Keynote at Centre for Investigative Journalism Summer School, 16 July 2011

CIJ_logo_summerschool

My next talk in the UK will be a key­note at the renowned CIJ sum­mer school on 16th July. One of the major themes this year is whis­tleblow­ing, for obvi­ous Wikileaks-related reas­ons, and it appears I shall be in good com­pany.

My talk is at 2pm on the Sat­urday.  I under­stand the key­notes are open to the pub­lic, not just sum­mer school attendees, so come along if you can and please spread the word!

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Light Gets In festival — my talk

My recent talk at the excel­lent How the Light Gets In philo­sophy fest­iv­al at Hay-on-Wye.  With cred­it and thanks to IAI TV and the staff of the Insti­tute of Art and Ideas, the organ­isers the event.

 

Fair trials in the UK courts? Anyone?

This art­icle in today’s Guard­i­an about the ongo­ing reper­cus­sions of the Mark Kennedy under­cov­er cop scan­dal earli­er this year piqued my interest.

Mark_KennedyIt appears that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice (CPS) has sup­pressed key evid­ence about the all-too-appar­ent inno­cence of envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers in the run-up to their tri­als.  In this case Mark Kennedy aka Stone, the police­man who for years infilt­rated protest groups across Europe, had cov­ertly recor­ded con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the plan­ning ses­sions to break into Ratcliffe-on-Soar power sta­tion.

Kennedy offered to give evid­ence to prove that the unit he worked for at the time, the private and unac­count­able ACPO-run Nation­al Pub­lic Order Invest­ig­a­tions Unit (NPOIU), had witheld this key evid­ence.  It now appears that the police are claim­ing that they passed all the inform­a­tion on to the CPS, which then seems to have neg­lected  to hand it over to the pro­test­ers’ defence law­yers.

Keir_StarmerWhich makes it even more fas­cin­at­ing that in April this year the Dir­ect­or of Pub­lic Pro­sec­u­tions, fam­ous civil liber­ties QC Keir Starm­er no less, took the unpre­ced­en­ted step of encour­aging those same pro­test­ers to appeal against their con­vic­tions because of poten­tial “police” cov­er-ups.

It’s just amaz­ing, isn’t it, that when vital inform­a­tion can be kept safely under wraps these doughty crime-fight­ing agen­cies present a united front to the world?  But once someone shines a light into the slith­ery dark corners, they all scramble to avoid blame and leak against each oth­er?

And yet this case is just the tip of a titan­ic leg­al ice­berg, where for years the police and the CPS have been in cahoots to cov­er up many cases of, at best, mis­com­mu­nic­a­tion, and at worst out­right lies about incom­pet­ence and poten­tially crim­in­al activ­ity.

Ian_TomlinsonA couple of months ago George Mon­bi­ot provided an excel­lent sum­mary of recent “mis­state­ments” (a won­der­fully euphemist­ic neo­lo­gism) by the police over the last few years, includ­ing such blatant cases as the death of Ian Tom­lin­son dur­ing the Lon­don G20 protests two years ago, the ongo­ing News of the World phone hack­ing case, and the counter-ter­ror­ism style exe­cu­tion, sorry, shoot­ing of the entirely inno­cent Jean Charles de Menezes, to name but a few.

Mon­bi­ot also dwelt at length on the appalling case of Michael Doherty, a con­cerned fath­er who dis­covered that his 13 year-old daugh­ter was appar­ently being groomed by a pae­do­phile over the inter­net.  He took his con­cerns to the police, who brushed the issue aside.  When Doherty tried to push for a more informed and pro­act­ive response, he was the one who was snatched from his house in an early morn­ing raid and ended up in court, accused of abus­ive and angry phone calls to the sta­tion in a sworn state­ment by a mem­ber of the rel­ev­ant police force, sorry, ser­vice.

