My recent interview on RT about Ukraine and interventionism, both West and East:
Home and recovered from the rigours of the amazing geekfest, OHM 2013.
This was a 5-day festival in the Netherlands where 3000 geeks, activists and whistleblowers gathered to have fun and also try to put the world to rights. And this crowd, out of all activist groups, has a fighting chance. The geeks are tooled-up, tech-savvy, and increasingly politicised after all the recent assaults on the internet and wider freedoms.
These include all the anti-piracy measures (interestingly, Russia has just joined the lost war that is the anti-piracy legislation, and the Russian pirates are going to form a Pirate Church, as this will give them special protections and rights under the law). It also includes all the invidious international agreements that the US and its Euro-vassals are trying to force down the throats of reluctant populations: ACTA, PIPA, SOPA, TAFTA.… you name it, there’s a whole new anti-freedom alphabet soup out there in addition to the spook acronyms.
Not to mention all the illegal US take-downs of legitimate business websites, such as Megaupload, and the panoptic surveillance powers of the NSA and its global intelligence buddies, long suspected by many and now proven by the disclosures of the courageous Edward Snowden.
So it was lovely to see at OHM an increasing politicisation. This was partly because of all the above recent horrors, but also because the OHM organisers had pulled together a strong political and whistleblowing speaker track. The attack against digital civil liberties is inextricably linked to and reflective of the full-frontal attack on our historic real-world freedoms: endemic surveillance, kidnapping, torture, CIA kill lists, illegal wars, drone strikes, secret courts, and many other encroaching horrors that I have written about ad nauseam. And this is just what we know about.
In my view our Western democracies have been at least fatally holed, if they have not yet foundered. Which, of course, means that our violent, interventionist attempts to bring “democracy” to the developing world are derided as hypocritical at best, and violently resisted at worst.
The new front-line of this struggle is “cyber” warfare — be it the illegal aggressive attacks of such US/Israeli viruses against Iran such as Stuxnet (that is now roaming free in the wild and mutating), or the slower wars of attrition against “pirates”, hackers, Wikileaks, and the growing war on whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
Well, geeks are the new resistance and they have a fighting chance in my view. And this is why I think that they are our best hope.
This was my experience of OHM. Three thousand of the best and the brightest from around the world gathered together not just to have fun playing with bleeding-edge tech, hacking and building toys, and creating slightly surreal, if beloved, hover-pets (see right), but also who turned out in their thousands to listen to and absorb the experiences of a number of international intelligence whistleblowers. In the wake of the Edward Snowden case, this is a hot topic in these circles and there was a huge impetus to help.
We whistleblowers had a fabulous time too. One is a “natural-born geek” — Tom Drake, formerly of the NSA, who was threatened with 35 years in prison because he dared to disclose problems with his organisation. His lawyer, government lawyer-turned-whistleblower Jesselyn Radack, also spoke of her experiences. Coleen Rowley, the FBI whistleblower who exposed the intelligence failure in the US in the run-up to 9/11 and was voted Time Person of the Year in 2002 also gave a fantastic talk called “Secrecy Kills”, and former CIA analyst and presidential “briefer”, Ray McGovern, gave the opening keynote speech, focusing on the need to speak out and preserve our rights. I finished the quintet of whistleblowers and provided the Euro-perspective.
And of course the patron saint of whistleblowers also did one of the key talks — but he had to be beamed in. Julian Assange, who was free to attend HAR, the last such event in the Netherlands four years ago, was unavoidably detained in his embassy refuge in the UK.
The whistleblowers all came together for one of the big sessions of OHM — the “Great Spook Panel”, moderated by the indomitable Nick Farr. The panel was basically a call to arms for the next generation. This addressed the need to stand up to protect our rights against all the egregious erosions that have occurred since 9/11. The response was hugely enthusiastic. I hope this goes global, and the wider community follows up.
It certainly did in one way. Ray McGovern announced the establishment of the Edward Snowden Defence Fund at the end of the panel discussion, and the donations poured in for the rest of the event.
