You say pro-NATO, I say pro-peace

First published on RT Op-Edge, and also Consortium News.

During the seemingly endless US election, a few months ago Donald Trump said at a convention that NATO is not a gift that America can keep giving.  In his stated view – at the time –  the other member states should be expected to make a greater financial contribution (the USA currently contributes 70% of NATO’s budget) and if not they could not expect automatic protection in the face of an attack.

On 13th November in the UK’s Observer newspaper, the Secretary General of NATO, former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, wrote a think piece in response and acknowledged the need for more widespread contributions, while crying up the historic importance and future need for NATO by citing growing Russian “assertiveness” (diplo-speak for aggression) and the threat from international terrorism.

I was invited onto RT to analyse this and am here expanding on some of the points I made in an always-all-too-brief interview.

Stoltenberg was right to acknowledge Trump’s concerns about the contributions to NATO.  But I think that he was also addressing another and already-serving president somewhat closer to home – head of the European Commission and totemic Eurocrat, Jean-Claude Juncker – who for a while now has been plotting an integrated EU army and who ramped up the rhetoric last week after Trump’s victory. The head of NATO is naturally not going to be too happy that the EU is poaching on his territory.

It was also reported in The Observer that France and Germany are planning to announce the acceleration towards a EU army over the coming weeks. So much for European-wide consensus. It would appear that Juncker also sees this as a bargaining position in future Brexit negotiations, if Britain ever does get around to triggering Article 50.  Any EU army would need the UK’s contribution – not just the armed forces, which are the second largest in the EU, but also continued close cooperation with the intelligence agencies.

After all, if both the UK post-Brexit and the USA after the ascension of Trump become increasingly isolationist and isolated, it would be natural for the two countries to pivot towards each other to the increasing exclusion of Europe. The UK/US “special relationship” has always been heavily predicated on the uniquely close working relationship of their spies, and the EU will fear being left further out in the cold.

So, if Juncker carries on regardless with his vanity EU army project and Britain agrees to contribute post-Brexit, there may be other sweet deals on offer to the UK during the Brexit negotiations. At least, that seems to be the position Juncker seems to be oiling his way towards.

But the fundamental question has to be asked: why, now, do we need either a New Model EU army or the cavalier NATO?  Stoltenberg tried to address this in his article:

“In the last few years we have seen a dramatic deterioration of our security, with a more assertive Russia and turmoil across north Africa and the Middle East. Nato allies have responded together. We have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the cold war. [….] This is deterrence, not aggression. […] Nato also continues to play a crucial role in the fight against terrorism. Every Nato ally is part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State…”

Let us unpick these comments.

Firstly, is Russia indeed becoming more of a military threat, or is this just so much diplomatic grandstanding? After all, is it Russia or NATO that has been more, umm, assertive over the last 27 years?

In answer I refer you back to an article I wrote two years ago after the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Referencing the work of former senior CIA officer and fellow Sam Adams Associate, Ray McGovern, it made clear that a deal was made between the Soviet Union of the time and the US and that, in return for the withdrawal of 260,000 Soviet troops from the GDR and the reunification of Germany, NATO would not move one inch further east than the German border.

Well, today we can see the result of these negotiations – another twelve countries, most in Eastern Europe and right up to the Russian border, have been assimilated into NATO. Recently within most of these border countries large-scale military exercises have been provocatively and publicly staged, plus missile “defence ” systems have been planted in the fertile paranoiac soil of an increasingly aggressive and nationalistic Poland.

Yes, Russia has in retaliation been conducting its own border exercises. The leadership has to be seen to be doing something, otherwise it will appear weak and not protecting its own people. That might be “assertive”, but it’s certainly not “aggressive”.

Nor let us forget the fact that in 2008 NATO was warm towards the idea of Ukraine and Georgia joining, provided they could meet a few conditions. This would be taking Western forces directly into Russia’s back yard. It would be encircling Russia’s border with the rest of Europe with a new “Iron Curtain”.  And I have to say that *is* an aggressively political move at the very least.

How did this play out? Well, first stop for the campaign of Russian demonisation was Georgia, under Western neo-con puppet president Mikhail Saakashvili , invading a small and ethnically Russian segment of Georgia, South Ossetia.   Russia responded by protecting the population, and then was excoriated across the Western world as conducting an unprovoked invasion of Georgia. This myth has long been exposed factually, but it is the hysterical headlines of the time that residually stick in most people’s minds.

