Donald Trump v the Spooks

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News on 16 Janu­ary 2017.

The clash between plu­to­crat­ic Pres­id­ent-elect Trump and the CIA is shap­ing up to be the heavy-weight prize fight of the cen­tury, and Trump at least is approach­ing it with all the enter­tain­ing bom­bast of Mohammed Ali at the top of his game. Rather than fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of doing dirty polit­ic­al deals in dark corners, more com­monly known as fix­ing the match, Trump has come out swinging in the full glare of the media.

In that corner we have a deal-mak­ing, bil­lion­aire “man of the people” who, to European sens­ib­il­it­ies at least, reputedly espouses some of the mad­der US domest­ic obses­sions and yet has seemed to offer hope to many aggrieved Amer­ic­ans. How­ever, it is his pro­fessed pos­i­tion on build­ing a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia and cooper­at­ing with Moscow to sort out the Syr­i­an mess that caught my atten­tion and that of many oth­er inde­pend­ent com­ment­at­ors inter­na­tion­ally.

In the oppos­ite corner his oppon­ents have pushed the CIA into the ring to deliv­er the knock-out blow, but this has yet to land.  Des­pite jab after failed jab, Trump keeps evad­ing the blows and comes rat­tling back against all the odds. One has to admire the guy’s foot­work.

So who are the oppon­ents ranged behind the CIA, yelling encour­age­ment through the ropes? The obvi­ous cul­prits include the US mil­it­ary indus­tri­al com­plex, whose bot­tom line relies on an era of unend­ing war. As jus­ti­fic­a­tion for extract­ing bil­lions — even tril­lions — of dol­lars from Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers, there was a need for fright­en­ing vil­lains such as Al Qaeda and, even more so, the head chop­pers of ISIS.  How­ever, since the Rus­si­an inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia in 2015, those vil­lains no longer packed so scary a punch, so a more endur­ing vil­lain, like Emmanuel Gold­stein, the prin­cip­al enemy in George Orwell’s “1984”, was required.  Rus­sia was the obvi­ous new choice, the old favour­ite from the Cold War play book.

The west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies have a ves­ted interest in etern­al enemies to ensure both etern­al fund­ing and etern­al power, hence the CIA’s entry into the fight. As former Brit­ish MP and long-time peace act­iv­ist George Gal­lo­way so elo­quently said in a recent inter­view, an unholy alli­ance is now being formed between the “war party” in the US, the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex and those who pre­vi­ously would have pub­licly spurned such accom­plices: Amer­ic­an pro­gress­ives and their tra­di­tion­al host, the Demo­crat­ic Party.

Yet, if the DNC had not done its best to rig the primar­ies in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton, then per­haps we would not be in this pos­i­tion. Bernie Sanders would now be the Pres­id­ent-elect.

These estab­lish­ment forces have also revealed to the wider world a fact long known but largely dis­missed as con­spir­acy the­ory by the cor­por­ate main­stream media, that the two-party sys­tem in both the US and the UK is a sham. In fact, we are gov­erned by a glob­al­ised élite, work­ing in its own interest while ignor­ing ours. The Demo­crats, openly dis­gruntled by Hil­lary Clinton’s elec­tion loss and being seen to jump into bed so quickly with the spooks and the war­mon­gers, have laid this real­ity bare.

In fact, respec­ted US invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist Robert Parry recently wrote that an intel­li­gence con­tact admit­ted to him before the elec­tion that the intel­li­gence agen­cies did not like either of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. This may go some way to explain­ing the FBI’s inter­ven­tion in the run up to the elec­tion against Hil­lary Clin­ton, as well as the CIA’s attempts to de-legit­im­ise Trump’s vic­tory after­wards.

Wheth­er that was indeed the case, the CIA has cer­tainly held back no punches since Trump’s elec­tion. First the evid­ence-lite asser­tion that it was the Rus­si­ans who hacked the DNC emails and leaked them to Wikileaks: then the fake news about Rus­sia hack­ing the vot­ing com­puters; that then morph­ed into the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion” itself; then they “hacked” into the US elec­tric grid via a Ver­mont util­ity.  All this without a shred of fact-based evid­ence provided, but Obama’s expul­sion of 35 Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats last month solid­i­fied this dubi­ous real­ity in Amer­ic­ans’ minds.

All this has so far cul­min­ated, of course, in the “dirty dossier” alleg­a­tions last week about Trump, which he has rightly knocked down — it was des­per­ately poor stuff.

This last item, from a Brit­ish per­spect­ive, is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing. It appears that a Wash­ing­ton dirt-dig­ging com­pany was hired by a Repub­lic­an rival to Trump to unearth any poten­tial Rus­si­an scan­dals dur­ing the primar­ies; once Trump had won the nom­in­a­tion this dirt-dig­ging job­bery was then taken over by a Demo­crat sup­port­er of Hil­lary Clin­ton. The anti-Trump invest­ig­a­tion was then sub-con­trac­ted to an alleged former Brit­ish spy, an ex-MI6 man named Chris­toph­er Steele.

Much has already been writ­ten about Steele and the com­pany, much of it con­tra­dict­ory as no doubt befits the life of a former spy. But it is a stand­ard career tra­ject­ory for insiders to move on to cor­por­ate, mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies, and this is what Steele appears to have done suc­cess­fully in 2009.  Of course much is pre­dic­ated on main­tain­ing good work­ing rela­tions with your former employ­ers.

That is the aspect that interests me most — how close a link­age did he indeed retain with his former employ­ers after he left MI6 in 2009 to set up his own private spy com­pany? The answer is import­ant because com­pan­ies such has his can also be used as cut-outs for “plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity” by offi­cial state spies.

Of course, I’m not sug­gest­ing that happened in this case, but Steele reportedly remained on good terms with MI6 and was well thought of.  For a man who had not been sta­tioned in Rus­sia for over 20 years, it would per­haps have been nat­ur­al for him to turn to old chums for use­ful con­nec­tions.

But this ques­tion is of extreme import­ance at a crit­ic­al junc­ture for the UK; if indeed MI6 was com­pli­cit or even aware of this dirt dig­ging, as it seems it might have been, then that is a huge dip­lo­mat­ic prob­lem for the government’s attempts to devel­op a strong work­ing rela­tion­ship with the US, post-Brexit. If MI6’s sticky fin­gers were on this case, then the organ­isa­tion has done the pre­cise oppos­ite of its offi­cial task — “to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK”.

MI6 and its US intel­li­gence chums need to remem­ber their des­ig­nated and legis­lated roles with­in a demo­cracy — to serve the gov­ern­ment and pro­tect nation­al secur­ity by gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, assess­ing it impar­tially and mak­ing recom­mend­a­tions on which the gov­ern­ment of the day will choose to act or not as the case may be.

The spies are not there to fake intel­li­gence to suit the agenda of a par­tic­u­lar régime, as happened in the run-up to the illeg­al Iraq war, nor are they there to endem­ic­ally spy on their own pop­u­la­tions (and the rest of the world, as we know post-Snowden) in a point­less hunt for sub­vers­ive activ­ity, which often trans­lates into legit­im­ate polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and acts of indi­vidu­al expres­sion.

And most espe­cially the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not be try­ing to sub­vert demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted gov­ern­ments. And yet this is what the CIA and a former seni­or MI6 officer, along with their power­ful polit­ic­al allies, appear to be now attempt­ing against Trump.

If I were an Amer­ic­an I would be wary of many of Trump’s domest­ic policies. As a European con­cerned with great­er peace rather than increas­ing war, I can only applaud his con­struct­ive approach towards Rus­sia and his offer to coöper­ate with Moscow to staunch the blood­shed in the Middle East.

That, of course, may be nub of his fight with the CIA and oth­er ves­ted interests who want Rus­sia as the new bogey­man.  But I would bet that Trump takes the CIA’s slurs per­son­ally. After all, giv­en the ugli­ness of the accus­a­tions and the lack of proof, who would not?

So, this is a world cham­pi­on­ship heavy-weight fight, over who gets to hold office and wield power, an area where the US and UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have con­sid­er­able exper­i­ence in rig­ging matches and knock­ing out oppon­ents. Think, for instance, Ira­ni­an Prime Min­is­ter Mohammad Mossad­eq in 1953; Chilean Pres­id­ent Sal­vador Allende in 1973; Iraqi lead­er Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003; and Liby­an lead­er Muam­mar Gad­dafi in 2011. Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-Assad in Syr­ia is punch-drunk but still stand­ing, thanks to some good corner sup­port from Rus­sia.

How­ever, it would appear that Trump is a stranger to the spies’ self-defined Queens­bury Rules in which tar­gets are deemed para­noid if they try to alert the pub­lic to the planned “régime change” or they become easy tar­gets by stay­ing silent. By con­trast, Trump appears shame­less and pug­na­cious. Street-smart and self-pro­mot­ing, he seems com­fort­able with bare-knuckle fight­ing.

This match has already gone into the middle rounds with Trump still boun­cing around on his toes and rel­ish­ing the fight. It would be iron­ic if out of this nasty prize fight came great­er world peace and safely for us all.

Is the USA Facing a Coup d’Etat?

On 18 Decem­ber last year I wrote an art­icle about the pos­sib­il­ity of a coup d’état in the USA, planned and executed by the CIA and oth­er par­ti­cipants in the Deep State.

At the time I just wanted to high­light the poten­tial prob­lems that were arising from the CIA’s and the Amer­ic­an élite’s objec­tion to a Trump pres­id­ency and fail­ure of the Clin­ton can­did­acy.

How­ever, fol­low­ing fake news of the “Ver­mont hack” and the fail­ure of the debunked report on “Rus­si­an hack­ing” of the elec­tion last week, it seems that the CIA and the wider deep state is dra­mat­ic­ally rais­ing the stakes today, with leaks to the media of dubi­ous reports from a cor­por­ate spy com­pany alleging cor­rup­tion and sexu­al devi­ancy.  How low can they go?

I would laugh at this far­rago of non­sense if this escal­a­tion of accus­a­tion did not imply such an increas­ingly deadly course, on the part of the Amer­ic­an estab­lish­ment, to push for a show­down with Rus­sia at any cost in 2017.

First pub­lished on RT:

I fear that soon the cur­tain will finally be brought down on the pup­pet show that passes for demo­cracy in Amer­ica, and those who for dec­ades have been pulling the strings will come raging into the light, red in tooth and claw. The illu­sion that the people really have a choice of pres­id­ent every four years will be irre­par­ably shattered.

The old Brit­ish tru­ism that “it does not mat­ter whom you vote for, the gov­ern­ment always gets in” can also be applied to the US pres­id­ency — usu­ally all can­did­ates are approved and massively fun­ded by the mod­ern incarn­a­tion of Eisenhower’s infam­ous “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex” and then assidu­ously sup­por­ted by cheer­lead­ers in the old cor­por­ate media, leav­ing the elect­or­ate with damn little mean­ing­ful choice.

This has been true from Reagan to Bush the First, from Clin­ton the First to Bush the Second and then on to Obama (the First?). It was sup­posed to have been true in the most recent elec­tion, where the élite’s choice poin­ted towards a con­test between Bush the Third or Clin­ton the Second, either one of whom would have worked to the interests of Wall Street and con­tin­ued the increas­ingly dan­ger­ous, inter­ven­tion­ist, and hawk­ish glob­al US for­eign policy.

As a little aside, since when did the USA fall for the concept of inher­ited polit­ic­al power, a de facto new mon­archy?

But then an oxy­mor­on­ic bil­lion­aire “man of the people” crow­barred his way into the con­test and slashed all the strings of pup­petry and priv­ilege. Enter, stage left, the bullish, seem­ingly big­oted, and bemus­ingly suc­cess­ful Don­ald Trump.

As a Brit, cur­rently cut adrift in a pre-Brexit Europe, I hold no brief for the dangers he may or may not pose to the much-vaunted Amer­ic­an way of life in the good ol’ home­land.  How­ever, as I have stated before, with The Donald’s appar­ent determ­in­a­tion to fol­low a strategy of US isol­a­tion­ism, to cut a deal in Syr­ia, and effect a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia, the wider world may just have dodged a nuc­le­ar bul­let or at least an era of unend­ing war.

Plus, the Amer­ic­an people appear to have wanted a change, any change, from the hered­it­ary priv­ilege of the Wash­ing­ton élite. That change could well have come from anoth­er out­sider, Bernie Sanders, if he had been giv­en a fair chance.  How­ever, as we know from the leaked Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) and Podesta emails, the Demo­crat­ic Party would stop at noth­ing to ensure the anoint­ing of the chosen one — Clin­ton the Second

So why do I think that there may be a coup d’état loom­ing in America’s near future?

