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?

RT interview re Snowden flying to Russia

As the news broke that NSA whis­tleblower, Edward Snowden, had fled Hong Kong for Rus­sia today, I was invited on RT to do an inter­view. At that point few people had any idea of his plans.  How­ever, it appears that the USA had charged Snowden under the Espi­on­age Act 1917 (no sur­prises) and then asked Hong Kong to arrest and hold him, pending extra­di­tion. Equally unsur­pris­ingly, Hong Kong found mis­takes in the paper­work and used the oppor­tun­ity to com­plain about US spy­ing activ­ity in its territory.

Any­way, this gave Snowden, with appar­ently the help of the whis­tleblow­ing pub­lish­ing site Wikileaks, the chance to leave the coun­try and fly to Rus­sia, with the repor­ted final des­tin­a­tion being Ecuador.

So here’s my ini­tial take on the situation:

Snowden case shows US is bully boy of world — RTTV inter­view from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Echelon Redux

Just a quickie, as this is some sort of hol­i­day sea­son appar­ently.  How­ever, this did annoy me.   In the same way that Pres­id­ent Obama signed the invi­di­ous NDAA on 31st Decem­ber last year, des­pite his prot­est­a­tions about veto­ing etc, it appears the US gov­ern­ment has sneaked/snuck through (please delete as appro­pri­ate, depend­ing on how you pro­nounce “tomato”) yet another dra­conian law dur­ing the fest­ive sea­son, which appar­ently fur­ther erodes the US con­sti­tu­tion and the civil rights of all Americans.

Yet another prob­lem for our benighted cous­ins across the pond, you might think.  But as so often hap­pens these days, bonkers Amer­ican laws can affect us all.

Yes­ter­day the Sen­ate approved an expan­sion of the terms of the For­eign Intel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act (FISA).  This allows the US intel­li­gence ser­vices to hoover up, if you’ll par­don the mild intel­li­gence joke, the emails of god-fearing, law-abiding Amer­ic­ans if they are exchan­ging emails with pesky foreigners.

Well of course the whole world now knows, post 9/11, that all for­eign­ers are poten­tial ter­ror­ists and are now being watched/snatched/extraordin­ar­ily rendered/tor­tured/assas­sin­ated with impun­ity.  In Europe we have had many people suf­fer this way and some have man­aged to achieve recog­ni­tion and resti­tu­tion.  That appears to do little to stop the drone wars and blood-letting that the USA has unleashed across the Middle East.

But the NDAA and the exten­ded FISA should at least rouse the ire of Amer­ic­ans them­selves: US cit­izens on US soil can now poten­tially be tar­geted.  This is new, this is dan­ger­ous, right?

Well, no, not quite, as least as far as the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions goes.

The Ech­elon sys­tem, exposed in 1988 by Brit­ish journ­al­ist Duncan Camp­bell and rein­vestig­ated in 1999, put in place just such a (leg­ally dubi­ous) mech­an­ism for watch­ing domestic cit­izens.  The sur­veil­lance state was already in place, even if through a back door, as you can see from this art­icle I wrote 4 years ago, which included the fol­low­ing paragraph:

ECHELON was an agree­ment between the NSA and its Brit­ish equi­val­ent GCHQ (as well as the agen­cies of Canada, Aus­tralia, and New Zea­l­and) whereby they shared inform­a­tion they gathered on each oth­ers’ cit­izens. GCHQ could leg­ally eaves­drop on people out­side the UK without a war­rant, so they could tar­get US cit­izens of interest, then pass the product over to the NSA. The NSA then did the same for GCHQ. Thus both agen­cies could evade any demo­cratic over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, and still get the intel­li­gence they wanted.

The only dif­fer­ence now is that FISA has come blast­ing through the front door, and yet people remain quiescent.

Bleat: the assassination of dissidents

Black_sheep?OK, so I’m not sure if my concept of Bleats (half blog, half tweet) is being grasped whole­heartedly.  But so what — it makes me laugh and the Black Sheep shall perservere with a short blog post.….

So I’m a bit puzzled here.  UK Prime Min­is­ter Dave Cameron is quoted in today’s Daily Tele­graph as say­ing that:

It is not accept­able to have a situ­ation where Col­onel Gad­dafi can be mur­der­ing his own people using aero­planes and heli­copter gun­ships and the like and we have to plan now to make sure if that hap­pens we can do some­thing to stop it.”

