As a White House staffer who worked directly adjacent to Hillary Clinton’s second floor West Wing office, Linda Tripp was afforded a front row seat to some of the most infamous scandals to rock the Bill Clinton White House.
Tripp possesses insider information on the scandals known as Travelgate, Filegate and Whitewater, and she personally witnessed the handling of documents from Vince Foster’s office the morning after the Deputy White House Counsel was found dead in an apparent suicide. Foster was heavily involved in defending the Clintons in the Travelgate, Filegate and Whitewater cases. Tripp was the last person known to have spoken to Foster before his death.
In an exclusive interview, Tripp reopened each of those scandals – Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater and the issues surrounding Vince Foster’s death – and she used her unique vantage point to explain how the notorious cases foreshadowed many of the current Clinton controversies, from the Clinton Foundation to Hillary Clinton’s private email server troubles.
Tripp spoke in an hour-long interview set to air in full on this reporter’s Sunday night talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio,” broadcast on New York’s AM 970 The Answer and NewsTalk 990 AM in Philadelphia.
Tripp is well-known for her role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, documenting evidence of the young intern’s relationship with Bill Clinton and submitting the documentation to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, leading to the public disclosure of the affair.
However, many people may be surprised to learn of Tripp’s larger role in the West Wing, and her firsthand experiences behind the curtain of the Clinton scandal machine.
Tripp was brought to the Clinton administration from the George H.W. Bush White House, where she served as executive assistant to the deputy chief of staff to the president, a role that enabled her to become familiar with the inner workings of the West Wing.
During the Clinton administration, she first served as support staff to the Immediate Office of the President, where she sat just outside Bill Clinton’s Oval Office. After three months, Foster asked Tripp to work for the White House Counsel’s office as executive assistant to White House Counsel Bernie Nussbaum, who played a lead role in defending the Clintons in their infamous scandals.
No respect for classified, sensitive documents
As a crossover staffer from the Bush White House, Tripp explained that she observed significant differences in the manner in which classified material was handled by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. She personally witnessed behavior that may have foreshadowed Clinton’s future email issues in which the presidential candidate sent sensitive data over her personal server and later deleted about 30,000 emails.
During the Bush administration, Tripp said that “everything I had to come to know as protocol for the handling of classified information was followed very strictly… In the Bush White House, classification was critical, followed and adhered to with great, great detail.”
In contrast, Tripp says, she observed a “cavalier, loosey-goosey, this isn’t important, don’t be a prude [attitude]” toward the handling of sensitive information.
“Because I would often bring up the fact that this had to happen. That this was not a luxury. This was a necessity. And classified material is just part and parcel of working in the West Wing of the White House on a daily basis,” she explained. “So there was sort of a disregard for any of the rules. They certainly didn’t apply to them. And that was startling.”
One of several examples Tripp cited during our interview was the manner in which the Clinton White House handled the processing of comprehensive security and background checks for incoming aides and advisors.
“When the Clintons came in, I think one thing that was very startling right from the beginning was in order to even work in the West Wing you have to have an extremely comprehensive background security review. And it is generally a 90-day process. It costs thousands upon thousands of dollars per person. And at the end of that time you receive your security clearance at whatever level you are secured. Mine was top secret and above.
“Also just as an example, …when I got to the Bush White House I couldn’t even enter the West Wing even though I was hired to support the West Wing until my 90-day security review had been completed.
“Now in the Clinton White House it was a year before I would say 95% of the senior advisors to President Clinton and their support staff in the West Wing even filled out the paperwork.”
Filegate: Hillary and her ‘sense of paranoia’
The White House FBI files controversy, also known as “Filegate,” revolved around the West Wing wrongly accessing FBI security-clearance documents on hundreds of current and former government employees, including Republican figures such as former top Republican presidential advisors.
During our interview, Tripp discussed what she observed with regard to Filegate and the scandal’s pivotal actor, Craig Livingstone, director of the White House’s Office of Personnel Security. Livingstone ultimately resigned from his position amid rumours he was not qualified for the position; that Hillary Clinton personally requested and read the files; and that Livingstone was put in charge of personal security at Clinton’s behest.
