ECHELON, PROMIS, PRISM: Global Interception to Global Deception


The history of spying and being spied upon is as old as dirt, but lately there’s this feeling that, left unchecked for too long, it’s got out of hand. We have an equally long history of allowing previous chances to pay attention slip from our grasp. Looking back just a few years, ECHELON is one example:

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

Global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON)

From the European Parliament website Report (11 July 2001) on the existence of a global system for the interception of private and commercial communications (ECHELON interception system):

The system known as ‘ECHELON’ is an interception system which differs from other intelligence systems in that it possesses two features which make it quite unusual:

The first such feature attributed to it is the capacity to carry out quasi-total surveillance. Satellite receiver stations and spy satellites in particular are alleged to give it the ability to intercept any telephone, fax, Internet or e-mail message sent by any individual and thus to inspect its contents.

The second unusual feature of ECHELON is said to be that the system operates worldwide on the basis of cooperation proportionate to their capabilities among several states (the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), giving it an added value in comparison to national systems: the states participating in ECHELON (UKUSA states(8)) can place their interception systems at each other’s disposal, share the cost and make joint use of the resulting information. This type of international cooperation is essential in particular for the worldwide interception of satellite communications, since only in this way is it possible to ensure in international communications that both sides of a dialogue can be intercepted. It is clear that, in view of its size, a satellite receiver station cannot be established on the territory of a state without that state’s knowledge. Mutual agreement and proportionate cooperation among several states in different parts of the world is essential.

Possible threats to privacy and to businesses posed by a system of the ECHELON type arise not only from the fact that is a particularly powerful monitoring system, but also that it operates in a largely legislation-free area. Systems for the interception of international communications are not usually targeted at residents of the home country. The person whose messages were intercepted would have no domestic legal protection, not being resident in the country concerned. Such a person would be completely at the mercy of the system. Parliamentary supervision would also be inadequate in this area, since the voters, who assume that interception ‘only’ affects people abroad, would not be particularly interested in it, and elected representatives chiefly follow the interests of their voters. That being so, it is hardly surprising that the hearings held in the US Congress concerning the activities of the NSA were confined to the question of whether US citizens were affected by it, with no real concern expressed regarding the existence of such a system in itself. It thus seems all the more important to investigate this issue at European level.

(my emphasis)

As this excerpt illustrates, there is an established, ongoing programme of mutual cooperation, and individual citizens of their respective countries don’t make a fuss because they wrongly assume they are not targets. The hidden truth here is really sad: neither government or people are concerned about bad stuff happening in other countries. We’re fine with investing, trading, travelling, or studying abroad, but if there’s a problem, we want to scurry home and pull up the drawbridge.

More recently, we heard about “PROMIS” – for example, in this post from 2006 which states:

“National Security Agency (NSA) computers have been downloading financial and personal files of all American citizens as a result of upgrades to the Echelon satellite network and software program which is part of the Prosecutor’s Management Information System (PROMIS).

SOG says that NSA also has a “7-10 second lead time” which effectively affords the agency the opportunity to delay the release of currency, stock and bond sales transactions which permits a criminal advantage to agency officials and other high-level associates who game the system of the world’s financial markets”

(my emphasis)

These historic reports explain why so many people, myself included, maintain that the current media revelations about PRISM are not actually news. We have been aware for some time that nothing and no one is “safe” from prying electronic eyes. For most of us, this issue is not about having “something to hide”: it’s about exercising the right to go about your business and not have your private and personal life intruded on without good reason by anyone, and especially not the government that is supposed to serve you. Worse, and decidedly more underhand, is the notion of another country’s government spying on you, then sharing that information with your government in some shady secret information exchange deal. It is about being innocent until proven guilty in a public court of law, with the right to defend yourself. Basically, we don’t want our phone conversations, correspondence or bank accounts to be the target of extrajudicial electronic snooper drones. We don’t want government more loyal to its clandestine relationships with other countries than to the electorate.

