Niemoeller Redux

Pub­lished on RT Op Edge and Con­sor­tium News.

I reg­u­larly revisit the fam­ous Pas­tor Mar­tin Niemoeller poem from the Nazi era as his words remain res­on­ant in our post-9/11, “war on ter­ror” world. Over the last week threads of vari­ous alarm­ing stor­ies have con­verged, so here is my latest update:

First they came for the Muslims, but I was not a Muslim so did not speak up.

Then they came for the whis­tleblowers, but I was not a whis­tleblower so did not speak up.

Then they came for the “domestic extrem­ists”, but I was not an act­iv­ist so did not speak up.

And when they came for me, there was nobody left to speak up for me.

Allow me to explain this cur­rent ver­sion. Reg­u­lar read­ers of this web­site will be well aware of my hor­ror at the global rape of basic human rights in the West’s fight against the “war on ter­ror” since 9/11: the kid­nap­pings, the tor­ture, the CIA presidentially-approved weekly assas­sin­a­tion lists, the drone bomb­ings, the illegal wars.…

All these meas­ures have indeed tar­geted and ter­ror­ised the Muslim com­munity around the world. In the UK I have heard many stor­ies of Brit­ish Muslims wary of attend­ing a fam­ily event such as a wed­ding of their cous­ins in Pakistan or wherever, in case they get snatched, tor­tured or drone bombed.

Now it appears that even Brit­ish cit­izens who choose to donate to UK char­it­ies offer­ing human­it­arian relief in war zones such as Syria can be arres­ted under counter-terrorism laws.

moazzam_beggMoazzam Begg, the dir­ector of Cage (the UK NGO cam­paign­ing about the com­munity impact of the war on ter­ror) was again seized last week. As I have writ­ten before, this is a man who has already exper­i­enced the hor­rors of Bagram air­base and Guantanamo. When he was released he became a cam­paigner for oth­ers in the same plight and set up the Cage cam­paign which has gained quite some trac­tion over the last few years.

Over a year ago he vis­ited Syria on a fact-finding mis­sion, invest­ig­at­ing those who had been sum­mar­ily detained and tor­tured in the con­flict. Last Decem­ber he had his pass­port seized on spuri­ous grounds He wrote about this trip quite openly, and yet now, a year on, has been arres­ted and charged with “train­ing ter­ror­ists and fund rais­ing” in Syria. This is a high-profile cam­paigner who oper­ates in the full glare of the media. How cred­u­lous does one have to be to believe that Begg, after all his exper­i­ences and run­ning this cam­paign, is now involved in “ter­ror­ism”?  Really, anyone?

Since then other people involved in Brit­ish char­it­ies offer­ing aid to the dis­placed peoples of Syria have also been scooped up. But this is just affect­ing the Brit­ish Muslim com­munity, right? There’s “no smoke without fire”, and it does not impinge the lives of most people in the UK, so there has been no wide­spread outcry.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

Then we have the ongo­ing “war on whis­tleblowers” that I have dis­cussed extens­ively. This affects every sec­tor of soci­ety in every coun­try, but most ser­i­ously affects whis­tleblowers emer­ging from cent­ral gov­ern­ment, the mil­it­ary and the intel­li­gence agen­cies. They are the ones most likely to wit­ness the most hein­ous crimes, and they are the ones auto­mat­ic­ally crim­in­al­ised by secrecy laws.

This is most appar­ent in the UK, where the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) spe­cific­ally crim­in­al­ises whis­tleblow­ing, and in the USA, where Pres­id­ent Obama has invoked the 1917 Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers more times than all other pres­id­ents com­bined over the last cen­tury. If that is not a “war on whis­tleblowers”, I don’t know what is.

This, of course, is a para­noid over-reaction to the work of Wikileaks, and the brave actions of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. This is what Obama’s gov­ern­ment deems to be the “insider threat”.  Yet it is only through greater trans­par­ency that we can oper­ate as informed cit­izens; it is only through greater account­ab­il­ity that we can hope to obtain justice. And in this era, when we are routinely lied into illegal wars, what could be more import­ant?

But intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers are rare, spe­cial­ised and easy to stig­mat­ise as the “other” and now, the insider threat — not quite of the nor­mal world. The issues they dis­close can seem a bit remote, not linked to most people’s daily experiences.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

But now to my third revamped line of the Pas­tor Niemoeller poem: the act­iv­ists or, to use cur­rent police ter­min­o­logy, the “domestic extrem­ists”. This, surely, does impinge on more people’s exper­i­ence of life. If you want to go out and demon­strate against a war, in sup­port of Occupy, for the envir­on­ment, whatever, you are surely exer­cising your demo­cratic rights as cit­izens, right?

Er, well no, not these days. I have writ­ten before about how act­iv­ists can be crim­in­al­ised and even deemed to be ter­ror­ists by the police (think Lon­don Occupy in 2011 here). I’m think­ing of the ongo­ing Brit­ish under­cover cop scan­dal which con­tin­ues to rumble on.

For those of you out­side the UK, this is a scan­dal that erup­ted in 2010. There is was a sec­tion of secret police who were infilt­rated into act­iv­ist groups under secret iden­tit­ies to live the life, report back, and even poten­tially work as ena­blers or agents pro­vocateurs. As the scan­dal has grown it appears that some of these cops fathered chil­dren with their tar­gets and spied on the griev­ing fam­il­ies of murder victims.

