The aftermath of Paris — Going Underground

Here’s a recent inter­view I did on RT’s Going Under­ground about the after­math of the Paris attacks:

RT_Going_Underground_After_the_Paris_Attacks from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Jihadi John and MI5

So this week the mur­der­ous beheader of the Islamic State, “Jihadi John”, has been unmasked.  His real iden­tity is appar­ently Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait and now a Brit­ish cit­izen who was raised and edu­cated in west London

Much sound, fury and heated debate has been expen­ded over the last couple of days about how he became rad­ic­al­ised, who was to blame, with MI5 once more cast in the role of vil­lain. In such media sound-bite dis­cus­sions it is all too easy to fall into facile and polar­ised argu­ments. Let us try to break this down and reach a more nuanced  understanding.

First up is the now-notorious press con­fer­ence hos­ted by the cam­paign­ing group, Cage, in which the Research Dir­ector, Asim Qure­shi , claimed that MI5 har­ass­ment of Emwazi was the reason for his rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Emwazi had com­plained to Cage and appar­ently the Met­ro­pol­itan Police that over the last six years MI5 had approached him and was pres­sur­ising him to work as an agent for them. Accord­ing to Cage, this har­ass­ment lead to Emwazi’s radicalisation.

Yet recruit­ment of such agents is a core MI5 func­tion, some­thing it used to do with sub­tlety and some suc­cess, by identi­fy­ing people within groups who poten­tially could be vul­ner­able to induce­ments or pres­sure to report back on tar­get organ­isa­tions.  In fact, Brit­ish intel­li­gence used to be much more focused on gath­er­ing “HUMINT”.  The very best intel­li­gence comes from an (ideally) will­ing but at least co-operative human agent: they are mobile, they can gain the trust of and con­verse with tar­gets who may be wary of using elec­tronic com­mu­nic­a­tions, and they can be tasked to gather spe­cific intel­li­gence rather than wait­ing for the lucky hit on intercept.

MI5 used to be good at this — spend­ing time to really invest­ig­ate and identify the right recruit­ment tar­gets, with a con­sidered approach towards mak­ing the pitch.

How­ever, it appears since 9/11 and the start of the bru­tal “war on ter­ror” that two prob­lems have evolved, both of which ori­gin­ated in Amer­ica. Firstly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems to have fol­lowed their US coun­ter­parts down a moral helter-skelter, becom­ing re-involved in counter-productive and bru­tal activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping, intern­ment and tor­ture. As MI5 had learned at least by the 1990s, such activ­it­ies inev­it­ably res­ult in blow-back, and can act as a recruit­ing drum to the ter­ror­ist cause of the day.

(Tan­gen­tially, the Home Office also instig­ated the Pre­vent pro­gramme — in concept to counter rad­ical Islam in vul­ner­able social com­munit­ies, but in prac­tice used and abused by the author­it­ies to intim­id­ate and coerce young Muslims in the UK.)

Secondly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems over the last dec­ade to have blindly fol­lowed the US spies down the path of pan­op­tican, drag-net elec­tronic sur­veil­lance.  All this has been long sus­pec­ted by a few, but con­firmed to the many by the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden over the last couple of years. Indeed it seems that GCHQ is not merely com­pli­cit but an act­ive facil­it­ator and ena­bler of the NSA’s wilder ideas.  And what we now know is hor­rific enough, yet it cur­rently remains just the tip of the iceberg.

This deluge of inform­a­tion cre­ates gar­gan­tuan hay­stacks within which some genu­ine intel­li­gence needles might reside — to use the ter­min­o­logy of the spy agency cheer­lead­ers. How­ever, it con­cur­rently swamps the intel­li­gence agen­cies in use­less inform­a­tion, while also cer­tainly throw­ing up a per­cent­age of false-positives.  Bear­ing in mind the sheer scale of the leg­ally dubi­ous snoop­ing, even a 0.001% of false pos­it­ives could poten­tially pro­duce thou­sands of erro­neous leads.

