In Celebration of Whistleblowers

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

In the UK last week there was a series of events to cel­eb­rate the won­der­ful work of whistleblowers.

In pre­vi­ous dec­ades these brave and rare indi­vidu­als have often been all too eas­ily dis­missed with the usual, care­fully orches­trated media slanders of “dis­gruntled”, “too junior”, “sacked”, whatever ad nauseam. But no longer.

Now, in this era where we have been lied into illegal wars, where the banks privat­ise their profits yet make their risks pub­lic and get repeatedly bailed out, and when people are need­lessly dying in our hos­pit­als, more and more people real­ise the value that whis­tleblowers can bring to the pub­lic debate.

Indeed, the sys­tem is now so broken that the whis­tleblower is often the reg­u­lator of last resort.

Plus, of course, this is the era of Wikileaks, Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. The concept of whis­tleblow­ing has gone global in response to the scale of the threats we are all now facing from the military-security com­plex world-wide.

So last week was rather invig­or­at­ing and involved a num­ber of events that gave due credit to the bravery and sac­ri­fice of whistleblowers.

First up we had the inter­na­tional launch of the UK whis­tleblower sup­port group, The Whist­ler. This is a Brit­ish organ­isa­tion designed to provide a legal, psy­cho­lo­gical and social sup­port net­work to those in the UK brave enough to come out and blow the whistle on incom­pet­ence and crime from any sec­tor, pub­lic or private, and many hun­dreds have over the last few years, par­tic­u­larly from the fin­an­cial and health sectors.

Sadly all exper­i­ence the same treat­ment; vili­fic­a­tion, sup­pres­sion, and even the loss of their careers for dar­ing to expose the incom­pet­ence and even crime of oth­ers.  Sadly, while there is a law in place that is sup­posed to provide some pro­tec­tion, all to often this has failed over the last 16 years.  The Whist­ler provides a much needed service.

A num­ber of inter­na­tional whis­tleblowers were in the UK for the week for other events, and The Whist­ler was able to host them and hear their stor­ies. Gavin Mac­Fa­dyen of the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism, and the indefatig­able cam­paigner Eileen Chubb hos­ted the event, and former CIA ana­lyst Ray McGov­ern, NSA whis­tleblower Tom Drake, Jes­selyn Radack of the Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity pro­ject (The Whistler’s US coun­ter­part), and myself spoke. The Whist­ler will offi­cially be launched in the UK on 20th March, so watch this space.

The next night we found ourselves at the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety, which was kind enough to host the award cere­mony for the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence for the second year run­ning. You may remem­ber that last year the award went to Dr Tom Fin­gar, whose US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007 single-handedly hal­ted to rush to war against Iran.

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates is a group of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers.  Each year we vote to con­fer an award on a mem­ber of the intel­li­gence com­munity or related pro­fes­sions who exem­pli­fies CIA ana­lyst, Sam Adams’ cour­age, per­sist­ence and telling truth to power, no mat­ter what the consequences.

Since its incep­tion in 2002, the award has been given to truth tell­ers Coleen Row­ley of the FBI, Kath­er­ine Gun of GCHQ, Sibel Edmonds of the FBI, Craig Mur­ray former UK ambas­sador to Uzbek­istan, Sam Provance former US army Sgt, Major Frank Gre­vil of Dan­ish intel­li­gence, Larry Wilk­er­son former US army Col­onel, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, Thomas Drake of NSA and Jes­selyn Radack of the Depart­ment of Justice, Dr Thomas Fin­gar former Deputy Dir­ector of National Intel­li­gence, and Edward Snowden former NSA con­tractor.

This year the award went, unan­im­ously and inev­it­ably, to Chelsea Man­ning, and many Sam Adams asso­ci­ates trav­elled to the UK to attend and to hon­our her achieve­ments and 2013 SAA laur­eate Edward Snowden sent through a con­grat­u­lat­ory mes­sage. Sadly and for obvi­ous reas­ons Chelsea could not receive the award in per­son, but her old school friend, Aaron Kirk­house read out a power­ful and mov­ing state­ment writ­ten by her for the occasion.

The fol­low­ing night the Union hos­ted a debate on “This house would call Edward Snowden a hero”. I had the pleas­ure of arguing for the pro­pos­i­tion, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne, and we won — 212 to 171 was the final tally, I believe.

I very much enjoyed the events, so a massive thanks to Polina Ivan­ova, the cur­rent Union pres­id­ent, and her team who organ­ised the events.

The best part of the week though, apart from the set events, was hav­ing the time to be with other intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers and fel­low cam­paign­ers. While in Lon­don we also all had the oppor­tun­ity to do a range of media inter­views with pro­grammes such as Brian Rose’s Lon­don Real TV and Afshin Rattansi’s “Going Under­ground” on RT.

Sadly but rather pre­dict­ably, the old media chose not to take advant­age of such a rich source of expert­ise in town.  Des­pite repeated invit­a­tions, the MSM failed to attend any of the events or inter­view any of the whis­tleblowers. But per­haps that’s bet­ter than the appallingly off-beam cov­er­age the Guard­ian gave to Dr Fingar’s award cere­mony last year.

But the old media are behind the times, which are def­in­itely a’changing. In this post-Wikileaks, post-Manning and post-Snowden world, the tone of the debate has changed for good. Whis­tleblowers are increas­ingly val­ued as brave indi­vidu­als of con­science and there is much more aware­ness and interest in the issues of pri­vacy, human rights and the mean­ing of demo­cracy. Indeed, in the fun­da­mental mean­ing of freedom.

Edward Snowden, Man of the Year

First pub­lished at RT Op-Edge.

When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a cat­egor­ical, resound­ing YES.

Sure, it has been an event­ful year and there are a lot of con­tenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons:  his per­sonal and con­scious cour­age, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures and the con­tinu­ing, global impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s cit­izens, are now able to have a dis­cus­sion about the nature of our civil­isa­tion and poten­tially call a halt to the fright­en­ing slide into a global sur­veil­lance dystopia.

For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are liv­ing global crisis of civil­isa­tion .  To date it is estim­ated the we have only seen about 1% of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed -  the merest hint of the tip of a mon­strous ice­berg.  What fur­ther hor­rors await us in 2014 and beyond?

The Per­sonal Risk

First of all, there is the per­sonal aspect.  Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the inform­a­tion.  I respect that, but it is worth remind­ing ourselves of the scale of sac­ri­fice this young man has made.  He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an appar­ently happy rela­tion­ship, and good career pro­spects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illegal and dysto­pian sur­veil­lance sys­tem that has stealth­ily been smoth­er­ing the world.

But Snowden faced far more than merely throw­ing away a com­fort­able pro­fes­sional life. Over the last few years the US gov­ern­ment, appar­ently learn­ing well from its former colo­nial mas­ter the UK about the art of crush­ing of whis­tleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” — ie per­sons of con­science who speak out. Pres­id­ent Obama has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) to per­se­cute and pro­sec­ute more whis­tleblowers than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents in total before him.

This is indeed a “war on whis­tleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture pro­gramme and then exposed, it is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in prison; Thomas Drake, an earlier NSA whis­tleblower, was threatened with 35 years in prison; young Chelsea Man­ning was mal­treated in prison, faced a kangaroo court, and is cur­rently serving a sim­ilar sen­tence for the expos­ure of hideous war crimes against civil­ians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.

So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the legal risk he was tak­ing when he went pub­lic, dis­play­ing bravery very much above and bey­ond the call of duty.

The intel­li­gence apo­lo­gists in the media have inev­it­ably  shouted “nar­ciss­ism” about his brave step to out him­self, rather than just leak the inform­a­tion anonym­ously.  How­ever, these estab­lish­ment wind­bags are the real nar­ciss­ists. Snowden cor­rectly assessed that, had he not put his name to the dis­clos­ures, there would have been a witch-hunt tar­get­ing his former col­leagues and he wanted to pro­tect them. Plus, as he said in his very first pub­lic inter­view, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implic­a­tions were for the world.

The Dis­clos­ures

The sheer scale and nature of the dis­clos­ures so far has been breath­tak­ing, and they just keep com­ing. They show that a vast, sub­ter­ranean sur­veil­lance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politi­cians who are sup­posed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under con­stant elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, but these politi­cians are tar­geted too. This is a global secret state run­ning amok and we are all now targets.

Only yes­ter­day, Der Spiegel repor­ted more egre­gious examples of how the spies bug us: hard­ware hacks, com­puter vir­uses and even microwave wavelengths attack­ing both our com­puters and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all.…

The Implic­a­tions

Snowden’s dis­clos­ures have laid bare the fact that the inter­net has been thor­oughly hacked, sub­ver­ted and indeed mil­it­ar­ised against we the people.  The basic free­dom of pri­vacy,  enshrined in the UN Declar­a­tion of Human Rights in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Second World War, has been destroyed.

Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments, and cer­tainly not a shad­owy and unac­count­able secret state.

The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the state.

By risk­ing his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the oppor­tun­ity to res­ist.  We all owe him a debt of grat­it­ude, and it is our duty to ensure that his cour­age and sac­ri­fice has not been in vain.

TPP — copyright versus free speech

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

We, the cit­izens of the world, already owe NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden a huge debt of grat­it­ude.  Even the lim­ited pub­lic­a­tion of a few of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed to journ­al­ists has to date pro­voked a polit­ical and pub­lic debate in coun­tries across the planet — and who knows what other nas­ties lurk in the cache of doc­u­ments, yet to be exposed?

