Category Archives: Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ

New York Riesling Diary: Day 4 – I Blog Therefore I Am, and How I Blog Now (George Orwell Part 1)

Why blog instead of write for print in the form of books, magazine articles or newspaper columns? Many of you will already be aware of the fact that I write for all of those media, and do so with as great conviction as I have done so for 20-30 years, depending upon which of those print media you look at. Each of them has its own set of possibilities, and of course its limitation. I have always enjoyed moving back and forth, and the changes in form, style, pace which those movements back and forth definitely did something positive for my writing, precisely because they were often challenging.

It is the comparable movement from writing for printed pages to writing for virtual pages, that has driven the development of my blog. I relish the combination of immediacy with reflection that the virtual page makes possible, and when I come from writing for physical pages to this I am acutely aware of what is special about blogging. Unlike any of the print media for which I work, here in the blogosphere there isn’t the filter of editors and publishers, because I am those things as well as being the writer. At best, this leads to a directness that is very special for me and for some readers, but clearly sometimes shocking for other readers. This always was the result of genuinely free speech!

On the other hand, some of the postings on this blog edge in the direction of obsession with the details of my core subject, Riesling and its place in the world of wine as a whole. As soon as I realize that I’m doing that I make a course correction and head out into open waters ignoring the weather and risking running straight into a storm in the process. This is one of the days that I feel the need to push my core subject back and I’m therefore turning to the subject of this profession, that is the sub-species of journalism which is blogging. As the title says, I feel that blogging is central to who I am, and the question of how I do this today is therefore also the question of how I am today.

I have been reading the final volume of Georg Orwell’s collected essays, journalism and letters, In Front of Your Nose, and many of the texts in this collection of works from 1945-50 made such a strong impression upon me, because in spite of all the differences between the situation of the immediately Post-WWII world and that now there are many horrible similarities. Let me give you an important example from Orwell’s As I Please column in Tribune magazine from November 29th, 1946:

And yet exactly at the moment when there is, or could be, plenty of everything for everybody, nearly our whole energies have to be taken up in trying to grab territories, markets and raw materials from one another. Exactly at the moment when wealth might be so generally diffused that no government need fear serious opposition, political liberty is declared to be impossible and half the world is ruled by secret police forces.

How much that sounds like our world, particularly since the Edward Snowden revelations made plain the unscrupulousness with which the electronic communications of the entire world have been accessed by the relevant security services (a special kind of secret police force) of theoretically democratic western nations. Orwell’s analysis of the situation he describes in the lines was that the driving force  behind this struggle was the desire for pure power, rather than the desire for wealth, although what he describes clearly has an economic aspect. And that too seems to be the situation today, the pursuit of economic advantage having long since been absorbed into the quest for what is blandly termed “national security”, but is actually just power by another name.

But I do suggest that we will get nowhere unless we start by recognizing that political behavior is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured.

Quite probably the nature of this disease has changed somewhat since Orwell wrote those lines, for in 1946 immediately following the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, paranoia was at a relatively low level. However, the appearance of the atomic bomb on the scene had already started cranking up the paranoia in the direction of contemporary levels.  And without this hard core of paranoia in the elites of many nations it is impossible to explain the drive by the security services they fund and control to get their hands on all electronic communications. If knowledge is power, then the possession of all knowledge is omnipotence, which also ought to guarantees inviolability. This combination is what the seekers of pure power really desire.

Of course, this isn’t the sole aspect of the current situation that’s worrying, for simultaneously the last years have seen a resurgence of strident nationalism (sometimes accompanied by a worrying element of racism and/or anti-semitism), driven and exploited by political elites supported by mighty oligarchies. Much of the new wealth that was created in the Ex-Soviet Union, China and many other countries during the last decades is now allied to these old political agendas. Together with the new field of mass electronic surveillance this makes a dangerous cocktail.

Dealing with this complex and worrying situation, at least to ensure that I don’t become absorbed by the very things I abhor, is a daily concern even if it isn’t directly linked to the wines and winemaker that are the main focus of my activity on this blog. Please don’t think that I’m succumbing to paranoia, for I certainly don’t imagine that there’s anything here or in my other electronic communications that would really be of interest to those security services. Until artificial intelligence makes possible the detailed analysis of the complete electronic communications of the planet by any organization that can access them I’m not worried about being a target of their interest. The danger of the current situation is entirely another.

I see a certain similarity between what the atomic bomb did to the world and what mass electronic surveillance is doing to it, which is to cast a shadow over it. The shadow which the atomic bomb cast was one of fear of imminent destruction, and by the time of the so-called Cuba Crisis (actually a global crisis that had as much to do with American missiles in Turkey, Italy and Britain as with the Russian missiles on Cuba) when I was two years old intelligent people had already figured out there was no place to escape to if the atomic shit really did go down. Of course, this didn’t happen, but the crucial thing was the awareness that at any moment it could, something that I grew up with.

The shadow that mass electronic surveillance throws over the world is different. Although nobody may be listening in to you or I we cannot be sure that they aren’t, and if they aren’t at the moment then this could soon change. It seems to me that a lot of people in the West have long-since reached the point of shaking their shoulders and getting on with life in this knowledge, because so few politicians have been willing to speak out against this new situation, and far fewer have shown any determination to actually do something about it. This resignation amounts to the reluctant acceptance that constitutional rights have been circumvented. With that the political process in any meaningful sense ceases, and becomes reduced to a second-rate sideshow.

