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.
An abbreviated version of this article was published by RT Op-Edge yesterday.
News of the two bombs in Boston, in which 3 people have so far died and more than 100 have been injured, has ricocheted around the world. Beyond the grim statistics, there is little concrete evidence about the who and the why, and nor will there be possibly for days or even weeks. This confusion is inevitable in the wake of such an attack, as the intelligence agencies and police play frantic catch-up to identify the perpetrators and, we hope, bring them to justice – although of course in post-Patriot Act, post-NDAA America, the perpetrators are more likely to find their names on the CIA’s presidentially-approved kill list.
In the absence of facts, the media fills its airwaves with speculation and repetition, thereby inadvertently whipping up yet more fear and uncertainty. The fall-out from this is an eruption of prejudice in the social media, with desk bound heroes jumping to conclusions and advocating violent reprisals against whole swathes of the Middle East. And this fear and hate plays straight into the hands of the “enemy-industrial complex” so aptly described by Tom Engelhardt recently.
With that in mind, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to those who died in terrorist attacks on Monday. Even a quick surf through the internet produces a grim and no doubt incomplete tally: Iraq (55); Afghanistan (7); Somalia (30); Syria (18); Pakistan (4); USA (3). All these numbers represent someone’s child, mother, friend, brother, loved one, and all will be mourned.
Alas, not all of these victims will receive as much air-time as the unfortunates caught up in the Boston attacks. And this is especially the case where attacks are carried out by the American military against suspected “insurgents” across the Middle East.
Indeed, on the same day The Telegraph reported that the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, famous British barrister Ben Emmerson (Queen’s Counsel), had stated that drone strikes across the Middle East were illegal under international law. Their continued use only served to legitimise Al Qaeda attacks against the US military and its infrastructure in the region.
As we saw in 2010 when Wikileaks released the video, “Collateral Murder“, such atrocities are covered up for years, denied by the government, nor will the perpetrators be held to account – they are probably still serving in the military. Instead the whistleblower who exposed this crime, Bradley Manning, languishes in prison facing a court martial, and the publisher of the material, Wikileaks, faces global repression and a secret federal grand jury indictment.
With its endless, speculative scaremongering about the Boston attacks, the US media plays a diabolical role in furthering the work of the attackers – ie terrorising the population, inducing them to live in a state of abject fear. Of course, once suitably terrorised, the US people will be even more willing to give away what remains of their historic freedoms, all in the name of increasing their security. Well, we know the views of one late, great American on this subject, Benjamin Franklin: “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety“.
Indeed, the abrogation of liberty in the USA has patently not resulted in greater security, as Boston has so brutally demonstrated. No society can protect itself absolutely against terrorism.
In a democracy, just as rights come with responsibilities, so freedoms come with risk. And we need to remember that those freedoms were hard-won by our ancestors and will be equally difficult to win back if we heedlessly throw them away now, while the risks remain statistically negligible.
Successive US governments have already decimated the basic rights of the US people in the post-9/11 security panic. At the sharp end, people, both globally and now also in America, can be extraordinarily rendered (kidnapped) to black prison sites and tortured for years on the word of anonymous intelligence officers, they can be denied due legal process, and they can be killed on presidential decree by drone strikes – a real-world version of the snuff video.
Additionally, the US has descended into a panoptican surveillance state, with endemic data-mining of communications, airborne drone spying, and the categorisation of protesters as “domestic extremists” or even “terrorists” who are then beaten up by militarised police forces. This otiose security theatre constantly reminds US citizens to be afraid, be very afraid, of the enemy within.
Terrorist atrocities are criminal acts, they are not a separate form of “eviltude”, to use George Bush-era terminology. As such, the criminals behind such attacks should be investigated, evidence gathered, and they should be tried in front of a jury of their peers, where justice can be done and be seen to be done. So it is troubling that the Boston FBI bureau chief, Richard DesLauriers, is today quoted in the New York Times as saying he is working on “a criminal investigation that is a potential terrorist investigation“. The precise difference being?
Likewise, terrorist attacks are not an existential threat to the fabric of the nation, even events on the scale of 9/11. However, I would suggest that the response of the security-industrial complex poses a greater existential threat to the future well-being of the USA. The post-9/11 security crackdown in the USA has eroded core democratic values, while the military response across the Middle East has bankrupted America and created a generation of potential enemies.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Compare and contrast the response of the Norwegian people in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and murder of 77 people by Anders Breivik. As a country, there was a need to see justice done, but not to allow such an appalling attack to compromise the values of the society and destroy a cherished way of life for all. And this the Norwegian people achieved.
