Keynote at Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer School, 16 July 2011

CIJ_logo_summerschool

My next talk in the UK will be a key­note at the renowned CIJ sum­mer school on 16th July. One of the major themes this year is whis­tleblow­ing, for obvi­ous Wikileaks-related reas­ons, and it appears I shall be in good company.

My talk is at 2pm on the Sat­urday.  I under­stand the key­notes are open to the pub­lic, not just sum­mer school attendees, so come along if you can and please spread the word!

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

The Guardian’s spook com­ment­ator extraordin­aire, Richard Norton-Taylor, has repor­ted that the cur­rent chair of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) in the UK Par­lia­ment, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, wants the com­mit­tee to finally grow a pair.  Well, those weren’t quite the words used in the Grauny, but they cer­tainly cap­ture the gist.

If Rifkind’s stated inten­tions are real­ised, the new-look ISC might well provide real, mean­ing­ful and demo­cratic over­sight for the first time in the 100-year his­tory of  the three key UK spy agen­cies — MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, not to men­tion the defence intel­li­gence staff, the joint intel­li­gence com­mit­tee and the new National Secur­ity Council .

FigleafFor many long years I have been dis­cuss­ing the woe­ful lack of real demo­cratic over­sight for the UK spies.  The privately-convened ISC, the demo­cratic fig-leaf estab­lished under the aegis of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (ISA), is appoin­ted by and answer­able only to the Prime Min­is­ter, with a remit only to look at fin­ance, policy and admin­is­tra­tion, and without the power to demand doc­u­ments or to cross-examine wit­nesses under oath.  Its annual reports are always heav­ily redac­ted and have become a joke amongst journalists.

When the remit of the ISC was being drawn up in the early 1990s, the spooks were apo­plectic that Par­lia­ment should have any form of over­sight what­so­ever.  From their per­spect­ive, it was bad enough at that point that the agen­cies were put on a legal foot­ing for the first time.  Spy think­ing then ran pretty much along the lines of “why on earth should they be answer­able to a bunch of here-today, gone-tomorrow politi­cians, who were leaky as hell and gos­siped to journ­al­ists all the time”?

So it says a great deal that the spooks breathed a huge, col­lect­ive sigh of relief when the ISC remit was finally enshrined in law in 1994.  They really had noth­ing to worry about.  I remem­ber, I was there at the time.

This has been borne out over the last 17 years.  Time and again the spies have got away with telling bare­faced lies to the ISC.  Or at the very least being “eco­nom­ical with the truth”, to use one of their favour­ite phrases.  Former DG of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, has pub­licly said that “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee [ISC] early on…”.  Not to men­tion the out­right lies told to the ISC over the years about issues like whis­tleblower testi­mony, tor­ture, and counter-terrorism meas­ures.

But these new devel­op­ments became yet more fas­cin­at­ing to me when I read that the cur­rent Chair of the ISC pro­pos­ing these reforms is no less than Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, crusty Tory grandee and former Con­ser­vat­ive For­eign Min­is­ter in the mid-1990s.

For Sir Mal­colm was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary notion­ally in charge of MI6 when the intel­li­gence officers, PT16 and PT16/B, hatched the ill-judged Gad­dafi Plot when MI6 fun­ded a rag-tag group of Islamic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists in Libya to assas­sin­ate the Col­onel, the key dis­clos­ure made by David Shayler when he blew the whistle way back in the late 1990s.

Obvi­ously this assas­sin­a­tion attempt was highly reck­less in a very volat­ile part of the world; obvi­ously it was uneth­ical, and many inno­cent people were murdered in the attack; and obvi­ously it failed, lead­ing to the shaky rap­proche­ment with Gad­dafi over the last dec­ade.  Yet now we are see­ing the use of sim­ilar tac­tics in the cur­rent Libyan war (this time more openly) with MI6 officers being sent to help the rebels in Benghazi and our gov­ern­ment openly and shame­lessly call­ing for régime change.

