A fun interview with Heimir Már Pétursson on TV2, filmed during my recent tour of Iceland:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
A look at the forensic and police failures around the investigation of the still inexplicable death of intelligence officer, Gareth Williams, in London in 2010.
Here’s the link.
Last month, in my new role as Director of LEAP Europe, I was invited to do a talk at the SSDP conference in London. It was great to meet the key SSDP organisers, and also share a platform with Jason Reed, the co-ordinator of LEAP UK.
The student activists of SSDP are demanding that our political classes instigate a mature, fact-based discussion about the “war on drugs”.
Sorry to rehash all the well-known articles about why this “war” is such a failure on every conceivable front, but just let me reiterate three key points: prohibition will always fail (as this classic “Yes Minister” scene depicts), and the regulation and taxation of recreational drugs (in the same way as alcohol and tobacco) would be good for society and for the economy; it would decapitate organised crime and, in some cases, the funding of terrorism; and it would make the use and possible abuse of recreational drugs a health issue rather than a criminal matter.
The students get this — why can’t our politicians?
Jason and I had a warm welcome from the SSDP. They can see the value of law enforcement professionals — police, judges, lawyers, and customs and intelligence officers — using their experience to contribute to the debate. I look forward to LEAP working more closely with the SSDP.
And do drop me an email if you would like to help LEAP in Europe.
What a mess, what a cover-up. The inquest into the sad, strange death of Gareth Williams concluded yesterday, with the coroner raising more questions than she was able to answer.
When will MI6 realise that it is not above the law?
My heart goes out to Gareth’s family.
Just back from the annual United Nations happy-clappy session about drug prohibition in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. I was there as part of the delegation from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a global campaign of serving and former police officers, lawyers, judges, intelligence officers, customs officers and prison governors, all with years of experience on the front line of the drug war, and all of whom campaign against prohibition.
Why do they do this? Precisely because they have, during their professional lives, witnessed the terrible failure of the drug prohibition laws.
LEAP’s message is simple, logical and powerful, and its membership credible and experienced — have a look at the website.
The UN delegation consisted of former US drug prosecutor Jim Gierach, retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Pereira Karam, award-winning US prison superintendent Rick Van Wickler, and myself.
Needless to say, LEAP and all this breadth of relevant expertise was marginalised at the UN.
The UN is the sine qua non of bureaucracies, an organisation of such Byzantine complexity it makes your eyes bleed to look at it.
Each country around the world funds the UN via voluntary donations. Once they have coughed up, they are allowed to send national delegates to represent “their” interests at shindigs such as the CND. Those delegates are pre-briefed by their bureaucrats about the line they must take, and no dissent is allowed.
NGOs are notionally able to feed in their views to their delegates, although access is limited, and over the last few years the language of the CND has indeed moved towards harm reduction and children’s rights. But this merely propagates the basic, flawed premise that “drugs” are bad, not that the “war on drugs” has comprehensively failed, is ill-thought out, and actively damages society.
UN decisions on drug policy are made by consensus, which means that there is no real democratic debate and that the resolutions are so bland as to be meaningless. At no point whatsoever are evidence-based alternative solutions, such as regulated legalisation, even whispered in the corridors of power.
The CND’s key achievement this year was to get all the nations to reaffirm their commitment to the 100-year old International Hague Convention, the first drug prohibition law in a long and escalating legal litany of failure and harm. And this in the teeth of all evidence provided by the successful decriminalisation experiments in Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
So here’s where the fun kicks in, but I stress that this is my highly personal take on what it was like to attend the CND last week:
WARNING: CND appears to be a potent psychotropic drug which has unknown and potentially damaging effects on the human brain. Exposure to CND for even so short a period as a week can lead to disorientation, numbness, depression and a dislocation from reality. No data exists about the long-term psychological effects of prolonged exposure, but some subjects can display uncharacteristic aggression after only a couple of days’ experience of CND.
CND appears to be highly addictive leading to rapid dependency, and delegates return year after year for another hit. For a week, it’s party time, but then comes the crashing low, as they have to push CND on their own countries for another long year, against all common notions of decency, humanity and community.
CND is continually presented to vulnerable delegates as the only lifestyle choice. Those who question its efficacy are outcast from the gang. But what of the delegates’ rights to live a CND-free life, away from the peer pressure, bullying and violence? What about reducing the harm that CND increasingly causes to communities across the world?
As the godfathers of CND push the line of harm reduction programmes, developing countries are increasingly drawn into a life of sordid “money dependency”, even prostituting themselves politically to enable their continued reliance on CND.
The organisations controlling CND garner huge profits, and there is little political will to change the current set-up.