Curi­ous people now have a world of inform­a­tion at their fin­ger­tips. They may click on an intriguing link and find them­selves on a rad­ical web­site; even if they click out quickly, the pan­op­ticon will have logged their “interest”. Or they could donate money to an appar­ently legit­im­ate char­ity; “like” the wrong thing on Face­book; fol­low the wrong per­son on Twit­ter; have their email hacked, or whatever.…

The Big Brother Borg algorithms will crunch through all of this inform­a­tion pre­dict­ably and pre­dict­ively, with sub­tleties lost and mis­takes made. Mind you, that happened in a more lim­ited fash­ion too at the height of the Cold War sub­ver­sion para­noia in Bri­tain in the 1970s and 1980s, when school­boys writ­ing to the Com­mun­ist Party HQ for inform­a­tion for school pro­jects could end up with a MI5 file, and divor­cing couples could denounce each other.  But at least, then, whole pop­u­la­tions were not under surveillance.

I think this may go some way towards explain­ing so many recent cases where “lone wolf” attack­ers around the world have been known to their national intel­li­gence agen­cies and yet been left to roam free, either dis­coun­ted as too low level a threat in the flood of inform­a­tion or oth­er­wise sub­jec­ted to bungled recruit­ment approaches.

In the ana­logue era much time, research and thought would go into identi­fy­ing per­sons of interest, and more cru­cially how to approach a tar­get either for dis­rup­tion or recruit­ment.  I should think that the spy super-computers are now throw­ing up so many pos­sible leads that approaches are made in a more hur­ried, ill-informed and less con­sidered way.

And this can res­ult in cases such as Michael Ade­bolayo whom MI5 approached and allegedly har­assed years before he went on to murder Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich in 2013. The same may well have happened with Mohammed Emwazi. Once someone has been tar­geted, they are going to feel para­noid and under sur­veil­lance, whether rightly or wrongly, and this might res­ult in grow­ing resent­ment and push them into ever more extreme views.

How­ever, I would sug­gest that MI5 remains merely the tool, fol­low­ing the dir­ect­ives of the UK gov­ern­ment in response to the ever-expanding, ever-nebulous war on ter­ror, just as MI6 fol­lowed the dir­ect­ives of the Blair gov­ern­ment in 2003 when it allowed its intel­li­gence to be politi­cised as a pre­text for an illegal war in Iraq. MI5 might be an occa­sional cata­lyst, but not the under­ly­ing cause of radicalisation.

Unfor­tu­nately, by immers­ing itself in the now-overwhelming intel­li­gence detail, it appears to be miss­ing the big­ger pic­ture — just why are young Brit­ish people tak­ing an interest in the events of the Middle East, why are so many angry, why are so many drawn to rad­ical views and some drawn to extreme actions.

Surely the simplest way to under­stand their griev­ances is to listen to what the extrem­ist groups actu­ally say? Osama Bin Laden was clear in his views — he wanted US mil­it­ary bases out of Saudi Ara­bia and US med­dling across the Middle East gen­er­ally to stop; he also wanted a res­ol­u­tion to the Palestinian conflict.

Jihadi John states in his ghastly snuff videos that he is met­ing out hor­ror to high­light the hor­rors daily inflic­ted across the Middle East by the US mil­it­ary — the bomb­ings, drone strikes, viol­ent death and mutilation.

To hear this and under­stand is not to be a sym­path­iser, but is vital if west­ern gov­ern­ments want to develop a more intel­li­gent, con­sidered and poten­tially more suc­cess­ful policies in response. Once you under­stand, you can nego­ti­ate, and that is the only sane way for­ward. Viol­ence used to counter viol­ence always escal­ates the situ­ation and every­one suffers.

