RT article about MI6’s Afghan “ghost money”

Here’s a link to my new art­icle, pub­lished exclus­ively today on RT’s Op-Edge news site.

I dis­cuss the recent news that MI6, in addi­tion to the CIA, has been pay­ing “ghost money” to the polit­ical estab­lish­ment in Afgh­anistan, other examples of such med­dling, and the prob­able unin­ten­ded consequences.

How to stop war — Make Wars History

A recent Make Wars His­tory event in the UK Par­lia­ment, hos­ted by John McDon­nell MP, with Chris Cover­dale and myself speak­ing.  Some prac­tical steps we can all take to make wars his­tory:

Make Wars His­tory talk in Par­lia­ment, April 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Interview on the Abby Martin show, RT America

My recent inter­view on “Break­ing the Set”, Abby Martin’s show on RT Amer­ica, dis­cuss­ing all things whis­tleblow­ing:

Secret Agent Turns Whis­tleblower from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The Real News Network Interview on Whistleblowing

Part One of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

Gestapo Courts

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 30 Septem­ber 2012

Pub­lished in The Real News Net­work, 30 Septem­ber 2012

A lot of sound and fury has been expen­ded in the Brit­ish media over the last few months about the Coali­tion government’s pro­posal to enact secret courts via the pro­posed Justice and Secur­ity Bill — purely for ter­ror­ist cases, you under­stand. Which, of course, is OK as we all know ter­ror­ists are by defin­i­tion the Baddies.

Except we need to drill down into the detail of the pro­pos­als, have a look at some his­tory, and think through the future implications.

The concept of secret courts emerged from the offi­cial UK spook sec­tor — MI5 and MI6 have been lob­by­ing hard for such pro­tec­tion over recent years.  Their argu­ment revolves around a num­ber of civil cases, where Brit­ish vic­tims of extraordin­ary rendi­tion and sub­sequent tor­ture have sued the pants off the spies through civil courts and received some recom­pense for their years of suffering.

The most notori­ous case was that of Binyam Mohamed, who was repeatedly tor­tured in a black prison in Morocco, with Brit­ish spies allegedly con­trib­ut­ing to his ques­tion­ing. And we’re not talk­ing about a few stress pos­i­tions, awful as they are. Mohamed was strung up and had his penis repeatedly slashed with a razor.

MI5 and MI6 are aggrieved because they could not defend them­selves in the res­ult­ant civil actions brought against them, and they (and their former polit­ical mas­ter Jack Straw) are par­tic­u­larly wor­ried about future cases around the MI6-organised Libyan rendi­tions exposed last year.  The spies’ argu­ment is that hav­ing to pro­duce evid­ence in their own defence would dam­age that ever-flexible but curi­ously vague concept of “national security”.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

The spooks have tra­di­tion­ally used the “national secur­ity” argu­ment as the ulti­mate get-out-of-jail-free card.  It has never been leg­ally defined, but it is unfail­ingly effect­ive with judges and politicians.

We saw sim­ilar argu­ments dur­ing the post-9/11 secur­ity flap, when many ter­ror­ist sus­pects were scooped up and interned in high secur­ity Brit­ish pris­ons such as Bel­marsh on the say-so of face­less intel­li­gence officers. No evid­ence needed to be adduced, nor could it be chal­lenged. The sub­sequent con­trol order sys­tem was equally Kafkaesque.

That’s not to say that cer­tain interned indi­vidu­als might not have been an act­ive threat to the UK.  How­ever, in the “good” old days (god, I sound ancient), sus­pects would have had evid­ence gathered against them, been tried by a jury, con­victed and imprisoned. The sys­tem was never per­fect and evid­ence could be egre­giously with­held, but at least appeals were pos­sible, most not­ably in the case of the Birm­ing­ham Six.

Since 9/11 even breath­ing the word “ter­ror­ist” has meant that all these his­toric com­mon law prin­ciples seem to have been jet­tisoned.  Even before the pro­posed enshrine­ment of “secret courts” in the new Bill, they are already being used in the UK — the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeal Com­mis­sion (SIAC) tribunals hear secret evid­ence and the defendant’s chosen law­yer is not allowed to attend. Instead a spe­cial, government-approved advoc­ate is appoin­ted to “rep­res­ent the interests” of the defend­ant who is not allowed to know what his accusers have to say. And there was no appeal.