Thanks to Snowden, mil­lions of people as well as many gov­ern­ments have woken up to the fact that pri­vacy is the vital com­pon­ent of free soci­et­ies.  Without that basic right we are unable to freely read, write, speak, plan and asso­ci­ate without fear of being watched, our every thought and utter­ance stored up to be poten­tially used against us at some neb­u­lous future date.  Such pan­op­tic global sur­veil­lance leads inev­it­ably to self-censorship and is cor­ros­ive to our basic freedoms, and indi­vidual cit­izens as well as coun­tries are explor­ing ways to pro­tect them­selves and their privacy.

As I and oth­ers more emin­ent have said before, we need free media to have a free society.

But even if we can defend these free chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion, what if the very inform­a­tion we wish to ingest and com­mu­nic­ate is no longer deemed to be free?  What if we become crim­in­al­ised purely for shar­ing such un-free information?

The global mil­it­ary secur­ity com­plex may be bru­tal, but it is not stu­pid. These cor­por­at­ist elites, as I prefer to think of them, have seen the new medium of the inter­net as a threat to their profits and power since its incep­tion. Which is why they have been fight­ing a des­per­ate rear­guard action to apply US pat­ent and copy­right laws globally.

Pirate_Bay_LogoThey began by going after music shar­ing sites such as Nap­ster and impos­ing grot­esque legal pen­al­ties on those try­ing to down­load a few songs they liked for free, then try­ing to build national fire­walls to deny whole coun­tries access to file shar­ing sites such as The Pir­ate Bay and per­se­cut­ing its co-founder Ana­kata, mer­ci­fully fail­ing to extra­dite Richard O’Dwyer from the UK to the US on trumped up charges for his sign­post­ing site to free media, and cul­min­at­ing in the take down of Megaup­load and the illegal FBI attack against Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zea­l­and last year.

But for all these high-profile cases of attemp­ted deterrence, more and more people are shar­ing inform­a­tion, cul­ture, and research for free on the inter­net. Using peer to peer tech­no­lo­gies like Bit­tor­rent and anonymising tools like Tor they are hard to detect, which is why the cor­por­at­ist lob­by­ists demand the sur­veil­lance state develop ever more intrus­ive ways of detect­ing them, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of deep packet inspec­tion. And of course once such invas­ive tech­no­lo­gies are avail­able, we all know that they will not only be used to stop “pir­acy” but will also be used against the people of the world by the mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance com­plex too.

But that is still not enough for the cor­por­at­ists.  Largely US-based, they are now try­ing to flex their polit­ical muscle glob­ally.  First the US claims that any site end­ing with a tier one US domain name (.com, .org, .net and .info) comes under US law — any­where in the world — and can be taken down without warn­ing or redress by a diktat from the US government.

More egre­giously still, the US cor­por­at­ists have been try­ing to impose their legal domin­ion glob­ally via a series of secret regional trade agree­ments: ACTA, TTIP/TAFTA, SOPA, and now in the recently Wikileaked details of the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) tar­get­ing the coun­tries around the Pacific rim.

These agree­ments, writ­ten by cor­por­ate lob­by­ists, are so secret that the demo­cratic rep­res­ent­at­ives of sov­er­eign coun­tries are not even allowed to read the con­tents or debate the terms — they are just told to sign on the dot­ted line, effect­ively rubber-stamping legis­la­tion that is anti­thet­ical to the vast major­ity their cit­izens’ interests, which gives greater sov­er­eign powers to the interests of the cor­por­a­tions than it does to nation states, and which will crim­in­al­ise and dir­ectly harm the people of the world in the interests of the few.

One of the pro­pos­als is that mul­tina­tional cor­por­a­tions can sue national gov­ern­ments for future lost profits based on pat­ents not gran­ted or envir­on­mental restric­tions. This is noth­ing short of full-on cor­por­at­ism where inter­na­tional law and global treat­ies serve a hand­ful of large cor­por­a­tions to the det­ri­ment of national sov­er­eignty, envir­on­mental health and even human life.

For by pro­tect­ing “intel­lec­tual prop­erty” (IP), we are not just talk­ing about the cre­at­ive endeav­ours of artists. One does not need to be a law­yer to see the fun­da­mental prob­lem­atic assump­tions in the goals as defined in the leaked doc­u­ment:

Enhance the role of intel­lec­tual prop­erty in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic and social devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the new digital eco­nomy, tech­no­lo­gical innov­a­tion, the trans­fer and dis­sem­in­a­tion of tech­no­logy and trade;

This state­ment assumes that IP, a made-up term that con­fuses three very dif­fer­ent areas of law, is by defin­i­tion bene­fi­cial to soci­ety as a whole. No evid­ence for these claimed bene­fits is provided any­where. As with “what-is-good-for-General-Motors-is-good-for-America” and the the­ory of ”trickle down” eco­nom­ics, the bene­fits are simply assumed and altern­at­ive mod­els act­ively and wil­fully ignored. The idea that most soci­et­ies on the planet might vastly bene­fit from a relax­a­tion of pat­ent laws or the length of copy­right is not even up for debate. This des­pite the fact that there is plenty of research point­ing in that direction.

These secret pro­posed treat­ies will enforce pat­ents that put the cost of basic phar­ma­ceut­ic­als bey­ond the reach of bil­lions; that privat­ise and pat­ent basic plants and food; and that pre­vent the shar­ing of cut­ting edge aca­demic research, des­pite the fact that this is usu­ally pro­duced by pub­licly fun­ded aca­dem­ics at our pub­licly fun­ded universities.

The price, even today, of try­ing to lib­er­ate research for the pub­lic good can be high, as Aaron Swartz found out earlier this year.  After try­ing to share research inform­a­tion from MIT, he faced a witch hunt and dec­ades in prison. Instead he chose to take his own life at the age of 26. How much worse will it be if TPP et al are ratified?

It is thanks to the high-tech pub­lisher, Wikileaks, that we know the sheer scale of the recent TPP débacle.  It is also heart­en­ing to see so many Pacific rim coun­tries oppos­ing the over­ween­ing demands of the USA. Aus­tralia alone seems sup­port­ive — but then region­ally it bene­fits most from its mem­ber­ship of the “Five Eyes” spy pro­gramme with America.

The intel­lec­tual prop­erty wars are the flip side of the global sur­veil­lance net­work that Snowden dis­closed — it is a clas­sic pin­cer movement.

hAs well as watch­ing everything we com­mu­nic­ate, the cor­por­at­ists are also try­ing to con­trol exactly what inform­a­tion we are leg­ally able to com­mu­nic­ate, and using this con­trol as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for yet more intrus­ive spy­ing. It’s the per­fect self-perpetuating cycle.

By cur­tail­ing the powers of the spy agen­cies, we could restore the inter­net to its ori­ginal func­tion­al­ity and open­ness while main­tain­ing the right to pri­vacy and free speech — but main­tain­ing a 20th cen­tury copyright/IP model at the same time is impossible. Or we could give up our pri­vacy and other civil rights to allow spe­cific pro­tec­ted indus­tries to carry on coin­ing it in. A last option would be to switch off the inter­net. But that is not real­istic: mod­ern coun­tries could not sur­vive a day without the inter­net, any more than they could func­tion without electricity.

As a soci­ety we’re going through the pain­ful real­isa­tion that we can only have two out of the three options. Dif­fer­ent cor­por­at­ist interest groups would no doubt make dif­fer­ent choices but, along with the vast major­ity of the people, I opt for the inter­net and pri­vacy as both a free chan­nel for com­mu­nic­a­tion and the free trans­fer of use­ful information.

Like any social change (the abol­i­tion of slavery, uni­ver­sal suf­frage), this is also accom­pan­ied by heated argu­ments, legal threats and repres­sion, and lob­by­ist pro­pa­ganda. But his­tor­ic­ally all this sound and fury will sig­nify.… pre­cisely noth­ing. Surely at some point basic civil rights will make a comeback, upheld by the legis­lature and pro­tec­ted by law enforcement.

The choice is simple: inter­net, pri­vacy, copy­right. We can only choose two, and I know which I choose.

The Empire Strikes Back

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

Sir Andrew Parker, the recently elev­ated Dir­ector Gen­eral of the UK’s domestic secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5) yes­ter­day made both his first pub­lic speech and a super­fi­cially robust defence of the work of the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Read­ing from the out­side, it sounds all pat­ri­otic and noble.

Darth_VaderAnd who is to say that Parker does not believe this after 30 years on the inside and the MI5 group­think men­tal­ity being what it is? Let’s give him the bene­fit of the doubt. How­ever, I have two prob­lems with his speech, on both a micro and a macro scale.

Let’s start with the micro — ie the devil in the detail — what is said and, cru­cially, what is left unsaid. First up: over­sight, which the spook apo­lo­gists have dwelt on at great length over the last few months.

I wrote about this last week, but here’s some of that dev­il­ish detail. Parker cor­rectly explains what the mech­an­isms are for over­sight within MI5: the Home Office war­rants for oth­er­wise illegal activ­it­ies such as bug­ging; the over­sight com­mis­sion­ers; the Com­plaints Tribunal; the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. This all sounds pretty reas­on­able for a demo­cracy, right?