When one considers how things have gone since 1930 or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilization. I do not argue from this that the only thing to do is to abjure practical politics, retire to some remote place and concentrate either on individual salvation or on building up self-supporting communities against the day when the atom bombs have done their work. I think one must continue the political struggle, just as a doctor must try to save the life of a patient who is probably going to die.

This is Orwell’s rather pessimistic conclusion, and although I would like to be more optimistic about the current situation of the world a sober assessment of the problems makes that very difficult. Beautiful things like wine could easily look like a distraction from this, and therefore of no value, but a better world implies that more people are lucky to be able to appreciate beautiful things without fear or suffering. And it is in this spirit that I present the blog postings that may obsess about my core subject. Since reading George Orwell’s words quoted above how I blog is shaped by them.



Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home | Comments Off on New York Riesling Diary: Day 4 – I Blog Therefore I Am, and How I Blog Now (George Orwell Part 1)

Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 12 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 8 – As Time Goes By)

Here, much delayed by technical problems with the back end of my blog which prevented me from putting it up as planned on Friday, June 6th is the next installment of this series with no direct connection to Riesling or even wine in general. I make no apologies for that, because this is a matter with such far reaching implications that it connects with almost everything else on our planet.

This story may get lost in the crowd of other stories appearing on this, the first anniversary of the publication of the first Snowden revelations, but that prospect doesn’t deter me from reporting on some of the most important consequences of the fact that since 9/11 both of you have been trying to gain access to all electronic communications, and often succeeded in obtaining all the data of a particular type in a specific territory (e.g. tapping all the cellphone calls in the Bahamas for a period).

One of those consequences is particularly obvious to me, because I’m British, also a frequent visitor to the US and a long-term resident of Germany. My travel between those places frequently confronts me with a very different situation to that I was just in.  This keeps reminding me how both in Britain and the US some people are critical of what we now know you did, but the so-called silent majorities in both countries accept it, because they feel it is making them more secure. In contrast, in Germany there is almost unanimous condemnation right across the social and political spectrum, although this is often tinged with resignation and a feeling of helplessness. Did you guys get that yet?

For me, the current and decisive phase of what most Germans call the “NSA Affäre” began with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to US President Barrack Obama in Washington DC at the end of April and beginning May. The New York Times (NYT) story of May 1st, ‘U.S. and Germany Fail to Reach a Deal on Spying’ explained how talks between the two governments had totally failed, because, as one nameless American official was quoted, “What the Germans want, and wanted, is that we would never do anything against their laws on their territory.” By inference, what the US Government wanted from the Germans was that they turn a blind eye to NSA and other American secret service activities in Germany even when these contravene German law. At the TV press conference with Merkel, Obama smiled and said that the US is one of Germany’s best friends and the NSA is not snooping on normal Germans, therefore they have nothing to worry about. The fact that no kind of agreement had been reached between the two governments gave those words a hollow ring for Germans, and only increased their sense of disillusionment with Obama. Effectively the British position is the same and Cameron’s smile is no different to that of the American President. Suddenly, the Germans feel as if they have no friends left, at least none they could rely upon if they suddenly really needed help.

However, there are also implications of all this for America and Britain. Did anyone in the British or American media point out that if the German Government turned a blind eye to illegal NSA and GCHQ activities on their territory, then it would have compromised both the principals of equality before the law and the separation of executive and judiciary; vital elements of the German Basic Law? I certainly didn’t see anything like that in print or on my computer screen. What makes this shocking to me is that those principals, along with others such as free speech and the privacy of the citizen’s home, derive from the US Constitution and from the British democratic system with its “unwritten” constitution.  The American and the British governments are expecting the German government to compromise on are the core values of their Basic Law which have roots that go back to America’s founding fathers and their equivalents in late 17th and 18th century Britain. This is perverse and says something about how respect for those principals has been eroded by the British and American governments in recent years.

Shortly after her return to Germany Angela Merkel gave an interview to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). There she was quoted as saying“…I have repeatedly made clear to the American President that when it comes to the data collection by the NSA we expect that on German soil German law will be obeyed. The ends cannot justify the means.” Perhaps because she realized early on that America would not be willing to sign a no-spy agreement with Germany, that’s been Merkel’s bottom line for quite some time. Because of that, she’s has been repeatedly attacked by German politicians of all parties (though less loudly by those of her own party, the CDU) and taken a lot of flack from the German media for being too friendly to the US Government.

It strikes me that her position was indeed friendly to America. “Germany cannot wish for a better partner than the United States,” she said in that FAZ interview last month. It was simply the latest statement of her long-standing belief in America as a force for good in the world that was shaped by her youth in totalitarian East Germany and the events following the fall of the Berlin Wall a quarter of a century ago. That’s why she bent over (almost) backwards to accommodate President Obama, but neither he nor anyone else in the US Government seems to have realized that fact, otherwise they wouldn’t have treated her as they did when she last came to DC. Seen from Germany, it looked just short of a public humiliation. Once again, the British position seems to mirror the US one, although Cameron hasn’t made such a show out of it.

