A blast from the past

How strange to stumble across this article in the Guardian newspaper yesterday, which describes a journalist’s justifiably paranoid experiences interviewing David Shayler and me back in 2000 while writing an article for Esquire magazine.

The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lecturer in journalism at Strathclyde University, spent a few days with us in London and Paris way back when.

Shayler_Esquire_2000The Esquire article highlights the paranoia and surveillance that we had to live with at the time, and the contradictory briefings and slanders that were coming out of the British establishment and the media. O’Neill also intelligently tries to address the motivations of a whistleblower.

When it was published I was mildly uncomfortable about this article – I felt it didn’t do David full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was discussing.  I suppose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situation.

Now, with hindsight, it is more perspicacious than I had thought.  And rather sad.

This article is a timely reminder of how vicious the establishment can be when you cause it embarrassment and pain; the treatment meted out to David Shayler was brutal.  And yet nothing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongoing pursuit and vilification of Wikileaks.

And now to Finland….

Tutki2012_logoMy grand tour around Scandinavia continues next weekend, when I shall be giving the opening keynote at the Tutki!2012 investigative journalism conference in Helsinki.  Looking forward to the conference!

Talks in Sweden and Norway

Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two keynotes at Scandinavian journalism conferences.

Grav_logo I shall first be speaking at the Grav conference in Sweden on Friday 23 March.

SKUP_2012Topics under discussion will include everything from security and intelligence to the war on terror, civil liberties to ethics and media freedoms, government accountability to whistleblowing and Wikileaks.

On Saturday I travel on to Norway to speak at the SKUP conference to give a talk and also on Sunday morning to participate in a panel discussion about all things whistleblowing and Wikileaks. I gather that such discussions can get quite, um, lively.

I’m looking forward to an interesting and stimulating weekend.

Just Say No – the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Just back from the annual United Nations happy-clappy session about drug prohibition in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.  I was there as part of the delegation from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a global campaign of serving and former police officers, lawyers, judges, intelligence officers, customs officers and prison governors, all with years of experience on the front line of the drug war, and all of whom campaign against prohibition.

Why do they do this? Precisely because they have, during their professional lives, witnessed the terrible failure of the drug prohibition laws.

LEAP’s message is simple, logical and powerful, and its membership credible and experienced – have a look at the website.

The UN delegation consisted of former US drug prosecutor Jim Gierach, retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Pereira Karam, award-winning US prison superintendent Rick Van Wickler, and myself.

Needless to say, LEAP and all this breadth of relevant expertise was marginalised at the UN.

Un_system_chart_colourThe UN is the sine qua non of bureaucracies, an organisation of such Byzantine complexity it makes your eyes bleed to look at it.

Each country around the world funds the UN via voluntary donations. Once they have coughed up, they are allowed to send national delegates to represent “their” interests at shindigs such as the CND. Those delegates are pre-briefed by their bureaucrats about the line they must take, and no dissent is allowed.

NGOs are notionally able to feed in their views to their delegates, although access is limited, and over the last few years the language of the CND has indeed moved towards harm reduction and children’s rights.  But this merely propagates the basic, flawed premise that “drugs” are bad, not that the “war on drugs” has comprehensively failed, is ill-thought out, and actively damages society.

3_wise_monkeysUN decisions on drug policy are made by consensus, which means that there is no real democratic debate and that the resolutions are so bland as to be meaningless.  At no point whatsoever are evidence-based alternative solutions, such as regulated legalisation, even whispered in the corridors of power.

The CND’s key achievement this year was to get all the nations to reaffirm their commitment to the 100-year old International Hague Convention, the first drug prohibition law in a long and escalating legal litany of failure and harm.  And this in the teeth of all evidence provided by the successful decriminalisation experiments in Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

So here’s where the fun kicks in, but I stress that this is my highly personal take on what it was like to attend the CND last week:


WARNING: CND appears to be a potent psychotropic drug which has unknown and potentially damaging effects on the human brain.  Exposure to CND for even so short a period as a week can lead to disorientation, numbness, depression and a dislocation from reality.  No data exists about the long-term psychological effects of prolonged exposure, but some subjects can display uncharacteristic aggression after only a couple of days’ experience of CND.

CND appears to be highly addictive leading to rapid dependency, and delegates return year after year for another hit. For a week, it’s party time, but then comes the crashing low, as they have to push CND on their own countries for another long year, against all common notions of decency, humanity and community.

CND is continually presented to vulnerable delegates as the only lifestyle choice.  Those who question its efficacy are outcast from the gang.  But what of the delegates’ rights to live a CND-free life, away from the peer pressure, bullying and violence?  What about reducing the harm that CND increasingly causes to communities across the world?

As the godfathers of CND push the line of harm reduction programmes, developing countries are increasingly drawn into a life of sordid “money dependency”, even prostituting themselves politically to enable their continued reliance on CND.

The organisations controlling CND garner huge profits, and there is little political will to change the current set-up.


