Nobel Peace Prize

Now for a little background as to how I ended up in Oslo in the first place. The Fulbright Office gets a set of tickets to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that it lotteries away every year; however, I have never had any luck with lotteries and didn’t manage to win a ticket. But, not all hope was lost. During the Fulbright orientation one of the Fulbright alumni talked about how she managed to get two tickets to last year’s ceremony from the Nobel Institute. I decided to try and follow in her footsteps and see if I could also get tickets to this year’s ceremony. So, after emailing around I was told that once the winners of the peace prize were announced I should email the Nobel Institute a compelling reason as to why I should attend. I patiently waited for October 10th to roll around and with it the announcement of this year’s winners. Then I had my hopes plummet. Considering the popularity of Malala, I assumed that there was no way I would be able to get tickets. Sure enough, after emailing in my reasons for attending, I got this email:

Once the standard invitations (from our regular list) and the invitations to the guests of the laureates have gone out, we have to wait until the latter half of November to see whether we have seats available. Only then can we look at requests from around the world and possibly grant invitations to some of these (we prioritise those that show a keen interest in this particular year’s laureates). I will add your name to the list of requests and get back to you when we know more.

I figured my request was doomed. As expected, I got an email in November thanking me for my interest but telling me that the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was completely full. BUT to my very great surprise I was told that I could still have a ticket to this year’s CNN interview with the laureates. Considering that I was going to have a light teaching schedule that week, I immediately emailed back saying that I would love to have a ticket to the interview.

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Which is how I found myself in Oslo this week. After my tour of the Munch Museum I decided against going to the City Hall area, where the Nobel ceremony is held, and instead opted to go back to Lud’s house to watch the ceremony from the comfort of a couch. While Susan and I enjoyed watching the ceremony on television, we also kept our eyes peeled for Lud and Kyle, two of the Fulbrighters who had won the peace prize tickets. Just when we had given up all hope of seeing them, we spotted them in the last row as the laureates walked out after the ceremony. Overall the ceremony was really something worth watching, and both Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai gave great speeches that I’d recommend either reading or watching.

After the ceremony ended I made my way over to City Hall for the CNN interview. Getting into City Hall was similar to going through airport security, but overall it wasn’t too bad.

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My early bird impulses and fast walk earned me a seat in the eighth row of the audience. One great thing about the interview is that it took place in the same room where the laureates received their prizes. Even though I wasn’t able to go to the ceremony it was still nice to be in the room afterwards and see the laureates up close. The interview itself was really well done, though unfortunately this is the only YouTube video CNN has released so far:

In it, Malala talks a bit about how her family has supported her, her funny attempts to stop fighting with her brothers, and more. And while Malala has rightfully received a good amount of attention over the Nobel Peace Prize, I would also really recommend looking into Kailash Satyarthi a bit more if you haven’t already. He has also done some incredible things even if they have not received as much attention in the media.

IMG_1660  IMG_1696  IMG_1708 IMG_1682Later in the evening, Kyle and I went to the Grand Hotel on Karl Johans Gate to see the lauretes one last time and to meet with Alyssa. Here the Nobel laureates traditionally appear on the balcony at 7 pm to greet and receive a standing ovation from the crowd. Kyle and I duly paid our respects to the laureates and then headed off with Alyssa to catch up a bit more and to unwind. Needless to say, the day ended up being a truly breathtaking experience.

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Edward Snowden

In case you missed the announcement today, the Nobel Peace Prize was just awarded to India’s Kailash Satyarthi and Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai for their advocacy of children’s rights and education. If you’d like to learn more about them, The Guardian gives a brief overview of both of the winners here.

Because the Nobel Peace Prize is the only Nobel prize awarded in Norway it is a topic that tends to pop up in conversation here. Before the announcement of this year’s winners, I was actually pretty surprised to learn that Norwegians were actively campaigning to have Edward Snowden win the prize. In fact, my visit to the Nobel Institute’s Democracy Center even had a small exhibit showcasing Snowden. Because of all the hype surrounding Snowden, I thought it would be interesting to teach a lesson on him in one of my classes.

In practice, teaching about Snowden actually ended up being much difficult than I had anticipated. Not only did I have to come up with simple ways to define a few more technical terms, I also had to give some background on the US Justice system in order to properly explain the Fisa Court and the laws that allow surveillance in the US.