Tripp viewed Hillary Clinton’s alleged involvement in accessing the secretive files as “a great example of how she perceives life in general. There’s a huge sense of them-versus-us. A huge sense of paranoia. A huge hatred of Republicans. And it’s mind-boggling.”
Tripp knew Livingstone fairly well from her position inside the West Wing. She questioned Livingstone’s qualifications, explaining he was “known as someone during the ‘92 campaign who had dressed up as a chicken and heckled the first President Bush at his campaign stops.”
“And he was also known as an intricate part of their opposition research,” Tripp continued. “So essentially coming up with negative information about the first President Bush during that campaign.”
“The reason that I had anything to do with him was that the chief of White House security in a loose way reported to the counsel to the president (Bernie Nussbaum), who was my boss. But Craig Livingstone was a former bar bouncer. That was his claim to fame. So the notion that this former bar bouncer was the chief of White House security was beyond chilling to anyone who knew how that office functioned in the previous administration.
“It just defied comprehension. And worse, his claim was that he was hired by Hillary. And Bernie (Nussbaum) knew nothing about that. Bernie had no idea how he was hired. He just knew that that was his job.”
…And these were all files of perceived Clinton enemies. They were all Republicans. And what was so chilling about that was Craig Livingstone himself having essentially ownership of these raw data FBI Files.”
Tripp says Filegate, especially the mistreatment of sensitive information, was a sampling of a larger pattern that continues to this day.
“I don’t think sensitive material – or classified information, for that matter – was something they considered at all. And I know that is a strong statement to make,” Tripp said. “But I believe that what was more important to Mrs. Clinton was control. Control of the information flow. The ability to smear those who would speak against them. And the ability to control the message. So classification wasn’t a big deal and I think you can see that and what has happened just this past year. With what happened at the state Department. It is really just a continuation of a pattern.”
Vince Foster Death Episode: Hillary oversaw document sifting
The death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster on July 20, 1993 shocked the nation.
His untimely death came as Bill and Hillary Clinton were being investigated for the White House travel office controversy, also known as Travelgate, the first major public controversy for the Clinton administration.
Foster was found dead in Virginia’s Fort Marcy Park with an autopsy concluding the cause of death was a “perforating gunshot wound mouth-head.”
Five official or governmental investigations concluded that he committed suicide. The nature of Foster’s work, as well as the six days it took before Foster’s suicide note was found, led to speculation and conspiracies about his death.
“He was the one who was to oversee everything from Whitewater to Travelgate, to Filegate, to everything that had anything to do with any of these scandals,” recalled Tripp. “Regardless of whether these scandals had occurred before they got to the White House or after.”
Tripp recalled receiving a phone call from Bill Clinton’s secretary at around midnight the night that Foster died, and “it was just a complete tragedy.”
“My first question to the president’s secretary when she called and said, ‘Vince is dead. He killed himself’ — my first question was, how did you know he killed himself? This was midnight. I was in bed. It was just so surreal.”
Things became “unusual and noteworthy from that point on,” she said.
Tripp says she was shocked to show up for work the next day to find Foster’s office not only unsecured, but with a White House staffer inside, handling documents.
She said the office should have been secured because “at that point, there was no definitive conclusion as to how he had died. At that point one would have assumed it was still an investigation.”
Regarding the sifting of documents, Tripp stated: “When I arrived, Bernie’s other assistant was literally in Vince’s office going through papers… And I just couldn’t understand how she couldn’t understand that this had to be a secured scene.”
I asked whether she saw the assistant remove any documents.
“I didn’t,” she replied. “I asked the question and she said she was straightening his office and then later I think it was said that she may have been looking for a suicide note. I don’t know. I don’t attribute any nefarious intent to her. I just felt at the time and strongly felt and believed that this was inappropriate and that we had a duty and an obligation to preserve whatever evidence might be there.”
“But you know, again, it’s just another sort of example of a systemic problem that existed in the Clinton White House. The rules don’t apply. Ever,” she added.
Tripp says she was the one who called Secret Service to finally secure Foster’s workspace:
“I just couldn’t understand how she (Bernie Nussbaum’s assistant) couldn’t understand that this had to be a secured scene. For many reasons but certainly because this was a suspicious death at that point. Of a senior adviser to the President of the United States. So in the midst of all the closed-door sessions and the back and forth, finally I called the Secret Service and said, could you send someone up to cordon off the office and to post a guard.”
