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Fighting US Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) in Cyber Warfare & Winning

Tortilla Con Sal

August 9, 2018

By Lauren Smith

 

The CIA, NSA, FBI and DOD are your “friends” on Facebook

Social media and Google serve three strategic purposes for the United States government. First, they allow Washington to conduct espionage; second, they facilitate the spread of disinformation campaigns, and third, they serve as conduits for the transmission of social contagions. In deploying thought control against the users of social media and Google, the US government regulates civil unrest both domestic and abroad. As such, social media and Google can best be understood as unconventional weapons (UW). In this capacity, they can be used in proxy wars against the governments of non-compliant Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) nations to accomplish regime change.

Through geopolitical manipulations that eliminate opposition, the United States government can actualize the ruling elites’ vision of a corporate controlled global economy without the deployment of troops. This model of “non-violence” or “soft-coup” as a method of unconventional warfare can be traced to Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution. It is organized through the efforts of the NGOs it oversees such as Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). And, it can be observed in the various Color Revolutions that occurred in Eastern European countries, the Middle East and now Latin America.

The NED is the coordinating Washington agency for regime destabilization and change. It is active from Tibet to Ukraine, from Venezuela to Tunisia, from Kuwait to Morocco in reshaping the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union into what George H.W. Bush in a 1991 speech to Congress proclaimed triumphantly as the dawn of a New World Order.”

Within this context, activists and the NAM must consider Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google hostile territory that is ultimately controlled by the United States Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DoD). Despite user-friendly packaging and attractive advertisements, social media and Google remain militarized programs. As such, activists and NAM users must enter with caution, prepared to do battle to win at PSYOPS in cyber warfare.

Using the US DoD model, cyber warfare can be upgraded to a department on par with the NAM armed forces. In this regard, Polytechnic universities are strategic and can be controlled by NAM governments and their operatives, as they are in the US by the IC and DoD. NAM military institutions can recruit cyber warfare teachers/activists, develop educational curriculum, set career paths and train cyber soldiers to counter US engagements. Useful information can be taken directly from any of the US military’s cyberspace recruitment sites, which promise to develop capabilities to defend national security as well as to create effects in cyberspace to achieve national objectives.

The first step for the NAM is to create public awareness of the threat that social media possesses to protect users and the NAM governments against its influence. In doing so, a cadre of civilian cyber PSYOP content monitors can be created. Additionally, software is now commercially available that can search, monitor, analyze and manage social media content. Presently, large corporations as well at the IC and DoD are using this social media software – since it is useful in business marketing strategies. NAM governments can deploy this software in their communication offices. Through vigilance, PSYOP efforts against NAM governments by social media and Google can be thwarted.

Concurrently, it is critical to guard against cyber invasion through the passing of cyber laws with strong penalties, as done by Germany with its groundbreaking Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG). Also, it is key to ensure through news media communications that workers in the IT industry understand the ramifications of the work in which they engage as well the nefarious intent of their respective employers. The “Never Again Pledge” taken by US tech workers in 2017 is promising.

Germany’s Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG)

Germany has blazed a trail for the NAM against PSYOPS in social media with its Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) and it’s setting of fines of up to $50 million euros.ii The NAM must immediately follow suit with the setting of robust laws and fines against: the dissemination of propaganda; the encouragement of violent offences endangering the state; treasonous forgery; public incitement to crime; breaching of the public peace by threatening to commit offences; the forming of criminal or terrorist organizations.

Never Again Pledge

As reported by the New Yorker in its March 14, 2017 article titled: Why Protesters Gathered Outside Peter Thiel’s Mansion This Weekend, a group of about fifty tech workers, attorneys and anti-surveillance activists stood outside the home of Peter Thiel. Thiel is co-founded of Palantir Technologies, a Trump advisor, and was Facebook’s first investor. He remains a board member of Facebook as well as a member of the Bilderberg Steering Committee. The protest was organized to bring attention to software developed by Plantir called Investigative Case Management that is used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for mass deportation. Amongst other data sources to identify and track a given target, it uses social media content.

Since the presidential election, nearly three thousand tech workers signed the Never Again Pledge, promising to not work on databases that the Trump Administration might use to target vulnerable groups. The name is a nod to I.B.M.’s alleged role, during the Second World War, in systematizing Nazi genocide by providing punch-card technology.

The banality of evil today is the person sitting in a cubicle in San Francisco, or in Silicon Valley, building the tools of digital fascism that are being used by those in Washington,”

To understand the US governments offensive against unfavorable NAM regimes, it is important to understand two things: first, the origin of Facebook and Google; and second, the influence they collectively wield over human motivation through coercion and the spread of social contagions through distorted reality. Within this context, it is of primary concern that activists become adept at the stealth guerilla tactic of hit-and-run, as flexibility and anonymity become key to survival. With the stakes of financial ruin, imprisonment and death so high under the USA Patriot Act, no dissident remains safe.

USA Patriot Act

As dissent and protest both international and domestic becomes increasingly illegal in the United States, and the governmental powers to investigate “terrorism” expand and morph under the USA Patriot Act, activists and the NAM must develop and foster skill sets that protect sympathetic Internet hosts, contributors and content against attack wherever they reside. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Patriot Act increases the government’s surveillance powers in four areas:

  1. Records searches. It expands the government’s ability to look at records on an individual’s activity being held by a third party. (Section 215)

  1. Secret searches. It expands the government’s ability to search private property without notice to the owner. (Section 213)

  1. Intelligence searches. It expands a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment that had been created for the collection of foreign intelligence information (Section 218).

  1. “Trap and trace” searches. It expands another Fourth Amendment exception for spying that collects “addressing” information about the origin and destination of communications, as opposed to the content (Section 214).

Accordingly, as described by the ACLU:

  • The government no longer has to show evidence that the subjects of search orders are an “agent of a foreign power,” a requirement that previously protected Americans against abuse of this authority.

  • The FBI does not even have to show a reasonable suspicion that the records are related to criminal activity, much less the requirement for “probable cause” that is listed in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. All the government needs to do is make the broad assertion that the request is related to an ongoing terrorism or foreign intelligence investigation.

  • Judicial oversight of these new powers is essentially non-existent. The government must only certify to a judge – with no need for evidence or proof – that such a search meets the statute’s broad criteria, and the judge does not even have the authority to reject the application.

  • Surveillance orders can be based in part on a person’s First Amendment activities, such as the books they read, the Web sites they visit, or a letter to the editor they have written.

  • A person or organization forced to turn over records is prohibited from disclosing the search to anyone. As a result of this gag order, the subjects of surveillance never even find out that their personal records have been examined by the government. That undercuts an important check and balance on this power: the ability of individuals to challenge illegitimate searches.

The ACLU also describes non-surveillance provisions in the Act, which remain the most serious as they enable the indefinite detention of non-citizens without trial. The provisions:

  • Give the Director of Central Intelligence the power to identify domestic intelligence requirements. As the director is appointed by the president, this extraordinary unchecked executive power opens the door to the same abuses that took place in the 1970s and before, when the CIA engaged in widespread spying on protest groups and other Americans.

  • Create a new crime of “domestic terrorism.” The Patriot Act transforms protesters into terrorists if they engage in conduct that “involves acts dangerous to human life” to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” The words “influence” and “coercion” have a wide range of meanings and allow for unbridled discretion. Furthermore, the law gives the attorney general and the secretary of state the power to detain or deport any non-citizen who belongs to or donates money to a broadly defined “domestic terrorist” group.

  • Allow for the indefinite detention of non-citizens. The attorney general can order detention based on a certification that he or she has “reasonable grounds to believe” a non-citizen endangers national security. Tangible proof is not a requirement, only a “reasonable belief”. Worse yet, if the foreigner does not have a country that will accept them, they can be detained indefinitely without trial.

 

US News Media: Counterpunch, Alice Donovan & the FBI

On December 25, 2017, a troubling article appeared in Counterpunch, a US media news outlet, regarding the writing of an alleged journalist/Russian troll, Alice Donovan.  Links to an additional article appeared on Counterpunch’s Facebook page on July 27, 2018. Overall, the articles allege Donavan is either an unimaginative writer that committed plagiarism as a sport, or that she is a Russian troll. However, Donavan’s transgressions and intent are irrevelant, what the story revealed in all its gory horror is how the US government concocts justifications to learn the identity and location of a given dissident, and how easily it scared an independent and alternative US news media outlet into become its slobbering accomplice.

In this case, the FBI alleged Donovan was a Russian agent that spread disinformation in the Clinton/Trump presidential campaign with the intent of effecting the national election, despite the fact that she did not submit articles specifically on Clinton or Trump. What the US government’s fishing expedition also revealed is that all US news media can’t be trusted, even ones with cute sounding reactionary names, such as Counterpunch. As Counterpunch not only admitted to bending over backwards to cooperate with the FBI, it also proudly declared its decision to up-the-ante and conduct its own investigation and exposé. Counterpunch analyzed the transmission times and IP address of Donovan’s submission emails; it included photos of the alleged Alice Donovan from other media sources in its articles about her; it interviewed other news media that hosted Donovan’s articles, and most outrageously actually asked Donovan to call them by phone and send a photo of her utility bill disclosing her physical location. Without surprise, Donovan declined both requests stating: “security reasons.” If there was ever a reason to give up US hosted media, write under a nom de plume, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and accept payment only in crypto currency, this is it!

As anyone honestly committed to telling the truth will explain, it’s not about the messenger; it’s about the message. Under the Patriot Act, writers are safer in anonymity. But as anyone committed to telling the truth will also explain, when you eliminate one activist, ten are energized to take their respective place. Contrary to what PSYOPS wants the 99 percent to believe, there is strength in numbers. While imperialist greed through big payoffs may make for fast friendships, the shared love of truth and justice is priceless. It engenders a loyalty so strong it overcomes setbacks and hardship.

