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The Belarus Uprising: A Repeat of Ukraine?

The United States should be prepared to act if Putin tries to repeat in Belarus what he did in Ukraine.

By Russell A. Berman, Kiron K. SkinnerThe National Interest

Image: Reuters

America’s great power competitors, China and Russia, are pushing back against the free world. China’s arc stretches from Hong Kong and the South China Sea through the Himalaya border with India and along the Belt and Road intrusions far into Europe. Its debt-trap strategy on the African continent is binding ever more governments to it. Meanwhile, Russia continues its expansionism from Syria, through Crimea and the Donbass all the way to Libya. Across these vast regions, they trample on democracy and the rule of the law, with the ultimate intention of pushing back against American influence. Belarus is becoming the latest theater of competition. Washington should make it unambiguously clear that Russian meddling against the democratic will of the Belorussian people will not stand.

President Donald Trump has succeeded in keeping out of new wars. His firm declaration of his intent to safeguard American national interests has held adversaries at bay, and he has maintained a strong enough defense posture so as not to have to respond to provocations, such as from Iran. Yet an aggressive move by Russia in Belarus on the scale of what took place in Ukraine would be another matter altogether. It is urgent for the United States to underscore how serious the consequences will be if Moscow takes an adventurist wrong step. Vladimir Putin should not think that he can occupy Minsk the way Brezhnev occupied Prague—but the United States should be prepared to act if he tries. This requires mobilization on multiple levels.

First, it is urgent to launch intensive diplomatic consultation with all the NATO members. The transatlantic alliance is not in the best of shape at the moment, to say the least. Some European allies bear a lot of the blame. The world just witnessed the vote of the Security Council where England, France and Germany chose to abstain from extending the arms embargo on Iran, as if more arms in the hands of the Mullahs will bring peace to the Middle East. The E3 are clearly upset at the Trump administration on a range of issues. Plus, European leaders tend to underestimate security threats. In contrast though, the prospect of Russian troops marching through Belarus to the border of the EU may prompt them to think again about the need for a robust defense cooperation. A repeat of the Yugoslav wars may be looming in the European northeast, including another wave of refugees, and Europeans will have to rediscover how much they need the transatlantic alliance. It is time for Washington’s diplomatic corps to be reminding them of the dangers in their neighborhood.

Second, diplomacy has to lay the groundwork for a suspension of the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act. That post-Cold War document was premised on a non-adversarial relationship with Russia, and the expectation that Russia would contribute to European stability, democracy and peace. Moscow has broken that agreement time and again, in Ukraine, through assassinations in the United Kingdom and in Germany, and through the suppression of democratic forces domestically. The hour has long passed when NATO and the U.S. in particular should be reticent about stationing troops in the Central European countries that became free after 1989. NATO’s European members should hear America make that case and join in supporting defense build ups along the new eastern front that stretches from Estonia to Bulgaria. That troop repositioning will take considerable diplomatic and logistical efforts. The time to start is now. The decision to move troops from Germany to Poland is an auspicious first start.

Third, precisely those eastern flank countries need clear reassurance of American support. Fortunately, the Trump administration has succeeded in building firmer ties in this “new Europe,” but more could be done. A ministerial level gathering in Washington in the fall, including leaders from the Baltics, the Visegrad four, Rumania and Bulgaria would be an opportunity to signal Washington’s firm commitment to friends in those countries and to counteract the Kremlin disinformation campaign that is persistently active and outstrips the State Department’s own meager communication strategies. Yet of equal importance, a Washington gathering of the partners in Eastern Europe would signal to the world that the front line of freedom will not be surrendered to Putin’s addiction to military adventures abroad.

Fourth, it is time as well to pressure “old Europe,” especially the former front-line state, Germany, to live up to its commitments. At stake is not only the evergreen problem of burden-sharing, German underspending on defense. Even more glaring is Berlin’s persistence in collaboration with Russia on projects like the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite objections of its European neighbors, despite Crimea, and despite killings carried out by Russian agents in Berlin, nearly in the shadow of the Chancellery. Germany should use its considerable influence in Moscow to forestall any meddling. To do so, it could make completion and operation of the pipeline contingent on Russia staying out of Belarus. Putin already has too much foreign fighting on his hands.

Belarus is part of the European theater, but it is also a piece of the encompassing global competition. Weakness in Northeast Europe will tempt adversaries in East Asia. One has to plan for worst case scenarios: a conventional Russian advance in Belarus could be followed by a Chinese move on Hong Kong or even Taiwan. Preventing such catastrophic developments requires clear expressions of commitment, fortifying our alliance and building a defense posture appropriate to today’s circumstances, not to the last war.


