Agency Overseeing Obama Trade Deals Filled With Former Trade Lobbyists

The Office of the United States Trade Representative, the agency responsible for negotiating two massive upcoming trade deals, is being led by former lobbyists for corporations that stand to benefit from the deals, according to disclosure forms obtained by The Intercept.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed free trade accord between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a similar agreement between the U.S. and the E.U.

The Obama administration is pushing hard to complete both deals, which it says will increase U.S. trade opportunities. Critics say the deals will provide corporate interests with sweeping powers to challenge banking and environmental regulations.

Here is information on three major figures in the Trade Representative’s office, gleaned from their disclosure forms:

— Sharon Bomer Lauritsen, the assistant U.S. trade representative for agricultural affairs, recently lobbied for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group for biotech companies. Lauritsen’s financial disclosure form shows she made $320,193 working to influence “state, federal and international governments” on biotech patent and intellectual property issues. She worked for BIO as an executive vice president through April of 2011, before joining the Trade Representative office.

— Christopher Wilson, the deputy chief of mission to the World Trade Organization, recently worked for C&M International, a trade consulting group, where he represented Chevron, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, British American Tobacco, General Electric, Apple and other corporate interests. Wilson’s financial disclosure shows he made $250,000 a year, in addition to an $80,000 bonus in 2013, before he joined the Obama administration. Wilson left C&M International in February of 2014 and later joined the Trade Representative’s office. C&M International reportedly lobbied Malaysia, urging it to oppose tobacco regulations in Australia.

— Robert Holleyman, the deputy United States trade representative, previously worked as the president of the Business Software Alliance, a lobbying group that represents IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple and other technology companies seeking to strengthen copyright law. Holleyman earned $1,141,228 at BSA before his appointment. Holleyman was nominated for his current position in February of last year.

Link (The Intercept)

Inquiry Launched into New Zealand Mass Surveillance

New Zealand’s spy agency watchdog is launching an investigation into the scope of the country’s secret surveillance operations following a series of reports from The Intercept and its partners.

On Thursday, Cheryl Gwyn, New Zealand’s inspector-general of intelligence and security, announced that she would be opening an inquiry after receiving complaints about spying being conducted in the South Pacific by eavesdropping agency Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB.

In a press release, Gwyn’s office said: “The complaints follow recent public allegations about GCSB activities. The complaints, and these public allegations, raise wider questions regarding the collection, retention and sharing of communications data.”

This month, The Intercept has shined a light on the GCSB’s surveillance with investigative reports produced in partnership with the New Zealand Herald, Herald on Sunday, and Sunday-Star-Times.

The reports, based on information from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and other sources, have revealed how the GCSB has been intercepting communications in bulk across a variety of neighboring South Pacific islands, raising concerns that New Zealand citizens’ emails and phone calls are being swept up in the dragnet.

The reports have also shown how the GCSB is funneling data into the NSA’s XKEYSCORE internet surveillance system from a surveillance base in the Waihopai Valley and is spying on about 20 countries across the world, predominantly in the Asia-Pacific region, including major trading partners such as Japan, Vietnam and China. The most recent stories have revealed that GCSB used XKEYSCORE to spy on emails about candidates vying to be the director general of the World Trade Organization and target top government officials and an anti-corruption campaigner in the Solomon Islands.

Following the disclosures, several of New Zealand’s opposition political leaders have criticized the surveillance and filed complaints with Gwyn, the inspector-general of intelligence and security.

In her statement on Thursday announcing the initiation of an inquiry, Gwyn said she would be conducting “a focused review of a particular area of GCSB or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service practice.”

She added: “I have today notified the acting director of the GCSB of my inquiry and of my intention in this inquiry to provide as much information to the public on my findings as I can, withholding only that information that cannot be disclosed without endangering national security. The director has assured me of the Bureau’s full co-operation.”

John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister, last year claimed that “there has never been any mass surveillance and New Zealand has not gathered mass information and provided it to international agencies.”

However, after The Intercept’s recent reports, former GCSB chief Bruce Ferguson admitted that the agency had been engaged in “mass collection” of data and said it was “mission impossible” to eliminate New Zealand citizens’ communications from being vacuumed up.

Responding to the news about the inspector general’s inquiry on Thursday, Prime Minister Key told the media he was “not fearful in the slightest” about its findings.

“That’s the reason we beefed up the inspector-general and, in fact, we’ve been talking to her,” Key said. “We’ve got absolutely no concerns about it.”