Sadly, the situation is much worse than all this suggests, and that’s something you can only appreciate if you have spent some time in Germany, Britain and America recently, as I did. The mantra of the US Government is that the NSA’s job is to protect national security, and for most Americans that means avoiding another 9/11. American politicians officials have repeatedly played on this fear according to Richard Nixon’s principal that, “people react to fear, not love”. The problem is that the NSA’s hovering up of data is not only about protecting American lives. As the NYT times story of May 20th, ‘Fine Line Seen in U.S. Spying on Companies’, pointed out, “…the government does not deny it routinely spies to advance American economic advantage, which is part of it’s broad definition of how it protects American national security.” Clearly, in recent years the definition national security has become elastic and been expanded from the defense of Americans lives to include propping up the US economy. In this case too the position of the US Government seem to be that the ends justify the means.

Bit by bit the Snowden revelations have made clear to the Germans and anyone else not gripped by paranoid fear of terrorists, how the US Government has expanded the meaning of many key terms such as “national security” far beyond their traditional definitions. This, no less than finding out that the NSA routinely spies on Germany’s political leaders and can read their email if it chooses to, has shaken the Germany. For the great majority of them it therefore seems only right that the Chief Federal Prosecutor Harald Range has finally opened a criminal investigation into the hacking of Angela Merkel’s cellphone as the NYT reported in the May 5th story, ‘Germany begins Inquiry of U.S. in Surveillance Case’. It notes that, “German politicians have come under strong public pressure,” and of course that’s true, but it isn’t the real reason for this new development. The actual one is that a felony has been committed and the Chief Federal Prosecutor has a constitutional duty to investigate all felonies committed in Germany.

America and Britain have both failed to realize that the Germans would abide by their constitution, rather than adopt the elastic approach to constitutional principals which the US and Britain have. They failed to appreciate the deep and lasting effect of Germany’s history – the Nazis de facto abolition of civil rights, then their many crimes of which the Shoa (Holocaust) was only the largest – on their entire world view. The German constitution is the foundation of their categorical rejection of all that, and their commitment to principals on which American and British democracy was built. It is impossible for them to compromise on that and they won’t do so, even for a best friend. Consequently, Germany and America/Britain are moving ever further apart, and for all the wrong reasons. As someone with stakes of various kinds in all of three countries, and who can clearly see how much of their culture are common, I find that deeply worrying and depressing. Don’t worry though, my next posting will have a more cheerful tone!

By the way, I am not going to rescind the offer I made to the NSA and GCHQ in Part 1 of this story that you can both read, watch and listen to all my electronic communications and that I will not prosecute you for this. That invitation still stands. Hi guys! Welcome to the Back End of my life! Please don’t ignore the Front End, most importantly my new book BEST WHITE WINE ON EARTH – The Riesling Story which will be published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang in New York in just 8 days.

PS The US flag pictured above is an exhibit in the National Museum of the Native American in Washington DC. It is the work of Native American artist Jenny Anne Taylor and is called ‘Nations’. It incorporates the names of 456 Native American Nations, and thereby documents an America almost invisible to most white Americans, although it’s history extends much further back than the Pilgrims of Plymouth/MA or the arrival of Christopher Columbus.


Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Comments Off on Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 12 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 8 – As Time Goes By)

Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 7 – The Life of the Others)

Are the German people really no more than shadows?

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

as you well know I’m now in Berlin writing this in St. Oberholz on the Rosenthaler Straße, a café full of young people online. Of course, without an invitation of the kind that I extended to you late last year, you are following some of them because they’re involved in what you call “low-level” terrorism, i.e. express opinions contrary to the official line in your countries. But then, the German government is doing that too by insisting that, whether your governments sign no-spy pacts with Germany or not, on German soil German law applies to you and the employees of your organizations no less than to anyone else. Since I arrived here I’ve found that you can also read all about the opposition to your activities here on the websites of conservative pro-America newspapers such the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). But you’re better informed about all this than I am, my only question is whether you realize what this means.

As you know all too well we live in an age when information is easily available by the tetra bite, but the really valuable alpha stuff is much hard to come by. We journalists see that, but have a different take on it to you. We are acutely aware that if you want to acquire knowledge you need to understand the context, not just the raw information. When you that information becomes knowledge. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “the context is the facts”. The problem in the present situation is that for you the people of Germany are so many “other” people, just a crowd of shadowy virtual silhouettes. You can see where they (almost) all are and their outlines, but the shape of a shadow is something very different to how a person thinks and feels, in this case also how a large and complex nation thinks and feels.

Let me fill you in on the true situation here. The Snowden Revelations hit a particular nerve here, not least because it came out that you’d been monitoring the cellphone (or Handy as the Germans call it) of Chancellor Angela Merkel for many years. No major politician in Germany is more pro-American than Frau Merkel and this is why it shocked and outraged people here, most of all the conservative pro-America section of society. This you have inadequately described as “blowback”, and much of the American media has followed you in using that word. The problem is that outrage is way more than hot air blowing back. That’s something that the Germans have a feeling about in their guts  (im Bauch as the Germans say), not least because of Germany’s modern history, because of  the surveillance undertaken by the Nazi Gestapo and Communist Stasi. Every high school kid knows that history, but you don’t seem to have any idea what it does to a nation’s people to have been at the sharp end of that, as Chancellor Merkel’s generation was as young people. Since I returned here just over a week ago the beast in the Germans’ guts has stirred and sometimes roared.