And that would have been that — he would have appar­ently been bang to rights on the word of a police sec­ret­ary — apart from the fact he had recor­ded all his phone calls to the police and kept metic­u­lous notes on the pro­gress of the case.  Only this evid­ence led to his right­ful acquit­tal.

As Mon­bi­ot rightly con­cludes, “justice is impossible if we can­not trust police forces to tell the truth”.

It appears that the notion of “cit­izen journ­al­ists” is just sooo 2006.  Now we all need to be not only journ­al­ists but also “cit­izen law­yers”, just in case we have to defend ourselves against poten­tial police lies.  Yet these are the very organ­isa­tions that are paid from the pub­lic purse to pro­tect civil soci­ety.  Is it any won­der that so many people have a grow­ing dis­trust of them and con­cerns about an encroach­ing, Stasi-like, police state?

This is all part of engrained, top-down Brit­ish cul­ture of secrecy that allows the amorph­ous “secur­ity ser­vices” to think they can get away with any­thing and everything if they make a force­ful enough pub­lic state­ment: black is white, tor­ture is “enhanced inter­rog­a­tion”, and war is peace (or at least a “peace­keep­ing” mis­sion in Libya.…).  Espe­cially if there is no mean­ing­ful over­sight.  We have entered the Orwellian world of NewS­peak.

But plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.  This all happened in the 1970s and 80s with the Irish com­munity, and also in the 1990s with the ter­rible mis­car­riage of justice around the Israeli embassy bomb­ing in 1994.  If you have the time, please do read the detailed case here: Down­load Israeli_Embassy_Case

We need to remem­ber our his­tory.

The Israeli Embassy Two — a gross miscarriage of justice

Samar_Alami Jawad_Botmeh Over the last few years there have been a num­ber of egre­gious cases of police and state cov­er-ups in the UK around the deaths and wrong­ful pro­sec­u­tions of inno­cent people.

This brings to my mind the appalling mis­car­riage of justice that occurred in the 1990s when two Palestini­an stu­dents, a young woman called Samar Alami and a young man called Jawad Bot­meh, were both wrong­fully con­victed of con­spir­acy to bomb the Israeli embassy in Lon­don in July 1994. 

In this case a highly soph­ist­ic­ated car bomb as det­on­ated out­side the embassy.  Thank­fully nobody was killed, but a num­ber of people suffered minor injur­ies.   Alami and Bot­meh had con­nec­tions to Palestini­an polit­ic­al sup­port groups based in Lon­don at the time, many of whom were roun­ded up dur­ing the invest­ig­a­tion.  Bot­meh had naively helped out a shad­owy and nev­er-iden­ti­fied fig­ure called Reda Moghr­abi, who asked for assist­ance in buy­ing a second-hand car at auc­tion.  This was the car that was used in the explo­sion.

Why is this case an example of estab­lish­ment cov­er-up?  Well,  this was one of the cases that former MI5 officer Dav­id Shayler blew the whistle on dur­ing the 1990s.  He revealed the exist­ence of two rel­ev­ant doc­u­ments that should have been dis­closed to the defence but, for some unac­count­able reas­on, were not.

The first, an agent report from a cred­ible and trus­ted source, poin­ted to a non-Palestini­an group plan­ning the attack before it had even occurred.  This report was not acted upon by the MI5 officer respons­ible, who then tried to cov­er up her mis­take.  She was caught out, and there was a much-dis­cussed intern­al inquiry into the mat­ter with­in MI5’s G Branch (inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism) in late 1994.

But there was anoth­er doc­u­ment — one writ­ten by G9/1, the seni­or MI5 officer who over­saw the post-incid­ent invest­ig­a­tion.  His view was that Mossad, the extern­al Israeli intel­li­gence agency, had car­ried out a con­trolled explo­sion out­side its own embassy (the shad­owy and uniden­ti­fied Reda Moghr­abi being the poten­tially cru­cial miss­ing link) in order to acquire the long-deman­ded addi­tion­al secur­ity pro­tec­tion around Israeli interests in the UK, and also to shat­ter the Palestini­an sup­port net­works in Lon­don — a long-term object­ive of Mossad.