Trump was elec­ted on the prom­ise of “drain­ing the swamp” of the Wash­ing­ton polit­ic­al and cor­por­ate elites — this is deeply threat­en­ing to the ves­ted interests, not least the CIA, whose daily brief­ings have been spurned by Trump, thereby rup­tur­ing the co-depend­ent rela­tion­ship between the pres­id­ent and the polit­icly com­prom­ised intel­li­gence agen­cies that has exis­ted since 9/11 and which has caused so much glob­al harm, start­ing with the ill-informed and illeg­al rush to war in Iraq in 2003. I shall return to the CIA later.

The Amer­ic­an élite is facing the inaug­ur­a­tion of a self-pro­fessed out­sider who is threat­en­ing all their eas­ily-bought priv­ileges, one who seems more inter­ested in cut­ting deals than bomb­ing coun­tries. Nor do they like his nom­in­ees to high office, espe­cially that of Rex Tiller­son, the cur­rent CEO of Exxon­Mobil,  to the post of Sec­ret­ary of State — after all, he has a track record of cut­ting deals too and with the Rus­si­ans no less, and such a per­son as the top US dip­lo­mat might, gasp, help to bring to a close the new not-so-Cold War that is so import­ant to the hawk­ish war­mon­gers and their mas­ters in the thriv­ing US arms and secur­ity industry.

There­fore once Trump had been declared the offi­cial Repub­lic­an nom­in­ee, the estab­lish­ment push-back was all too pre­dict­able. The story of “Rus­si­an hack­ing” was ini­tially trailed merely as media bait to divert the press from the real story — Hil­lary Clinton’s poten­tially illeg­al use of a private web serv­er while act­ing as Sec­ret­ary of State.

Then in Novem­ber Wikileaks began to release even more dam­aging emails from the DNC and the Podesta files, which demon­strated quite how the Demo­crats had stitched up the can­did­acy of Bernie Sanders.  The Demo­crats imme­di­ately cried foul — it must indeed be the Rus­si­ans hack­ing their files and hand­ing the inform­a­tion to Wikileaks (now cast as a Rus­si­an stooge — a move extremely use­ful in America’s ongo­ing attempts to frame the pro­sec­u­tion of Wikileaks edit­or Juli­an Assange as “espi­on­age”, even though he is an Aus­trali­an pub­lish­er stuck in Europe).

Unusu­ally Assange went on the record to say the emails Wikileaks pub­lished did not come from the Rus­si­ans: Wikileaks tra­di­tion­ally refuses to dis­cuss its sources.

Then former UK Ambas­sad­or and Wikileaks ally, Craig Mur­ray, went pub­lic by say­ing that, while he was in Wash­ing­ton earli­er this year, he was giv­en files that were then pub­lished on Wikileaks. His view is that the inform­a­tion came from a Demo­crat whis­tleblower with leg­al access — it was a leak by an insider, not a hack by an out­sider.

Also earli­er this week a group of former seni­or US intel­li­gence offi­cials, includ­ing the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, wrote an open let­ter to Con­gress explain­ing that, if indeed the Rus­si­ans had hacked the DNC, the NSA would have been able to provide evid­ence to to prove this.  Yet, at such a time of poten­tial con­sti­tu­tion­al crisis, none has been forth­com­ing, either dir­ectly or via the CIA, even in the face of calls for the usu­al con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and spe­cial invest­ig­a­tions.

So there is appar­ently no sub­stant­ive evid­ence of Rus­si­an hack­ing dur­ing the elec­tion.  How­ever, there does appear to be some evid­ence around the issue of Clinton’s illeg­al serv­er.

Elev­en days before the Amer­ic­an elec­tion the Dir­ect­or of the FBI, in the wake of the Anthony Wein­er sex­ting case, reopened the invest­ig­a­tion into the Clin­ton serv­er scan­dal and pub­lished the fact, as he said, in the nation­al interest. This caused howls of rage from the Demo­crats, and again “Rus­si­an hack­ing” was hyped in the media, thereby eas­ily con­flat­ing the concept of the illeg­al serv­er, the alleged hacks, the Rus­si­ans, into one big lump of geek-speak that most people would not have the will to dis­en­tangle.  Two days before the elec­tion, James Comey backed down, but the hack­ing seed had ger­min­ated.

Now it is com­ing into bloom — last week the CIA re-entered the fray, with reports about Rus­si­an hack­ing leaked to both the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times. Since then, name­less “intel­li­gence sources” and grand­stand­ing politi­cians have been fall­ing over them­selves to speak to this sub­ject, but it all remains very evid­ence-lite.

Plus there is appar­ently by no means a con­sensus amongst all sev­en­teen of the US intel­li­gence agen­cies with regards to the CIA’s claims.  Indeed, until recently the FBI has dir­ectly con­tra­dicted them, and the FBI is in the busi­ness of pulling togeth­er evid­ence to pro­sec­ute a case under law.

That, now, is all chan­ging. Only recently it was repor­ted that the FBI is now sup­port­ing the CIA’s “beliefs”.  I was puzzled about this volte face until I read this prom­in­ent op-ed by Clin­ton cam­paign man­ager, John Podesta, in the Wash­ing­ton Post where, in addi­tion to blam­ing the Rus­si­ans for “hack­ing the elec­tion” (note, no longer just the DNC emails and his own), he is attack­ing the FBI and its head, James Comey, and sug­gest­ing that the organ­isa­tion is broken and “what’s broken in the FBI must be fixed and quickly”. Per­haps, for whatever reas­on, Comey can see the over­turn­ing of the elec­tion res­ult as a real pos­sib­il­ity now and is des­per­ately row­ing back.

In par­al­lel, it seems that the CIA is fear­ful of retali­ation if, against all their endeav­ours, Don­ald Trump does indeed get sworn in as the 45th pres­id­ent of the USA on 20th Janu­ary next year.  That goes some way to explain­ing why they are chal­len­ging the elec­tion res­ult by push­ing this line that the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion”, the new head­line that has morph­ed through the glob­al MSM over the last couple of days from belief to estab­lished fact, with no evid­ence pro­duced.

The CIA claims that Rus­si­an “hack­ers” were delving around in the emails of both the Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Con­gress as well as the Repub­lic­an equi­val­ent for months before the Novem­ber elec­tion.  And yet only the Demo­crat emails were, the CIA asserts, passed on to Wikileaks and thereby pub­lished to order to sway the elec­tion res­ult. Where is the proof? They have pro­duced no evid­ence, in the face of of expert testi­mony from former seni­or intel­li­gence officers as well as dir­ect asser­tions from Wikileaks about the source of the DNC leaks. Indeed, the Dir­ect­or of Nation­al Intel­li­gence, James Clap­per, is refus­ing to brief the Con­gres­sion­al intel­li­gence com­mit­tees’ repeated requests to give a brief­ing.

That has not stopped the glob­al main­stream media from whip­ping up an ima­gined new truth: that the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion”. And the media frenzy has grown expo­nen­tially over the last few days.

This is why I fear an Amer­ic­an coup d’état, pos­sibly start­ing as soon as 19th Decem­ber, the date when the Elect­or­al Col­lege meets to rat­i­fy the elec­tion of Trump.  All this Cold-War, anti-Rus­si­an hys­teria is being used as a stick to beat the Elect­or­al Col­lege mem­bers into ignor­ing their duty and vote in the way dir­ec­ted by the major­ity of the people of their state whom they are pledged to rep­res­ent. Plus, who knows what juicy car­rots may also have been offered?

If enough prove faith­less to the elect­or­ate, then the elec­tion res­ult will be over­turned and Clin­ton the Second could ascend to the Amer­ic­an throne. Even if the Elect­or­al Col­lege does its sworn duty to the people, I fear that the CIA anti-Trump cam­paign may now have gathered so much momentum that the estab­lish­ment may still find a way, any way pos­sible, to stop Trump’s inaug­ur­a­tion as pres­id­ent — after all we still have five weeks to get through before 20th Janu­ary.

Trump is a known unknown and retains poten­tial pos­sib­il­it­ies intriguing to the wider world.  How­ever, if the Elect­or­al Col­lege starts a coup d’état on Monday and against all con­sti­tu­tion­al norms the coron­a­tion of Clin­ton pro­ceeds, we know all too well what lies ahead: war.

Shades of Watergate — the fake Russian Hacking

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

The Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) of the USA has been hacked — cue a nation­al Amer­ic­an trauma, alleg­a­tions of dirty tricks, fears that demo­cracy has been sub­ver­ted, all lead­ing to what the next US pres­id­ent would call “our long nation­al night­mare”.

But, no, I am not talk­ing about the cur­rent Russo-phobic hys­teria cur­rently engulf­ing the US media, replete with claims about “fake news”, expelled Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats, and a lack of skep­ti­cism about the evid­ence-lite hack­ing alleg­a­tions.

Instead I am dip­ping back into his­tory — the old Water­gate Scan­dal — when Richard Nixon’s “plumb­ers” stole inform­a­tion the old-fash­ioned way; they broke into the DNC offices, rifled the files and planted listen­ing devices. On 17 June 1972, when police cap­tured five burg­lars inside the DNC offices at the Water­gate build­ing in Wash­ing­ton, the case slowly unfol­ded over the next two years until Pres­id­ent Nix­on resigned on 9 August 1974, and was replaced by Vice Pres­id­ent Ger­ald Ford who declared “our long nation­al night­mare is over”.

Dur­ing those two years, The Wash­ing­ton Post became inter­na­tion­ally and jus­ti­fi­ably fam­ous for break­ing the story about Richard Nixon’s role in the Water­gate cov­er-up and — since then — gen­er­a­tions of cub report­ers have dreamed of being the next Wood­ward or Bern­stein. Besides lead­ing to the down­fall of the men­dacious and para­noid Nix­on, the scan­dal con­trib­uted to the rein­ing in of an out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment cul­min­at­ing in the Church Com­mit­tee hear­ings of 1975.

What fol­lowed was great­er, if unfor­tu­nately tem­por­ary, con­trol of the US intel­li­gence agen­cies and at least an appar­ent respect for the rights of Amer­ic­an cit­izens under the terms of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. The work of The Wash­ing­ton Post then was indeed rel­ev­ant and world chan­ging.

The film depic­tion of the Post’s invest­ig­a­tion — All the President’s Men — cel­eb­rated this exposé and con­firmed in West­ern minds that our won­der­ful free press spoke truth to power.  And per­haps, in this case, the press did (although I have to say that I pre­ferred the melt­down scene in the proph­et­ic film The Net­work, which envi­sioned the slide of the news media into rat­ings-driv­en mad­ness).

But — regard­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post — how the mighty have fallen. Over the last couple of months, The Post has blown what was left of its journ­al­ist­ic repu­ta­tion out of the water.

First it unblush­ingly repor­ted the Pro­pOrNot “black­list” of “fake news” inter­net sites that were allegedly work­ing at the Kremlin’s com­mand to swing the US elec­tion to Don­ald Trump, except that list encom­passed many of the most reput­able inde­pend­ent (ie not US cor­por­ate-owned) Eng­lish-lan­guage inter­na­tion­al news sites. Threatened with angry writs from some of the sites, the paper quickly prin­ted a dis­claim­er dis­tan­cing itself from the anonym­ous people behind Pro­pOrNot, but still not apo­lo­gising for the McCarthy­ist­ic smear.

Then, last Fri­day, the paper was at it again — breath­lessly report­ing that the Ver­mont energy grid was appar­ently hacked by the scape­goat du jour, Rus­sia. Although there should have been some obvi­ous ques­tions asked: why Ver­mont?  What has that state ever done to Rus­sia? Well, not much as it turns out; nor Rus­sia to Ver­mont.

Yet again the Post has revised its report­ing down to the fact that a laptop, com­pletely uncon­nec­ted to the grid accord­ing to the energy provider’s state­ment, had been infec­ted by mal­ware. In oth­er words, there was no Rus­si­an hack­ing into the Ver­mont power grid.

And yet, because it’s The Wash­ing­ton Post, this fake break­ing “news” was taken ser­i­ously and meta­stas­ised through the body polit­ic of Amer­ica and bey­ond. This Rus­si­an hack­ing became a “post-truth” real­ity, no mat­ter how fact-free the ori­gin­al story. (I hereby pro­pose a #fact­freed­iet for us all on Twit­ter for Janu­ary, so we can high­light this phe­nomen­on.)

But here is the obvi­ous next ques­tions: why did this non-story appear in The Wash­ing­ton Post and why now? Has the paper sud­denly fallen prey to a revamped Oper­a­tion Mock­ing­bird, its edit­or­i­al stuffed to the gills with CIA agents of influ­ence?