The USA still needs to learn this les­son. The UK had learned it, res­ult­ing in the end of the war in North­ern Ire­land, but it now seems to have been for­got­ten. It is not rocket sci­ence — even the former head of MI5, Lady Manningham-Buller, has said nego­ti­ation is the only suc­cess­ful long-term policy when deal­ing with terrorism.

Along with the UK, many other European coun­tries have suc­cess­fully nego­ti­ated their way out of long-running domestic ter­ror­ist cam­paigns. The tragedy for European coun­tries that have recently or will soon suf­fer the new model of “lone wolf” atro­cit­ies, is that our gov­ern­ments are still in thrall to the failed US for­eign policy of “the war on ter­ror”, repeated daily in gory tech­ni­col­our across North Africa, the Middle East, cent­ral Asia, and now Ukraine.

Global jihad is the inev­it­able response to USA global expan­sion­ism, hege­mony and aggres­sion. As long as our gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies in Europe kow­tow to Amer­ican stra­tegic interests rather than pro­tect those of their own cit­izens, all our coun­tries will remain at risk.

The Ottawa Shootings — my RT interview

Yes­ter­day I was asked to do an inter­view on RT in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Ott­awa shoot­ings. As I said, there needs to be a full forensic invest­ig­a­tion, and I would hope that the gov­ern­ment does not use this ter­rible crime as a pre­text for yet fur­ther erosion of con­sti­tu­tional rights and civil liber­ties. Calm heads and the rule of law need to prevail.


ISIS and Western intelligence role in the Middle East

Here is my recent inter­view on RT London’s flag­ship news show, “Going Under­ground”, dis­cuss­ing ISIS, Syria and wider west­ern intel­li­gence inter­ven­tions in the Middle East:


The New Terrorism

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge

Two hor­rors have dwelt in my mind for the last twenty years, ever since I read reports about ter­ror­ist groups while an impres­sion­able young intel­li­gence officer. The first involves the use of power tools as instru­ments of tor­ture; drills, indus­trial sanders, angle grinders. This is no secret now and the meme has been much used and abused by Hol­ly­wood and series such as “24”, but I still feel uncom­fort­able every time I am dragged into the “boy toy” sec­tion of a home improve­ment mega-store.

The second has recently hit the news as a grim res­ult of ISIS, the ultra-violent Sunni sect that has swept across much of Syria and Iraq, impos­ing the most dra­conian form of Sharia law in its wake upon the hap­less cit­izens of formerly sec­u­lar states.  I pity the poor women, and I pity still more the men of these com­munit­ies faced with the option of sub­mis­sion or grue­some murder.

For this is the other image that haunts me: in 1995 six west­ern tour­ists were abduc­ted by a Kash­miri sep­ar­at­ist group, Al Faran. One of the abduct­ees, a Nor­we­gian called Hans Chris­tian Ostro, was found decap­it­ated, his head had been hacked off with a knife. The sheer hor­ror,  the ter­ror the poor man must have exper­i­enced, has haunted me ever since.

You can prob­ably see where I am going with this. I have not watched, nor do I have any inten­tion of ever watch­ing, the ISIS video of the grue­some murder of US journ­al­ist James Foley, whether the Met­ro­pol­itan Police deems it a crime to do so or not. I just feel hor­ror, again, and a deep well of sor­row for what his fam­ily and friends must be going through now.

Yet this is noth­ing new — we have known for months that ISIS has been behead­ing and cru­ci­fy­ing people as they ram­page across Syria and Iraq. There has been a steady stream of del­ic­ately pix­il­ated heads on spikes in the west­ern media, and the out­rage has been muted.

And indeed, such behead­ings have long been car­ried out and filmed dur­ing the earlier insur­gen­cies in Iraq — I remem­ber a young film maker friend who had stumbled across just such a sick pro­pa­ganda video way back in 2007 — he could not sleep, could not rid his mind of the images either.

It is bar­bar­ity pure and simple, but it is also effect­ive within the bound­ar­ies of its aims.