So a very successful festival. How do I make that assessment? Well, on top of all the fun, variety of talks and networking, the Dutch intelligence service, the AIVD (an unfortunate-sounding name to most English speakers), requested a platform at the event after the Great Spook Panel was announced in the programme.
Such an active and open response shows a degree of push-back against a perceived “threat”. No doubt the organisation wanted to inject the establishment anti-venom before the truth-tellers had their say. Anyway, on the grounds that most whistleblowers are generally denied a mainstream media platform and/or are smeared, the AIVD was prohibited the stage.
Of course, the AIVD would have been very welcome to buy a ticket like normal humans or pay the corporate rate to attend to show support for the community — its officers might have learned something.…
The brutal murder in Woolwich last week of Drummer Lee Rigby rightly caused shock and outrage. Inevitably there has been a media feeding frenzy about “terrorist” attacks and home-grown radicalisation. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, felt it necessary to fly back from a key meeting in France to head up the British security response.
One slightly heartening piece of news to emerge from all the horror is that the PM has stated, at least for now, that there will be no knee-jerk security crack-down in the wake of this killing. Sure, security measures have been ramped up around military bases in the UK, but cynical calls from the securocrats to reanimate a proposed “snoopers’ charter”, aka the draft Communications Data Bill, have for now been discounted. And rightly so — MI5 already has all the necessary powers to monitor suspects.
However, there does still seem to be a politically disingenuous view about the motivation behind this murder. Yet the suspects themselves made no secret of it — indeed they stayed at the scene of the crime for twenty minutes apparently encouraging photos and smart phone recordings in order to get across their message. When the police armed response team finally arrived, the suspects reportedly charged at the police brandishing knives and possibly a gun. They were shot, but not fatally. This may have been attempted “suicide by cop” — delayed until they had said their piece.
This does not strike me as the actions of “crazed killers” as has been reported in the media; rather it reminds me of the cold and calculated actions of Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik. The Woolwich murder was designed to maximize the impact of the message in this social media age.
And the message being? Well, it was indeed captured on smart phone and sent out to the world. The killers clearly stated that this was a political action designed to highlight the gruesome violence daily meted out across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia as a result of the western policy of military interventionism.
This manifests in a variety of ways: violent resistance and insurgency against puppet governments as we see in Iraq; internecine civil war in countries such as post-NATO intervention Libya; covert wars fought by western proxies, as we see in Syria; or overt attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where US and UK controlled drones target militants named for assassination on presidentially-approved CIA kill lists with the resulting collateral murder of community gatherings, children and wedding parties.
All this does not justify the appalling murder in Woolwich, and the perpetrators must face justice for the crime. However, it does go some way to explaining why such an atrocity occurred, and we as a society need to face up to the facts or this will happen again.
Saying this does not make me an apologist for terrorism, any more than it did journalist Glenn Greenwald — a writer who has had the journalistic attack dogs unleashed on him for similar views. Beyond the group-think denialism within the Washington Beltway and the Westminster Village, the cause and effect are now widely-recognised. Indeed, in her 2010 testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry about the Iraq War, former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller said precisely the same thing — and I don’t think anyone would dare to label her “an apologist for terrorism”.
The seed of Islamic extremism was planted by western colonialism, propagated by the 1953 CIA and MI6 coup against President Mossadegh of Iran, watered by their support for a fledging Al Qaeda in the 1980s Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion, and is now flourishing as a means both of violently attempting to eject western occupying forces from Muslim countries and gaining retribution against the West.
We need to face up to this new reality. The brutal murder of this soldier may be a one-off attack, but I doubt it. Indeed, similar attacks against French soldiers in Toulouse occurred last year, and this weekend there has already been what appears to be a copy-cat attack against a soldier in Paris.
In this endemic surveillance society terrorist groups are all too aware of the vulnerabilities inherent in large-scale, co-ordinated attacks, the planning of which can be picked up by sigint or from internet “chatter”. Much simpler to go for the low-tech atrocity and cynically play the all-pervasive social media angle for maximum coverage.