The reason is the apparent refusal of the US Government – the buck stops on President Obama’s desk in the oval office – either to offer Germany a no-spy pact or to make a concrete commitment to obey German law on German soil. Instead of this Obama has made another eloquent speech and made a lot of other friendly noises, and the US ambassador to Germany has done a lot of smiling (its a really nice smile too!). The expectation in Washington DC and in your offices seems to be that, as in the past, the Germans will fall obediently into line albeit with great gnashing of teeth this time around. This is a massive miscalculation and shows how, in spite of listening in and reading so much government and private communications in Germany, you don’t begin to understand Germany, most imortantly the new generation of politicians and voters. I mean what you call the millenials and I call Generation Riesling.

Even if some of the Old Guard of German politicians are willing (with great reluctance) to do what you want, those belonging to Generation Riesling will refuse to accept this and will turn on that element of the Old Guard if they try push through something which breeches the spirit and letter of Germany’s constitution. In fact, another large part of the German Old Guard regards that prospect with the same revulsion, and some of them  are clearly willing to man the barricades to prevent it. From both these directions and across party lines Chancellor Merkel is already coming under such pressure to take some kind of stand. Also, although I’ve never met her, nothing suggests to me that she’s willing to just cave in on the position stated above regarding Germany’s constitution and other laws. Although she will do everything possible to smile when she meets President Obama in Washington DC in February/March when the door closes behind them there will be no more smiles. If no concessions are made and the President sticks to his current position, then the alliance of Germany and America which goes back at least to 1949 effectively ends, you gentlemen will face prosecution in Germany (assuming enough evidence can be found), and quite possibly the NATO treaty will become just another  piece of paper.

I write none of this with relish. You see I’m journalist who tries to understand the world around him, but I’m also a child of the Cold War for whom America was something inherently positive, and when I first visited America back in 1985 I fell in love with it (also because it fascinates the journalist in me). That’s why I fear the outcome I’ve just described, also because geo-politically it leads in a direction that isn’t good for Germany or America. At this juncture, I should point out that I was never a member of any political grouping, movement or party except for the Peace Pledge Union, a London-based pacifist organization. You already know all that, but all my readers don’t

I suggest that you all sit down with a big glass of good Riesling and think over which directions you and the politicians are pushing the Germans, and with them many of your other traditional allies. Then all of us in the Western World will be living in what my colleague Jürgen Fränznick calls, “the Wild West”. I’ll be drinking that glass of Riesling to remind myself that there are so many good and beautiful things in Germany, America and all over the world!



Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Comments Off on Berlin Riesling Diary: Day 8 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 7 – The Life of the Others)

New York Riesling Diary: Day 58 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 6 – Out of the Vast Shadow, again!)

There are no shadows without light!

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

the publication today by The Washington Post of an in-depth interview with Edward Snowden forces me to delay several other stories in order to be up with events as they unfold. The background to this is, of course, the December 16th decision of US District Judge Richard J. Leon that the bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone records is probably unconstitutional because it contravenes the Fourth Amendment, and the December 19th publication of the NSA Review Panel’s report which called for considerable changes to operational procedures to limit that agency’s powers, which the closed-door oversight of Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had both woefully failed to do. For the three of you this was no doubt seriously bad news, but for many millions in the US and billions around the world who value liberty this was all extremely welcome.

Before I move on to the thoughts that have been going through my mind I must sadly add a warning note. The good news has almost exclusively to do with the relationship between the NSA and American citizens, corporations, etc within the borders of the US. The recent development of German-American relations illuminates this problem rather well. In early August as the German government prepared an official statement that the “NSA Affair” was over the US government held out to them the prospect of a bilateral no-spying pact. However, all the indications are that this is now no longer on offer (if it ever really was), because the US Government doesn’t want to extend the no-spying promise President Obama made personally to Chancellor Merkel to other German citizens or foreign nationals resident in Germany (including myself). That means your surveillance of other countries and their citizens is set to continue. US and British embassies give diplomatic immunity to the NSA and GCHQ employees engaged in this activity, but that doesn’t alter the fact that under German law they are frequently committing felonies. As Edward Snowden pointed out in that interview today, earlier this summer the US government told Congress that in Germany they follow German laws, but now we all know that they were lying. The same principally apply to all other nations outside the Five Eyes group (US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

Now on to my thoughts. It’s difficult to step back from this morass and all its details, because it’s implications are so far reaching. On the one hand, it’s all too easy to forget that a great many NSA and GCHQ employees (Hi everyone!) are convinced that all they’re doing is fighting terrorism and protecting America/British national security. On the other hand it’s difficult to get a broader picture of what has happened during the period since 9/11 and beyond that. In that connection, one of Edward Snowden’s comments in that interview seemed particularly important to me. “What the government wants is something they never had before…They want total awareness.

Nietzsche famously said that, “God is dead and we have killed him,” which strikes me as being true in many more senses than those he intended when he wrote those words. One of the ways that we have killed God in modern times is by appropriating for ourselves those powers we previously ascribed exclusively to Him, beginning with His wrath or the power to destroy anyone or everyone. The development of the atomic bomb then the hydrogen bomb made this alarmingly possible. Stating that the intentions of those who developed, deployed and controlled these weapons was not to kill everyone ignores the simple fact that this (or something very close to it) would have been the effect of a full nuclear exchange, which was well known to the actors involved on all sides. The only real question mark here is to what degree the nuclear weapons technology was actually controlling the people who believed they were controlling it.