Malcolm_RifkindBut most import­antly from a legal per­spect­ive, in 1996 the “Gad­dafi Plot” MI6 appar­ently did not apply for prior writ­ten per­mis­sion from Rif­kind — which they were leg­ally obliged to do under the terms of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (the very act that also estab­lished the ISC).  This is the fabled, but real, “licence to kill” — Sec­tion 7 of the ISA — which provides immunity to MI6 officers for illegal acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they have the requis­ite min­is­terial permission.

At the time, Rif­kind pub­licly stated that he had not been approached by MI6 to sanc­tion the plot when the BBC Pan­or­ama pro­gramme con­duc­ted a spe­cial invest­ig­a­tion, screened on 7 August 1997.  Rifkind’s state­ment was also repor­ted widely in the press over the years, includ­ing this New States­man art­icle by Mark Thomas in 2002.

That said, Rif­kind him­self wrote earlier this year in The Tele­graph that help should now be given to the Benghazi “rebels” — many of whom appear to be mem­bers of the very same group that tried to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi with MI6’s help in 1996 — up to and includ­ing the pro­vi­sion of arms.  Rifkind’s view of the leg­al­it­ies now appear to be some­what more flex­ible, whatever his stated pos­i­tion was back in the 90s. 

Of course, then he was notion­ally in charge of MI6 and would have to take the rap for any polit­ical fall-out.  Now he can relax into the role of “quis cus­todiet ipsos cus­todes?”.  Such a relief.

I shall be watch­ing devel­op­ments around Rifkind’s pro­posed reforms with interest.

How the Light Gets In festival — my talk

My recent talk at the excel­lent How the Light Gets In philo­sophy fest­ival at Hay-on-Wye.  With credit and thanks to IAI TV and the staff of the Insti­tute of Art and Ideas, the organ­isers the event.

 

Fair trials in the UK courts? Anyone?

This art­icle in today’s Guard­ian about the ongo­ing reper­cus­sions of the Mark Kennedy under­cover cop scan­dal earlier this year piqued my interest.

Mark_KennedyIt appears that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice (CPS) has sup­pressed key evid­ence about the all-too-apparent inno­cence of envir­on­mental pro­test­ers in the run-up to their tri­als.  In this case Mark Kennedy aka Stone, the police­man who for years infilt­rated protest groups across Europe, had cov­ertly recor­ded con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the plan­ning ses­sions to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station.

Kennedy offered to give evid­ence to prove that the unit he worked for at the time, the private and unac­count­able ACPO-run National Pub­lic Order Invest­ig­a­tions Unit (NPOIU), had witheld this key evid­ence.  It now appears that the police are claim­ing that they passed all the inform­a­tion on to the CPS, which then seems to have neg­lected  to hand it over to the pro­test­ers’ defence lawyers.

Keir_StarmerWhich makes it even more fas­cin­at­ing that in April this year the Dir­ector of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, fam­ous civil liber­ties QC Keir Starmer no less, took the unpre­ced­en­ted step of encour­aging those same pro­test­ers to appeal against their con­vic­tions because of poten­tial “police” cover-ups.

It’s just amaz­ing, isn’t it, that when vital inform­a­tion can be kept safely under wraps these doughty crime-fighting agen­cies present a united front to the world?  But once someone shines a light into the slith­ery dark corners, they all scramble to avoid blame and leak against each other?

And yet this case is just the tip of a titanic legal ice­berg, where for years the police and the CPS have been in cahoots to cover up many cases of, at best, mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, and at worst out­right lies about incom­pet­ence and poten­tially crim­inal activity.

Ian_TomlinsonA couple of months ago George Mon­biot provided an excel­lent sum­mary of recent “mis­state­ments” (a won­der­fully euphemistic neo­lo­gism) by the police over the last few years, includ­ing such blatant cases as the death of Ian Tom­lin­son dur­ing the Lon­don G20 protests two years ago, the ongo­ing News of the World phone hack­ing case, and the counter-terrorism style exe­cu­tion, sorry, shoot­ing of the entirely inno­cent Jean Charles de Menezes, to name but a few.