Are4D7z - ImgurIf you were not previously aware, or not focussed on these risks, you can thank Edward Snowden and the media coverage of PRISM for bringing these concerns to the front page.The PRISM reports are being issued with exceptionally useful timing, coinciding initially with meetings between China and the US, and then just ahead of the G8 summit.  This inevitably leads to speculation over why non-news is being pushed so hard, and whether there is an alternative agenda. We can’t know for sure what the deal is with these PRISM revelations, we can only throw around a few guesses or wait for more information to come to light. There are several possibilities being mulled over, from diverting attention away from other news items, to inciting civil unrest and manufacturing dissent among grassroots movements on a par with the Occupy protests. Proponents of the latter point out that Edward Snowden’s story also contains some subtle, and not so subtle, messages targeting anti-establishment activists. For example, reports mention he had an Electronic Frontier Foundation  bumper sticker on his laptop lid, and his responses in the Guardian’s Q&A include a plug for an upcoming “Restore The Fourth Amendment” 4 July march. The main thing to keep in mind is that all news must be regarded with a critical if not cynical eye. There is enough evidence of news being used to misdirect and manipulate popular opinion; what matters is how, and if, we choose to react.

Photo: New York Daily News

Photo: New York Daily News

Who is Edward Snowden, and why should you care? He is being hailed as a hero by some, a traitor by others, and even an actor of sorts. Apart from establishing his credibility, there is really no good reason to form an obsession about Edward Snowden, especially if that diverts attention away from the far more important content of his message.

Did he really work for the US Government? Evidence that he did can be gleaned from a comment Snowden posted on the Ars Technica forum back in 2006, when he was considering his preferences for being sent overseas for two years on assignment:

“Although I’m not a diplomat, I work for the Department of State. I actually signed up because of the opportunity for foreign travel […] I also don’t see the allure of “Scandinavian” countries, but that’s simply because I don’t want to live in a country where warmth and comfort are only spoken of in bedtime stories. China is definitely a good option career-wise, and I’ve already got a basic understanding of Mandarin and the culture, but it just doesn’t seem like as much “fun” as some of the other places. Who knows where the “needs of the service” will actually end up placing me, though. Azerbaijan, anyone? Scared

Despite his preferences, Snowden was apparently posted to Geneva. Since he already knew some Mandarin, I think that makes Hong Kong a less surprising choice of venue for his initial exile. Snowden may not like cold countries, but a lot has changed since 2006. Perhaps global warming can take care of the rest.

Is he now a wanted criminal? Despite reports that US government is angered by Snowden’s whistleblowing, it has yet to issue an international arrest warrant, meaning he should be free to travel anywhere, with the possible exception of the United States.

*Featured image for this post is from a platoon page on the “Battlefield 3” gaming website for the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell MMO‘s “Third Echelon“.

#Mauritania’s MCM: Digging for minerals, burying the truth


High on the very long list of taboo subjects in Mauritania is any shadow of doubt or suspicion concerning the cash cows of the mining industry. A recent post highlighted just some of the issues with Canada’s Kinross Gold. Now it’s time to put First Quantum Minerals‘ subsidiary Mauritania Copper Mines (MCM) under the spotlight. The Guelb Moghrein copper-gold operation near the town of Akjoujt in Mauritania, 250 kilometres north-east of the nation’s capital, Nouakchott,  is 100% owned by MCM.

Buried Truth

Friends transport murdered mining worker Mohammed Ould Machdhoufi’s shrouded body

The problem is not that no one dares to speak out about the unfair recruitment practices, inadequate labour conditions, low rates of pay, corrupt financial dealings or environmental pollution; it is that whenever anyone does try to confront these issues, they are ignored or silenced. And that includes being killed in cold blood, which is what happened to Mohamed Ould Machdhoufi, when the national guard staged a dawn raid on a peaceful sit-in by MCM copper mining workers, killing Ould Machdhoufi and wounding several others. The authorities infuriated people by declaring the cause of death to be “unknown”.