A slippery slope in bringing criminal charges in pipeline probe

By George LandrithDaily Times

Pipeline
The Mariner East pipeline traverses both Chester and Delaware counties.
SUBMITTED PHOTO

In his final attempt to torpedo Pennsylvania’s Mariner East 2 pipeline, now-former Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan filed criminal charges against security contractors hired to secure pipeline construction sites. Sadly, the accusations are merely another publicity stunt in the D.A.’s crusade to upend the permitted project rather than an honest effort to serve the public. Pennsylvanians deserve better than this kind of gamesmanship that puts political agendas ahead of residents’ welfare.

The charges accuse several security personnel employed by Mariner East of paying state constables to provide security for the pipeline during construction. The constables’ authority, Mr. Hogan alleges, was used as a “weapon” to “intimidate citizens.” But the facts of the situation tell a different story – one that when coupled with the D.A.’s record of claims against the Mariner East point a finger back at Mr. Hogan for politicizing his public office.

It’s not uncommon for businesses of all industries to employ private security. That’s especially true for energy developers and operators, who regularly hire personnel to not only protect their investments, but also to ensure individuals are not inadvertently injured by equipment or ongoing construction around infrastructure sites.

Long before the Mariner East developers contracted the security personnel now under scrutiny, they consulted local law enforcement about the possibility of using state constables. Those authorities raised no concerns. And it’s hard to imagine why they would.

Pipelines have become targets for environmental extremists, and reports of sabotage and other criminal activities against energy infrastructure have grown in recent years. In fact, one disgruntled central Pennsylvania landowner even lured bears to pipeline work sites, set fires near equipment, and harassed workers in an unlawful attempt to halt the pipeline. Another group admitted to sabotaging equipment in southeast Pennsylvania. It’s a sad reality that pipeline operators often need extra security to prevent senseless attacks, and based on past criminal activity, it’s necessary for the Mariner East builders to take additional precautions.

It’s also important to understand the function of Pennsylvania’s constables. Like a sheriff, a constable is an elected or appointed position in the executive branch of government. Primarily, they serve at the direction of the courts to issue summons and warrants and the like, but they are fully empowered to enforce both criminal and civil laws.

Unlike most law enforcement officials, constables do not receive a set salary. They are compensated by assignment at rates established by state law. As public peace officers, constables are employed by a third party – never directly, as a security guard would be. In that way, Mariner East’s situation is not unusual: The developer hired a private contractor to secure the construction sites. The contractor then enlisted the support of state constables.

John-Walter Weiser and Philip Intrieri, the president and the solicitor of the Commonwealth Constable Association, respectively, recently called out the absurdity of the Chester County D.A.’s claims. “It is frankly offensive to accuse a constable of ‘selling his badge,’ when he is only operating under a fee-driven system he did not create, and which is intended to save our tax dollars,” Weiser and Intrieri wrote last month. “Filing felony charges of law when that law is unclear is a grievous abuse of power.”

It’s impossible to reconcile the precautions taken to add extra security around the Mariner East Pipeline with the charges now being leveled. Instead, the evidence points to an ideological campaign against midstream energy infrastructure. Mr. Hogan has criticized Mariner East and has promised that other charges are “coming down the line.” In his statement announcing the most recent allegations, Mr. Hogan goes so far as to accuse Gov. Tom Wolf of being “asleep at the wheel.” All this was said and done as Mr. Hogan was leaving office.

The D.A.’s attacks against the Mariner East Pipeline seem to peel back the true motives behind these latest charges – which are to derail energy infrastructure deployment in Pennsylvania. But these accusations are too serious for residents to accept as politics as usual. As Hogan’s successor Deborah Ryan takes office, it is critical that Pennsylvanians are afforded an open debate about the Commonwealth’s energy security – not policy by litigation that, apparently, will readily sacrifice those who find themselves on the wrong side of the agenda of those in power.


New Home Security Systems Could Be Next Big Tech Privacy Invasion

By George LandrithThe Resurgent

When Facebook started out, most Americans thought they were getting a free service to help them connect with family and friends and that Facebook would be funded by the advertisements on their computer screens. Almost no one understood that their private information was being used to create detailed personal profiles that tracked virtually everything — where they live, who their friends are, what they like and dislike, where they shop, what products they buy, what news or events interest them, and what their political views are. Monetizing each of its users is how Facebook became a billion dollar business. But very few understood that they were, in fact, the product being sold and monetized when they signed up.