So, what are these aims? I just want to make two points before the West gets swept up in a new wave of out­rage to “bomb the bas­tards” for behead­ing an Amer­ican — after all, many hun­dreds if not thou­sands of people across the Middle East have already suffered this fate, to lack of any mean­ing­ful West­ern outcry.

Firstly, ISIS has clear aims (indeed it pub­lished its five-year plan to great media deri­sion a couple of months ago). It is effect­ively using hideous bru­tal­ity and pro­pa­ganda to spread ter­ror ahead of its war front — this is a 21st cen­tury blitzkrieg, and it’s work­ing. The sheer hor­ror of what they do to any who attempt to res­ist is so great that appar­ently whole armies aban­don their weapons, banks have been left to be raided to the tune of half a bil­lion dol­lars, and entire vil­lages flee.

This is the pure defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism, and we can see that it is work­ing. ISIS is doing all this to build a new state. or caliphate, in the way that their warped fun­da­ment­al­ist inter­pret­a­tion of reli­gion sets out for them.

Secondly, and here’s the con­ten­tious bit, how pre­cisely is this dif­fer­ent from the ter­ror that the Israelis have been vis­it­ing upon the many inno­cents killed in Gaza?  The Dahiya Doc­trine of dis­pro­por­tion­ate viol­ence to stun and quash res­ist­ance was exposed by Wikileaks — the Israeli “shock and awe”.  And also, how is this dif­fer­ent from what the US has been met­ing out to the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afgh­anistan over the last few years with their drone attacks?

All the above examples show strong mil­it­ary forces, ideo­lo­gic­ally motiv­ated, unleash­ing viol­ence and ter­ror on a huge, dis­pro­por­tion­ate scale on inno­cent pop­u­la­tions that have nowhere really to run.

The dif­fer­ence being? ISIS wields its own knives, does its own dirty work, and proudly films its grot­esque bru­tal­ity to cow its oppon­ents. This is prim­it­ive ter­ror­ism inter­sect­ing with social media, a bas­tard spawn of the 21st cen­tury.  And it still seems to be effect­ive, just as ter­ror of the guil­lot­ine res­on­ated through­out revolu­tion­ary France in the 18th century.

On the other hand, the US and Israel prefer to be a bit more coy about their ter­ror­istic strategies, hid­ing behind such phrases as “pro­por­tion­ate”, “self-defence”, “pre­ci­sion bomb­ing” and “spread­ing demo­cracy”. But who, ser­i­ously, falls for that these days?

Their armed forces are not dir­ectly get­ting their hands dirty with the blood of their vic­tims: instead, spotty young con­scripts safely hid­den in bunkers on the far side of the world, mete out death from the skies via sick snuff video games  — offi­cially called “pre­ci­sion” bombs and drone attacks that take out whole fam­il­ies. Heads can be blown off, bod­ies evis­cer­ated, limbs mangled and maimed, and all from a safe distance.

We had the first proof of this strategy with the decryp­ted mil­it­ary film “Col­lat­eral Murder”, where heli­copter pilots shot up some Reu­ters journ­al­ists and civil­ians in Iraq in 2007. That was bad enough — but the cover-up stank. For years the Pentagon denied all know­ledge of this atro­cious war crime, and it was only after Wikileaks released the inform­a­tion, provided by the brave whis­tleblower Chelsea Man­ning, that the fam­il­ies and the inter­na­tional com­munity learned the truth. Yet it is Man­ning, not the war crim­in­als, who is serving a 35 year sen­tence in a US prison.

Worse, by sheer scale at least, are the ongo­ing, wide-ranging unmanned drone attacks across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia, as cata­logued by the Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism in the UK. Many thou­sands of inno­cents have been murdered in these attacks, with the US jus­ti­fy­ing the strikes as killing “mil­it­ants” — ie any male over the age of 14.  The US is mur­der­ing chil­dren, fam­il­ies, wed­ding parties and vil­lage coun­cils with impunity.

