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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
A recent interview on RTTV about the ongoing civil war in Libya following the NATO invasion last year:
Part One of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
I 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.
Today 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.
Last 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.…
But 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.
Both 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Now 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.
The 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.
Which 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.
The 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, torture, and more happy subjects discussed recently on “Africa Today” on Press TV.
The programme was interesting, informed and balanced. Do have a watch:
This article in today’s New York Times, particularly these following two paragraphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Libyan people:
“The most powerful military leader is now Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The growing influence of Islamists in Libya raises hard questions about the ultimate character of the government and society that will rise in place of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy.….
.…Mr. Belhaj has become so much an insider lately that he is seeking to unseat Mahmoud Jibril, the American-trained economist who is the nominal prime minister of the interim government, after Mr. Jibril obliquely criticized the Islamists.”
The Libyans, finally free of Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islamist faction that has stated publicly that it wants to base the new constitution on Sharia — a statement that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya’s educated and relatively emancipated women — or a new government headed up by an American-trained economist.
And we all know what happens to countries when such economists move in: asset stripping, the syphoning off of the national wealth to transnational mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s living standards. If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excellent “Shock Doctrine” — required reading for anyone who wants to truly understand the growing global financial crisis.
Of course, this would be an ideal outcome for the US, UK and other western forces who intervened in Libya.
Mr Belhaj is, of course, another matter. Not only would an Islamist Libya be a potentially dangerous result for the West, but should Belhaj come to power he is likely to be somewhat hostile to US and particularly British interests.
Why? Well, Abdul Hakim Belhaj has form. He was a leading light in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a terrorist organisation which bought into the ideology of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assassinate Gaddafi, sometimes with the financial backing of the British spies, most notably in the failed assassination plot of 1996.
Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi’s rapprochement with the West, this collaboration was all air-brushed out of history — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instrumental in kidnapping Belhaj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordinarily rendering” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ torture at the hands of Libya’s brutal intelligences services. After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK companies.
So I’m willing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes meddling from our spooks, to ensure the ascendency of Jibril in the new government. Which will be great for Western business, but not so great for the poor Libyans.….