Of course, what he neg­lects to men­tion is how these sys­tems can be gamed by the spies.

The applic­a­tion for war­rants is a tick-box exer­cise where basic legal require­ments can be by-passed, the author­ising min­is­ter only ever sees a sum­mary of a sum­mary.… ad infin­itum.… for sig­na­ture, and never declines a request in case some­thing lit­er­ally blows up fur­ther down the line.

Sure, there are inde­pend­ent com­mis­sion­ers who over­see MI5 and its sur­veil­lance work every year and write a report. But as I have writ­ten before, they are given the royal treat­ment dur­ing their annual visit to Thames House, and officers with con­cerns about the abuse of the war­rantry sys­tem are barred from meet­ing them. Plus, even these ano­dyne reports can high­light an alarm­ing num­ber of “admin­is­trat­ive errors” made by the spies, no doubt entirely without malice.

The com­plaints tribunal — the body to which we can make a com­plaint if we feel we have been unne­ces­sar­ily spied on, has always found in favour of the spies.

And finally, the pièce de résist­ance, so to speak: the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment. How many times do I have to write this? Top cops and Parker’s spy pre­de­cessors have admit­ted to lying suc­cess­fully to the ISC for many years. This is not mean­ing­ful over­sight, nor is the fact that the evid­ence of earlier major intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers was ignored by the ISC, except for the part where they might be under invest­ig­a­tion by MI5 themselves.…

Of course, the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has entered the lists this sum­mer to say that the ISC has just acquired new powers and can now go into the spies’ lairs, demand to see papers, and over­see oper­a­tional activ­it­ies. This is indeed good, if belated, news, but from a man who has already cleared GCHQ’s endemic data-mining as law­ful, one has to won­der how thor­ough he will be.

While the com­mit­tee remains chosen by the PM, answer­able only to the PM, who can also vet the find­ings, this com­mit­tee is irre­deem­ably undemo­cratic. It will remain full of cred­u­lous yes-men only too happy to sup­port the status quo.

Secondly, what are the threats that Parker talks about? He has worked for MI5 for 30 years and will there­fore remem­ber not only the Cold War era, where Soviet spies were hunted down, but also the very real and per­vas­ive threat of IRA bombs reg­u­larly explod­ing on UK streets. At the same time hun­dreds of thou­sands of polit­ic­ally act­ive UK cit­izens were aggress­ively invest­ig­ated. A (cold) war and the threat of ter­ror­ism allowed the spies a drag-net of sur­veil­lance even then.

V_for_Vendetta_masksHow much worse now, in this hyper-connected, data-mining era? One chilling phrase that leapt out at me from Parker’s speech was the need to invest­ig­ate “ter­ror­ists and oth­ers threat­en­ing national secur­ity”. National secur­ity has never been leg­ally defined for the pur­poses of UK law, and we see the goal posts move again and again. In the 1980s, when Parker joined MI5, it was the “reds under the bed”, the so-called sub­vers­ives. Now it can be the Occupy group encamped in the City of Lon­don or envir­on­mental act­iv­ists wav­ing plac­ards.

So now for my macro con­cerns, which are about wider con­cepts. Parker used his first pub­lic speech to defend not only the work of his own organ­isa­tion, but also to attack the whis­tleblow­ing efforts of Edward Snowden and the cov­er­age in The Guard­ian news­pa­per. He attempts to seam­lessly elide the work and the over­sight mod­els of MI5 and GCHQ.  And who is fall­ing for this?  Well, much of the UK media appar­ently.

This mud­dies the waters. The con­cerns about Snowden’s dis­clos­ures are global — the TEMPORA pro­ject affects not only the cit­izens of the UK but people across Europe and bey­ond. For Rif­kind or the For­eign Sec­ret­ary to com­pla­cently say that GCHQ is over­seen by them and everything is hunkey-dorey is just not good enough, even for the hap­less cit­izens of the UK. How much more so for those unrep­res­en­ted people across the world?

The IOCA (1985) and later and much-abused RIPA (2000) laws were writ­ten before the UK gov­ern­ment could have con­ceived of the sheer scale of the inter­net. They are way out of date — 20th cen­tury rolling omni­bus war­rants hoover­ing up every scrap of data and being stored for unknown times in case you might com­mit a (thought?) crime in the future. This is noth­ing like mean­ing­ful oversight.

Unlike the UK, even the USA is cur­rently hav­ing con­gres­sional hear­ings and media debates about the lim­its of the elec­tronic sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. Con­sid­er­ing America’s mus­cu­lar response after 9/11, with illegal inva­sions, drone strikes, CIA kill lists and extraordin­ary kid­nap­pings (to this day), that casts the UK spy com­pla­cency in a par­tic­u­larly unflat­ter­ing light.

Plus if 58,000 GCHQ doc­u­ments have really been copied by a young NSA con­tractor, why are Parker and Rif­kind not ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Amer­ican admin­is­tra­tion, rather than con­tinu­ing to jus­tify the anti­quated Brit­ish over­sight system?

Finally, Parker is show­ing his age as well as his pro­fes­sion when he talks about the inter­webs and all the implic­a­tions.  As I said dur­ing my state­ment to the LIBE com­mit­tee in the European Parliament:

  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two decades.
  • The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

US/UK spy chiefs cover up NSA surveillance scandal

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge. Also on Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House and The Huff­ing­ton Post.

The dis­par­ity in response to Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures within the USA and the UK is aston­ish­ing.  In the face of right­eous pub­lic wrath, the US admin­is­tra­tion is con­tort­ing itself to ensure that it does not lose its treas­ured data-mining cap­ab­il­it­ies: con­gres­sional hear­ings are held, the media is on the warpath, and senior securo­crats are being forced to admit that they have lied about the effic­acy of endemic sur­veil­lance in pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ism.

Just this week Gen­eral Alex­an­der, the head of the NSA with a long track record of mis­lead­ing lying to gov­ern­ment, was forced to admit that the endemic sur­veil­lance pro­grammes have only helped to foil a couple of ter­ror­ist plots. This is a big dif­fer­ence from the pre­vi­ous num­ber of 54 that he was tout­ing around.

Cue calls for the sur­veil­lance to be reined in, at least against Amer­ic­ans. In future such sur­veil­lance should be restric­ted to tar­geted indi­vidu­als who are being act­ively invest­ig­ated.  Which is all well and good, but would still leave the rest of the global pop­u­la­tion liv­ing their lives under the bale­ful stare of the US pan­op­ticon. And if the cap­ab­il­ity con­tin­ues to exist to watch the rest of the world, how can Amer­ic­ans be sure that the NSA et al won’t stealth­ily go back to watch­ing them once the scan­dal has died down — or just ask their best bud­dies in GCHQ to do their dirty work for them?

I’m sure that the UK’s GCHQ will be happy to step into the breach. It is already par­tially fun­ded by the NSA, to the tune of $100 mil­lion over the last few years; it has a long his­tory of cir­cum­vent­ing US con­sti­tu­tional rights to spy on US cit­izens (as for­eign­ers), and then simply passing on this inform­a­tion to the grate­ful NSA, as we know from the old Ech­elon scan­dal; and it has far more legal lee­way under Brit­ish over­sight laws. In fact, this is pos­it­ively seen to be a selling point to the Amer­ic­ans from what we have seen in the Snowden disclosures.

GCHQ is abso­lutely cor­rect in this assess­ment — the three primary UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are the least account­able and most leg­ally pro­tec­ted in any west­ern demo­cracy. Not only are they exempt from any real and mean­ing­ful over­sight, they are also pro­tec­ted against dis­clos­ure by the dra­conian 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, designed spe­cific­ally to crim­in­al­ise whis­tleblowers, as well as hav­ing a raft of legis­la­tion to sup­press media report­ing should such dis­clos­ures emerge.

This might, indeed, be the reason that the UK media is not cov­er­ing the Snowden dis­clos­ures more extens­ively — a self-censoring “D” Notice has been issued against the media, and The Guard­ian had its UK serv­ers smashed up by the secret police. 1930s Ger­many, anyone?

Defend­ers of the status quo have already been out in force. For­eign Sec­ret­ary Wil­liam Hague, who is notion­ally respons­ible for GCHQ,  said cosily that everything was legal and pro­por­tion­ate, and Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, the cur­rent chair of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment last week staunchly declared that the ISC had invest­ig­ated GCHQ and found that its data min­ing was all legal as it had min­is­terial approval.

Well that’s all OK then.  Go back to sleep, cit­izens of the UK.

What Hague and Rif­kind neg­lected to say was that the min­is­terial war­rantry sys­tem was designed to tar­get indi­vidual sus­pects, not whole pop­u­la­tions. Plus, as the For­eign sec­ret­ary in charge of MI6 at the time of the illegal assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi in 1996, Rif­kind of all people should know that the spies are “eco­nom­ical with the truth”.

In addi­tion, as I’ve writ­ten before, many former top spies and police have admit­ted that they misled lied to the ISC. Sure, Rif­kind has man­aged to acquire some new powers of over­sight for the ISC, but they are still too little and 20 years too late.