But all this is so unne­ces­sary.  The powers are already in place to be used (and abused) to shroud our notion­ally open court pro­cess in secrecy.  Judges can exclude the press and the pub­lic from court rooms by declar­ing the ses­sion in cam­era for all or part of the pro­ceed­ings.  Plus, in national secur­ity cases, gov­ern­ment min­is­ters can also issue Pub­lic Interest Immunity Cer­ti­fic­ates (PIIs) that not only bar the press from report­ing the pro­ceed­ings, but can also ban them from report­ing they are gagged — the gov­ern­mental super-injunction.

So the powers already exist to pro­tect “national secur­ity”.  No, the real point of the new secret courts is to ensure that the defend­ant and, par­tic­u­larly in my view, their chosen law­yers can­not hear the alleg­a­tions if based on intel­li­gence of any kind. Yet even the spies them­selves agree that the only type of intel­li­gence that really needs to be kept secret involves ongo­ing oper­a­tions, agent names, and sens­it­ive oper­a­tional techniques.

 And as for the right to be tried by a jury of your peers — for­get it.  Of course jur­ies will have no place in such secret courts.  The only time we have seen such dra­conian judi­cial meas­ures in the UK out­side a time of offi­cial war was dur­ing the Troubles in North­ern Ire­land — the infam­ous Dip­lock Courts — begin­ning in the 1970s and which incred­ibly were still in use this year.

I am not an apo­lo­gist of ter­ror­ism although I can under­stand the social injustice that can lead to it.  How­ever, I’m also very aware that the threat can be arti­fi­cially ramped up and manip­u­lated to achieve pre­con­ceived polit­ical goals.

I would sug­gest that the concept of secret courts will prove fatally dan­ger­ous to our demo­cracy.  It may start with the concept of get­ting the Big Bad Ter­ror­ist, but in more polit­ic­ally unstable or strin­gent eco­nomic times this concept is wide open to mis­sion creep.

We are already see­ing a slide towards expand­ing the defin­i­tion of “ter­ror­ist” to include “domestic extrem­ists”, act­iv­ists, single issue cam­paign­ers et al, as I have writ­ten before. And just recently inform­a­tion was leaked about a new public-private EU ini­ti­at­ive, Clean IT, that pro­poses ever more invas­ive and dra­conian poli­cing powers to hunt down “ter­ror­ists” on the inter­net. This pro­posal fails to define ter­ror­ism, but does provide for endemic elec­tronic sur­veil­lance of the EU. Pure cor­por­at­ism.

Allow­ing secret courts to try people on the say-so of a shad­owy, unac­count­able and bur­geon­ing spy com­munity lands us straight back in the pages of his­tory: La Ter­reur of revolu­tion­ary France, the creepy sur­veil­lance of the Stasi, or the dis­ap­pear­ances and tor­ture of the Gestapo.

Have we learned nothing?

21st Century Pacificism (The Old Stuff)

The_ScreamI have always been ideo­lo­gic­ally opposed to war and all the hor­rors that flow in its wake: agon­ising fear and death, fam­ine, dis­place­ment, maim­ing, tor­ture, rape, intern­ment and the break­down of all the hard-won val­ues of civ­il­ised human law and behaviour.

Look­ing back, I think that was partly why I was attrac­ted to work in dip­lomacy and how I ended up being enticed into intel­li­gence. These worlds, although by no means per­fect, could con­ceiv­ably be seen as the last-ditch defences before a coun­try goes bel­low­ing into all-out war.

I marched against the Iraq war, toured the UK to speak at Stop the War meet­ings, worked with Make Wars His­tory, and have cease­lessly spoken out and writ­ten about these and related issues.

Alastair_Campbell_1Today in the UK we have reached a con­sensus that Blair’s gov­ern­ment lied to the coun­try into the Iraq war on the false premise of weapons of mass destruc­tion, and sub­sequently enabled the Bush admin­is­tra­tion to do the same in the USA, hyp­ing up the threat of a nuc­lear Iraq using false intel­li­gence provided by MI6.

Mil­lions of people marched then, and mil­lions of people con­tinue to protest against the ongo­ing engorge­ment of the military/intelligence com­plex, but noth­ing ever seems to change.  It’s demo­crat­ic­ally dis­em­power­ing and an ener­vat­ing exper­i­ence.  What can we do about it?

I have a couple of sug­ges­tions (The New Stuff), but first let’s look at some of the most egre­gious cur­rent fake realities.

David_CameronLast year we had the spec­tacle of the cur­rent No 10 incum­bent, Dave Cameron, stat­ing that the Libyan inter­ven­tion would be noth­ing like Iraq — it would be “neces­sary, legal and right”. But there was no sub­sequent joined-up think­ing, and Blair and his cronies have still not been held to account for the Iraq gen­o­cide, des­pite prima facie breaches of inter­na­tional war law and of the Offi­cial Secrets Act.…

Abdelhakim-BelhajBut help might be at hand for those inter­ested in justice, cour­tesy of Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, former Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group leader, MI6 kid­nap­ping and tor­ture vic­tim, and cur­rent mil­it­ary com­mander in Tripoli.