As I have writ­ten before, the CIA and its asso­ci­ates with­in the Deep State appear to be hell bent on under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Trump elec­tion res­ult and this hyp­ing of Rus­si­an hack­ing is one of the key weapons in this struggle. So per­haps the Deep State play­ers are (re)activating a few agents of influ­ence in the main­stream Amer­ic­an media?

But there may pos­sibly be a more tan­gen­tial explan­a­tion for The Wash­ing­ton Post’s plunge into fic­tion: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon​.com and one of the wealth­i­est people in the world. Amazon is not only the favour­ite pur­vey­or of all goods online, but also sus­pec­ted (at least in the UK) of massive tax avoid­ance scams as well as abus­ive employ­ment prac­tices in the same coun­try.

Bezos is also, since 2013, the proud own­er of The Wash­ing­ton Post, a pur­chase that her­al­ded his unex­pec­ted busi­ness swerve into the old main­stream media. The deal to buy the news­pa­per was repor­ted in the busi­ness press to have cost him $250 mil­lion.

Inter­est­ingly in the same year Amazon cut a deal to devel­op a cloud-based ser­vice for the CIA — a deal worth a repor­ted $600 mil­lion over ten years. It also appears that this ser­vice has expan­ded across all 17 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies, so who can tell what it might be worth to Amazon now and in the future?

It is no doubt just an inter­est­ing coin­cid­ence that the Bezos-owned Wash­ing­ton Post is the fount of the cur­rent stream of CIA asser­tions that the Rus­si­ans are hack­ing key USA insti­tu­tions, start­ing with the DNC — which then some­how became “hack­ing the elec­tion” — and now the util­ity grid. Bezos him­self has asser­ted that he exerts no dir­ect con­trol over the edit­or­i­al decisions of the news­pa­per, and he has left in place many of the neo­con­ser­vat­ive edit­ors who pre­ceded his stew­ard­ship, so there may not be any need for dir­ect orders.

Of course, all state-level play­ers, includ­ing the Rus­si­ans and cer­tainly the Amer­ic­ans, are going to be prob­ing the basic sys­tems under­pin­ning all our coun­tries for vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.  That is what intel­li­gence agen­cies do, and it is also what mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies do on behalf of their cor­por­ate cli­ents, and what hack­ers (either of the crim­in­al fla­vour or the socially-minded hackt­iv­ists) do too. The dodgy mal­ware, the code, the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies are all out there, often for sale or squir­relled away by the nation­al spy agen­cies for poten­tial future advant­age.

Whatever the truth about the DNC hack­ing alleg­a­tions, The Wash­ing­ton Post sadly seems unin­ter­ested in prop­erly pur­su­ing it — indeed it seems inter­ested in little bey­ond pur­su­ing the spe­cif­ic polit­ic­al agenda of fan­ning a dan­ger­ous dis­trust of Rus­sia and under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Pres­id­ent-elect Trump.

If such a com­pli­ant cor­por­ate cul­ture had exis­ted back in 1972 at the time of the first DNC “hack”, the Water­gate Scan­dal would surely nev­er have been exposed. And the old media still won­ders why it is no longer trus­ted?

Perils of Censorship in the Digital Age

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge.

The ripple effects of the Don­ald Trump elec­tion vic­tory in Amer­ica con­tin­ue to wash over many dif­fer­ent shorelines of pub­lic opin­ion, like so many mini-tsuna­mis hit­ting the Pacific rim over the last few last weeks.  The seis­mic changes have indeed been glob­al, and not least in Europe.

First up, the Euro­crats have been get­ting in a bit of a flap about the future of NATO, as I recently wrote.  In the past I have also writ­ten about the per­ceived “insider threat” - in oth­er words, whis­tleblowers — that has been wor­ry­ing gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies across the West­ern world.

Cur­rently the Twit­ter­sphere is light­ing up around the issue of “fake news”, with West­ern main­stream media (news pur­vey­ors of the utmost unsul­lied prob­ity, nat­ur­ally) blam­ing Trump’s unex­pec­ted vic­tory vari­ously on the US alt-media shock jocks, fake news trolls and bots, and sov­er­eign-state media out­lets such as the Rus­si­an RT and Sput­nik.

In the wake of US Demo­crat claims that Rus­sia was inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion pro­cess (not a prac­tice that the USA has ever engaged in in any oth­er coun­try around the world what­so­ever), we now have the US Green Party pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate appar­ently spon­tan­eously call­ing for recounts in three key swing-states in the USA.

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment has already expressed con­cern that such “fake” news might adversely influ­ence the almost inev­it­able re-elec­tion for a fourth term as Chan­cel­lor, Angela Merkel.  Des­pite hav­ing been pro­claimed the closest part­ner of the USA by Pres­id­ent Obama on his recent speed-dat­ing vis­it to Europe, and per­haps wary of the rising nation­al­ist anger (I hes­it­ate to write nation­al social­ist anger, but cer­tainly its ugly face is there too in the Ger­man crowd) Merkal is get­ting in an elect­or­al first strike.

At a slightly more wor­ry­ing level, the European Par­lia­ment on 23 Novem­ber voted for a res­ol­u­tion to counter “pro­pa­ganda” from Rus­sia — and incred­ibly equated that country’s media with ter­ror­ist groups such as ISIS — the very organ­isa­tion that Rus­sia is cur­rently try­ing to help crush in Syr­ia and which the West and NATO are at least offi­cially opposed to.

Equat­ing the con­tent of licensed and net­worked media out­lets — how­ever much they may chal­lenge West­ern ortho­dox­ies — to the hor­rors of ISIS snuff videos seems to me to be wil­fully blind if not down­right and dan­ger­ously delu­sion­al. Or per­haps we should just call it pro­pa­ganda too?

Whatever happened to the rights of free­dom of expres­sion enshrined in the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights? Or the concept that a plur­al­ity of opin­ion encour­ages a healthy demo­cracy?

In Amer­ica too, we have had reports this week that Google and Face­book are cen­sor­ing alleged “fake” news.  This is the start of a very slip­pery slope. Soon any­one who dis­sents from the ortho­doxy will be deemed fake and dis­ap­pear into the cor­por­ate memory black hole.  Google in 2014 sug­ges­ted a pre­curs­or to this, the Know­ledge Vault, a search sys­tem that would pro­mote approved web­sites and dis­ap­pear those deemed inac­cur­ate at least by Google algorithms. But who con­trols those?

Once again our cor­por­ate over­lords seem to be march­ing remark­ably in time — almost a lock step — with the mood of the polit­ic­al estab­lish­ment.

So how did this all kick off? With remark­ably pres­ci­ent tim­ing, in Octo­ber the arch-neo­con­ser­vat­ive UK-based think tank, the Henry Jack­son Soci­ety, pub­lished a report entitled “Putin’s Use­ful Idi­ots: Britain’s Right, Left and Rus­sia”. Well, at least it got its apo­strophes right, but much of the rest is just so much hate-filled bile against those who call out the failed Wash­ing­ton Con­sensus.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety is an odi­ous organ­isa­tion that was foun­ded in Cam­bridge elev­en years ago. One of its ini­tial sig­nat­or­ies was Sir Richard Dear­love, former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence agency MI6, and of some per­son­al notori­ety for ped­dling the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruc­tion that took the UK into the dis­astrous and illeg­al Iraq war in 2003, as well as feed­ing in the fake intel­li­gence about Iraq try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger that US Sec­ret­ary of State Colin Pow­ell used as a jus­ti­fic­a­tion for the same war at the United Nations.

Des­pite all this, he remains hap­pily retired, bloated with hon­ours, while at the same time threat­en­ing the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment with his full mem­oirs to posthum­ously pre­serve his repu­ta­tion and avoid pro­sec­u­tion for a breach of the Offi­cial Secrets Act, as I have writ­ten before.

The Henry Jack­son Soci­ety has also fol­ded into itself an organ­isa­tion called the Centre for Social Cohe­sion — appar­ently estab­lished to build bet­ter integ­ra­tion for the Muslim com­munity in the UK, but which for the last dec­ade has done noth­ing but stir up Islamo­pho­bia. As oth­ers have writ­ten, the phrase “mod­ern McCarthy­ites” might not be stretch­ing this concept too far. And now it seems to be turn­ing its ire against Rus­sia.

Its emphas­is has been unre­lent­ingly anti-Islam for many years, so it was inter­est­ing that this estab­lish­ment-embed­ded Soci­ety had a fully-formed report about the renewed Red Men­ace sub­vert­ing our West­ern media just ready and wait­ing to be pub­lished ahead of the US elec­tions.

So where does this all leave us?

It may well be that Face­book will begin to dis­ap­pear so-called fake news — which could have reper­cus­sions for all the act­iv­ist groups that, against all advice and com­mon sense, con­tin­ue to offer up their plans/organise events on that medi­um.

We may see the same cen­sor­ship on Google, as well as dis­sid­ent web­sites dis­ap­pear­ing down the pro­posed memory-hole of the Know­ledge Vault. Sure, such pages may be recor­ded on sites like the Way­Back Machine et al, but who really searches through that reflex­ively? Most us us don’t even get through the first page of Google hits any­way. In our digit­al age, this will make the 20th cen­tury prac­tice of your ana­logue dic­tat­or — the air­brush­ing of polit­ic­al oppon­ents out of his­tory — look pos­it­ively quaint.

But, just as the Guten­berg Press was a rad­ic­al innov­a­tion in the 15th cen­tury that led to a rap­id spread of writ­ten ideas and the res­ult­ing cen­sor­ship, repres­sion and a thriv­ing under­ground media, so the the cur­rent crack­down will lead to the same push-back.

Then we have to con­sider the poten­tial cen­sor­ship of state-owned news out­lets such as RT, the Chinese CCTV, and the Ira­ni­an Press TV. Where will that leave oth­er state-owned organ­isa­tions such as the BBC, RAI and oth­er inter­na­tion­al Euro-broad­casters? Oh, of course, they are part of the West­ern media club, so it’s all hun­key-dorey and busi­ness as usu­al.

But this can be a two-sided fight — only two months ago RT’s UK bankers, the state-owned Nat West Bank, announced that they were going to shut down the channel’s UK accounts, with no reas­on or redress. I gath­er that a sim­il­ar threat was then issued against the BBC in Rus­sia, and the case was quietly dropped.

Over the last 20 years I have been inter­viewed by hun­dreds of major media out­lets across Europe, many of them state-owned.  How­ever, it is only when I appear on RT​.com that I am accused of sup­port­ing a state-pro­pa­ganda out­let, of being a use­ful idi­ot — and this has become increas­ingly marked over the last couple of years.

All these meas­ures smack of an ill-informed and out-of-touch pan­ic reac­tion by a hitherto com­pla­cent estab­lish­ment. Before they attempt to air­brush his­tory, we need to remem­ber that his­tory teaches some use­ful les­sons about such elit­ist crack­downs: they nev­er end well for any­one.

What price whistleblowers?

First pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

For­give my “infam­ously flu­ent French”, but the phrase “pour encour­ager les autres” seems to have lost its fam­ously iron­ic qual­ity. Rather than mak­ing an example of people who dis­sent in order to pre­vent future dis­sid­ence, now it seems that the USA is glob­ally pay­ing bloody big bucks to people in order to encour­age them to expose the crimes of their employ­ers – well, at least if they are work­ing for banks and oth­er fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions.

I have been aware for a few years that the USA insti­tuted a law in 2010 called the Dodd-Frank Act that is designed to encour­age people employed in the inter­na­tion­al fin­ance com­munity to report mal­feas­ance to the Secur­it­ies and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC), in return for a sub­stan­tial per­cent­age of any mon­ies recouped.

This law seems to have pro­duced a boom­ing busi­ness for such high-minded “whis­tleblowers” – if that could be the accur­ate term for such actions? They are cel­eb­rated and can receive multi-mil­lion dol­lar pay days, the most recent (unnamed) source receiv­ing $20 mil­lion.

Nor is this US ini­ti­at­ive just poten­tially bene­fit­ing US cit­izens – it you look at the small print at the bot­tom of this page, dis­clos­ures are being sent in from all over the world.

Which is all to the pub­lic good no doubt, espe­cially in the wake of the 2008 glob­al fin­an­cial crash and the ensu­ing fall-out that hit us all.  We need more clar­ity about arcane casino bank­ing prac­tices that have bank­rup­ted whole coun­tries, and we need justice.

But does rather send out a num­ber of con­tra­dict­ory mes­sages to those in oth­er areas of work who might also have con­cerns about the leg­al­ity of their organ­isa­tions, and which may have equal or even graver impacts on the lives of their fel­low human beings.