This mir­rors what has been going on in the US over the last few years, with senior intel­li­gence offi­cial after senior offi­cial being caught out lying to con­gres­sional com­mit­tees.  While in the UK state­ments to the ISC have to date not been made under oath, state­ments made to the US Con­gress are — so why on earth are appar­ent per­jur­ers like Clap­per and Alex­an­der even still in a job, let alone not being prosecuted?

It appears that the US is learn­ing well from its former colo­nial mas­ter about all things offi­cial secrecy, up to and includ­ing illegal oper­a­tions that can be hushed up with the neb­u­lous and leg­ally undefined concept of “national secur­ity”, the use of fake intel­li­gence to take us to war, and the per­se­cu­tion of whistleblowers.

Except the US has inev­it­ably super-sized the war on whis­tleblowers. While in the UK we star­ted out with the 1911 Offi­cial Secrets Act, under which trait­ors could be imprisoned for 14 years, in 1989 the law was amended to include whis­tleblowers — for which the pen­alty is 2 years on each charge.

The US, how­ever, only has its hoary old Espi­on­age Act dat­ing back to 1917 and designed to pro­sec­ute trait­ors. With no updates and amend­ments, this is the act that is now rolled out to threaten mod­ern whis­tleblowers work­ing in the digital age. And the pro­vi­sions can go as far as the death pen­alty.

Pres­id­ent Obama and the US intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment are using this law to wage a war on whis­tleblowers. Dur­ing his pres­id­ency he has tried to pro­sec­ute seven whis­tleblowers under this Espi­on­age Act — more than all the pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents com­bined — and yet when real spies are caught, as in the case of the Rus­sian Spy Ring in 2010, Obama was happy to cut a deal and send them home.

An even more stark example of double stand­ards has emerged this August, when a leak appar­ently jeop­ard­ised an ongo­ing oper­a­tion invest­ig­at­ing a planned Al Qaeda attack against a US embassy in the Middle East. This leak has appar­ently caused imme­di­ate and quan­ti­fi­able dam­age to the cap­ab­il­it­ies of the NSA in mon­it­or­ing ter­ror­ism, and yet nobody has been held to account.

But, hey, why bother with a dif­fi­cult invest­ig­a­tion into leak­ing when you can go after the low-hanging fruit — oth­er­wise known as prin­cipled whis­tleblowers who “out” them­selves for the pub­lic good?

This to me indic­ates what the US intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture deems to be the real cur­rent issue — “the insider threat” who might reveal cru­cial inform­a­tion about state crimes to the world’s population.

And yet the US rep­res­ent­at­ives still trot out the tired old lines about ter­ror­ism. Sen­ator Lind­sey Gra­ham stated this week that the cur­rent level of endemic sur­veil­lance would have pre­ven­ted 9/11. Well, no, as pre­vi­ous intel­li­gence per­son­nel have poin­ted out. Coleen Row­leyTime Per­son of the Year 2002 — is fam­ous for high­light­ing that the US intel­li­gence agen­cies had prior warn­ing, they just didn’t join the dots. How much worse now would this pro­cess be with such a tsunami of data-mined intelligence?

In sum­mary, it’s good to see at least a semb­lance of demo­cratic over­sight being played out in the USA, post-Snowden. It is a shame that such a demo­cratic debate is not being held in the UK, which is now the key ena­bler of the USA’s chronic addic­tion to elec­tronic surveillance.

How­ever, I fear it is inev­it­ably too little too late. As we have seen through his­tory, the only pro­tec­tion against a slide towards total­it­ari­an­ism is a free media that allows a free trans­fer of ideas between people without the need to self-censor.  The global US military-security com­plex is embed­ded into the DNA of the inter­net. We can­not rely on the USA to vol­un­tar­ily hand back the powers it has grabbed, we can only work around them as Brazil has sug­ges­ted it will do, and as the EU is con­tem­plat­ing.

Other than that, respons­ib­il­ity for our pri­vacy rests in our own hands.

Another abuse of UK terrorism laws

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

David Mir­anda had just spent a week in Ber­lin, before fly­ing back to his home coun­try, Brazil, via London’s Heath­row air­port. As he attemp­ted to transit on to his flight home — not enter the UK, mind you, just make an inter­na­tional con­nec­tion -  he was pulled to one side by the UK’s bor­der secur­ity officers and ques­tioned for nine hours, as well as hav­ing all his tech­nical equip­ment confiscated.

Glenn Greenwald and his partner David MirandaHe was detained for the max­imum period allowed under the dra­conian terms of Sched­ule 7 of the UK’s Ter­ror­ism Act (2000).  His appar­ent “crime”? To be the part­ner of cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald who broke the Edward Snowden whis­tleblow­ing stories.

Miranda’s deten­tion has caused out­rage, rightly, around the world. Dip­lo­matic rep­res­ent­a­tions have been made by the Brazilian gov­ern­ment to the Brit­ish, UK MPs are ask­ing ques­tions, and The Guard­ian news­pa­per (which is the primary pub­lisher of  Greenwald’s stor­ies), has sent in the lawyers.

This epis­ode is troub­ling on so many levels, it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.

Magna_CartaFirstly, the Ter­ror­ism Act (2000) is designed to invest­ig­ate, er, ter­ror­ism — at least, so you would think. How­ever it is all too easy for mis­sion creep to set in, as I have been say­ing for years.  The defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism has expan­ded to cover act­iv­ists, plac­ard wavers, and pro­test­ers as well as, now appar­ently, the part­ners of journ­al­ists.  The old under­stand­ing of due legal pro­cess is merely yet another quaint, Brit­ish arte­fact like the Magna Carta and habeas cor­pus.

In the UK we now have secret courts cov­er­ing all things “national secur­ity”, we have per­vas­ive Big Brother sur­veil­lance as exem­pli­fied by GCHQ’s TEMPORA pro­gramme, and we have our spies involved in kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So Sched­ule 7 of the Ter­ror­ism Act is just another small nail in the coffin of his­toric Brit­ish freedoms. Under its terms, any­one can be pulled aside, detained and ques­tioned by bor­der secur­ity guards if they are “sus­pec­ted of” involve­ment in, the com­mis­sion­ing of, or fin­an­cial sup­port for ter­ror­ism. The detainee is not allowed to speak to a law­yer, nor are they allowed not to answer ques­tions, on pain of crim­inal pro­sec­u­tion. Plus their prop­erty can be indef­in­itely seized and ran­sacked, includ­ing com­puters, phones, and other gadgets.

Under Sched­ule 7 people can be ques­tioned for a max­imum of 9 hours. After that, the author­it­ies either have to apply for a formal exten­sion, charge and arrest, or release. Accord­ing to a UK gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment, 97% people are ques­tioned for less than 1 hour then released and only 0.06% are held for six hours.  Mir­anda was held up until the last minute of the full nine hours before being released without charge.

Secondly, this abuse of power dis­plays all too clearly the points that Edward Snowden has dis­closed via Gre­en­wald about a bur­geon­ing and out-of-control sur­veil­lance state. The deten­tion of Mir­anda dis­plays all the obsess­ive vin­dict­ive­ness of a wounded secret state that is buzz­ing around, angry as a wasp. Snowden has the pro­tec­tion of the only state cur­rently with the power to face down the brute might of US “dip­lomacy”, and Gre­en­wald still has the shreds of journ­al­ist pro­tec­tions around him.

Friends and part­ners, how­ever, can be seen as fair game.

I know this from bit­ter per­sonal exper­i­ence. In 1997 former MI5 intel­li­gence officer, David Shayler, blew the whistle on a whole range of UK spy crimes: files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, illegal phone taps, IRA bombs that could have been pre­ven­ted, inno­cent people in prison, and an illegal MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi, which went wrong and inno­cent people died.

Work­ing with a major UK news­pa­per and with due respect for real national secrets, he went pub­lic about these crimes.  Pre-emptively we went on the run together, so that we could remain free to argue about and cam­paign around the dis­clos­ures, rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into a max­imum secur­ity prison for years. After a month on the run across Europe, I returned to the UK to work with our law­yers, see our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies, and pack up our smashed-up, police-raided flat.

Annie_arrest_BWIn Septem­ber 1997 I flew back with my law­yer from Spain to Lon­don Gatwick. I knew that the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch wanted to inter­view me, and my law­yer had nego­ti­ated this ahead of my travel.  Des­pite this, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk by six heav­ies, and car­ted off to a counter-terrorism suite at Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for six hours.

At that point I had done noth­ing more than sup­port David. As another ex-MI5 officer I agreed that the spies needed greater over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, but actu­ally my arrest was because I was his girl­friend and going after me would be lever­age against him. But is got worse — two days later Shayler’s two best friends and his brother were arres­ted on flag­rantly trumped-up charges. None of us was ever charged with any crime, but we were all kept on police bail for months.

Look­ing back, our treat­ment was designed to put more pres­sure on him and “keep him in his box” — it was pure intim­id­a­tion. Journ­al­ists and stu­dents were also threatened, har­assed, and in one case charged and con­victed for hav­ing the temer­ity to expose spy crimes dis­closed by Shayler. To this day, none of the crim­in­als in the UK intel­li­gence agency has ever been charged or convicted.

So the threats and intim­id­a­tion around the Snowden case, and the deten­tion of Greenwald’s part­ner, are old, old tac­tics. What is new is the sheer scale of blatant intim­id­a­tion, the sheer bru­tish force. Des­pite the full glare of global inter­net and media cov­er­age, the US and UK spooks still think they can get away with this sort of intim­id­a­tion. Will they? Or will we, the global cit­izenry, draw a line in the sand?