The UK media has reported that the Woolwich suspects have been on the British intelligence radar for the last 8 years, but MI5 failed to take prompt action. The inevitable government enquiry has been promised, but the fall-back defensive position, already being trotted out by former spies and terrorism experts across the media is that the security services are never going to be in a position to accurately predict when every radicalised person might “flip” into violence and that such “lone wolf” attacks are the most difficult to stop.
As more news emerges, this is looking increasingly disingenuous. Reports have emerged that one of the suspects, Michael Adebolajo, was approached to work as an agent for MI5 half a year ago, apparently after he had been arrested and assaulted by police in Kenya. This may be another example of the security services’ failed Prevent initiative that seems to be causing more harm that good within the young British Muslim community.
This story has been compounded by the recent intriguing arrest of one of Adebolajo’s friends, the self-styled Abu Nusaybah, immediately after he had finished recording an interview about this for the BBC’s Newsnight programme. The Metropolitan Police Counter-Terrorism Command swooped at the Beeb and arrested the man on terrorism charges: he has now disappeared into the maw of the legal system.
The only long-term and potentially effective solution is to address the fundamental issues that lead to Islamic violence and terrorism and begin negotiations. The UK, at least, has been through this process before during the 1990s, when it was attempting to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland. Indeed my former boss, Eliza Manningham-Buller, stated as much during a BBC lecture in 2011, saying that the US and UK governments need to negotiate with Al Qaeda to reach a political settlement.
Over the last 20 years, Al Qaeda has consistently demanded the removal of the western (predominantly US) military presence from the Middle East. Since the 9/11 attacks our political elites and media have equally consistently spun us the line that Al Qaeda carries out attacks because it “hates our way of life, hates our freedoms”.
Unless our governments acknowledge the problems inherent in continued and violent western interventionism, unless they can accept that the war on terror results in radicalisation, “blowback” and yet more innocent deaths, and until they admit that negotiation is the only viable long-term solution, we are all condemned to remain trapped in this ghastly cycle of violence.
Published in the Huffington Post UK:
Over the last week more sound, fury and indignation has cascaded forth from the US media, spilling into the European news, about the American government and the Associated Press spying scandal.
Last week it emerged that the US Department of Justice monitored the telephones of, gasp, journalists working at AP. Apparently this was done to try to investigate who might have been the source for a story about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen. However, the dragnet seems to have widened to cover almost 100 journalists and potentially threatened governmental leakers and whistleblowers who, in these days of systematic security crackdowns in the US, are fast becoming Public Enemy No 1.
Now it appears that the US DoJ has been reading the emails of a senior Fox News reporter. And this has got the US hacks into a frightful tizz. What about the First Amendment?
Well, what about the fact that the Patriot Act shredded most of the US Constitution a decade ago?
Also, who is actually facing the security crackdown here? The US journalists are bleating that their sources are drying up in the face of a systematic witch hunt by the US administration. That must be hard for the journalists — hard at least to get the stories and by-lines that ensure their continued employment and the ability to pay the mortgage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Er, yes, but how much harder for the potential whistleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of professional reputation and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increasingly facing draconian prison sentences under the recently reanimated and currently much-deployed US 1917 Espionage Act for exposing issues in the public interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced decades in prison for exposing corruption and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is currently languishing in prison for exposing the use of torture.
The US government has learned well from the example of the UK’s Official Secrets Acts — laws that never actually seem to be wielded against real establishment traitors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used frequently and effectively to stifle dissent, cover up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Establishment.
So, two points:
Firstly, the old media could and should have learned from the new model that is Wikileaks and its ilk. Rather than asset stripping the organisation for information, while abandoning the alleged source, Bradley Manning, and the founder, Julian Assange, to their fates, Wikileaks’s erstwhile allies could and morally should campaign for them. The issues of the free flow of information, democracy and justice are bigger than petty arguments about personality traits.