If you work in fin­ance and you see irreg­u­lar­it­ies it is appar­ently your leg­al duty to report them through appro­pri­ate chan­nels – and then count the $$$ as they flow in as reward – wheth­er you are a USA cit­izen or based else­where around the world. Such is the power of glob­al­isa­tion, or at least the USA’s self-appoin­ted role as the glob­al hege­mon.

How­ever, if you hap­pen to work in the US gov­ern­ment, intel­li­gence agen­cies or mil­it­ary, under the terms of the Amer­ic­an Con­sti­tu­tion it would also appear to be your sol­emn duty under oath to report illeg­al­it­ies, go through the offi­cially des­ig­nated chan­nels, and hope reform is the res­ult.

But, from all recent examples, it would appear that you get damn few thanks for such pat­ri­ot­ic actions.

Take the case of Thomas Drake, a former seni­or NSA exec­ut­ive, who in 2007 went pub­lic about waste and wan­ton expendit­ure with­in the agency, as I wrote way back in 2011. Tom went through all the pre­scribed routes for such dis­clos­ures, up to and includ­ing a Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

Des­pite all this, Tom was abruptly snatched by the FBI in a viol­ent dawn raid and threatened with 35 years in pris­on.  He (under the ter­ri­fy­ing Amer­ic­an plea bar­gain sys­tem) accep­ted a mis­dimean­our con­vic­tion to escape the hor­rors of fed­er­al charges, the res­ult­ing loss of all his civic rights and a poten­tial 35 years in pris­on.  He still, of course, lost his job, his impec­cable pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, and his whole way of life.

He was part of a NSA group which also included Bill Bin­ney, the former Tech­nic­al Dir­ect­or of the NSA, and his fel­low whis­tleblowers Kirk Wiebe, Ed Lou­mis and Diane Roark.

These brave people developed an elec­tron­ic mass-sur­veil­lance pro­gramme called Thin Thread that could win­now out those people who were genu­inely of secur­ity interest and worth tar­get­ing, a pro­gramme which would have cost the US $1.4 mil­lion, been con­sist­ent with the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion and, accord­ing to Bin­ney, could poten­tially have stopped 9/11 and all the attend­ant hor­rors..

Instead, it appears that backs were scratched and favours called in with the incom­ing neo-con gov­ern­ment of George W Bush in 2000, and anoth­er pro­gramme called Trail Bla­izer was developed, to the tune of $1.2 bil­lion – and which spied on every­one across Amer­ica (as well as the rest of the world) and thereby broke, at the very least, the terms of the Amer­ic­an con­sti­tu­tion.

Yet Bill Bin­ney was still sub­jec­ted to a FBI SWAT team raid – he was dragged out of the shower early one morn­ing at gun-point. All this is well doc­u­mented in an excel­lent film “A Good Amer­ic­an” and I recom­mend watch­ing it.

Rather a con­trast to the treat­ment of fin­an­cial whis­tleblowers – no retali­ation and big bucks. Under that law, Bill would have received a pay­out of mil­lions for pro­tect­ing the rights of his fel­low cit­izens as well as sav­ing the Amer­ic­an pub­lic purse to the tune of over a bil­lion dol­lars. But, of course, that is not exactly in the long-term busi­ness interests of our now-glob­al sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon.

Pres­id­ent Dwight Eis­en­hower, in his vale­dict­ory speech in 1961, warned of the sub­vers­ive interests of the “mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al” com­plex.  That seems so quaint now.  What we are facing is a ster­oid-pumped, glob­al­ised mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance industry that will do any­thing to pro­tect its interests.  And that includes crush­ing prin­cipled whis­tleblowers “pour encour­ager les autres“.

Yet that mani­festly has not happened, as I need to move on to the even-more-egre­gious cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden.

The former, as you may remem­ber, was a former Amer­ic­an army private cur­rently serving 35 years in a US mil­it­ary pris­on for expos­ing the war crimes of the USA. She is the most obvi­ous vic­tim of out­go­ing-Pres­id­ent Obama’s war on whis­tleblowers, and surely deserving of his sup­posed out­go­ing clem­ency.

The lat­ter, cur­rently stran­ded in Rus­sia en route from Hong Kong to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador is, in my view and as I have said before, the most sig­ni­fic­ant whis­tleblower in mod­ern his­tory. But he gets few thanks – indeed incom­ing US Trump admin­is­tra­tion appointees have in the past called for the death pen­alty.

So all this is such a “won­der­fully out­stand­ing encour­age­ment” to those in pub­lic ser­vice in the USA to expose cor­rup­tion – not. Work for the banks and anonym­ously snitch – $$$kerch­ing! Work for the gov­ern­ment and blow the whistle – 30+ years in pris­on or worse. Hmmm.

If Pres­id­ent-Elect Don­ald Trump is ser­i­ous about “drain­ing the swamp” then per­haps he could put some ser­i­ous and mean­ing­ful pub­lic ser­vice whis­tleblower pro­tec­tion meas­ures in place, rather than pro­sec­ut­ing such pat­ri­ots?

After all, such meas­ures would be a win-win situ­ation, as I have said many times before – a prop­er and truly account­able chan­nel for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go to, in the expect­a­tion that their con­cerns will be prop­erly heard, invest­ig­ated and crim­in­al actions pro­sec­uted if neces­sary.

That way the intel­li­gence agen­cies can become truly account­able, sharpen their game, avoid a scan­dal and bet­ter pro­tect the pub­lic; and the whis­tleblower does not need ruin their life, los­ing their job, poten­tially their free­dom and worse.

After all, where are the most hein­ous crimes wit­nessed?  Sure, bank crimes impact the eco­nomy and the lives of work­ing people; but out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence agen­cies that kid­nap, tor­ture and assas­sin­ate count­less people around the world, all in secret, actu­ally end lives.

All that said, oth­er West­ern lib­er­al demo­cra­cies are surely less dra­coni­an than the USA, no?

Well, unfor­tu­nately not.  Take the UK, a coun­try still in thrall to the glam­or­ous myth of James Bond, and where there have been mul­tiple intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers from the agen­cies over the last few dec­ades – yet all of them have auto­mat­ic­ally faced pris­on.  In fact, the UK sup­pres­sion of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment, dip­lo­mat­ic, and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers seems to have acted as an exem­plar to oth­er coun­tries in how you stifle eth­ic­al dis­sent from with­in.

Sure, the pris­on sen­tences for such whis­tleblow­ing are not as dra­coni­an under the UK Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) as the ana­chron­ist­ic US Espi­on­age Act (1917). How­ever, the clear bright line against *any* dis­clos­ure is just as stifling.

In the UK, a coun­try where the intel­li­gence agen­cies have for the last 17 years been illeg­ally pros­ti­tut­ing them­selves to advance the interests of a for­eign coun­try (the USA), this is simply unac­cept­able. Espe­cially as the UK has just made law the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2016), against all expert advice, which leg­al­ises all this pre­vi­ously-illeg­al activ­ity and indeed expan­ded the hack­ing powers of the state.

More wor­ry­ingly, the ultra-lib­er­al Nor­way, which blazed a calm and human­ist trail in its response to the mur­der­ous white-suprem­acist ter­ror­ist attacks of Anders Breivik only 5 years ago, has now pro­posed a dra­coni­an sur­veil­lance law.

And Ger­many – a coun­try hor­ri­fied by the Snowden rev­el­a­tions in 2013, with its memor­ies of the Gestapo and the Stasi – has also just expan­ded the sur­veil­lance remit of its spooks.

In the face of all this, it appears there has nev­er been a great­er need of intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers across the West­ern world. Yet it appears that, once again, there is one law for the bankers et al – they are cashed up, lauded and rewar­ded for report­ing leg­al­it­ies.

For the rest of the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, it’s pro­sec­u­tion and per­se­cu­tion as usu­al, des­pite the fact that they may indeed be serving the most pro­found of pub­lic interests – free­dom, pri­vacy and the abil­ity to thereby have a func­tion­ing demo­cracy.

As always – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. So back to my flu­ent French, ref­er­enced at the start: we are, it seems, all still mired in the merde.

 

 

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 coöper­a­tion 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.…

Terrorism, crime, or mental illness?

This morn­ing I was invited on to RT to do an inter­view about the break­ing story of a mass shoot­ing that occurred last night at a nightclub in Flor­ida in the USA.  You will, no doubt, have seen the head­lines by now — the biggest mass shoot­ing in mod­ern Amer­ic­an his­tory.

At the time, as the news was break­ing, I was some­what puzzled about what I could con­trib­ute — surely this was just anoth­er ghastly mas­sacre by the usu­al gun-tot­ing crazy that Amer­ica seems to spawn so reg­u­larly? After all, it seems that the Second Amend­ment is the last right stand­ing from the US con­sti­tu­tion, after all the oth­ers have been evis­cer­ated as a res­ult of the “war on ter­ror” and the social fric­tion caused by the fin­an­cial melt-down of the US eco­nomy?

How­ever, with a little thought on a mel­low European Sunday, I could see a num­ber of threads com­ing togeth­er, which I explored dur­ing the inter­view.  I would like to devel­op some of them fur­ther in this art­icle.

At the time I was inter­viewed, few hard facts had been con­firmed about the shoot­ing — merely a con­ser­vat­ive estim­ate of the num­ber of dead and wounded, and the fact the gun­man had been killed. Everything else was pure spec­u­la­tion. That did not stop much of the West­ern media from jump­ing to con­clu­sions — that this must be an ISIS-inspired attack and there­fore Muslim ter­ror­ism, by our cur­rent West­ern defin­i­tion.

I have a prob­lem with this cur­rent usage. When work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer with MI5 in the 1990s — at the height of the reli­gious civil war being waged between the Prot­est­ants and the Cath­ol­ics in North­ern Ire­land, our work­ing defin­i­tion was that “ter­ror­ism” was the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims. So “ter­ror­ism” has nev­er been a purely Muslim-ori­gin­ated concept, no mat­ter how the USA has chosen to define it since 9/11.

The reas­on I am mak­ing this rather obvi­ous point is that the USA, par­tic­u­larly, has always engendered some rather unsa­voury domest­ic “ter­ror­ist” groups, motiv­ated by Chris­ti­an or cult fan­at­icism — think the Branch Dav­idi­ans, or the Chris­ti­an fun­da­ment­al­ists mur­der­ing doc­tors and blow­ing up abor­tion clin­ics, or white suprem­acists ter­ror­ising black com­munit­ies or blow­ing up FBI offices such as the Oklahoma bomb­ing of 1995, which was ini­tially blamed on Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism. If that is not the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims, then our intel­li­gence agen­cies need to change the defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism.

As the shoot­ings in the Pulse nightclub in Flor­ida spe­cific­ally tar­geted a LGBT crowd, it is just as feas­ible that the gun­man could have fun­da­ment­al­ist Chris­ti­an beliefs that urged him to tar­get this com­munity as some ISIS-inspired jihadi.  After all, we have seen sim­il­ar attacks in the UK, with the Lon­don nail bomber tar­get­ing gay nightclubs in 1999.

Yet the former is, to this day, widely seen as a mass killing, a “ram­page shoot­er” or a mad­man, and treated as a crim­in­al, where­as a Muslim com­mit­ting the same acts for sim­il­arly big­oted reas­ons is auto­mat­ic­ally deemed to be a ter­ror­ist. And we all know that “ter­ror­ism” is a unique form of “evil­tude” that imme­di­ately exposes the sus­pect  to great­er leg­al pen­al­ties at the very least and assas­sin­a­tion at the worst end of the scale, US cit­izen or not.

Ter­ror­ism is a crime — pure and simple — and it should be treated as a crime.  Muslim sus­pects of such crimes should not be kid­napped, tor­tured, held in isol­a­tion for years, or sub­ject to mil­it­ary tribunals with no real right to defence, any more than Chris­ti­an, athe­ist or any oth­er sus­pects should be.  Nor should spe­cific­ally “Muslim” ter­ror­ism be the excuse used to strip away all our basic and hard-won civic freedoms and human rights in our own coun­tries, yet that is what has been hap­pen­ing in the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”.

The UK went through this debate in the 1980s and 1990s — at the height of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA and Loy­al­ist para­mil­it­ary bomb­ing cam­paigns across the UK — which was anoth­er reli­gious-based ter­ror­ist war, as I men­tioned before.  It also — at least from the PIRA side, received the bulk of its fund­ing from the Amer­ic­an Irish dia­spora. In fact, des­pite the peace pro­cess in North­ern Ire­land signed with the Good Fri­day Agree­ment in 1998, this fund­ing from Amer­ica only finally dried up in the after­math of 9/11.