After NATO’s human­it­arian bomb­ing of Libya last year and the fall of Gaddafi’s régime, some ser­i­ously embar­rass­ing paper­work was found in the aban­doned office of Libyan For­eign Min­is­ter and former spy head honcho, Musa Kusa (who fled to the UK and sub­sequently on to Qatar).

These let­ters, sent in 2004 by former MI6 Head of Ter­ror­ism and cur­rent BP con­sult­ant, Sir Mark Allen, gloat­ingly offer up the hap­less Bel­haj to the Liby­ans for tor­ture.  It almost seems like MI6 wanted a gold star from their new best­est friends.

Bel­haj, under­stand­ably, is still slightly peeved about this and is now suing MI6. As a res­ult, a frantic damage-limitation exer­cise is going on, with MI6 try­ing to buy his silence with a mil­lion quid, and scat­ter­ing unat­trib­uted quotes across the Brit­ish media: “it wasn’t us, gov, it was the, er, government.…”.

Which drops either (or both) Tony Blair and Jack Straw eyebrow-deep in the stink­ing cesspit. One or other of them should have signed off on Belhaj’s kid­nap­ping, know­ing he would be tor­tured in Tripoli. Or per­haps they actu­ally are inno­cent of this.…. but if they didn’t sign off on the Bel­haj extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping, then MI6 was run­ning rampant, work­ing out­side the law on their watch.

Either way, there are ser­i­ous ques­tions to be answered.

Jack_StrawBoth these upstand­ing politi­cians are, of course, suf­fer­ing from polit­ical amne­sia about this case. In fact, Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time of the kid­nap­ping, has said that he can­not have been expec­ted to know everything the spies got up to — even though that was pre­cisely his job, as he was respons­ible for them under the terms of the Intel­li­gence Secur­ity Act 1994, and should cer­tainly have had to clear an oper­a­tion so polit­ic­ally sensitive.

In the wake of Afgh­anistan, Iraq and Libya, what wor­ries me now is that exactly the same reas­ons, with politi­cians mouth­ing exactly the same plat­it­ud­in­ous “truths”, are being pushed to jus­tify an increas­ingly inev­it­able strike against Iran.

Depress­ing as this all is, I would sug­gest that protest­ing each new, indi­vidual war is not the neces­sar­ily the most effect­ive response.  Just as the world’s mar­kets have been glob­al­ised, so mani­festly to the bene­fit of all we 99%-ers, have many other issues.

Unlike Dave Cameron, we need to apply some joined-up think­ing.  Global protest groups need to counter more than indi­vidual wars in Iraq, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Sudan (North and South), Syria, Iran.….. sorry, I’m get­ting writer’s cramp just enu­mer­at­ing all the cur­rent wars.

Give me a while to over­come my moral spasm, and I shall return with a few sug­ges­tions about pos­sible ways for­ward — 21st Cen­tury Paci­fism; the New Stuff.

Iran_and_US_bases

Judicial rendition — the UK-US extradition treaty is a farce

Some­times I sit here read­ing the news -  on sub­jects in which I take a deep interest such as the recent police invest­ig­a­tion into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture, where the police decided not to pro­sec­ute — and feel that I should com­ment.  But really, what would be the point?  Of course the police would not find enough con­crete evid­ence, of course no indi­vidual spies would be held to account, des­pite the fact that the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment has already paid massive set­tle­ments to the victims.

BelhadjNow there are reports that the police will be invest­ig­at­ing MI6 involve­ment in the extraordin­ary rendi­tion and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  The case appears bang to rights, with doc­u­ment­ary evid­ence that high-ranking MI6 officers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters were involved in and approved the oper­a­tion.  Yet I’m will­ing to bet that the plods at Scot­land Yard will still not be able to find the requis­ite evid­ence to pro­sec­ute anybody. 

The inev­it­able (and prob­ably wished-for out­come on the part of the author­it­ies) is that people become so weary and cyn­ical about the lack of justice that they stop fight­ing for it.  And they can tem­por­ar­ily suc­ceed, when we suc­cumb to cyn­ical burnout.

But the case repor­ted in today’s Daily Mail, that of a young Brit­ish stu­dent facing extra­di­tion to the US des­pite hav­ing broken no laws in the UK, suc­ceeded in rous­ing my wrath. 