The real “scandal” of Foster’s death was the removal of documents from the Counsel’s offices following the suicide, Tripp continued, adding that it was Hillary Clinton who was personally leading those efforts:
“Hillary oversaw everything that followed in the aftermath of Vince Foster’s death. Hardly mourning, she sprang into action like a field commander. The very night he died, her aides were packing up and moving boxes of files to the residence. Some never surfaced for years, including the Rose Law Firm Billing records which were under subpoena. They mysteriously surfaced years later in the Residence of the White House, at a time where it made little difference. What should have made a difference is that these law firm billing records showed definitively how extensive her involvement was in the Whitewater mess, something she had denied under oath.”
Foster’s death was a watershed moment for the Clinton West Wing, Tripp explained. “From then on in everything changed,” she said.
“I mean literally from one minute to the next. Bernie’s office had been an open-door policy. After that, his door was always closed. And the most trusted soldiers in the counsel’s office would huddle in there for days on end. And one of those was Cheryl Mills, who long ago swore a blood oath to the Clintons. And to this day, I am sure people may have heard her name as being involved in the email scandal.”
Tripp singled out Mills as being “extremely instrumental in the days that followed” Foster’s passing.
She mused at how Mills is continually involved in allegedly helping to scrub Clinton scandals, from the Clinton Foundation to Emailgate.
“The interesting thing about Cheryl Mills — and again this is getting down in the weeds where most people are just probably not aware of it — but you will recall the Justice Department allowed Cheryl Mills, who was a witness, if not a subject to the email investigation, to invoke attorney-client privilege in order to thwart the attempt to gain information about Clinton’s emails.
“And she was literally a participant in that procedure. She oversaw the destruction by bleaching of the emails. She was a critical player and still is. But it’s interesting because when she was at the State Department, she was Hillary’s chief of staff but she was not acting in the capacity of a lawyer.
“And with her involvement personally with Clinton’s private email setup, it’s amazing that she was an actor in the facts that are literally under criminal investigation by the FBI. And yet she was allowed to sit in on Hillary’s FBI investigation as a lawyer. She should never have been allowed to be a participant as a lawyer. A few years after they both left the state department. But she was allowed to do that.”
Mills was also offered limited immunity in the email probe.
Whitewater: Obstruction of Justice
Tripp addressed the investigations into Whitewater, controversial real estate investments by the Clintons and two associates who together formed a failed company, the Whitewater Development Corporation, which was utilized to make the at-times shady investments.
Immediately following Foster’s death, White House senior officials reportedlyremoved files from Foster’s office, including those pertaining to the Whitewater real estate investments.
During our interview, Tripp stated that “there was a White House task force with very loyal folks who worked on a daily basis to ensure that no one, no controlling legal authority at all, had unfettered access to documents or information having to do with Whitewater.”
Tripp views the Whitewater controversy as “all of a piece.”
“From what I can see from my vantage point, Whitewater appeared to be a sleazy land deal with questionable players. And Hillary at the Rose Law Firm being personally involved and professionally involved representing some of the sleazy characters. She didn’t want any of that to get out. You know, one of the driving forces, sort of a dual quest for unparalleled power, unquestioned power and the accumulation of vast wealth.
“And Whitewater was just a get-rich-quick scheme that was questionable at best that shows sort of the incestuous garbage that was going on in Arkansas, of which they were a part. And she wanted no one to have access to this information.”
Tripp opined that the “real” Whitewater scandal, “aside from highlighting an element of sleaze, was the enormous steps that Hillary took to ensure that essentially obstruction of justice went on.”
“So this was an enormously expensive exercise to the taxpayer. And completely unnecessary had she just provided the documents to begin with,” Tripp added.
After the public disclosure of the Lewinsky affair, the news media largely attempted to paint Tripp as a disloyal friend motivated by money; a greedy opportunist who betrayed an impressionable young woman purportedly in a bid to sell a book. The media spin machine went into overdrive, unfairly condemning her as the villain in an attempt to frame Clinton’s behavior as adulterous rather than predatory and abusive.