The same issue comes up with the NSA in the form of the argument that it was the growth in the technical possibilities of electronic espionage which drove the NSA and GCHQ to vacuum up ever more gigantic volumes of data. I deliberately leave the question of whether that’s true or not to one side for the moment. In this case, the direct goal is something comparable to divine omniscience, which would have indirectly lead in the direction of omnipotence. Hubris is the word for both of these forms of delusion, and its history is as long as man’s relationship with God. May I suggest that this is something you three gentlemen might like to reflect upon, if that is possible.

The nuclear weapons systems of the Cold War cast a vast shadow over the entire world that instilled fear into billions of people, of whom the vast majority were entirely innocent of any ill intent towards the major powers. In the event of the Cold War turning hot something like a million civilians would have been killed for each member of the enemy leadership. The electronic surveillance systems of the Information War cast a vast shadow over the entire world instilling fear into billions of people, of whom the vast majority are entirely innocent of any ill intent towards the major powers. You are scooping up (by means legal and illegal) the data of a million times as many civilians as terrorist combatants. The means have become more subtle, but the basic model remains the same from the beginning of the Cold War to this day. Its fundamental principal has also remained the same in the Information War: the abolition of the distinction between friends and foes, combatants and civilians.

You were used to watching and listening without being watched and listened to; a God-like position. Now you are under intense scrutiny and the coming year offers us the very real hope that your project may be redirected towards what has always been its theoretical goal: the prevention of the loss of civilian life like that which occurred on 9/11, and the protection of the national security so badly damaged on the same day. That is my first message of hope for 2014. The second, very different one follows in a couple of days. Merry Christmas to you gentlemen and to everyone else!



Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Comments Off on New York Riesling Diary: Day 58 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 6 – Out of the Vast Shadow, again!)

New York Riesling Diary: Day 44 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 5 – Where are We Heading, Farther in the Direction of Global Cyber-Fascism or Back Towards Liberty?)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Today is the most important day for Liberty, Freedom and Democracy since the wave of revelations about your activities unleashed by Edward Snowden six months ago. Today 560 authors from 83 countries belonging to the initiative “Writers Against Mass Surveillance” published their appeal in defense of civil liberties in the digital age. They demanded that “all states and corporations” – that includes you! – respect the right “for all people as democratic citizens, to determine to what extent their personal data may be collected, stores and processed.” This dovetails neatly with the INVITATION that I made to the three of you back on November 2nd in the first part of this series to intercept all my communications and my promise not to prosecute you for this in any court; a free decision on my part that applies only to me. The 560 authors also called for the United Nations “to create an International Bill of Digital Rights” and it is hard for me to believe any progress in the directions of Liberty, Freedom and Democracy can be made without that. You can sign the petition at the following address:

I just became signatory No. 35,904. If you write or blog, or if you publish video material or use any other media I strongly suggest that you study the text of this petition and at least seriously consider signing, because only concerted action stands any chance of reversing the inexorable drift of the West in the direction of Cyber-Fascism since 9/11. My hope is that we have a chnce to move back in the directions of Liberty, Freedom and Democracy, all principals which the leaders of the US, the UK and other Western nations pay lip service to. Only the other day in China US Vice President Joseph R. Biden said in  speech to a group of  American business people there, “Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, dare able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of the consequences.” That was either disingenuous and hypocritical, or it must be taken as a question about the degree of seriousness with which the current US administration takes the nation’s constitution. The same could be said about the democratic principals which underlie the unwritten constitution of the UK.

Those of you who can speak German are strongly recommended Sascha Lobo’s column published today on Spiegel Online (see the link below). Let me translate a few of the most important points for non-German speakers, beginning with the title, “They Hate Our Freedom,” a quote from George W. Busch describing the attitude of terrorists to the West. It dates back to just after 9/11. The problem for Sascha Lobo is that this now perfectly describes your attitude to our Freedom. He reports that the Pentagon has begun describing peaceful demonstrations as “low level terrorism”, and this is exactly the danger in the present situation, that your definition of terrorism becomes so elastic that we all qualify, because you regard us all as potential threats. He calls this a “system of madness” and although he doesn’t specifically mention paranoia it is that which he is describing. It seems to be so deep seated that you are not even aware of it.

As today’s statement by the 560 authors says, “A person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy,” and it is these things which you are systematically eroding through your actions, regardless whether that is your conscious goal or not.  Your paranoia is driving both the unconscious and conscious parts of that process, and you are urgently in need treatment for that condition before it drives you to declare us all to be engaged in at least “low level terrorism” and therefore all legitimate targets of unlimited surveillance. Your willingness, even eagerness, to move in this direction reminds me of how during the Cold War the Western military regarded global destruction as an acceptable price to pay for defeating the Soviet Union. Today the enemy has a different name and different weapons are being deployed, but once again paranoia is in the driving seat and entire populations are the actual targets. I suggest you think long and hard about that, for it will be the subject of my next letter to you.