Richard_ODwyerThe hap­less 23-year old Richard O’Dwyer faces 10 years in a max­imum secur­ity Amer­ican prison.  His crime, accord­ing to the US, is that he set up a UK-based web­site that provided links to other inter­na­tional web­sites that allegedly hos­ted copy­right material.

This case is so troub­ling on so many levels it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.  There are issues around the crack­down of US cor­por­ate copy­right law, issues around the inequal­ity of the uni­lat­eral Extra­di­tion Act 2003, and his­toric ques­tions of US hypo­crisy about extradition.

So let’s start with the unsup­por­ted alleg­a­tions against poor Richard O’Dwyer.  He is a stu­dent who built a web­site that col­lated a list of sites in other coun­tries that host films, books and music for free down­load.  O’Dwyer did not him­self down­load any copy­righted mater­ial, and the web­sites he linked to were appar­ently within jur­is­dic­tions where such down­loads are not illegal.  Provid­ing a sign­post to other legal inter­na­tional sites is mani­festly not a crime in the UK and he has never been charged.

How­ever, over the last couple of dec­ades the US enter­tain­ment lobby has been fight­ing a vicious rear­guard action against copy­right infringe­ment, start­ing with the music, then the film, and now the pub­lish­ing industry.  The lob­by­ists have proved vic­tori­ous and the invi­di­ous SOPA and PIPA laws are soon to be passed by the US Con­gress.  All well and good you might think — it’s one of those mad US issues.  But oh no, these laws have global reach.  What might be legal within the UK might still mean that you fall foul of US legislation.

Gary_McKinnon2Which is where the Extra­di­tion Act 2003 becomes par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing.  This law means that any UK cit­izen can be deman­ded by and handed over to the US with no prima facie evid­ence.  As we have seen in the appalling case of alleged hacker Gary McKin­non, it mat­ters not if the “crime” were com­mit­ted on UK soil (as you can see here, McKinnon’s case was not pro­sec­uted by the UK author­it­ies in 2002.  If it had been, he would have received a max­imum sen­tence of 6 months’ com­munity ser­vice: if extra­dited he is facing up to 70 years in a US max­imum secur­ity prison).

The UK gov­ern­ment has tried to spin the egre­gious Libyan cases as “judi­cial rendi­tion” rather than “extraordin­ary kid­nap­ping” or whatever it’s sup­posed to be.  So I think it would be accur­ate to call Gary McKinnon’s case “judi­cial rendi­tion” too, rather than bor­ing old extradition.

Richard O’Dwyer appar­ently didn’t com­mit any­thing that could be deemed to be a crime in the UK, and yet he is still facing extra­di­tion to the US and a 10 year stretch.  The new US laws like SOPA threaten all of us, and not just with judi­cial rendition. 

As I have men­tioned before, digital rights act­iv­ist Cory Doc­torow summed it up best: “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.  These cor­por­ate inter­net laws are a Tro­jan horse that will threaten our basic civil liber­ties across the board.

So now to my third point.  The hypo­crisy around the Amer­ican stance on extra­di­tion with the UK is breath­tak­ing.   The UK has been dis­patch­ing its own cit­izens off at an alarm­ing rate to the “tender” mer­cies of the US judi­cial sys­tem since 2004, with no prima facie evid­ence required.  In fact, the legal proof required to get a UK cit­izen extra­dited to the US is less than that required for someone to be extra­dited from one US state to another. 

The US, on the other hand, delayed rat­i­fy­ing the law until 2006, and the bur­den of proof required to extra­dite someone to the UK remains high, so it is unbal­anced not only in concept but also in prac­tice.  And this des­pite the fact that the law was seen as cru­cial to facil­it­ate the trans­fer of highly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ist sus­pects in the end­less “war on terror”.

Why has this happened?  One can but spec­u­late about the power of the Irish lobby in the US gov­ern­ment, as Sir Men­zies Camp­bell did dur­ing a par­lia­ment­ary debate about the Act in 2006.   How­ever, it is well known that the US was remark­ably coy about extra­dit­ing IRA sus­pects back to the UK to stand trial dur­ing the 30-year “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land.  We even have well-known apo­lo­gists such as Con­gress­man Peter King, the Chair­man of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee attempt­ing to demon­ise organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks as ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions, while at the same being a life-long sup­porter of Sinn Féin, the polit­ical wing of the Pro­vi­sional IRA.