This narrative falls apart on many levels, especially now, with the benefit of hindsight.
“The money I might have made on a book would never have overtaken what I gave up. My career. My pension. I was making a very decent salary. There was just no way that a book could have made up for what I would lose,” Tripp said.
“But the media, in an attempt I suppose to support the Clintons’ perspective, painted me that way,” she added. “So there is very little the average layperson can do to fight that media saturation.”
And Tripp never published a book, as she noted during our interview.
“It’s actually kind of humorous in a way, if it weren’t so pathetically sad, that many of the members of the media who painted me as an avarice-driven, money-grubbing, horrible villain, themselves wrote best-selling books with their version of events. So I find that somewhat ironic.”
Also, looking back, Tripp seems to be doing quite well without ever having profited financially from the Lewinsky affair. She and her husband own a successful small business, and reportedly live on a $3 million farm in rural Virginia.
Her difficult decision to expose the Lewinsky affair was motivated in part out of concern for Lewinsky’s well-being, she said. The intern was acting erratically toward the end of the affair and Bill Clinton had much to lose with a public disclosure in light of the Paula Jones lawsuit, Tripp said in a previous interview with me. And Tripp points out that before she went to Starr, Lewinsky had informed Bill Clinton that Tripp knew about their relationship, putting both Lewinsky and Tripp in the crosshairs of the Clinton machine.
“I say today, and I will continue to say, that I believe Monica Lewinsky is alive today because of choices I made and action I took,” she said. “That may sound melodramatic to your listeners. I can only say that from my perspective, I believe that she and I at the time were in danger, because nothing stands in the way of these people achieving their political ends.”
But perhaps most critically, Tripp points out that Clinton’s treatment of Lewinsky was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the misdeed that finally prompted Tripp to speak publicly after bearing witness to scandal after scandal, offenses mostly hidden from the public. Tripp said there were numerous instances in which she wanted to go public on other issues before the Lewinsky debacle, but in the end, she was too afraid.
“The West Wing of the Clinton White House was scandal central, without a doubt,” she said. “But more importantly, it was a peak behind the corrupt curtain that few have ever seen and I don’t think will see. And so I wanted to shout from the rooftops back then and expose what I witnessed.
“But in the end, I was honestly too much of a coward to do anything at all and that was primarily because by that point I was a single parent,” Tripp continued. “And I had had a 20-plus year government career. I would have lost my retirement. My income. And I knew that it would not be a good outcome to say much. But it ended up being the president’s horrific abuse of an emotionally fragile young girl not much older than my own children that finally tipped me over the edge. And that was years later.”
Tripp says she is “not the only one who witnessed all of this in the Clinton White House. But most remain silent. You know, those who dare to speak out are completely decimated. Their credibility is shredded. Their motivations are assailed.”
Tripp said another issue Clinton whistleblowers had at the time was credibility, explaining the public perception of the Clinton White House was very different from that which she had experienced:
“You know, it is very difficult for anyone who has seen behind the curtain to share that with the general population because I think generally they are so completely effective – and by them, I mean the Clintons – in their polished approach to politics to destroy anyone who would speak out against them.
“…I always wondered why am I being exposed to all of this and the general public is seeing none of this? In fact, it was so black and white, topsy turvy, “Alice in Wonderland”-like because virtually everything the public heard was in direct opposition to what was true.”
From old to new scandals…the Clinton legacy
Tripp stressed how the Clinton scandals of the 1990’s foreshadowed many of the Clinton’s future controversies.
“The Clintons embody a culture of corruption,” she said. “And corruption can be insidious. A look at the President, the Attorney General and the FBI Director over this past year is illuminating. Their eager protection of all things Hillary could not be construed as anything other than political favoritism. On steroids. From the tortured interpretation of ‘intent’ by the FBI Director, to the irregularities at Justice, including the Attorney General’s secret meeting with Bill Clinton on the tarmac, to President Obama’s enthusiastic defense of Hillary during a supposed active and ongoing FBI investigation, it all becomes clear. In fact, President Obama and Hillary jetted off to a campaign event aboard Air Force One just as Director Comey was announcing his long-awaited findings. This unnerving split screen optic would simply never have been allowed to occur had there been any doubt of the outcome.