This sounds like the East Ger­man Stasi, but was hap­pen­ing in the UK in the last couple of dec­ades. A gov­ern­ment enquiry has just been announced and many old cases against act­iv­ists will be reviewed to see if tar­nished “evid­ence” was involved in the tri­als and sub­sequent convictions.

But again this does not affect most people bey­ond the act­iv­ist community.…

.…so nobody speaks up.

jesselyn_radackNow, people who have always assumed they have cer­tain pro­tec­tions because of their pro­fes­sions, such as law­yers and journ­al­ists, are also being caught in this drag­net. Julian Assange’s law­yer, Jen­nifer Robin­son, dis­covered she was on a flight watch list a few years ago. More recently Jes­selyn Radack, human rights dir­ector of the US Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Pro­ject and legal advisor to Edward Snowden, was stopped and inter­rog­ated at the UK border.

And just this week a Dutch invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist, Brenno de Winter, was unable to do his job since his name was placed on alert in all national gov­ern­ment build­ings. The police accused him of hacking-related crimes and burg­lary. They had to retract this when the smear cam­paign came to light.

Brenno has made his name by free­dom of inform­a­tion requests from the Dutch pub­lic sec­tor and his sub­sequent invest­ig­a­tions, for which he was named Dutch Journ­al­ist of the Year in 2011. Hardly sub­ver­sion, red in tooth and claw, but obvi­ously now deemed to be an exist­en­tial, national secur­ity threat to the Netherlands.

Nor is this a Dutch prob­lem — we have seen this in the US, where journ­al­ists such as James Risen and Bar­rett Brown have been houn­ded merely for doing their jobs, and the Glenn Greenwald’s part­ner, David Mir­anda, was detained at Lon­don Heath­row air­port under counter-terrorism laws.

Journ­al­ists, who always some­what com­pla­cently thought they had spe­cial pro­tec­tions in West­ern coun­tries, are being increas­ingly tar­geted when try­ing to report on issues such as pri­vacy, sur­veil­lance, whis­tleblower dis­clos­ures and wars.

Only a few are being tar­geted now, but I hope these cases will be enough to wake the rest up, while there is still the chance for them to take action.…

.…before there is nobody left to speak up for us.

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the inter­na­tional Akzept Con­fer­ence in Biele­feld about pro­hib­i­tion and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kon­gress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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:

Another abuse of UK terrorism laws

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endemic global sur­veil­lance, the rather thread­bare old argu­ment about “if you have done noth­ing wrong and have noth­ing to hide, you have noth­ing to fear” has been trot­ted out by many Big Brother apologists.

But it’s not about doing any­thing wrong, it’s about hav­ing an enshrined right to pri­vacy — as recog­nised in the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the hor­rors of World War 2, and for very good reason.  If you are denied pri­vacy to read or listen, if you are denied pri­vacy to speak or write, and if you are denied pri­vacy about whom you meet and see, then free­dom has died and total­it­ari­an­ism has begun.

Those were the les­sons learned from the growth of fas­cism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to pri­vacy, you also lose the abil­ity to push back against dic­tat­or­ships, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and all the attend­ant horrors.

How quickly we for­get the les­sons of his­tory: not just the rights won over the last cen­tury, but those fought and died for over cen­tur­ies. We recent gen­er­a­tions in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too fin­an­cially fat and socially com­pla­cent, to fully appre­ci­ate the freedoms we are cas­u­ally throw­ing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police depart­ment in Detroit has just sent out all the tra­di­tion­ally vital stat­ist­ics of its female officers to the entire depart­ment — weight, height and even the bra size of indi­vidual female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mis­takes and hit the wrong but­tons. So this may not sound like much, but appar­ently the women in ques­tion are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho envir­on­ment of law enforce­ment, one can but cringe at the “josh­ing” that followed.

Put­ting aside the obvi­ous ques­tion of whether we want our police officers to be tooled up like Rob­ocop, this minor débâcle high­lights a key point of pri­vacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman — they are pretty much obvi­ous for chris­sakes — but does every­one need to know the spe­cif­ics, or is that per­sonal inform­a­tion one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there.….

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-standing pil­lars of their com­munit­ies, might have learned a valu­able les­son. It is not a “them and us” situ­ation — the “them” being “ter­ror­ists”, act­iv­ists, com­mun­ists, lib­er­als, Teabag­gers — whatever the theme du jour hap­pens to be.

It is about a fun­da­mental need for pri­vacy as human beings, as the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge also dis­covered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god for­bid, one’s weight. This is about big­ger issues if not big­ger boobs. We all have some­thing we want kept private, be it bank state­ments, bonk­ing, or bowel movements.

How­ever, with endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance, we have already lost our pri­vacy in our com­mu­nic­a­tions and in our daily routines — in Lon­don it is estim­ated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily business.

More import­antly, in this era of fin­an­cial, eco­nomic and polit­ical crises, we are los­ing our free­dom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of sur­veil­lance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, real­ised by those unas­sum­ing chaps (and obvi­ously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforce­ment, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not pos­sibly be import­ant enough to be on that par­tic­u­lar radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abund­antly clear that we all are), there is a bur­geon­ing private sec­tor of cor­por­ate intel­li­gence com­pan­ies who are only too happy to watch, infilt­rate and destabil­ise social, media and protest groups. “Psy­ops” and “astro-turfing” are ter­ri­fy­ing words for any­one inter­ested in human rights, act­iv­ism and civil liber­ties. But this is the new reality.