So, here’s what I ended up talking about:

A (Heavily Condensed) Timeline of Snowden Revelations

Jun 6: The Guardian reports on Verizon
Jun 7: The PRISM program is revealed
Jun 21: The Tempura program is revealed
Jun 29: Der Spiegel reports that EU offices and UN headquarters were bugged
Jul 31: XKeyscore is revealed (which was notable since this information did not come from Snowden, thus giving legitimacy to fears that Snowden would inspire other whistleblowers)
Aug 16: The Washington Post reports that the NSA has been breaking privacy rules (2,776 violations between March 2011 – March 2012 alone)
Sep 5: The NSA is reportedly able to get around most encryption methods by using backdoors in technology or by putting pressure on companies to use weak encryption techniques
Jan 14: The NSA can access computers that aren’t online
Jul 1: “Warrant for the world:” the NSA is given the legal go ahead to collect information on all countries except for the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand
Aug 13: MonsterMind is revealed
Sep 5: The NSA considered spying for US companies to give them a competitive edge

Legal Basis for Surveillance

There are three main laws that allow for such widespread surveillance: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Executive Order 12333, and the Patriot Act of 2011. All of these have been amended, with the latest amendments occurring in 2004 and 2008.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978

  • Established the Fisa Court which was created due to events in the 1970s. At the time, it was reported that the government had been spying on political and activist groups. The Court was created to ensure government oversight over surveillance practices.
    • There are a total of 10 federal judges on the Fisa Court, none of whom have to be experts in privacy or surveillance law. Only one judge is needed in order to approve a warrant
    • The Court only sees the government’s viewpoint; it does not hear testimony from those who are about to be surveilled
    • The rulings of the Court are classified, rendering an appeals process impossible
    • Up until 2004, the court has only struck down five surveillance requests and approved 18,761 requests
  • Originally if the government wanted to spy on an individual it would need to have the Fisa court approve that individual warrant. Now a warrant is only needed if the target is a US citizen or if a call takes place entirely within the US.

Executive Order 12333

  • Allows for the collection of data needed for “national defense” as long as such data collection is not prohibited by existing laws

Patriot Act of 2001

  • Allows information to be collected as long as it is related to an investigation. In other words, information collection does not have to be directly related to a target, just related to an investigation

While these laws establish the legality behind surveillance, there is still a process the government has to go through in order to actually collect the desired information. There are two main ways that the government gets this legal mandate: a national security letter or a Fisa court order.

National Security Letter

  • Allows the FBI to compel companies to reveal subscriber and billing information
  • The content of these letters as well as their existence cannot be revealed
  • These letters are what the government has generally used with companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo

Fisa court order

  • A warrant that is approved by the Fisa Court that allows for legal surveillance

Consequences: Or Has Anything Changed Since Snowden?

Since Snowden’s revelations, something that has being asked is whether or not Snowden has actually inspired change. Overall I would say that while many of these changes are still ongoing, Snowden has made an impact. Since Snowden we have witnessed:

  • Calls for FISA court reform
  • NSA documents becoming declassified
  • Companies becoming more transparent
  • Companies fighting back
    • Microsoft recently announced that it was taking the government to court over demands to reveal email information stored on servers abroad
    • Apple’s new encryption techniques will prevent them from handing over data to the government


After teaching my students, I had them divide up into groups so that they could debate whether or not Snowden did the right thing. I was actually pretty surprised to find that the groups arguing against Edward Snowden were floundering. Both groups were having difficulty coming up with reasons why Snowden did the wrong thing, or should be considered a traitor. Considering the number of negative reactions I’ve seen surrounding Snowden in the US, I was pretty surprised to find these groups struggling. In the end, I decided to give these groups a few arguments that they could use (Snowden’s revelations would encourage more whistleblowers to disclose national secrets, it hurts US credibility abroad, it hurts US companies abroad, etc.) but it was pretty clear that both groups found these arguments less than compelling.

Overall I would say that there were three aspects of my lecture that got people riled up:

  1. The structure and intent behind the Fisa Court. Many of my students struggled to understand both the reasoning behind the Court and why the Court is structured in the way that it is.
  2. Internal abuses by the NSA. They were particularly outraged by LOVEINT, or the practice of some employees of spying on love interests. My students were also outraged that the NSA had even entertained the idea of spying on foreign companies in order to pass along information to domestic companies.
  3. The lack of success when it came to actually stopping terrorist attacks. When PRISM and other programs were originally unveiled, Director Keith Alexander said that the NSA had stopped 54 attacks, but that number was later revised to “at most one.”

At the end of the debate, I had my groups tell me their actual feelings on Snowden, and the vast majority of them approved of Snowden’s actions. However, when I asked if they would award him the Nobel, only three people out of my group of twelve raised their hands.

