Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

Libya, MI6, tor­ture, and more happy sub­jects dis­cussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV

The pro­gramme was inter­est­ing, informed and bal­anced.  Do have a watch:

The Official Secrets Act — when will the British media learn?

I have been watch­ing with a cer­tain cyn­ical interest the unfold­ing of Oper­a­tion Weet­ing, one of the pleth­ora of Met­ro­pol­itan Police invest­ig­a­tions into the UK phone hack­ing scan­dal, involving many of our favour­ite play­ers: shady private invest­ig­at­ors, pred­at­ory journ­al­ists, bent cop­pers, and politi­cians con­tort­ing them­selves in an effort to pro­tect both their own repu­ta­tions and their Friends in High Places.  And the ripples are spread­ing inter­na­tion­ally.  Noth­ing like a little bit of globilisation.…

Rupert_and_Rebekah The Guard­ian news­pa­per has made most of the early run­ning in expos­ing the cor­rupt prac­tices of the now defunct News of the Screws, high­light­ing all the dubi­ous tabloid prac­tices of hack­ing, blagging, pinging, and god knows what else.  All this done with the help of bottom-feeding private invest­ig­at­ors, but also mani­festly with the help of cor­rupt police officers who were not averse to the idea of tak­ing a bribe to help their friends in Wap­ping.  And how far might this “trickle down cor­rup­tion” might have gone, um, up?

Des­pite the self-righteousness of other UK news­pa­pers, it has also now become appar­ent that these dubi­ous and poten­tially illegal prac­tices were com­mon through­out Fleet Street, and other national news­pa­pers are also under investigation.

And yet it appears that all this could have been nipped in the bud over a dec­ade ago, when Steven Nott, a con­cerned Brit­ish cit­izen, tried to expose the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of mobile phones after he stumbled across the prac­tice by acci­dent.  He took his find­ings to a vari­ety of national news­pa­pers, all of whom seem to have ini­tially thought there was a good story, but every time the news was bur­ied.  Well, I sup­pose it would be, wouldn’t it — after all, why would hacks expose a prac­tice that could be so useful?

But back to the dear old OSA and the media.

Police_news_international In yesterday’s Observer news­pa­per, it was repor­ted that the police have threatened the journ­al­ists at The Guard­ian with the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) to force them to dis­close the iden­tity of their source amongst the police officer(s) in Oper­a­tion Weet­ing who leaked use­ful inform­a­tion to the news­pa­per to help its expos­ure of illegal prac­tices.  And, rightly, the great and the good are up in arms about this dra­conian use of a par­tic­u­larly invi­di­ous law:

“John Cooper, a lead­ing human rights law­yer and vis­it­ing pro­fessor at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity, echoed Evans’s con­cerns. “In my view this is a mis­use of the 1989 act,” Cooper said. “Fun­da­ment­ally the act was designed to pre­vent espi­on­age. In extreme cases it can be used to pre­vent police officers tip­ping off crim­in­als about police invest­ig­a­tions or from selling their stor­ies. In this instance none of this is sug­ges­ted, and many believe what was done was in the pub­lic interest.

“Cooper added: “The police action is very likely to con­flict with art­icle 10 of the European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights, which pro­tects free­dom of speech.”

But I think he’s miss­ing a bit of recent legal his­tory here.  The UK had the 1911 OSA which was sup­posed to pro­tect the coun­try from espi­on­age and trait­ors, who faced 14 years in prison upon con­vic­tion.  Need­less to say this pro­vi­sion was rarely used — most of the cold war Soviet moles in the estab­lish­ment were allowed to slink off to the USSR, or at the very most be stripped of their “K”.

How­ever, as I’ve writ­ten before, the revised 1989 OSA was much more use­ful for the estab­lish­ment.  It was spe­cific­ally put in place to stop whis­tleblow­ing after the embar­rass­ment of the 1980s Clive Ponting/Belgrano case. 

Ponting The new act was spe­cific­ally designed to strip away the “pub­lic interest” defence used by Pont­ing in his trial, and also to pen­al­ise journ­al­ists who had the temer­ity to report leaks and whis­tleblow­ing from the heart of the estab­lish­ment.  The OSA (1989) has been used extens­ively since the late 1990s, des­pite the fact that many senior fig­ures in the former Labour gov­ern­ment opposed its pro­vi­sions when it went through Par­lia­ment.   Journ­al­ists are just as liable as whis­tleblowers or “leak­ers” under the pro­vi­sions of this act (the infam­ous Sec­tion 5).