So, a win-win for the drug cartels, terrorists, enforcement agencies, governments, bureaucrats and the wider global “drug war” infrastructure.

Not so good for the rest of us.


The Extradition Farce – why the delay in reform?

Outrage continues to swell about the peremptory extradition of British citizens to face trial on tenuous charges abroad.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of distraught family members, a growing anger in the UK press, and indignant questions and debates in Parliament – even our somnambulant MPs have roused themselves to state that Something Must be Done – the Extradition Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.

As there is a growing consensus, why the delay?  I have a theory, but first let’s review some of the most troubling recent cases.

Janis_SharpThe case that really brought the issue to widespread public attention  is the decade-long extradition battle of Gary McKinnon.  With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effectively served a 10-year sentence, uncertain of his future and unable to work in his chosen profession.  Thanks to the indefatigable campaigning of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received widespread support from the media and politicians alike.

Despite this the Home Secretary, Theresa May (who has recently been working so hard in Jordan to protect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abominably over making a decision about whether Gary should be extradited to the US to face a possible 70-year prison sentence – even though the UK investigation into his alleged crime was abandoned way back in 2002.

Julia_and Richard_OdwyerThen there is the more recent case of student Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no British laws.  He is facing a 10 year maximum security sentence if extradited.  Once again, his mother, Julia, is tirelessly fighting and campaigning for her son.

Most recently, Chris Tappin, a retired businessman and golf club president, has been shipped off to a Texas high security penitentiary following what sounds like a US entrapment operation (a technique not legally admissable in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sentence if convicted.

Chris_and_Elaine_TappinDespite having turned himself in, this elderly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is considered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fighting.

My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery.  I remember living through a similar, if mercifully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK government tried and failed to extradite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remember with crystal clarity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he disappeared into a foreign legal system without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.

Sunday_Times_Paris_98And I remember the frightening moment when I realised I had to step up and fight for him – the legal case, dealing with MPs and the endless media work, including the terror of live TV interviews.  And all this when you are worried sick about the fate of a loved one.  Shall I just say it was a steep learning curve?

In the wake of the recent extradition cases, there have been questions in Parliament, motions, debates, reviews (Download Review), and there is an ongoing push for an urgent need for reform.  And no doubt this will come, in time.

So why the delay?  Why not change the law now, and prevent McKinnon, O’Dywer and many others being sacrificed on the American legal altar – the concept of “judicial rendition“, as I have mentioned before.

Well, I have a theory, one derived from personal experience.  The British media – most notably the Daily Mail – inveigh against the unilateral extradition of UK citizens to the USA’s brutal prison regime.  There is also some concern about extradition to other European jurisdictions – usually on the fringes to the south and east of the continent, regions where the British seem to have a visceral fear of corrupt officials and kangaroo courts.

But what many commentators seem to miss is the crucial legal connection – the extradition arrangements that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana republics comparable legal systems to face outrageous sentences are, in fact, embedded within the Extradition Act 2003.  This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest Warrant, the the act that was rushed through Parliament in the midst of the post-9/11 terrorism flap.

And, of course, this is the very act that is currently being used and abused to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police questioning (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “temporarily surrendered” to the delights of the US judicial process. Hmm, could this possibly be the reason for the delay in reforming the Act?

Assange_Supreme_CourtLet me guess, you think this is begin­ning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is incon­ceiv­able that the Brit­ish politi­cians and judges would delay right­ing a flag­rant legal wrong that mani­festly res­ults in inno­cent people being unjustly extra­dited and pro­sec­uted? Surely our gov­ern­ment would move swiftly to pro­tect its citizens?

As I men­tioned, my the­ory stems from per­sonal exper­i­ence. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrong­ful con­vic­tion on ter­ror­ist charges of two inno­cent Palestinian stu­dents, Samar Alami and Jawad Bot­meh. Their law­yer, the excel­lent Gareth Peirce, was imme­di­ately on the case, but the UK gov­ern­ment dragged its heels for a year. Why?

Dur­ing that time, the UK gov­ern­ment tried to have Shayler extra­dited from France to the UK to stand trial. Gov­ern­ment law­yers were con­fid­ent of vic­tory and delayed a decision on the stu­dents’ appeal against their con­vic­tions until the whis­tleblower was safely incar­cer­ated in HMP Bel­marsh, await­ing trial.

Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being mani­festly a polit­ical whis­tleblower, which in their legal opin­ion was not an extra­dict­able offence. Only at that point did the UK gov­ern­ment law­yers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.

Christine_AssangeSo my the­ory is that the UK is drag­ging its feet about reform­ing the pre­pos­ter­ous Extra­di­tion Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. How­ever, they may be count­ing their chick­ens pre­ma­turely — and they should never, ever over­look the determ­in­a­tion of the cam­paign­ing mother, in this case Christine Assange.

