Judicial rendition — the UK-US extradition treaty is a farce

Some­times I sit here read­ing the news -  on sub­jects in which I take a deep interest such as the recent police invest­ig­a­tion into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture, where the police decided not to pro­sec­ute — and feel that I should com­ment.  But really, what would be the point?  Of course the police would not find enough con­crete evid­ence, of course no indi­vidual spies would be held to account, des­pite the fact that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment has already paid massive set­tle­ments to the victims.

BelhadjNow there are reports that the police will be invest­ig­at­ing MI6 involve­ment in the extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  The case appears bang to rights, with doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence that high-ranking MI6 officers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were involved in and approved the oper­a­tion.  Yet I’m will­ing to bet that the plods at Scot­land Yard will still not be able to find the requis­ite evid­ence to pro­sec­ute anybody. 

The inev­it­able (and prob­ably wished-for out­come on the part of the author­it­ies) is that people become so weary and cyn­ical about the lack of justice that they stop fight­ing for it.  And they can tem­por­ar­ily suc­ceed, when we suc­cumb to cyn­ical burnout.

But the case repor­ted in today’s Daily Mail, that of a young Brit­ish stu­dent facing extra­di­tion to the US des­pite hav­ing broken no laws in the UK, suc­ceeded in rous­ing my wrath. 

Richard_ODwyerThe hap­less 23-year old Richard O’Dwyer faces 10 years in a max­imum secur­ity Amer­ican prison.  His crime, accord­ing to the US, is that he set up a UK-based web­site that provided links to other inter­na­tional web­sites that allegedly hos­ted copy­right material.

This case is so troub­ling on so many levels it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.  There are issues around the crack­down of US cor­por­ate copy­right law, issues around the inequal­ity of the uni­lat­eral Extra­di­tion Act 2003, and his­toric ques­tions of US hypo­crisy about extradition.

So let’s start with the unsup­por­ted alleg­a­tions against poor Richard O’Dwyer.  He is a stu­dent who built a web­site that col­lated a list of sites in other coun­tries that host films, books and music for free down­load.  O’Dwyer did not him­self down­load any copy­righted mater­ial, and the web­sites he linked to were appar­ently within jur­is­dic­tions where such down­loads are not illegal.  Provid­ing a sign­post to other legal inter­na­tional sites is mani­festly not a crime in the UK and he has never been charged.

How­ever, over the last couple of dec­ades the US enter­tain­ment lobby has been fight­ing a vicious rear­guard action against copy­right infringe­ment, start­ing with the music, then the film, and now the pub­lish­ing industry.  The lob­by­ists have proved vic­tori­ous and the invi­di­ous SOPA and PIPA laws are soon to be passed by the US Con­gress.  All well and good you might think — it’s one of those mad US issues.  But oh no, these laws have global reach.  What might be legal within the UK might still mean that you fall foul of US legislation.

Gary_McKinnon2Which is where the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 becomes par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.  This law means that any UK cit­izen can be deman­ded by and handed over to the US with no prima facie evid­ence.  As we have seen in the appalling case of alleged hacker Gary McKin­non, it mat­ters not if the “crime” were com­mit­ted on UK soil (as you can see here, McKinnon’s case was not pro­sec­uted by the UK author­it­ies in 2002.  If it had been, he would have received a max­imum sen­tence of 6 months’ com­munity ser­vice: if extra­dited he is facing up to 70 years in a US max­imum secur­ity prison).

The UK gov­ern­ment has tried to spin the egre­gious Libyan cases as “judi­cial rendi­tion” rather than “extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping” or whatever it’s sup­posed to be.  So I think it would be accur­ate to call Gary McKinnon’s case “judi­cial rendi­tion” too, rather than bor­ing old extradition.

Richard O’Dwyer appar­ently didn’t com­mit any­thing that could be deemed to be a crime in the UK, and yet he is still facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch.  The new US laws like SOPA threaten all of us, and not just with judi­cial rendition. 

As I have men­tioned before, digital rights act­iv­ist Cory Doc­torow summed it up best: “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  These cor­por­ate inter­net laws are a Tro­jan horse that will threaten our basic civil liber­ties across the board.

So now to my third point.  The hypo­crisy around the Amer­ican stance on extra­di­tion with the UK is breath­tak­ing.   The UK has been dis­patch­ing its own cit­izens off at an alarm­ing rate to the “tender” mer­cies of the US judi­cial sys­tem since 2004, with no prima facie evid­ence required.  In fact, the legal proof required to get a UK cit­izen extra­dited to the US is less than that required for someone to be extra­dited from one US state to another. 

The US, on the other hand, delayed rat­i­fy­ing the law until 2006, and the bur­den of proof required to extra­dite someone to the UK remains high, so it is unbal­anced not only in concept but also in prac­tice.  And this des­pite the fact that the law was seen as cru­cial to facil­it­ate the trans­fer of highly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the end­less “war on terror”.

