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THE AGE, an Melbourne-based national newspaper in Australia, reports that government officials there have officially acknowledged the existence of an Orwellian global electronic spying system called Echelon. Maintained jointly by the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, Echelon automatically monitors millions of private international phone, fax, and email communications sent via satellite and transoceanic cable.

Echelon is the latest incarnation of a secret spying alliance agreed to by the five participating nations shortly after the end of WWII. A high-tech, fully automated monitoring system, Echelon stations in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Britain intercept millions of satellite messages per hour. The captured communiques are funnelled through a computer called “the Dictionary.” Those which contain content which meets certain “collection criteria” are saved and filed in a massive database maintained by national intelligence bureaus such as the CIA.

Up to now, the participating governments have denied the existence of “signal intelligence” gathering and the multinational pact. According to THE AGE, Australia decided to break the code of silence in order to reassure its citizens that the intelligence gathering system is “strictly limited and tightly supervised.”


New evidence of Tiananmen crimes

June 3, 1999

During the 10 years since the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, a group of survivors has been compiling new evidence — including moving testimonies from victims’ families — of the crimes committed by Chinese government troops.

“From midnight on June 3 to June 7, we began the long process of searching for Longlong. … At the Posts Hospital, we searched among heaps of bodies, but didn’t find Longlong. … [On June 7, my husband] was led to the mortuary. Nine bodies which had not yet been identified were on the cement floor. The face and lower torso of body No. 2 was distorted beyond recognition. But judging from the blood stained yellow T-shirt, light blue jeans and white Nike sneakers, it was Zhao Long. He had been shot three times in the left side of his chest.”

— Su Bingxian, mother of 21-year-old victim Zhao Long

The newly collected evidence has been submitted by a group of 105 survivors and family members as part of a legal petition to China’s prosecutor general. They are demanding a criminal investigation into the massacre and prosecution of the responsible parties. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH presents its findings, as well as interviews with activists and other June 4th anniversary resources, in “China: 10 Years After Tiananmen.”


Navy lied about Puerto Rico DU use

June 2, 1999

The U.S. Navy admitted today that it illegally fired 267 depleted-uranium-tipped shells on its firing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in February, according to the ASSOCIATED PRESS. Only 57 of the radioactive shells have been recovered, raising concerns about environmental and health hazards on the island.

Vieques, home to a large Navy installation where sailors have carried out live-fire training exercises since the 1940s, has a long history of conflict with the U.S. military. And on two separate occasions in recent years, the Navy has accidentally dropped 500-pound bombs near civilian areas. The most recent episode was in March — one person was killed and four were injured.

Meanwhile, some residents blame the military exercises for Vieques’ high cancer rate (twice the average of the rest of Puerto Rico).

Puerto Rico officials complained that the Navy didn’t warn them that DU munitions were to be used — or even that any type of exercise was going to take place. The Navy, which is obligated to inform residents before exercises, initially denied the charges. Later, Navy officials admitted that the shells used were in fact made of depleted uranium, despite the fact that Navy regulations, federal and local laws prohibit their use on Vieques.

According to the Navy, the DU shells were mistakenly loaded onto a jet from a ship headed to Yugoslavia, where DU ammunition is now being used widely by NATO forces.


Fundies block PBS gay documentary

June 1, 1999

The award-winning film “It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School” will be featured on PBS this month, but thanks to the religious right, not everybody will have the chance to watch.

The American Family Association (led by the infamous Donald Wildmon) and James Kennedy of Florida’s Coral Ridge Ministries (instigators of the “ex-gay” ads of last year) have headed up the fight against the film, which is scheduled to air in June as part of National Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. The film’s opponents have underwritten multiple mass-mailings to PBS affiliates calling the film “pro-homosexual” and “a propaganda program … that will encourage children to embrace homosexuality.” So far about 1/3 of all PBS affiliates nationwide have decided not to show the film, including stations in Cleveland, Ohio; Memphis, Tenn.; and Orlando, Fla.

The film’s director is Debra Chasnoff, who won an Academy Award for her previous work, “Deadly Deception,” about General Electric’s shady nuclear weapons operations and environmental abuses. Chasnoff says “It’s Elementary” does not deal at all with sex or endorse homosexuality, but focuses on tolerance and age-appropriate education about gay issues to prevent future discrimination and violence against gays and lesbians.



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