimea, once that territory returned back to Russia through a referendum, even fast-food chains of US origin closed shop and left, out of solidarity with NATO policy towards the takeover of that territory by Moscow.

In such circumstances, to seed a sensitive committee with individuals whose organisations have loyalties entirely different from that needed in the committees set up would be to invite recommendations that meet the needs of such companies rather than the national interest of India. It would be naive to expect Bhatia or Tandon to do otherwise than ensure that the interests of their company get protected in any policy designed by the Government of India. Sadly, such outsourcing of security to outsiders takes place across the board, including in matters of sensitivity such as the approach to generically modified foods (where representatives of international companies have a big voice in the framing of policy) or even in telecom, where international companies dominate the telecom tower business despite the implications for national security of such a policy. Protecting India from outside threats is perhaps a more easier task than protecting the country from those who pellmell rush to hand over the keys to the security of 1.26 billion citizens to countries that - correctly and admirably - look after only their own interests.

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