Why has this happened?  One can but spec­u­late about the power of the Irish lobby in the US gov­ern­ment, as Sir Men­zies Camp­bell did dur­ing a par­lia­ment­ary debate about the Act in 2006.   How­ever, it is well known that the US was remark­ably coy about extra­dit­ing IRA sus­pects back to the UK to stand trial dur­ing the 30-year “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land.  We even have well-known apo­lo­gists such as Con­gress­man Peter King, the Chair­man of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee attempt­ing to demon­ise organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks as ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions, while at the same being a life-long sup­porter of Sinn Féin, the polit­ical wing of the Pro­vi­sional IRA.

UK_poodleThe double stand­ards are breath-taking.  The US dic­tates an extra­di­tion treaty with the UK to stop ter­ror­ism, but then uses this law to tar­get those who might poten­tially, tan­gen­tially, minutely threaten the profits of the US enter­tain­ment mega-corps; and then it delays rat­i­fy­ing and imple­ment­ing its own law for poten­tially dubi­ous polit­ical reasons.

And the UK gov­ern­ment yet again rolls over and takes it, while inno­cent stu­dents such as Richard O’Dwyer must pay the price.  As his mother is quoted as say­ing: “if they can come for Richard, they can come for anyone”.

Security forces endanger agent lives, not whistleblowers…

Our esteemed gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and police forces always attack whis­tleblowers and organ­isa­tions such as Wikileaks on the grounds that unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure of clas­si­fied inform­a­tion puts the lives of agents and inform­ants at risk.

Bob_QuickAgent iden­tit­ies, along with ongo­ing oper­a­tions (as Former Assist­ant Com­mis­sioner of Spe­cial Oper­a­tions at the Met­ro­pol­itan Police, Bob Quick, found to his cost two years ago) and sens­it­ive invest­ig­at­ory tech­niques, are indeed in need of pro­tec­tion.  Much else is not — par­tic­u­larly inform­a­tion about lies, cover-ups, incom­pet­ence and crime.

Indeed, once you delve behind the scream­ing head­lines that whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures have risked agent lives, you often find that this is abso­lutely not the case — in fact their motiv­a­tion is usu­ally to pre­vent fur­ther need­less tor­ture, death and war crimes.  So the US Defence Sec­ret­ary, Robert Gates, was forced to admit that Wikileaks had indeed not endangered lives with the pub­lic­a­tion of the Afghan War Logs last year, and David Shayler’s trial judge, in his formal rul­ing, stated that “no lives had been put at risk” by his whistleblowing.

Instead, there is a grow­ing body of evid­ence to sug­gest that the secur­ity forces are the very organ­isa­tions not tak­ing the pro­tec­tion and after­care of their agents seriously.

Mark Kennedy, the under­cover police officer who spied on UK envir­on­mental protest groups, has gone on the record to say that the super­vi­sion, care and psy­cho­lo­gical sup­port provided to him was woe­fully lack­ing.   Kevin Fulton, a serving sol­dier who infilt­rated the IRA on behalf of the notori­ous Forces Research Unit, has sim­il­arly been hung out to dry and is now attempt­ing to sue the Brit­ish Gov­ern­ment to provide the prom­ised, adequate aftercare.

Mar­tin McGart­land, who worked as a source in North­ern Ire­land at the height of “The Troubles” and is cred­ited with sav­ing 50 lives, has also borne the brunt of this lais­sez faire atti­tude since he stopped work­ing for intel­li­gence.  He has the scars to prove it too, hav­ing sur­vived assas­sin­a­tion attempts, and once blindly leap­ing out of a third floor win­dow in an frantic attempt to escape tor­ture at the hands of the IRA.  As he says:

“Who would put their lives on the line nowadays when they can read what hap­pens to those who did?”, McGart­land says. “I can’t go home and the IRA are sup­posed to be a former ter­ror­ist group. Nobody is hunt­ing down my attack­ers and nobody in author­ity seems to care. That has a dir­ect impact on recruit­ing agents.…”

Denis_DonaldsonThe most egre­gious case is of Denis Don­ald­son, Sinn Féin’s Head of Admin­is­tra­tion at Stor­mont in North­ern Ire­land who was outed as a MI5 and police spy by Gerry Adams in 2006.  He was bru­tally murdered a few months later, allegedly by the Real IRA, hav­ing received little pro­tec­tion or sup­port from his erstwhile spook handlers.

So who is really more likely expose cur­rent agents to the risk of psy­cho­lo­gical dam­age, tor­ture and death, or to deter future agents from volun­teer­ing to work with the secur­ity forces?  Prin­cipled whis­tleblowers who expose crime and incom­pet­ence with due care for pro­tect­ing real secrets, or the spooks who take a cava­lier approach to the pas­toral care of their agents, and then hang them out to dry once their use­ful­ness is at an end?

Tony Soprano meets Joe McCarthy

Now I’m not a huge fol­lower of US polit­ical the­at­rics.  Give it a few years and the US of A will prob­ably exit from the world stage pur­sued by a bear (or panda).  So why waste your time on a dying beast?  All you can do is try to avoid the death throes as best you can. 