Mining workers’ union rep Ethmane Ould Kreivit

First Quantum Minerals of Canada, then aggravated the situation by issuing a press release that made no mention of the death or injuries, and claiming the strike was illegal. Several workers, including union leader Ethmane Ould Kreivit, were attacked in a subsequent protest, and jailed for several days. On his release, the union leader was prevented from entering the workplace. When agreement to return to work was finally reached, MCM deducted more days’ pay than had been lost. Mr Krevit was then sidelined from official meetings and unfairly dismissed. He is now in the process of taking legal action against MCM and remains one the most active and engaged union leaders in the country.

Health Scares

Injured MCM mine worker Mohamed Ould Khatari

A general and persistent lack of concern for worker health and safety is illustrated by the case of MCM mine worker Mohamed Ould Khatari, who developed painful skin lesions after being exposed to a powdered chemical at work, and was told to take a couple of painkillers. Additional risks to the environment and the health of the local population and livestock can not be ignored. There are reports of elevated incidence of maternal and child heath problems, including miscarriages, infant deaths, asthma, headaches and other debilitating illness, among the population close enough to the mine to be affected by soil, water or air-borne toxins. Several herds of camel have been wiped out by sudden and mysterious fatal diseases. The typical response to these problems is to repeat benevolent-sounding statements reminding us that MCM has built a hospital or that the government has plans for veterinary care provision. But the hospital stands empty, and the sparse veterinary care is restricted to vaccination programs against cattle disease, not treatment for arsenic, cyanide or other chemical poisoning.

Conspiratorial Cover-up

Typical scene from the MCM mining dump near Akjoujt

As an example of the system’s obvious compliance in covering up valid concerns, I cite the example of an unresolved court case brought against MCM five years ago for creating an environmental hazard. The court ordered an investigation by three experts but mandated the plaintiff to bear the entire cost – an unprecedented situation. According to the lawyer for the case [ar], Ahmed Ould Mohamed Lemine, the medical expert refused to prepare a report at all, and was openly supportive of the defendant,  MCM. However, the agricultural expert presented his findings, which established the presence of contamination in the region, and negligence on MCM’s part to enact safeguards to limit the spread of toxins, but his report was ignored by the authorities. The lawyer points out that this report also reveals that there is no environmental strategy or plan in place, despite claims that US$925,000 has been allocated to post-operation restoration.

The third expert identified risks from industrial wastes but required further laboratory analysis which is not available in Mauritania. No further action was taken because no one is willing to bear the costs. The president of MCM, Philippe Pascal, had promised in June 2012 that an environmental study would be published within two months. The report has not materialised. As I write, the 2nd Mauritanian Mining & Oil and Gas Conference & Exhibition opens at the Palais des Congrès in Nouakchott. I hope the delegates from MCM and Kinross will attend Wednesday’s sessions on the importance of health and environmental safety.

Silenced Voices

Consider the current campaign initiated by activists wishing to bring these issues to the attention of the country, the region, and the world. They devised a week-long “blogathon” which has received numerous mentions from certain news sites in Mauritania, but not in the sites that carry advertising paid for by MCM or Kinross, and none from sites owned or operated by the “big tent” elites who also benefit from patronage of these major foreign companies.

Al Jazeera, Radio France International and Reuters have all confided in Mr Lemine that the state refused to grant them permission to visit either MCM in Akjoujt or Kinross Gold in Tasiast. He regards this as significant and potential proof, not only of the existence of problems and scandals, but of collusion between the mining companies and the state.  As for rest of the international media, it’s the same as any other week. If it doesn’t concern a terrorist threat or a Libyan fugitive from justice like Al Senussi, no one is interested. But from an ecology, environment, or labour activist standpoint, these mining companies are also terrorists and fugitives from justice in their own way.


BP, EPA reach deal on Canada crude at U.S. refinery

BP Logo

BP Logo

BP Plc on Wednesday said it will spend $400 million to install pollution controls at its giant Whiting, Indiana refinery, to allow it to process heavy crude oil from Canada, in a deal with U.S. and state regulators.