The gov­ern­ment at the time tried to dis­miss these dis­clos­ures.  How­ever, the much-missed Private Eye invest­ig­at­ive   journ­al­ist, Paul Foot, and the indefatig­able law­yer, Gareth Peirce, fol­lowed them up and pur­sued them tire­lessly through the media and the courts

And guess what?  It turns out that these two key doc­u­ments had indeed not been dis­closed to the leg­al defence team dur­ing the tri­al of Alami and Bot­meh — and not just by the hap­less spooks.  It emerged dur­ing the appeal hear­ing that no few­er than sev­en people from a vari­ety of police and intel­li­gence organ­isa­tions had failed to dis­close the rel­ev­ant doc­u­ment­a­tion to the defence.  This can­not be explained away as an inno­cent over­sight, a cock-up — it bears all the hall­marks of a delib­er­ate, sys­tem­ic estab­lish­ment cov­er-up.

All this rep­res­en­ted, at the very least, a need for a retri­al but also a pos­sible gross mis­car­riage of justice.  And yet, while acknow­ledging that these doc­u­ments did indeed exist dur­ing the appeal hear­ing and bey­ond, the presid­ing m’luds decided to ignore all case law and European law and let those two inno­cents rot in pris­on.  After all, it would be ter­ribly embar­rass­ing to vin­dic­ate the actions of an intel­li­gence whis­tleblower, wouldn’t it?

As a res­ult, the poor pawns in this sick estab­lish­ment game, Jawad Bot­meh and Samar Alami, ended up serving their full sen­tences, des­pite the over­whelm­ing body of evid­ence prov­ing their inno­cence, and were finally released in 2008 and 2009 respect­ively.

For any­one inter­ested in the detailed hor­ror story behind this flag­rant mis­car­riage of justice, here is the rel­ev­ant chapter from my long-defunct book: Down­load The_Israeli_Embassy_Case

Former head of MI6 says that fact and fiction get mixed up

Sir_john_Scarlett Former head of MI6, Sir John Scar­lett — he of the dodgy Septem­ber Dossier fame that led inex­or­ably to the UK’s inva­sion of Iraq in 2003 and the death, maim­ing, depleted-urani­um pois­on­ing and dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands of people — has com­pla­cently stated dur­ing his recent talk at the Hay Lit­er­ary Fest­iv­al that:

One of the prob­lems of intel­li­gence work is that fact and fic­tion get very eas­ily mixed up.  A key les­son you have to learn very early on is you keep them sep­ar­ate.”

Well, no doubt many, many people might just wish he’d listened to his own advice way back in Septem­ber 2002.

Scar­lett is, of course, the seni­or UK spook who made the case for the Iraq war.  Here’s the link:  Down­load Iraq_WMD_Dossier

No doubt you will remem­ber the li(n)es: not only that Iraq’s non-exist­ent  “weapons of mass destruc­tion” could be launched with­in 45 minutes, but also that fake intel­li­gence doc­u­ments had per­suaded MI6 that Iraq was try­ing to buy urani­um from Niger , as Colin Pow­ell asser­ted dur­ing his per­suas­ive speech to the UN in 2003.

Scar­lett pub­licly took the rap and, by pro­tect­ing Tony Blair and Alastair Camp­bell, was rewar­ded with the top job at MI6 and the inev­it­able knight­hood.  No doubt a suit­able recog­ni­tion for his entirely hon­our­able beha­viour.

But it gets worse — now he has appar­ently landed a luc­rat­ive job as an advisor on the situ­ation in Iraq work­ing for Nor­we­gi­an oil mega-cor­por­a­tion, Statoil.

You couldn’t make it up…

… or per­haps you could if you’re a former top spy with an undeserved “K” and a luc­rat­ive oil con­tract who has dif­fi­culty sep­ar­at­ing fact from fic­tion.…..