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Weapons of Mass Distraction 

U.S. arms dealing leads Project Censored’s list of the Top 10 underreported stories of 1997

Wednesday, Apr 8 1998
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4. Exposing the global surveillance system.

Nicky Hager, "Secret Power: Exposing the Global Surveillance System," CovertAction Quarterly, winter 1996-97.

Nicky Hager reported in CAQ that in the late 1980s the United States prompted New Zealand to become the latest country to join a new and highly secret global intelligence system known as Echelon.

Designed and coordinated by the U.S. National Security Agency, Echelon allows spy agencies to monitor most of the world’s telephone, e-mail and telex communications. Unlike many of the Cold War electronic spy systems, Echelon is designed primarily to gather electronic transmissions from nonmilitary targets: governments, organizations, businesses and individuals in virtually every country.

Hager blew the lid off Echelon after more than 50 New Zealand intelligence veterans — concerned about the potential abuses of such a system — risked their careers and agreed to talk to him. They leaked to Hager precise information concerning how the system works, its capabilities and shortcomings, and where it operates, and such details as code names.

5. United States companies are world leaders in torture devices.

Anne-Marie Cusac, "Shock Value: U.S. Stun Devices Pose Human-Rights Risk," The Progressive, September 1997.

In its March 1997 report "Recent Cases of the Use of Electroshock Weapons for Torture or Ill-Treatment," Amnesty International listed 100 companies that manufactured push-button electroshock devices. Of those, 42 were based in the United States.

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty claim the devices are unsafe and may encourage sadistic acts by police officers and prison guards, Anne-Marie Cusac reported.

Countries that have received stun weapons exported from the United States in the last decade include Yemen, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Argentina, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and Ecuador.

"Stun belts offer enormous possibilities for abuse and the infliction of gratuitous pain," Jenni Gainsborough of the ACLU’s National Prison Project told The Progressive.

6. Russian plutonium lost over Chile and Bolivia.

Karl Grossman, "Space Probe Explodes, Plutonium Missing," CovertAction Quarterly, spring 1997.

On November 17, 1996, when the U.S. Space Command announced that Russia’s Mars ’96 space probe, carrying a half-pound of deadly plutonium, would crash-land in Australia, President Clinton and the mass media responded immediately.

Clinton phoned Australian Prime Minister John Howard and offered "the assets the U.S. has in the Department of Energy" to deal with any radioactive contamination.

Later that day the U.S. Space Command revised its account and mistakenly announced the probe had fallen into the Pacific. Following suit, a number of U.S. media outlets reported the probe had crashed "harmlessly" into the ocean.

On November 29, 11 days later, the U.S. Space Command changed its mind yet again: "It changed not only where but also when the probe fell — not off South America but on Chile and Bolivia, and not on November 17 but the night before," Grossman reports.

This time, there were no calls from the president, and the U.S. government did little to help locate and recover the radioactive canisters.

"You can clearly see the double standard," a Houston aerospace engineer told CAQ. "Australia got a phone call from Clinton; Chile got a 2-week-old fax from somebody."

Grossman says the mainstream media were likewise "blasé" about the implications for Latin America; The New York Times buried the story in a World News Brief.

Some suspected that NASA didn’t want too much attention paid to the crash because it might have affected the agency’s already controversial plan to load a record 72.3 pounds of plutonium on its Cassini probe, which it launched in October 1997.

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7. Norplant experiments in Third World lead to forced use in United States.

Jennifer Washburn, "The Misuses of Norplant: Who Gets Stuck?," Ms., November-December 1996.

Rebecca Kavoussi, "Norplant and the Dark Side of the Law," Washington Free Press, March-April 1997.

Joseph D’Agostino, "BBC Documentary Claims That U.S. Foreign Aid Funded Norplant Testing on Uninformed Third World Women," Human Events, May 16, 1997.

Low-income women in the United States and the Third World have been unwitting targets of a U.S. policy to control birth rates through the use of the drug implant Norplant, according to three stories identified by Project Censored.

Human Events reports that a 1995 BBC documentary accused the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of using uninformed women in Bangladesh, Haiti and the Philippines for tests of Norplant’s effectiveness. Norplant, a synthetic version of a female hormone, is intended to prevent pregnancy for five years. It has been linked with debilitating side effects, and the implant can only be removed through surgery — at a cost far beyond the reach of low-income women.

In the United States, as Jennifer Washburn discovered, state Medicaid agencies often cover the cost of Norplant insertion but don’t cover removal before the full five years. Although Medicaid policy may cover early removal when it is determined to be "medically necessary," medical necessity is determined by the provider and the Medicaid agency, not the patient.

"Most people in this country probably believe that reproductive coercion is a thing of the past," Washburn said. "But as my article demonstrates, there are innumerable ways that coercion continues in America."

Norplant’s side effects have led to the filing of more than 400 lawsuits representing more than 50,000 women against Wyeth-Ayerst, the maker of Norplant.

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