So, back to The Guard­ian and its legal cham­pi­ons.  I agree with what they are say­ing: yes, the 1989 OSA  has a chilling effect on free­dom of speech that unduly vic­tim­ises both the whis­tleblower and the journ­al­ist; yes, it is a uniquely dra­conian law for a notional West­ern demo­cracy to have on its books; yes, there should be a defence of “act­ing in the pub­lic interest”; and yes, the OSA should be deemed to be incom­pat­ible with Sec­tion 10(2) of the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights, guar­an­tee­ing free speech, which can only be cir­cum­scribed in the interests of “national secur­ity”, itself a leg­ally undefined, neb­u­lous, and con­tro­ver­sial phrase under Brit­ish law.

David_Shayler_High_Court But if all the out­raged law­yers read up on their case law, par­tic­u­larly the hear­ings and legal dog­fights in the run up to Regina v Shayler cases, they will see that all these issues have been addressed, appar­ently to the sat­is­fac­tion of the hon­our­able m’luds who preside over Brit­ish courts, and cer­tainly to the estab­lish­ment fig­ures who like to use the OSA as their “get out of jail free” card.

So I wish The Guard­ian journ­al­ists well in this con­front­a­tion.  But I have to say, per­haps they would not have found them­selves in this situ­ation today vis a vis the OSA if, rather than just a few brave journ­al­ists, the media insti­tu­tions them­selves had put up a more robust fight against its pro­vi­sions dur­ing its bas­tard birth in 1989 and its sub­sequent abuse.

It has been repor­ted today that the police may have down­graded their invest­ig­a­tion to a purely crim­inal mat­ter, not the OSA.  Whatever hap­pens does not obvi­ate the need for the media to launch a con­cer­ted cam­paign to call for reform of the invi­di­ous OSA.  Just because one of their own is no longer threatened does not mean the chilling threat of this law has gone away.  As Mar­tin Luther King said while imprisoned in 1963:

“Injustice any­where is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I would also sug­gest the new gen­er­a­tion work­ing in the Brit­ish media urgently read this excel­lent book­let pro­duced by John Wadham of Liberty and Art­icle 19 way back in 2000 Down­load Article_19_Liberty_on_OSA_2000,  to remind them­selves of fun­da­mental argu­ments against dra­conian legis­la­tion such as the OSA and in favour of the free­dom of the press.

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This art­icle in today’s New York Times, par­tic­u­larly these fol­low­ing two para­graphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Libyan people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj“The most power­ful mil­it­ary leader is now Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The grow­ing influ­ence of Islam­ists in Libya raises hard ques­tions about the ulti­mate char­ac­ter of the gov­ern­ment and soci­ety that will rise in place of Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy.….

.…Mr. Bel­haj has become so much an insider lately that he is seek­ing to unseat Mah­moud Jib­ril, the American-trained eco­nom­ist who is the nom­inal prime min­is­ter of the interim gov­ern­ment, after Mr. Jib­ril obliquely cri­ti­cized the Islamists.”

The Liby­ans, finally free of Gaddafi’s 42-year dic­tat­or­ship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islam­ist fac­tion that has stated pub­licly that it wants to base the new con­sti­tu­tion on Sharia — a state­ment that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya’s edu­cated and rel­at­ively  eman­cip­ated women — or a new gov­ern­ment headed up by an American-trained economist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what hap­pens to coun­tries when such eco­nom­ists move in: asset strip­ping, the syphon­ing off of the national wealth to transna­tional mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s liv­ing stand­ards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excel­lent “Shock Doc­trine” — required read­ing for any­one who wants to truly under­stand the grow­ing global fin­an­cial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal out­come for the US, UK and other west­ern forces who inter­vened in Libya. 

Mr Bel­haj is, of course, another mat­ter.  Not only would an Islam­ist Libya be a poten­tially dan­ger­ous res­ult for the West, but should Bel­haj come to power he is likely to be some­what hos­tile to US and par­tic­u­larly Brit­ish interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Bel­haj has form.  He was a lead­ing light in the Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group, a ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion which bought into the ideo­logy of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi, some­times with the fin­an­cial back­ing of the Brit­ish spies, most not­ably in the failed assas­sin­a­tion plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi’s rap­proche­ment with the West, this col­lab­or­a­tion was all air-brushed out of his­tory — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instru­mental in  kid­nap­ping Bel­haj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordin­ar­ily ren­der­ing” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ tor­ture at the hands of Libya’s bru­tal intel­li­gences ser­vices.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK companies.

