12:54 p.m. August 9, 2013

The PRISMer's Dilemma

“I don’t want to live in a world where there is no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

--Edward Snowden

Earlier this week, Sen. Ruslan Gattarov, a young member of Russia’s upper house of parliament in the pro-Putin “United Russia” party, announced plans to make Edward Snowden his “adviser.” Snowden’s first task: to testify before a committee on cyber-security and cyber-terrorism that Gattarov chairs. Gattarov has been the Kremlin's leading advocate in the upper house for tightening state control over Russia's internet.

Gattarov has also put himself in charge of raising money for Snowden, and according to the Moscow Times, Snowden's "representatives approved the idea, having noted that Snowden is running out of money."

The budding partnership is an interesting one, given that Gattarov recently led the government’s push against online hackers, proposing bills that would radically stiffen criminal penalties for those who disrupt government websites and servers. Last year, Gattarov introduced a bill equating hackers with terrorists and making the crime of hacking into government ministry websites equivalent to attempting the overthrow of Russia. Last year, after fans of Pussy Riot hacked into a Moscow court's website and put up a "Freedom To Pussy Riot" banner, Interfax reported Gattarov's response:

“The current Criminal Code is too lenient for the hackers,” Gattarov said with regret in an article in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. “The law envisages only five years in prison for such offenders,” he said. The senator wants to make the punishment for this crime equal to the article for the seizure of the state authorities that carries up to 15 years in prison. Gattarov stated that his initiative will be considered at a meeting of the upper house of Russian parliament at the beginning of the autumn session.

He has also been pushing for state control over the Russian internet modeled on what he calls the American intelligence world’s “strategy,” and to do that, Gattarov has led interagency workgroups with the FSB and other state security structures.

Gattarov has also played a henchman's role in crushing opposition to Putin. Last year, Gattarov helped launch the criminal case against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, officially petitioning the federal prosecutors' office to investigate Navalny after his private emails had been hacked into thanks to the FSB's version of PRISM, "SORM." Gattarov's petition to the prosecutors' office alleged that Navalny's hacked emails showed criminal wrongdoing; a month later, Navalny was criminally charged. Last month, Navalny was sentenced to a four-year prison term, sparking nationwide protests.

Russia’s SORM is in some ways more intrusive than anything the NSA has, but also much cruder. One big difference is that in Russia, the law allows the security services to deploy SORM to spy on Putin’s domestic political opponents, and against human rights activists. Last year, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld using SORM to eavesdrop on Russian political dissidents’ communications, under the guise of fighting “extremism.” Under Putin, “extremism” has come to mean anything from criticizing Putin to human rights activism. Russia’s courts ruled that the FSB was justified in using SORM to spy on a local Yekaterinberg politician because by attending pro-democracy rallies, he was engaging in “extremist activities.”

Since Snowden arrived in Sheremyetovo airport, Gattarov has relaunched his cybersecurity committee under a different name and guise: protecting Russians’ privacy and their constitutional rights. Hardy-fucking-har. And then, this week, Gattarov made Snowden an offer he can’t refuse. In an article published August 6, headlined “Ruslan Gattarov: Snowden Will Work For Us Pro Bono,” the senator explained THE DEAL:

"We’re planning to invite Snowden as an expert for our working group," said Ruslan Gattarov.[...] "I hope that Snowden will help us find the right answers to our questions."

After blathering about protecting personal private information, Gattarov’s interview with the Russian news agency NSN turned a bit more ominous:

“I think that Edward Snowden will cooperate on a voluntary basis, because he exposed the truth to the world not for money, but rather out of personal convictions," the senator assured us. "Moreover, we have no way of paying him a fee anyway. Our commission works with more than 100 experts, and the issue of pay has never once come up. Everyone works with the Federation Council [Russian senate] on a voluntary basis, for free...”

The article ends:

When asked what would happen if Snowden declined the offer to work for free for the Federation Council, the senator refused comment.

Luckily, the answer to the tricky pay question appeared the following day, August 7, as reported in The Guardian:

“Russian senator raises funds for Edward Snowden: United Russia politician Ruslan Gattarov says he has set up a website to gather money for the NSA whistleblower

Russian senator Ruslan Gattarov has begun a campaign to raise funds for Edward Snowden, claiming that the whistleblower is running out of money. Gattarov is also seeking the whistleblower's help in investigating the security of Russians' personal data.