But in the mean­time, while the UK con­tin­ues to pros­ti­tute itself to the USA, how many more inno­cent people will have to suf­fer unjust and unjus­ti­fi­able extradition?

Cops Take Pro-Legalization Message to UN War on Drugs Meeting


Law Enforcers Say Ending Prohibition Will Improve Global Security & Human Rights

VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Judges, prosecutors and jailers who support legalizing drugs are bringing their message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting next week in Vienna. At the U.N. session, which comes just days after the Obama administration stepped-up its attempts to counteract the emerging anti-prohibition sentiment among sitting presidents in Latin America, the pro-legalization law enforcement officials will work to embolden national delegations from around the world to push back against the U.S.-led failed “war on drugs.”

VanwicklerRichard Van Wickler, a currently-serving jail superintendent who will be representing Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in Vienna, says, “World leaders who believe we could better handle drug problems by replacing criminalization with legal control are becoming less and less afraid of U.S. reprisal for speaking out or reforming their nations’ policies. And for good reason.”

Van Wickler, who has was named 2011’s Corrections Superintendent of the Year by the New Hampshire Association of Counties, explains, “Voters in at least two U.S. states will be deciding on measures to legalize marijuana this November. It would be pure hypocrisy for the American federal government to continue forcefully pushing a radical prohibitionist agenda on the rest of the world.”

In recent weeks, Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Felipe Calderon of Mexico have added their voices to the call for a serious conversation on alternatives to drug prohibition, causing U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to travel to Latin America this week in an unsuccessful attempt to quash the debate.

GierachFormer Chicago drug prosecutor James Gierach, recently a featured speaker at a conference in Mexico City last month attended by the first lady of Mexico and the former presidents of Colombia and Brazil, says, “The unending cycle of cartel violence caused by the prohibition market has turned a steady trickle of former elected officials criticizing prohibition into a flood of sitting presidents, business leaders and law enforcement officials calling for an outright discussion about legalization. It’s time for the U.S. and the U.N. to acknowledge that legal control, rather than criminalization, is a much better way to manage our drug problems. The world can have either drug prohibition, violence and corruption or it can have controlled drug legalization with safe streets and moral fabric, but it can’t have both.”

The UN meeting in Vienna is an annual opportunity for nations around the world to re-evaluate drug control strategies and treaties. More information about the meeting is here

In recent years, countries like Portugal and Mexico have made moves to significantly transform criminalization-focused drug policies into health approaches by fully decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs. Still, no country has yet to legalize and regulate the sale of any of these drugs. Doing so, the pro-legalization law enforcers point out, would be the only way to prevent violent transnational criminal organizations from profiting in the drug trade.

Maria.KaramAlso attending the conference on behalf of LEAP will be former Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam and former UK MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who support legalization after fighting on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info can be found here.


Tom Angell: 001 202 557-4979 or media@leap.cc

Shaleen Title: 001 617 955-9638 or speakers@leap.cc

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our freedom of speech is looming and, for once, I am not inveighing against the Official Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pungent reputation as the libel capital of the world. And now it appears that this wonderful practice is going "offshore".

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take exception to a book written and published about them in the USA.   US law, somewhat surprisingly considering its current parlous state, provided no route to sue.   However, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offending book had been sold in the UK – even if only a handful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon.co.uk – and Mr Justice Eady helped the process along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of "libel tourism".  Satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye has long been campaigning against this, other UK news outlets gradually followed suit, and the UK government is finally taking steps to rein in these egregious, if lucrative, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that's precisely when your offshore crown dependencies, otherwise known as British tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubious financial practices of these islands, the most geographically convenient being the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the attitude to self-regulation makes the practices of the Square Mile look positively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guernsey is looking to become a hub of another lucrative offshore practice: libel tourism.  

Guernsey has its own parliament – the States –  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK mainland, a firm of offshore tax lawyers has identified a wonderful business opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the managing partner and intellectual property specialist at the large "wealth management" legal firm Collas Crill.  According to his firm's website, he also, coincidentally, sits on the island's Commercial IP Steering Group and the Drafting Sub-Committee, and is thus conveniently on hand to steer the new legislation through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coincidentally, he appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of Eady's infamous "super-injunction" regime which has had such a chillingly expensive effect on the British media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, anyone, anywhere around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their "image rights" in Guernsey.  These rights can even last indefinitely after the original owner's death.

This means that anyone, anywhere, who feels that their "image" has been inappropriately reproduced/copied/pirated – the correct legal terminology is hazy –  can then sue through the Guernsey courts for redress.  This could potentially be a powerful new global tool for the suppression of free speech.  As public outcry swells internationally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemocratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap precisely in the wrong direction.  

Guernsey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infestation of offshore bankers and trust fund lawyers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social division. Before then it was proud of its egalitarianism, Norman-French heritage, beautifully anachronistic pace of life, and an economy based on tomatoes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its economy based on rotten financial apples and offshore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my system now – while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for damaging its "image rights"….