The consent decree reached with the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency also requires London-based BP to pay $8 million to resolve prior alleged clean-air violations at its 405,000-barrels-per-day plant, the sixth-largest U.S. refinery.

The deal, announced by the government and confirmed by BP, ends years of opposition that might have left BP unable to use $4 billion worth of new processing units being installed at Whiting that will allow it to run Canadian tar sands crude as early as 2013. BP has set plans to use Canadian crudes for more than 85 percent of the refinery’s daily needs.

To boost profits, U.S. Midwest refiners are looking to retrofit plants to process plentiful supplies of Canadian heavy oil, which is cheaper but also has a higher content of pollutants that cause acid rain, smog and haze.

As part of the settlement, BP will install an estimated $400 million of pollution-control equipment at the refinery while finishing a crude slate expansion project.

“We look forward to completion of the modernization project, which will improve the refinery’s efficiency and competitiveness while continuing to reduce emissions,” said Whiting refinery manager Nick Spencer in a statement.

The agreement between BP and EPA will set a precedent for refiners seeking to upgrade their refineries to run tar sands crude in the future, environmental groups said.

“Generally, pollution control is supposed to be based on the best available technology, so this will be a benchmark,” said Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project, a former enforcement official at the EPA.

The EPA has sought to reduce emissions at refineries, particularly from flaring devices that burn off unneeded petroleum supplies. In April the EPA reached a deal with Marathon Petroleum Corp to curtail flaring at its six U.S. refineries.

An energy industry analyst said EPA’s agreement with BP may not affect many other U.S. refineries because the Whiting crude slate changeover project is one of the last major projects currently scheduled.

“I don’t know of many more projects out there,” said David Hackett, president of Stillwater Associates. “BP is on the back end of those projects.”

Essentially the conversion of the Whiting refinery to run Canadian crude is switching the refinery from light, sweet crude to heavy, sour crude, which many Gulf Coast refineries have already done to Latin American crude grades.

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the Natural Resources Defence Council, which participated in opposition to BP’s crude slate expansion, said the new pollution equipment will cut emissions from the Whiting refinery’s flare system by 90 percent.

Canadian tar sands crude has become highly desired as a feedstock for refiners because it is cheaper than other crude oil grades. It is easier to obtain for U.S. Midwest refiners because of its source in Alberta.

Iain Conn, global head of BP’s refining and marketing, said in March that the company had decided to make the investment in the Whiting refinery and put refineries in California and Texas up for sale because of the appeal of Canadian crude.

“We are moving to a Northern Tier refining strategy,” Conn said.

BP currently processes between 70,000 and 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) Canadian crude at the Whiting refinery. After the project is complete, the refinery will be able to run up to 350,000 bpd in tar sands crude.

Tar sands crude has drawn opposition from environmental groups because it has high levels of heavy metals, is corrosive and said to produce higher levels of air pollutants. The mining of tar sands crude, which is cut from pits in Alberta, and then refined into a liquid, is also said to produce high levels of greenhouse gases.

Opposition to use of tar sands crude has temporarily halted TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project to bring the oil to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Opposition to the Whiting refinery’s changeover to tar sands crude began shortly after BP announced plans to begin the $4-billion project in 2007. Local groups and politicians from President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois questioned BP’s initial assumptions of pollution from use of tar sands crude.

After Obama took office in 2009, EPA put a hold on a permit Indiana had issued to BP for the project, setting the stage for Wednesday’s settlement.


Des Nouvelles d’Iran – Semaine 19-2012


Nouvelles des Prisonniers

A- Transferts

  • Le prisonnier politique kurde Djahangir Badouzadeh a été transféré à l’isolement à la prison d’Oroumieh après avoir protesté contre les mauvais traitements.
  • Après 27 jours de grève de la faim et 20 jours à l’isolement, Mohammadreza Motamednia de retour au bloc 350 d’Evine.