And what of the third point in the title — the men­tal health issue? I men­tion this because there was a recent case in Lon­don of a knife-wield­ing man fren­ziedly attack­ing com­muters in an under­ground rail­way sta­tion last year. The report­ing at the time declared that he had been shout­ing “this is for Syr­ia” — as he attacked his fel­low trav­el­lers. At the time every­one assumed he was anoth­er rad­ic­al­ised jihadi car­ry­ing out a lone wolf attack.  Indeed, even people at the scene seemed con­vinced. One wit­ness cried out “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”, a heart­felt sen­ti­ment that went vir­al over social media.

This story was head­line news in the UK at the time. The tri­al recently reached its con­clu­sion, and it now appears that the per­pet­rat­or had ser­i­ous men­tal health issues.  These may have latched onto jihadi ter­min­o­logy, but the motiv­a­tion was not ter­ror­ist­ic.

The guy prob­ably needed an earli­er inter­ven­tion by health pro­fes­sion­als, but he slipped through the cracks. That does not make him a ter­ror­ist though — no mat­ter what he said in his frenzy — and yet this con­clu­sion cer­tainly did not get the front page head­lines the ini­tial attack received.

Let us also look at the so-called “lone wolf” attacks that have happened across West­ern coun­tries over the last few years — in Canada, Lon­don, Aus­tralia, the USA, Den­mark — as well as the Par­is and Brus­sels attacks.  Many of the prot­ag­on­ists were already on the radar of the West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies, but because they are drown­ing in a tsunami of inform­a­tion garnered for the mass sur­veil­lance of us all, these cru­cial nug­gets of real intel­li­gence were swamped.

Even worse, it appears that many of the people sub­sequently fingered as the per­pet­rat­ors had already been approached by the intel­li­gence agen­cies, as appears to be the case in Flor­ida too.

So, how does this all come togeth­er? There is not doubt that genu­ine psy­cho­paths or sad­ists are attrac­ted to ter­ror­ist as well as crim­in­al gangs to give free rein to their tend­en­cies — ISIS is an abso­lutely hor­ri­fy­ing example of this.  But the ideo­logy of such groups can also attract from a dis­tance the men­tally fra­gile, who can become use­ful idi­ots or delu­sion­al fol­low­ers, or vul­ner­able indi­vidu­als who can even be manip­u­lated by law enforce­ment. Add into the mix fun­da­ment­al­ist reli­gion, cult, or racial suprem­acy beliefs and it all gets too messy, too fast.

And yet.… all these groups use ter­ror to achieve their goals, but only a few are deemed to be ter­ror­ists rather than crim­in­als — and we all know now that any­one labelled a ter­ror­ist faces far high­er pen­al­ties than these oth­er cat­egor­ies of crime.

Intel­li­gence agen­cies are there to pro­tect our nation­al secur­ity — ie our nation’s integ­rity and its very exist­ence.  As I have said for many years now, such threats include immin­ent inva­sion, as Bri­tain faced dur­ing the Second World War, or glob­al anni­hil­a­tion as we all faced dur­ing the Cold War.

The ran­dom attacks of ter­ror­ist — or crim­in­al groups or men­tally ill people — cause trauma to the coun­try and the com­munit­ies in which they occur, but they do not threaten our country’s very sur­viv­al.

We need to cla­ri­fy our think­ing urgently, both around the defin­i­tions applied to such crimes and to the pro­por­tion­al­ity of the response we make. This will allow us to pre­serve and strengthen the concept of the rule of law and the notion of demo­cracy under which we all hope to live.

Ibsen and Whistleblowers

The Chichester Fest­iv­al Theatre in the UK has been sta­ging Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, explor­ing the com­plex­it­ies of whis­tleblow­ing.

The CFT asked me to write an art­icle for the fest­iv­al pro­gramme about the value and role, the dangers and oppor­tun­it­ies, for twenty-first cen­tury whis­tleblowers. Here it is:

The Reg­u­lat­ors of Last Resort

Let us play a little game of word asso­ci­ation. I write “Edward Snowden” — and what is the first thought to leap into your mind? Hero? Trait­or? Who?

Or might it be whis­tleblower?

The con­tro­ver­sial issue of whis­tleblow­ing, which is at the heart of Ibsen’s play, has been firmly thrust into the pub­lic con­scious­ness over the last few years with the ongo­ing saga of Wikileaks and with high pro­file cases such as that of Chelsea Man­ning and, of course, Snowden him­self.

Often whis­tleblowers can get a bad rap in the media, deemed to be trait­ors, grasses or snitches. Or they are set on such an hero­ic ped­es­tal that their example can actu­ally be dis­cour­aging, mak­ing you con­sider wheth­er you would ever take such a risk, often with the depress­ing con­clu­sion that it would be impossible for a whole range of prac­tic­al reas­ons – pro­fes­sion­al repu­ta­tion, job secur­ity, fam­ily safety, even liberty.

How­ever, you have to ask your­self why, when faced with these risks and reper­cus­sions, indi­vidu­als (in the man­ner of the fic­tion­al Dr Stock­mann) do indeed speak out; why they do still con­sider the risks worth tak­ing? Par­tic­u­larly those emer­ging from the world of intel­li­gence, the mil­it­ary or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps who face the most griev­ous pen­al­ties.

The UK spy com­munity is the most leg­ally pro­tec­ted and least account­able of any West­ern demo­cracy, but the USA is catch­ing up fast. So, as a res­ult of such entrenched gov­ern­ment­al secrecy across these areas, whis­tleblow­ing is real­ist­ic­ally the only avail­able aven­ue to alert your fel­low cit­izens to abuses car­ried out secretly in their name.

I have a nod­ding acquaint­ance with the pro­cess. In the 1990s I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, gen­er­ally known as MI5, before resign­ing to help my former part­ner and col­league Dav­id Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence and crime. As a res­ult we had to go on the run around Europe, lived in hid­ing and exile in France for 3 years, and saw our friends, fam­ily and journ­al­ists arres­ted around us. I was also arres­ted, although nev­er charged, and Dav­id went to pris­on twice for expos­ing the crimes of the spies. It was a heavy price to pay.

How­ever, it could all have been so dif­fer­ent if the UK gov­ern­ment had agreed to take his evid­ence of spy crimes, under­take to invest­ig­ate them thor­oughly, and apply the neces­sary reforms. This would have saved us a lot of heartache, and could poten­tially have improved the work of the spies. But the government’s instinct­ive response is always to pro­tect the spies and pro­sec­ute the whis­tleblower, while the mis­takes and crimes go unin­vestig­ated and unre­solved. Or even, it often appears, to reward the mal­efact­ors with pro­mo­tions and gongs.

The dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) imposes a blanket ban on any dis­clos­ure what­so­ever. As a res­ult, we the cit­izens have to take it on trust that our spies work with integ­rity. There is no mean­ing­ful over­sight and no real account­ab­il­ity.

Many good people do indeed sign up to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, as they want a job that can make a dif­fer­ence and poten­tially save lives. How­ever, once on the inside they are told to keep quiet about any eth­ic­al con­cerns: “don’t rock the boat, and just fol­low orders”.

In such an envir­on­ment there is no vent­il­a­tion, no account­ab­il­ity and no staff fed­er­a­tion, and this inev­it­ably leads to a gen­er­al con­sensus – a bul­ly­ing “group think” men­tal­ity. This in turn can lead to mis­takes being covered up rather than les­sons learned, and then poten­tially down a dan­ger­ous mor­al slide.

As a res­ult, over the last 15 years we have seen scan­dal heaped upon intel­li­gence scan­dal, as the spies allowed their fake and politi­cised inform­a­tion to be used make a false case for an illeg­al war in Iraq; we have seen them des­cend into a spir­al of extraordin­ary rendi­tion (ie kid­nap­ping) and tor­ture, for which they are now being sued if not pro­sec­uted; and we have seen that they facil­it­ate dodgy deals in the deserts with dic­tat­ors.

Since the Shayler case in the late 1990s, oth­er UK whis­tleblowers have hit the head­lines: GCHQ’s Kath­er­ine Gun, who exposed illeg­al spy­ing on our so-called allies in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003. She man­aged to avoid pro­sec­u­tion because of a pos­sible leg­al defence of neces­sity that res­ul­ted from Shayler’s case. Or Ambas­sad­or Craig Mur­ray, who exposed the tor­ture of polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents in Uzbek­istan – and when I say tor­ture, I mean the boil­ing alive of polit­ic­al oppon­ents of the régime, with the pho­to­graphs to prove it. Mur­ray was not pro­sec­uted, but he lost his career and was tra­duced with taw­dry slurs about his per­son­al life across the Brit­ish media.

The USA is little bet­ter. Since 2001 many intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers there have faced a grim fate. Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, lan­guished for three years in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers remain free; Bill Bin­ney, Ed Loomis, and Kirk Wiebe of the NSA were houn­ded and nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance; a col­league, Tom Drake faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved, offi­cial chan­nels; and in 2013 a kangaroo court was held to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring – the Rus­si­an illeg­als includ­ing Anna Chap­man — to return home in 2010. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” — the whis­tleblower — has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked, iron­ic­ally, to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, in 2013 a young man stepped for­ward – Edward Snowden.

He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its part­ner agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatens the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also erodes the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

Even against such a back­ground of oth­er brave whis­tleblowers, Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons: his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age at such a time, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures, and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he exposed.

Unfor­tu­nately, while whis­tleblowers under­stand the leg­al risks they are tak­ing when they emerge from the intel­li­gence world or the dip­lo­mat­ic corps, they are often media vir­gins and are etern­ally sur­prised by the way the treat­ment meted out to them.

Until the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers had no choice but to entrust them­selves to the estab­lished media. Some like “Deep Throat”, the source of the Water­gate scan­dal in 1970s Amer­ica, were dis­trust­ful and remained in the shad­ows. Oth­ers, such as Daniel Ells­berg who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, or Clive Pont­ing who in 1982 released inform­a­tion about the sink­ing of the Gen­er­al Bel­grano dur­ing the Falk­lands War, were for­tu­nate to work with cam­paign­ing journ­al­ists who fought both for their sources and the prin­ciple of press free­dom. Even when Shayler went pub­lic in the late 1990s, he had no option but to work with the estab­lished media.

From per­son­al exper­i­ence, I can attest to the fact that this is not always a pain­less exper­i­ence. With a few hon­or­able excep­tions, most of the journ­al­ists will just asset-strip their whis­tleblowers for inform­a­tion. They make their careers, while the whis­tleblower breaks theirs.

Plus, There are many ways our soi-dis­ant free press can be manip­u­lated and con­trolled by the spies. The soft power involves induct­ing journ­al­ists to be agents of influ­ence with­in their organ­isa­tion, or cosy chats between edit­ors and spies, or pro­pri­et­ors and top spies – that is how stor­ies can be spun or dis­ap­peared.

The hard power is extens­ive too — the applic­a­tion of laws such as libel, counter-ter­ror­ism laws, injunc­tions, and also the use of the OSA against journ­al­ists them­selves. Or even blatant intim­id­a­tion, as happened after The Guard­i­an news­pa­per pub­lished the early Snowden dis­clos­ures – the police went in and phys­ic­ally smashed up the hard drives con­tain­ing his inform­a­tion.

All this casts that well known chilling effect on the free­dom of the press and the free-flow of inform­a­tion from the gov­ern­ment to the gov­erned, which is so vital for an informed and par­ti­cip­at­ory cit­izenry.

Which brings me back to Wikileaks. Estab­lished in 2007, this provides a secure and high-tech con­duit for whis­tleblowers that gives them more con­trol and securely stores the doc­u­ments to prove their alleg­a­tions. This is also why the US gov­ern­ment saw it as such a threat and has pur­sued it in such a dra­coni­an and pun­it­ive way over the years since the first big rev­el­a­tions in 2010. Iron­ic­ally, this is also partly why much of the tra­di­tion­al media turned on Wikileaks – it threatened the old media busi­ness mod­el.

But from a whistleblower’s per­spect­ive, Wikileaks and its suc­cessors offer a brave new world. The tech­no­lo­gic­al genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

There is, of course, anoth­er pos­sible path. The intel­li­gence agen­cies could estab­lish mean­ing­ful chan­nels for vent­il­a­tion of staff con­cerns, where the evid­ence is prop­erly invest­ig­ated and reforms made as neces­sary. Hav­ing such a sound pro­ced­ure in place to address con­cerns strikes me as a win-win scen­ario for staff effi­ciency and mor­ale, the organisation’s oper­a­tion­al cap­ab­il­ity and repu­ta­tion, and poten­tially the wider pub­lic safety too.