Mon­biot also dwelt at length on the appalling case of Michael Doherty, a con­cerned father who dis­covered that his 13 year-old daugh­ter was appar­ently being groomed by a pae­do­phile over the inter­net.  He took his con­cerns to the police, who brushed the issue aside.  When Doherty tried to push for a more informed and pro­act­ive response, he was the one who was snatched from his house in an early morn­ing raid and ended up in court, accused of abus­ive and angry phone calls to the sta­tion in a sworn state­ment by a mem­ber of the rel­ev­ant police force, sorry, ser­vice.

And that would have been that — he would have appar­ently been bang to rights on the word of a police sec­ret­ary — apart from the fact he had recor­ded all his phone calls to the police and kept metic­u­lous notes on the pro­gress of the case.  Only this evid­ence led to his right­ful acquittal.

As Mon­biot rightly con­cludes, “justice is impossible if we can­not trust police forces to tell the truth”.

It appears that the notion of “cit­izen journ­al­ists” is just sooo 2006.  Now we all need to be not only journ­al­ists but also “cit­izen law­yers”, just in case we have to defend ourselves against poten­tial police lies.  Yet these are the very organ­isa­tions that are paid from the pub­lic purse to pro­tect civil soci­ety.  Is it any won­der that so many people have a grow­ing dis­trust of them and con­cerns about an encroach­ing, Stasi-like, police state?

This is all part of engrained, top-down Brit­ish cul­ture of secrecy that allows the amorph­ous “secur­ity ser­vices” to think they can get away with any­thing and everything if they make a force­ful enough pub­lic state­ment: black is white, tor­ture is “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion”, and war is peace (or at least a “peace­keep­ing” mis­sion in Libya.…).  Espe­cially if there is no mean­ing­ful over­sight.  We have entered the Orwellian world of NewSpeak.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  This all happened in the 1970s and 80s with the Irish com­munity, and also in the 1990s with the ter­rible mis­car­riage of justice around the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in 1994.  If you have the time, please do read the detailed case here: Down­load Israeli_Embassy_Case

We need to remem­ber our history.

The Israeli Embassy Two — a gross miscarriage of justice

Samar_Alami Jawad_Botmeh Over the last few years there have been a num­ber of egre­gious cases of police and state cover-ups in the UK around the deaths and wrong­ful pro­sec­u­tions of inno­cent people.

This brings to my mind the appalling mis­car­riage of justice that occurred in the 1990s when two Palestinian stu­dents, a young woman called Samar Alami and a young man called Jawad Bot­meh, were both wrong­fully con­victed of con­spir­acy to bomb the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994. 

In this case a highly soph­ist­ic­ated car bomb as det­on­ated out­side the embassy.  Thank­fully nobody was killed, but a num­ber of people suffered minor injur­ies.   Alami and Bot­meh had con­nec­tions to Palestinian polit­ical sup­port groups based in Lon­don at the time, many of whom were roun­ded up dur­ing the invest­ig­a­tion.  Bot­meh had naively helped out a shad­owy and never-identified fig­ure called Reda Moghr­abi, who asked for assist­ance in buy­ing a second-hand car at auc­tion.  This was the car that was used in the explosion.

Why is this case an example of estab­lish­ment cover-up?  Well,  this was one of the cases that former MI5 officer David Shayler blew the whistle on dur­ing the 1990s.  He revealed the exist­ence of two rel­ev­ant doc­u­ments that should have been dis­closed to the defence but, for some unac­count­able reason, were not.

The first, an agent report from a cred­ible and trus­ted source, poin­ted to a non-Palestinian group plan­ning the attack before it had even occurred.  This report was not acted upon by the MI5 officer respons­ible, who then tried to cover up her mis­take.  She was caught out, and there was a much-discussed internal inquiry into the mat­ter within MI5’s G Branch (inter­na­tional ter­ror­ism) in late 1994.