Similarly between the late 1980s and the late 1990s the UK endured Lockerbie, Omagh, Bishopsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atrocities. A good summary of the terrorist attacks against London alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bombing occurring in 1885. A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great article about aircraft security and the sheer scale of the terrorist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very pertinent question: just how would we collectively react to such a stream of atrocities now?
During the 1990s, at the height of the Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign on mainland Britain, I lived in central London and worked as an intelligence officer for the UK’s domestic Security Service (MI5). Putting aside my professional life, I have personal memories of what it was like to live under the shadow of terrorism. I remember making my way to work in 1991 and commuting through Victoria train station in London 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rubbish bin, exploded on the station concourse. One person was killed, and many sustained severe injuries. One person had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.
I also vividly remember, two years later, sitting at my desk in MI5’s Mayfair office, and hearing a dull thud in the background — this turned out to be a bomb exploding outside Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. And let’s not forget the almost daily disruption to the tube and rail networks during the 1990s because of security alerts. Every Londoner was exhorted to watch out for, and report, any suspicious packages left at stations or on streets.
Londoners grew used to such inconvenience; they grumbled a bit about the disruption and then got on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” mentality that evolved during the Blitz years. In the 1990s the only noticeable change to London’s diurnal rhythm was that there were fewer US tourists clogging up the streets — an early indication of the disproportionate, paranoid US reaction to a perceived terrorist threat.
In contrast to the post-9/11 years, the UK did not then react by shredding the basic freedoms of its people. There were certainly controversial cases and heated debates about how long you could hold a terrorist suspect without charge, but the way of life continued much as before. Now, twelve years after 9/11 – an attack on a different continent – the UK has all the laws in place to enact a de facto police state within days.
Life and liberty are both precious. It is always tragic when lives are be lost in the name of some twisted or arcane political cause; it is even more tragic when the liberty of all is also lost as a result.
My heart goes out to those who were injured and to the friends and families who have lost loved ones in the Boston attacks, in the same way it goes out to all those who were killed and maimed across the Middle East yesterday.
However, I do urge caution in the US response; evidence needs to be gathered and justice seen to be done. Another security crackdown on a fearful US population will hurt Americans much more than two bombs in Boston ever could, while yet more remotely-controlled revenge killings across the Middle East will kill, maim and displace many more thousands.
I shall leave you with a quote from another great American, Thomas Jefferson:
“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers too plainly proves a deliberate, systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.“
Also published on the Huffington Post UK.
A couple of days ago I was invited onto RT Arabic TV to do an interview about the ongoing clusterfuck that is Syria, with a particular focus on the issue of Western jihadis allegedly flooding into the country.
The premise, pushed across much of the Western media, is that these newly trained jihadis will then return home chock-full of insurgency know-how, ready to unleash terror on their unwitting host countries.
And, yes, there is an element of truth in this: the lessons of the US-backed mujahideen in 1980s Afghanistan and onwards across the Middle East since then is testament to that. Not that this lesson seems to have been absorbed by Western governments, who continue recklessly to back “rebel” forces across North Africa and the Middle East.
Or has it, at least on a certain level? If you do a little digging into where these stories are emanating from, another picture emerges.
The basis for these scare stories is a heavily-spun recent report, produced by the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT). What is this, you might ask? Well, it appears to be a sinecure within the UK’s Home Office. The head of the organisation is a hawkish securocrat called Charles Farr, a former senior MI6 officer from the cold war era.
In 2007 Mr Farr (OBE) moved to his new home at the Home Office, where he is conveniently in a relationship with Fiona Cunningham, special advisor to his new boss the Home Secretary Theresa May. Oh, and then he applied to be the civil servant in charge of the Home Office, but was recently turned down for that job a couple of months ago.
So how is Farr now spending his time? Well, he has just released a report, and it appears that he is behind some of the most egregious recent assaults on basic British freedoms.
Where to begin? His department was behind the Prevent campaign – supposedly a social initiative to reach out to disaffected youth in Britain and help “prevent” their radicalisation. Unfortunately, Prevent has been publicly lambasted for intimidating young Muslim men and trying to browbeat them into reporting on their communities.