PS This comment by John Cifelli was so good I have to give it space here:

Bravo! Stuart, once in a while I make a recurring post on my Facebook page. It simply states “I refuse to be afraid.” I refuse to accept the notion that there is a terrorist at every subway station, airport, elementary school, etc. Statism crosses borders, and the surveillance state is trying to turn one man against another. I am certain that I am on watch lists of various overlapping bureaucratic institutions of the US government, and that is not acceptable. I read a recent report that 1 in 4 journalists are self-censoring this publications in fear of retribution from their governments. I will sign, thank you.

PPS 24 hours after posting this story 104,873 people had signed the ‘Writers Against Mass Surveillance’ petition! That’s three times as many as when I signed. This says everything.


Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 1 Comment

New York Riesling Diary: Day 24 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, (Part 4 – does your vocabulary still contain the words “amoral” or “immoral”?)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Back on November 2nd when I INVITED YOU to read and listen in to all my correspondence and promised you immunity from prosecution for doing so I felt I was taking one of very few paths left open to me (that of generosity). The more I dig into the implications of the recent revelations of Edward Snowden and others about your activities the more convinced I become of the rightness of that step. Recently I stumbled upon the following comments from Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from July 12th.

While concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify the exceptional and narrowly-tailored use of surveillance programs, surveillance without adequate safeguards to protect privacy actually risk impacting negatively on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Both Article 12 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with one’s privacy, family, home or correspondence, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinized by the state.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t space here for everything he said. However, I think those lines make plain that he considers that both the NSA and GCHQ have overstepped what international law allows government organizations to do, even if your co-operation has enabled you to stay the right side of the laws of your own respective nations. The problem is that both the USA and UK continue to portray themselves as champions of human rights, most recently British Prime Minister David Cameron challenging the Sri Lanka government about possible massive infringements on the human rights of the Tamil minority – or was it genocide? – at the end of the nation’s recent civil war. One reason the Sri Lanka government didn’t take much notice of Mr. Cameronthat challenge is the knowledge that the governments of the US and UK have also infringed the human of their own citizens and those of third countries. The scale of these infringements has resulted in the US and UK losing the moral high ground in world affairs they claimed since WWII completely, and perhaps permanently.


This is the logical conclusion of a process that has been running since at least 9/11, but who’s roots go back much further. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche talked about a coming “Umwertung aller Werte” or re-evaluation of all values, and he meant that in a positive sense as a liberating process. However, the re-evaluation of all values which occurred since the end of the Cold War has been a collapse of all the moral values which the West always claimed to uphold, leaving just one abstract value remaining; money (which is only real as long as we believe in it – something the Financial Crisis made clear to all but the most stupid). We are now in a situation where everything is allowed as long as you are successful and don’t get caught. Everything is now a matter of profit and loss without encumbering questions of right or wrong. Of course, you guys were successful and got away with it…until Edward Snowden came along.

The media, even the most serious section of the critical press, has basically gone along with this profit/loss way of judging everything. In its coverage of the NSA/GCHQ affair even the New York Times has often descended to this level, for example in Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger’s article, ‘Tap on Merkel Provides Peek at Vast Spy Net’ of October 30th, in which no moral questions are even hinted at. Instead the authors acknowledge that the surveillance of Merkel and others, “is all part of a comprehensive effort to gain an advantage over other nations, both friend and foe.” They continue by rightly asserting that, “the Merkel episode has raised in a very public way the question of whether the benefits of spying on friends outweigh the damage.” However, they don’t hint at there being a moral aspect to this, implying that it is all fine as long as this works (profit) and as long as those responsible don’t get caught (loss). In this they simply reflect and give a nod of agreement to the amoral mode of action and thought of Mr. Obama. As they conclude with regard to Mrs. Merkel, “at least in her case, he now believes that the United States got its benefit-cost analysis wrong.”

Of course, this is much the same thing which happened to certain banks, e.g. J.P. Morgan who seem to suddenly be about $13 billion out of pocket as a result of a fine for their erstwhile practices relating to mortgage derivatives. Here too moral questions are hardly even raised by the media, making it clear that those banks real crime was getting caught. It was that stupid mistake that which screwed up their benefit-cost analysis. It makes me wonder not only if your vocabulary still contains the words “amoral” and “immoral”, but how many people can still think in those terms at all.  If they’re now gone and we can no longer believe the prime ministers and presidents who utter them for one second what happens when the next massive infringement of human rights or genocide takes place?

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m by no means perfect, not anywhere near, but I have a set of morals which I try to live up to, also in my job as a journalist. But why am I bothering to tell you that? You’ve already found that out from reading and listening to my stuff!



Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 8 Comments

New York Riesling Diary: Day 18 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, (Part 3 – Legal Implications)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

being a British subject, a permanent resident of the Federal Republic of Germany and a frequent visitor to the United States of America I have a strong interest in the relationships between these three nations, also a strong preference that they co-operate on the basis of their constitutions (which have the same fundamental principals). It seem to me that your activities have resulted in the relationships between Germany and both the UK and the USA being thrown into their worst crisis during my lifetime. You will no doubt blame Edward Snowden for this, but he simply happened to be faster and more daring than those of his colleagues who feel the same way as he does, by which I mean that all of this was bound to come out sooner or later. If you believed you could permanently keep the lid on this, then you are yet more naive then I imagined you to be, or is the more appropriate word actually “stupid”?