UK_poodleThe double stand­ards are breath-taking.  The US dic­tates an extra­di­tion treaty with the UK to stop ter­ror­ism, but then uses this law to tar­get those who might poten­tially, tan­gen­tially, minutely threaten the profits of the US enter­tain­ment mega-corps; and then it delays rat­i­fy­ing and imple­ment­ing its own law for poten­tially dubi­ous polit­ical reasons.

And the UK gov­ern­ment yet again rolls over and takes it, while inno­cent stu­dents such as Richard O’Dwyer must pay the price.  As his mother is quoted as say­ing: “if they can come for Richard, they can come for anyone”.

Libya, MI6, and torture — interview on Press TV

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

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

Libyans caught between a rock and a hard place

This art­icle in today’s New York Times, par­tic­u­larly these fol­low­ing two para­graphs, sent a shiver down my spine for the fate of the Libyan people:

Abdelhakim-Belhaj“The most power­ful mil­it­ary leader is now Abdel Hakim Bel­haj, the former leader of a hard-line group once believed to be aligned with Al Qaeda.The grow­ing influ­ence of Islam­ists in Libya raises hard ques­tions about the ulti­mate char­ac­ter of the gov­ern­ment and soci­ety that will rise in place of Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi’s autocracy.….

.…Mr. Bel­haj has become so much an insider lately that he is seek­ing to unseat Mah­moud Jib­ril, the American-trained eco­nom­ist who is the nom­inal prime min­is­ter of the interim gov­ern­ment, after Mr. Jib­ril obliquely cri­ti­cized the Islamists.”

The Liby­ans, finally free of Gaddafi’s 42-year dic­tat­or­ship, now seem faced with a choice between an Islam­ist fac­tion that has stated pub­licly that it wants to base the new con­sti­tu­tion on Sharia — a state­ment that must have caused a few ripples amongst Libya’s edu­cated and rel­at­ively  eman­cip­ated women — or a new gov­ern­ment headed up by an American-trained economist. 

Shock_DoctrineAnd we all know what hap­pens to coun­tries when such eco­nom­ists move in: asset strip­ping, the syphon­ing off of the national wealth to transna­tional mega-corps, and a plunge in the people’s liv­ing stand­ards.  If you think this sounds extreme, then do get your hands on a copy of Naomi Klein’s excel­lent “Shock Doc­trine” — required read­ing for any­one who wants to truly under­stand the grow­ing global fin­an­cial crisis.

Of course, this would be an ideal out­come for the US, UK and other west­ern forces who inter­vened in Libya. 

Mr Bel­haj is, of course, another mat­ter.  Not only would an Islam­ist Libya be a poten­tially dan­ger­ous res­ult for the West, but should Bel­haj come to power he is likely to be some­what hos­tile to US and par­tic­u­larly Brit­ish interests.  

Why?  Well, Abdul Hakim Bel­haj has form.  He was a lead­ing light in the Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group, a ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion which bought into the ideo­logy of “Al Qaeda” and which had made many attempts to depose or assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi, some­times with the fin­an­cial back­ing of the Brit­ish spies, most not­ably in the failed assas­sin­a­tion plot of 1996.

Of course, after 9/11 and Gaddafi’s rap­proche­ment with the West, this col­lab­or­a­tion was all air-brushed out of his­tory — to such an extent that in 2004 MI6 was instru­mental in  kid­nap­ping Bel­haj, with the say-so of the CIA, and “extraordin­ar­ily ren­der­ing” him to Tripoli in 2004, where he suffered 6 years’ tor­ture at the hands of Libya’s bru­tal intel­li­gences ser­vices.  After this, I doubt if he would be minded to work too closely with UK companies.

So I’m will­ing to bet that there is more behind-the-scenes med­dling from our spooks, to ensure the ascend­ency of Jib­ril in the new gov­ern­ment.  Which will be great for West­ern busi­ness, but not so great for the poor Libyans.….

Spy documents found in Libya reveal more British double dealing

Musa_KousaA cache of highly clas­si­fied intel­li­gence doc­u­ments was recently dis­covered in the aban­doned offices of former Libyan spy mas­ter, For­eign Min­is­ter and high-profile defector, Musa Kusa.

These doc­u­ments have over the last couple of weeks provided a fas­cin­at­ing insight into the grow­ing links in the last dec­ade between the former UK Labour gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly Tony Blair, and the Gad­dafi régime.  They have dis­played in oily detail the degree of toady­ing that the Blair gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to coun­ten­ance, not only to secure luc­rat­ive busi­ness con­tracts but also to gloss over embar­rass­ing epis­odes such as Lock­er­bie and the false flag MI6-backed 1996 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gaddafi.