So, what can we do? Let’s remem­ber that most law enforce­ment people in the var­ied agen­cies are us — they want a stable job that feels val­ued, they want to provide for their fam­il­ies, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the cour­age to speak out and expose wrong­do­ing, be it law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als speak­ing out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers expos­ing war crimes, illegal sur­veil­lance and torture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the cour­age to protest and throw the tired old argu­ment back in the faces of the secur­ity proto-tyrants. This is what the found­ing fath­ers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as trait­ors by the Brit­ish Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “sedi­tious” writ­ings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the cour­age to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they pro­duced a good first attempt at a work­able democracy.

Unfor­tu­nately, the USA estab­lish­ment has long been cor­rup­ted and sub­ver­ted by cor­por­at­ist interests. And unfor­tu­nately for the rest of the world, with the cur­rent geo-political power bal­ance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the chan­ging polit­ical land­scape can shift the goal posts of “accept­able” beha­viour — one day your are an act­iv­ist wav­ing a plac­ard, the next you are poten­tially deemed to be a “terrorist”.

But also remem­ber — we are all, poten­tially, Tom Paine. And as the end­less, neb­u­lous, and frankly largely bogus “war on ter­ror” con­tin­ues to rav­age the world and our demo­cra­cies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take indi­vidual respons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect our pri­vacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fel­low cit­izens. We need this pri­vacy to be the new res­ist­ance to the creep­ing total­it­ari­an­ism of the global elites.

Read the sem­inal books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth.….

With thanks to my mother for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how did this mess evolve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taken to court.…

A fun inter­view with Heimir Már Pétursson on TV2, filmed dur­ing my recent tour of Iceland:

Ice­land TV 2 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Iceland Tour

Well, this will be an inter­est­ing week.  On the invit­a­tion of Snar­rotin, the Icelandic civil liber­ties organ­isa­tion, I’m off to Ice­land for a series of talks and inter­views on behalf of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (www​.leap​.cc).

Ice­land is an inspir­a­tional and inter­est­ing coun­try.  Fol­low­ing the 2008 credit crash, the Icelanders bucked inter­na­tional trends and actu­ally held some of their rul­ing élite — the politi­cians and bankers who had brought about these fin­an­cial prob­lems — to account.  The gov­ern­ment fell, some bankers were fired and pro­sec­uted, and the Icelandic people are hav­ing a ser­i­ous rethink about the way their demo­cracy could and should work.

And indeed why should the people pay the price for the decisions made in their name by an unac­count­able élite?  One could spe­ciously argue that the people had a mean­ing­ful choice at the bal­lot box.… but back in the real, 21st cen­tury polit­ical world, Ice­land was as stitched-up as all other notional West­ern demo­cra­cies.  The worst alleg­a­tion that can be thrown at the people was that they were dis­en­gaged, unin­volved and side­lined from how their coun­try was really run — as many of us across the West feel to this day.

But appar­ently no longer in Ice­land: since the fin­an­cial crisis the cit­izens of this small demo­cracy have re-engaged in the polit­ical pro­cess, and the future is look­ing rosy.

New, account­able politi­cians have been elec­ted to form a new gov­ern­ment. Cit­izens have been involved in draw­ing up a new con­sti­tu­tion, and heated debates are chal­len­ging the estab­lished shib­boleths of the cor­por­at­ist gov­ern­ing class: revolving around such issues as fin­ance, inter­net freedoms, free media, ter­ror­ism, and how a mod­ern coun­try should be run in the interest of the many. And next week, I hope, a rethink of the country’s oblig­a­tions to the inter­na­tional “war on drugs”.

While the issue is strenu­ously ignored by the West­ern gov­ern­ing élite, it is now widely recog­nised that the cur­rent pro­hib­i­tion strategy has failed out­right: drug traf­fick­ing and use has increased, the street price of drugs has plummeted and they are endem­ic­ally avail­able, whole com­munit­ies have been imprisoned, whole coun­tries have become narco-states and des­cen­ded into drug war viol­ence, and the only people to profit are the organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions that reap vast profits. Oh, and of course the banks kept afloat with dirty drug money, the mil­it­ar­ised drug enforce­ment agen­cies, and the politi­cians who now, hypo­crit­ic­ally, want to look “tough on crime” des­pite alleg­a­tions that they also dabbled in their youth.….

Well, the time has come for an adult dis­cus­sion about this failed policy, using facts and not just empty rhetoric.

So, a week dis­cuss­ing all my favour­ite happy top­ics: the “war” on drugs, the “war” on ter­ror, and the “war” on the inter­net.  My type of mini-break!

LEAP_logo

The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep packet inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the internet.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” ethos and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the internet”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) within the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­atus? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cover cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-censor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-censor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbian Pro­fessor of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at another event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

The House I Live In” — drug panel discussion

I recently rep­res­en­ted LEAP at a panel dis­cus­sion in Lon­don about the failed war on drugs after a screen­ing of the excel­lent film The House I Live In, along with Steve Rolles of Trans­form and Niamh East­wood of Release:

Oval Space Cinema Club: ‘The House I Live In’ — Panel Dis­cus­sion from Oval Space on Vimeo.