On top of that, Charles Farr has, it has been reported, been one of the key lobbyists pushing for the totalitarian “Snoopers’ Charter” – a proposed law that would allow the intelligence and law enforcement agencies to hoover up all our data communications.
And finally, Mr Farr is one of the key supporters of the utterly undemocratic new Justice and Security Bill that enshrines the concept of “secret courts”, all done in the name of protecting “national security”, natch. Or in other words, covering up the embarrassment of the intelligence agencies when they are caught red-handed in illegal activities such as kidnapping and torture.
So, is it purely coincidental that this is the same upstanding British public servant reporting that Syria will be a new breeding-ground for radicalised Muslim youth attacking the UK? Or might there be a sneaking suspicion that the threat could be yet another excuse to be used to ramp up the case for all these undemocratic and deeply unpopular new laws?
Let’s not to forget that the UK has a history of backing such insurgency groups when it suits them, and then turning on them for political expediency – shades of Abdel Hakim Belhaj in Libya, anyone? It strikes me that the situation in Syria is evolving along similar lines.
So let’s retain a healthy scepticism about the wheels and cogs of vested interests and media manipulation whirring behind securocrats such as Charles Farr. The predictions of his Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism could have damaging consequences for our liberties in the UK; they could also have potentially fatal consequences for many thousands of people in Syria and the wider Middle East.
My recent interview on Iceland’s premier news discussion show, Silfur Egils, hosted by the excellent Egill Helgason.
The name refers to an old Norse saga about a hero, an earlier Egill, throwing handfuls of silver to the ground so he could make the Viking politicos of the day scrabble around in the dirt trying to pick up the coins.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
What a shambolic disgrace that MegaUpload raid was, and what a classic example of the global corporatist agenda that I discuss in the interview.
I do love geeks.
I recently represented LEAP at a panel discussion in London about the failed war on drugs after a screening of the excellent film The House I Live In, along with Steve Rolles of Transform and Niamh Eastwood of Release:
I participated in the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board meeting last October in Baltimore. While there, I arranged for board members to do a series of interviews about the failed global “war on drugs” with the excellent and independent Real News Network.
LEAP has representatives across the world with a wide range of professional expertise: police officers, drug czars, judges, prison governors, lawyers, drug enforcement officers, and even the occasional former spook….
Our varied experiences and backgrounds have brought us to one conclusion: we all assess the “war on drugs” to have been an abject failure that causes more global societal harm than good, as well as funding organised crime, terrorism and white collar bank crime.
We urgently need to rethink the failed UN drug conventions.
Here is the RNN interview I participated in, along with Brazilian Judge Maria Lucia Karam:
Part One of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
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?
The first case, the one hitting the headlines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged terrorist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged passport almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absentia of terrorist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other countries for terrorist-related offences. He has been labeled Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been variously interned, placed under control order, and held in maximum security prisons.
The UK courts ruled that he should be deported to stand trial in his native country, but these rulings were recently overturned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had concerns that Jordanian diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured could not be relied on, and that evidence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture.
As a result, Mr Justice Mitting of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new control order). This decision has predictably roused the frothing wrath of the Home Office and the readership of the Daily Mail. Politicians of all flavours have rushed out their sound bites condemning the ECtHR decision.
But can they not see that it is the complacency and the very disdain for law that the British political and intelligence infrastructure has displayed for the last decade that has created this mess in the first place? If, instead of kidnapping, torture, assassination, and indeed internment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been followed, the country would not currently find itself in this legal quagmire.
There used to be a notion that you used due process to investigate a terrorist suspect as you would any other suspected criminal: gather the evidence, present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction.
How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today. Instead, since 9/11 and the inception of the hysterically brutal "war on terror" led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonymous intelligence officers, where even the suspects' lawyers are not allowed to see the information against their clients. The British legal system has become truly Kafkaesque.
Which leads me to the second case. This was a quote in yesterday's Guardian about the Abu Qatada ruling:
"The Conservative backbencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett's anger: "This result is a direct result of the perverse ruling by the Strasbourg court. It makes a mockery of human rights law that a terrorist suspect deemed 'dangerous' by our courts can't be returned home, not for fear that he might be tortured, but because European judges don't trust the Jordanian justice system.""
In the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice system? While the Swedish judicial system may have an ostensibly more fragrant reputation than that of Jordan, it has been flagrantly politicised and manipulated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well documented. Indeed, the Swedish justice system has the highest rate per capita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flouting Article 6 – the right to a fair trial.