Similarly in Ukraine. In 2014 a coup against the elected head of state, Viktor Yanukovych, apparently partly orchestrated by the USA as we know from intercepted calls between the Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe, Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

Interestingly, it was Yanukovych who blocked Ukraine’s accession to NATO in after his election in 2010, perhaps an additional motivation for the 2014 coup.

All this laid bare the fact that the US had pumped $5 billion in to subvert the Ukrainian state over the preceding few years and that, in the face of European opposition to it, the US thought “fuck the EU”. And yet still the EU acquiesced to US-led sanctions against Russia that have hit the EU economy hard.

And the USA accused Russia of meddling in their democratic processes this year? Pot and kettle springs to mind.

Add to this a probably NATO-approved strike on a Russian jet involved in the Syrian conflict earlier this year by NATO member Turkey (at the time one of the closest trading partners of Russia and which, temporarily, caused bilateral damage that has since been repaired) and the military wing of Western interests is not exactly coming up smelling of roses.

But perhaps NATO was just being “assertive”.

So to Stoltenberg’s second point of justification for NATO: the success that it has had combating the threat of international terrorism.

Where can I start with this? Since NATO invoked Article 5 (when one state is attacked, all must respond) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks against America, western countries have been dragged into war after illegal war across the Middle East, central Asia and North Africa.

Let us examine the roll-call of successes: Afghanistan (now back in the hands of the Taliban warlords and supplying ever more heroin to the illegal drug trade that goes some way to funding terrorist groups, including ISIS); Iraq, now a basket case and the cradle of ISIS; Libya ditto plus the drugs; Yemeni communities being vaporised with “precision” bombs by US proxy Saudi Arabia: and Syria of course.

So the NATO Secretary General’s second justification of the organisation’s continued existence is not exactly what one would call compelling. But I suppose he had to try, when Juncker’s threatened folie de grandeur that is the EU army is even less inspiring.

So, back to President-elect Donald Trump.  What will he do, faced with this mess of competing western military/security interests and Euro-bureaucrat careerists? Perhaps his US isolationist position is not so mad, bad and dangerous to know as the wailings of the western liberal press would have us believe?

American “exceptionalism” and NATO interventionism have not exactly benefited much of the world since the end of the Cold War. Perhaps the time has indeed come for an American Commander-in-Chief who can cut deals, cut through the sabre-rattling rhetoric and, even unintentionally, make a significant contribution to world peace.

Stranger things have happened.  After all, outgoing President Obama won the Nobel Prize for Peace a mere eight months after his inauguration….

Re:publica – The War on Concepts

This week I made my first visit to the re:publica annual geekfest in Berlin to do a talk called “The War on Concepts”. In my view this, to date, includes the four wars – on drugs, terror, the internet, and whistleblowers. No doubt the number will continue to rise.

Here’s the video:

republica_2015_Annie_Machon_The_War_on_Concepts from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Whistleblowers deserve full coverage

Here is my recent RT interview about the recent dispute between Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald on what exactly the parameters should be in media reporting of whistleblower disclosures:

whistleblowers

Whistleblowers deserve full coverage – RT interview from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Of course, thanks to Wikileaks this evening, we now know the country that Glenn Greenwald redacted from his original report was Afghanistan.

Why on earth should the Afghanis not be allowed to know the sheer scale of surveillance they live under? In fact, would many be surprised? This is an excellent related article, do read.

Chelsea Manning wins Sam Adams Award

Chelsea Manning was presented with the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence at an award ceremony hosted by the Oxford Union Society on 19th April. Many former intelligence personnel from the US and Europe gathered to honour her.

Immediately after the ceremony I was asked on RT for an interview about the ceremony, the achievements of Chelsea Manning and the value of whistleblowers:
Chelsea Manning wins Sam Adams Award

The Culture High

Culture_High_InterviewI had a fabulous time doing an interview on behalf of LEAP for the new anti-prohibition film, The Culture High.

Made by Adam Scorgie, who directed the cult film, The Union, his new work promises to be the film on the subject of cannabis prohibition.  Thanks to the team for a wide-ranging, lively and stimulating interview.

If you want to support their work, click here.  And the film will be released next summer.

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.

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 regime 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.

“The House I Live In” – drug panel discussion

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:

Oval Space Cinema Club: ‘The House I Live In’ – Panel Discussion from Oval Space on Vimeo.