Link (The Intercept)

New Zealand Spied on WTO Director Candidates

New Zealand launched a covert surveillance operation targeting candidates vying to be director general of the World Trade Organization, a top-secret document reveals.

In the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment, the country’s electronic eavesdropping agency programmed an Internet spying system to intercept emails about a list of high-profile candidates from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, and South Korea.

New Zealand’s trade minister Tim Groser was one of nine candidates in contention for the position at the WTO, a powerful international organization based in Geneva, Switzerland that negotiates trade agreements between nations. The surveillance operation, carried out by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, appears to have been part of a secret effort to help Groser win the job.

Groser ultimately failed to get the position.

A top-secret document obtained by The Intercept and the New Zealand Herald reveals how GCSB used the XKEYSCORE Internet surveillance system to collect communications about the WTO director general candidates.

XKEYSCORE is run by the National Security Agency and is used to analyze billions of emails, Internet browsing sessions and online chats that are vacuumed up from about 150 different locations worldwide. GCSB has gained access to XKEYSCORE because New Zealand is a member of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Link (The Intercept)

John Oliver Highlights The Ridiculousness Of Corporate Sovereignty Provisions

Now countries can try to counteract the influence of that kind of marketing, but if tobacco companies feel threatened, they’ll put them through legal hell. Let me take you on a world tour of how they attack laws intended to protect public health, because it’s kind of amazing.

Let’s start in Australia. In 2011, they passed a plain packaging law, and what that means is this. [Shows (fair use!) news clip describing required packaging of cigarettes with no branding, and scary health pictures]. Australia’s plain packaging law bans tobacco company branding from packaging and replaced it with upsetting photos, such as the toe tag on a corpse, the cancerous mouth, the nightmarish eyeball, or the diseased lung. Now, yes, I’m pretty sure I’d find a healthy lung disgusting, but, that thing does look like you’re trying to breathe through baked ziti, so [instructing staff] take it down! Just take it down!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, since this law was implemented, total consumption of tobacco cigarettes in Australia fell to record lows and… nightmares about eyeballs have risen to record highs. [Instructing staff] Take it down! Take down the demon eye!

To get these laws, though, Australia has had to run a gamut of lawsuits. First, two tobacco companies sued Australia in its highest court to stop them. The result, was a little surprising, as Australia’s attorney general let everyone know. [Shows clip of AG announcing not just the victory, but Big Tobacco having to pay the government’s legal fees.] Yes! Score one for the little guy! Even if that little guy is the sixth largest country in the world by landmass.

And the tobacco companies didn’t just lose. The judges called their case “delusive,” “unreal and synthetic” and said their case had “fatal defects.” ….

But Australia’s legal troubles were just beginning. Because then, Philip Morris Asia got involved. [Shows clips of a news report saying Philip Morris considering using ISDS provisions to take the Australian government to a tribunal claiming it lowered the value of the company’s trademarks].

That’s right. A company was able to sue a country over a public health measure, through an international court. How the fuck is that possible? Well, it’s really a simple explanation. They did it by digging up a 1993 trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong which had a provision that said Australia couldn’t seize Hong Kong-based companies’ property. So, nine months before the lawsuits started, PMI put its Australian business in the hands of its Hong Kong-based Philip Morris Asia division, and then they sued, claiming that the “seized property” in question, were the trademarks on their cigarette packages.

And you’ve got to give it to them: that’s impressive. Someone should really give those lawyers a pat on the back… and a punch in the face. But, a pat on the back first. Pat, then punch. Pat, punch….

Link (Techdirt)

EFF Responds to USTR Bullying the World to Repeat Our Copyright Mistakes

From the same agency that brought you the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the United States Trade Representative (USTR)—comes a lesser-known, but also insidious global intellectual property gambit: the Special 301 Report. The Special 301 Report is a survey conducted under the auspices of the Trade Act and has been issued every year since 1989. The USTR, like a malevolent Santa Claus, assesses whether the other countries of the world have been naughty or nice in their treatment of U.S. intellectual property holders, and raps them over the knuckles if they don’t come up to scruff.

This would be absolutely fair enough, if the standards by which the other countries were assessed were globally-agreed standards, and if their adherence to those standards were assessed objectively, using a consistent and predictable methodology. But they’re not; rather, the USTR has free reign to castigate its trading partners for whatever reasons it can come up with. And it’s never short for ideas, because the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) supply complaints galore in the phonebook-length submissions that they file every year.

Link (EFF)