We welcome Josh “UJ” Mull as a Polizeros contributor.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 3, I was doing some research for the latest episode of Alive in Baghdad, specifically looking for Iraqi reactions to President Obama’s speech announcing the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. One of the reactions I came across was from the Mujahideen Central Command of Rafidan, a Sunni Islamist, Iraqi insurgent group allegedly responsible for the brutal murder of two CIA agents in Baghdad in 2004.
Originally posted on Dandelion Salad, I followed the Rafidan communique back to its source at Al-Basrah.net, an Iraqi insurgent media organization focusing on Sunni Arab Nationalism and resistance to American and Iranian domination. Here’s where it started getting weird.
But first, some background…
I’m running Minefield, the nightly, Alpha version of the Firefox browser and, as such, a lot of my browser extensions occasionally have issues with lock-ups or freezing on certain sites. One of these extensions is KnowMore, an add-on that “alerts you when you visit the websites of unethical companies (it also let you know if you’re visiting a company with a positive rating!).“
The way KnowMore works is by sending every URL your browser accesses back to its home server, checks it against its database of corporate ethics, and then reports it back to your browser to activate the KnowMore pop-up message. Unfortunately, due to my experimental browser, faulty extension coding, or server errors at KnowMore.org, the extension often locks up the browser for a few seconds before displaying an error, usually something along the lines of “cannot reach website.com.”
Back to the weirdness…
As you do, I left all the tabs I was working with open in my browser and jumped back to OpenOffice to keep writing Alive in Baghdad. After a few minutes, I noticed my cursor was blinking wildly as if the computer was “thinking” about something. I switched over to Minefield and found it was unresponsive. After a few seconds, it popped-up its error message, saying it couldn’t reach “cia.gov.” Annoyed, I closed the error and all the tabs without really thinking about what I had just seen and instead jumped back to writing.
About a minute later, it happened again, the same error from cia.gov, this time without any tabs open at all. What this means is that somewhere, in the background and without my knowledge, my computer was attempting to open a connection to the CIA, and the KnowMore extension was having trouble with it. Basically, I was wiretapped without a warrant.
So what does this mean? Turns out, not that much.
First off, it should be pointed out that the Mujahideen Central Command of Rafidan is a US designated Terrorist Organization and, as I said, is allegedly responsible for gunning down two CIA agents, Dale Stoffel and Joseph Wemple, in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded Baghdad street. Simply put, these are not nice guys. Were I not a journalist doing legitimate research, I’d really have no business being at their website in the first place.
Americans, always the “rugged individuals,” treasure their privacy as one of the country’s fundamental freedoms. However, most of the privacy protections granted to citizens were obliterated by the Patriot Act and other subsequent counter-terrorism legislation passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. To add insult to injury, in 2008 in the middle of an election campaign predicated on accountability and transparency, then-Senator Barack Obama voted to grant immunity to the telecommunications companies responsible for illegally violating what small privacy Americans had left.
So, while I’m offended at the presumptuousness of our intelligence agencies, I don’t really have much ground to be angry with them. The CIA have an obvious reason for monitoring that website, and not only that, but I don’t really have the right to not be wiretapped anymore. I haven’t been struck with paranoia, I’ve taken zero steps to protect from it happening again, but the case is definitely worth considering.
What do you think? Should I be worried? Are you worried? Let me know in the comments.