Origin of Facebook & Google

While the development of the Internet, data collection, surveillance and the global positioning system (GPS) can be attributed to the Department of Defense (DoD), Facebook and Google are also inexplicably linked to the CIA’s non-profit venture capital corporation, In-Q-Tel (IQT).

Within this context, Facebook can best be understood as the “friendly” replacement of DoD’s unpopular Information Awareness Office (IAO) which was created by its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 2002 and defunded shortly thereafter in February 2003 by congress, due to public criticism that the development and deployment of its technology could potentially lead to an Orwellian styled mass surveillance system. The timing of Facebook’s development from the standpoint of DoD can at minimum be understood in regard to continuity as fortuitous if not planned – since Zuckerberg is credited with having launched Facebook on February 4, 2004 (within one year of IAO’s defunding).

Information Awareness Office (IAO) the Precursor to Facebook

As the precursor to Facebook, the Information Awareness Office (IAO) brought together several DARPA projects focused on applying surveillance with information technology by creating enormous computer databases to gather and store the personal information of everyone in the United States, including personal e-mails, social networks, credit card records, phone calls, medical records, and numerous other sources, without any requirement for a search warrant.

This information was then analyzed to look for suspicious activities, connections between individuals, and threats with the goal to increase the probability that authorized agencies of the United States could preempt adverse actions. It is important to note that adverse actions within this context are nebulous and thereby include any action that is perceived to counter US corporate short-term interests and security. Adverse actions as defined can include protests on both international and domestic issues by groups or individuals in thought, word or deed. Thus, internationally, those seeking to defend NAM countries against destabilization, invasion and occupation are engaged in adverse actions; and domestically, those seeking to protect human rights, constitutional rights and the environment are involved in adverse actions.

Just like IAO, Facebook invades and collects the email and telephone numbers of its users’ contacts in its Messenger component. Additionally, Facebook logs all photos and communications. Through its facial recognition component, Facebook links physical identities with names, locations, dates and times for easy surveillance. It also has a payment option, which allows Facebook to gain access to the financial institutions of its users. Groups centered on medical topics are densely populated on Facebook, and they encourage users to share their medical issues upon joining.

Facebook encourages its users to “complete their online profile” and list highly personal information such as: birthdate, gender, family members, school, workplace, intimate relationship, interests, religious and political views, hometown, current city as well as group affiliations. Through the recording of “likes” a granular sense of its users’ values and interests is also made known. This information, when taken in aggregate, allows for a profile so detailed and comprehensive that it amounts to a DoD agent’s wet dream.

According to Dave Chaffey in the Global Social Media Research summary, the number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.196 billion. Statista claims Facebook has 2.2 billion active monthly user accounts; YouTube has 1.9 billion; Instagram has 1 billion; and Twitter has 336 thousand. Within this context, social media’s sphere of influence is enormous, as the earth’s population is estimated to be 7.6 billion in 2018, according to Worldometers.

Cutting Edge Social Media Metadata Scanning, Analysis and Management Software

Realizing anything written on this topic is already expired and anything truly mind-bending is classified and beyond reach, there is still a nifty development worth mentioning regarding social media data scanning, analysis and management software. Clearly NAM can benefit by utilizing social media software of this ilk to transmit communications to constituents, gauge reactions to proposed initiatives, and most importantly in the context of this article, quickly identify and stave off destabilizing social media surprise attacks by imperialist powers and their agents. This technology can be considered a 2018 anti ballistic missile (ABM) to social media attacks.

According to Wired media, in its 2009 article titled U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm that Monitors Blogs & Tweets, the CIA’s venture capital nonprofit, IQT wanted Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media, to keep track of foreign social media, and provide early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally. With this technology it is also possible for intelligence agencies to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. Visible’s foreign languages capabilities include Arabic, French, Spanish and nine other languages.

According to G2 Crowd, a Software & Services marketing firm, the latest 2018 must-have in business software is a Social Media Suite. The suite has the capability to manage, monitor, and analyze information related to one or multiple social media accounts through a single product. As such, it can:

  • Plan and publish digital content via social media

  • Engage with communities via social media

  • Report on effectiveness of social media practices

  • Track regions and demographics of audience

  • Analyze performance of posts and campaigns

  • Monitor for related mentions and trends

Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Through third parties, Facebook, alike its forerunner IAO, permitted the analysis of its users data. In the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal it was revealed that Facebook exposed the personal data of 87 million users to a political consulting firm in which Trump advisor, Steve Bannon, was its vice president and founder. The intent was to use personal data against users to influence their respective vote in the 2016 US presidential election in favor of Trump. The work of CA was done by the SCL Group, its parent company. SCL describes its capabilities as Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes:

“SCL tends to describe its capabilities in grandiose and somewhat unsettling language – the company has touted its expertise at ”psychological warfare” and “influence operations.” It’s long claimed that its sophisticated understanding of human psychology helps it target and persuade people of its clients’ preferred message.”

It is important to note that SCL’s main client is NATO and the defense department of its member states. Another company that was involved in this scandal is Palantir. Peter Thiel, is Palantir’s chairman and founder, as well as a major contributor in the Trump campaign. Palantir not only has numerous contracts with the US Intelligence Community and Department of Defense like the SCL Group, but Thiel was Facebook’s primary investor, and he remains on its board of directors.

CA whistleblower Chris Wylie told British Members of Parliament that senior Palantir employees worked with the firm on the Facebook data to help it build models off of the dataset to use for political ad targeting purposes.

Facebook’s Social Contagion Study Scandal

Another known scandal involving Facebook is the Social Contagion Study, which was undertaken in 2012 by researchers from Facebook, Cornell University, and the University of California.

In the study, the posts of approximately 700,000 unsuspecting users of Facebook were secretly manipulated, for a week, to determine how emotional states were transmitted over the platform. In the experiment, Facebook altered the news feed content of users to control the number of posts that contained words with positive or negative charged emotions to spy on the users’ reactions. They found negative feeds resulted in the user making negative posts, where as positive feeds resulted in the user making positive posts.

The team concluded its study by saying that emotions are spread via contagion through social networks.

The study appeared in the June edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS) under the title: Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. According to the researchers:

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.”

Facebook was publicly condemned when it became known that it conducted this Orwellian thought policing on unsuspecting users. The attack against Facebook worsened when it was discovered that one of the researchers of Facebook’s mind control study, Jeffrey T. Hancock of Cornell University, also received funding from the DoD’s Minerva Research Initiative to conduct a similar study entitled “Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes”.

Additionally, Cornell University was engaged with the Minerva Initiative and had a study funded through 2017 managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which aimed to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions”.

The project aimed to determine the “critical mass” (tipping point) of social contagions by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Facebook’s social contagion scandal also illustrates the disturbing ease that US educational facilities have in cooperating with the US military in experiments on human subjects without their knowledge or permission, in violation of ethical standards and protections.

DoD & the Minerva Initiative

The stated goal of the Minerva Initiative is to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S. The program seeks to achieve this by sponsoring research designed to bring together universities, research institutions, and individual scholars. In 2008, the project was provided $50 million by the United States Department of Defense. The journalist Nafeez Ahmed has expressed concern that Minerva research, in its effort to understand mass mobilization, may be targeting peaceful activists, NGOs and protest movements.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) & Unconventional Warfare (UW)

According to LTC Glenn Johnson, CW4 Maurice Duclos, Mr. Dan LeRoy in their article tittled: Mapping the Human Terrain: Applying Social Network Analysis (SNA) to an Unconventional Warfare (UW) Framework:

“Without a detailed understanding of the human terrain the Unconventional Warfare (UW) planner is uninformed about key aspects of the operating environment. SNA can provide the human terrain map needed to plan and execute UW operations. By developing a map of the human domain, SNA helps provide a description and picture of the resistance, opposition, or neutral entities, and can uncover how the population is segmented and how members interact with one another. SNA focuses on people’s behavior and how it is profoundly affected by their ties to other people and the social networks in which they are embedded.

Using SNA provides visualizations of people within their social spaces and assists in ranking their potential ability to influence those social spaces. This provides an understanding of the organizational dynamics of a resistance, insurgency, or counterinsurgency and highlights how to best influence, coerce, support, attack or exploit them. Collecting human terrain data to support SNA must be driven by commanders through focused efforts and should be conducted during every engagement with a foreign country.”

Examples of Social Network Analysis (SNA) & Unconventional Warfare (UW)

The US funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is credited for numerous destabilization efforts in NAM nation states under the guise of “democracy” or imperialist subjugation as it is better known and practiced, has some great information in its numerous articles discussing the tactical use of social media to fight proxy wars. Only in the examples it provides and resources it cites, just the Chinese and Russians and NAM nation states utilize this technology. NED remains absolutely silent on its US sponsor’s activities.

According to a brief prepared by Dean Jackson for NED through the International Forum for Democratic Studies: The velocity and volume of disinformation in the contemporary information space has amplified its effectiveness and left many members of the public increasingly angry, fearful, or disoriented. This leaves the public even more vulnerable to future manipulation, resulting in a cycle of declining public trust in objective sources of information which some analysts call truth decay.

According to NED, effective ways to use social media as an unconventional weapon in proxy wars is to:

  • React or create crisis by flooding information space and drowning out discussion via online trolling, harassment, and distraction, especially with highly active automated accounts. These techniques push independent voices out of public spaces and are can be considered a new form of political censorship.

  • Falsify evidence, push misleading narratives, and spread falsehoods. Use media and diplomatic resources concurrently to promote false stories at times of rising anti-government sentiment.

  • Create accounts that are partially automated and partially controlled by human users to avoid detection. These are often referred to as cyborg or sock puppet accounts.

  • Use preexisting divides within target societies to produce content for which there is societal demand. Disinformation is more effective when it’s amplifying existing political beliefs and divisions, as opposed to introducing new narratives into the public sphere. 