How­ever, unless and until secret­ive gov­ern­ment­al organ­isa­tions insti­tute such legit­im­ate and effect­ive aven­ues for poten­tial whis­tleblowers to go down, embar­rass­ing dis­clos­ures will con­tin­ue. Nobody sets out to be a whis­tleblower but, absent effect­ive reforms, they will remain our reg­u­lat­ors of last resort.

War on Drugs has failed — ENCOD Article

Below is an art­icle I recently wrote for the excel­lent European drug policy reform organ­isa­tion, European Coali­tion for Just and Effect­ive Drug PoliciesENCOD.  And here is the link to the ori­gin­al on the ENCOD web­site.

I have had the hon­our of serving as the European Dir­ect­or of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP) for the last four years, and have been thrilled to over­see the estab­lish­ment of thriv­ing nation­al groups in the UK and Ger­many, with the pos­sib­il­ity of more on the hori­zon. In my view, law enforce­ment offers a unique and crit­ic­al voice to the inter­na­tion­al drug policy reform debate.

LEAP, foun­ded in 2002, today has over 150,000 sup­port­ers and speak­ers in 20 coun­tries. We con­sist of police officers, law­yers, judges, pris­on gov­ernors, pro­ba­tion officers, intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary per­son­nel, and even inter­na­tion­al drug czars. What unites us is a shared pro­fes­sion­al know­ledge, exper­i­enced across the full spec­trum of law enforce­ment, that drug pro­hib­i­tion has egre­giously failed.

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

Quite the oppos­ite – pro­hib­i­tion has enabled a glob­al and expo­nen­tially grow­ing black mar­ket.

I became aware of drug pro­hib­i­tion fail­ure while I was work­ing for MI5 back in the 1990s. One of my post­ings involved invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Cus­toms across the UK. This exper­i­ence made me aware that the “war” had been lost. It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive over­lap between the illeg­al drug mar­ket and ter­ror­ist fund­ing.

The US DEA estim­ates that over half the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups around the world gain the bulk of their fund­ing from drugs money. So on the one hand pro­hib­it­ing drugs and fight­ing the “war on drugs” sends the mar­ket under­ground and the res­ult­ing massive profits provide a key rev­en­ue stream to ter­ror­ists, not least ISIS which con­trols part of the flow of heroin from cent­ral Asia into Europe. On the oth­er hand the West is also waging the “war on ter­ror” to fight these same groups.

So what our gov­ern­ments give the mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex with one hand, they also give with the oth­er.

But is not all bad news. Coun­tries in Lat­in Amer­ica and states in North Amer­ica are leg­al­ising can­nabis, safe injec­tion rooms have rolled out across Europe, Canada is look­ing to leg­al­ise can­nabis, and the decrim­in­al­isa­tion of drugs has been hugely suc­cess­ful in coun­tries such as Por­tugal and the Czech Repub­lic.

Even at the UN level, which recently held a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion Gen­er­al Assembly Spe­cial Ses­sion in New York, the concept of harm reduc­tion is at least now being tabled by some coun­tries, although the pro­gress is gla­cial.

The times may not be chan­ging fast enough for many of us in the drug policy reform world, des­pite baby steps being made in the right dir­ec­tion by some coun­tries. Yet even the more pro­gress­ive coun­tries with­in the inter­na­tion­al com­munity are still con­strained by the leg­al straight jack­et that is the UN drug treaty frame­work.

And while harm reduc­tion is good pro­gress in that it no longer crim­in­al­ises those who choose to use, it utterly fails to address the big­ger prob­lem that I men­tioned before: that the crim­in­al­isa­tion of cer­tain drugs drives the mar­ket under­ground, provid­ing huge profits to organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist groups around the world every year. Pro­hib­i­tion has unleashed the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen. As with alco­hol pro­hibiton in 20th cen­tury Amer­ica, only leg­al­isa­tion and reg­u­la­tion will remove this mar­ket from the greedy grasp of crim­in­als.

I have just watched a old BBC News­night debate between comedi­an and act­or, Rus­sell Brand, and right-wing writer and com­ment­at­or, Peter Hitchens. The debate encap­su­lated the entrenched pos­i­tions of both the reform­ist and pro­hib­i­tion­ist camps. The former was rep­res­en­ted by Brand, a former drug user in recov­ery, advoc­at­ing abstin­ence-based ther­apy. The lat­ter by Hitchens, an anti-drug war­ri­or largely approach­ing the issue from a mor­al­ity pos­i­tion, who argued that tak­ing drugs is a crime and that all such crimes should be pro­sec­uted as a deterrence.

While nat­ur­ally I lean more towards the pos­i­tion of Brand, who two years ago elec­tri­fied a rather tur­gid annu­al UN Com­mis­sion on Nar­cot­ic Drugs meet­ing in Vienna by call­ing for full drug leg­al­isa­tion, and also while respect­ing his per­son­al exper­i­ences, I do think he’s miss­ing a trick.

Yes, those with drug depend­en­cies need help and com­pas­sion not pris­on, but the vast major­ity of those who choose to use do so recre­ation­ally, just for fun, and nev­er devel­op an addic­tion, just as only a minor­ity of those who choose to drink go on to devel­op alco­hol­ism. And yet the para­met­ers of the drug debate rarely stray bey­ond the well-worn issue of “prob­lem” users, both amongst reform­ist as well as pro­hib­i­tion­ist circles. We do not call all drink­ers alco­hol­ics so why, in the pub­lic dis­course, are all users of oth­er drugs clumped togeth­er as “addicts” in high-pro­file debates?

As for Hitchens, I remain baffled. He seems to think that all laws are immut­able, graven in stone with words from on high, and as such must there­fore be strictly enforced. This is tosh. All laws change and evolve to reflect the chan­ging mores of the soci­et­ies which write them. If this were not to hap­pen, we in the West would still burn witches, own slaves, not allow women to vote, out­law homo­sexu­al­ity and, in Amer­ica of course, alco­hol would remain pro­hib­ited. Yet now, all these out­dated, unjust, and cruel laws have been swept away,

In 2014 LEAP pub­lished a Pro­posed Amend­ment of the UN Treat­ies, in which we argue that all drugs should be brought with­in the orbit of the World Health Organ­isa­tion Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol (2003). We argue that only full reg­u­la­tion and con­trol of the drug mar­ket will end the scourge of the illeg­al glob­al drug trade. Until this hap­pens at least $320 bil­lion per year profits will con­tin­ue to bene­fit only crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.

The “war on drugs” has failed.

Albert Ein­stein, who was not exactly a dullard, said that the very defin­i­tion of insan­ity was to con­tin­ue to do the same thing, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will even­tu­ally get a dif­fer­ent out­come. That is what we are see­ing with pro­hib­i­tion.

It is time for this insan­ity to cease.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

What is exile? Oth­er than a term much used and abused by many new expats arriv­ing in Ber­lin, dic­tion­ary defin­i­tions point towards someone who is kept away from their home coun­try for polit­ic­al reas­ons, either by regal decree in the past or now more prob­ably self-imposed. But there are many oth­er ways to feel exiled – from main­stream soci­ety, from your fam­ily, faith, pro­fes­sion, polit­ics, and Ber­lin is now regarded as a haven.

How­ever, let’s focus on the clas­sic defin­i­tion and a noble tra­di­tion. Every coun­try, no mat­ter how appar­ently enlightened, can become a tyr­ant to its own cit­izens if they chal­lenge abuses of power. Voltaire was exiled in Eng­land for three years and soon after Tom Paine, a former excise man facing charges for sedi­tious libel, sought refuge in France. More recent fam­ous exiles include Dav­id Shayler, the MI5 whis­tleblower of the 1990s who fol­lowed in Paine’s foot­steps pretty much for the same fun­da­ment­al reas­ons, yet Alex­an­der Litv­inen­ko, the KBG whis­tleblower of the same era, iron­ic­ally found safe haven in exile in the UK.

So, being an exile effect­ively means that you have angered the power struc­tures of your home coun­try to such an extent that oth­er coun­tries feel com­pelled to give you refuge, partly for leg­al or prin­cipled reas­ons, but also for polit­ic­al expedi­ency. The cur­rent most fam­ous exile in the world is, of course, Edward Snowden, stran­ded by chance in Rus­sia en route to polit­ic­al asylum in Ecuador.

What does the act of flee­ing into exile actu­ally feel like? It is a wild leap into an unknown and pre­cari­ous future, with great risk and few fore­see­able rewards. At the same time, as you leave the shores of the per­se­cut­ing coun­try, evad­ing the author­it­ies, avoid­ing arrest and going on the run, there is an exhil­ar­at­ing, intense feel­ing of free­dom – a sense that the die has very much been cast. Your old way of life is irre­voc­ably at an end and the future is a blank slate on which you can write any­thing.

After Shayler and I fled to France in 1997, for the first year of the three we lived in exile we hid in a remote French farm­house just north of Limoges – the nearest vil­lage was 2 kilo­metres away, and the nearest town a dis­tant thirty. We lived in con­stant dread of that knock on the door and the ensu­ing arrest. And that, indeed, even­tu­ally did catch up with him.

As a res­ult, for Shayler it meant the world grew increas­ingly small, increas­ingly con­fined. Ini­tially, when we went on the run, we were free to roam across Europe – any­where but the UK. Then, after the French courts refused to extra­dite him to Bri­tain in 1998 to face tri­al for a breach of the dra­coni­an UK Offi­cial Secrets Act, France became the only place he could live freely. If he had then traveled to any oth­er European coun­try, the Brit­ish would have again attemp­ted to extra­dite him, prob­ably suc­cess­fully, so he was trapped.

How­ever, there are worse places than France in which to find your­self stran­ded. As well as being one of the most beau­ti­ful and var­ied coun­tries in the world it felt par­tic­u­larly poignant to end up exiled in Par­is for a fur­ther two years.

It was also con­veni­ently close to the UK, so friends, fam­ily, sup­port­ers and journ­al­ists could vis­it us reg­u­larly and bring Shayler sup­plies of such vital Brit­ish staples as bacon and HP source. But he still missed the simple pleas­ures in life, such as being free to watch his beloved foot­ball team, or being able to watch the crappy late night com­edy shows that the Brit­ish end­lessly churn out. Des­pite these small lacks, I shall always remem­ber those years in France fondly, as a place of great­er safety, a lit­er­al haven from per­se­cu­tion.

Of course, all this was in the era before the stand­ard­ised European Arrest war­rant, when nation­al sov­er­eignty and nation­al laws actu­ally coun­ted for some­thing. Find­ing a secure place of exile now would be almost an impossib­il­ity in Europe if you home coun­try really wanted to pro­sec­ute you.

Many West­ern expats now talk of being “exiled in Ber­lin”, and they may indeed be self-exiled in search of a more sym­patico life style, a buzzy group of like-minded peers, work oppor­tun­it­ies or whatever. But until they have felt the full force of an extra­di­tion war­rant, before the fuzz has actu­ally felt their col­lars, this is real­ist­ic­ally exile as a life­style choice, rather than exile as a des­per­ate polit­ic­al neces­sity or, in Edward Snowden’s case, a poten­tially exist­en­tial require­ment.

No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

It struck me today that when I email a new con­tact I now reflex­ively check to see if they are using PGP encryp­tion.  A hap­pily sur­pris­ing num­ber are doing so these days, but most people would prob­ably con­sider my circle of friends and acquaint­ance to be eclect­ic at the very least, if not down­right eccent­ric, but then that’s prob­ably why I like them.

There are still alarm­ing num­bers who are not using PGP though, par­tic­u­larly in journ­al­ist circles, and I have to admit that when this hap­pens I do feel a tad miffed, as if some basic mod­ern cour­tesy is being breached.

It’s not that I even expect every­body to use encryp­tion — yet — it’s just that I prefer to have the option to use it and be able to have the pri­vacy of my own com­mu­nic­a­tions at least con­sidered. After all I am old enough to remem­ber the era of let­ter writ­ing, and I always favoured a sealed envel­ope to a post­card.

And before you all leap on me with cries of “using only PGP is no guar­an­tee of secur­ity.…” I do know that you need a suite of tools to have a fight­ing chance of real pri­vacy in this NSA-sat­ur­ated age: open source soft­ware, PGP, TOR, Tails, OTR, old hard­ware, you name it.  But I do think the wide-spread adop­tion of PGP sets a good example and gets more people think­ing about these wider issues.  Per­haps more of us should insist on it before com­mu­nic­at­ing fur­ther.