Oh, and let’s not for­get the sheer hypo­crisy as well — the US con­demns Snowden for seek­ing refuge in Rus­sia, and cas­tig­ates that coun­try for its civil rights record on cer­tain issues. Be that as it may, the US estab­lish­ment should look to the log in its own eye first — that one of its young cit­izens faces the death sen­tence or life-long incar­cer­a­tion for expos­ing (war) crimes against the global com­munity as well as the country’s own constitution.

There is an internationally-recognised legal pre­ced­ent from the Nurem­burg Nazi tri­als after World War 2: “just fol­low­ing orders” is not a defence under any law, par­tic­u­larly when those orders lead to vic­tim­isa­tion, war crimes and gen­o­cide.  The UK bor­der guards, as well as the inter­na­tional intel­li­gence com­munit­ies and mil­it­ary, would do well to heed that power­ful les­son from history.

So this overzeal­ous use of a law to detain the part­ner of a journ­al­ist merely trav­el­ling through the UK should make us all pause for thought. The West has long inveighed against total­it­arian regimes and police states. How can they not recog­nise what they have now become? And how long can we, as cit­izens, con­tinue to turn a blind eye?

Dearlove Doublethink

Pub­lished on Con­sor­tium News, RT Op-Edge, and The Real News Net­work.

In a sen­sa­tional art­icle in a UK news­pa­per last week­end, the former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omertà around the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence case used as the pre­text for the Iraq war in 2003.

DearloveSir Richard Dear­love, former head of MI6 and cur­rent Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, con­tac­ted the UK’s Mail on Sunday news­pa­per to state that he had writ­ten his ver­sion of the (ab)use of intel­li­gence in the run-up to the US/UK inva­sion of Iraq.  With the long-awaited and much-delayed offi­cial Chil­cot Enquiry into the case for war about to be pub­lished, Dear­love is obvi­ously aware that he might be blamed for the “sex­ing up” of the intel­li­gence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all responsibility.

You’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”, as Major Gen­eral Michael Laurie said in his evid­ence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the pur­pose of the [Septem­ber] dossier was pre­cisely to make a case for war, rather than set­ting out the avail­able intel­li­gence, and that to make the best out of sparse and incon­clus­ive intel­li­gence the word­ing was developed with care.”

The first such report, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspector Dr David Kelly exposed. It also included the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire uranium from Niger. It was this lat­ter claim that Colin Pow­ell used to such great effect at the UN Secur­ity Council.

Rupert_Murdoch

Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thesis culled from the Inter­net, but con­tain­ing nug­gets of raw MI6 intel­li­gence — was presen­ted by spy and politi­cian alike as omin­ous pre­mon­it­ory intelligence.

Most mem­or­ably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Parliament.

Inter­est­ingly from a Brit­ish legal pos­i­tion, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doc­tor Alastair Camp­bell released this report without the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s dra­conian secrecy law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Thus was made the dodgy case for war.  All lies — mil­lions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and dis­placed, yet no one held to account.

Sub­sequently, there was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dear­love was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

On July 23, 2002 at a meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street, Dear­love briefed Tony Blair and other senior offi­cials on his talks with his Amer­ican coun­ter­part, CIA Dir­ector George Tenet, in Wash­ing­ton three days before.

In the draft minutes of that brief­ing, which were leaked to the Lon­don Times and pub­lished on May 1, 2005, Dear­love explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”  While then-Foreign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dear­love explains matter-of-factly, “the intel­li­gence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Tony_BlairThere is no sign in the minutes that any­one hic­cuped — much less demurred — at ”mak­ing a case for war” and fur­ther­ing Blair’s determ­in­a­tion to join Bush in launch­ing the kind of “war of aggres­sion” out­lawed by the post-world war Nurem­berg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

The acqui­es­cence of the chief spies helped their polit­ical mas­ters main­line into the body politic unas­sessed, raw intel­li­gence and forged doc­u­ments, with dis­astrous con­sequences for the people of Iraq and the world.

Yet Dear­love long remained unre­pent­ant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retirement and bloated with hon­ours, he con­tin­ued to deny culp­ab­il­ity. When ques­tioned about the Down­ing Street Memo dur­ing an address to the pres­ti­gi­ous Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Union Soci­ety by the fear­less and fear­somely bright stu­dent, Silkie Carlo, Dear­love tried grandi­loquently to brush her aside.

But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of con­text” as Dear­love tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and explicit.

So Dear­love could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone pub­lic then, rather than now as he is threat­en­ing, with his con­sidered pro­fes­sional opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy.

Would it not be lovely if these retired ser­vants of the crown, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Doing so now, purely to pre­serve his repu­ta­tion rather than to pre­serve lives, is even more “eth­ic­ally flex­ible” than you would nor­mally expect of an aver­age MI6 intel­li­gence officer. Per­haps that is why he floated to the top of the organisation.

Dear­love is right to be wor­ried about how both Chil­cot and his­tory will judge him.  These intel­li­gence fail­ures and lies have been picked over and spec­u­lated about for years. They are an open secret.

But hold­ing the gun of dis­clos­ure to the UK government’s head smacks of des­per­a­tion.  He is quoted as say­ing that he has no plans to breach the Offi­cial Secrets Act by pub­lish­ing his mem­oirs. But by pub­lish­ing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been estab­lished under UK law that any unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dear­love seems well aware of this – his ori­ginal plan was for his account to be made avail­able after his death.

Rectum_DefendeI can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­conian terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and pro­tect his repu­ta­tion for pos­ter­ity.  A posthum­ous win-win.

The offi­cial motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” — defence of the realm. Serving intel­li­gence officers mord­antly alter this to “Rectum Defende” — politely trans­lated as watch your back.

Dear­love seems to be liv­ing up to the motto.  He must be one very frightened old man to be con­tem­plat­ing such pre­ma­ture publication.

With credit and thanks to former CIA ana­lyst, cur­rent truth-teller and gen­eral pain in the “regnum” to the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment, Ray McGov­ern, and also Sander Venema for his eleg­antly clas­sical rework­ing of the final image.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­cratic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the global impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cover cop in the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­credit the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Stephen Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­ginal invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tional police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­inal tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wagon, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish National Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cover officers were try­ing to gather advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly disproportionate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cover cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­ginal scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­mental protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to national secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Germany.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the formal hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­cratic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the National Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  Within a notional demo­cracy, this is just gobsmacking.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intelligence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ical “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-terrorism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-terrorism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and animal rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cover cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domestic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent animal rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domestic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ical beliefs and activism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-terrorism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on trial in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US counterparts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­istic demo­cratic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by senior spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­istic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “national secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-meaning envir­on­mental pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sional ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sional IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work within the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-overdue national debate becomes ever more necessary.

Edward Snowden — the Globalisation of Whistleblowing

I have held back from writ­ing about the Edward Snowden NSA whis­tleblow­ing case for the last week — partly because I was immersed in the res­ult­ing media inter­views and talks, and partly because I wanted to watch how the story developed, both polit­ic­ally and in the old media. The reac­tion of both can tell you a lot.

That does not mean that I did not have a very pos­it­ive response to what Snowden has done. Far from it. The same night the story broke about who was behind the leaks, I dis­cussed the implic­a­tions on an RT inter­view and called what he did Whis­tleblow­ing 2.0.

Why did I say that? Well, it appeared from his ini­tial video inter­view with The Guard­ian that he had learned from pre­vi­ous whis­tleblow­ing cases: he had watched the media and care­fully chosen a journ­al­ist, Glenn Gre­en­wald, with a good track record on the rel­ev­ant issues who would prob­ably fight his corner fear­lessly; his inform­a­tion clearly demon­strated that the intel­li­gence agen­cies were spin­ning out of con­trol and build­ing sur­veil­lance states; he care­fully chose a jur­is­dic­tion to flee to that might have the clout to pro­tect him leg­ally against the wrath of an over-mighty USA; and he has used his inter­net and media savvy to gain as much expos­ure and pro­tec­tion as quickly as possible.

edward_snowdenPlus, he has been incred­ibly brave, con­sid­er­ing the dra­conian war on whis­tleblowers that is cur­rently being waged by the Amer­ican admin­is­tra­tion. There have been three other NSA whis­tleblowers in recent years, all also talk­ing about endemic sur­veil­lance. All have paid a high per­sonal price, all dis­played great bravery in the face of adversity yet, sadly, none has achieved the same level of inter­na­tional impact. Were we just deaf to their warn­ings, or has Snowden played this better?

I think a bit of both.  He’s a geek, a young geek, he will have seen what happened to other whis­tleblowers and appears to have taken steps to avoid the same pit­falls. He has gone pub­lic to pro­tect his fam­ily and pre­vent harm to his former col­leagues in any ensu­ing witch-hunt. And he has fled the coun­try in order to remain at liberty to argue his case, which is key to keep­ing the story alive for more than a week in the gad­fly minds of the old media. I know, I’ve been involved in the same process.

He has blown the whistle to pro­tect an Amer­ican way of life he thinks “worth dying for”. Yet he has broadened out the issues inter­na­tion­ally — what hap­pens in Amer­ica impacts the rest of the world. This, in my view, is cru­cial.  I have been writ­ing for years that the US is increas­ingly claim­ing global legal hege­mony over the entire inter­net, as well as the right to kid­nap, tor­ture and murder for­eign­ers at will.