“The politicization of a federal criminal investigation should be alarming,” she concluded. “That they may well have used the power of their offices to control and manipulate the outcome of a presidential election seems a distinct possibility. In America. The intent seemed to be to ensure Hillary’s ultimate triumph over an opponent those in power found unsuitable. That used to be the exclusive right of the American people. And that is the Clinton legacy.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.”
Yael Haccoun and her family are Orthodox Jews from the working-class Paris suburb of Sarcelles, but they flew to Israel in late September to start a new life and escape the anti-Semitism around them.
"And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country." Ezekiel 34:13 (KJV)
“French people think that it’s natural when Jews are targeted” in terror attacks, said Haccoun, 33, as she waited with her husband and their three children here at the airport. "The fact that the army must protect Jewish schools and synagogues isn’t normal.”
She said her family watched in horror in July 2014 as a demonstration protesting Israel’s war with Hamas turned into an anti-Semitic rampage. Dozens of young men chanting 'Allahu Akbar' in Arabic and “death to the Jews” attacked Jewish-owned businesses with clubs and fire bombs.
Why 10,000 French Jews Will Move to Israel This Year:
The number of French Jews immigrating to Israel rose from 1,900 in 2011 to nearly 8,000 last year, said Jacques Canet, president of La Victoire, the great synagogue of Paris. He said the country’s 500,000 to 600,000 French Jews — the third largest Jewish population in the world — “feel threatened."
“Increasingly, Jews in Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse, Sarcelles feel they can’t safely wear a kippah (yarmulke, or skull cap) outside their homes or send their children to public schools, where Muslim children bully Jewish children,” Canet said.
A poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion in January showed 43% of France's Jewish Community are considering a move to Israel, and 51% said they have "been threatened" because they are Jewish.
Those with enough money have moved to more upscale areas within France or to Canada, England or the United States, Canet said. The wealthy, staunch Zionists and those who can’t afford to send their children to private Jewish schools go to Israel.
Moshe Sabbag, rabbi of La Victoire, believes “100%” of France’s Jews are thinking of moving, but that prospect is daunting. The majority of France’s Jews immigrated to France in the 1950s and 1960s from North African Muslim countries.
French Jews “love France, they love French culture, they want to stay,” Sabbag said just before leading Friday night services at the synagogue. “But Jews were targeted during huge demonstrations against the 2014 Gaza war. They were killed in Toulouse and Hypercacher,” he said, referring to the 2012 attack on a Jewish school that killed four people and the 2015 attack on a kosher Paris supermarket that left four dead. Muslim extremists carried out both attacks.
Although 2015 was a record year for French immigration to Israel, the numbers this year are lower. As of August 2016, 40% fewer Jews had arrived, compared to the same period last year, according to the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Dov Maimon, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, a think tank, said there are a number of reasons for the decline.
“First, Jews in France are feeling more secure because the (French) prime minister has beefed up security around Jewish institutions, while the increase in terror attacks this winter in Israel may have scared off some people. It may also be that the most ideologically driven Jews have already immigrated,” Maimon said.
The biggest factor, Maimon said, “is that the Israeli prime minister promised French Jews he would take care of them if they came to Israel. They believed Israel would provide them with jobs and housing, but France is a welfare state. Israel is not.”
He pointed out that 100 French immigrant families have returned to France so far this year.
Despite some governmental and agency assistance, “they didn’t find jobs, their kids didn’t learn Hebrew, and French Jews still in France say, ‘I don’t want to be like them.’"
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein believes the assistance is making a difference. Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, said his group provided plane tickets, $1,000 and other services to 700 new French immigrants during the past two years, including 70 people on the Haccouns' flight.
“Our volunteers meet every person who arrives. We help them find a place to live and a school for their children. We help them write a resume and pay for day care so they can look for a job," Eckstein said.
In the Sarcelles suburb, Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, head of an Orthodox Jewish elementary school, asked his students to raise their hands if their families planned to move to Israel. Almost every child did.
“Twenty years ago there were 30,000 Jews in Sarcelles. Today there are 15,000,”Bitton said. Despite the exodus, Bitton’s son Mendel, who is also a rabbi, is building a yeshiva in the town. “We believe that there is a future for Jews here," Mendel Bitton said.