Why is this in my mind at the moment?  Well, I am cur­rently work­ing with an old friend, Simon Dav­ies, the founder of Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al and the Big Broth­er Awards. He cut his first PGP key in 2000, but then left it to with­er on the vine. As we are in the pro­cess of set­ting up a new pri­vacy ini­ti­at­ive called Code Red (more of which next week) it seemed imper­at­ive for him to set a good example and “start using” again.

Any­way, with the help of one of the god­fath­ers of the Ber­lin crypto­parties, I am happy to report that the fath­er of the pri­vacy move­ment can now ensure your pri­vacy if you wish to com­mu­nic­ate with him.

I am proud to say that my aware­ness of PGP goes back even fur­ther.  The first time I heard of the concept was in 1998 while I was liv­ing in hid­ing in a remote farm­house in cent­ral France, on the run from MI5, with my then part­ner, Dav­id Shayler.

Our only means of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the out­side world was a com­puter and a dial-up con­nec­tion and Dav­id went on a steep learn­ing curve in all things geek to ensure a degree of pri­vacy.  He helped build his own web­site (sub­sequently hacked, pre­sum­ably by GCHQ or the NSA as it was a soph­ist­ic­ated attack by the stand­ards of the day) and also installed the newly-avail­able PGP. People com­plain now of the dif­fi­culties of installing encryp­tion, but way back then it was the equi­val­ent of scal­ing Mount Everest after a few light strolls in the park to limber up.  But he man­aged it.

Now, of course, it is rel­at­ively easy, espe­cially if you take the time to attend a Crypto­party — and there will be inev­it­ably be one hap­pen­ing near you some place soon.

Crypto­parties began in late 2012 on the ini­ti­at­ive of Ash­er Wolf in Aus­tralia.  The concept spread rap­idly, and after Snowden went pub­lic in May 2013, accel­er­ated glob­ally. Indeed, there have been vari­ous reports about the “Snowden Effect”.  Only last week there was an art­icle in the Guard­i­an news­pa­per say­ing that 72% of Brit­ish adults are now con­cerned about online pri­vacy. I hope the 72% are tak­ing advant­age of these geek gath­er­ings.

The US-based comedi­an, John Oliv­er, also recently aired an inter­view with Edward Snowden.  While this was slightly pain­ful view­ing for any whis­tleblower — Oliv­er had done a vox pop in New York that he showed to Snowden, where most inter­viewees seemed unaware of him and uncar­ing about pri­vacy — there was a per­cept­ible shift of opin­ion when the issue of, shall we say, pic­tures of a sens­it­ive nature were being inter­cep­ted.

Offi­cially this spy pro­gramme is called Optic Nerve, an issue that many of us have been dis­cuss­ing to some effect over the last year.  In the Oliv­er inter­view this trans­mog­ri­fied into “the dick pic pro­gramme”.  Well, whatever gets the mes­sage out there effect­ively.… and it did.

We all have things we prefer to keep private — be it dick pics, bank accounts, going to the loo, talk­ing to our doc­tor, our sex lives, or even just talk­ing about fam­ily gos­sip over the phone.  This is not about hav­ing any­thing to hide, but most of us do have an innate sense of pri­vacy around our per­son­al issues and deal­ings and this is all now lost to us, as Edward Snowden has laid bare.

As I have also said before, there are wider soci­et­al implic­a­tions too — if we feel we are being watched in what we watch, read, say, write, organ­ise, and con­duct our rela­tion­ships, then we start to self-cen­sor.  And this is indeed already anoth­er of the quan­ti­fied Snowden effects. This is dele­ter­i­ous to the free flow of inform­a­tion and the cor­rect func­tion­ing of demo­crat­ic soci­et­ies.  This is pre­cisely why the right to pri­vacy is one of the core prin­ciples in the 1948 Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights.

Les­sons had then been learned from the Nazi book burn­ings and the Gestapo spy state, and pri­vacy was recog­nised as a pre-requis­ite of open demo­cracy. Yet now we see seni­or and sup­posedly well-informed US politi­cians call­ing for the mod­ern equi­val­ent of book burn­ings and fail­ing to rein in the glob­al abuses of the NSA.

How quickly the les­sons of his­tory can be for­got­ten and how care­lessly we can cast aside the hard-won rights of our ancest­ors.

Edward Snowden, at great per­son­al risk, gave us the neces­sary inform­a­tion to for­mu­late a push back. At the very least we can have enough respect for the sac­ri­fices he made and for the rights of our fel­low human beings to take basic steps to pro­tect both our own and their pri­vacy.

So please start using open source encryp­tion at the very least. It would be rude not to.

Russia — once again Public Enemy No 1

The last Soviet lead­er, Mikhail Gorbachev, said at the cel­eb­ra­tion of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall last week­end that we are facing a new Cold War. What are the geo­pol­it­ic­al real­it­ies behind this state­ment?

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

Last week­end I was invited onto RT to do an inter­view about the com­mem­or­a­tion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Ber­lin Wall, par­tic­u­larly focus­ing on the speech delivered by the last Soviet lead­er, Mikhail Gorbachev, dur­ing his vis­it to Ber­lin.

I would like to expand on some of the top­ics I men­tioned — how to encap­su­late an altern­at­ive geo­pol­it­ic­al per­spect­ive dif­fer­ent from the West­ern ortho­doxy in under four minutes? A task even Monty Python would find chal­len­ging!

The first issue was Gorbachev’s com­ments about a new Cold War. I would agree, and this is being fab­ric­ated by the USA, as that coun­try always needs an Emmanuel Gold­stein fig­ure to jus­ti­fy its mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al com­plex that is bank­rupt­ing the coun­try and bru­tal­ising the world, while enrich­ing the US olig­archs to the det­ri­ment of civil soci­ety every­where.

The first front line in this new Cold War is the inter­net. In the 1990s the USA had a golden oppor­tun­ity — in fact a per­fect storm of oppor­tun­it­ies. It was the last super­power left stand­ing in a newly uni­polar world, his­tory had offi­cially ended and cap­it­al­ism had tri­umphed. The Soviet Uni­on had dis­in­teg­rated and the newly shorn Rus­sia was tot­ter­ing, its vast nation­al wealth being assidu­ously asset-stripped by the glob­al­ised neo­con élite.

Plus, the new world wide web was expo­nen­tially grow­ing and the key pion­eers were pre­dom­in­antly Amer­ic­an com­pan­ies. After an ini­tially pan­icked phase of play­ing catch-up in the 1990s, west­ern spy agen­cies saw the poten­tial for total mas­tery of the inter­net, cre­at­ing a sur­veil­lance pan­op­ticon that the KGB or the Stasi could only have fan­tas­ised about. With thanks to Edward Snowden, we are now begin­ning to get glimpses of the full hor­ror of the sur­veil­lance under which we all now live.

But it is not all down to the NSA.  Build­ing on the old Ech­el­on mod­el, which was so nearly over­thrown in Europe back in July 2001, the NSA has sub­orned, bought and pros­ti­tuted oth­er west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies across Europe to do its bid­ding.  Ger­many, at the nex­us of east and west Europe, remains a front line in this battle, with the BND pos­sibly work­ing uncon­sti­tu­tion­ally to do the NSA’s bid­ding, even appar­ently to the det­ri­ment of its own nation­al interest. The politi­cians (some) and hackt­iv­ists (many) are fight­ing back.

But it is the geo­graph­ic­al bound­ar­ies that have shif­ted most sig­ni­fic­antly since the fall of the Wall.  Here I need to cred­it former seni­or CIA officer, pres­id­en­tial advisor and cur­rent peace act­iv­ist Ray McGov­ern, for all the use­ful inform­a­tion he provided dur­ing his vari­ous talks and inter­views across Europe a couple of months ago.

Ray, a flu­ent Rus­si­an speak­er, worked as a Soviet expert for much of his career in the CIA. As such he was privy to the behind-the-scenes nego­ti­at­ing that occurred after the fall of the Wall.  When this happened the USA pushed for Ger­man reuni­fic­a­tion but was wor­ried about the 260,000 Soviet troops sta­tioned in the former GDR. They cut a deal with Gorbachev, stat­ing that NATO would not move “one inch” fur­ther than Ger­many after reuni­fic­a­tion. This the Sovi­ets accep­ted, and with­drew their troops.

NATO_Expansion_2Well, we all know what has happened since. NATO has expan­ded east at an amaz­ing rate, now encom­passing a fur­ther 12 east­ern European coun­tries includ­ing the Balt­ic States and Poland, which the US has used as a base for an increas­ing num­ber of “defens­ive” mis­sile sys­tems. In 2008 NATO also issued a declar­a­tion that Geor­gia and Ukraine would be wel­come to join, tak­ing the front line up to the bor­ders of Rus­sia. Coin­cid­ent­ally, both these coun­tries in recent years have been por­trayed as the vic­tims of “Rus­si­an expan­sion­ism”

In 2008 Geor­gia invaded the dis­puted eth­nic Rus­si­an region of South Osse­tia. Rus­sia moved to pro­tect the people and gave the Geor­gi­an mil­it­ary a bloody nose. Any­one remem­ber that? At the time it was por­trayed across the West­ern media as Rus­si­an aggres­sion, but the facts have emerged since to dis­prove this ver­sion of events.

Sim­il­arly, this year we have seen a viol­ent coup over­throw demo­crat­ic­ally-elec­ted Pres­id­ent Yanukovych of Ukraine when he was inclined to stay with­in the Rus­si­an sphere of influ­ence rather than ally the coun­try more closely to the EU under the asset-strip­ping aus­ter­ity meas­ures deman­ded by the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­et­ary Fund. Vic­tor­ia Nuland, the US Assist­ant Sec­ret­ary of State respons­ible for Europe, was heard to dis­cuss the US had over pre­vi­ous years pumped $5 bil­lion into Ukraine to sub­vert it, that the newly installed Prime Min­is­ter would be “their man”, and “fuck the EU”.

And yet still Rus­sia is blamed for aggres­sion. I am not an apo­lo­gist for Rus­sia, but the facts speak for them­selves even if they are not widely repor­ted in the West­ern main­stream media.

But why on earth would the US be med­dling in Ukraine? Would an expan­sion of NATO be suf­fi­cient excuse in America’s self-inter­ested eyes?  Prob­ably not.

Which leads me on to a very inter­est­ing art­icle by Eric Zuesse. The argu­ment of his well-researched and ref­er­enced report is that it all comes down to energy sup­plies once again.  When does it not?

The USA has some unsa­voury allies in the Middle East, includ­ing theo­crat­ic dic­tat­or­ships such as Saudi Ara­bia and Qatar.  Their vast energy reserves are not only essen­tial to the USA, but also the trad­ing of these reserves in the petro­dol­lar mono­poly is vital to prop­ping up the bank­rupt US eco­nomy.

Rus­sia, at the moment, is the primary energy sup­pli­er to the EU — the world’s largest mar­ket. Iran, a Rus­si­an cli­ent, wanted to build a pipeline via Syr­ia with Pres­id­ent Assad’s approv­al, to exploit this vast mar­ket.  How­ever, Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and the USA appar­ently have oth­er plans involving a pipeline from Qatar via Syr­ia to Europe.

Hence the urgent need to over­throw Assad and put a Sunni pup­pet gov­ern­ment in place, more pal­at­able to those pulling the strings. Qatar’s pre­ferred can­did­ate of choice would be more mod­er­ate, such as the Muslim Broth­er­hood. Saudi, on the oth­er hand, would have no com­punc­tion about installing a hard-line fun­da­ment­al­ist régime in place — up to and includ­ing ISIS. And thus the murder, may­hem and human suf­fer­ing erupt­ing across the region now. This is an appalling real life example of the hor­rors inher­ent in Brzezinski’s psy­cho­path­ic “grand chess­board”.

It is widely accep­ted tru­ism today, over a dec­ade after the “war on ter­ror” began, that all the wars in the Middle East were launched to pro­tect America’s oil and energy interests. Less well known is the country’s des­per­ate scramble to pro­tect the petro­dol­lar mono­poly. If that fails, the dol­lar will no longer remain the world’s reserve cur­rency and the USA is fin­an­cially screwed.

If you look at all the recent wars, inva­sions, and “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tions” that have res­ul­ted in col­lapsed coun­tries and anarchy across whole regions, it is clear that bey­ond oil and gas the key issue is money: pre-2003 Iraq tried to trade what oil it could in euros not dol­lars and Sad­dam Hus­sein was deposed; des­pite being wel­comed briefly back into the inter­na­tion­al fold, once Libya’s Col­on­el Gad­dafi began to talk about estab­lish­ing an Afric­an gold dinar cur­rency, backed by Libya’s oil wealth to chal­lenge the petro­dol­lar, he too was toppled; Assad wanted to facil­it­ate energy pipelines to Europe for Rus­sia and Iran, and he was attacked; even Iran tried to trade its energy reserves in euros, and lo and behold it was almost invaded in 2008; and finally Rus­sia itself trades some of its energy in rubles.