  • Use proactive disinformation campaigns to achieve real-world impact by influencing the actions of consumers.

  • Use disinformation around elections to influence citizens’ decisions to vote or to abstain from voting.

  • Use disinformation to promote a larger narrative over time or to degrade civic discourse by promoting division or cynicism.

 

Role of Social Media in Arab Uprisings

In an article by Heather Brown, Emily Guskin and Amy Mitchell titled: the Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings they state that the Arab uprisings could be deemed

Facebook or Twitter revolutions” as the news media focused heavily on young political opposition protesters mobilizing in the streets, armed with smartphones.

As almost immediately after the Arab uprisings began, there was debate over the role and influence of social media in the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the overthrow of Mubarak. “Social media indeed played a part in the Arab uprisings. Networks formed online were crucial in organizing a core group of activists, specifically in Egypt. Civil society leaders in Arab countries emphasized the role of the internet, mobile phones, and social media in the protests.”

Reality becomes distorted when all social media reference points endlessly repeat the same message concurrently. Within this context, civil unrest is born out of social contagion frenzy. An Egyptian man, who was a student protestor against Mubarak in 2011, confided in me that a crescendo of social media chatter goaded him into taking part in the protests. While he had been beaten by Mubarak’s police in an earlier incident and had personal reasons to protest, he still believes he was driven and manipulated through social media – especially since the locations to which he and his friends were led were followed by film crews and riot police too quickly after their arrival to have been un-staged.

Looking back, he now regrets taking part in the protests, as the removal of Mubarak created a power vacuum that led to greater economic and social struggle, and allowed imperial powers to take advantage of Egypt’s resources.

Personal Account of Facebook’s use of Unconventional Warfare (UW)

On April 18, 2018, I witnessed the Facebook Nicaragua expatriate groups I belong to transform its sleepy pages, that focused on advertising the best music and drink specials in town, to revolutionary pages seeking to overthrow the democratically elected sovereign government of Nicaragua.

Having just returned from Nicaragua two weeks earlier, after spending two peaceful months in San Juan Del Sur, I was shocked at the sudden and widespread vitriol controlling my newsfeed. First, I read how the government was corrupt in making changes to their social security system, and then I read how the government was murdering protestors. I knew from my understanding of Nicaragua’s history; President Ortega’s longstanding commitment to the country; its highly successful model of community policing; and the international context Nicaragua is forced to operate in due to repressive IMF loans and trade agreements, that there was more to this story.

Yet, there was no analysis anywhere to be found, only baseless accusations from predominantly white men and an occasional white woman living in Miami, Texas and Costa Rica. A number of Latinos from various locations in the United States later joined in the chatter claiming they were born in Nicaragua and thus justified in posting hostilities, when engaged in debate.

Property owners I personally knew also spoke against the government and joined in with inflammatory remarks. It is important to understand that President Ortega and the FSLN did not conduct purging campaigns to remove its bitter rightwing enemies/Somozistas. Under President Ortega’s compassionate and practical leadership, Nicaragua even forgave the Contras that its FSLN fought against once they agreed to lay down their arms.

Everywhere I looked the message of hate was the same, be it Facebook, Twitter or mainstream news media from the mouths of rightwing senators Marco Rubio and Ileana Ross-Lehtinen who staged meetings with protestors as well as alternative media such as Democracy Now and the Guardian. The understated president, Daniel Ortega, went from being an astute and beloved aged revolutionary hero to a merciless dictator in social media and the press within a few hours. The news feed was so similar, overwhelming, relentless and well packaged, that it seemed immediately like an expertly orchestrated massive disinformation campaign set by the imperial United States to remove President Ortega and the FSLN from office yet again.

Anytime I questioned the prevailing narrative on the Facebook expatriate groups, 10 to 15 users, with questionable profiles, ganged up on me. I was personally insulted, told to remove my posts, and threatened. They feared my comments. Additionally, my Facebook friends were contacted and insulted and told to “make me remove my posts”. I received phone calls on Facebook Messenger despite the fact that my friend’s list is hidden.

The questionable profiles that contacted me often listed present employment with an obscure non governmental organization (NGO), and/or prior employment with the US State Department, US military, or in one case a user listed his job as a “private investigator” that just returned from “doing security in Venezuela.”

Yet, what was most troubling to me was that people I knew from San Juan Del Sur were brainwashed by the massive and unrelenting wave of disinformation. PSYOPS temporarily worked. They began repeating hostile catch phrases against the government as if it was Holy Scripture. They would not read or watch anything in favor of the government, despite my best efforts through verbal and written communication. They made up their minds, based on social media and Google’s distorted reality, that revolution was what the majority of people in Nicaragua wanted. This distortion couldn’t be farther from the truth, as President Daniel Ortega was elected with over 70 percent of the vote. However, the barrage of repeating fake propaganda videos resulted in social contagion frenzy, similar to that experienced by the Arab students in Egypt.

As it turned out, many of the photos and videos posted and used to incite violence were actually taken in Mexico and Honduras years earlier and many of the “dead” were found resurrected in other parts of Nicaragua alive and well. However, armed criminal mercenaries called “peaceful student protestors” by the news and social media did murder police and civilians. Fortunately, distorted reality can only last a short time.

In Nicaragua, the government had control over the county within three months, as the news and social media lies became apparent to citizens and foreigners. Essentially, the criminal mercenaries that infiltrated the protests were not content to restrict their activities to the ones dictated by their US government employers. To supplement their wages, they robbed, raped and pillaged the communities to which they held hostage, and were systematically removed by local residents as well as the police.

Facebook’s Biased Reaction

Facebook automatically flagged and blocked my posts on Nicaragua’s expatriate groups, and group administrators removed the ones that slipped through. My posts merely explained the US government’s longstanding disinformation campaigns against Nicaragua. Then, Facebook and/or group administrators removed my access to the pages. Eventually, due to threats, I deleted my Facebook profile. However, PSYOPS did not succeed in silencing me; instead, it encouraged me to write for a larger audience.

Control over Dissent Using Facebook

In late July 2018, I created a new Facebook profile and began again to monitor Nicaragua expatriate news groups and post articles that support its sovereign government against slanderous untruths. On July 29th, Facebook removed and considered spam two articles that I posted: “The Case Against Daniel Ortega” by Chuck Kaufman hosted on the Libya360.Worldpress.com website and “Opposition Beyond the Violence in Nicaragua” by John Perry hosted on The Guardian website. Both articles non-violently support the sovereign government of Nicaragua. Fortunately, I was able in both instances to get the posts restored after clicking a few buttons. Yet I still remain unable to get Facebook or group administrators to remove articles that promote violence against the government. Despite my flagging of these fake articles for deletion under the Facebook categories: terrorism, violence, harassment, and hate speech, Facebook allows this vitriol to remain.

After posting a third article titled: “After the Failed Coup, After All the Lies, Nicaragua Rebuilds” by Tortilla Con Sal, hosted on the Telesur website, Facebook locked me out of my user account. The article I posted promoted peace and reconstruction. For the record, none of the articles I posted were ever in violation of Facebook’s community standards.

To unlock my user account, Facebook required me to upload a close-up photo of my face. Facebook’s clear bias against the content of my posts coupled with its desire to invade my physical privacy proved intimidating. Facebook, a corporate behemoth, had me vulnerable and exposed, as I could not access my account to delete it without first revealing my personal identity. Facebook is like the mighty Wizard of Oz in that its master is concealed behind a curtain and unreachable. Facebook lists no email address or phone number for “customer service”.

Did Facebook’s version of Orwell’s Thought Police flag my account? After a few deep breaths, I took a chance that Facebook would use its facial recognition software to confirm my physical identity against an Internet search. So, I found a close-up photo online that corresponded with the fake name I used to open my Facebook account, and uploaded it hoping for the best. It worked. I had access to my profile by the next morning. However, I continue to wonder if Facebook was fooled or if I am merely being given more opportunity to violate the Patriot Act in thought and word? Are my CIA, NSA, FBI and DoD “friends” continuing their surveillance of my personal communications on Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp applications just more closely? Under the Patriot Act, Facebook is mostly prohibited from disclosing law enforcement surveillance. According to Facebook, in its summary of its 2017 transparency report, it states:

“The US government requests for account data remained roughly even at 32,742, of which 62% included a non-disclosure order prohibiting Facebook from notifying the user, which is up from 57% during the first half of 2017.”

Other transparency report findings of note for Google, Verizon and AT&T are as follow:

“Google received 48,941 government data requests affecting 83,345 user accounts in the first six months of 2017.” And, “In the reporting period between 2016 and 2017, local, state and federal government authorities seeking information related to national security, counter-terrorism or criminal concerns issued more than 260,000 subpoenas, court orders, warrants, and other legal requests to Verizon and more than 250,000 such requests to AT&T.”

On May 24, 2018, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are collecting and analyzing content from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.

Government surveillance of social media can have serious consequences, whether you’re a U.S. citizen, a lawful resident, or are seeking to immigrate to or visit the United States. The FBI appears to be using social media as a basis for deciding who to interview, investigate, or target with informants or undercover agents. A single Facebook post or tweet may be all it takes to place someone on a watch list, with effects that can range from repeated, invasive screening at airports to detention and questioning in the United States or abroad.”

With the proliferation of US government non-discloser surveillance, the use of facial recognition software, and the requirement to upload close-up photos to gain access to existing profiles, the velvet gloves are completely off Facebook as an iron fisted US government spy tool. The justification that this intrusive level of policing is merely to remove “fake profiles” doesn’t fly. There are alternate methods that do not compromise our constitutional and civil rights. This is a ruse, engineered by the NSA. Be warned.

Facebook Facial Recognition Software and the US National Security Agency (NSA)

As discussed by James Risen and Laura Poitras in their May 31, 2014 article titled: N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images, the National Security Agency (NSA) is actively harvesting massive amounts of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance efforts for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. The agency intercepts millions of images per day including about 55,000 facial recognition quality images which translate into tremendous untapped potential, according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.”