Gattarov, a member of the ruling United Russia party, has said he will open a bank account and create a website to gather donations for the National Security Agency leaker, who was last week granted temporary asylum in Russia.

Gattarov told the Izvestiya newspaper that the domain name helpsnowden.ru had been registered and volunteers from several IT companies were developing the website.

Of course none of this would be possible without Snowden’s agreement. And, as Snowden’s supporters have been saying for weeks, he has no intention of taking money from the Russians to help them better understand American spy technology. Especially when the purpose of that understanding is to build Russia a bigger, better version of PRISM. Right?

On MSNBC yesterday, Glenn Greenwald told Alan Greenspan's wife no way was this possible:

"Everything that I know about him and what his actions have been would make me extremely shocked if he was willing to work with any government to help them better understand how to surveil their citizens.”

Here’s Gattarov again, speaking to the Moscow Times:

"I have contacted [Snowden's] representatives and they have approved the idea, having noted that Snowden is running out of money," Gattarov told Interfax.

Oh, Edward. Who are you going to make a fool of tomorrow — Greenwald, or Gattarov?

* *

In a largely overlooked New York Times article about Snowden's looming dilemma, Russian internet freedom activists openly worried that Snowden’s presence empowered Kremlin politicians like Gattarov who’ve been pushing for new laws giving Russian security services even greater access to online activities than they already have, tightening control over the last area of semi-freedom:

Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, fled the United States saying he did not want to live in a surveillance state.

But now the Russians are using his very presence here — on Friday Mr. Snowden said he intended to remain in Russia for some time while seeking asylum elsewhere — to push for tighter controls over the Internet.

...Many independent advocates for Internet freedom have for years, however, characterized the Russian policy proposals as deeply worrying, for their potential to hamper free communication across borders and expose political dissidents inside authoritarian states to persecution.

The Times article was short on specifics, such as who Ruslan Gattarov is. In fact almost no one in the Western press has profiled Ruslan Gattarov. Now that Senator Gattarov has appointed himself as Edward Snowden’s Big Brother, that question is worth exploring.

Just a few years ago, Gattarov led the “Molodaya Gvardia,” the militant youth wing of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. Gattarov spent much of his time leading groups of crypto-fascist youths harassing foreigners and migrant workers — and Putin’s domestic political opponents.

In 2009, the Moscow News reported that Gattarov and 100 members of “Molodaya Gvardia held protests in Moscow’s train stations timed to harass incoming dark-skinned passengers from impoverished Central Asian republics, many of whom come to Moscow seeking work. Gattarov and his group greeted a train arriving from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, holding signs reading “Illegals Go Home!” and handing out cards with the address of the Federal Migration Service, the equivalent of the INS. Gattarov’s group harassed migrant workers in train stations all across Russia. And they harassed them outside the train stations: one of Gattarov's outfit's favorite stunts was picking up unsuspecting dark-skinned migrant workers under the auspices of driving them to a temporary worksite, only to drop them off at a local immigration center to be detained and deported (or relieved of their earnings to avoid deportation).

Gattarov’s “Molodaya Gvardia” also drew up lists of Putin critics “to be punished.” Shortly after reporter Oleg Kashin was placed on Molodaya Gvardia's "to be punished" list, he was attacked and nearly beaten to death with a metal rod, resulting in a two-week coma, broken jaw, legs and fingers. Gattarov’s outfit has been blamed for carrying out the beating, not least because the attackers purposefully broke the reporter's fingers after laying him out — a not-subtle message to stop writing. After the beating, Molodaya Gvardia removed a photoshopped image of Kashin stamped "TO BE PUNISHED" from its website.

Gattarov, a protege of Putin’s spindoctor Vladislav Surkov, is now a young senator, but his role hasn’t changed much. Putin’s party appointed him in 2010 to head an intelligence analysis outfit to monitor opposition protest activity throughout the country. In late 2011, the Kremlin party appointed Gattarov as the chief United Russia elections monitor to cover up the fraudulent vote that year, fraud that brought hundreds of thousands out in the streets. (Gattarov did everything to downplay the protests and dismiss charges of rampant voter fraud.) So the same senator Gattarov who attacked migrant workers and opposition figures, who helped get Russia’s opposition leader sentenced to prison, and who has been tasked with beefing up Russia’s cybersecurity to American levels, and who wants DDOS hackers charged with plotting to overthrow the government — this same Gattarov is running a “helpsnowden.ru” charity donation site, and has tasked Snowden with advising his committee on internet security, on a voluntary pro bono basis.