As people say, always fol­low the money.

So, in my view, this is the cur­rent geo­pol­it­ic­al situ­ation. Rus­sia is now strong enough, with its dom­in­a­tion of Europe’s energy sup­ply, its back­ing of Middle East­ern coun­tries that want to break away from the US sphere of influ­ence, and its trade deals and estab­lish­ment of an inde­pend­ent glob­al invest­ment devel­op­ment bank with oth­er BRICS coun­tries, that it can chal­lenge the US hege­mony.

How­ever, threaten the petro­dol­lar mono­poly and thereby the very fin­an­cial solvency of the United States of Amer­ica and you are sud­denly Pub­lic Enemy No 1.

As I said, I am by no means an apo­lo­gist for Rus­sia — I tell it like I see it. To west­ern sens­ib­il­it­ies, Rus­sia has some ser­i­ous domest­ic issues to address: human rights abuses dur­ing the bru­tal Chechen war; its sus­pec­ted involve­ment in the death by poloni­um-210 pois­on­ing of KGB defect­or Alex­an­der Litv­inen­ko in Lon­don in 2006; its overly-pun­it­ive drug laws; and human rights abuses against dis­sid­ents, the LGBT com­munity, and journ­al­ists. Yet the West has merely mouthed plat­it­ud­in­ous objec­tions to all these issues.

So why now is Rus­sia being inter­na­tion­ally excor­i­ated and pen­al­ised for actions for which it is not respons­ible?  Over the last few years it has looked states­man­like com­pared to the US and its vas­sal states: it was not involved with the Libya fiasco, it has giv­en safe haven to NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden, and it hal­ted the rush to yet anoth­er dis­astrous west­ern war in Syr­ia.

Nor, to my west­ern European sens­ib­il­it­ies, are Amer­ica and its aco­lytes too pristine either, with their mass sur­veil­lance, pres­id­en­tially-approved kill lists, illeg­al wars, kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and drone bomb­ings. Not to men­tion their domest­ic addic­tion to gun own­er­ship and the death pen­alty, but that’s anoth­er story.…

Yet the US media-enabled pro­pa­ganda machines jus­ti­fy all of the above and demon­ise anoth­er coun­try, cre­at­ing yet anoth­er fresh bogey­man to jus­ti­fy yet more “defence” spend­ing.

The Rus­si­an bear is being baited, increas­ingly sur­roun­ded by yap­ping curs. I thought this sport had been made illeg­al hun­dreds of years ago, at least in Europe — but obvi­ously not in the dirty realm of inter­na­tion­al polit­ics.  It is a mar­vel the bear has not lashed out more in the face of such pro­voca­tion.

There was a chance for peace when the Wall came down 25 years ago. If the US had upheld its side of the gentlemen’s agree­ment about not expand­ing NATO, if the neo­con pred­at­ors had not pounced on Rus­sia, and if closer integ­ra­tion could have been achieved with Europe, the future could have been rosy.

Unfor­tu­nately, I have to agree with Gorbachev — we are indeed facing a new Cold War, and this time it is of America’s mak­ing. But Europe will bear the brunt, through trade sanc­tions, energy short­ages and even, poten­tially, war. It is time we Europeans broke away from our Amer­ic­an vas­salage and looked to our own future.

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?

The Year of Edward Snowden

First pub­lished on RT OP-Edge. Also on Con­sor­ti­um News, Huff­ing­ton Post, and the Sam Adams Award web­site.

A year ago I stumbled  across a story about a wor­ry­ing new sur­veil­lance pro­gramme developed by the NSA: Prism. While nobody was iden­ti­fied as the source of the dis­clos­ure, I was awe­struck by the bravery of this unknown per­son.

At that time the Obama admin­is­tra­tion had been waging an aggress­ive war on whis­tleblowers: ex-CIA officer, John Kiriakou, who exposed the CIA’s tor­ture pro­gramme, was lan­guish­ing in pris­on while the tor­tur­ers went free; Kirk Wiebe, Wil­li­am Bin­ney and Thomas Drake of the NSA had nar­rowly escaped pro­sec­u­tion for expos­ing NSA mal­feas­ance — indeed, des­pite hav­ing gone through all the approved chan­nels, Drake had faced a 35-year pris­on sen­tence; and of course the kangaroo court had just star­ted to try Chelsea Man­ning for her expos­ure of US war crimes. Inev­it­ably, it is the whis­tleblower Man­ning who is now serving a 35 year stretch in pris­on, not the war crim­in­als.

Pres­id­ent Obama has used and abused the 1917 US Espi­on­age Act against whis­tleblowers dur­ing his years in the White House more times than all his pre­de­cessors put togeth­er, while at the same time allow­ing a bone fide spy ring — the Rus­si­an illeg­als exposed in 2010 — to return home. This para­noid hunt for the “insider threat” has been going on since at least 2008, as we know from doc­u­ments leaked to Wikileaks in 2010.

Against this back­ground, fully aware of the hideous risks he was tak­ing and the pro­spect of the rest of his life behind bars, a young man stepped for­ward. Four days after the ini­tial Prism dis­clos­ure, Edward Snowden announced to the world that he was the source of the story and many more to come. He was clear then about his motiv­a­tion and he remains clear now in the few inter­views he has done since: what he had seen on the inside of the NSA caused him huge con­cern. The Amer­ic­an intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture, along with its equi­val­ent agen­cies across the world, was con­struct­ing a glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that not only threatened  the con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, but also eroded the pri­vacy of all the world’s cit­izens.

The glob­al sur­veil­lance state wanted to “mas­ter the inter­net”, as anoth­er dis­clos­ure proved, and the UK’s GCHQ stepped up to the plate. As increas­ing num­bers of us con­duct aspects of our lives over the inter­net (be it bank­ing, health, social lives, organ­isa­tions, act­iv­ism, rela­tion­ships) this grow­ing lack of pri­vacy strikes at the very root of demo­cracy. Pri­vacy was enshrined as a basic human right in the UN Declar­a­tion in 1948 pre­cisely because without it we are vul­ner­able to the encroach­ments and abuses of the state. What Snowden has dis­closed would the the Stasi’s wet dream and goes far bey­ond the dystop­ic hor­rors of George Orwell’s nov­el “1984”.

So what did Snowden dis­close?  Prism was only the start, and that was bad enough — a pro­gramme to scoop up all our metadata: whom we’re in con­tact with, for how long, what we’re read­ing, what we’re view­ing. NSA apo­lo­gists say that this is not invas­ive, it is not look­ing at the con­tents of com­mu­nic­a­tions. I can assure your that metadata is intel­li­gence gold dust. It can provide a far more detailed over­view of a person’s life than any indi­vidu­al com­mu­nic­a­tion often can.

But it gets worse. Then came Tem­pora and asso­ci­ated doc­u­ments that dis­closed that the UK’s GCHQ was main­lin­ing inform­a­tion from the transat­lantic fibre optic cables, which affected all European cit­izens, as well as dis­play­ing how GCHQ was pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA for money and put­ting NSA object­ives above the pri­or­it­ies of the UK gov­ern­ment.

And then XKey­score, enthu­si­ast­ic­ally used by Germany’s BND, pre­sum­ably without the know­ledge of its polit­ic­al mas­ters.  There have been many more: Brazil’s Pet­ro­bras oil com­pany, the French tele­phone net­work, char­it­ies, the Mus­cu­lar access point and the massive Fas­cia data­base, which con­tains tril­lions of device-loc­a­tion records.…. Where to stop?

This year Britain’s Joint Threat Research Intel­li­gence Group was using Squeaky Dol­phin’s real-time mon­it­or­ing of social media net­works, and the bulk col­lec­tion of private web­cam images via the Optic Nerve pro­gramme.

This last most grimly does away with the “done noth­ing wrong, noth­ing to hide” argu­ment. In this era of fam­il­ies liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, video skype is increas­ingly used to stay in con­tact with loved ones.  And this con­tact can be some­what intim­ate at times between couples. On video. Any­one who has ever used skype for such pur­poses must surely be feel­ing viol­ated?

Out of this mor­ass of spy­ing came moments of per­son­al annoy­ance for west­ern politi­cians, not least the inform­a­tion that Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone was also being tapped, as were those of numer­ous oth­er politi­cians. Which rather blows out of the water the much-abused argu­ment that all this sur­veil­lance is to stop ter­ror­ists. On what plan­et would the NSA spooks need to live to ser­i­ously think that Merkel could be deemed a ter­ror­ist?

All these dis­clos­ures are of the gravest pub­lic interest. Yet how have west­ern politi­cians reacted?  In the usu­al way — shoot the mes­sen­ger. All the stand­ard li(n)es have been trot­ted out by the spies: Snowden was too juni­or to know what he is talk­ing about, and was  “just” a con­trac­ted sys­tems admin­is­trat­or (this line says more the ignor­ance of the politi­cians about all things tech than any­thing about Snowden’s job); that Snowden is a trait­or for flee­ing to Rus­sia, when in fact he was trapped there by the USA with­draw­ing his pass­port while in trans­it to Lat­in Amer­ica; or that he should “man up” and return to the US to stand tri­al. There were even appar­ently calls from the spies for him to be extraju­di­cially murdered.

Des­pite this, his dis­clos­ures have res­ul­ted in con­gres­sion­al hear­ings in the US, where seni­or spooks have been caught out lying about the effic­acy of these spy pro­grammes.  A US fed­er­al judge has declared the NSA’s activ­it­ies uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, and minor reforms are under­way to pro­tect the rights of US cit­izens with­in their own coun­try.

Which is a start.  How­ever, that still leaves the rest of us liv­ing under the bale­ful gaze of the NSA and its vas­sals.

The Brit­ish response has been largely muted, with politi­cians imme­di­ately assur­ing the grate­ful cit­izens of the UK that everything done by the spies is leg­al and pro­por­tion­ate, when in fact it was mani­festly not. Nor is this any con­sol­a­tion for the rest of Europe’s cit­izens — after all, why should the Brit­ish For­eign Sec­ret­ary be able to take it upon him­self to author­ise inter­cept pro­grammes such as Tem­pora that sweep up the com­mu­nic­a­tions of an entire con­tin­ent?

Press dis­cus­sion of Snowden’s dis­clos­ures in the UK has been largely muted because of a cen­sor­ship notice slapped on the media, while the Guard­i­an news­pa­per that helped to break the story had its hard disks smashed up by GCHQ.

Oth­er coun­tries have dis­played a more robust response, with Brazil plan­ning to build its own transat­lantic cables to Europe to avoid the Tem­pora pro­gramme, and in Ger­many people have been demand­ing that the con­sti­tu­tion be upheld and pri­vacy ensured against the Amer­ic­an sur­veil­lance behemoth.

The European par­lia­ment­ary Civil Liber­ties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) com­mit­tee has held months-long hear­ings with evid­ence from tech experts, whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers about what it should do to pro­tect EU cit­izens from the pred­a­tions of the US.  Edward Snowden him­self gave a state­ment. This is all well and good, but it would be more help­ful if they could give Snowden asylum in Europe and also put in place some mean­ing­ful meas­ures to pro­tect our rights one year on — in fact, all they would need to do is enact the pro­vi­sions of the European parliament’s own July 2001 report into the Ech­el­on fiasco.

Ech­el­on, some of you may remem­ber, was a glob­al proto-sur­veil­lance net­work, where the intel­li­gence agen­cies of the US, UK, New Zea­l­and, Aus­tralia, and Canada (now called Five Eyes) could all share product and sub­vert over­sight meas­ures in each oth­ers’ coun­tries. In 2001 the EU recom­men­ded that Europe devel­op its own inter­net infra­struc­ture and move away from its depend­ency on US cor­por­ate pro­pri­et­ary soft­ware.  All good sug­ges­tions, but all too soon for­got­ten after 9/11 and the rush to the “war on ter­ror”.

One year on from Snowden I would sug­gest that these meas­ures should indeed be imple­men­ted. The European Par­lia­ment needs to take action now and show its 500 mil­lion cit­izens that it is ser­i­ous about pro­tect­ing their rights rather than pan­der­ing to the demands of the US gov­ern­ment and its cor­por­ate spon­sors.

So, on this anniversary, I want to salute the bravery of Edward Snowden. His con­scious cour­age has giv­en us all a fight­ing chance against a cor­por­ate-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex that is run­ning amok across the world.   I hope that we can all find with­in us an answer­ing cour­age to do what is right and indeed take back our rights. His bravery and sac­ri­fice must not be in vain.