So, a win-win for the drug cartels, terrorists, enforcement agencies, governments, bureaucrats and the wider global “drug war” infrastructure.
Not so good for the rest of us.
Law Enforcers Say Ending Prohibition Will Improve Global Security & Human Rights
VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Judges, prosecutors and jailers who support legalizing drugs are bringing their message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting next week in Vienna. At the U.N. session, which comes just days after the Obama administration stepped-up its attempts to counteract the emerging anti-prohibition sentiment among sitting presidents in Latin America, the pro-legalization law enforcement officials will work to embolden national delegations from around the world to push back against the U.S.-led failed “war on drugs.”
Richard Van Wickler, a currently-serving jail superintendent who will be representing Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in Vienna, says, “World leaders who believe we could better handle drug problems by replacing criminalization with legal control are becoming less and less afraid of U.S. reprisal for speaking out or reforming their nations’ policies. And for good reason.”
Van Wickler, who has was named 2011’s Corrections Superintendent of the Year by the New Hampshire Association of Counties, explains, “Voters in at least two U.S. states will be deciding on measures to legalize marijuana this November. It would be pure hypocrisy for the American federal government to continue forcefully pushing a radical prohibitionist agenda on the rest of the world.”
In recent weeks, Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Felipe Calderon of Mexico have added their voices to the call for a serious conversation on alternatives to drug prohibition, causing U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to travel to Latin America this week in an unsuccessful attempt to quash the debate.
Former Chicago drug prosecutor James Gierach, recently a featured speaker at a conference in Mexico City last month attended by the first lady of Mexico and the former presidents of Colombia and Brazil, says, “The unending cycle of cartel violence caused by the prohibition market has turned a steady trickle of former elected officials criticizing prohibition into a flood of sitting presidents, business leaders and law enforcement officials calling for an outright discussion about legalization. It’s time for the U.S. and the U.N. to acknowledge that legal control, rather than criminalization, is a much better way to manage our drug problems. The world can have either drug prohibition, violence and corruption or it can have controlled drug legalization with safe streets and moral fabric, but it can’t have both.”
The UN meeting in Vienna is an annual opportunity for nations around the world to re-evaluate drug control strategies and treaties. More information about the meeting is here
In recent years, countries like Portugal and Mexico have made moves to significantly transform criminalization-focused drug policies into health approaches by fully decriminalizing possession of small amounts of all drugs. Still, no country has yet to legalize and regulate the sale of any of these drugs. Doing so, the pro-legalization law enforcers point out, would be the only way to prevent violent transnational criminal organizations from profiting in the drug trade.
Also attending the conference on behalf of LEAP will be former Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam and former UK MI5 intelligence officer Annie Machon.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who support legalization after fighting on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info can be found here.
Tom Angell: 001 202 557‑4979 or email@example.com
Shaleen Title: 001 617 955‑9638 or firstname.lastname@example.org
An update is apparently due of the 1994 edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, the psychiatrists’ bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a disorder, and then, no doubt, prescribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expensive form of therapy. Anyone who has ever watched Adam Curtis’s excellent “Century of Self” will be aware of the pathologising of society to the benefit of the psychiatric professions and far beyond.
I am not making light of serious mental illnesses requiring specialised and long term treatment such as bipolar, schizophrenia or chronic depression. These are crippling and soul-destroying conditions and many families, including my own, have been touched by them.
But I am concerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few decades where, for example, increasing numbers of children are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Ritalin (which can also lead to a thriving black market in the onward sale of said drug). And we are apparently about to see ever more divaricating disorders added to the shrinks’ bible.
As this recent article in The Independent states, stroppy teens will now have “oppositional defiance disorder”, and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suffering from “hypersexual disorder”. (How on earth will this be diagnosed — will potential sufferers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Management meetings could be so much more diverting as people break off to write an update every so often — although they might have to pretend they’re playing buzzword bingo.) And those suffering from shyness or loneliness will suffer from “dysthymia”. Well, as a classicist, I’m glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today’s lexicon.
I know that such behavioural traits can be debilitating, but to pathologise them seems rather extreme — enough to give a person a complex.….
On another somewhat facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the internet rounds recently. It appeared to suggest that having a robust distrust of your government was also about to be pathologised as Anti-Government Phobia, which I presume would mean that vast swathes of the world’s population were mentally ill. However, I think the clue to the legitimacy of the piece was in the name of the supposed author: Ivor E. Tower MD.….
However, back to the point of this article. This was the paragraph in the Indie report that really got my goat:
“More worrying, according to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as illnesses, such as “paraphilic coercive disorder”, applied to men engaged in sexual relationships involving the use of force. They are more commonly known as rapists.”
So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a disorder.