In-Q-Tel (IQT)

In early 1999, with funding directed by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), input from Silicon Valley consultants and Norman Augustine, a former CEO of Lockheed-Martin, In-Q-It, a non-profit corporation was formed. Its core mission to improve the data collection and analysis capabilities of the CIA through access and control over emerging Information Technology (IT) remains intact to date. By March of 1999, the corporation received its first contract. In 2000, its name was changed to In-Q-Tel (IQT).

IQT invests in areas where there is both a CIA need and private sector interest. Examples of commercial applications that also support intelligence functions are: data warehousing and mining, knowledge management, profiling search agents, geographic information systems, imagery analysis and pattern recognition, statistical data analysis tools, language translation, targeted information systems, mobile computing, and secure computing.

Though IQT, the CIA has the option of purchasing products directly from the vendor or launching Research & Development (R&D) projects. While IQT’s present budget remains secret, its first year budget was $28 million. According to a 2013 Fox Business News report, IQT claims that for every dollar it invests in a company, the venture community invests over $9. Further, it claimed that it had leveraged more than $3.9 billion in private-sector funds.

R&D remains the core of its activities. Sometimes IQT assembles teams of companies to create the solution it seeks; other times it is a co-investor in a fledgling company with additional business partners. IQT also uses request for proposal. Essentially, IQT is empowered to use whatever model meets its objective.

In the area of R&D, the CIA’s agreement with IQT allows it and/or its partners to retain title to the innovations created, and to freely negotiate the allocation of Intellectual Property (IP) derived revenues. The only major stipulation is that the CIA retain traditional “government purpose rights” to the innovations. This agreement has allowed IQT to amass considerable financial resources secretly over the last nineteen years since its inception. Also, this agreement has permitted collaborating and beholden individuals to become extremely wealthy and powerful.

To restrict contracting to specific entities, and to achieve privacy from oversight authorities, IQT uses DARPA’s contract model called “Other Transactions” (OT). OT contracts enable IQT to bypass Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), which requires competition in federal contracting.

Because of the clandestine nature of IQT’s work and its key relationship to the CIA, both entities remain extremely vulnerable to security risks during solution transfer.

Origin of Facebook

While no record of the CIA directly funding Facebook through IQT is apparent, members of IQT’s top management are founding members and/or board members of Facebook. Some of Facebook’s allure to users is that Mark Zuckerberg and his friends started the company from a Harvard dorm room and that he remains the chairman and chief operating officer. If he didn’t exist, he would need to be invented by Facebook’s marketing department. Primarily, the legend and image of a fresh faced Zuckerberg provides a palatable context that entices young people to voluntarily part with their constitutional right to privacy for social acceptance. Though subtle coercion, young people come to believe that in order to be “liked” by their peers, they need to be part of the Facebook brand.

A few months after Facebook was formed in 2004, it received its first capital injection from Peter Thiel, a member of the Steering Committee of the exclusive Bilderberg Group, the drivers of globalization. Members include political leaders, key members from the intelligence community, and experts from industry, finance, academia and the media. According to Global Research’s Stephen Lendman, in his May 2014 article titled: The True Story of the Bilderberg Group and What they May Be Planning Now:

“Bilderbergers want to supplant individual nation-state sovereignty with an all-powerful global government, corporate controlled, that’s check-mated by militarized enforcement.”

In August of 2004, Thiel acquired a 10.2% stake in Facebook for $500,000. The next two capital injections were $12.7 million from Thiel and Accel Partners in May 2005 and then $27.5 million from an Accel-led round of financing that included Thiel, Accel and Greylock Partners in April 2006. In 2012, Thiel sold the majority of his shares for over $1 billion, but remains on the board of directors.

Essentially, IQT is linked to Facebook through Thiel, and Thiel is linked to IQT through his firm Palantir. So, to understand Facebook it is first necessary to understand Palantir, then Thiel.

Palantir

According to Wikipedia, Palantir was started in 2004. Its only outside backer was the CIA’s nonprofit venture capital firm, IQT. Through pilots facilitated by IQT with computer scientists and analysts from intelligence agencies, Palantir’s technology was developed over a three-year period. A document leaked to TechCrunch revealed that Palantir’s clients as of 2013 included at least twelve groups within the U.S. government, including the CIA, DHS, FBI, CDC, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, Special Operations Command, West Point, the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization and Allies, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Peter Thiel

According to Wikipedia, Peter Thiel was born in Germany and holds German, American and New Zealand citizenship. Besides being a member of the Bilderberg Group’s Steering Committee as referred to earlier, Thiel is the co-author of an anti-multicultural book titled “The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus”, where his racist and misogynist bias is apparent in his argument that multiculturalism in colleges is hurting education and that some cases of alleged date rape are actually seductions that are later regretted.

Despite his apology, issued 20 years after the book was published, he gave $1.2 million to the campaign of then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who ran on a white nationalist campaign. Thiel is also is a member of the super PAC called: Make America Number 1. The super PAC is credited with donating funds to Steve Bannon, via a shell company he heads named Glittering Steel. Bannon is widely considered a racist, anti-Semite and white nationalist. The supper PAC also donated funds to rightwing Senator Ted Cruz. With Thiel’s clear intent and bias, it should be no surprise that the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal favored Trump in the election, and that the violent prevailing narrative against Nicaragua, supported by Ted Cruz, is impossible to remove from Facebook’s expatriate group pages.

Accel Partners: In 2004, Accel partner James Breyer sat on the board of directors of military defense contractor Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) with IQT’s CEO Gilman Louie. BBN is known for essentially helping to create email and the Internet for the DoD. Breyer is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Greylock Partners: Howard Cox, the head of Greylock, served on IQT’s board of directors. Before Greylock, Cox served two years in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Origin of Google

Launched in 1998, Google is one of the world’s largest media companies. While the Department of Defense (DoD), CIA, NSA and Google’s marketing department would like users to believe that its founders, Stanford University students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed software independent of the DoD, the truth is they didn’t. They were both on the payroll of the National Science Foundation (NSF) while working on its Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP). This library project is similar to Google in that it involved the creation of search algorithms to scan large quantities of data to find relationships.

The NSF is funded by the US federal government and expresses in its mission statement its intention to “secure the national defense”. NSF has a longstanding relationship with the DoD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Nothing requiring serious funding and real paychecks involving Information Technology and US Universities is done without DARPA knowledge as detailed below:

“In the 1970s, the agency responsible for developing emerging technologies for military, intelligence, and national security purposes the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) linked four supercomputers to handle massive data transfers. It handed the operations off to the National Science Foundation (NSF) a decade or so later, which proliferated the network across thousands of universities and, eventually, the public, thus creating the architecture and scaffolding of the World Wide Web.”

Not only was Google’s development nurtured by NSF/DARPA, but Google was also was aided by the secretive Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) program which was administered by private contractors for the CIA and NSA. The MDDS program sought to identify the digital fingerprints of users inside the World Wide Web so information requests could be tracked, sorted and aggregated to reveal individual proclivities and that of like-minded others with the intention of assembling target groups for easy surveillance so as to predict and counter their plans. The MDDS project was named Birds of a Feather with the thinking that like-minded individuals will engage in coordinated action together, just as birds fly in predictable V-formations. Predictability is key to the CIA in its efforts to weaponize social unrest. MDDS is considered to have helped create the design breakthrough that Google was built upon

Google has been an obvious partner with the CIA since 2004 when the company bought Keyhole from IQT, the CIA’s venture capital nonprofit. EarthViewer, Keyhole’s mapping technology software, became Google Earth.

Google and Social Media’s Influence

Besides geographic and locational tracking, Google assists the government in its efforts to write, and rewrite, history. According to its Google’s transparency report, the US government has named 79,901 items for removal since 2009. To add perspective to this number, consider that for this same period in time, Venezuela has named 10 items for removal, and Nicaragua has named 1 item for removal.

Content Placement in Social Media and Google

Olivia Solon and Sam Levin detail, in their December 16, 2016 article for The Guardian, How Google’s Search Algorithm Spreads False Information with a Rightwing Bias. According to the authors, search and autocomplete algorithms prioritize sites with rightwing bias, and far-right groups trick it to boost propaganda and misinformation in search rankings. As described below, the authors uncovered this bias in environmental as well as social and political examples:

“Following a recent investigation by the Observer, which found that Google’s search engine prominently suggests neo-Nazi websites and anti-Semitic writing, the Guardian has uncovered a dozen additional examples of biased search results. Google’s search algorithm and its autocomplete function prioritize websites that, for example, declare that climate change is a hoax, being gay is a sin, and the Sandy Hook mass shooting never happened.”

To test this allegation out, I entered the following text: “Socialism is…” Autocomplete added: “…is for figs.” The full sentence with autocomplete then read: “Socialism is for figs.” Photos of a red t-shirt appeared. On the t-shirt is a drawing of Che Guevara, a limp wrist, and text. Upon review, I found that an extreme rightwing group is marketing this t-shirt. The word “figs” in the text is written with a missing “I” that is replaced with the drawing of a fig hanging from a tree branch. Because of drawing of a limp wrist, this text can be interpreted by the reader to mean that socialism is for “fags.” In the US, the word “fag” is a derogatory name for homosexuals, and a limp wrist is a derogatory symbol. This supports the Guardian’s observation of Google’s bias against homosexuals as well its bias against socialists. Additionally, the fig fruit represents the name of the village in Bolivia where Che Guevara was captured and murdered. Thus, the fig represents a death threat against socialists. Hopefully, a socialist cyber activist can remove this blight against a beloved revolutionary hero.