But do his Amer­ican best bud­dies share that, umm, humane view?  First of all they have the CIA assas­sin­a­tion list which includes the names of US cit­izens (ie its own people); then those same “best bud­dies” may well resort to assas­sin­at­ing Wikileaks’s Julian Assange, prob­ably the most high pro­file dis­sid­ent in inter­na­tional and dip­lo­matic circles at the moment; plus they are already waging remote drone war­fare on many hap­less Middle East­ern coun­tries — Yeman, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan.….

Oh, and now the UK gov­ern­ment seems poised to launch cov­ert spy drones into the skies of Bri­tain.  Even the UK’s most right-wing main­stream news­pa­pers, the Daily Tele­graph and the Daily Mail, expressed con­cern about this today.  Appar­ently these drones have yet to be weapon­ised.….

It’s a slip­pery slope down to an Orwellian nightmare.

 

Amuse Bouche

A debate is cur­rently under way in the (ex) Land of the Free about how much pro­tec­tion intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers should be accor­ded under the law.

Yes, the coun­try that has brought the world the “war on ter­ror”, Guantanamo Bay, and the Pat­riot Act, is hav­ing a moral spasm about how to best pro­tect those who wit­ness high crimes and mis­de­mean­ors inside the charmed circle of secrecy and intelligence. 

And about time too, fol­low­ing the mess of rev­el­a­tions about spy com­pli­city in tor­ture cur­rently emer­ging on both sides of the pond.

Inter­est­ingly, intel­li­gence offi­cials in the US already have a smidgeon more lee­way than their UK coun­ter­parts.  In the US, if you wit­ness a crime com­mit­ted by spies, you have to take your con­cerns to the head of the agency, and then you can go to Con­gress.  In the UK, the only per­son you can leg­ally report crime to is the head of the agency involved, so guess how many suc­cess­ful com­plaints are made?  Even tak­ing your proven and legit­im­ate con­cerns to your elec­ted UK rep­res­ent­at­ives is a crime under the OSA.

Spooks in the UK now have access to an “eth­ical coun­sel­lor”, who has reportedly been vis­ited a grand total of 12 times by intel­li­gence officers since 2006.  But this per­son has no power to invest­ig­ate alleg­a­tions of crime, and a visit guar­an­tees a career-blocking black mark on your record of ser­vice: ie if you are the sort of per­son to worry your head with quaint ideas like eth­ics and mor­al­ity you are, at best, not a team player and, worse, a pos­sible secur­ity risk. 

WhistleThis is surely cul­tur­ally unsus­tain­able in a com­munity of people who gen­er­ally sign up to pro­tect the cit­izens of the coun­try and want to make a pos­it­ive dif­fer­ence by work­ing within the law?  Those who have con­cerns will resign, at the very least, and those who like to “just fol­low orders” will float to the top.  As one of the lead­ing pro­ponents for greater whis­tleblower pro­tec­tion in the USA states in the linked article:

The code of loy­alty to the chain of com­mand is the primary value at those insti­tu­tions, and they set the stand­ard for intens­ity of retaliation.”

Some enlightened US politi­cians appear to be aware that intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers require pro­tec­tion just as all other employ­ees receive under the law:  per­haps more so, as the nature of their work may well expose them to the most hein­ous crimes ima­gin­able.  There is also an argu­ment for put­ting proper chan­nels in place to ensure that whis­tleblowers don’t feel their only option is to risk going to the press.  Effect­ive chan­nels for blow­ing the whistle and invest­ig­at­ing crime can actu­ally pro­tect national secur­ity rather than com­prom­ise it.

The nay-sayers, of course, want to keep everything secret — after all, the status quo is cur­rently work­ing so well in uphold­ing demo­cratic val­ues across the globe.  Crit­ics of the new legis­la­tion talk of “dis­gruntled employ­ees .… glee­fully” spill­ing the beans.  Why is this hoary old line always dragged out in this type of dis­cus­sion?  Why are whis­tleblowers always described in this way, rather than called prin­cipled, brave or ethical?

Blanket secrecy works against the real interests of our coun­tries.  Mis­takes can be covered up, group-think ensures that crimes con­tinue, and any­one offer­ing con­struct­ive cri­ti­cism is labelled as a risky trouble­maker — no doubt a “dis­gruntled” one at that.

Of course, cer­tain areas of intel­li­gence work need to be pro­tec­ted: cur­rent oper­a­tional details (as ex-Met Assist­ant Com­mis­sioner, Bob Quick has dis­covered), agent iden­tit­ies, and sens­it­ive tech­niques.  But the life blood of a healthy demo­cracy depends on open debate, vent­il­a­tion of prob­lems, and agreed solu­tions.  Informed and par­ti­cip­at­ory cit­izens need to know what is being done in their name.