These doc­u­ments have also appar­ently revealed dir­ect involve­ment by MI6 in the “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” to Tripoli and tor­ture of two Liby­ans.  Iron­ic­ally it has been repor­ted that they were wanted for being mem­bers of the Libyan Islamic Fight­ing Group, the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had backed in its failed 1996 coup.

The sec­u­lar dic­tat­or­ship of Col Gad­dafi always had much to fear from Islam­ist extrem­ism, so it is per­haps unsur­pris­ing that, after Blair’s notori­ous “deal in the desert” in 2004, the Gad­dafi régime used its con­nec­tions with MI6 and the CIA to hunt down its enemies.  And, as we have all been end­lessly told, the rules changed after 9/11…

The tor­ture  vic­tims, one of whom is now a mil­it­ary com­mander of the rebel Libyan forces, are now con­sid­er­ing suing the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment.  Jack Straw, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary at the time, has tried to shuffle off any blame, stat­ing that he could not be expec­ted to know everything that MI6 does.

Well, er, no — part of the job descrip­tion of For­eign Sec­ret­ary is indeed to over­see the work of MI6 and hold it to demo­cratic account­ab­il­ity, espe­cially about such ser­i­ous policy issues as “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture.  Such oper­a­tions would indeed need the min­is­terial sign-off to be legal under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act.

There has been just so much hot air from the cur­rent gov­ern­ment about how the Gib­son Tor­ture Inquiry will get to the bot­tom of these cases, but we all know how tooth­less such inquir­ies will be, cir­cum­scribed as they are by the terms of the Inquir­ies Act 2005.  We also know that Sir Peter Gib­son him­self has for years been “embed­ded” within the Brit­ish intel­li­gence com­munity and is hardly likely to hold the spies mean­ing­fully to account.

MoS_Shayler_11_09_2011So I was par­tic­u­larly intrigued to hear that the the cache of doc­u­ments showed the case of David Shayler, the intel­li­gence whis­tleblower who revealed the 1996 Gad­dafi assas­sin­a­tion plot and went to prison twice for doing so, first in France in 1998 and then in the UK in 2002, was still a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion between the Libyan and UK gov­ern­ments in 2007. And, as I have writ­ten before, as late as 2009 it was obvi­ous that this case was still used by the Liby­ans for lever­age, cer­tainly when it came to the tit-for-tat nego­ti­ations around case of the murder in Lon­don out­side the Libyan Embassy of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984.

Of course, way back in 1998, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment was all too ready to crush the whis­tleblower rather than invest­ig­ate the dis­clos­ures and hold the spies to account for their illegal and reck­less acts.  I have always felt that this was a fail­ure of demo­cracy, that it ser­i­ously under­mined the future work and repu­ta­tion of the spies them­selves, and par­tic­u­larly that it was such a shame for the fate of the PBW (poor bloody whis­tleblower).

But it now appears that the Brit­ish intel­li­gence community’s sense of omni­po­tence and of being above the law has come back to bite them.  How else explain their slide into a group-think men­tal­ity that par­ti­cip­ates in “extraordin­ary rendi­tion” and tor­ture?

One has to won­der if wily old Musa Kusa left this cache of doc­u­ments behind in his aban­doned offices as an “insur­ance policy”, just in case his defec­tion to the UK were not to be as com­fort­able as he had hoped — and we now know that he soon fled to Qatar after he had been ques­tioned about the Lock­er­bie case.

But whether an hon­est mis­take or cun­ning power play, his actions have helped to shine a light into more dark corners of Brit­ish gov­ern­ment lies and double deal­ing vis a vis Libya.…

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

The Guardian’s spook com­ment­ator extraordin­aire, Richard Norton-Taylor, has repor­ted that the cur­rent chair of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) in the UK Par­lia­ment, Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, wants the com­mit­tee to finally grow a pair.  Well, those weren’t quite the words used in the Grauny, but they cer­tainly cap­ture the gist.

If Rifkind’s stated inten­tions are real­ised, the new-look ISC might well provide real, mean­ing­ful and demo­cratic over­sight for the first time in the 100-year his­tory of  the three key UK spy agen­cies — MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, not to men­tion the defence intel­li­gence staff, the joint intel­li­gence com­mit­tee and the new National Secur­ity Council .

FigleafFor many long years I have been dis­cuss­ing the woe­ful lack of real demo­cratic over­sight for the UK spies.  The privately-convened ISC, the demo­cratic fig-leaf estab­lished under the aegis of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (ISA), is appoin­ted by and answer­able only to the Prime Min­is­ter, with a remit only to look at fin­ance, policy and admin­is­tra­tion, and without the power to demand doc­u­ments or to cross-examine wit­nesses under oath.  Its annual reports are always heav­ily redac­ted and have become a joke amongst journalists.