So I’m will­ing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes med­dling from our spooks, to ensure the ascend­ency of Jib­ril in the new gov­ern­ment.  Which will be great for West­ern busi­ness, but not so great for the poor Libyans.….

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Libyan spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-profile defector, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gaddafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mander of the rebel Libyan forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­terial sign-off to be legal under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” within the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of David Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to prison twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Libyan and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Libyan Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illegal and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence community’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But whether an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

Senior UK psychiatrist struck off for abusive relationship

Ex-Dr Steven Lomax was last month sum­mar­ily struck off from the UK register of doc­tors by the Gen­eral Med­ical Coun­cil in London.

In this excep­tional hear­ing, the GMC ruled that the former senior psy­chi­at­rist, who used to work as the Dir­ector of the Castel Hos­pital in Guernsey:

  • had an inap­pro­pri­ate emo­tional and sexual rela­tion­ship with his patient, Michele Mauger;
  • had appar­ently des­troyed her med­ical records;
  • had brought the med­ical pro­fes­sion into disrepute.

Michele_and_Lomax

How do I know all this?  The vic­tim of this egre­gious abuse, Michele Mauger, is my mother.

The GMC made an excep­tion to hear this case in the light of the sever­ity of the abuse and the over­whelm­ing prima facie evid­ence of  Lomax’s guilt.  Cases older than 5 years are usu­ally not invest­ig­ated.  Michele’s abuse began over 23 years ago.

In a resound­ing con­dem­na­tion, the GMC stated that he had “blatantly trans­gressed” the bound­ar­ies gov­ern­ing the doctor/patient rela­tion­ship and that he had caused “irre­par­able dam­age both to the patient and her family”.

There has been some cov­er­age in the media.  Per­haps the most accur­ate reflec­tion of what happened can be found in the  Guern­sey Press: Down­load Guernsey_Press_front_page, Down­load Guernsey_Press_Interview

The gov­ern­ing body of the Guern­sey hos­pit­als, the Board of Health, would also appear to have some ser­i­ous ques­tions to answer.

Michele recently did an excel­lent inter­view on BBC Radio4: Woman’s Hour, that encap­su­lated the core issues around this type of pro­fes­sional abuse. The inter­view is at the begin­ning of the show — listen here.

Last chance to find out what happened to Dr David Kelly — help needed

Many will be aware of the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the death of Dr David Kelly, the world-renowned weapons inspector who was said to have blown the whistle about the “sexing-up” of the intel­li­gence case that took our coun­tries into the 2003 Iraq War.

Dr_Kelly_2jpgIgnor­ing all stand­ard Brit­ish legal require­ments, there has never been an inquest into Dr Kelly’s sud­den death in 2003.  Sub­sequent gov­ern­ment enquir­ies have tried to assert over the years that he com­mit­ted sui­cide. How­ever, a group of senior Brit­ish doc­tors has con­sist­ently chal­lenged these find­ings and stated that his death was not proved to be sui­cide bey­ond all reas­on­able doubt.

Dominic_GrieveThe cur­rent senior legal advisor to the UK Coali­tion gov­ern­ment, Attor­ney Gen­eral Dominic Grieve, prom­ised before last year’s elec­tion that he would con­sider a formal inquest into Dr Kelly’s death.  How­ever, since com­ing to power Grieve has retreated from that.  In addi­tion, all the evid­ence sur­round­ing the death of Dr Kelly will, excep­tion­ally, remain clas­si­fied for 70 years.

The Brit­ish doc­tors, led by Dr David Halpin, have one last chance to get to the truth.  This week, they are apply­ing for a Judi­cial Review of Grieve’s decision.

The legal papers need to be filed by 8th Septem­ber, and the costs of this case will be at least £50,000, much of which has already been con­trib­uted by the doc­tors and sup­port­ers.  They are ask­ing for dona­tions to cover the remainder.  Please help if you can, spread the word to all your con­tacts, and ask them to make a fin­an­cial pledge at this site.

Book review in The Sunday Express

Noth­ing like being paid to read a book — a win-win situ­ation for me. 

Here’s a link to my review in the Sunday Express news­pa­per of a new his­tory of MI6, called “The Art of Betrayal” by Gor­don Corera, the BBC’s Secur­ity Correspondent.