B- Arrestations/Incarcérations

  • La journaliste Mahsa Amrabadi se rend à Evine pour commencer à purger sa peine de 1 an de prison.
  • Mohammad Hadji Babaï, étudiant militant de Babol, arrêté.
  • Omid Kharazmian convoqué à Evine pour commencer à purger sa peine de 4 ans de prison. Il avait été arête en relation avec les manifestations de l’Ashoura 2009.
  • Yaghoub Moghanikar arrêté lors d’une attaque de son domicile de Karadj et transféré à la section du renseignement de la prison de Radjaï Shahr.

D-Autres Nouvelles

  • L’informaticien condamné à mort Saïd Malekpour reçoit une visite de sa famille après 3 mois.
  • Le frère de 16 ans du derviche Gonabadi emprisonné Kasra Nouri interrogé et menacé par le renseignement. La détention provisoire de Kasra Nouri est étendue juste avant sa libération.

Nouvelles de l’injustice en Iran

  • Laleh Azadi (F) arrêtée durant les manifestations de d’Ashoura de décembre 2009 a été condamnée à 4 ans de prison.
  • Aghaghiya Azizai (F) arrêtée durant les manifestations de d’Ashoura de décembre 2009 a été condamnée à 4 ans de prison.
  • Mohammad Azizi a été condamné à 5 ans par le tribunal de Saghez pour adhésion à un groupe d’opposition interdit.
  • Samko Khorshidi condamné à mort par le tribunal de Saqqez.
  • Le journaliste Omid Mohades a été condamné à 4 ans avec 5 ans de sursis + 5 ans d’interdiction de toute activité politique.
  • Le journaliste Meyssam Mohammadi a été condamné à 4 ans de prison + 5 ans d’interdiction de journalisme dans la presse écrite ou sur Internet.
  • Mohammad Reza Pour Shajari, blogger, condamné à une année de prison supplémentaire, 4 au total.
  • Le caricaturiste Mahmoud Shokraiyeh condamné à 25 coups de fouet pour la caricature du député Ahmad Lotfi.
  • Khamenei amnistie l’allié d’Ahmadinejad Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, arrêté l’année dernière pour corruption avant le procès.
  • Neuf pendaisons lundi dans une prison de Téhéran.
  • Quatre pendaisons mercredi à la prison de Kerman.

L’université  – La culture

  • « Une Séparation » gagne le David du meilleur film étranger en Italie.
  • 150 étudiants de Téhéran convoqués à l’organisation nationale des examens et interrogés par des agents du renseignement.
  • Samaneh Moradian, qui a traduit pour la première fois les œuvres de Georges Bataille en Persan se suicide à l’âge de 24ans.
  • Des femmes ont été brutalement arrêtées à la foire aux livres de Téhéran, cause probable, elles étaient mal voilées.
  • Le ministère de la guidance (culture) condamné à payer des dommages et intérêts pour la censure d’un film de critique sociale, « Ali Santouri » (2006), du cinéaste Darioush Mehrjouii.
  • Menace de mort [fatwa] contre Shahine Nadjafi Rappeur iranien vivant en Allemagne.
  • Le film de Nourizad « Nous avons tué » sort.
  • L’Iran ferme le stand de 3 éditeurs étrangers à la foire aux livres de Téhéran.
  • La demeure historique Amin ol-Soltan House (de l’ère Qajar) va être démolie à Téhéran.
  • Le stand d’un libraire fermé à la foire aux livres de Téhéran pour avoir affiché un poster de Cyrus le Grand.
  • Une foule se rassemble en Iran à la mémoire de l’ancien acteur et metteur en scène Iradj Ghaderi.

Les manifestations

Textile workers in Mazandaran protest

  • Les ouvriers se rassemblent pour protester contre les licenciements et le non renouvellement des contrats ; 3000 chômeurs de plus en une semaine.
  • Les ouvriers du textile du Mazandaran manifestent.