Last summer, a month after Gattarov used hacked-by-FSB emails to help get Navalny indicted, he led a public campaign to tighten control over the Russian internet under the guise of cyberterrorism and cybersecurity. Gattarov enjoys confrontation, and is pretty good in public debate even when grossly wrong. So last August, he went on opposition radio Ekho Moskvy to argue his case for tightening control over the Russian internet, and for waging war on hackers who mess with Russian government websites and information.

Gattarov decried the culture of tolerating hackers, called for charging those who hack or disrupt Russian ministry websites with plotting to overthrow the state, and spoke about his work with other government bodies, including the FSB, to create a new state strategy for control over the Russian internet based on what he described as the US intelligence world’s control over America’s internet.

As Gattarov told Ekho Moskvy last year...

“I went to an IT event. There was a seminar on information security. There was an American speaker, who showed us: here’s how you break into this, that’s how you break into that safe, thanks to modern hi-tech optics and cameras. That is, you can break into anything and everything. We must fight against this. We have to all work on this together. The government can’t do this by itself. [Not] if everyone’s going to continue tolerating hackers....”

Since Snowden arrived in the Sheremyetovo transit zone, Gattarov’s ad hoc committee on Russian “privacy rights” has already issued some recommendations, including requiring foreign companies operating in Russia “to comply with its law on personal data, which can require using encryption programs that are licenced by the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the K.G.B.,” according to the Times.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Fred Weir, an old friend and one of the best correspondents in Moscow, reported:

Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum in Russia last week, may soon find himself acting as "Exhibit A" in a concerted Russian effort to beef up national electronic security and assert something lawmakers are calling "digital sovereignty" in the wake of the recent revelations about NSA Internet-snooping around the world.

"We want to find out from Snowden how this leaking of personal data happens. It's time to start working out measures to protect private information on the national and international level. I don't think he'll have to break any obligations or commitments to tell us what he knows," says Senator Ruslan Gattarov, head of the parliamentary commission on privacy rights.

That sounds nice and all. But as Amnesty International's Russia director told the Christian Science Monitor,

“The problem is that these hearings, if they occur, will be one-sided...And the role of Edward Snowden will be to tell them what they want to hear.”

* *

Meanwhile, in GULAG-for-immigrants news: the mass-roundups of dark-skinned migrant workers continues unabated in Moscow, while at the Golyaevo open-air detention center for migrant workers in eastern Moscow, dozens have been hospitalized from food poisoning, and inmates there say they’re being shaken down for bribes by OMON paramilitary camp guards. One of the camp inmates, a Syria war refugee who gave his name as “Firas,” told LifeNews.ru,

“I can’t go back to Syria because there’s a war there, it’s why I fled to Russia. But when I told that to [detention camp administrators], I was told, ‘That’s not our problem, that’s your problem.’”

Firas and other migrant worker inmates interviewed said they’ve gone over a week now without electricity, lighting or water.

Earlier this week, OMON riot police arrested 1,185 migrant workers in a “cleansing” operation at the Sadovod market in southeastern Moscow. A local blogger whose brother was wrongfully detained and beaten during the mass-arrests described what his brother and his mother saw. (His brother’s name is distinctly Muslim sounding — Ruslan Dzhambulatovich Abdulaev — therefore “suspicious,” even though he had the proper papers.) The blogger writes:

[Moscow Mayor] Sobyanin will burn in hell!>=( my brother was detained at the Sadovod market, even though he had the right papers and is a veteran. As far as the fucking OMON are concerned, legal documents don’t mean shit! My mama said she saw them beat my brother with a rifle butt to his back, before dragging him into a paddy wagon right before her eyes.

I called my brother. He told me: in the market, the OMONtsy savagely beat anyone who dared asked them what gave them the right to treat Russian citizens this way (they were forced to their knees). In the police precinct in Novogireevo: everyone was divided up into groups, no one told the detainees anything, and everyone’s fingerprints were taken without any reason given — and when one tried asking what occasion gave them the right to blacken their fingertips, the cops threatened to ‘pound their kidneys and bust their skulls.’....No water/food/toilet allowed. The processing took forever. There are women, and there are wounded. The round-up was conducted not by local cops, but by elite OMON special forces.