But this did piqué my interest, purely from the Hollywood-blockbuster schlock value.  The new Chair of the US Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, Repub­lican Con­gress­man for New York Peter King, has opened a hear­ing called  “The Extent of Rad­ic­al­iz­a­tion (with a “z”) in the Amer­ican Muslim Com­munity and that Community’s Response.” 

Here is the  Down­load Full_text and here’s the video of King’s open­ing statement:


 

Now isn’t it won­der­ful that esteemed politi­cian Peter King has woken up to the dangers of “the enemy within” — or not?  Over the last last few months he has flag­rantly dis­played his pro­found ignor­ance vis a vis the concept of ter­ror­ism.  Last Decem­ber he called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wikileaks, the high-tech con­duit extraordin­aire for public-spirited whis­tleblowers around the world, as a “ter­ror­ist organistion”.  

And this from a politi­cian who is repor­ted to be a life-long sup­porter of the polit­ical wing of the Pro­vi­sional IRA — another reli­gious minor­ity group that fought for its self-proclaimed ideals — and was for dec­ades the “enemy within” the UK

In fact, until 9/11 the US Irish com­munity was by far the biggest fun­der of PIRA ter­ror­ism for dec­ades — so don’t believe everything that is writ­ten about Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya. 

I sup­pose it still holds true that one man’s ter­ror­ist is another man’s free­dom fighter, and Rep Peter King is clearly adher­ing to that point of view.….

Look­ing at the above video, I can’t get out of my head that it’s a bit like put­ting the fic­tional organ­ised crime boss, Tony Sop­rano, in charge of a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee invest­ig­at­ing organ­ised crime.

But it gets worse.  King even men­tions the dread phrase “des­pite what passes for con­ven­tional wis­dom in cer­tain circles, there is noth­ing rad­ical or un-American in hold­ing these hear­ings”.  Wasn’t that also what a cer­tain Sen­ator Joe McCarthy said in the 1950s about the Com­mun­ist witchhunts?

Osama_bin_Laden_portraitSuch mor­onic state­ments would poten­tially be amus­ing — if it were not for the fact that Peter Chair is the King of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of the world’s dying and des­per­ate super-power, the USA

Oops, silly me, I muddled the words.….

But sadly he is, and no doubt the whole world will feel the reper­cus­sions of this.  The morph­ing of the fic­tional Tony Sop­rano and para­noid Joe Kennedy has spawned a hellish brat — let’s call him Emmanuel Gold­stein, for ease of reference.

 

The murder of Pat Finucane

Mov­ing swiftly past the pruri­ent, thigh-rubbing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhib­it­ing over the alleged details of Julian Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks dis­clos­ures, and most import­antly the aims under­pin­ning them: trans­par­ency, justice, and an informed cit­izenry liv­ing within fully-functioning demo­cra­cies.  Such quaint notions.

In the media mael­strom of the Cableg­ate dis­clos­ures, and the res­ult­ing infant­ile and thug­gish threats of the Amer­ican polit­ical class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked doc­u­ments refer to scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and cover-ups in a range of coun­tries, not just the good old US of A.

Pat_FinucaneOne doc­u­ment that recently caught my atten­tion related to the notori­ous murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights act­iv­ist, Pat Finu­cane, in North­ern Ire­land.  Finu­cane was a well-known law­yer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small chil­dren.  There has long been spec­u­la­tion that he was tar­geted by Prot­est­ant ter­ror­ist groups, in col­lu­sion with the NI secret police, the army’s notori­ous and now-disbanded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.

Well, over a dec­ade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed estab­lish such state col­lu­sion, des­pite hav­ing his inquiry offices burnt out in the pro­cess by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the invest­ig­a­tion.  Stevens fought on, pro­du­cing a damning report in 2003 con­firm­ing the notion of state col­lu­sion with Irish Loy­al­ist ter­ror­ist activ­it­ies, but never did cla­rify exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finucane.

How­ever, Finucane’s trau­mat­ised fam­ily has never stopped demand­ing justice.  The recent dis­clos­ure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scan­dal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.

The “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land — such a quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish under­state­ment, in any other coun­try it would have been called a civil war — were decept­ive, murky and vicious on both sides.  “Col­lu­sion” is an elastic word that stretches bey­ond the strict notion of the state.  It is well-known that the US organ­is­tion, NORAID, sup­por­ted by many Amer­ic­ans claim­ing Irish ances­try, was a major fun­drais­ing chan­nel for, um, Sinn Féin, the polit­ical wing of the Pro­vi­sional IRA, from the 1970s onwards. 

Peter_kingSuch net­works provided even more sup­port than Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya with his arms ship­ments, and the cash well only dried up post-9/11.  As you can see in this recent art­icle in the The Tele­graph, even the incom­ing Chair­man of the House Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, New York Con­gress­man Peter King (who iron­ic­ally called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wkileaks as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion”) appears to have been a life long sup­porter of Sinn Féin.

With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dub­lin and Wash­ing­ton kept push­ing for a full inquiry into Finucane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-operate

How­ever, the devil was in the detail. Coin­cid­ent­ally, 2005 was the year that the UK gov­ern­ment rushed through a new law, the Inquir­ies Act, which scan­dal­ously allowed any depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion (in this case MI5) to dic­tate the terms and scope of the inquiry. 