Toulouse residents Michelle Aiache, 65, and her husband Roger, 71, left for Israel from Paris on the same flight as the Haccoun family.
Security fears played a role in their decision to move, but “the main reason is because our three children and all five grandchildren live in Jerusalem,” Michelle Aiache said. “We’re not fleeing from France. We’re going to Israel.” source
President Barack Obama’s drive to hand off control of Internet domains to a foreign multi-national operation will give some very unpleasant regimes equal say over the future of online speech and commerce.
In fact, they are likely to have much more influence than America, because they will collectively push hard for a more tightly controlled Internet, and they are known for aggressively using political and economic pressure to get what they want.
Here’s a look at some of the regimes that will begin shaping the future of the Internet in just a few days, if President Obama gets his way.
China wrote the book on authoritarian control of online speech. The legendary “Great Firewall of China” prevents citizens of the communist state from accessing global content the Politburo disapproves of. Chinese technology companies are required by law to provide the regime with backdoor access to just about everything.
The Chinese government outright banned online news reporting in July, granting the government even tighter control over the spread of information. Websites are only permitted to post news from official government sources. Chinese online news wasn’t exactly a bastion of freedom before that, of course, but at least the government censors had to track down news stories they disliked and demand the site administrators take them down.
Internet Experts Submit Plan For U.S. to Cede Control of ICANN
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Unsurprisingly, the Chinese Communists aren’t big fans of independent news analysis or blogging, either. Bloggers who criticize the government are liable to be charged with “inciting subversion,” even when the writer in question is a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Chinese citizens know better than to get cheeky on social media accounts, as well. Before online news websites were totally banned, they were forbidden from reporting news gathered from social media, without government approval. Spreading anything the government decides is “fake news” is a crime.
In a report labeling China one of the worst countries for Internet freedom in the world, Freedom House noted they’ve already been playing games with Internet registration and security verification:
The China Internet Network Information Center was found to be issuing false digital security certificates for a number of websites, including Google, exposing the sites’ users to “man in the middle” attacks.
The government strengthened its real-name registration laws for blogs, instant-messaging services, discussion forums, and comment sections of websites.
A key feature of China’s online censorship is that frightened citizens are not entirely certain what the rules are. Huge ministries work tirelessly to pump out content regulations and punish infractions. Not all of the rules are actually written down. As Foreign Policyexplained:
Before posting, a Chinese web user is likely to consider basic questions about how likely a post is to travel, whether it runs counter to government priorities, and whether it calls for action or is likely to engender it. Those answers help determine whether a post can be published without incident — as it is somewhere around 84 percent or 87 percent of the time — or is instead likely to lead to a spectrum of negative consequences varying from censorship, to the deletion of a user’s account, to his or her detention, even arrest and conviction.
This was accompanied by a flowchart demonstrating “what gets you censored on the Chinese Internet.” It is not a simple flowchart.
Beijing is not even slightly self-conscious about its authoritarian control of the Internet. On the contrary, their censorship policies are trumpeted as “Internet sovereignty,” and they aggressively believe the entire world should follow their model, as the Washington Postreported in a May 2016 article entitled “China’s Scary Lesson to the World: Censoring the Internet Works.”
China already has a quarter of the planet’s Internet users locked up behind the Great Firewall. How can anyone doubt they won’t use the opportunity Obama is giving them, to pursue their openly stated desire to lock down the rest of the world?
Russia and China are already working together for a more heavily-censored Internet. Foreign Policyreported one of Russia’s main goals at an April forum was to “harness Chinese expertise in Internet management to gain further control over Russia’s internet, including foreign sites accessible there.”
Russia’s “top cop,” Alexander Bastrykin, explicitly stated Russia needs to stop “playing false democracy” and abandon “pseudo-liberal values” by following China’s lead on Internet censorship, instead of emulating the U.S. example. Like China’s censors, Russian authoritarians think “Internet freedom” is just coded language for the West imposing “cultural hegemony” on the rest of the world.
Just think what Russia and China will be able to do about troublesome foreign websites, once Obama surrenders American control of Internet domains!