The Pat­riot Act has not only shred­ded the US con­sti­tu­tion, it also now appar­ently has global reach for as long as our craven gov­ern­ments allow it to. Now we know that this is not some abstract concept, the­ory or spec­u­la­tion — we are all poten­tially being watched

Edward Snowden argued his case very effect­ively in a live chat on The Guard­ian news­pa­per web­site. It became clear that he is indeed a new gen­er­a­tion of whisteblower. This is not someone who wit­nessed one crime and imme­di­ately felt he had to speak out. This is a tech­nical expert who watched, over time and with dis­may, the encroach­ing Big Brother sur­veil­lance state that is tak­ing over the world via the NSA and its clones.

He is young, he had faith that a new gov­ern­ment would mean change, but in the end felt com­pelled to take con­sidered action when he wit­nessed the unac­count­able mis­sion creep, the lim­ited and inef­fec­tual over­sight, and the neutered politi­cians who rush to reas­sure us that everything is legal and pro­por­tion­ate when they really have no idea what the spy agen­cies get up to.

In both the US and the UK the spies repeatedly get away with lying to the notional over­sight bod­ies about mis­takes made, rules bent, and illegal oper­a­tions. Former senior CIA ana­lyst, Ray McGov­ern, has cata­logued the US lies, and here are a few home-brewed Brit­ish examples. The inter­net com­pan­ies have also been wrig­gling on the hook over the last week.

Snowden appears to be very aware not only of poten­tial state level sur­veil­lance but also the global cor­por­at­ist aspect of the sub­ver­sion of the basic com­pan­ies most people use to access the inter­net — Google, Face­book, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Skype et al. A few pion­eers have been dis­cuss­ing the need to pro­tect one­self from such cor­por­at­ist over­sight for years, and such pion­eers have largely been ignored by the main­stream: they’re “just geeks” they are “para­noid”, “tin foil hat” etc.

Edward Snowden has laid bare the truth of this glob­al­ised, cor­por­at­ist Big Brother state. From his pub­lic state­ments so far, he seems very alive to the inter­na­tional aspects of what he is reveal­ing. This is not just about Amer­ic­ans being snooped on, this affects every­body. We are all sub­ject to the bru­tal hege­mony that US securo­crats and cor­por­a­tions are try­ing to impose on us, with no rights, no redress under the law.

Big_Brother_posterWe have already seen this with the illegal US state take-down of Kim Dotcom’s secure cloud ser­vice, Megaup­load, with the global per­se­cu­tion of Wikileaks, with Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, with the NDAA, with the asym­met­ric extra­di­tion cases, with the drone wars across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia.….  where to stop?

Snowden, through his incred­ible act of bravery, has con­firmed our worst fears. It is not just cor­por­a­tions that have gone global — sur­veil­lance has too. And now, thank­fully, so too are whistleblowers.

What troubles me some­what is the way that the old media is respond­ing — even The Guard­ian, which broke the story. Glenn Gre­en­wald is an excel­lent, cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist and I have no doubt what­so­ever that he will fight to the wire for his source.

How­ever, the news­pa­per as an entity seems to be hold­ing back the free flow of inform­a­tion. Char­it­ably, one could assume that this is to max­im­ise the impact of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures. Less char­it­ably, one could also see it as a way to eke out the stor­ies to max­im­ise the newspaper’s profits and glory. Again, it’s prob­ably a bit of both.

How­ever, I do not think this will ulti­mately work in the best interests of the whis­tleblower, who needs to get the inform­a­tion out there now, and get the whole debate going now.

Plus, today it was repor­ted that a D-Notice had been issued against the UK media last week. I have writ­ten before about this invi­di­ous self-censorship with which the Brit­ish media col­lab­or­ates: senior edit­ors and senior mil­it­ary per­son­nel and spooks meet to agree whether or not stor­ies may act against “national secur­ity” (still a leg­ally undefined phrase), and ban pub­lic­a­tions accord­ingly. And this is “vol­un­tary” — what does that say about our press hold­ing power to account, when they will­ingly col­lude in the sup­pres­sion of inform­a­tion?

Plus, some of the key journ­al­ists at The Guard­ian who were involved in the Wikileaks stitch-up are also now peck­ing away at the Snowden story. The old media are still con­tinu­ing to act as a bot­tle­neck of the free flow of inform­a­tion from whis­tleblowers to the pub­lic domain. In the post-Wikileaks era, this is a ret­ro­grade step. It is not for them to assess what the pub­lic needs to know, nor is it down to them to ana­lyse and second-guess why any whis­tleblower is doing what they are doing.

As Edward Snowden stated: “The con­sent of the gov­erned is not con­sent if it is not informed”.

Spies need more oversight, not new powers

Pub­lished on www​.polit​ics​.co​.uk, and Huff­ing­ton Post UK.

Fol­low­ing the awful murder of Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich last week, the polit­ical securo­crats who claim to rep­res­ent the interests of the Brit­ish intel­li­gence ser­vices have swung into action, demand­ing yet fur­ther sur­veil­lance powers for MI5 and MI6 “in order to pre­vent future Woolwich-style attacks”.

As I’ve writ­ten before, it was heart­en­ing that the UK Prime Min­is­ter said in the after­math of the attack that there would be no knee-jerk secur­ity reac­tion. How­ever, that has not deterred cer­tain intel­li­gence sock-puppets from polit­ical oppor­tunism — they stridently call for the resur­rec­tion of the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill that was earlier this year kicked into the long grass. If the hawks are suc­cess­ful, the new law would have implic­a­tions not only for our freedoms at home, but also for our policy and stand­ing abroad.

Recently the civil liber­ties camp acquired a sur­pris­ing ally in this debate, with MI5 unex­pec­tedly enter­ing the fray.  And rightly so. There is abso­lutely no need for this new legis­la­tion, the requis­ite powers are already in place. Senior secur­ity sources have argued that those cit­ing the Wool­wich attack to pro­mote the snoop­ers’ charter are using a “cheap argu­ment”.

As I said in this recent BBC radio inter­view, all the neces­sary laws are already in place for MI5 either to pass­ively mon­itor or aggress­ively invest­ig­ate per­sons of interest under the ori­ginal terms of IOCA (1985) and updated in the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA 2000).

There now appears to be little doubt that the two Wool­wich sus­pects were well and truly on the MI5 radar. It has been repor­ted that they had been tar­gets for at least 8 years and that Michael Ade­bolajo had been approached to work as an agent by MI5 as recently as 6 months ago.

One of his friends, Abu Nusay­bah, recor­ded an inter­view for BBC’s News­night pro­gramme last week, only to be arres­ted by counter-terrorism police imme­di­ately after­wards. He stated that Ade­bolajo had been tor­tured and threatened with rape after his arrest in Kenya en route to Somalia, and that this treat­ment may have flipped him into more viol­ent action. Indeed, the tale gets ever mur­kier, with reports yes­ter­day stat­ing that Ade­bolajo was snatched by the SAS in Kenya on the orders of MI5.

Other inform­a­tion has since been released by the organ­isa­tion Cage­Pris­on­ers indic­at­ing that Adebolajo’s fam­ily and friends had also been har­rassed to pres­sur­ize him into report­ing to MI5.

All of which obvi­ates the early claims that Ade­bolajo was either a “lone wolf” or a low-priority tar­get. It cer­tainly indic­ates to me that MI5 will have at the very least been mon­it­or­ing Adebolajo’s com­mu­nic­a­tions data, espe­cially if they were try­ing to recruit him as a source. If that indeed turns out to have been the case, then without doubt MI5 will also have been inter­cept­ing the con­tent of his com­mu­nic­a­tions, to under­stand his think­ing and assess his access. Any­thing less would have been slip­shod — a derel­ic­tion of duty — and all this could and should have been done under the exist­ing terms of RIPA.

So what are the chances of some real over­sight or answers?

If we’re talk­ing about an inde­pend­ent inquiry, the chances are slim: the Inquir­ies Act (2005) passed little noticed into law, but it means that the gov­ern­ment and the depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion can pretty much determ­ine the scope and terms of the inquiry to which they are subject.

How­ever, might we nail the flag of hope to the mast of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment (ISC) — the com­mit­tee tasked with over­see­ing the work of the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies? The new DG of MI5, Andrew Parker, has already sub­mit­ted a writ­ten report about Wool­wich and will be giv­ing evid­ence to the ISC in per­son next week about whether MI5 missed some vital intel­li­gence or dropped the ball.

Th ISC of Par­lia­ment was estab­lished as part of the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (1994) — the law that finally brought MI6 and GCHQ under the umbrella of notional demo­cratic over­sight. MI5 had already come into the legal fold with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act (1989).

As I have writ­ten before, ini­tially the ISC was a demo­cratic fig-leaf — its mem­bers were appoin­ted by the PM not Par­lia­ment, it repor­ted dir­ectly to the PM, and its remit only covered the policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the UK’s intel­li­gence agencies.

Until this year the ISC could not invest­ig­ate oper­a­tional mat­ters, nor could it demand to see doc­u­ments or ques­tion top spooks under oath. Indeed, it has been well repor­ted that senior spies and police have long evaded mean­ing­ful scru­tiny by being “eco­nom­ical with the truth”.

