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 élite.

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 régime 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 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.

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 régime, 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 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”.

Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

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

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