Col­lu­sion by any state in the unlaw­ful arrest, tor­ture, and extraju­di­cial murder of people — whether its own cit­izens or oth­ers — is state ter­ror­ism.  Let’s not mince our words here.  Amnesty Inter­na­tional provides a clear defin­i­tion of this concept.

As the The Guard­ian  art­icle about Finu­cane so succintly puts it:

“When a state sanc­tions the killing of cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar cit­izens who are law­yers, it puts the rule of law and demo­cracy in jeop­ardy. And when a state enlists aux­il­i­ary assas­sins, it cedes its mono­poly over state secrets: it may feel omni­po­tent, but it is also vul­ner­able to disclosure.”

Mercenaries1Indeed.  North­ern Ire­land was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: tor­ture, Dip­lock courts (aka mil­it­ary tribunals), kid­nap­pings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, inform­ers, and state col­lu­sion in assassinations.

The infec­tion has now spread.  These are pre­cisely the tac­tics cur­rently used by the US, the UK and their “aux­il­i­ary assas­sins” across great swathes of the Middle East.  Per­haps this explains why our nation states have been out­flanked and have ceded their mono­poly over secrets.

Will justice ever be done?  In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely.  How­ever,  cour­ageous organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks and its ilk are improv­ing the odds.

Blitz Spirit?

Sir_Paul_StephensonThe most senior police officer in the UK, the Com­mis­sioner of the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Sir Paul Steph­en­son no less, is say­ing that the Brit­ish cit­izens are not tak­ing the threat of ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough.  “Al Qaeda” could strike at any minute, the enemy is within etc, etc.…

Now, for a man of his seni­or­ity, one pre­sumes that he has served as a police­man for a fair few years — pos­sibly in the 1970s, cer­tainly the 80s and 90s.  Which means that he should have a memory of what it means to be under the real, daily threat of bombs explod­ing that aimed to maim, kill and ter­ror­ize the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Lon­don and the rest of the UK.  After all, through­out those dec­ades the Pro­vi­sional IRA, backed by the fund-raising activ­it­ies of cer­tain Amer­ican cit­izens and Col­onel Gad­dafi of Libya — that erstwhile pat­ron of free­dom fight­ers every­where, now a staunch ally of the West in the “war on ter­ror” — was pretty much put­ting bombs down at will on UK streets.

Bishopsgate_Bombing_1993Dur­ing these years the UK has endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now? 

Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sional life at the time, I have per­sonal memor­ies of what it was like to live and work in Lon­don in the 1990s under the shadow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work when I was a fledging MI5 intel­li­gence officer in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­toria train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 90s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­doner was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.  Yet because of the pre­ced­ing couple of dec­ades, this was already a nor­mal way of life in the city. 

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_PosterLon­don­ers have grown used to incon­veni­ence; they grumble a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then get on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to London’s diurnal rhythm was that there were fewer US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

Sep­ar­ate from the IRA, in 1994 a car bomb exploded out­side the Israeli embassy in Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don.  Des­pite ini­tial reports that Iranian-backed groups were respons­ible (and, it turns out, MI5 may have dropped the ball), Palestinian act­iv­ists were blamed and con­victed, wrongly it turns out, as MI5 assessed that the Israeli intel­li­gence agency, Mossad, had pulled a dirty trick.

Ter­ror­ism on the streets of Lon­don was noth­ing new.  In the early 1980s my father was in Lon­don attend­ing an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism course and nar­rowly missed two bomb­ings — one in a res­taur­ant at Marble Arch a couple of hours after he and the rest of the course mem­bers had been eat­ing there, and another later that night close to the hotel he was stay­ing in at Lan­caster Gate. 

Dawson's_Field_VC10My Pa had another near miss in 1970 when he was a young air­line pilot fly­ing VC-10s around the world for BOAC. He was sup­posed to be the pilot of the VC-10 that ended up at Dawson’s Field in Jordan — hijacked by mem­bers of the PFLP and even­tu­ally blown up.  He had been pre­ven­ted from fly­ing from Bahrain that day as he was suf­fer­ing a bad dose of the ‘flu.

To this day, his view about both these incid­ents is to shrug and carry on.  Yes, it was a close shave, but if you allow incid­ents like that to col­our the rest of your life, then the concept of ter­ror­ism has already won.

The UK and its cit­izens have had plenty of hands-on exper­i­ence of liv­ing with the real­ity of war, polit­ical viol­ence and ter­ror­ism.   As a res­ult, I’m con­stantly flab­ber­gas­ted by the global secur­ity crack­down since 9/11 and par­tic­u­larly in the UK after 7th July 2005.  It was ghastly, and my heart bleeds for the vic­tims, fam­il­ies, and sur­viv­ors, but major ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are hardly new to the UK

Gerard_Conlan_Guildford_4_releaseThe UK gov­ern­ment seems now to have for­got­ten hard-learned les­sons from the 1970s and 80s in the war in North­ern Ire­land: that dra­conian meas­ures — tor­ture, shoot to kill, intern­ment, military-style tribunals -  not only don’t work, but also are counter-productive and act as recruit­ing grounds for ter­ror­ist groups.  The flag­rant mis­car­riages of justice around cases like the Guild­ford Four and Birm­ing­ham Six rein­forced this perspective.  