If Assange were extradited merely for questioning by police – he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden – there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a "temporary surrender". And, to bastardise the above quote, who now really trusts the American justice system?
A secret Grand Jury has been convened in Virginia to find a law – any law – with which to prosecute Assange. Hell, if the Yanks can't find an existing law, they will probably write a new one just for him.
Forget about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journalism that has exposed corrupt practices across the world over the years. The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retaliation for the embarrassment he has caused by exposing US double dealing and war crimes over the last decade, and no doubt as a dreadful example to deter others.
The alleged Wikileaks source, US soldier Private Bradley Manning, has been kept in inhumane and degrading conditions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed. The general assumption is that this process was designed to break him, so that he would implicate Assange and possibly other Wikileaks associates.
In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essentially be relying on evidence obtained under torture. And if Assange is extradited and and judicially rendered to the US, he too will face torturous conditions.
So, to summarise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight countries for terrorist offences, has already been convicted twice in his home country, but who cannot be extradited.
And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or convicted of anything, but is merely wanted for questioning on minor and apparently trumped up charges in another country, yet who has also been imprisoned in solitary confinement and held under house arrest. And it looks like the British authorities are happy to collude in his extradition.
Both these men potentially face a mistrial and both may potentially experience what is now euphemistically known as "degrading and inhumane treatment".
But because one faces being sent back to his home country – now seen for the purposes of his case as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture – he shall probably not be extradited. However, the other faces being sent to an alien country well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judicial system oops, sorry, as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture.
The UK has become a legal laughing stock around the world and our judicial framework has been bent completely out of shape by the requirements of the "war on terror" and the rapidly developing corporate fascism of our government.
The UK is currently celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens. Perhaps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he discussed in one of his best-known novels, "A Tale of Two Cities". Do we want our country to slide further down the path of state terrorism – a phrase adopted from the original Grande Terreur of the French Revolution?
We need to seize back our basic rights, the due process of law, and justice.
Here we go again. In this heartwarming article in today’s Guardian newspaper, British MPs on the Home Affairs Committee have decided that the internet is the most significant factor in the radicalisation of violent extremists and conclude that Something Must Be Done.
One paragraph leapt out at me:
“The Commons home affairs committee says internet service providers need to be as effective at removing material that promotes violent extremism as they are in removing content that is sexual or breaches copyright.” (My emphasis.)
Most of us are aware of the recent dogfight in the US about the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copyright infringement and, as a result, there is a somewhat belated but steadily increasing outcry in Europe about the imminent imposition of ACTA across the continent.
I have written before about how such laws provide the military-intelligence complex with the perfect stalking horse for a panoptic surveillance state, and the campaigning writer, Cory Doctorow, summed it up beautifully when he wrote that “you can’t make a system that prevents spying by secret police and allows spying by media giants“.
And, lo, it is now apparently coming to pass. The Parliamentary half-wits are now proposing to use commercial legislation such as the utterly undemocratic ACTA as a benchmark for countering potential terrorists and extremists. Might they have failed to notice the plethora of existing counter-terrorism and eavesdropping legislation, put in place for this very purpose and already much used and abused by a wide range of public bodies in the UK?
This yet again highlights the mission-creepy Big Brother corporatist group-think. Rather than having to spell it out in boring old linear text, here is some useful linkage – what I like to think of as 3-D writing:
I’m sure you can see where I am heading. To name but a few notorious abuses, we already live in a world where western governments and spy agencies collude in the kidnapping, torture and assassination of alleged terrorist suspects; the NDAA now endorses these practices within the US; British police spy on innocent protest groups for years; legitimate protesters can be “kettled“, beaten up and maced; activists can be pre-emptively arrested as easily in the UK as in Syria; and where American politicians want to designate the high-tech publishing organisation Wikileaks as a terrorist group.
There is an old aphorism that one man’s terrorist was another man’s freedom fighter. I think the time has come for an update:
One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist.
And we are all increasingly at risk.
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:
A 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 regime. 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 regime 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.
So 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 Prime Minister, David Cameron, reportedly made the startling statement recently that the military intervention in Libya "unlike Iraq, is necessary, legal and right".
Would 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 regime in the last decade – while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coalition government where, no doubt, similar levels of cooperation 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.
The 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?
The 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.
By 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 regime 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 cooperate with British oil companies in the future. At the very least.
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…..