Plus, the old media appear to have a death wish: to quote the words of the former New York Times editor and Wikileaks collaborator Bill Keller, Wikileaks is not a publisher — it is a source, pure and simple. But surely, if Wikileaks is “only” a source, it must be protected at all costs — that is the media’s prime directive. Journalists have historically gone to prison rather than give away their sources.
However, if Wikileaks is indeed deemed to be a publisher and can be persecuted this way, then all the old media are equally vulnerable. And indeed that is what we are witnessing now with these spying scandals.
Secondly, these so-called investigative journalists are surprised that their phones were tapped? Really?
If they are doing proper, worthwhile journalism, of course their comms will be tapped in a post-Patriot Act, surveillance-state world. Why on earth are they not taking their own and their sources’ security seriously? Is it amateur night?
In this day and age, any serious journalist (and there are still a few honourable examples) will be taking steps to protect the security of their sources. They will be tooled up, tech-savvy, and they will have attended Crypto-parties to learn security skills. They will also be painfully aware that a whistleblower is a person potentially facing prison, rather than just the source of a career-making story.
If mainstream journalists are serious about exposing corruption, holding power to account, and fighting for justice they need to get serious about source protection too and get teched-up. Help is widely available to those who are interested. Indeed, this summer the Centre for Investigative Journalism is hosting talks in London on this subject, and many other international journalism conferences have done the same over the last few years.
Sadly, the level of interest and awareness remains relatively low — many journalists retain a naïve trust in the general legality of their government’s actions: the authorities may bend the rules a little for “terrorists”, but of course they will abide by the rules when it comes to the media.….
.…or not. Watergate now looks rather quaint in comparison.
As for me: well, I have had some help and have indeed been teched-up. My laptop runs the free Ubuntu Linux (the 64 bit version for grown-ups) from an encrypted solid state hard drive. I have long and different passwords for every online service I use. My mail and web server are in Switzerland and I encrypt as much of my email as possible. It’s at least a start.
And here’s what I have to say about why journalists should think about these issues and how they can protect both themselves and their sources: Opening keynote “The Big Dig Conference” from Annie Machon on Vimeo.
Here’s the full article about MI6 “ghost money”, now also published at the Huffington Post UK:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has recently been criticised for taking “ghost money” from the CIA and MI6. The sums are inevitably unknown, for the usual reasons of “national security”, but are estimated to have been tens of millions of dollars. While this is nowhere near the eyebleeding $12 billion shipped over to Iraq on pallets in the wake of the invasion a decade ago, it is still a significant amount.
And how has this money been spent? Certainly not on social projects or rebuilding initiatives. Rather, the reporting indicates, the money has been funnelled to Karzai’s cronies as bribes in a corrupt attempt to buy influence in the country.
None of this surprises me. MI6 has a long and ignoble history of trying to buy influence in countries of interest. In 1995/96 it funded a “ragtag group of Islamic extremists”, headed up by a Libyan military intelligence officer, in an illegal attempt to try to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi. The attack went wrong and innocent people were killed. When this scandal was exposed, it caused an outcry.
Yet a mere 15 years later, MI6 and the CIA were back in Libya, providing support to the same “rebels”, who this time succeeded in capturing, torturing and killing Gaddafi, while plunging Libya into apparently endless internecine war. This time around there was little international outcry, as the world’s media portrayed this aggressive interference in a sovereign state as “humanitarian relief”.
And we also see the same in Syria now, as the CIA and MI6 are already providing training and communications support to the rebels — many of whom, particularly the Al Nusra faction in control of the oil-rich north-east of Syria are in fact allied with Al Qaeda in Iraq. So in some countries the UK and USA use drones to target and murder “militants” (plus villagers, wedding parties and other assorted innocents), while in others they back ideologically similar groups.
Recently we have also seen the Western media making unverified claims that the Syrian régime is using chemical weapons against its own people, and our politicians leaping on these assertions as justification for openly providing weapons to the insurgents too. Thankfully, other reports are now emerging that indicate it was the rebels themselves who have been using sarin gas against the people. This may halt the rush to arms, but not doubt other support will continue to be offered by the West to these war criminals.