And then the infam­ous pro­vi­sions of the US NDAA 2012. This means that the US mil­it­ary can extra-judicially murder any­one, includ­ing US cit­izens, by drone strike any­where in the world with no trial, no judi­cial pro­cess. And so it has come to pass.  Amer­ican Anwar Al Awlaki was murdered in 2011 by a drone strike.

Not con­tent with that, only weeks later the US mil­it­ary then blew his 16 year old son to pieces in another drone strike. Abdulrah­man — a child — was also an Amer­ican cit­izen. How, pre­cisely, is this atro­city not mor­ally equi­val­ent to the murder of James Foley?

So what is the real, qual­it­at­ive dif­fer­ence between the ter­ror engendered by ISIS, or by the Dahiya Doc­trine, or by the US drone strike pro­gramme? Is it just that ISIS does the dirty, hands on, and spreads its mes­sage shame­lessly via social media, while the US does the dirty in secret and pro­sec­utes and per­se­cutes any­one who wants to expose its egre­gious war crimes?

I would sug­gest so, and the West needs to face up to its hypo­crisy. A crime is a crime. Ter­ror­ism is terrorism.

Oth­er­wise we are no bet­ter than the polit­ical drones in George Orwell’s “1984”, rewrit­ing his­tory in favour of the vic­tors rather than the vic­tims, acqui­es­cing to eternal war, and hap­pily mouth­ing Newspeak.

New Ter­ror­ism, anyone?

NSA industrial espionage

In the wake of the recent ARD inter­view with Edward Snowden, here are my com­ments on RT yes­ter­day about the NSA’s involve­ment in indus­trial espi­on­age:

NSA’s big nose in big busi­ness from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

I recom­mend look­ing at the Edward Snowden’s sup­port web­site, and also keep an eye open for a new found­a­tion that will be launched next month: Cour­age — the fund to pro­tect journ­al­istic sources.

CCC talk — the Four Wars

Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Ham­burg, dis­cuss­ing the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, the war in the inter­net and the war on whis­tleblowers:

30C3 — The Four Wars; Ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, drugs, inter­net from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

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

Akzept Kon­gress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

London Real TV Interview — coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broad­cast in full tomor­row:

Annie Machon — Whis­tleblower — Lon­don Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

OHM 2013 — Geeks and Drugs

ohm2013_logoAs I have men­tioned before, the Dutch geek­fest Observe, Hack, Make (OHM 2013) was not just a chance for geeks to play with cool tech toys, the whole event also had a very strong polit­ical track. While there was inev­it­ably a lot of focus on whis­tleblow­ing in the wake of the Snowden dis­clos­ures, another speaker track attrac­ted a lot of atten­tion: global drug policy and the fail­ure of prohibition.

This was a track I sug­ges­ted and I was pleased that three speak­ers were given the chance to dis­cuss this on the main stage. While com­ing to the sub­ject from rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent per­spect­ives and exper­i­ences, the under­ly­ing mes­sage of all three was that the “war on drugs” was an abject fail­ure that caused massive and increas­ing harm to the global population.

John Gilmore was first up. John made his dosh dur­ing the tech boom, and has since spent sig­ni­fic­ant sums try­ing to reform the failed drug policies within his home coun­try, the good ol’ US of A. Of course, there, it was always going to be an uphill battle.  The USA is the foun­tain head of pro­hib­i­tion, ram­ming the drug con­ven­tions of 1961, 1971, and 1988 through the United Nations by brute dip­lo­matic force.

To this day, the US remains the key power ensur­ing that the UN upholds these con­ven­tions, des­pite the fact that the policy of pro­hib­i­tion has mani­festly failed, des­pite the fact that many coun­tries have exper­i­mented suc­cess­fully with harm reduc­tion and decrim­in­al­isa­tion of per­sonal use, and des­pite the fact that these laws are from a dif­fer­ent era and are wildly out of date — in the 1960s HIV and AIDS had yet to emerge, and rap­idly mutat­ing “legal highs” were unknown.