L’économie de l’Iran

  • La raffinerie de sucre Madnoosh de Saghez à la veille de la fermeture à cause des sanctions. 1150 ouvriers ont perdu leur travail.
  • Le salaire minimum de l’ouvrier iranien couvre en moyenne 40% de ses besoins, 50% d’entre eux cherchent un second emploi.
  • La réforme des subventions a rapporté moitié moins qu’escompté.
  • L’Iran veut se joindre à la ligne de chemin de fer Chine-Tadjikistan-Afghanistan.
  • La consommation de lait par personne en Iran représente 1/6 de celle des pays développés.
  • Les éleveurs de bovins mettent en garde contre une réduction forcée des prix : le lait sera coupé.
  • La banque centrale iranienne : les prix alimentaires ont flambé en un an de 50 à 165%.
  • Le nombre de véhicules a quadruplé entre 2009 et 2011.
  • Le secteur privé iranien autorisé à vendre jusqu’à 20% du pétrole brut iranien pour contourner les sanctions.
  • US dollar =1619 tomans.

L’Iran à l’étranger

  • Iran recherché la direction religieuse des chiites d’Irak ; grandes manœuvres pour remplacer l’ayatollah Sistani par l’ayatollah Shahroudi.
  • Un journaliste de Fars news proche des gardes révolutionnaires arrêté par le renseignement afghan à Kaboul.
  • Le ministre de l’éducation supérieure tunisien va se rendre en Iran.
  • Le nouvel ambassadeur portugais va rencontrer Salehi.
  • Des professeurs d’université égyptiens rencontrent le ministre des affaires étrangères Salehi.
  • Salehi reçoit le secrétaire d’état aux affaires étrangères d’Azerbaïdjan.
  • La Grande Bretagne cherche à retarder l’interdiction d’assurer les navires iraniens édicté par l’union européenne.
  • Fars News va bientôt lancer un service en langue russe.
  • L’Iran convoque l’ambassadeur d’Afghanistan.
  • Le Hamas ne combattra pas Israël à cause de l’Iran déclare Hanyieh.
  • Michel Rocard en mission en Iran.

La politique en Iran

  • Législatives en Iran : au 2ème  tour les opposants conservateurs à Ahmadinejad confortent leur emprise sur le Parlement.
  • Le parlement iranien rejette les propositions de diminutions des subventions.
  • Le budget sera discuté à la session ouverte du parlement mercredi : le budget national s’élève à environ 5.1 quadrillion rials (approximativement $416 milliards) en baisse, l’année dernière il s’élevait à 5.39 quadrillion rials – le budget de la défense est en hausse de 127%.
  • Le journal Djavan, affilié aux gardes révolutionnaires : le gouvernement continue à degrader les journalistes et ne tient pas ses promesses.
  • Ahmad Mansouri est le neuvième commandant des gardes révolutionnaires quadragénaire à mourir d’une attaque cardiaque l’année dernière.
  • Le représentant du guide suprême au sein des gardes révolutionnaires demande à Ahmadinejad de fait montre de plus de considération pour le parlement.
  • Chaque député iranien recevra un « prêt » de 700 million tomans (~$500,000).
  • L’Iran va interdire les fournitures scolaires avec des « images non-islamiques ».
  • Le député Koutchekzadeh attaque physiquement un journaliste d’Aftab pour ses commentaires sur l’assassin de Kahrizak Mortazavi.
  • Khamenei fait une visite officieuse à Qom pour rencontrer Mesbah-Yazdi
  • 9 morts suspectes de haut gradés des gardiens de la révolution en 1 an : accidents de voiture & arrêts cardiaques.
  • Le parlement continue à demander le départ de Mortazavi et celui du ministre du travail.

Nouvelles en vrac

  • 3518 blessés dans un séisme de magnitude 5,5 à la frontière Iran-Irak.
  • Les anciens otages de l’Iran Sarah Shourd et Shane Bauer se sont mariés.
  • L’alpiniste iranien Azim Gheitchisaz au sommet du pic I de l’Annapurna.
  • Interruptions du téléphone pour les abonnés de 22 centres de télécommunication de Téhéran suite à l’installation de câbles depuis 3 jours.
  • Le football féminin a la cote en Iran depuis que la FIFA a retiré l’interdiction du voile.
  • Le taux de suicide augmente de 17%.
  • L’Iran a fermé 60 maisons de thé traditionnelles et boutiques de vêtements à Téhéran.

