Re:publica – The War on Concepts

This week I made my first visit to the re:publica annual geekfest in Berlin to do a talk called “The War on Concepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars – on drugs, terror, the internet, and whistleblowers. No doubt the number will continue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Russia – once again Public Enemy No 1

The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, said at the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall last weekend that we are facing a new Cold War. What are the geopolitical realities behind this statement?

First published on RT Op-Edge.

Last weekend I was invited onto RT to do an interview about the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, particularly focusing on the speech delivered by the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, during his visit to Berlin.

I would like to expand on some of the topics I mentioned – how to encapsulate an alternative geopolitical perspective different from the Western orthodoxy in under four minutes? A task even Monty Python would find challenging!

The first issue was Gorbachev’s comments about a new Cold War. I would agree, and this is being fabricated by the USA, as that country always needs an Emmanuel Goldstein figure to justify its military-industrial complex that is bankrupting the country and brutalising the world, while enriching the US oligarchs to the detriment of civil society everywhere.

The first front line in this new Cold War is the internet. In the 1990s the USA had a golden opportunity – in fact a perfect storm of opportunities. It was the last superpower left standing in a newly unipolar world, history had officially ended and capitalism had triumphed. The Soviet Union had disintegrated and the newly shorn Russia was tottering, its vast national wealth being assiduously asset-stripped by the globalised neocon elite.

Plus, the new world wide web was exponentially growing and the key pioneers were predominantly American companies. After an initially panicked phase of playing catch-up in the 1990s, western spy agencies saw the potential for total mastery of the internet, creating a surveillance panopticon that the KGB or the Stasi could only have fantasised about. With thanks to Edward Snowden, we are now beginning to get glimpses of the full horror of the surveillance under which we all now live.

But it is not all down to the NSA.  Building on the old Echelon model, which was so nearly overthrown in Europe back in July 2001, the NSA has suborned, bought and prostituted other western intelligence agencies across Europe to do its bidding.  Germany, at the nexus of east and west Europe, remains a front line in this battle, with the BND possibly working unconstitutionally to do the NSA’s bidding, even apparently to the detriment of its own national interest. The politicians (some) and hacktivists (many) are fighting back.

But it is the geographical boundaries that have shifted most significantly since the fall of the Wall.  Here I need to credit former senior CIA officer, presidential advisor and current peace activist Ray McGovern, for all the useful information he provided during his various talks and interviews across Europe a couple of months ago.

Ray, a fluent Russian speaker, worked as a Soviet expert for much of his career in the CIA. As such he was privy to the behind-the-scenes negotiating that occurred after the fall of the Wall.  When this happened the USA pushed for German reunification but was worried about the 260,000 Soviet troops stationed in the former GDR. They cut a deal with Gorbachev, stating that NATO would not move “one inch” further than Germany after reunification. This the Soviets accepted, and withdrew their troops.

NATO_Expansion_2Well, we all know what has happened since. NATO has expanded east at an amazing rate, now encompassing a further 12 eastern European countries including the Baltic States and Poland, which the US has used as a base for an increasing number of “defensive” missile systems. In 2008 NATO also issued a declaration that Georgia and Ukraine would be welcome to join, taking the front line up to the borders of Russia. Coincidentally, both these countries in recent years have been portrayed as the victims of “Russian expansionism”

In 2008 Georgia invaded the disputed ethnic Russian region of South Ossetia. Russia moved to protect the people and gave the Georgian military a bloody nose. Anyone remember that? At the time it was portrayed across the Western media as Russian aggression, but the facts have emerged since to disprove this version of events.

Similarly, this year we have seen a violent coup overthrow democratically-elected President Yanukovych of Ukraine when he was inclined to stay within the Russian sphere of influence rather than ally the country more closely to the EU under the asset-stripping austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund. Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State responsible for Europe, was heard to discuss the US had over previous years pumped $5 billion into Ukraine to subvert it, that the newly installed Prime Minister would be “their man”, and “fuck the EU”.

And yet still Russia is blamed for aggression. I am not an apologist for Russia, but the facts speak for themselves even if they are not widely reported in the Western mainstream media.