And let’s not for­get that the USA is the world’s biggest con­sumer coun­try of drugs. It is Amer­ica that drives this illegal mar­ket. And it is in Amer­ica that 20 states have leg­al­ised the medi­cinal use of can­nabis, and two states have fully leg­al­ised the use even, gasp, purely for pleas­ure. The hypo­crisy is breathtaking.

But change is afoot. Primar­ily, I believe, because the USA no longer needs the “war on drugs” as a pre­text for invading/interfering with other coun­tries, now it has the “war on ter­ror”. But also because of the excel­lent work of research and edu­ca­tional civil soci­ety groups. The Beckley Found­a­tion, set up by Amanda Feild­ing in 1998, is one such.

Amanda gave an excel­lent talk, focus­ing on the dual nature of Beckley’s work: policy and sci­entific research. Her view is that sound national and inter­na­tional policy can­not be developed unless it is based on evid­ence, research and facts. Yet the cur­rent “war on drugs” has become almost an art­icle of faith that too many politi­cians are afraid to challenge.

Beckley aims to provide the research and the facts. It funds and estab­lishes sci­entific research that enables lead­ing sci­ent­ists, such as Pro­fessor David Nutt in the UK, to research the poten­tial thera­peutic bene­fits of cur­rently illegal drugs, and also to assess the dif­fer­ent soci­etal harms caused by all drugs, both licit and illi­cit. To date, the pro­hib­i­tion ortho­doxy has inhib­ited free sci­entific research to the det­ri­ment of many people across the planet.

Amanda was pleased to be able to announce two new research pro­jects just start­ing in the UK, into the poten­tial thera­peutic bene­fits of psilo­cybin (magic mush­rooms) and LSD. Beckley has also recently com­mis­sioned a cost bene­fit ana­lysis of the leg­al­isa­tion of (only) can­nabis is the UK. The res­ults will be form­ally announced in Septem­ber, so for now I shall con­fine myself to say­ing that they are encouraging.

Using such research, Beckley is thus in a pos­i­tion to advise gov­ern­ments about devel­op­ing fact-base policy. One of the key areas of the world invest­ig­at­ing poten­tially bene­fi­cial altern­at­ives to pro­hib­i­tion is Latin Amer­ica, and Amanda has developed close work­ing rela­tion­ships with a num­ber of gov­ern­ments across the region.

And under­stand­ably so — Latin Amer­ica, as one of the key pro­du­cer regions of the world, has been rav­aged by the drug wars. Viol­ent organ­ised crime car­tels have grown so wealthy and power­ful that they can sub­vert whole coun­tries, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments and law enforce­ment, and ter­ror­ise whole pop­u­la­tions in their quest to dom­in­ate the illegal drugs trade.

In Mex­ico, since the war on drugs was ramped up 7 years ago, it is estim­ated that over 70,000 inno­cent people have been kid­napped, tor­tured and killed in drug-related viol­ence. Many have simply been disappeared.

Finally I also did a talk at OHM as the European dir­ector of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP).

LEAP is a unique voice in the global drug policy debate. The organ­isa­tion, only 11 years old, has over 100,000 sup­port­ers and a pres­ence in 120 coun­tries. We con­sist of police officers, judges, law­yers, prison gov­ernors, intel­li­gence per­son­nel, and even drug czars. What unites us is a shared pro­fes­sional know­ledge, exper­i­enced across the spec­trum of drug law enforce­ment, that pro­hib­i­tion has egre­giously failed.

Over the last 50 years drug use has expo­nen­tially increased, the potency of illegal drugs has increased, they are ubi­quit­ously avail­able, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this inform­a­tion, how can our gov­ern­ments claim they are win­ning the “war on drugs” to cre­ate a “drug free world”? Quite the oppos­ite — pro­hib­i­tion has enabled a global and expo­nen­tially grow­ing black market.