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “chipped away at Internet freedom in Russia since he returned to the Kremlin in 2012,” as International Business Timesput it in a 2014 article.
One of Putin’s new laws requires bloggers with over 3,000 readers to register with the government, providing their names and home addresses. As with China, Russia punishes online writers for “spreading false information,” and once the charge is leveled, it’s basically guilty-until-proven-innocent. For example, one of the “crimes” that can get a blogger prosecuted in Russia is alleging the corruption of a public official, without ironclad proof.
Human-rights group Agora estimates that Russian Internet censorship grew by 900% in 2015 alone, including both court orders and edicts from government agencies that don’t require court approval. Censorship was expected to intensify even further throughout 2016. Penalties include prison time, even for the crime of liking or sharing banned content on social media.
Putin, incidentally, has described the entire Internet as a CIA plot designed to subvert regimes like his. There will be quite a few people involved in the new multi-national Internet control agency who think purging the Web of American influence is a top priority.
The Russian government has prevailed upon Internet Service Providers to block opposition websites during times of political unrest, in addition to thousands of bans ostensibly issued for security, crime-fighting, and anti-pornography purposes.
Many governments follow the lead of Russia and China in asserting the right to shut down “extremist” or “subversive” websites. In the United States, we worry about law enforcement abusing its authority while battling outright terrorism online, arguing that privacy and freedom of speech must always be measured against security, no matter how dire the threat. In Russia, a rough majority of the population has no problem with the notion of censoring the Internet in the name of political stability, and will countenance absolutely draconian controls against perceived national security threats. This is a distressingly common view in other nations as well: stability justifies censorship and monitoring, not just physical security.
Turkey’s crackdown on the Internet was alarming even before the aborted July coup attempt against authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey has banned social media sites, including temporary bans against even giants like Facebook and YouTube, for political reasons. Turkish dissidents are accustomed to such bans coming down on the eve of elections. The Turkish telecom authority can impose such bans without a court order, or a warning to offending websites.
Turkey is often seen as the world leader in blocking Twitter accounts, in addition to occasionally shutting the social media service down completely, and has over a 100,000 websites blacklisted. Criticizing the government online can result in anything from lost employment to criminal charges. And if you think social-media harassment from loyal supporters of the government in power can get pretty bad in the U.S., Turks sometimes discover that hassles from pro-regime trolls online are followed by visits from the police.
Turkish law infamously makes it a crime to insult the president, a law Erdogan has already attempted to impose beyond Turkey’s borders. One offender found himself hauled into court for creating a viral meme – the sort of thing manufactured by the thousands every hour in America – that noted Erdogan bore a certain resemblance to Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The judge in his case ordered expert testimony on whether Gollum was evil to conclusively determine whether the meme was an illegal insult to the president.
The Turkish example introduces another idea common to far too many of the countries Obama wants to give equal say over the future of the Internet: intimidation is a valid purpose for law enforcement. Many of Turkey’s censorship laws are understood to be mechanisms for intimidating dissidents, raising the cost of free speech enough to make people watch their words very carefully. “Think twice before you Tweet” might be good advice for some users, but regimes like Erdogan’s seek to impose that philosophy on everyone. This runs strongly contrary to the American understanding of the Internet as a powerful instrument that lowers the cost of speech to near-zero, the biggest quantum leap for free expression in human history. Zero-cost speech is seen as a big problem by many of the governments that will now place strong hands upon the global Internet rudder.
Turkey is very worried about “back doors” that allow citizens to circumvent official censorship, a concern they will likely bring to Internet control, along with like-minded authoritarian regimes. These governments will make the case that a free and open Internet is a direct threat to their “sovereign right” to control what their citizens read. As long as any part of the Internet remains completely free, no sector can be completely controlled.
The Saudis aren’t too far behind China in the Internet rankings by Freedom House. Dissident online activity can bring jail sentences, plus the occasional public flogging.
This is particularly lamentable because Saudi Arabia is keenly interested in modernization, and sees the Internet as a valuable economic resource, along with a thriving social media presence. Freedom House notes the Internet “remains the least repressive space for expression in the country,” but “it is by no means free.”