So how is MI6 secretly spending UK taxpayers’ money in Afghanistan? According to western media reporting, it is being used to prop up warlords and corrupt officials. This is deeply unpopular amongst the Afghan people, leading to the danger of increasing support for a resurgent Taliban.
There is also a significant overlap between the corrupt political establishment and the illegal drug trade, up to and including the president’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. So, another unintentional consequence may be that some of this unaccountable ghost money is propping up the drug trade.
Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of heroin, and the UN reports that poppy growth has increased dramatically. Indeed, the UN estimates that acreage under poppy growth in Afghanistan has tripled over the last 7 years. The value of the drug trade to the Afghan warlords is now estimated to be in the region of $700 million per year. You can buy a lot of Kalashnikovs with that.
So on the one hand we have our western governments bankrupting themselves to fight the “war on terror”, breaking international laws and murdering millions of innocent people across North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia while at the same time shredding what remain of our hard-won civil liberties at home.
On the other hand, we apparently have MI6 and the CIA secretly bankrolling the very people in Afghanistan who produce 90% of the world’s heroin. And then, of course, more scarce resources can be spent on fighting the failed “war on drugs” and yet another pretext is used to shred our civil liberties.
This is a lucrative economic model for the burgeoning military-security complex.
However, it is a lose-lose scenario for the rest of us.
I discuss the recent news that MI6, in addition to the CIA, has been paying “ghost money” to the political establishment in Afghanistan, other examples of such meddling, and the probable unintended consequences.
My recent interview on RT about the Petraeus Affair and the possible real reasons for his exposure and resignation:
I blame my partner. There I was having a perfectly nice day off, pootling my way through the Sunday newspapers and finding such intriguing articles about the fact that Britain has invaded all but 22 countries around the world over the centuries (France is the second most prolific invader but also has the dubious distinction of being the country most invaded by Britain, apparently).
Then he has to go and say “well, if the US ignores other countries’ laws, why should we be subject to theirs?”. This post is the unavoidable result.
I had made the tactical blunder of sharing two articles with him. The first was an excellent interview in today’s Independent with news supremo and financial subversive, Max Keiser; the second was an article I found in my Twitter stream from the indefatigable Julia O’Dwyer about her son’s ongoing legal fight in the UK.
The connection? Unfortunately and rather inevitably these days — extradition.
Richard O’Dwyer is the Sheffield student who is currently wanted by the USA on copyright infringement charges. Using a bit of old-fashioned get-up-and-go, he set up a website called tvshack.com, which apparently acted as a sign-posting service to websites where people could download media. Putting aside the simple argument that the service he provided was no different from Google, he also had no copyrighted material hosted on his website.
Richard has lived all his life in the UK, and he set up his website there. Under UK law he had committed no crime.
However, the American authorities thought differently. O’Dwyer had registered his website as a .com and the US now claims that any website, anywhere in the world, using a US-originated domain name (com/org/info/net etc) is subject to US law, thus allowing the American government to globalise their legal hegemony. The most notorious recent case was the illegal US intelligence operation to take down Megaupload and arrest Kim Dotcom in New Zealand earlier this year.
This has already resulted in foreign websites that attract the wrath of the US authorities being taken down, with no warning and no due process. This is the cyber equivalent of drone warfare and the presidentially-approved CIA kill list.
As a result, not only was O’Dwyer’s website summarily taken down, he is now facing extradition to the US and a 10 year stretch in a maximum security prison. All for something that is not even a crime under UK law. His case echoes the terrible 10-year ordeal that Gary McKinnon went through, and highlights the appalling problems inherent in the invidious, one-sided UK/USA Extradition Act.
So how does this link to the Max Keiser interview? Reading it reminded my of an investigation Keiser did a few years ago into the extraordinary rendition of a “terrorist suspect”, Abu Omar, from Italy to Egypt where he was inevitably, horrifically tortured. Since then, 23 CIA officers have now been tried under Italian law and found guilty of his kidnapping (let’s not mince our words here). The Milan Head of Station, Robert Lady is now wanted in Italy to serve his 9-year sentence, but the US government has refused to extradite him.