British politicians Droning on

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 2 Octo­ber 2012

Only in the mad world of mod­ern Brit­ish polit­ics could it be pos­sible to con­nect MPs, drones and royal breasts. Is this sound­ing a little too bizarre? Let me explain.…

Way back in 2008 Con­ser­vat­ive MP Damien Green, who was at the time the Shadow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion, was arres­ted on sus­pi­cion of eli­cit­ing leaks from a Home Office civil ser­vant that appeared to con­firm the then Labour gov­ern­ment was cov­er­ing up UK immig­ra­tion figures.

When I say arres­ted, this was not the stand­ard, civ­il­ised and pre-arranged appoint­ment at the local nick, which the police tra­di­tion­ally allow their polit­ical “mas­ters” or, for that mat­ter, their bud­dies at News International.

Oh no, this was a full-on, Cold War-style arrest, car­ried out by the Met­ro­pol­itan Police Counter-Terrorism com­mand (known in the old days as Spe­cial Branch). Intriguingly, civil ser­vants appeared to have mis­lead­ingly hyped up the need for a heavy-handed police response by stat­ing that they were “in no doubt that there has been con­sid­er­able dam­age to national secur­ity already as a res­ult of some of these leaks”.

And indeed, the res­ult­ing arrests bore all the hall-marks of a national secur­ity case: secret police, dawn raids, and counter-terrorism style searches of the fam­ily home, the con­stitu­ency office, and — shock — an inva­sion of Green’s office in parliament.

Yet Green was not arres­ted under the terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. Instead, both he and his hap­less whis­tleblower, Chris­topher Gal­ley, were only seized on sus­pi­cion of breach­ing some arcane Vic­torian law (“aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”).  I sup­pose arrest­ing a sit­ting MP for a breach of the OSA would have been just too polit­ic­ally tricky.

Leav­ing aside the under­stand­able upset caused to Green’s wife and chil­dren by the raid on their home, plus the fact that the police viol­ated not only their per­sonal effects such as bed sheets and love let­ters but also con­fid­en­tial legal papers about child abuse cases that Mrs Green was work­ing on, what really caused out­rage in the media and polit­ical classes was the fact that Plod had dared to invade the hal­lowed ground of parliament.

There was an out­cry from politi­cians about the “encroach­ing police state”. The case was duly dropped, the senior officer, Assist­ant Com­mis­sioner Bob Quick, had to resign (but only after com­mit­ting yet another polit­ical gaffe), and other stor­ies, such as the MP expenses scan­dal, grabbed the atten­tion of the main­stream media.

Roll on four years, and Damien Green has now ascen­ded to the giddy heights of Home Office Min­is­ter of State for Police and Crim­inal Justice. Well, meet­ing his new staff must have been an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence for him.

But what is this man now doing in his emin­ent role, to stop the slide into the encroach­ing police state that is the UK? Of all people, one would expect him to be sens­it­ive to such issues.

Sadly, he appears to have already gone nat­ive on the job. It was repor­ted yes­ter­day that he is pro­pos­ing the use of police drones to spy on the UK pop­u­la­tion, but in an “appro­pri­ate and pro­por­tion­ate” man­ner of course.

The concept of small aer­ial drones being used by UK police has been mooted for a few years now — indeed some police forces and secur­ity agen­cies have already bought them. But whereas the ini­tial, stand­ard jus­ti­fic­a­tion was that it would help in the “war on ter­ror” (as it has so ably done in the Middle East, where inno­cent fam­il­ies are routinely slaughtered in the name of assas­sin­at­ing mil­it­ants), mission-creep has already set in.  Damien Green stated at the launch of the new National Police Air Ser­vice (NPAS) that drones could be use­ful mon­it­or­ing protests and traffic viol­a­tions. It has even been repor­ted that the Home Office plans to use non-lethal weapons to do so.

Of course there are prob­lems around the use of drones in UK air­space.  Our skies are already very crowded and they could present a haz­ard to air­craft, although the BBC has repor­ted that drones could be air­borne in the next few years.  This appears to be the only argu­ment hold­ing the use of drones in check — for­get about civil liber­ties and pri­vacy issues.

This is par­tic­u­larly per­tin­ent as we look at the evol­u­tion of drone tech­no­logy.  Cur­rently the UK police are dis­cuss­ing toy-sized drones, but it has already been repor­ted that drones the size of birds or even insects, with autonom­ous intel­li­gence or swarm cap­ab­il­it­ies are being developed. And don’t even get me star­ted on the sub­ject of poten­tial militarisation.…

There is a whole debate to be had about what can be viewed and what can­not — where does the pub­lic sphere end and the private begin? A couple of years ago I sug­ges­ted some­what facetiously that our best hope of defeat­ing the intro­duc­tion of sur­veil­lance drones in the UK might be indig­nant celebs suing the paparazzi for using the tech­no­lo­gies.  But per­haps the ante has already been upped in the recent fall-out from the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge and her roy­ally papped breasts.

If drone tech­no­logy becomes wide­spread, then nobody will have any pri­vacy any­where. But who knows, before we get to that stage per­haps HM Queen will come out swinging on the side of pri­vacy for her granddaughter-in-law, if not for the rest of her “sub­jects”. If that were to hap­pen then no doubt Damien Green will aban­don his new-found enthu­si­asm for these air­borne sur­veil­lance pests; if not to stop the “encroach­ing police state” of which he must have such col­our­ful recol­lec­tions, then at least to safe­guard any poten­tial knight­hood in his rosy min­is­terial future.

Interview for the Release newsletter, “TalkingDrugs”

An inter­view I did on behalf of LEAP this week for the news­let­ter of the UK cam­paign, Release.