“While the state focuses on combatting violent extremism and disrupting terrorist networks, it has clamped down on nonviolent liberal activists and human rights defenders with the same zeal, branding them a threat to the national order and prosecuting them in special terrorism tribunals,” Freedom House notes.
USA Today noted that as of 2014, Saudi Arabia had about 400,000 websites blocked, “including any that discuss political, social or religious topics incompatible with the Islamic beliefs of the monarchy.”
At one point the blacklist included the Huffington Post, which was banned for having the temerity to run an article suggesting the Saudi system might “implode” because of oil dependency and political repression. The best response to criticism that your government is too repressive is a blacklist!
The Saudis have a penchant for blocking messaging apps and voice-over-IP services, like Skype and Facetime. App blocking got so bad that Saudi users have been known to ask, “What’s the point of having the Internet?”
While some Saudis grumble about censorship, many others are active, enthusiastic participants in enforcement, filing hundreds of requests each day to have websites blocked. Religious figures supply many of these requests, and the government defends much of its censorship as the defense of Islamic values.
As with other censorious regimes, the Saudi monarchy worries about citizens using web services beyond its control to evade censorship, a concern that will surely be expressed loudly once America surrenders its command of Internet domains.
For the record, the Saudis’ rivals in Iran are heavy Internet censors too, with Stratforlisting them as one of the countries seeking Chinese assistance for “solutions on how best to monitor the Iranian population.”
You can’t make a list of authoritarian nightmares without including the psychotic regime in Pyongyang, the most secretive government in the world.
North Korea is so repressive the BBC justly puts the word “Internet” in scare quotes, to describe the online environment. It doesn’t really interconnect with anything, except government propaganda and surveillance. Computers in the lone Internet cafe in Pyongyang actually boot up to a customized Linux operating system called “Red Star,” instead of Windows or Mac OS. The calendar software in Red Star measures the date from the birth of Communist founder Kim Il-sung, rather than the birth of Christ.
The “Internet” itself is a closed system called Kwangmyong, and citizens can only access it through a single state-run provider, with the exception of a few dozen privileged families that can punch into the real Internet.
Kwangmyong is often compared to the closed “intranet” system in a corporate office, with perhaps 5,000 websites available at most. Unsurprisingly, the content is mostly State-monitored messaging and State-supplied media. Contributors to these online services have reportedly been sent to re-education camps for typos. The North Koreans are so worried about outside contamination of their closed network that they banned wi-fi hotspots at foreign embassies, having noticed information-starved North Korean citizens clustering within range of those beautiful, uncensored wireless networks.
This doesn’t stop South Koreans from attempting cultural penetration of their squalid neighbor’s dismal little online network. Lately they’ve been doing it by loading banned information onto cheap memory sticks, tying them to balloons, and floating them across the border.
Sure, North Korea is the ultimate totalitarian nightmare, and since they have less than two thousand IP addresses registered in the entire country, the outlaw regime won’t be a big influence on Obama’s multi-national Internet authority, right?
Not so fast. As North Korea expert Scott Thomas Bruce told the BBC, authoritarian governments who are “looking at what is happening in the Middle East” see North Korea as a model to be emulated.
“They’re saying rather than let in Facebook, and rather than let in Twitter, what if the government created a Facebook that we could monitor and control?” Bruce explained.
Also, North Korea has expressed some interest in using the Internet as a tool for economic development, which means there would be more penetration of the actual global network into their society. They’ll be very interested in censoring and controlling that access, and they’ll need a lot more registered domains and IP addresses… the very resource Obama wants America to surrender control over.
Bottom line: contrary to left-wing cant, there is such a thing as American exceptionalism – areas in which the United States is demonstrably superior to every other nation, a leader to which the entire world should look for examples. Sadly, our society is losing its fervor for free expression, and growing more comfortable with suppressing “unacceptable” speech, but we’re still far better than anyone else in this regard.
The rest of the world, taken in total, is very interested in suppressing various forms of expression, for reasons ranging from security to political stability and religion. Those governments will never be comfortable, so long as parts of the Internet remain outside of their control. They have censorship demands they consider very reasonable, and absolutely vital. The website you are reading right now violates every single one of them, on a regular basis.
There may come a day we can safely remand control of Internet domains to an international body, but that day is most certainly not October 1, 2016.