Google’s Influence in Elections

As explained by Robert Epstein, from the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, Google has the power to rig elections through something he calls the search engine manipulation effect (SEME). Based on his four years trying to reverse engineer Google’s search algorithms, he concludes that:

“We know that if there’s a negative autocomplete suggestion in the list, it will draw somewhere between 5 and 15 times as many clicks as a neutral suggestion,” Epstein said. “If you omit negatives for one perspective, one hotel chain or one candidate, you have a heck of a lot of people who are going to see only positive things for whatever the perspective you are supporting. Even changing the order in which certain search terms appear in the autocompleted list can make a huge impact, with the first result drawing the most clicks, he said.”

Appearing on the first page of Google search results can give websites undue authority and traffic.

These platforms are structured in such a way that they are allowing and enabling, consciously or unconsciously, more extreme views to dominate,” said Martin Moore from Kings College London’s Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power.”

Epstein believes these two manipulations work together and have a profound impact on people, since they are unaware it is being done. He believes this is compounded by Google’s personalization of search results. This means users see different results based on their interests.

According to politico.com, the problem is that more than 75 percent of all online searches in the United States are conducted on Google. Thus, if Google’s CEO, a rogue employee or the search algorithm favors one candidate, there is no way to counteract that influence. Politico’s research shows that even when people do notice they are seeing biased search rankings, their voting preferences still shift in the desired directions toward the bias. It’s as if the bias is serving as a form of social proof. The thinking is that if the search engine prefers one candidate, that candidate must be the best. Biased rankings are hard for individuals, regulators and election watchdogs to detect as SEME is easy to hide through customized search results.

In Wired’s 2010 article titled: Exclusive: Google, CIA Invest in ‘Future’ of Web Monitoring, it discusses the company Recorded Future, that is funded by both the CIA’s IQT non-profit and Google. Both IQT and Google Ventures have seats on Recorded Future’s board. Not only does the software, Recorded Future, scour websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents in the present, but also in the future. In looking at the invisible links between documents that mention similar or related entities and events, it can figure out the participants, the location, and predict when it might occur. According to Recoded Future, the software can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people. Recoded Future maintains an index with more than 100 million events.

“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” says company CEO Christopher Ahlberg, a former Swedish Army Ranger with a PhD in computer science.”

Content Placement in Social Media and Google

Besides taking proactive security measures, activists and the NAM can benefit by controlling the technology that decides the placement of supportive material on social media and Google. As most involved in the drafting and dissemination of content already know, everything that departs from the prevailing imperialist narrative is automatically considered subversive and blocked. While quality content continues to exist, locating it on the Internet is like finding a needle in a haystack, even when one already knows what is being sought, by whom, and from where.

The latest trick is for a news item of interest to be blocked by a message warning of an “expired security certificate” and threatening “a virus upon opening”. This was found on an article titled: Cyber warfare: Challenge of Tomorrow, by none other than Counterpunch’s plagiarist spy Alice Donovan.

The Cost of US Cyber Warfare

The United States 2019 proposed intelligence budget at $73 billion has nearly doubled since 2005. This figure includes the National Intelligence Program (NIP) budget at $54.6 billion and Military Intelligence Program (MIP) budget at $18.4 billion. Back in 2005, there was no MIP budget. The total NIP Budget was $39.8 billion, which is still an exorbitant amount of money.

The NIP funds Intelligence Community (IC) activities in six Federal Departments and two independent agencies: the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, the Department of Treasury, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

As described in by the Washington Post in its article titled: “The Black Budget”, the CIA, NSA and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) received more than 68 percent of the 2013 black budget. The CIA received $14.7 billion, the NSA $10.8 billion, and NRO $10.3 billion. Within its funding mission categories, $20.3 billion was for Warning U.S. leaders about critical events and $17.2 billion was for Combating Terrorism.

In looking at the new 2019 MIP budget, one can better understand how new initiatives and training in cyber warfare are being funded. Take for example the US Air Force Cyberspace Defense Operations (IB4X1) Summary description:

“Personnel in the Cyber Warfare Operations specialty perform duties to develop, sustain, and enhance cyberspace capabilities. These capabilities are used to defend national interests from attack and to create effects in cyberspace to achieve national objectives.” “They conduct both offensive and defensive cyberspace operations. They act to protect cyberspace systems from adversarial access and attack. They execute command and control (C2) of assigned cyberspace forces and de-conflict cyberspace operations. They will partner with Department of Defense, interagency, and Coalition Forces.”

While the US government clearly takes the lead in unconventional warfare technology, due to its massive resources and funding, it leaves in its wake tons of technological opportunities ripe to be exploited. What can’t be appropriated can be protested. Just don’t post anything tactical on the Internet or use smart phones, because your “friends” in the US government are watching. Take heart, this elaborate surveillance system was devised because the ruling elite is outnumbered. Knowledge is power.

[Lauren Smith, author of historical fiction, has a BA in Politics, Economics and Society from SUNY at Old Westbury and an MPA in International Development Administration from New York University. Her novel on Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution is due out in 2019.]

The Resolution Copper Land Grab: How Environmental NGOs Expand Green Capitalism

Desert Water Grab

January 28, 2017

 

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People were outraged at the way the Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) finally achieved their land exchange in Arizona. It was the underhanded way Senator John McCain got the legislation passed that fueled the anger, but what many are not aware of is that the swap may not have been possible without the efforts of certain environmental groups. Conservation efforts functioned as currency for Resolution’s access to land, so the land grab could also be called a green grab. Green grabs are taking place in Arizona and beyond, especially around water. The Resolution Copper land exchange provides us with a way to understand the utility of the partnerships corporations forge to gain access to coveted resources.

The land swap is not yet a done deal. An appraisal to determine the equivalence of the parcels to be exchanged is due to be completed this year, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

“It’s a big ripoff,” Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club said in an interview last year. “The American public is getting chump change in return for this ecological treasure. The lands that are offered aren’t comparable.”

McCain’s website tells a different story:

Under the bill, the Resolution Copper company would give the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management about 5,500 acres of land identified by the Department of the Interior as ‘important’ for conservation, including property near the San Pedro River, an important migratory bird corridor and wetland habitat for endangered species. In exchange for these lands, Resolution Copper would receive about 2,400 acres of Forest Service land for the exploration and development of our nation’s top copper asset.

While the Sierra Club does not back up the claims about how important the lands are for conservation, a few other organizations did. Arguably, the land exchange may not have been possible without the help of some of these big, more corporate-friendly environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Arizona, who were involved in affirming, and even contributing to the value of the land to be exchanged for Resolution’s intended mine site. This is something Rio Tinto (majority owner of RCM) had learned from in partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Utah and Madagascar to arrange access to land a few years before. Multinational mining companies, Rio Tinto in particular, in partnership with NGOs, have been networking to improve the reputation and legitimacy of global mining activities since the ‘90s.

It’s clear that the quantity of land is disproportionate in the exchange. The acreage offered up to the feds for the trade (see map) is more than double Resolution’s desired area. However, McCain needed to sneak the exchange through in the National Defense Authorization Act to get it passed because the status and importance of the Chi’chil Bildagoteel/Oak Flat area resulted in nearly a decade of failed attempts to get the land exchange accepted prior to December 2014. Clearly, the conservation claims never swayed those with strong opposition to the mine, but they do count for something.

The appraiser is required to use nationally recognized standards to come up with the value of the parcels. But not only does Resolution actually have a voice in who gets the job to appraise the properties, the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions’ directive is that the appraiser determine only a market value (defined within the document) for the land. This does not seem to take into consideration the cultural, spiritual, historical, and environmental values such as those attributed by opponents of the mining in the Oak Flat/Apache Leap area.

Monetarily, while Rio Tinto spent “more than $18 million buying up” the parcels to exchange, the land to which Resolution Copper gained access could be worth around 7,000 times more – over $130 billion based on copper prices as of early 2015, as a former Florida Representative pointed out in The Nation. Copper prices had fallen, but the current price is back up to near where it was then. There are many other factors to enter into the equation, however. One is that Resolution Copper has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the conservation activities that may have increased the value, even if not the market value, of the exchange lands.

While the promise of jobs seems to play a bigger role in Resolution Copper’s narrative, the exchange may have been unacceptable without the purportedly valuable conservation land tracts. And now that the legislation passed, whether it is truly an equitable exchange or not is irrelevant in some ways because if the appraisal sees those lands as insufficiently valuable, RCM will just have to add more land or cash to the deal.

Yet, the conservation values of the parcels offered up by RCM were necessary, and thusly emphasized, for public and federal acceptance. In addition to meeting the equal value requirement, land exchanges are required to serve the public interest, which includes “protection of fish and wildlife habitats, cultural resources, watersheds, and wilderness and aesthetic values,” and the Forest Service gets the final say.

Some of these NGOs have consulted with Rio Tinto to contribute to an accounting method to rate the quality of land, using something they call “quality hectares” as a metric based on various values such as biodiversity to frame as offsets the land parcels they intended to “donate“.

resolution-copper-offset-chart

Although the factors, which some refer to as “ecosystem services,” used for this type of valuation, are currently considered nonmarket values not likely to be used in the appraisal, they clearly were important to RCM in determining the value of their land parcels. “Ecosystem services” is an increasingly popular economic construct used to refer to the benefits ecosystems provide to humans.

It doesn’t seem coincidental that law firm Perkins Coie, who has worked for Resolution Copper, wrote a paper in which they made the following argument:

Over the longer term—and to the extent that appropriate methodology is developed and adopted—the BLM could also use the requirement that it obtain fair market value for use of public lands to ensure consideration of ecosystem services in determining land values and rentals.

Both the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) have attributed legitimacy to recognizing ecosystem services within policy. Multinational mining companies (especially Rio Tinto) and the involved NGOs have been major players on a global scale in market valuation of ecosystem services as well as ways to profit from them.