Release, run by the indefatig­able Niamh East­wood, does excel­lent work provid­ing legal advice about drug issues, and cam­paign­ing for fairer and more com­pas­sion­ate drug laws.

The inter­view appeared in the campaign’s news­let­ter, “Talk­ing­Drugs”.

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

Q1 What led you into think­ing that cur­rent drug policies on illi­cit drugs were failing?

My jour­ney began when I was work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s.  One of my roles was invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics and work­ing closely with UK Cus­toms.  I learned then that try­ing to stop the flow of illi­cit mater­ial into the UK (whether drugs, weapons, or people) is like look­ing for a needle in the pro­ver­bial hay­stack.  Plus there is a huge over­lap between the fund­ing of organ­ised crime and ter­ror­ist groups.

Over the last dec­ade I have become a writer, com­ment­ator and pub­lic speaker on a vari­ety of inter-connected issues around intel­li­gence, the war on ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, poli­cing, and civil liber­ties.  To me, the war on drugs meshes very closely with all these top­ics.  Three years ago I was approached by LEAP to become a speaker, and then in March this year I became a mem­ber of the inter­na­tional board and also the Dir­ector of LEAP Europe in order to con­sol­id­ate the organisation’s work here.

Q2 Do you think that there are bar­ri­ers to police officers being hon­est about the effect­ive­ness of their actions to com­bat the trade in illi­cit drugs and is the greater dis­quiet amongst those involved in law enforce­ment about cur­rent policies than is pop­ularly perceived ?

Yes, abso­lutely, and it’s not just amongst the police but also the wider law enforce­ment community.

LEAP sup­port­ers, approach­ing 100,000 in over 90 coun­tries around the world, include judges, law­yers, prison gov­ernors, cus­toms and intel­li­gence officers, and former drug czars.  Within all these pro­fes­sions there is a tacit under­stand­ing that you toe the con­ven­tional line.  In my exper­i­ence, most people go into this type of work hop­ing not only to have an inter­est­ing job, but also to do some good and make a dif­fer­ence.  Many then see the social fall-out, or that friends, fam­ily or com­munity are affected by the drug wars, and many serving offi­cials do ques­tion what it is all about and what it is really achieving.

How­ever, they are there to do a job, which is uphold­ing and apply­ing the law.  The cul­tural pres­sure within such groups can make it extremely dif­fi­cult on many levels for them to speak out.

Any change to the inter­na­tional and national drug laws will have to come from the politi­cians within the UN and nation­ally.  LEAP increas­ingly con­trib­utes to the polit­ical debate and is build­ing a groundswell of sup­port inter­na­tion­ally.   Most people today will know someone who has at least tried a cur­rently illegal drug.  They also instinct­ively know this is mere social exper­i­ment­a­tion, relax­a­tion or, at worst, a health prob­lem.  And pen­al­isa­tion, impris­on­ment and a crim­inal record exacer­bates rather than helps the situation.

Q3 Does the poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion impact the effect­ive­ness of poli­cing gen­er­ally and what bene­fits do you think could stem from ceas­ing to use law enforce­ment to attempt to dis­cour­age drug use?

There are mul­tiple strands to this issue: the diver­sion of police resources, the addi­tional crime caused by pro­hib­i­tion that is not dealt with suc­cess­fully, the diver­sion of resources from harm reduc­tion pro­grammes, the crim­in­al­isa­tion of what are essen­tially health issues, and the dis­rep­ute that res­ults for law enforcement.

The poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion takes away vast resources from invest­ig­at­ing other crimes such as burg­lary, rape and murder.  Yet it is largely point­less – those with a drug depend­ency need health inter­ven­tions, and there will always be replace­ments for any low-level deal­ers who are arres­ted and imprisoned.  If you arrest and con­vict a rap­ist, he will not be on the streets com­mit­ting more rapes; but if you catch a drug dealer, you just cre­ate a job vacancy for which many will com­pete in ever more viol­ent ways for a slice of an incred­ibly luc­rat­ive market.

The UK anti-prohibition advocacy group, Trans­form, estim­ates that even if just can­nabis were leg­al­ised in the UK, an addi­tional $1.6 bil­lion would flow into the Brit­ish eco­nomy every year.  While tax raised on a con­trolled and reg­u­lated can­nabis trade is pre­dicted to provide the bulk of this ($1.2 bil­lion), $170 mil­lion would be saved from law enforce­ment, $155 mil­lion from the justice sys­tem, and $135 mil­lion from the prison system.

In the cur­rent eco­nomic situ­ation, can the UK afford not to con­sider altern­at­ives to the cur­rent drug war?

Also, as we have seen since the decrim­in­al­is­tion laws in Por­tugal since 2001 and Switzer­land since 1994, the “peace dividend” by end­ing the war on drugs would not only see a drop in prop­erty crimes (about 50% of which are com­mit­ted to fund drug depend­en­cies), it could also be used to fin­ance and extend harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  As we have seen in the case of tobacco across the West, we do not need to ban a sub­stance to reduce its use; edu­ca­tion and treat­ment are far more effective.

Finally, illegal drugs are avail­able to any­one who wants to buy them on the streets of the UK.  The increas­ing mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the police to fight the war on drugs, the break­down of civil liber­ties for the same reason (mir­ror­ing the war on ter­ror), and the wide­spread flag­rant flout­ing of the drug laws by large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion, thereby “mak­ing an ass of the law”, has led to a break­down of trust and respect between the police and the policed. One of LEAP’s aims is to rebuild this trust, this social contract.