While I don’t think this was my most popular lesson, it was fun to do and presented a nice challenge. At the end of the day, I also felt like it did a good job of getting my students to talk and think critically.

If you have any interest in learning more about Snowden (I apologize for my overwhelming lack of references) I’d highly recommend this recent piece done by The Guardiaas well as this Wired interview with Snowden. For more general information, I’d suggest looking at:

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

I had a great time this week attending Norway’s Fulbright Orientation in Oslo. If I remember the numbers correctly, 19 of us were able to attend the orientation but there are a total of 27 Fulbrighters in Norway for the 2014-2015 year. We break down into:

  • 3 English Teaching Assistants
  • 3 Roving Scholars
  • 1 Arctic Chair
  • 20 Researchers and Scholars

While the US government used to provide the majority of the funding for Norwegian Fulbrighters, this trend has reversed. These days, the Norwegian government funds 72% of the Fulbright program, the US government funds about 24%, and the remaining 4% is from private donations (2013 Annual Report). We started the beginning of the first day learning a bit more about Senator William Fulbright and the history of the Fulbright program. A few choice things to know about Fulbright are that he was a Rhodes scholar, the youngest university president in the country (circa 1936), and was called “an overeducated Oxford son-of-a-bitch” by Truman.

Fulbright was both a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but it was in the House that he passed the funding for the Fulbright program. The original focus of the Fulbright program was not educational, rather it was seen as a way for indebted countries to pay off their war reparations and loans by providing for these scholars. The reaction by the American public to the Fulbright program was frigid, and several newspapers railed against Fulbright, complaining that he was throwing away his “good” American education and trying to force an unwanted British education on Americans.

We spent the rest of the orientation learning more about the Fulbright program in Norway, and we also got a great overview on Norwegian life and society. As the title of this post states, we learned that we are “not in Kansas anymore.” A few fun facts that I got out of this part of the day:

  • Norway has the population of Alabama (hitting the 5 million mark in Norway was apparently a BIG deal), is the size of Montana, and has the economy of Massachusetts.
  • The majority of the population is a member of a national church although few are religious (the number of members a church has helps determine the amount of funding they receive from the government).
  • The number of women in the workforce is almost equal to that of men; however, women are more likely to have shorter working hours or work part-time and there is still a considerable wage gap between men and women.
  • Lastly, Norway’s population is very politically active when you compare it to the United States. The average voter turnout is just short of 80%, and it was suggested during the orientation that each vote matters more because Norway has a proportional system of representation. Many people are involved in the political process from a young age, and several representatives of Parliament are in their early twenties. Members of Parliament are also much more accessible in the US and I’ve been told it’s generally very easy to meet with your MP in person.

Now for my favorite part of the day. We got to go to a reception at the Nobel Institute. The Nobel Institute is where they announce the winner of the Nobel peace prize, deliberate on the nominees, and have archives on the Institute and past winners of the peace prize. All of the Fulbrighters had a chance to announce their project in the same room where they announce the peace prize and then the rest of the time we had fun getting to mix and mingle.


The Nobel Institute


Where the Nobel Peace Prize is announced and where we got to talk about our different projects


The former head librarian also led a small tour of the Institute and was able to explain some of the history behind the prize. The Nobel peace prize is the the only Nobel prize given in Norway (and there is no definitive answer as to why that is). Nobel’s will mandates that the prize be given at least once every five years (notable occasions when it was not given include periods during World War I and World War II) and a lot of people, countries, and organizations are asked for nominees. The Nobel peace prize can be divided up between a maximum of three people or organizations every time it is given. The nominating committee is made up of members of Norway’s Parliament and they are elected for six year terms. Each year’s list of nominees is sealed for 50 years (Martin Luther King Jr. received the award 50 years ago so his year’s list of nominees will be released this year). Awards can be awarded posthumously as long as the people were alive when they were nominated (which is what stopped Gandhi from being nominated for the award). Awards cannot be given back, although they can be refused.

One particularly interesting story we were told was that Hitler was actually nominated for the peace prize in 1938 (his nomination was quickly withdrawn). Ironically enough, Hitler had banned Germans from accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1936 after the prize was awarded to Carl von Ossietzky, the man responsible for revealing Germany’s rearmament.

We also got a chance to walk around the room where the deliberations are made and were all surprised when the librarian told us that the nominating committee had just met, forcing her to turn over the pages of their notes so that we couldn’t see who was being considered for this year’s award. While we were all tempted to try and sneak a peak at the notes the librarian made sure to kept a sharp eye on us.


Where the Nobel Peace Prize deliberations are made


Copies of the handwritten invitations to awardees


Copies of the prize and award