I became aware of the drug pro­hib­i­tion fail­ure while I was work­ing for MI5. One of my post­ings involved invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Cus­toms across the UK. This exper­i­ence made me very aware that the “war” had been lost.  It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive over­lap between the illegal drug mar­ket and ter­ror­ist funding.

The US DEA estim­ates that over half of the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups around the world gain the bulk of their fund­ing from drugs money. So on the one hand pro­hib­it­ing drugs and fight­ing the “war on drugs” sends the mar­ket under­ground and that black money provides a key rev­enue stream to the ter­ror­ists. On the other hand the West is also waging the “war on ter­ror”.  What they give with one hand they take away with another.

One stark example of this is the cur­rent melt-down in Libya — coun­try that was “grate­fully” lib­er­ated by NATO two years ago. The dic­tator was tor­tured and killed, MI6 and the CIA were help­ing the “spon­tan­eous” rebels. the infra­struc­ture was ruined, and the bulk of the coun­try is now run by ban­dit mili­tias which bru­tal­ise the inhab­it­ants pr impose hard-line Islam­ism on them. Many pre­dicted this would hap­pen, includ­ing myself.

What was not pre­dicted was the explo­sion in the drug trade. Over the last dec­ade west­ern Africa has become one of the main transit regions between the pro­du­cer coun­tries (Latin Amer­ica) and the con­sumer coun­tries in Europe. It now appears that this luc­rat­ive trade has not only res­ul­ted in destabil­ising coun­tries, lead­ing to viol­ent narco-states such as Mali and Guinea-Bissau, the trade has also become a stream of income to Al Qaeda affil­i­ated groups in Libya. Which is bad for west­ern secur­ity, is bad for the sta­bil­ity of Libya, but is also bad for the people of Libya, where there has reportedly been an explo­sion of drug use and rock­et­ing infec­tions of HIV.

There have been many suc­cess­ful attempts to alle­vi­ate the pen­al­isa­tion of drug users in many European coun­tries — Por­tugal, the Neth­er­lands and Switzer­land spring to mind. Because of more lib­eral decrim­in­al­isa­tion laws, all these coun­tries have seen a decrease in drug use and asso­ci­ated crime, plus good health out­comes and the free­ing up of law enforce­ment resources across the spec­trum to go for the drug traders.

How­ever, we in LEAP would argue that only full reg­u­la­tion, con­trol and tax­a­tion of the drug mar­ket will deal with the scourge of the inter­na­tional drug trade. Until that hap­pens, this global trade, estim­ated by even the UN at being worth between $320 bil­lion and $500 bil­lion per year, will only profit organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organisations.

The “war on drugs” has failed. Albert Ein­stein said that the very defin­i­tion of insan­ity was to con­tinue to do the same, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will even­tu­ally get a dif­fer­ent out­come. That is what we are see­ing with prohibition.

And the geek com­munity under­stand this too. Of course they do, they are sci­ent­ists. I was heartened by their interest and by their response. Let’s all cam­paign to end this insanity.

Here is a video of my talk at OHM on the sub­ject:

LEAP — End­ing the war on drugs and people (OHM 2013) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.


Woolwich murder — the “why?” should be obvious

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.

RT interview about the Woolwich murder

Here is my RT inter­view yes­ter­day about the Wool­wich attack. A hor­rific murder and my thoughts are with the fam­ily of the poor victim.

That said, the Brit­ish and Amer­ican gov­ern­ments and the NATO coun­tries are disin­genu­ous of they think that their strategy of viol­ent inter­ven­tion­ism across North Africa, the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia will have no con­sequences. As a res­ult of our illegal wars, CIA kill lists and drone strikes, count­less fam­il­ies are suf­fer­ing such trauma, viol­ence and loss across the region every day.

RT inter­view: Lone-wolf attack to become main expres­sion of rad­ic­al­isa­tion? from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

MI6 “ghost money”

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.

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.