And the UK has not been alone in Europe when it comes to liv­ing with the daily real­ity of ter­ror­ism: the Span­ish have endured Basque sep­ar­at­ist attacks for four dec­ades, as have the French — in addi­tion to those per­pet­rated in Paris with dev­ast­at­ing res­ults by Algerian Islamic groups in the 1990s.  Ger­many suc­cess­fully dealt with the Baader-Meinhof Gang (Red Army Fac­tion), and other European coun­tries, such as Bel­gium and Italy, have endured Oper­a­tion Gla­dio style ter­ror­ist attacks over recent decades.

But in all those years, none of our coun­tries gave up on the concept of basic val­ues and freedoms — indeed they seemed to learn use­ful les­sons from the repress­ive, failed exper­i­ment in North­ern Ire­land.  So why are we now fall­ing in line, unthink­ingly, with the hys­ter­ical and bru­tal US response post 9/11? 

Das_leben_der_anderenIn the UK we are effect­ively liv­ing under a Big Brother sur­veil­lance state, as I have pre­vi­ously and extens­ively writ­ten.  Other North­ern European coun­tries are con­stantly pres­sured to fall in line with the US “war on ter­ror” fear men­tal­ity.  To its credit Ger­many is react­ing cau­tiously, even in the face of the cur­rent, hyped-up ter­ror threat.  But then we Europeans know the les­sons of his­tory — we’ve lived them, and Ger­many more than most.  The ghosts of the Gestapo and the Stasi still cre­ate a fris­son of fear in the col­lect­ive Ger­manic memory.

But return­ing to that doughty crime fighter, Sir Paul Steph­en­son.  The day after he ticked off the UK pub­lic for not tak­ing ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough, he is once again in the media, pre­dict­ing an era of grow­ing civil unrest in the wake of the stu­dent riots in Lon­don, and chillingly stat­ing that the rules of the game had changed.  For­get about try­ing to nego­ti­ate with cam­paign­ers — now the only way to deal with them is to spy on them, as The Guard­ian reported:

“We have been going through a period where we have not seen that sort of viol­ent dis­order,” Steph­en­son said. “We had dealt with stu­dent organ­isers before and I think we based it too much on his­tory. If we fol­low an intelligence-based model that stops you doing that. Obvi­ously you real­ise the game has changed. Regret­tably, the game has changed and we must act.”

Big_BrotherLast year the same news­pa­per revealed that ACPO, the senior police officers’ private asso­ci­ation, was run­ning an illegal unit to spy on “domestic extrem­ists” (read polit­ic­ally act­ive cit­izens).  In response to the pub­lic out­cry, the head of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde, prom­ised to stop this Stasi-like prac­tice.  In the wake of the stu­dent protests, Sir Paul will prob­ably see a renewed need for the unit, no doubt under another name.  Big Brother grows apace — because, of course, we all know that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.…..

Remember, remember the 5th of November.…

Annie_on_Conviction_DayNovem­ber 5th has long had many levels of res­on­ance for me: Bon­fire Night of course, when I was a child — fire­works in the garden and burnt baked pota­toes from the fire; since the age of seven, cel­eb­rat­ing the birth­day of my old­est friend; and, since 2002, the memory of hav­ing to stand up in the wit­ness stand in an Old Bailey court room in Lon­don to give a mit­ig­a­tion plea at the trial of my former part­ner, see­ing his sen­tence reduced from the expec­ted thir­teen months to a “mere” six, and then hav­ing to deal for weeks with the media fall-out.  A strange mix of memories.

David Shayler endured a “Kafkaesque trial” in 2002 in the sense that he was not allowed to make a defence due to government-imposed gag­ging orders, des­pite all the rel­ev­ant mater­ial already hav­ing been widely pubished in the media.  The issues were summed up well in this New States­man art­icle from that time. 

But the cur­rent debate about con­trol orders used against so-called ter­ror­ist sus­pects — my emphasis — adds a whole new dimen­sion to the notori­ous phrase.

This recent, excel­lent art­icle in The Guard­ian by law­yer Mat­thew Ryder about con­trol orders sums it up.  How can you defend a cli­ent if you are not even allowed access to the inform­a­tion that has led to the ori­ginal accusation?

The Lib­eral Demo­crats, in the run-up to the Gen­eral Elec­tion earlier this year, pledged to do away with con­trol orders, as they are an affront to the Brit­ish model of justice.  How­ever, MI5 is put­ting up a strong defence for their reten­tion, but then they would, wouldn’t they? 

Much of the “secret” evid­ence that leads to a con­trol order appears to come from tele­phone inter­cept, but why on earth can this evid­ence not be revealed in a court of law?  It’s not like the notion of tele­phone bug­ging is a state secret these days, as I argued in The Guard­ian way back in 2005.