Valuation of ecosystem services, even if incorporated into the appraisal process, would likely benefit RCM. Even while “cultural,” and more rarely, “spiritual” ecosystem services can be incorporated into the value of land tracts, the fact that the Oak Flat area is not part of a reservation and is not officially recognized as sacred or culturally important works against those who have a connection with the land such as the San Carlos Apache and others.

RCM and certain NGOs’ preferred approach to environmental problems is through market-based “solutions”, which result in transferring resources into private hands. While this is a land grab, the conservation aspect is significant. RCM will gain ownership of the Oak Flat area (unless stopped) by using as currency the parcels obtained and cultivated as conservation projects. The land swap could therefore be considered a green grab. The book (and article) entitled Green Grabbing defines the process as “the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends” where “‘Appropriation’ implies the transfer of ownership, use rights and control over resources that were once publicly or privately owned – or not even the subject of ownership – from the poor (or everyone including the poor) into the hands of the powerful.”

Why does all this matter? Aside from having more understanding about why this land exchange is not justified, we can learn from how some NGOs partner with private interests to engage in more green grabbing. The Nature Conservancy facilitates the sale of water offsets to companies such as Coca Cola, for example, based on conservation projects in Arizona. They are also supporting the efforts of big housing developments to legitimize construction where aquifers and the rivers like the San Pedro are at risk. Since Rio Tinto has been so central to the development of payments for ecosystem services programs such as offsets, the early stages of this Resolution Copper land exchange effort may have been the foray of the concept of ecosystem services into Arizona.

San Pedro River and Conflicts of Interest

Although the land exchange involved properties in various areas of Arizona, the one in the San Pedro River basin, the 7B Ranch, is the most relevant here, partly because early legislative support for the exchange related to this river. It is also the largest parcel offered by RCM.

Water conservation at the San Pedro River was made central to the land exchange idea when Rick Renzi, US Congressman from Arizona at the time, drew Resolution Copper into a scandal. Renzi was convicted in 2013 of conspiring with the owner of a piece of land in the San Pedro River basin, “to extort and bribe individuals seeking a federal land exchange…” A combination of his connections with Fort Huachuca, an army installation  near the San Pedro, and his desire to have Resolution Copper purchase his friend’s property in the area caused Renzi to assert in 2005, according to Wall Street Journal, that his support of the land exchange

…would hinge in part on whether it helped fulfill a goal to cut water consumption along the San Pedro River… participants in the deal say. Fort Huachuca, a big U.S. Army base nearby, was under court order to cut water consumption, and it had been seeking help to retire farmland near the river. Mr. Renzi has longstanding ties to the base, the economic engine of the area… Resolution proposed buying and handing over to the government thousands of acres of bird and wildlife habitat along the banks of the San Pedro, which would further the water-conservation goal.

Due to the high price, Resolution Copper did not buy this property, but the land was sold to someone else. A different parcel in the San Pedro River basin became part of the exchange, a choice likely influenced by the water conservation needs of Ft. Huachuca, as emphasized by Renzi.

Renzi’s father was a retired army general who had served at Ft. Huachuca and his company (one of the congressman’s top campaign donors) has had major contracts with Ft. Huachuca. In 2003, Renzi had proposed “an amendment to the defense authorization bill, [that] would exempt Ft. Huachuca from responsibility for maintaining water levels in the San Pedro River as called for in an agreement made last year with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Backed by McCain, it passed in November that year, despite media pointing to the conflict of interest.

Dropping groundwater levels have directly impacted the San Pedro base flow. Ft. Huachuca has faced multiple lawsuits for their impact on the riparian environment due to their groundwater pumping.

McCain has shown that he has invested as well in the fate of Ft. Huachuca in relation to the river. His relationship with Renzi likely had a lot to do with it, but he’s continued his support of the fort in recent years. The state of the San Pedro River makes at least an image of water conservation important to the land exchange even with Renzi’s interests out of the picture.

Various partnerships have developed to address, or more likely greenwash the fort’s impact on the environment. The Department of Defense and Ft. Huachuca had already been working with The Nature Conservancy since at least 1998. Significantly, one of the more recent projects is the Upper San Pedro Partnership (USPP) also involving Audubon Arizona. This came out Renzi’s legislative amendment in 2003 which shifted responsibility for water use away from the fort and onto this broader coalition of the USPP.

Shaping the land swap was a combination of these NGOs’ relationships with Ft. Huachuca specifically around the San Pedro River Basin, and Rio Tinto’s relationships with these NGOs through Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Copper mine in Utah where they partnered with NGOs like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society in the late ‘90s on a wetland offset program required due to the pollution of mining tailings.

Partnerships and Payments

Of course it makes sense that environmental groups be consulted about ecologically important issues. There’s a difference, however, between consultation and granting green credentials to mining companies for dubious conservation efforts when they’ll do more damage in the long run. Taken into consideration, additionally, should be the NGOs’ actions and the financial relationship between NGOs and corporations.

One role NGOs play is in acquiescing to the claim that there is no alternative to a particular mine or other development. Then somehow their pragmatism produces “win-win solutions” to supposedly mitigate mines’ damage (this is giving them the undeserved benefit of the doubt about their own financial interests in partnering with corporations). The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Arizona Audubon, even while denying that they took a position on the land exchange, played integral roles in confirming and even generating some of the value of the various parcels RCM obtained and worked to glorify.

An International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) report described one way NGOs supported RCM (see chart above):

In consultation with conservation specialists, especially the Arizona Audubon Society, RCM rated the conservation value of the parcels in terms of ecosystem condition and priority for conservation in Arizona. In doing so, RCM was able to take a semi-quantitative approach using Rio Tinto’s quality hectares method, to determine whether the parcels represented equivalent or better conservation benefits than the government land.

According to Rio Tinto,

Quality Hectares are Rio Tinto’s current metric for tracking progress towards the [Net Positive Impact (NPI)] target at the global and site levels. A wide range of biodiversity values, including threatened species, rare habitats or non-timber forest products, may be expressed in terms of their quantity and quality.

It could be argued that RCM bought access to the copper ore in Oak Flat by funding NGOs’ conservation attribution of value to the land that RCM had accumulated. NGOs acted as consultants in choosing land parcels and quantifying their value, managed some of those parcels, wrote letters confirming their value, and thereby contributed to legitimizing the exchange.

Rio Tinto/Resolution Copper started funding Arizona Audubon Society in 2003. The mining subsidiary began lobbying for a land exchange in 2005 and in the same year contracted with TNC to manage the land parcel owned by BHP Billiton called the 7B Ranch.

The 7B Ranch was the piece of land in the San Pedro River basin that ultimately became part of the land exchange. Copper companies in Arizona have purchased land not only for mining, but BHP Billiton already owned some land near the San Pedro River prior to the idea for the land exchange, likely for the water rights.

The Superior Sun reported,

Resolution purchased 7B from BHP in 2007 with the intention of including it in an eventual land exchange… David Salisbury, Resolution Copper CEO, said that the company spoke to organizations such as Arizona Audubon and The Nature Conservancy to determine conservation targets that a number of agencies might be interested in…

Although Audubon hasn’t taken a position on the proposed land exchange, they have been on record since 2005 saying that 7B is an ecologically important piece of property…

With the plan in place, Resolution and its conservation partners hope to make 7B a ready-to-use asset for the [Department of the Interior] and the public.

The Tucson Sentinel reported in 2011, “7B Ranch, which contains one of oldest mesquite forests in Arizona, lies near the fragile San Pedro River. In 2007, Resolution Copper agreed to pay The Nature Conservancy $45,000 a year to manage the property.” They also noted the, “$250,000 in grants and donations that Resolution Copper and Rio Tinto have given to the Audubon Arizona since 2003.” Their coverage stated that the Sonoran Institute (SI) was also involved in identifying parcels that would be of value in the exchange.

RCM also supported SI for at least two years (2007 and 2008) and hired SI’s Dave Richins after, as The New Times revealed, he’d been doing work for RCM for a while prior to official employment. Luther Propst of SI authored an opinion column in the Arizona Republic in 2010 in favor of the Resolution Copper mine.

News outlets such as the Tucson Citizen reported in 2005 that, “the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the Sonoran Institute have all sent [Bruno Hegner, Resolution’s general manager] letters of support.” The Tucson Sentinel wrote that “Leaders of Audubon Arizona and The Nature Conservancy have said they neither support nor oppose the overall plan. But each group has formally attested to the conservation value of the Appleton-Whittell and 7B Ranch parcels, something that Resolution Copper has noted prominently in letters and testimony to Congress.” In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the Arizona chapter of TNC sent letters to legislators reiterating their neutrality on the legislation, but elaborating on the value of the 7B Ranch property. Audubon Arizona had been managing the Appleton-Whittell ranch since the 1980’s. Notably, other Arizona-based Audubon groups (Maricopa and Tucson) have been openly opposed to the mine.

Resolution Copper partnered with Audubon Arizona, TNC, Birdlife International, along with the Salt River Project and others on the Lower San Pedro and Queen Creek Project, described by Birdlife International:

A two-year programme (2006–2007) undertook the development of a bird conservation strategy… It assisted in the provision of detailed biodiversity assessments of the land exchange parcel on the Lower San Pedro River for Resolution Copper Company and with the establishment of baseline data for the mine’s operational biodiversity action planning.

Thanks to the project, the Lower San Pedro River, from “The Narrows” north to the confluence with the Gila River, has been surveyed, nominated and recognised as a state [Important Bird Area (IBA)]. During 2006–2007, existing and newly collected data were compiled and submitted to the Arizona IBA Science Committee, in support of the IBA nomination of the Lower San Pedro River, and the nomination was accepted.

Birdlife International, which Rio Tinto has been working with since 2001 is described as “a global alliance of conservation organisations working together for the world’s birds and people.” One of Birdlife’s main partners is the Audubon Society, a group with which they’ve had overlapping board members.