You all maintain that you have operated within the law, but it was very plain from the statements you made, respectively, to the House Intelligence Committee in Washington DC and to the House of Commons in London, that what you meant was you claim to have operated within the law in your own countries. This doesn’t, however, mean that you operated within the laws of the other countries in which you were active, for example, the Federal Republic of Germany. Please don’t think that I’m working up some kind of legal challenge to your activities there, or anywhere else. You may remember that in Part 1 of this series of reports I INVITED YOU all to read and listen into my private correspondence and other communications, and guaranteed you immunity from prosecution for doing so. You have nothing to fear from me! However, as far as I’m aware I’m the only resident of Germany who so far did took that extraordinary step. I certainly don’t remember the German Chancellor Angela Merkel doing so! I’m not a lawyer, so I can only do this in a rather simply, but I think it’s worth considering the legal implications in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Let’s begin with the German constitution which has been in effect since May 23rd 1949, having been approved by the Governments of the UK and USA about two weeks before that date. Let me quote from the official translation of what German calls its Grundgesetz, or Basic Law. Article 10, Paragraph (1) of the Basic Law states: The privacy of correspondence, posts and telecommunications shall be inviolable. Article 13, Paragraph (1) further states: The home is inviolable. Searches of German homes, and of the electronic devices in them, require the authorization of a judge and even in cases of urgency when, for example, national security is at stake they must be carried out in the manner which German law prescribes. You have clearly violated these parts of the Basic Law of Germany in the case of Angela Merkel, and no doubt many others, and I would suggest that your activities also breach Article 1, Paragraph (1), which states: Human dignity shall be inviolate. And that’s a very serious matter, because those words were not written lightly by the judges who formulated Germany’s Basic Law. They did so with the goal of preventing any possibility of the terrible crimes of the Nazi regime during the years 1993-1945, the greatest of which was the Shoah or Holocaust, ever being repeated. How could you do that and continue to believe that you’re the good guys?

As far as I am aware, neither you nor nobody in the UK or US governments has acknowledged these things, much less made an apology. Legally that wouldn’t get you off the hook, although it would certainly make your positions look better, because Article 3, Paragraph (1) of the Basic Law of Germany states: All persons shall be equal before the law. That means the State Prosecutors will file cases against you, should sufficient evidence by found to justify this,  just as they would against any German citizen or against people like me who are merely residents. Should expect to be exempt from this, then you ask of the German Judiciary that they compromise on one of the most fundamental points of your own constitutions. And if you want the German Government to intervene with the Judiciary to prevent cases being brought against you for felonies committed in the Federal Republic of Germany, then you are asking for a compromise on another principal of your own constitutions: the separation of executive and judiciary. Are you really expecting them to do any of that for you? Also, why should they want to do that for you when you treated them like enemies?

In case, you think you can wiggle out of this by claiming that, for some obscure reasons, German law doesn’t apply to your operations I refer you to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, which both your governments have ratified. Article 17, Paragraph (2) states: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence… For GCHQ the European Convention on Human Rights is also relevant, in which instance Article 8, Paragraph (1) applies: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence. Or do they now belong in the dustbin of history?

PS The recent revelations have helped explain something I couldn’t make proper sense of at the time. Several years ago I was invited to a tasting of Californian wines at the US Embassy in Berlin and during that visit we were taken up to the round, glazed Quadriga Room at the top of the building, so called because of the wonderful view from there of the Quadriga statue on top of the Brandenberg Gate – there’s also a wonderful view of the Chancellor’s Office. The then Ambassador Dan Coats came out to speak to us,  then when he returned to his office I saw him disappear behind a metal door. I asked one of the embassy staff what that was and he said to me deadpan, “the secure information has been secured within the security container.” At the time it was funny. Of course, we all now know what some of that secure information was, and that some of the equipment used to gather it was also behind that door. The problem with all of this is that it is shutting other doors, and that will be the subject of Part 4. Watch this space!


Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | Comments Off on New York Riesling Diary: Day 18 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, (Part 3 – Legal Implications)

New York Riesling Diary: Day 11 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 2 – Paranoia has Many Faces)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

no doubt you found it suspicious that a few days ago I INVITED YOU to read all my private communications, and promised not to ever prosecute you for doing so under American, British or German law (the offer and promise still stand). No doubt you asked yourself why anyone would do such a thing, although I provided you with a clear explanation as to why this extraordinary step was actually in my own interest. I’m sure that you regard all this as no more than a mask of friendship behind which lurks some kind of malevolence.

You see General Alexander and Mr. Clapper, in your recent appearances before the House Intelligence Committee I think you gave yourselves away. Being a permanent resident of Germany (and only a visitor here in New York) I sometimes find that I naturally adopt a German perspective on current events. Your appearances that day reminded me horribly of something that Bertold Brecht referred to as, “bis zur Kenntlichkeit entstellt”, or distorted to recognizability. What I recognized was chronic paranoia. If you don’t think that this is what I, the population of Germany and the rest of the world saw then please study the pictures accompanying this article, even if you can’t understand the text:

And I don’t just mean that your paranoid personalities were on display at that House Intelligence Committee meeting, rather I think the fact that your paranoid world view has infected the NAS was also recognizable. It is a perspective from which every friendly face seems to be no more than a mask behind which lurks an enemy, and that is what has led you to pursue a policy of hyper-vigilance over the most friendly relationships, such as that with Germany. Over the years this has made the NSA a paranoid organization.