BirmsixBear­ing all of the above in mind, do have a read of this inter­view with Paddy Hill, one of the vic­tims of the notori­ous wrong­ful con­vic­tions for the IRA Birm­ing­ham pub bomb­ings in 1974.  After being arres­ted, threatened, tor­tured and trau­mat­ised, he was forced to con­fess to a ter­rible crime he had not committed. 

As a res­ult, he had to endure six­teen years in prison before his inno­cence was con­firmed.  He is still suf­fer­ing the con­sequences, des­pite hav­ing found the strength to set up the “Mis­car­riages of Justice Organ­isa­tion” to help other victims.

And then have a think about whether we should blindly trust the word of the secur­ity forces and the police when they state that we have to give away yet more of our hard-won freedoms and rights in the name of the ever-shifting, ever-nebulous “war on terror”. 

Do we really need to hold ter­ror­ist sus­pects in police cells for 28 days without charge?  Will we really con­tinue to allow the head of MI6 to get away with blithely assert­ing, unchal­lenged, that Brit­ish intel­li­gence does its very best not to “bene­fit” from inform­a­tion extrac­ted via unthink­able tor­ture, as former UK ambas­sador Craig Mur­ray so graph­ic­ally described in his blog on 29th October?

I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights was put in place for a reason in 1948.  Let’s all draw a breath, and remem­ber, remember.….

 

Spooks leave UK vulnerable to Russian mafia

Accord­ing to the Daily Mail this week, Rus­sian secur­ity expert, Andrei Sold­atov, reck­ons the UK is wide open to the threat of the Rus­sian mafia. He primar­ily blames the froid­eur that has blighted Anglo-Russian rela­tions since the Litv­inenko affair. How­ever, he also states that MI5 no longer has a role to play in invest­ig­at­ing organ­ised crime, and that has con­trib­uted to our vulnerability.

Nat­ur­ally res­ist­ing the tempta­tion to say that MI5’s involve­ment would not neces­sar­ily have afforded us any mean­ing­ful pro­tec­tion, I would say that this is down to a fun­da­mental prob­lem in how we organ­ise our response to threats to the national secur­ity of this country.

The secur­ity infra­struc­ture in the UK has evolved over the last cen­tury into a ter­ribly Brit­ish muddle. For his­toric reas­ons, we have a pleth­ora of intel­li­gence agen­cies, all com­pet­ing for fund­ing, power and prestige: MI5, MI6, GCHQ, the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Spe­cial Branch (MPSB), spe­cial branches in every other police force, mil­it­ary intel­li­gence, and HM Rev­enue and Cus­toms et al. Each is sup­posed to work with the other, but in real­ity they guard their ter­rit­ory and intel­li­gence jeal­ously. After all, know­ledge is power.

MI5 and MPSB have always been the lead intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions oper­at­ing within the UK. As such, their cov­ert rivalry has been pro­trac­ted and bit­ter, but to the out­side world they appeared to rub along while MI5 was primar­ily focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ical sub­ver­sion and the Met con­cen­trated on the IRA. How­ever, after the end of the Cold War, MI5 had to find new tar­gets or lose staff, status and resources.

In 1992 the then Home Sec­ret­ary, Ken Clarke, announced that MI5 was tak­ing over the lead respons­ib­il­ity for invest­ig­at­ing IRA activ­ity on the UK main­land — work that had been done by MPSB for over 100 years. Vic­tory was largely cred­ited to clever White­hall man­oeuv­er­ing on the part of the head of MI5, Stella Rim­ing­ton. The Met were furi­ous, and the trans­fer of records was frac­tious, to say the least.

Also, there was a year’s delay in the han­dover of respons­ib­il­ity. So MI5 arti­fi­cially main­tained the per­ceived threat levels posed by polit­ical sub­ver­sion in order to retain its staff until the trans­ition was com­plete. This meant that there was no real case for the aggress­ive invest­ig­a­tion of sub­vers­ive groups in the UK – which made all such oper­a­tions illegal. Staff in this sec­tion, includ­ing me, voci­fer­ously argued against this con­tin­ued sur­veil­lance, rightly stat­ing that such invest­ig­a­tions were thereby flag­rantly illegal, but the senior man­age­ment ignored us in the interests of pre­serving their empires.

How­ever, in the mid-1990s, when peace appeared to be break­ing out in North­ern Ire­land and bey­ond, MI5 had to scout around for more work to jus­tify its exist­ence. Hence, in 1996, the Home Sec­ret­ary agreed that they should play a role in tack­ling organ­ised crime – but only in a sup­port­ing role to MPSB. This was never a par­tic­u­larly pal­at­able answer for the spooks, so it is no sur­prise that they have sub­sequently dropped this area of work now that the threat from “Al Qaeda” has grown. Ter­ror­ism has always been per­ceived as higher status work. And of course this new threat has led to a slew of increased resources, powers and staff for MI5, not to men­tion the open­ing of eight regional headquar­ters out­side London.