When the remit of the ISC was being drawn up in the early 1990s, the spooks were apo­plectic that Par­lia­ment should have any form of over­sight what­so­ever.  From their per­spect­ive, it was bad enough at that point that the agen­cies were put on a legal foot­ing for the first time.  Spy think­ing then ran pretty much along the lines of “why on earth should they be answer­able to a bunch of here-today, gone-tomorrow politi­cians, who were leaky as hell and gos­siped to journ­al­ists all the time”?

So it says a great deal that the spooks breathed a huge, col­lect­ive sigh of relief when the ISC remit was finally enshrined in law in 1994.  They really had noth­ing to worry about.  I remem­ber, I was there at the time.

This has been borne out over the last 17 years.  Time and again the spies have got away with telling bare­faced lies to the ISC.  Or at the very least being “eco­nom­ical with the truth”, to use one of their favour­ite phrases.  Former DG of MI5, Sir Stephen Lander, has pub­licly said that “I blanche at some of the things I declined to tell the com­mit­tee [ISC] early on…”.  Not to men­tion the out­right lies told to the ISC over the years about issues like whis­tleblower testi­mony, tor­ture, and counter-terrorism meas­ures.

But these new devel­op­ments became yet more fas­cin­at­ing to me when I read that the cur­rent Chair of the ISC pro­pos­ing these reforms is no less than Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, crusty Tory grandee and former Con­ser­vat­ive For­eign Min­is­ter in the mid-1990s.

For Sir Mal­colm was the For­eign Sec­ret­ary notion­ally in charge of MI6 when the intel­li­gence officers, PT16 and PT16/B, hatched the ill-judged Gad­dafi Plot when MI6 fun­ded a rag-tag group of Islamic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists in Libya to assas­sin­ate the Col­onel, the key dis­clos­ure made by David Shayler when he blew the whistle way back in the late 1990s.

Obvi­ously this assas­sin­a­tion attempt was highly reck­less in a very volat­ile part of the world; obvi­ously it was uneth­ical, and many inno­cent people were murdered in the attack; and obvi­ously it failed, lead­ing to the shaky rap­proche­ment with Gad­dafi over the last dec­ade.  Yet now we are see­ing the use of sim­ilar tac­tics in the cur­rent Libyan war (this time more openly) with MI6 officers being sent to help the rebels in Benghazi and our gov­ern­ment openly and shame­lessly call­ing for régime change.

Malcolm_RifkindBut most import­antly from a legal per­spect­ive, in 1996 the “Gad­dafi Plot” MI6 appar­ently did not apply for prior writ­ten per­mis­sion from Rif­kind — which they were leg­ally obliged to do under the terms of the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act (the very act that also estab­lished the ISC).  This is the fabled, but real, “licence to kill” — Sec­tion 7 of the ISA — which provides immunity to MI6 officers for illegal acts com­mit­ted abroad, if they have the requis­ite min­is­terial permission.

At the time, Rif­kind pub­licly stated that he had not been approached by MI6 to sanc­tion the plot when the BBC Pan­or­ama pro­gramme con­duc­ted a spe­cial invest­ig­a­tion, screened on 7 August 1997.  Rifkind’s state­ment was also repor­ted widely in the press over the years, includ­ing this New States­man art­icle by Mark Thomas in 2002.

That said, Rif­kind him­self wrote earlier this year in The Tele­graph that help should now be given to the Benghazi “rebels” — many of whom appear to be mem­bers of the very same group that tried to assas­sin­ate Gad­dafi with MI6’s help in 1996 — up to and includ­ing the pro­vi­sion of arms.  Rifkind’s view of the leg­al­it­ies now appear to be some­what more flex­ible, whatever his stated pos­i­tion was back in the 90s. 

Of course, then he was notion­ally in charge of MI6 and would have to take the rap for any polit­ical fall-out.  Now he can relax into the role of “quis cus­todiet ipsos cus­todes?”.  Such a relief.

I shall be watch­ing devel­op­ments around Rifkind’s pro­posed reforms with interest.

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Min­is­ter, David Cameron, reportedly made the start­ling state­ment recently that the mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion in Libya “unlike Iraq, is neces­sary, legal and right”. 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be won­der­ful if he could take the next logical step towards joined-up think­ing and con­sider send­ing our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a cer­tain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of por­ridge at the Inter­na­tional Crim­inal Court in The Hague?  After all, Cameron has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was “unne­ces­sary, illegal and wrong”.….