But there was another doc­u­ment — one writ­ten by G9/1, the senior MI5 officer who over­saw the post-incident invest­ig­a­tion.  His view was that Mossad, the external Israeli intel­li­gence agency, had car­ried out a con­trolled explo­sion out­side its own embassy (the shad­owy and uniden­ti­fied Reda Moghr­abi being the poten­tially cru­cial miss­ing link) in order to acquire the long-demanded addi­tional secur­ity pro­tec­tion around Israeli interests in the UK, and also to shat­ter the Palestinian sup­port net­works in Lon­don — a long-term object­ive of Mossad.

The gov­ern­ment at the time tried to dis­miss these dis­clos­ures.  How­ever, the much-missed Private Eye invest­ig­at­ive   journ­al­ist, Paul Foot, and the indefatig­able law­yer, Gareth Peirce, fol­lowed them up and pur­sued them tire­lessly through the media and the courts

And guess what?  It turns out that these two key doc­u­ments had indeed not been dis­closed to the legal defence team dur­ing the trial of Alami and Bot­meh — and not just by the hap­less spooks.  It emerged dur­ing the appeal hear­ing that no fewer than seven people from a vari­ety of police and intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions had failed to dis­close the rel­ev­ant doc­u­ment­a­tion to the defence.  This can­not be explained away as an inno­cent over­sight, a cock-up — it bears all the hall­marks of a delib­er­ate, sys­temic estab­lish­ment cover-up.

All this rep­res­en­ted, at the very least, a need for a retrial but also a pos­sible gross mis­car­riage of justice.  And yet, while acknow­ledging that these doc­u­ments did indeed exist dur­ing the appeal hear­ing and bey­ond, the presid­ing m’luds decided to ignore all case law and European law and let those two inno­cents rot in prison.  After all, it would be ter­ribly embar­rass­ing to vin­dic­ate the actions of an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower, wouldn’t it?

As a res­ult, the poor pawns in this sick estab­lish­ment game, Jawad Bot­meh and Samar Alami, ended up serving their full sen­tences, des­pite the over­whelm­ing body of evid­ence prov­ing their inno­cence, and were finally released in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

For any­one inter­ested in the detailed hor­ror story behind this flag­rant mis­car­riage of justice, here is the rel­ev­ant chapter from my long-defunct book: Down­load The_Israeli_Embassy_Case

Former head of MI6 says that fact and fiction get mixed up

Sir_john_Scarlett Former head of MI6, Sir John Scar­lett — he of the dodgy Septem­ber Dossier fame that led inex­or­ably to the UK’s inva­sion of Iraq in 2003 and the death, maim­ing, depleted-uranium pois­on­ing and dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people — has com­pla­cently stated dur­ing his recent talk at the Hay Lit­er­ary Fest­ival that:

One of the prob­lems of intel­li­gence work is that fact and fic­tion get very eas­ily mixed up.  A key les­son you have to learn very early on is you keep them separate.”

Well, no doubt many, many people might just wish he’d listened to his own advice way back in Septem­ber 2002.

Scar­lett is, of course, the senior UK spook who made the case for the Iraq war.  Here’s the link:  Down­load Iraq_WMD_Dossier

No doubt you will remem­ber the li(n)es: not only that Iraq’s non-existent  “weapons of mass destruc­tion” could be launched within 45 minutes, but also that fake intel­li­gence doc­u­ments had per­suaded MI6 that Iraq was try­ing to buy uranium from Niger , as Colin Pow­ell asser­ted dur­ing his per­suas­ive speech to the UN in 2003.

Scar­lett pub­licly took the rap and, by pro­tect­ing Tony Blair and Alastair Camp­bell, was rewar­ded with the top job at MI6 and the inev­it­able knight­hood.  No doubt a suit­able recog­ni­tion for his entirely hon­our­able behaviour.

But it gets worse — now he has appar­ently landed a luc­rat­ive job as an advisor on the situ­ation in Iraq work­ing for Nor­we­gian oil mega-corporation, Statoil.

You couldn’t make it up…

… or per­haps you could if you’re a former top spy with an undeserved “K” and a luc­rat­ive oil con­tract who has dif­fi­culty sep­ar­at­ing fact from fiction.…..