But why on earth would the US be meddling in Ukraine? Would an expansion of NATO be sufficient excuse in America’s self-interested eyes?  Probably not.

Which leads me on to a very interesting article by Eric Zuesse. The argument of his well-researched and referenced report is that it all comes down to energy supplies once again.  When does it not?

The USA has some unsavoury allies in the Middle East, including theocratic dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Their vast energy reserves are not only essential to the USA, but also the trading of these reserves in the petrodollar monopoly is vital to propping up the bankrupt US economy.

Russia, at the moment, is the primary energy supplier to the EU – the world’s largest market. Iran, a Russian client, wanted to build a pipeline via Syria with President Assad’s approval, to exploit this vast market.  However, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the USA apparently have other plans involving a pipeline from Qatar via Syria to Europe.

Hence the urgent need to overthrow Assad and put a Sunni puppet government in place, more palatable to those pulling the strings. Qatar’s preferred candidate of choice would be more moderate, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi, on the other hand, would have no compunction about installing a hard-line fundamentalist regime in place – up to and including ISIS. And thus the murder, mayhem and human suffering erupting across the region now. This is an appalling real life example of the horrors inherent in Brzezinski’s psychopathic “grand chessboard“.

It is widely accepted truism today, over a decade after the “war on terror” began, that all the wars in the Middle East were launched to protect America’s oil and energy interests. Less well known is the country’s desperate scramble to protect the petrodollar monopoly. If that fails, the dollar will no longer remain the world’s reserve currency and the USA is financially screwed.

If you look at all the recent wars, invasions, and “humanitarian interventions” that have resulted in collapsed countries and anarchy across whole regions, it is clear that beyond oil and gas the key issue is money: pre-2003 Iraq tried to trade what oil it could in euros not dollars and Saddam Hussein was deposed; despite being welcomed briefly back into the international fold, once Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi began to talk about establishing an African gold dinar currency, backed by Libya’s oil wealth to challenge the petrodollar, he too was toppled; Assad wanted to facilitate energy pipelines to Europe for Russia and Iran, and he was attacked; even Iran tried to trade its energy reserves in euros, and lo and behold it was almost invaded in 2008; and finally Russia itself trades some of its energy in rubles.

As people say, always follow the money.

So, in my view, this is the current geopolitical situation. Russia is now strong enough, with its domination of Europe’s energy supply, its backing of Middle Eastern countries that want to break away from the US sphere of influence, and its trade deals and establishment of an independent global investment development bank with other BRICS countries, that it can challenge the US hegemony.

However, threaten the petrodollar monopoly and thereby the very financial solvency of the United States of America and you are suddenly Public Enemy No 1.

As I said, I am by no means an apologist for Russia – I tell it like I see it. To western sensibilities, Russia has some serious domestic issues to address: human rights abuses during the brutal Chechen war; its suspected involvement in the death by polonium-210 poisoning of KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006; its overly-punitive drug laws; and human rights abuses against dissidents, the LGBT community, and journalists. Yet the West has merely mouthed platitudinous objections to all these issues.

So why now is Russia being internationally excoriated and penalised for actions for which it is not responsible?  Over the last few years it has looked statesmanlike compared to the US and its vassal states: it was not involved with the Libya fiasco, it has given safe haven to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and it halted the rush to yet another disastrous western war in Syria.

Nor, to my western European sensibilities, are America and its acolytes too pristine either, with their mass surveillance, presidentially-approved kill lists, illegal wars, kidnapping, torture and drone bombings. Not to mention their domestic addiction to gun ownership and the death penalty, but that’s another story….

Yet the US media-enabled propaganda machines justify all of the above and demonise another country, creating yet another fresh bogeyman to justify yet more “defence” spending.

The Russian bear is being baited, increasingly surrounded by yapping curs. I thought this sport had been made illegal hundreds of years ago, at least in Europe – but obviously not in the dirty realm of international politics.  It is a marvel the bear has not lashed out more in the face of such provocation.

There was a chance for peace when the Wall came down 25 years ago. If the US had upheld its side of the gentlemen’s agreement about not expanding NATO, if the neocon predators had not pounced on Russia, and if closer integration could have been achieved with Europe, the future could have been rosy.