And here’s the article:

REVIEW: THE ART OF BETRAYALLIFE AND DEATH IN THE BRITISH SECRET SERVICE
Fri­day August 19, 2011
By Annie Machon

THE Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the Brit­ish Secret Ser­vice
Gor­don Corera Weiden­feld & Nich­olson, £20

THE INTRODUCTION to The Art Of Betrayal, Gor­don Corera’s unof­fi­cial post-war his­tory of MI6, raises ques­tions about the mod­ern rel­ev­ance and eth­ical frame­work of our spies. It also provides an anti­dote to recent offi­cial books cel­eb­rat­ing the cen­ten­ar­ies of MI5 and MI6.

Corera, the BBC’s secur­ity cor­res­pond­ent, has enjoyed priv­ileged access to key spy play­ers from the past few dec­ades and, writ­ing in an enga­ging, easy style, he picks up the story of MI6 at the point where the “offi­cial” his­tory grinds to a halt after the Second World War.

Spy geeks will enjoy the swash­buck­ling stor­ies from the Cold War years and he offers an intel­li­gent explor­a­tion of the men­tal­ity of betrayal between the West and the former Soviet Union, focus­ing on the notori­ous Philby, Pen­kovsky and Gordi­evsky cases among many others.

For the more cyn­ical reader, this book presents some prob­lems. Where Corera dis­cusses the aim­less years of MI6 post-Cold War attempts at rein­ven­tion, fol­lowed by the mus­cu­lar, mor­ally ambigu­ous post-9/11 world, he ref­er­ences quotes from former top spies and offi­cial inquir­ies only, all of which need to be read with a healthy degree of skep­ti­cism. To use a mem­or­able quote from the Six­ties Pro­fumo Scan­dal, also men­tioned in the book: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

In Corera’s view, there has always been inher­ent ten­sion in MI6 between the “doers” (who believe that intel­li­gence is there to be acted upon James Bond-style and who want to get their hands dirty with cov­ert oper­a­tions) and the “thinkers” (those who believe, à la George Smi­ley, that know­ledge is power and should be used behind the scenes to inform offi­cial gov­ern­ment policy).

He demon­strates that the “doers” have often been in con­trol and the image of MI6 staffed by gung-ho, James Bond wan­nabes is cer­tainly a ste­reo­type I recog­nise from my years work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for the sis­ter spy organ­isa­tion, MI5.

The prob­lem, as this book reveals, is that when the action men have the cul­tural ascend­ancy within MI6 events often go badly wrong through estab­lish­ment com­pla­cency, betrayal or mere enthu­si­astic amateurism.

That said, the oppos­ing cul­ture of the “thinkers”, or patient intel­li­gence gather­ers, led in the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties to intro­spec­tion, mole-hunting para­noia and sclerosis.

Wor­ry­ingly, many former officers down the years are quoted as say­ing that they hoped there was a “real” spy organ­isa­tion behind the appar­ently ama­teur out­fit they had joined, a sen­ti­ment shared by most of my intake in the Nineties.

Nor does it appear that les­sons were learned from his­tory: the Oper­a­tion Gla­dio débâcle in Albania and the top­pling of Iran’s first democratically-elected Pres­id­ent Mossadeq in the Fifties could have provided valu­able les­sons for MI6 in its work in Afgh­anistan, Iraq, and Libya over the past two decades.

Corera is remark­ably coy about Libya des­pite the wealth of now publicly-available inform­a­tion about MI6’s med­dling in the Lock­er­bie case, the illegal assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafiin 1996 and the dirty, MI6-brokered oil deals of the past decade.

Corera pulls together his recur­ring themes in the final chapters, explor­ing the com­prom­ise of intel­li­gence in jus­ti­fy­ing the Iraq war, describ­ing how the “doers” pumped unveri­fied intel­li­gence from unproven agents dir­ectly into the veins of White­hall and Washington.

Many civil ser­vants and middle-ranking spies ques­tioned and doubted but were told to shut up and fol­low orders. The res­ults are all-too tra­gic­ally well known.

Corera does not, how­ever, go far enough.

He appre­ci­ates that the global reach of MI6 main­tains Britain’s place in an exclus­ive club of world powers. At what price, though?

Here is the ques­tion he should per­haps have asked: in light of all the mis­takes, betray­als, liber­ties com­prom­ised, les­sons unlearned and deaths, has MI6 out­lived its usefulness?

Annie Machon is a former MI5 intel­li­gence officer and author.

Ver­dict 4/5