So let’s just reiterate this: on the one hand, the US demands EU citizens on suspicion that they may have committed a cyber-crime according to the diktats of American law, which we are all now supposed to agree has a globalised reach; on the other hand, US citizens who have already been convicted by the due legal process of other Western democracies are not handed over to serve their sentences for appalling crimes involving kidnapping and torture.
I have written at length about America’s asymmetric extradition laws, but this is taking the system to new heights of hypocrisy.
Just why, indeed, should European countries religiously obey America’s self-styled global legal dominion and hand over its citizens, presumed innocent until proven guilty, to the brutal and disproportionate US legal system? Especially when the US brushes aside the due legal processes of other democracies and refuses to extradite convicted felons?
It appears that the USA is in a hurry to reach and breach Britain’s record for foreign invasions. But in addition to old-fashioned military incursions, America is also going for full-spectrum legal dominance.
So I’m a bit puzzled here. UK Prime Minister Dave Cameron is quoted in today’s Daily Telegraph as saying that:
“It is not acceptable to have a situation where Colonel Gaddafi can be murdering his own people using aeroplanes and helicopter gunships and the like and we have to plan now to make sure if that happens we can do something to stop it.”
But do his American best buddies share that, umm, humane view? First of all they have the CIA assassination list which includes the names of US citizens (ie its own people); then those same “best buddies” may well resort to assassinating Wikileaks’s Julian Assange, probably the most high profile dissident in international and diplomatic circles at the moment; plus they are already waging remote drone warfare on many hapless Middle Eastern countries — Yeman, Afghanistan, Pakistan.….
Oh, and now the UK government seems poised to launch covert spy drones into the skies of Britain. Even the UK’s most right-wing mainstream newspapers, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, expressed concern about this today. Apparently these drones have yet to be weaponised.….
It’s a slippery slope down to an Orwellian nightmare.
I strongly recommend you take the time to watch this film about FBI whistleblower, Sibel Edmonds.
“Kill the Messenger” joins some interesting dots, not just about what might have been going on round Sibel’s case, but also adds a different perspective to the notorious outing of CIA officer, Valerie Plame.
Of course, a film that investigates how the might of the state can be used to stifle the legitimate dissent of a whistleblower will always resonate with me.
Same message, different country.
A debate is currently under way in the (ex) Land of the Free about how much protection intelligence whistleblowers should be accorded under the law.
Yes, the country that has brought the world the “war on terror”, Guantanamo Bay, and the Patriot Act, is having a moral spasm about how to best protect those who witness high crimes and misdemeanors inside the charmed circle of secrecy and intelligence.
And about time too, following the mess of revelations about spy complicity in torture currently emerging on both sides of the pond.
Interestingly, intelligence officials in the US already have a smidgeon more leeway than their UK counterparts. In the US, if you witness a crime committed by spies, you have to take your concerns to the head of the agency, and then you can go to Congress. In the UK, the only person you can legally report crime to is the head of the agency involved, so guess how many successful complaints are made? Even taking your proven and legitimate concerns to your elected UK representatives is a crime under the OSA.
Spooks in the UK now have access to an “ethical counsellor”, who has reportedly been visited a grand total of 12 times by intelligence officers since 2006. But this person has no power to investigate allegations of crime, and a visit guarantees a career-blocking black mark on your record of service: ie if you are the sort of person to worry your head with quaint ideas like ethics and morality you are, at best, not a team player and, worse, a possible security risk.
This is surely culturally unsustainable in a community of people who generally sign up to protect the citizens of the country and want to make a positive difference by working within the law? Those who have concerns will resign, at the very least, and those who like to “just follow orders” will float to the top. As one of the leading proponents for greater whistleblower protection in the USA states in the linked article:
“The code of loyalty to the chain of command is the primary value at those institutions, and they set the standard for intensity of retaliation.”