But, but, but.… the key point LEAPing out at me, if you’ll forgive the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in direct, sharp contrast to how we deal with an immense and ongoing problem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed “war on drugs”. In this phoney war millions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, continue to be treated as criminals rather than as patients.
Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known articles about why this war is such a failure on every conceivable front, let me just make three key points: prohibition will always fail (as this classic “Yes Minister” scene depicts), and the regulation and taxation of recreational drugs (in the same way as alcohol and tobacco) would be good for society and for the economy; it would decapitate organised crime and, in some cases, the funding of terrorism; and, most pertinently for the purposes of this article, it would make the use and possible abuse of recreational drugs a health issue rather than a criminal matter.
Many people at some point in their lives experiment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work. A small percentage will go on to develop medical problems.
That is the crux of the argument here. Excessive abuse of drugs, both licit and illicit, is manifestly a health issue and yet some people are criminalised. Compare and contrast the proposed new shrinks’ bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as medical disorders.
I would call this rank hypocrisy, but perhaps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name? I propose Societal DoubleThink Disorder.
The Bankers’ Bonus being that it would conveniently (psycho)pathologise all our “peace-speaking” war-mongering politicians, “free market” monopolistic big businesses, and “publicly owned but private profit” banks.
Praise the Government and pass the Ritalin.…
An interesting article in yesterday’s Telegraph by political commentator Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada. This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the British political and media classes over the last couple of days. Oborne’s article strips out the bombast and takes us back to basic principles — as did this other recent article in the Independent a day or two ago by Christina Patterson.
However, what really grabbed my attention in Oborne’s article was his reference to David Maxwell Fyfe, the British politician and lawyer who was tasked by Sir Winston Churchill to lay the foundations of the European system of human rights after the atrocities of World War Two — a period when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.
While Maxwell Fyfe laid some good foundations for European law, his name also has resonance to all who worked for the UK domestic Security Service, MI5, during or in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. It was Maxwell Fyfe’s directive, issued in 1952, that was instrumental in allowing MI5 to spy on British political activists subversives. This directive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a legal footing for the first time in its then 80 year history, with the Security Service Act 1989. Here is a segment about the Maxwell Fyfe directive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers”:
“Background to subversion
At this time MI5 was still using the same criteria for recording individual subversives and their sympathisers as was set out by Home Secretary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952. He called on the services to identify any individual engaged in undermining Parliamentary democracy, national security and/or the economic well-being of the UK by violent, industrial or political means. In fact, many would argue that groups who used only political means to get their point across were merely exercising their democratic rights. In fact, MI5 used photos of demonstrations, copies of election lists and even lists of subscribers to radical left-wing book clubs as indicators of subversive sympathy and membership. Of course, the world was a very different place when I joined the section, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declaration, not least because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies.
From Maxwell-Fyfe’s statement to Parliament, which was never made law, MI5 and subsequent governments used to argue that all members of certain parties –such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) or later the bewildering array of Trotskyists, with names like the International Marxist Group (IMG), Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), anarchists and the extreme right — were threats to the security of the state or our democratic system. This in itself is a contentious proposition. None of these Trotskyist groups was cultivating Eastern bloc finance or building bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legitimate democratic methods to make their case, such as standing in elections, organising demonstrations and educating ‘the workers’. They certainly had no allegiance to a foreign power, the primary raison d’etre for the investigation of subversion, because, unlike the Communist Party, they abhorred the Eastern bloc.
Since MI5 was effectively investigating individuals for holding opinions the government did not like — a very un-British position — it was always at pains to point out that it took its responsibilities with regard to human rights very seriously, although not seriously enough to ensure that these activities were regulated by a legal framework. All the service’s phone taps prior to the passing of the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlawful because there was no legislation governing the interception of communications.”
The directive was not a legally binding document, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive section tasked with hunting “subversives” during those decades. It allowed intelligence officers great latitude in interpreting what was deemed subversive activity and who were “legitimate’ targets. And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this system by paranoid, senior intelligence officers over the years. More information can be found in this chapter on subversion from the book.
So my point is, yes, Britain ostensibly led the way in developing a system to protect human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War. But the very architect of that system then produced the directive that gave British spies carte blanche to investigate political dissidents within their own country, which they abused for decades.
And now we have commentators rightly saying that we should uphold basic human rights’ values in cases such as Abu Qatada. But what about all the UK activists who were illegally investigated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more pertinently today, what about all the activists and protesters who have been aggressively spied upon by the unaccountable, undercover police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illegal category of “domestic extremists”?
I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace activist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrusive surveillance over the last 6 years. Perhaps he should quote Maxwell Fyfe on human rights during his case?