Q4 The impact on the safety of law enforce­ment per­son­nel of the ‘war on drugs’ should be an issue for other mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions rep­res­ent­ing the sec­tor, will you be reach­ing out to them to encour­age cam­paign­ing on the issue?

Safety is cer­tainly an issue, although we have been more for­tu­nate in Europe than our col­leagues in the USA, where the more pre­val­ent gun cul­ture leads to many more law enforce­ment deaths.  That said, gang viol­ence is on the rise across Europe where organ­ised crime gangs fight increas­ingly viol­ent turf battles.

Mex­ico has been one of the worst hit coun­tries in the world.  Since the ramp­ing up of the war on drugs  almost six years ago, over 62,000 men women and chil­dren have been tor­tured and murdered in that coun­try, and many of them had no involve­ment what­so­ever in the drugs trade.  In fact, LEAP USA has just suc­cess­fully par­ti­cip­ated in the Mex­ican Cara­van for Peace, a group of act­iv­ists and fam­il­ies high­light­ing the tragedy, that toured across the USA for a month to raise aware­ness and fin­ished with a rally in Wash­ing­ton last week.

The increas­ing viol­ence of the drugs trade and the mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the response should be of con­cern to all law enfor­cers, mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions and allied groups work­ing in the drugs sec­tor.  We need to think urgently about how to avoid a sim­ilar spiral of viol­ence in Europe.   LEAP is happy to reach out to such organ­isa­tions to develop a more humane solution.

Q5 How would you like to see LEAP in Europe develop and will you be look­ing to lobby European policy makers in Brussels?

There are already LEAP speak­ers across most European coun­tries.  We in LEAP see the organisation’s primary goal as edu­ca­tional.  We shall be work­ing to build up speak­ing engage­ments for a wide vari­ety of groups and audi­ences, includ­ing the polit­ical sec­tor, as well as strength­en­ing our media expos­ure.  We recog­nise the valu­able work Release and other NGOs and advocacy groups are already doing across Europe, and hope that you will see that we offer a unique voice and pool of expert­ise that can be used to strengthen your work.

It is won­der­ful that so many organ­isa­tions and indeed gov­ern­ments around the world (par­tic­u­larly in Europe and Latin Amer­ica) are now focus­ing on explor­ing altern­at­ives such as decrim­in­al­is­tion and harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  Based on our pro­fes­sional exper­i­ence, LEAP argues that we need, at very least, to con­sider the next logical step in the chain: con­trolled reg­u­la­tion of the drug mar­ket as we cur­rently do with alco­hol and tobacco.

Decrim­in­al­isa­tion may help to reduce the harm for the drug users, but leaves the drug trade in the hands of increas­ingly viol­ent global organ­ised crime net­works.  Only by remov­ing the profit motive from this illi­cit trade can we end the involve­ment of the crim­inal ele­ment and all the attend­ant viol­ence, and work to make the world safer for all.

The Scorpion Stare

I have writ­ten over the years about the encroach­ing sur­veil­lance state, the spread of CCTV and the increas­ing use of drones in our skies.  When the North East of Eng­land intro­duced talk­ing CCTV cam­eras that could bark orders at passing ped­es­tri­ans in 2008, I thought that we were fast approach­ing the reduc­tio ad absurdum point — and indeed this sub­ject has raised a wry laugh from audi­ences around the world ever since.

Recently I have been read­ing with dis­may a slew of art­icles about the increas­ing cor­por­at­isa­tion of the sur­veil­lance state.  First I stumbled across a piece describ­ing Facebook’s latest innov­a­tion, Facedeal: cam­eras planted in shops and bars that will use the facial recog­ni­tion and tag­ging abil­it­ies of FB to recog­nise you as a val­ued cus­tomer and offer you a dis­count, simply because you have signed up to this Big Brother app on Facebook.

Add this to the fact that Face­book is prob­ably, well, an open book for to the entire US secur­ity appar­atus, and you can see the poten­tial abuse of this sys­tem.  We shall effect­ively be bribed to allow ourselves to be spied on.

Facedeal is being trialed in the US.  Some European coun­tries, most not­ably Ger­many, have already stated that data recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy used even just for photo “tag­ging” is or could be deemed illegal. Ger­many spe­cific­ally has reg­u­la­tions that allow Inter­net users con­trol over their data. They are not going to like Facedeal.

Secondly, it was repor­ted today that Google had pat­en­ted intel­li­gent image recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy.  Com­bine this cap­ab­il­ity with Googles Earth and Street, and we are poten­tially look­ing at a truly pan­op­ticon soci­ety.  The Ger­mans are really not going to like that. (Nor indeed will cer­tain of the French, includ­ing the man who earlier this year tried to sue Google after being pho­to­graphed hav­ing a pee in his own front garden).

Thirdly, Boe­ing has tri­umphantly launched the concept of the drone swarm, oper­at­ing with a hive men­tal­ity and upping the cap­ab­il­it­ies of mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance expo­nen­tially, while tak­ing much of the risk out of any operation.

And finally, the Wikileaks story about Trap­Wire. This first emerged as yet another bonkers Amer­ican scheme, where the foot­age from CCTV street cam­eras was being main­lined into the secur­ity appar­atus. Sub­sequently, it has emerged via Wikileaks that Trap­wire is also being used in other west­ern coun­tries, includ­ing the UK.