But should we really be approach­ing a sub­ject as ser­i­ous as the pro­tec­tion of our national secur­ity in such a haphaz­ard way, based solely on the fact that we have these agen­cies in exist­ence, so let’s give them some work?

If we are really faced with such a ser­i­ous ter­ror­ist threat, would it not be smarter for our politi­cians to ask the basic ques­tions: what is the real­istic threat to our national secur­ity and the eco­nomic well­being of the state, and how can we best pro­tect ourselves from these threats? If the most effect­ive answer proves to be a new, ded­ic­ated counter-terrorism organ­isa­tion, so be it. We Brits love a sense of his­tory, but a new broom will often sweep clean.

 

CCTV doesn’t prevent crime

So, the argu­ment about CCTV and our big brother soci­ety rumbles on. A senior police­man, Detect­ive Chief Inspector Mick Neville of the Visual Images, Iden­ti­fic­a­tions and Detec­tions Office (Viido) at New Scot­land Yard, has been quoted as say­ing that only 3 per cent of crimes have been solved by CCTV evid­ence. Des­pite the UK hav­ing the highest per cap­ita num­ber of CCTVs in the world, this brave new world has failed to make us safer.

A few other police forces, and nat­ur­ally the secur­ity com­pan­ies flog­ging the kit, say that CCTV has at least dra­mat­ic­ally reduced oppor­tun­istic crimes. Who should we believe?

What can­not be dis­puted is the fact that there are well over 4,000,000 CCTVs in this coun­try, and the organ­isa­tion, Pri­vacy Inter­na­tional, assesses that we are the most watched cit­izenry in Europe.

While some law-abiding cit­izens say they feel intim­id­ated by CCTV and how the inform­a­tion could poten­tially be mis­used, most people seem not to care. In fact, the major­ity appar­ently feel safer if they can see CCTV on the streets, even if this per­vas­ive sur­veil­lance has in no way dis­cour­aged crimes of viol­ence. So why this gap between per­cep­tion and reality?

One of my pet the­or­ies has always been to blame Big Brother. No, not the book. I have always been flum­moxed by the pop­ular­ity of the TV show and the pleth­ora of real­ity TV spin-offs. My instinct­ive reac­tion was that it was sim­ilar to being “groomed” to accept round-the-clock intru­sion into our per­sonal lives. More than accept – desire it. The clear mes­sage is that such sur­veil­lance can lead to instant fame, wealth and access to the Z-list parties of Lon­don. And for that we are sleep-walking into a real Orwellian nightmare.

Slightly flip­pant the­or­ies aside, it is inter­est­ing that one of the most cited examples of the need for CCTV was the Bish­opsgate bomb­ing in Lon­don in 1993. In this case a lorry bomb, filled with a tonne of home made explos­ive (HME) was det­on­ated in the heart of the city of Lon­don by the IRA. One per­son was killed, many were injured, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds worth of dam­age was caused, not to men­tion the fact threat the IRA scored a huge pub­li­city coup.

But this had noth­ing to do with the lack or oth­er­wise of CCTV in the streets of the City. It was an intel­li­gence fail­ure, pure and simple.

This attack could and should have been pre­ven­ted. It occurred while I was work­ing in MI5, and it was widely known in the ser­vice at the time that the bomber should have been arres­ted six months before dur­ing a sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion. Des­pite the fact that he was seen check­ing out another lorry bomb in stor­age, he was allowed to walk free and escape to the Repub­lic of Ire­land due to pro­ced­ural cock-ups. Months later, he returned to the City and bombed Bishopsgate.

By rely­ing increas­ingly on tech­no­lo­gies to pro­tect us, we are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Amer­ic­ans. They have always had an over-reliance on gad­gets and giz­mos when seek­ing to invest­ig­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists: satel­lite track­ing, phone taps, bugs. But this hoover­ing up of inform­a­tion is never an adequate replace­ment for pre­cise invest­ig­at­ive work. Plus, any crim­inal or ter­ror­ist worth their salt these days knows not to dis­cuss sens­it­ive plans electronically.

Scatter-gun approaches to gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, such as blanket sur­veil­lance, still at this stage require human beings to pro­cess and assess it for evid­en­tial use. That, accord­ing to DCI Neville, is part of the prob­lem. There is just too much com­ing in, not enough staff, insuf­fi­cient co-operation between forces, and the job lacks per­ceived status within the police.

The other prob­lem of an over-reliance on tech­no­logy is that it can always be hacked. The most recent hack­ing has broken the RFID chips that we all carry in our pass­ports, Oyster cards and the planned ID cards. New tech­no­lo­gies can­not guar­an­tee that our per­sonal data is secure, so rather than pro­tect­ing us, they make us more liable to crimes such as iden­tity theft.

So once again national and local gov­ern­ment bod­ies have rushed to buy up tech­no­logy, without fully think­ing through either its applic­a­tion or its use­ful­ness. And without fully assess­ing the implic­a­tions for a free soci­ety. Just because the tech­no­logy exists, it does not mean that it is fit for pur­pose, nor that it will make us safer.