It is not so difficult to imagine that an “environmental” group, such as Birdlife or TNC would accommodate a mining project considering TNC participated in drilling oil on a property they were supposed to have retired from oil production. Kierán Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity said that TNC “has shown over and over again its willingness to take corporate money in return for stealing, destroying, or polluting indigenous and poor human communities.” TNC has partnered with many of the most notorious corporations like Exxon, BP, Dow Chemical, and Monsanto along with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Birdlife had also partnered with BP, which may have been a factor in Rio Tinto partnering with the NGO in 2001.

From Greenwashing to Green Markets

Mines have pock-marked the earth, poisoned the land, water, and living beings, displaced communities, and left other destruction in their wake. One of the most notorious mining conflicts forced Rio Tinto to shut down their mine on Bougainville Island of Papua New Guinea in 1989 due to an uprising largely in response to the environmental damage caused by the mine. A lawsuit was filed against Rio Tinto over “racial discrimination and environmental harm, as well as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” arising from the mine and the military response as part of the decade-long civil war instigated by the company. Throughout the 1990’s major tailings containments collapsed each year around the world. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have both faced various strikes over working conditions. It’s no wonder they had to fix their reputation in order to do business.

While the Bougainville civil war was still raging, a study that Rio Tinto conducted in 1996 showed that the mining companies could benefit from addressing concern for biodiversity as part of their medium-to long-term business strategy. This may have played a part in the Rio Tinto chairman’s launch of the Global Mining Initiative (GMI) with nine of the largest global mining corporations in 1999. “The drivers for GMI were clear recognition that mining companies had problems of access to land, and access to markets, and cost of capital. The fundamental underlying reason was the reputation of the industry,” said Dr. John Groom, of mining company Anglo American.

Sarah Benabou writes that in 2000,

the GMI started a process of consultation and research known as the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) project to determine the fundamental orientations that would shape the future of the industry. This project led to the creation of the [The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)] in 2002. A few months later, at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, the ICMM and the [International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)] started a joint dialogue on mining and biodiversity ‘to provide a platform for communities, corporations, NGOs and governments to engage in a dialogue to seek the best balance between the protection of important ecosystems and the social and economic importance of mining’ (IUCN 2003: 1).

Benabou’s Making up for lost nature? A critical review of the international development of voluntary biodiversity offsets also describes how mining companies and NGOs at an IUCN/ICMM jointly-organized workshop in 2003 could draw upon each others’ experiences regarding ways to apply a biodiversity offset approach even if it couldn’t be “transposed term-for-term” in other situations. IUCN is one of the oldest and biggest environmental NGOs.

The relationship with Birdlife, initiated by Rio Tinto in 2001 was an early venture into partnerships with such NGOs. According to Rio Tinto, “the partnership has enabled both organisations to deliver outcomes that neither could have achieved as effectively when working alone.”

It would be a mistake to frame this simply as examples of greenwashing in attempt to solve mining companies’ public relations problems and access to land. In the context of the earth’s welfare and diminishing finite resources, the extractive industry and their partners have developed market-based tools like offsets to create new financial strategies. “In this zeitgeist of crisis capitalism, the environmental crisis itself has become a major new frontier of value creation and capitalist accumulation,” writes Sian Sullivan, Professor of Environment and Culture in the UK. The commodification and financialization of so-called natural capital and ecosystem services are central to this process.

19-ecoservices_balancedThe concept of ecosystem services originates with some in the field of Ecological Economics who argued that if destructive practices are unavoidable, then corporations should pay for the damage they have done (or will do) to that which we take for granted but can’t live without: the environment. Yet, if companies compensate for their externalities, a whole host of other problems arise with pricing, quantifying, simplifying and appropriating natural resources.

The introduction to Nature, Inc. spells it out: “Capitalism now endeavors to accumulate not merely in spite of but rather precisely through the negation of its own negative impacts on both physical environments and the people who inhabit them, proposing itself as the solution to the very problems it creates.” Similarly, co-editor of Nature, Inc., Bram Büscher posited elsewhere, “To believe that nature can be conserved by increasing the intensity, reach and depth of capital circulation is arguably one of the biggest contradictions of our times.”

IUCN, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was involved in the early 1990’s in advancing the concept of ecosystem services, aka environmental services, beginning with their Global Biodiversity Strategy. This was a predecessor to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) completed in 2005, to which IUCN and UNEP also contributed. MA has been considered a game-changer in the way it endeavored to apply a monetary value to ecosystem services; the wide variety of beneficial (to humans) functions deriving from ecosystems, like carbon sequestration and water purification.

One of the biggest payments for ecosystem services (PES) program currently is REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (the latest version is called REDD+) which Tom B. K. Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said could lead to “the biggest land grab of all time.” REDD is a project of IUCN, supported by Rio Tinto (including in its early development). Rio Tinto claims that REDD+ allows them to offset their carbon footprint. The Nature Conservancy, and Birdlife International are proponents of REDD+.

REDD and the carbon trade in general have meant further financialization of nature, involving hedge funds, derivatives, and “a new generation of ‘commercial conservation asset managers’ required to broker these exchanges and revenues,” according to Sian Sullivan. “Conservation investing experienced dramatic growth after 2013, as total committed private capital climbed 62% in just two years from $5.1B to $8.2B,” reported Ecosystem Marketplace recently.

NGOs and negotiations have enabled and structured “new green market opportunities and practices as they orchestrate the social and political relations among various state and non-state actors through which the mechanisms, incentives and legitimating conditions for green grabs are established,” as is argued in Enclosing the global commons: the convention on biological diversity and green grabbing.

Experts from the big NGOs are called upon to design, implement, and/or verify such mechanisms as offsets. While carbon offsets are the most notoriously dubious, mining companies are involved in a variety of other offsets, both voluntary and regulatory.

Buying, Banking, Trading Offsets

In Utah, a land tract Kennecott wanted for storage of their tailings (materials left over from processing of mined substance) was designated as wetlands, which are regulated. So according to a case report put out by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB),

Kennecott was thus required by U.S. law to offset, or mitigate, the loss of wetlands by the creation of an agreed number and value of habitat units… In 1996, Kennecott Utah Copper Company undertook the cleanup and construction of the 1,011 ha Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR) in conjunction with a project to expand its tailings storage.

utah-kennecott-mine

Kennecott Utah Copper Mine (Rio Tinto)

In addition to the required wetlands offset, Rio Tinto established a “bank” of restored surplus habitat land which, as TEEB explained, referencing an unpublished study, “could be used to offset future impacts on wetlands (584 ha) adjacent to the mitigation site… Credits from the bank can be used by Kennecott or sold to others for wetlands mitigation in accordance with the terms of the Bank Agreement with the US government.” Banking converts wetland habitat properties into assets. Rio Tinto wrote in 2011 that they have, “successfully developed and then sold wetland credits” as part of the ISSR.

Essentially, companies can profit from ostensibly going above and beyond their responsibilities (or having a “net positive impact”) for mitigating the damage they cause through mining. In many cases, profit-driven wetlands banking has been shown to result in a net loss, however.

TNC and National Audubon Society were involved in developing this wetland mitigation plan. The ISSR also became an IBA in 2004 and is part of BirdLife International’s IBA Program.

BirdLife International also endorsed Rio Tinto’s activities across the world in Madagascar. Rio Tinto owns 80% of the QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals) ilmenite (titanium dioxide) mine in Southeastern Madagascar which started mining in 2005. The mining activities “will remove more than half of a particular type of unique coastal forest.” BirdLife described the benefits of a project implemented by a BirdLife affiliate and supported by Rio Tinto:

The direct payments [for conservation] project aims to strengthen the conservation of Tsitongambarika’s unique and threatened biodiversity, enhance water security for QMM’s mining operations… and maintain ecosystem services essential for regional development.

Rio Tinto is partnered with this affiliate in a biodiversity offset program. Note that other than biodiversity, the benefits of the project are for the mine and/or “regional development” but are subsumed into conservation as well. The biodiversity offsets involve “the financing of, or provision of land for, biodiversity conservation outside of mining zones,” explains PhD candidate in Anthropology, Caroline Seagle. The idea is that aspects of biodiversity are exchangeable (or fungible) with others, so damage to this particular type of forest can be made up for elsewhere.

For aspects of ecosystems to be treated as fungible commodities, their uniqueness and complexity needs to be erased for the sake of market exchange. This “offset ideology” is “premised upon the monetization of nature and market rationality,” writes Seagle, in “Inverting the impacts: Mining, conservation and sustainability claims near the Rio Tinto/QMM ilmenite mine in Southeast Madagascar” (for a similar more accessible version, see “The mining-conservation nexus“).

“Through the paradigm of conservation finance and payments for environmental services (PES), the ‘offset ideology’ is less mitigatory and more compensatory – making up for local damage through land allocation or financial support of nature conservation,” criticizes Seagle.

Similar to Rio Tinto’s wetland banking, these mechanisms are not only intended to compensate for damage, but to create revenue. IUCN wrote in 2011 of Rio Tinto’s further steps in Madagascar to gain from conservation:

Rio Tinto is using established relationships with its biodiversity partners and specifically its relationship with IUCN to explore how ecosystem services can be accurately valued and the implications for corporate risks and opportunities.

For companies like Rio Tinto, robust methods of valuing ecosystem services and the development of well functioning markets for ecosystem services could provide an opportunity to use large non-operational land holdings to create new income streams for Rio Tinto and for local stakeholders and communities, through the sale of ecosystem service credits.

Biodiversity offsets became a primary tool to make headway into areas they wanted to mine. An IUCN document reiterated,

[For some] Multinational companies, whose operations have an impact on biodiversity and for whom license to operate – both formal concessions from governments and social license from communities – are key to business success. Their view of biodiversity offsets is that best practice on biodiversity – possibly including offsets, whether mandatory or voluntary – is important to access land, maintain reputation… and the avoidance of interference and disruption from NGOs and local communities.