Not only can the securo­crats watch you, they too are installing face recog­ni­tion soft­ware that can identify you. While this may not yet be as accur­ate as the spies might wish, Trap­Wire has also installed pre­dict­ive soft­ware that appar­ently can assess whether you are act­ing, loiter­ing or walk­ing in a sus­pi­cious man­ner.  So you could pre-emptively be assessed to be about to com­mit a crime or an act of ter­ror­ism and, no doubt, appro­pri­ately and pre-emptively “dealt with”.

All of which must be so reas­sur­ing to protest groups such as Occupy, which have been sub­ject to massive CCTV sur­veil­lance in NYC and which have been labelled a “terrorist/extremist threat” in the City of London.

At the risk of sound­ing alarm­ist, we now all know what “being dealt with” in this era of anti-activist SWAT teams, drone strikes and kill lists can poten­tially entail.

So where does this leave us as con­cerned cit­izens?  It strikes me that we are being cata­pul­ted into some sci-fi dysto­pia bey­ond even Orwell’s wild­est ima­gin­ings.  Any fan of mod­ern thrillers and sci-fi will be famil­iar with the concept of integ­rated super-computers that can watch our every move via CCTV.

The lat­ter is what Trap­Wire et al are work­ing towards.  These new tech­no­lo­gies remind me of a story line from a won­der­ful series of books called the The Laun­dry Files by Charles Stross.  These nov­els are a per­fect of mer­ging of Len Deighton’s lac­onic spy fic­tion, à la Harry Palmer, with the geek uni­verse and bey­ond. And, at the risk of a spoiler, one of the story lines envis­ages a cent­ral­ised and weapon­ised CCTV sys­tem, main­lin­ing into the secret ser­vices, that can be turned on UK cit­izens if the bal­loon goes up. This sys­tem is code­named the “Scor­pion Stare”.

Sounds far-fetched? Well The Laun­dry Files are a rol­lick­ing good read, but do bear in mind not only that our CCTV sys­tems may be cent­ral­ised cour­tesy of Trap­Wire, but also that vari­ous law enforce­ment agen­cies in the UK are using micro-drones to spy on pro­test­ers, and that they have reportedly enquired if these drones could be weaponised.….

So it all depends on how you define the bal­loon, I suppose.

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 3 Septem­ber 2012

The Olympics — Welcome to the Machine

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 27 July 2012

OK, I was really so not plan­ning on ever writ­ing any­thing, what­so­ever, at any point while I con­tinue to breathe, about the Lon­don Olympics.  First of all I have abso­lutely zero interest in the cir­cus that is mod­ern com­pet­it­ive sport (panem et cir­censes), and secondly what more could I pos­sibly add to the scan­dals around the secur­ity?  All the inform­a­tion is out there if people choose to join the dots.

But syn­chron­icity plays its part.  Firstly, this morn­ing I read this excel­lent art­icle by former UK ambassador-turned-whistleblower, Craig Mur­ray, about how the UK is now under mar­tial law in the run-up to the Olympics.  Shortly after­wards I did an inter­view with the women’s glossy magazine, Grazia, about the secur­ity set-up around the games. I know, I know, some­times the heav­ens align in a once-in-a-century configuration.…..

So on the back of this for­tu­it­ous align­ment and while my angry-o-meter is still spiked at the “dan­ger­ous” level, I wanted to set some thoughts down.

Craig is cor­rect — because of the Olympic Games, Lon­don has gone into full mar­tial law lock-down.  Never before in peace-time has the cap­ital city of the formerly Great Bri­tain seen such a mil­it­ary “defens­ive” pres­ence: mis­sile launch­ers on local tower blocks primed to blow stray­ing com­mer­cial air­liners out of the skies over Lon­don, regard­less of “col­lat­eral dam­age”; anti-aircraft bunkers dug in on Green­wich com­mon; and naval des­troy­ers moored on the Thames.

Plus, absent the prom­ised G4S publicly-funded work-experience slaves — sorry, secur­ity staff -  the mil­it­ary has been draf­ted in.  Sol­diers just home from patrolling the streets in Afgh­anistan in daily fear of their lives have had all leave can­celled.  Instead of the much-needed R & R, they shall be patrolling the Olympic crowds.  Does any­one else see a poten­tial prob­lem here?

And all this fol­lows a dec­ade of erosion of basic freedoms and civil liber­ties — all stripped away in the name of pro­tect­ing the UK from the ever-growing but neb­u­lous ter­ror­ist threat.

But I would take it a step fur­ther than Craig Mur­ray — this is not just mar­tial law, this is fas­cist mar­tial law.

(And being con­scious of any poten­tial copy­right thought-crimes, I hereby give all due credit to a very fam­ous UK TV advert cam­paign which appears to use the same cadence.)

Why do I say this is one step beyond?

The Italian World War II dic­tator, Benito Mus­solini, is fam­ously cred­ited with defin­ing fas­cism thus: “the mer­ger of the cor­por­ate and the state”.

And this is pre­cisely what we are see­ing on the streets of Lon­don.  Not only are Lon­don­ers sub­jec­ted to an over­whelm­ing mil­it­ary and police pres­ence, the cor­por­ate com­mis­sars are also stalk­ing the streets.