We are about to see this same phenomena on replay when it comes to new high tech home security systems. But this time it will be on steroids — because firms like Amazon will have access to a lot more than just the things we chose to post online. Products like Ring are able to store this information and it can be accessed months or years later.

They will have microphones and cameras in and around our homes. They could conceivably have access to the most intensely private and personal information and even have video and photos and sound files with our voices from inside and around our homes. How will this valuable private data be used?

These security firms store this information and it can be accessed months or years later. The question is — accessed by whom and for what purposes? If past experience is any indicator, your private information will be available to whomever is willing to pay for it, and for whatever purpose generates income. But you’re not being told that when you buy these new products.

In the past, home security systems, used high tech solutions to monitor doors and windows and glass breakage and smoke to notify you and/or to call 911 when there was a break in or a fire. But they were not collecting your private information. They were not recording your conversations. They were not recording video inside your home or even who might be coming and going from your home. But all that is changing. The new frontier in home security appears to be the Facebook model — make the client the product that the company is actually selling, but don’t make that clear up front.

Many firms have used high tech automation to lower monitoring costs, and some offer lower prices because they will make it back the same way Facebook did. If you thought Facebook was gathering information about you and your family, wait until you see what they and others can do with your private conversations in the most intimate settings at the front door and within your home.

With devices in our homes that listen to our voice so that they can turn on or off lights or adjust temperatures or turn on the television, or a hundred other things, we now know that employees who listen to the devices have held parties where they all share the most embarrassing or strange events that they’ve overheard. Simply stated, employees have saved and replayed private conversations that were recorded in our homes and used them for their personal amusement. I’m pretty confident that wasn’t in the “User Agreement.”  So we have to understand the potential for abuse of our private information is real and, in fact, likely.

If consumers want security services that record voice and video in and around their home, they have the right to choose that. But to be a real choice, there must be a full and complete disclosure in plain English and there must be real legal accountability for violations of the agreement.

We cannot make an informed decision when the marketing of these devices suggests that they are simply a lower cost, higher tech home security solution. That’s deceptive and it is designed to mislead consumers and lull them into a false sense that their privacy isn’t at risk.

We have the right to know what private information, voice recordings, photos and video are being recorded and stored. How will that information be used? Will it be sold? Will it be used at employee parties to get a laugh? Who has access to your private and intimate data? If you talk about something in the privacy of your bedroom, will you begin receiving push advertisements on that exact topic?

Policymakers should create clear standards that allow consumers to make informed choices. Consumers have every right to invite companies and their employees into their private lives. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to them what the real deal is. Disclosure allows Americans to decide if they want a home security system or if they want to invite a large corporation into their home to surveil them so that they can expand their profits.


Ex-CIA Chief Brennan’s Security Clearance Should Have Been Revoked Long Ago

By Investor’s Business Daily

Nation’s Secrets: Democrats and spy agency bureaucrats squealed with rage after President Trump pulled former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. Why are they upset? Brennan clearly abused his privileged security clearance by using it for political purposes and profit.

“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct, characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary, is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, reading a statement.

There’s no question that Brennan lied, both to Congress and the American people, more than once and under oath.

And for someone with continued privileged access to the nation’s secrets to call the president “treasonous” merely for speaking to Vladimir Putin isn’t an exercise of freedom of speech — it verges on a threat.

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[Flashback interview] Retired Senator Malcolm Wallop: “Frontier Freedom”

“America needed to define its interests. . . . The first, foremost obligation is defense of the homeland. . . . (2) We are a trading nation. We need access to our markets and we need for those markets to be reasonably secured. . . . (3) We are a communicating nation which needs access to space, access to the seas. (4) We are a studying nation. Scholarship from science is important to the whole world and those people need to be able to be safe and secure in what they do. (5) Our hemisphere is quite important. If there’s not security in our hemisphere, there’s not security in the homeland. (6) Finally we are a nation with some conscience. It means alliances are extremely important when they’re based on a national interest. We have to have the ability to sustain our presence within those alliances.”

wallop

by Rick Henderson & William H. Mellor III*

November 1, 1995

In the introduction to The Almanac of American Politics 1996 , Michael Barone asserts that the election of 1994 signaled that the nation seems to be returning to a “Tocquevillian America, to something resembling the country that French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1831 and described in his Democracy in America. Tocqueville’s America was egalitarian, individualistic, decentralized, religious, property-loving, lightly governed.” Continue reading


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