 

British Spies and Torture

On 30th April, The Guard­ian news­pa­per repor­ted that yet another man, picked up in a Brit­ish counter-terrorism oper­a­tion in Pakistan, has come for­ward claim­ing that he was tor­tured by the Pakistani intel­li­gence agency, the ISI, with the col­lu­sion of Brit­ish spooks

This is part of a grow­ing body of evid­ence indic­at­ing that Brit­ish intel­li­gence officers are con­tinu­ing to flout the law in one of the most hein­ous ways pos­sible, the pro­longed tor­ture of another human being. Alleg­a­tions have been emer­ging for years that detain­ees of notori­ous camps such as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have heard Brit­ish voices either dur­ing the inter­rog­a­tion ses­sions or dir­ect­ing the line of ques­tion­ing. Many of these detain­ees are also the vic­tims of “extraordin­ary rendi­tion”, in itself an extraordin­ar­ily euphemistic phrase for the kid­nap­ping and trans­port­a­tion of ter­ror­ist sus­pects to Third World coun­tries where they can be held indef­in­itely and tor­tured with impunity.

This is a situ­ation that haunts me. I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s, before leav­ing to blow the whistle. Per­haps I worked with some of the people now dir­ectly involved in tor­ture? Per­haps I was even friends with some of them, met them for drinks, had them round for din­ner? How could young, ideal­istic officers, com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing their coun­try by legal means, make that per­sonal moral jour­ney and par­ti­cip­ate in such bar­baric acts?

These ques­tions ran through my head when, in 2007, I had the hon­our to meet a gentle, spir­itual man called Moazzam Begg. He is a Brit­ish cit­izen who went to Pakistan with his fam­ily to help build a school. One night, his door was broken down, and he was hooded, cuffed and bundled out of his home by Amer­ic­ans, in front of his hys­ter­ical wife and young chil­dren. That was the last they saw of him for over 3 years. Ini­tially he was tor­tured in the notori­ous Bagram air­base, before end­ing up in Guantanamo, which he said was a relief to reach as the con­di­tions were so much bet­ter. Need­less to say, he was released with out charge, and is now suing MI5 and MI6 for com­pens­a­tion. He has also writ­ten a book about his exper­i­ences and now spends his time help­ing the cam­paign, Cage Pris­on­ers.

Bri­tain was the first state to rat­ify the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights, which includes Art­icle 3 — no one shall be sub­jec­ted to tor­ture or to inhu­man or degrad­ing treat­ment or pun­ish­ment. It is impossible for a state to derog­ate from this art­icle. So how and why has Bri­tain stooped to the level that it will appar­ently par­ti­cip­ate in such activ­ity? The “apo­ca­lyptic scen­ario” much loved by apo­lo­gists of tor­ture, where a ter­ror­ist has to be broken to reveal the loc­a­tion of the tick­ing bomb, occurs only in fant­ast­ical TV dra­mas like “24”, never in real life.

In the 1990s the accep­ted MI5 pos­i­tion was that tor­ture doesn’t work. This was a les­son the UK secur­ity forces had learned the hard way in 1970s North­ern Ire­land. Then, IRA sus­pects had been roun­ded up, interned without trial and sub­jec­ted to what the Amer­ic­ans would no doubt nowadays call “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion tech­niques”. But the secur­ity forces got it wrong. The vast major­ity of internees were arres­ted on the basis of the flim­si­est intel­li­gence and had no links what­so­ever with the IRA. Well, at least when they entered prison. Intern­ment proved to be the best pos­sible recruit­ing drive for the IRA.

So why has this think­ing changed? I would sug­gest this is part of a core prob­lem for MI5 – the shroud of secrecy within which it con­tin­ues to oper­ate and the com­plete lack of account­ab­il­ity and over­sight for the organ­isa­tion. There is no vent­il­a­tion, no con­struct­ive cri­ti­cism, no debate. Once a new doc­trine has been adop­ted by the lead­er­ship, in slav­ish imit­a­tion of US policy, it rap­idly spreads through­out the organ­isa­tion as officers are told to “just fol­low orders”. To do any­thing else is career sui­cide. This leads to a self-perpetuating olig­archy where illegal or uneth­ical beha­viour is accep­ted as the norm.

Of course, you may well argue that a spy organ­isa­tion has to oper­ate in secret. Well, yes and no. Of course it needs to pro­tect sens­it­ive oper­a­tional tech­niques, ongo­ing oper­a­tions and the iden­tit­ies of agents. How­ever, bey­ond that it should be open to scru­tiny and demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity, just as the police anti-terrorism branch is. After all, they do vir­tu­ally the same work, so why should they be any less accountable?

The tra­di­tion of UK spies oper­at­ing in abso­lute secrecy is a hangover from the bad old days of the cold war, and is utterly inap­pro­pri­ate to a mod­ern counter-terrorist organ­isa­tion. Increased open­ness and account­ab­il­ity is not only essen­tial in a mod­ern demo­cracy, it also ensures that the spies can­not con­tinue to brush their mis­takes and crimin­al­ity under the car­pet. Bri­tain deserves bet­ter from those charged with pro­tect­ing its national security.