I use this term in the sense that Manfred Kets de Vries and Danny Miller do in their book ‘The Neurotic Organization’ (1984), meaning that your paranoia will have infected many of the NSA’s employees. They, like you, will live in a state of permanent distrust, and will constantly seek to confirm all your (and their) suspicions of others. However, I also mean that the NSA as an entity has become paranoid in the way that the Stasi of Comunist East Germany was. It grew and grew, becoming more and more invasive and parasitic upon East German society, because it was driven by the paranoia of its director Erich Mielke. He too thought that the threat from within and without was continually growing, so the Stasi had to grow too.

I think that if challenged about this Mielke might have described himself as “prudently paranoid” in the sense that Roderick M. Kramer uses that term in an article in the Harvard Business Review of July 2002. There he writes that, “prudently paranoid people monitor their colleagues’ every move, scrutinizing and analyzing each action in minute detail.” I think that very much describes the nature of your spying upon the German government (and I suspect leading figures in German industry, science and other fields). If the recent news reports are accurate, and I assume they are, this may well apply to GCHQ too. I recommend you all to read Kramer’s article, because even as proposes the adoption of prudent paranoia as policy in the wake of 9/11 (a connection he himself points out), he warns that, “the more we worry, the more we notice. And the more we notice, the more we worry.” I fear that this describes very well the dynamic behind the NSA and GCHQ’s growth of the last decade.

Sir Lain Lobban, your performance before the British parliament today was rather more convincing than that of your American colleagues ten days ago. However, you spoke of looking for needles, or fragments of needles, in haystacks. How could the German government be a haystack in which there might be needles that threaten the UK? The Federal Republic of Germany has been a loyal ally of the UK and the US since its foundation in 1949!

This is a point which has already been forgotten by President Obama, the US Congress and both of you General Alexander and Mr. Clapper. You all seem to take the continuation of that alliance for granted, which is another reason (along with all your spaying activities in the Federal Republic of Germany and other friendly countries) why it is in grave jeopardy. You all seem incapable of imagining how you would feel if you had suddenly made the same painful discovery that Germany did. Quite possibly you haven’t been snooping on many normal German citizens, but you willingness to snoop on the German Chancellor Angela Merkel proved that you are willing to snoop on anyone and everyone in Germany should you consider it necessary at some point. That willingness is another sure sign of paranoia. I suggest that you seek treatment for your condition.

PS more post will follow soon!


Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 5 Comments

New York Riesling Diary: Day 6 – Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ (Part 1 – An Invitation)

Dear General Keith Alexander (Director of NSA),

Dear James Clapper (National Director of Intelligence),

Dear Sir Lain Lobban (Director of GCHQ),

Listen up, because here comes something exciting, positive and new! Along with a large part of the world’s population I’ve been closely following the story of Edward Snowden’s revelations as passed to the media by Glenn Greenwald. I studied the results of additional research into your surveillance activities by my colleagues at various major newspapers and internet news sites with equal dismay. Like them I belong to what former Vice President Dick Cheney very accurately called the reality-based community. Welcome to our nightmare!

Unlike you, we don’t subscribe to the doctrine that digital might is right, and we regard with horror the way you use your international co-operation to circumvent the national laws designed to prevent you from eroding the human rights of your own citizens. We reject your utterly amoral drive for a global hegemony of information that threatens to make our profession redundant, and to remove from words like liberty, democracy and justice their last vestiges of meaning. However, as you have been painfully realizing, our position is stronger than all your monitoring and analysis led you to believe.      

In spite of the obvious tensions between us, I feel that a radical step is called for, and that’s the reason I write. You have, of course, been monitoring my communications without asking for my permission to do so. Clearly that’s not something someone like me can really agree to. However, I hereby INVITE YOU to read, watch and listen in to my communications of all kinds, and assure you that whatever you read, see or hear will not result in your prosecution in a court of law in the US where I am currently staying, nor in the Germany where I am a permanent resident, nor yet in the Great Britain from where I originate and am still a national. As far as I know this is much more than anyone else has offered. In fact, I don’t remember hearing of anyone offering you anything at all lately. Instead, there was a lot of outrage, widespread deep disappointment and some embarrassment. It strikes me that generosity is almost as fundamental as compassion, both belong to the most positive side of human nature, and this leads me to offer you the hand of friendship in what are for you dark days.

There is, however, an element of self-interest in this act. You see, as a journalist finding out the truth (I think that you understand what I mean, even if you give it another name) is one side of my work, and the other is making it public (I think you’re now familiar with the process). For that I need readers, and most of your operatives belong to my target audience (I think that you understand at least the word “target” if not “audience”). When I was a young man at the beginning of my journalistic career you were also part of my target audience, but the number of your employees was rather small compared with what it is today. The post-9/11 digital intelligence boom not only increased your importance and your budgets, it also expanded the number or operatives you employee to around 35,000. So, you see I need you guys and this is a way of grabbing your attention.

Best regards from you know where,

Stuart Pigott

PS more post will follow soon!


Posted in Dear NSA, Dear GCHQ, Home, STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL | 31 Comments