When Seb Coe and Tony Blair tri­umphantly announced that Lon­don had won the Olympics on 6th July 2005, one of their man­tras was how Lon­don and the UK would bene­fit from the pres­ence of the games.  They painted a rosy pic­ture of local busi­nesses boom­ing on the back of the influx of tourists.

But the cold real­ity of today’s Olympics is greyer.  Com­muters are being advised to work from home rather than use the over­loaded trans­port net­works; the civil ser­vice is effect­ively shut­ting down; and Zil lanes for the “great and the good” of the Olympics uni­verse are chok­ing already con­ges­ted Lon­don streets.

Even worse, busi­nesses across the UK, but par­tic­u­larly the local ones in the eco­nom­ic­ally deprived environs of the Olympic Park in East Lon­don, are cat­egor­ic­ally NOT allowed to bene­fit from the games.  Under the terms of the con­tracts drawn up by the cor­por­ate mega-sponsors, Lon­don small busi­nesses are not allowed to cap­it­al­ize in any con­ceiv­able, pos­sible, min­is­cule way on the pres­ence of the games in their own city.

And these terms and con­di­tions are enshrined in the Olympics Act 2006; any infrac­tion of the rules car­ries a crim­inal pen­alty.  For more than a week, cor­por­ate police enfor­cers have been patrolling Lon­don look­ing for infrac­tions of the Olympic trade­mark.  And this goes way bey­ond “Olympics R US” or some such.  As Nick Cohen wrote in an excel­lent recent art­icle in The Spec­tator magazine:

“In the Lon­don Olympic Games and Para­lympic Games Act of 2006, the gov­ern­ment gran­ted the organ­isers remark­able con­ces­sions. Most glar­ingly, its Act is bespoke legis­la­tion that breaks the prin­ciple of equal­ity before the law. Bri­tain has not offered all busi­nesses and organ­isa­tions more powers to pun­ish rivals who seek to trade on their repu­ta­tion. It has given priv­ileges to the ­Olympics alone. The gov­ern­ment has told the courts they may wish to take par­tic­u­lar account of any­one using two or more words from what it calls ‘List A’ — ‘Games’; ‘Two Thou­sand and Twelve’; ‘2012’; ‘twenty twelve’. The judges must also come down hard on a busi­ness or char­ity that takes a word from List A and con­joins it with one or more words from ‘List B’ — ‘Gold’; ‘Sil­ver’; ‘Bronze’; ‘Lon­don’; ‘medals’; ‘spon­sors’; ‘sum­mer’. Com­mon nouns are now private property.”

I heard recently that a well-established local café in Strat­ford, East Lon­don, that has for years been known as the Olympic Café, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the dur­a­tion of the games. If I owned the café, I would be temp­ted to sue the Olympic Com­mit­tee for breach of trademark.

It seems to me that this real-world trade­mark pro­tec­tion­ism is an exten­sion of the ongo­ing copy­right wars in cyber­space — a blatant attempt to use state level power and legis­la­tion to pro­tect the interests of the wealthy inter­na­tional mega-corps few.  We saw early attempts at this dur­ing the South African Foot­ball World Cup in 2010, and the Van­couver Winter Olympics the same year.

But the Lon­don Olympics take it to the next level: there is a long list of what you are not allowed to take into the sta­dia.  Spec­tat­ors will be sub­jec­ted to airport-style secur­ity theatre.  This will ensure that no liquids of more than 100ml can be car­ried, although empty bottles will be allowed if people want to fill them up with tap water on site.  This, of course, means that more spec­tat­ors will be buy­ing their sponsor-approved liquids in situ and at no-doubt over-inflated prices, to the bene­fit of one of the key Olympic sponsors.

The Lon­don games seem to be the first time that the global cor­por­ate com­munity is demon­strat­ing its full spec­trum dom­in­ance — where the legal, police, and mil­it­ary resources of the state are put at the dis­posal of the giant, bloated, money-sucking leech that is the Inter­na­tional Olympic Committee.

Every city that has hos­ted the Olympics over the last four dec­ades has been fin­an­cially bled white; many are still pay­ing back the ini­tial invest­ment in the infra­struc­ture, even if it is now decay­ing and use­less. Greece, any­body?

But do the IOC or its regional pimps care?  Hell, no. Like all good para­sites, once the ori­ginal host has been drained dry, the Games move on to a new food source every four years.

What really, deeply puzzles me is why the hell are the people of Lon­don not out there protest­ing against this cor­por­at­ist putsch?  Per­haps they fear being shot?

How can it be a crime to take a full bottle of water into a sta­dium when you want to watch a sport? How can it be a crime to tweet a pic­ture?  How can it be crim­inal to cel­eb­rate the occa­sion in your local pub with Olympic flags draped around your bar, drink­ing a beer and eat­ing a bur­ger mar­keted cheesily as “fit for cham­pi­ons” or some such?

The ori­ginal ideals behind the recon­sti­t­u­tion of the mod­ern Olympics in 1896 were a highly roman­ti­cised and dis­tor­ted vis­ion of the val­ues of the ancient games.  But even that naïve ideal has been lost in the crapu­lous cor­por­at­ism that is the mod­ern event.

We have even gone way bey­ond the Roman view of bread and cir­cuses pla­cat­ing the masses.  Now we are into the hard­core real­politik of inter­na­tional cor­por­a­tions and national gov­ern­ments using the games as a per­fect pre­text to tighten the “secur­ity” screws even more.

And so the UK is proud to present full-blown Cor­por­ate Fas­cism Ver­sion 2.0.

Vae vic­tis.