Former MI5 DG Sir Stephen Lander in 2001 said “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee early on”; a more recent DG, Sir Jonathan Evans, had to admit in 2008 that MI5 had lied about its involve­ment in tor­ture; and Lord Blair, former Com­mis­sioner of the Met­ro­pol­itan Police, had to apo­lo­gise in 2008 for mis­lead­ing the ISC about the num­ber of thwarted ter­ror­ist attacks on his watch.

How­ever the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has pur­sued a more mus­cu­lar over­sight role. And it seems he has at least won some battles. The one good ele­ment to have come out of the con­ten­tious Justice and Secur­ity Act (2013) appears to be that the ISC has more dir­ect account­ab­il­ity to Par­lia­ment, rather than just to the PM (the devil is expressed in the detail: the ISC is now “of” Par­lia­ment, rather than “in” Parliament…).

Some­what more per­tin­ently, the ISC can now invest­ig­ate oper­a­tional mat­ters, demand papers and wit­nesses, and it appears they now have a spe­cial invest­ig­ator who can go and rum­mage around the MI5 Registry for information.

It remains to be seen how effect­ive the ISC will real­ist­ic­ally be in hold­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies to account, even with these new powers. How­ever, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind has good reason to know how slip­pery the spies can be — after all, he was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary in 1995/6, the years when MI6 was fund­ing Al Qaeda asso­ci­ates to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya.  The attack went wrong, inno­cent people were killed and, cru­cially, it was illegal under UK law, as MI6 had not reques­ted the prior writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a plot from the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, as required under Sec­tion 7(1) of the afore­men­tioned ISA (1994). Rif­kind has always claimed that he was not told about the plot by MI6.

So, in the interests of justice let us hope that the Rif­kind and the other mem­bers of the ISC fully exer­cise their powers and that MI5’s new DG, Andrew Parker is some­what more frank about the work of his agency than his pre­de­cessors have been. It is only through greater hon­esty and account­ab­il­ity that our intel­li­gence agen­cies can learn from the mis­takes of the past and bet­ter pro­tect our coun­try in the future.

Woolwich murder — the “why?” should be obvious

The bru­tal murder in Wool­wich last week of Drum­mer Lee Rigby rightly caused shock and out­rage. Inev­it­ably there has been a media feed­ing frenzy about “ter­ror­ist” attacks and home-grown rad­ic­al­isa­tion.  Brit­ish Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, felt it neces­sary to fly back from a key meet­ing in France to head up the Brit­ish secur­ity response.

One slightly heart­en­ing piece of news to emerge from all the hor­ror is that the PM has stated, at least for now, that there will be no knee-jerk secur­ity crack-down in the wake of this killing.  Sure, secur­ity meas­ures have been ramped up around mil­it­ary bases in the UK, but cyn­ical calls from the securo­crats to rean­im­ate a pro­posed “snoop­ers’ charter”, aka the draft Com­mu­nic­a­tions Data Bill, have for now been dis­coun­ted. And rightly so — MI5 already has all the neces­sary powers to mon­itor suspects.

How­ever, there does still seem to be a polit­ic­ally disin­genu­ous view about the motiv­a­tion behind this murder.  Yet the sus­pects them­selves made no secret of it — indeed they stayed at the scene of the crime for twenty minutes appar­ently encour­aging pho­tos and smart phone record­ings in order to get across their mes­sage.  When the police armed response team finally arrived, the sus­pects reportedly charged at the police bran­dish­ing knives and pos­sibly a gun.  They were shot, but not fatally.  This may have been attemp­ted “sui­cide by cop” — delayed until they had said their piece.

This does not strike me as the actions of “crazed killers” as has been repor­ted in the media; rather it reminds me of the cold and cal­cu­lated actions of Nor­we­gian mass mur­derer, Anders Breivik. The Wool­wich murder was designed to max­im­ize the impact of the mes­sage in this social media age.

And the mes­sage being? Well, it was indeed cap­tured on smart phone and sent out to the world.  The killers clearly stated that this was a polit­ical action designed to high­light the grue­some viol­ence daily meted out across North Africa, the Middle East, and Cent­ral Asia as a res­ult of the west­ern policy of mil­it­ary interventionism.

This mani­fests in a vari­ety of ways: viol­ent res­ist­ance and insur­gency against pup­pet gov­ern­ments as we see in Iraq; interne­cine civil war in coun­tries such as post-NATO inter­ven­tion Libya; cov­ert wars fought by west­ern prox­ies, as we see in Syria; or overt attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Afgh­anistan and Pakistan, where US and UK con­trolled drones tar­get mil­it­ants named for assas­sin­a­tion on presidentially-approved CIA kill lists with the res­ult­ing col­lat­eral murder of com­munity gath­er­ings, chil­dren and wed­ding parties.

All this does not jus­tify the appalling murder in Wool­wich, and the per­pet­rat­ors must face justice for the crime.  How­ever, it does go some way to explain­ing why such an atro­city occurred, and we as a soci­ety need to face up to the facts or this will hap­pen again.

Say­ing this does not make me an apo­lo­gist for ter­ror­ism, any more than it did journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald — a writer who has had the journ­al­istic attack dogs unleashed on him for sim­ilar views. Bey­ond the group-think deni­al­ism within the Wash­ing­ton Belt­way and the West­min­ster Vil­lage, the cause and effect are now widely-recognised. Indeed, in her 2010 testi­mony to the Chil­cot Inquiry about the Iraq War, former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller said pre­cisely the same thing — and I don’t think any­one would dare to label her “an apo­lo­gist for terrorism”.

The seed of Islamic extrem­ism was planted by west­ern colo­ni­al­ism, propag­ated by the 1953 CIA and MI6 coup against Pres­id­ent Mossadegh of Iran, watered by their sup­port for a fledging Al Qaeda in the 1980s Afghan res­ist­ance to the Soviet inva­sion, and is now flour­ish­ing as a means both of viol­ently attempt­ing to eject west­ern occupy­ing forces from Muslim coun­tries and gain­ing retri­bu­tion against the West.

We need to face up to this new real­ity. The bru­tal murder of this sol­dier may be a one-off attack, but I doubt it.  Indeed, sim­ilar attacks against French sol­diers in Toulouse occurred last year, and this week­end there has already been what appears to be a copy-cat attack against a sol­dier in Paris.

In this endemic sur­veil­lance soci­ety ter­ror­ist groups are all too aware of the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies inher­ent in large-scale, co-ordinated attacks, the plan­ning of which can be picked up by sigint or from inter­net “chat­ter”. Much sim­pler to go for the low-tech atro­city and cyn­ic­ally play the all-pervasive social media angle for max­imum coverage.

The UK media has repor­ted that the Wool­wich sus­pects have been on the Brit­ish intel­li­gence radar for the last 8 years, but MI5 failed to take prompt action. The inev­it­able gov­ern­ment enquiry has been prom­ised, but the fall-back defens­ive pos­i­tion, already being trot­ted out by former spies and ter­ror­ism experts across the media is that the secur­ity ser­vices are never going to be in a pos­i­tion to accur­ately pre­dict when every rad­ic­al­ised per­son might “flip” into viol­ence and that such “lone wolf” attacks are the most dif­fi­cult to stop.

As more news emerges, this is look­ing increas­ingly disin­genu­ous. Reports have emerged that one of the sus­pects, Michael Ade­bolajo, was approached to work as an agent for MI5 half a year ago, appar­ently after he had been arres­ted and assaul­ted by police in Kenya. This may be another example of the secur­ity ser­vices’ failed Pre­vent ini­ti­at­ive that seems to be caus­ing more harm that good within the young Brit­ish Muslim community.

This story has been com­poun­ded by the recent intriguing arrest of one of Adebolajo’s friends, the self-styled Abu Nusay­bah, imme­di­ately after he had fin­ished record­ing an inter­view about this for the BBC’s News­night pro­gramme.  The Met­ro­pol­itan Police Counter-Terrorism Com­mand swooped at the Beeb and arres­ted the man on ter­ror­ism charges: he has now dis­ap­peared into the maw of the legal system.

The only long-term and poten­tially effect­ive solu­tion is to address the fun­da­mental issues that lead to Islamic viol­ence and ter­ror­ism and begin nego­ti­ations. The UK, at least, has been through this pro­cess before dur­ing the 1990s, when it was attempt­ing to resolve the civil war in North­ern Ire­land. Indeed my former boss, Eliza Manningham-Buller, stated as much dur­ing a BBC lec­ture in 2011, say­ing that the US and UK gov­ern­ments need to nego­ti­ate with Al Qaeda to reach a polit­ical set­tle­ment.

Over the last 20 years, Al Qaeda has con­sist­ently deman­ded the removal of the west­ern (pre­dom­in­antly US) mil­it­ary pres­ence from the Middle East. Since the 9/11 attacks our polit­ical elites and media have equally con­sist­ently spun us the line that Al Qaeda car­ries out attacks because it “hates our way of life, hates our freedoms”.

Unless our gov­ern­ments acknow­ledge the prob­lems inher­ent in con­tin­ued and viol­ent west­ern inter­ven­tion­ism, unless they can accept that the war on ter­ror res­ults in rad­ic­al­isa­tion, “blow­back” and yet more inno­cent deaths, and until they admit that nego­ti­ation is the only viable long-term solu­tion, we are all con­demned to remain trapped in this ghastly cycle of violence.