The wetlands offsets in Utah and the biodiversity offsets in Madagascar are just two experiences the mining companies could learn from leading up to the Arizona land exchange. While Rio Tinto was mandated to buy wetlands offsets for their Kennecott Utah mine, in the Arizona case, RCM had to do a land exchange to access the Forest Service land, and there seem to be no other mandatory mitigatory steps required of RCM. But they did use ecosystem services to attribute value to the conservation lands, which seemed to have some utility for them.

The land exchange was framed in terms of offsets because it of its purported mitigatory function. In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Forests and Public Lands, the President of Resolution stated in 2009, “we believe the exceptional quality and quantity of the non-federal lands that will be conveyed into Federal ownership more than off-set any expected surface impacts to the lands acquired by Resolution Copper” (my emphasis).

The ICMM featured the Arizona land exchange in a 2010 Mining and Biodiversity case studies report, framing it as an offset as well:

Given Rio Tinto’s commitment to a net positive impact to biodiversity, the land exchange presents a unique opportunity to exceed the requirements of trading land of equivalent economic value by ensuring that the land parcels offered in the trade are also of equivalent or greater value for the conservation of biodiversity and provision of environmental services – a biodiversity offset (my emphasis).

The chart from this report (see above) shows the various parcels in Arizona Rio Tinto offered up as “offsets,” along with the their quality valuation, based on consultation with Audubon Arizona and other NGOs.

Again, the biodiversity and environmental services would likely not be accounted for in the official appraisal. However, Resolution’s claim of these voluntary offsets may have contributed to an attempt to prove that the swap is in the public interest.

Conservation Value

“The American public is getting ripped off,” Silver said. “The only land that is of value is the research center’s because it hasn’t been overgrazed, but it’s of no value to the general public because it wouldn’t be open to them, unlike Oak Flat that offers recreational opportunities to the public and is of cultural value to Native Americans,” Silver said.

Many, like Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center of Biological Diversity, as quoted by the Arizona Daily Sun disagree with TNC and Audubon Arizona’s opinions of the exchange parcels. Several environmental groups opposed to the mine detailed the damage the RCM would cause, as well as the poor quality of the exchange sites in their Scoping Comments for the Resolution Copper Mine DEIS.

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“The San Pedro is not free-flowing at the 7B Ranch,” Witzeman wrote.

Bob Witzeman, an environmentalist who spent several of his final years fighting against the Resolution Copper mine, commented that the 7B Ranch owned by BHP Billiton was likely purchased for its water rights and “is under no duress for need of protection… There is no danger of mining here, or developing homes here, because it is in a flood plain.”

In earning credit for offsets, protecting a site only counts for something if the site is under threat. This is called additionality. Some states and institutions require additionality as part of offset programs. The “counterfactual,” or what otherwise would have happened without a conservation project such as an offset program, is often difficult to ascertain. As far as the land exchange in Arizona goes, not only do many of the parcels seem of poor quality, especially compared to Oak Flat, it’s likely that there was no imminent threat to the largest parcel, 7B Ranch, nor the Appleton-Whittell parcel which was converted into a research facility in 1968.

This is not to say that conservation efforts are for naught (though there’s evidence that many of the projects, especially when profit-driven are not even effective), or that there is any legal weight to this point, but this needs to be considered. For example, regarding the 7B Ranch, Witzeman wrote, “BHP does own another riverside parcel with riparian habitat. BHP does plan to develop homes in that area, some 35,000 units. As of this time, they have made no commitment to protect this riparian habitat.” The land was still being preserved in 2013 (I was unable to find anything more recent) but the reason given that the real estate development plan didn’t come to fruition was the economic downturn in 2007.

This brings up another problem with offset programs called leakage. “Leakage occurs when environmentally destructive activities… are shifted from the places targeted for conservation to other sites,” explains Kathleen McAfee in Green economy and carbon markets for conservation and development: A critical view. Just one relevant example of leakage is when TNC purchased 500 acres along the San Pedro to retire it from agricultural irrigation only to have the seller begin irrigating a nearby 500 acre plot soon after.

Resolution’s protection of the 7B Ranch at the expense of nearby land can be shown in the case when the Sunzia transmission line project was in the planning stages, and two of the potential routes could have impacted the conservation value of the 7B Ranch. Resolution Copper sent a letter opposing those routes. The Final Environmental Impact Statement shows a somewhat different but nearby route as the BLM preferred alternative. RCM did not comment on other routes that would also affect the region. This not only shows that conservation is only important when it benefits the company, but it also points to another issue that comes up when profit factors into conservation. Scarcity, caused by development, increases the value of conservation products (such as offsets), thereby incentivizing conservation, but also more development.

Sian Sullivan argues that conservation banking is development-dependent. “Indeed, development that produces transformation of habitats is required for conservation credits to attain the prices that will encourage establishment of conservation banks and bankers, thereby generating trade in conservation credits as a funding strategy for conservation management.”

Seagle pointed out that as part of a strategy of sustainability in Madagascar – though applicable in other cases – Rio Tinto is paradoxically creating scarcity of biodiversity while claiming to save it.

Here and Now

The Nature Conservancy’s legitimization of development is not isolated to Resolution Copper, even in Arizona. Water is particularly vulnerable to green grabbing, as water is integral to ecosystem services as well as a necessary resource for industry. Aside from the partnerships with Ft. Huachuca noted above, TNC is also working with Castle & Cooke’s housing development called Tribute in Sierra Vista, as well as El Dorado Holdings’ Vigneto Villages housing development in Bensen, the latter involving a “mitigation parcel” as an offset. Both could be serious threats to the San Pedro and nearby aquifers, and require proof of assured water supplies.

A major threat to aquifers and other surface water in Arizona relates to what’s happening with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) water Arizona has come to depend on (though destructive). Arizona is taking voluntary Colorado River water reductions to delay an official shortage declaration triggered by Lake Mead’s water level. Water officials have been meeting with various leaders in different sectors to arrange voluntary cuts, with a plan to compensate water users (this may involve more market-based “solutions”) for 400,000 AF per year. Resolution Copper has secured a portion of Arizona’s stored water in the form of storage credits, which brings up more issues regarding recovery. RCM expects to also be able to access large quantities of CAP water, but this allocation is in a low priority category, and therefore is subject to cuts. Farmers, tribes, and others are subject to having to forego their share of CAP water, essentially to secure water for the mine (and other mining operations and water bottling, etc). As CAP reductions go into effect, stress on other sources of surface and ground water will increase.

What may be most troubling to readers is that an NGO has been selling water offsets based on watershed restoration projects, to companies like Coca Cola and Intel Corp. While they continue to use massive amounts of water, companies’ “water footprints” are allegedly reduced by voluntarily buying Water Restoration Certificates (WRC) from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). WRCs supposedly help restore a watershed in partnership with local landowners and big environmental groups like TNC. BEF also sells carbon offsets.

One such project involving TNC and BEF (supported by Walmart heirs’ Walton Family Foundation) is the relatively new Verde River Exchange Water Offset Program. Reading media coverage on this project, you wouldn’t gather that this is part of TNC’s efforts in developing water markets across the globe. Their 2016 report called Water Share: Using water markets and impact investment to drive sustainability says a lot more, revealing that their hypothetical model involves reallocating (selling or leasing) the majority of the “conserved” water from farming (that would otherwise contribute to the aquifer or river but is considered “lost”) to another sector in order to raise revenue to compensate farmers and to profit investors. These small-scale pilot projects may have much bigger implications in the future.

A few recently published papers (funded by the Walton Family Foundation) apply monetary value to and promote payments for ecosystem services of the Colorado River Basin, and suggest unbundling water rights to create a water market in the Western US. Water-marketing may be central to addressing the main obstacle to finalizing a Lower Colorado River basin Drought Contingency Plan – California’s Salton Sea. Arizona aims to resolve remaining tribal water rights claims on the state’s terms and facilitate water marketing. A major US/Mexico water agreement makes water marketing central to multiple aspects of the current and future versions. The Bureau of Reclamation has become involved in water marketing, and things may become even worse under Trump’s administration.

It is concerning that seemingly necessary feel-good projects in water conservation will actually serve capitalism. But there is no denying that there are many examples of this across the world. NGO/corporate partnerships have served to contribute to learning experiences, provide green credentials for mining companies and other development to influence media and decision-makers, and create new mechanisms for access to resources and financial gain.

Standing Rock water protectors’ efforts were evoked in an article on the Ecosystem Marketplace website in which the author declared that 2016 was a year for learning the value of water. The article promoted market-based mechanisms like those developed by TNC. The real lesson to be learned is not that the value of water should be translated into market terms, but instead many have learned that resource appropriation (when not invisible) is backed up by state violence or the threat of it. Those who physically obstruct the Resolution Copper mine, or in any other case, in protest may be treated similarly to the water protectors fighting against DAPL.

 

See an accompanying page on the San Pedro River for more on that.

InSight Bores to New Depths; USAID, WB, Embassy, La Prensa Rally for More Militarization in SPS

03/28/2012

AP | Adrienne Pine

So interesting that Geoffrey Ramsey, Elyssa Pachico and Hannah Stone, each of whom have written horribly misleading articles about Honduras that support U.S. militarization on InSight in the past year (see previous posts analyzing their articles on this blog) have formed an “independent” blog in which they repeatedly cite InSight as a legitimate news source, in today’s case along with the idiotic AP note, probably by Freddy Cuevas. The InSight article linked in today’s “Pan-American Post” “news brief” by Hannah Stone is by one Edward Fox, who for background on the Aguán links only to a Monday, 22 August 2011 InSight article by Hannah Stone titled Are Foreign Criminal Gangs Driving Honduras Land Conflict? (While the answer isn’t exactly yes because she never gets to an answer, the title says it all.)