#Tamils in limbo after #Canada’s crackdown on human smugglers in #Thailand


Vashni, whose identity cannot be revealed to protect her personal safety, is seen Wednesday, March 7, 2012 in Bangkok. Vashni, a Tamil refugee, longs to be reunited with her elderly parents in Toronto, but she never considered resorting to one of those notorious smugglers' boats to make that happen. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

All wars cause collateral damage. Vashni is collateral damage in Canada’s war on human smugglers.

The soft-spoken Tamil woman in her 30s lives one step ahead of the law in Thailand and longs to be reunited with her elderly parents in Toronto. But she would never consider resorting to using one of the notorious smugglers who operate out of Bangkok to make that happen.

“I don’t want to take that risk to myself,” she explains. “Why? It’s too dangerous and not safe.”

Vashni, whose identity is not being revealed to protect her safety, exists in stateless limbo. She and hundreds of other Sri Lankan Tamils are languishing in a shadowy netherworld within this teeming south Asian metropolis.

For the last two years, she’s struggled to stay one step ahead of a Thai government that considers her an illegal migrant. If she’s sent back to her native Sri Lanka, she faces torture, imprisonment and perhaps death.

Vashni has been swept up by the bitter aftermath of her homeland’s 26-year-civil war that ended three years ago with the Singhalese majority crushing Tamil separatists. In the 1990s, she was conscripted — against her will she maintains —into the rebel Tamil Tigers, a group Canada considers a terrorist group.

She and hundreds of her fellow Sri Lankan Tamil migrants here in Thailand have also been swept up in another Canadian-led battle: the major international law enforcement offensive targeting Thailand-based human trafficking crime rings.

Canada launched the ambitious international effort to prevent smugglers from reaching our shores. In 2009, the MV Ocean Lady brought 76 Tamil migrants to British Columbia, and the MV Sun Sea brought 492 a year later. Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave Thailand another $12 million to combat the smugglers during a visit here last month and his government introduced a tough new immigration bill that targets the gangs.

The much-touted legislation passed in the House of Commons on Friday and now goes to the Senate for quick, final approval.

The co-ordinated policing and political effort involving Canadians, Thais, Australians and others across the globe appears to have prevented another Ocean Lady or Sun Sea from reaching Canada’s west coast. Earlier this month, a Sri Lankan ringleader of the Bangkok smuggling network was arrested in France.

But there is a human cost associated with these law enforcement successes. Thailand doesn’t recognize international refugee law — it considers people like Vashni to be illegal migrants.

So they must apply to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugee status. If they are successful, then they wait for a third country to grant them residency — a process that can take years. If they are like Vashni, and have had their claims rejected by UNHCR, the waiting becomes interminable.

“Every month we go to the UNHCR to see the consultant. They say, you wait, you wait. How long do we have to wait without an answer?”

The latest UNHCR figures from March, obtained through a third party by The Canadian Press, show that 275 Sri Lankan Tamils have been granted refugee status, while another 142 have not. Aid agencies say more Tamils — nobody knows how many — haven’t bothered approaching UNHCR.

Phil Robertson, the Bangkok-based deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, says many Tamils are being sent back to Sri Lanka where they face grave harm from the predominantly Singhalese government.

“That’s what we’re seeing now in Sri Lanka. People have been sent back from the U.K. and have been detained, interrogated and tortured,” says Robertson, whose organization issued a public plea to Britain late last year to stop sending Tamils back to Sri Lanka.

“It’s not as simple as: stop the boats from coming and that’s that. There are consequences on the ground here in Thailand.”

Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka analyst with the International Crisis Group, has documented abuses towards Tamils in the post-civil war period.

“There’s some sufficient evidence that people who are failed asylum seekers are at significant risk of detention and torture.”

Sri Lanka has been a politically charged issue for the Harper government. An estimated 300,000 Tamils in Canada represent their largest diaspora. They took to the streets in massive numbers in major cities to protest the government silence at what they saw as the slaughter of their people by Sri Lankan government forces in 2009.