But back to Libya.  With the ongo­ing crisis — now war — much is being writ­ten about how the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment col­lab­or­ated with the Gad­dafi régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­ilar levels of coöper­a­tion and back-slapping and money-grubbing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the con­tinu­ing flow of oil con­tracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dis­sect­ing the Labour/Gaddafi power bal­ance.  Gad­dafi had New Labour over the pro­ver­bial (oil) bar­rel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whis­tleblower David Shayler exposed the failed and illegal MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­onel Gad­dafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islamic extrem­ists.  The newly-elected Labour government’s knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook’s deni­als and cover-up for them.  Per­haps not so sur­pris­ing, as the gov­ern­ment min­is­ters of the day were uncom­fort­ably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the gov­ern­ment pos­i­tion exposed, as Gad­dafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cog­nis­ant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intel­li­gence ser­vices.  The Gad­dafi Plot is once again being ref­er­enced in the media, includ­ing the Tele­graph, and a recent edi­tion of the Huff­ing­ton Post.  The details are still rel­ev­ant, as it appears that our enter­pris­ing spooks are yet again reach­ing out to a rag-tag group of rebels — primar­ily Islam­ists and the Senussi roy­al­ists based around Benghazi. 

The les­sons of the reck­less and ill-thought out Gad­dafi Plot were brushed under the car­pet, so his­tory may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gad­dafi has been one of the biggest back­ers of ter­ror­ism ever, and yes he has bru­tal­ised parts of his own pop­u­la­tion, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those step­ping into the power vacuum would not be even more dangerous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Libyan gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to use the 1996 MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot as lever­age in its nego­ti­ations with the New Labour gov­ern­ment right up until (pub­licly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter, played a key role through­out.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Libyan External Secur­ity Organsi­ation and was widely seen as the chief archi­tect of inter­na­tional Libyan-backed ter­ror­ism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Another appar­ent example of this moral black­mail caught my eye recently — this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gad­dafi was afforded MI6-backed pro­tec­tion when he was finally allowed into the UK in Septem­ber 2002 to study at the LSE

The tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, as only months earlier Saif had won a libel case against the UK’s Sunday Tele­graph news­pa­per.  A grov­el­ling apo­logy was made by the news­pa­per, but Saif refrained from ask­ing for “exem­plary dam­ages” — which he would almost cer­tainly have won.  The res­ult­ing pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was wel­comed into the UK with MI6-facilitated protection.

Saif’s rela­tions with the UK had not always been so rosy. As back­ground to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Tele­graph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 clas­sic pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion.  As The Guard­ian repor­ted, the secret­ive MI6 media manip­u­la­tion sec­tion, Inform­a­tion Oper­a­tions, (I/Ops), had suc­cess­fully spun a fake story to hap­less spook hack, Con Cough­lin, that Gad­dafi Junior was involved in cur­rency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it pro­duced was used by the spies as a pre­text to pre­vent Saif from enter­ing the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old his­tory, of course.  Saif was wel­comed to the UK, offi­cially to study for his MA and PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (and show­ing his grat­it­ude to that august insti­tu­tion with a hefty dona­tion of £1.5 mil­lion — it makes the new tuition fees for UK stu­dents seem bet­ter value for money), and unof­fi­cially to chum up to vari­ous Estab­lish­ment ena­blers to end Libya’s pariah status, open up luc­rat­ive trade chan­nels, and get the SAS to train up Libya’s spe­cial forces

The UK mil­it­ary must be just lov­ing that now.….

So I get the feel­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has over the last dec­ade indeed “danced with the devil”.  After dec­ades of view­ing Libya and Col­onel Gad­dafi as a Pri­or­ity One JIC intel­li­gence tar­get, the UK gov­ern­ment fell over itself to appease the Gad­dafi régime in the wake of the bungled assas­sin­a­tion attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gad­dafi used; the car­rots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facilitated oil con­tracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, fol­low­ing Dave Cameron’s “neces­sary, legal and right” mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion.  If the wily old Col­onel man­ages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impress­ive track-record of sur­viv­ing against the odds), then I doubt if he’ll be happy to coöper­ate with Brit­ish oil com­pan­ies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gad­dafi has already threatened “ven­geance” against the West, and it was repor­ted today that MI5 is tak­ing this all-too-preditable risk seriously.

If Gad­dafi is deposed, who can real­ist­ic­ally pre­dict the inten­tions and cap­ab­il­it­ies of those who will fill the power vacuum?  We should have learnt from Afgh­anistan and Iraq: my enemy’s enemy is my friend — until he becomes my enemy again.….