MI6 “ghost money”

Here’s the full art­icle about MI6 “ghost money”, now also pub­lished at the Huff­ing­ton Post UK:

Afghan Pres­id­ent Hamid Kar­zai, has recently been cri­ti­cised for tak­ing “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inev­it­ably unknown, for the usual reas­ons of “national secur­ity”, but are estim­ated to have been tens of mil­lions of dol­lars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleed­ing $12 bil­lion shipped over to Iraq on pal­lets in the wake of the inva­sion a dec­ade ago, it is still a sig­ni­fic­ant amount.

And how has this money been spent?  Cer­tainly not on social pro­jects or rebuild­ing ini­ti­at­ives.  Rather, the report­ing indic­ates, the money has been fun­nelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a cor­rupt attempt to buy influ­ence in the country.

None of this sur­prises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble his­tory of try­ing to buy influ­ence in coun­tries of interest.  In 1995/96 it fun­ded a “ragtag group of Islamic extrem­ists”, headed up by a Libyan mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer, in an illegal attempt to try to assas­sin­ate Col­onel Gad­dafi.  The attack went wrong and inno­cent people were killed.  When this scan­dal was exposed, it caused an outcry.

Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, provid­ing sup­port to the same “rebels”, who this time suc­ceeded in cap­tur­ing, tor­tur­ing and killing Gad­dafi, while plunging Libya into appar­ently end­less interne­cine war. This time around there was little inter­na­tional out­cry, as the world’s media por­trayed this aggress­ive inter­fer­ence in a sov­er­eign state as “human­it­arian relief”.

And we also see the same in Syria now, as the CIA and MI6 are already provid­ing train­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­port to the rebels — many of whom, par­tic­u­larly the Al Nusra fac­tion in con­trol of the oil-rich north-east of Syria are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So in some coun­tries the UK and USA use drones to tar­get and murder “mil­it­ants” (plus vil­la­gers, wed­ding parties and other assor­ted inno­cents), while in oth­ers they back ideo­lo­gic­ally sim­ilar groups.

Recently we have also seen the West­ern media mak­ing unveri­fied claims that the Syr­ian régime is using chem­ical weapons against its own people, and our politi­cians leap­ing on these asser­tions as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for openly provid­ing weapons to the insur­gents too. Thank­fully, other reports are now emer­ging that indic­ate it was the rebels them­selves who have been using sarin gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt other sup­port will con­tinue to be offered by the West to these war criminals.

So how is MI6 secretly spend­ing UK tax­pay­ers’ money in Afgh­anistan? Accord­ing to west­ern media report­ing, it is being used to prop up war­lords and cor­rupt offi­cials. This is deeply unpop­u­lar amongst the Afghan people, lead­ing to the danger of increas­ing sup­port for a resur­gent Taliban.

There is also a sig­ni­fic­ant over­lap between the cor­rupt polit­ical estab­lish­ment and the illegal drug trade, up to and includ­ing the president’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Kar­zai.  So, another unin­ten­tional con­sequence may be that some of this unac­count­able ghost money is prop­ping up the drug trade.

Afgh­anistan is the world’s lead­ing pro­du­cer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dra­mat­ic­ally. Indeed, the UN estim­ates that acre­age under poppy growth in Afgh­anistan has tripled over the last 7 years.  The value of the drug trade to the Afghan war­lords is now estim­ated to be in the region of $700 mil­lion per year.  You can buy a lot of Kalash­nikovs with that.

So on the one hand we have our west­ern gov­ern­ments bank­rupt­ing them­selves to fight the “war on ter­ror”, break­ing inter­na­tional laws and mur­der­ing mil­lions of inno­cent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and cent­ral Asia while at the same time shred­ding what remain of our hard-won civil liber­ties at home.

On the other hand, we appar­ently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bank­rolling the very people in Afgh­anistan who pro­duce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fight­ing the failed “war on drugs” and yet another pre­text is used to shred our civil liberties.

This is a luc­rat­ive eco­nomic model for the bur­geon­ing military-security complex.

How­ever, it is a lose-lose scen­ario for the rest of us.

RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new art­icle, pub­lished exclus­ively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I dis­cuss the recent news that MI6, in addi­tion to the CIA, has been pay­ing “ghost money” to the polit­ical estab­lish­ment in Afgh­anistan, other examples of such med­dling, and the prob­able unin­ten­ded consequences.

The Value of Whistleblowers

I was recently invited to write an art­icle for the Nat West Busi­ness Sense online magazine about the poten­tial value and bene­fits of whis­tleblowers.  Here’s the link, and here’s the article:

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches.  How­ever, rather than a phe­nomenon to be feared, if handled cor­rectly whis­tleblowers can often be bene­fi­cial to their organ­isa­tions.  Allow me to explain.

I have a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the pro­cess.  In the 1990s I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK domestic Secur­ity Ser­vice, gen­er­ally known as MI5, before resign­ing to help my former part­ner and col­league David Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence  and crime.  As a res­ult we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hid­ing and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists arres­ted around us.  I was also arres­ted, although never charged, and David went to prison twice for expos­ing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.

How­ever, it could all have been so dif­fer­ent if the UK gov­ern­ment had agreed to take his evid­ence of spy crimes, under­take to invest­ig­ate them thor­oughly, and apply the neces­sary reforms.  This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could poten­tially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinct­ive response is always to pro­tect the spies and pro­sec­ute the whis­tleblower, while the mis­takes and crimes go unin­vestig­ated and unre­solved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the mal­efact­ors with pro­mo­tions and gongs.

The dra­conian Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any dis­clos­ure what­so­ever.  As a res­ult, we the cit­izens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integ­rity. There is no mean­ing­ful over­sight and no accountability.

Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a dif­fer­ence and poten­tially save lives.  How­ever, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any eth­ical con­cerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just fol­low orders”.

In such an envir­on­ment there is no vent­il­a­tion, no account­ab­il­ity and no staff fed­er­a­tion, and this inev­it­ably leads to a gen­eral con­sensus – a bul­ly­ing “group think” men­tal­ity.  This in turn can lead to mis­takes being covered up rather than les­sons learned, and then poten­tially down a dan­ger­ous moral slide.

As a res­ult, over the last dec­ade we have seen scan­dal heaped upon intel­li­gence scan­dal, as the spies allowed their fake and politi­cised inform­a­tion to be used make a false case for an illegal war in Iraq; we have seen them des­cend into a spiral of extraordin­ary rendi­tion (ie kid­nap­ping) and tor­ture, for which they are now being sued if not pro­sec­uted; and we have seen that they facil­it­ate dodgy deals in the desert with dictators.

But it is not all bleak.  Recently, Dr Tom Fin­gar received The Sam Adams Award for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence in Oxford for his work on com­pil­ing the US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007.  In this he sum­mar­ised the con­clu­sions of all 16 US intel­li­gence agen­cies by say­ing that Iran had ceased try­ing to develop a nuc­lear weapons cap­ab­il­ity in 2003.

There was immense polit­ical pres­sure on him to sup­press this evid­ence, but he went ahead with the report and thereby single-handedly hal­ted the US government’s rush to war with Iran.  By hav­ing the cour­age to do his job with integ­rity, Dr Fin­gar is respons­ible for sav­ing count­less lives across Iran.

In the world of intel­li­gence, where secrecy is para­mount, where crimes can hushed up, and where there is no avenue for voicing con­cern and dis­sent, it is per­haps inev­it­able that whis­tleblowers will con­tinue to emerge.

But in other sec­tors of work mis­takes can be just as life threat­en­ing and the need for expos­ure just as great.  In the UK over the last few years many senior med­ical whis­tleblowers have emerged from the NHS, detail­ing mis­takes and incom­pet­ence that have put the pub­lic at risk.  Alas, rather than learn from mis­takes made, all too often NHS bosses have either vic­tim­ised the whis­tleblowers by sus­pend­ing them or ruin­ing their repu­ta­tion, or they have insisted that they sign gag­ging orders and then covered up the mis­takes.  Neither option is a good out­come either for staff mor­ale or for patient safety.

While the cul­ture of cover-up exists, so too will whis­tleblowers. How could this be resolved, and what would be the poten­tial benefits?

If employ­ers insti­tute a cul­ture of trust and account­ab­il­ity, where employ­ees with con­cerns can be fairly heard, the appro­pri­ate action taken, and justice done, the needs and imper­at­ives behind whis­tleblow­ing would dis­ap­pear. Poten­tial prob­lems could be nipped in the bud, improv­ing pub­lic trust and con­fid­ence in the prob­ity of the organ­isa­tion and avoid­ing all the bad pub­li­city fol­low­ing a whis­tleblow­ing case.

Plus, of course, the poten­tial whis­tleblowers would have a legit­im­ate avenue to go down, rather than hav­ing to turn their lives inside out – they would no longer need to jeop­ard­ise their pro­fes­sional repu­ta­tion and all that goes with it such as career, income, social stand­ing and even, poten­tially their freedom.

Hav­ing a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address staff con­cerns strikes me as a win-win scen­ario – for staff effi­ciency and mor­ale, the organisation’s oper­a­tional cap­ab­il­ity and repu­ta­tion, and poten­tially the wider pub­lic, too.