The Conservatives recently changed course with a much harder stance towards the Sri Lankan government, criticizing the slow pace of reconciliation and the reluctance to address allegations of war crimes.

The Conservatives also moved to prevent more boatloads of Tamils from arriving on Canada’s western shores, dispatching RCMP officers to Thailand. The RCMP declined interview requests in Bangkok.

Harper pressed his then ambassador to Thailand Ron Hoffman to tackle the smuggling problem. Thai officials say Hoffman worked tirelessly in the last year-and-a-half on the issue. Harper also appointed Ward Elcock, the former CSIS spy master, to be his special adviser on human smuggling. Elcock, who has travelled widely throughout South Asia, declined to be interviewed.

Thai officials are effusive about their deepened co-operation with Canada.

Gen. Wichean Potephosree, now the Secretary General of Thailand’s National Security Council, headed the Thai national police last year at the height of the crackdown.

“Sharing information and intelligence is the key,” Wichean says. “We have discussed about, first, how to prevent Sri Lankans (from leaving) the country.”

A Western diplomat, broadly experienced with the issue, says Canadians have been providing good training to their Thai counterparts in policing, border control and immigration.

That has created an inhospitable environment for the leaders of the human trafficking rings, making Thailand “a less attractive departure point” for their operations.

“The fact that there hasn’t been another boat is evidence that something worked,” the diplomat said.

Others see inadvertent damage to human rights.

Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, says Canada complained loudly to the Thais after the Sun Sea incident, and “marching orders went out from the prime minister” to locate and prevent the smugglers’ from launching another ship.

“Within a week or so, you had major arrests of Sri Lankans. The problem has been that when you have that kind of order that comes from the top in Thailand, the police and the immigration snap-to,” says Robertson.

Vashni, who shares a small apartment in Bangkok, has avoided arrest.

“In the last year, they arrested a lot of people because we don’t have a visa. Last year, this government is very tough.”

Vashni’s parents arrived in Canada as refugees about a decade ago and settled in the Toronto area after gaining their citizenship. They live on social assistance and are not eligible to sponsor her.

Vashni has another big strike against her — she was once a member of the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan rebel group that Canada considers a terrorist organization.

Vashni says she was forced to join the Tigers as a teenager because her older brother fled the country; in northern Sri Lanka, the Tigers had a rule that each family had to supply at least one member.

She says she was never trained as a fighter, and worked as a runner and intelligence gatherer. She managed to flee Sri Lanka in the 1990s. She returned a few years ago, hoping for a fresh start in the capital of Colombo.

But the army eventually caught up with her in the months following their May 2009 rout of the Tigers. She fled, eventually reaching Thailand 25 months ago.

She is certain she will be killed if she returns to Sri Lanka.

“Definitely when I reach the airport, they’re going to arrest me. The first question they’re going to ask me is: how you went out of this country? I have no answer.”

Keenan says judging the validity of each Tamil refugee claimant is tricky.

It is true that the Tigers, also known as the LTTE, have “a long history of forced conscription. There was a requirement that one member of every family join the LTTE.”

But Keenan says that can also be a story that an asylum seeker tells to win freedom in another country.

“I don’t envy the job of immigration tribunals or departments around the world.”

In the future, Thailand wants Canada to focus more on the root causes of migrant woes within Sri Lanka itself.

“The best way to solve this problem is to help the origin country to take care of their people,” says Boinchart Bunnang, director of international strategy at the Thai National Security Council.

Wichean wants Canada to “assist Sri Lanka in social and economic development to lift up the standard of living of the people… Cracking down on the smuggling network is necessary. However, Canada should consider solving the problem at the root cause as well.”

Keenan applauds the Canadian government’s hard line towards Sri Lanka to clean up its rights record and resolve long-standing ethnic differences.

“Governments with lots of diasporas need to really be doing all they can to pressure Colombo to clean up its act.”

Winnipeg Free Press.