Some enlightened US politicians appear to be aware that intelligence whistleblowers require protection just as all other employees receive under the law: perhaps more so, as the nature of their work may well expose them to the most heinous crimes imaginable. There is also an argument for putting proper channels in place to ensure that whistleblowers don’t feel their only option is to risk going to the press. Effective channels for blowing the whistle and investigating crime can actually protect national security rather than compromise it.
The nay-sayers, of course, want to keep everything secret — after all, the status quo is currently working so well in upholding democratic values across the globe. Critics of the new legislation talk of “disgruntled employees .… gleefully” spilling the beans. Why is this hoary old line always dragged out in this type of discussion? Why are whistleblowers always described in this way, rather than called principled, brave or ethical?
Blanket secrecy works against the real interests of our countries. Mistakes can be covered up, group-think ensures that crimes continue, and anyone offering constructive criticism is labelled as a risky troublemaker — no doubt a “disgruntled” one at that.
Of course, certain areas of intelligence work need to be protected: current operational details (as ex-Met Assistant Commissioner, Bob Quick has discovered), agent identities, and sensitive techniques. But the life blood of a healthy democracy depends on open debate, ventilation of problems, and agreed solutions. Informed and participatory citizens need to know what is being done in their name.
I haven’t written here for a while, despite the embarras de richesses that has been presented to us in the news recently: Dame Stella saying that the UK is becoming a police state; drones will patrol the streets of Britain, watching our every move; databases are being built, containing all our electronic communications; ditto all our travel movements. What can a lone blogger usefully add to this? Only so much hot air — the facts speak for themselves.
Plus, I’ve been a bit caught up over the last couple of months with Operation Escape Pod. Not all of us are sitting around waiting for the prison gates to clang shut on the UK. I’m outta here!
But I can’t resist an interesting article in The Spectator magazine this week. And that’s a sentence I never thought I would write in my life.
Tim Shipman, quoting a plethora of anonymous intelligence sources and former spooks, asserts that Britain’s foreign policy is being skewed by the need to placate our intelligence allies, and that the CIA is roaming free in the wilds of Yorkshire.
His sources tell him that the UK is a “swamp” of Islamic extremism, and that the domestic spies are terrified that there will be a new terrorist atrocity, probably against US interests but it could be anywhere, carried out by our very own home-grown terrorists. According to Shipman, this terrible prospect had all the spooks busily downing trebles in the bars around Vauxhall Cross in the wake of the Mumbai bombings.
Apart from the suggestion that the spies’ drinking culture appears to be as robust as ever, I find this interesting because well-sourced spook spin is more likely to appear in the august pages of The Speccie than in, say, Red Pepper. But if this is an accurate reflection of the thinking of our politicians and intelligence community, then this is an extremely worrying development. It goes a long way to explaining why the UK has become the most policed state in the Western world.
Yes, in the 1990s the UK practised a strategy of appeasement towards Islamic extremists. MI5’s view was always that it was better to give radicals a safe haven in the UK, which they would then be loathe to attack directly, and where a close eye could be kept on them.
This, of course, was derailed by Blair’s Messianic mission in the Middle East. By unilaterally supporting Bush’s adventurism in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the teeth of stark warnings about the attendant risks from the head of MI5, Britain has become “the enemy” in the eyes of radical Islam. The gloves are off, and we are all at greater risk because of our former PM’s hubris.
But now we apparently have free-range CIA officers infiltrating the Muslim communities of the UK. No doubt Mossad is also again secretly tolerated, despite the fact that they had been banned for years from operating in the UK because they were too unpredictable (a civil service euphemism for violent).
And I am willing to bet that this international perception that UK spooks will be caught off-guard by an apparently British-originated terrorist attack is the reason for the slew of new totalitarian laws that are making us all suspects. The drones, the datamining and the draconian stop-and-search laws are designed to reassure our invaluable allies in the CIA, Mossad, ISI and the FSB. They will not be put in place to “protect” us.