Unfortunately, I have to agree with Gorbachev – we are indeed facing a new Cold War, and this time it is of America’s making. But Europe will bear the brunt, through trade sanctions, energy shortages and even, potentially, war. It is time we Europeans broke away from our American vassalage and looked to our own future.

ISIS and Western intelligence role in the Middle East

Here is my recent interview on RT London’s flagship news show, “Going Underground“, discussing ISIS, Syria and wider western intelligence interventions in the Middle East:

rt_going_underground.cleaned

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The International Day of Privacy was celebrated globally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden bringing extra energy and resonance to the subject.

I was invited take part in a demonstration in Berlin, culminating with a talk at the hugely symbolic Brandenburg Gate. Here’s the talk:

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 regime 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.

How to stop war – Make Wars History

A recent Make Wars History event in the UK Parliament, hosted by John McDonnell MP, with Chris Coverdale and myself speaking.  Some practical steps we can all take to make wars history:

Make Wars History talk in Parliament, April 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent interview on “Breaking the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT America, discussing all things whistleblowing:

Secret Agent Turns Whistleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

Part One of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideologically opposed to war and all the horrors that flow in its wake: agonising fear and death, famine, displacement, maiming, torture, rape, internment and the breakdown of all the hard-won values of civilised human law and behaviour.

Looking back, I think that was partly why I was attracted to work in diplomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intelligence. These worlds, although by no means perfect, could conceivably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a country goes bellowing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meetings, worked with Make Wars History, and have ceaselessly spoken out and written about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a consensus that Blair’s government lied to the country into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, and subsequently enabled the Bush administration to do the same in the USA, hyping up the threat of a nuclear Iraq using false intelligence provided by MI6.

Millions of people marched then, and millions of people continue to protest against the ongoing engorgement of the military/intelligence complex, but nothing ever seems to change.  It’s democratically disempowering and an enervating experience.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of suggestions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egregious current fake realities.

David_CameronLast year we had the spectacle of the current No 10 incumbent, Dave Cameron, stating that the Libyan intervention would be nothing like Iraq – it would be “necessary, legal and right”. But there was no subsequent joined-up thinking, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq genocide, despite prima facie breaches of international war law and of the Official Secrets Act….

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those interested in justice, courtesy of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, MI6 kidnapping and torture victim, and current military commander in Tripoli.

After NATO’s humanitarian bombing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, some seriously embarrassing paperwork was found in the abandoned office of Libyan Foreign Minister and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and subsequently on to Qatar).

These letters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Terrorism and current BP consultant, Sir Mark Allen, gloatingly offer up the hapless Belhaj to the Libyans for torture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new bestest friends.

Belhaj, understandably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a result, a frantic damage-limitation exercise is going on, with MI6 trying to buy his silence with a million quid, and scattering unattributed quotes across the British media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, government….”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eyebrow-deep in the stinking cesspit. One or other of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kidnapping, knowing he would be tortured in Tripoli. Or perhaps they actually are innocent of this….. but if they didn’t sign off on the Belhaj extraordinary kidnapping, then MI6 was running rampant, working outside the law on their watch.

Either way, there are serious questions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstanding politicians are, of course, suffering from political amnesia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary at the time of the kidnapping, has said that he cannot have been expected to know everything the spies got up to – even though that was precisely his job, as he was responsible for them under the terms of the Intelligence Security Act 1994, and should certainly have had to clear an operation so politically sensitive.

In the wake of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, what worries me now is that exactly the same reasons, with politicians mouthing exactly the same platitudinous “truths”, are being pushed to justify an increasingly inevitable strike against Iran.

Depressing as this all is, I would suggest that protesting each new, individual war is not the necessarily the most effective response.  Just as the world’s markets have been globalised, so manifestly to the benefit of all we 99%-ers, have many other issues.

Unlike Dave Cameron, we need to apply some joined-up thinking.  Global protest groups need to counter more than individual wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syria, Iran…… sorry, I’m getting writer’s cramp just enumerating all the current wars.

Give me a while to overcome my moral spasm, and I shall return with a few suggestions about possible ways forward – 21st Century Pacifism; the New Stuff.

Iran_and_US_bases

A blast from the past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Fein, 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".