UK sets up yet another costly spy agency

This art­icle was first pub­lished on RT Op Ed a month ago.

The UK Min­istry of Defence announced on 21 Septem­ber the estab­lish­ment of yet anoth­er Brit­ish spy agency, an amal­gam of mil­it­ary and secur­ity ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als designed to wage cyber war against ter­ror­ists, Rus­sia and organ­ised crime. The new agency will have upwards of 2000 staff (the size MI5 was when I worked there in the 1990s, so not incon­sid­er­able). I have been asked for a num­ber of inter­views about this and here are my thoughts in long form.

The UK already has a pleth­ora of spy agen­cies:

  • MI5 – the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, largely coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and espi­on­age;
  • MI6 – the Secret Intel­li­gence Ser­vice, tasked with gain­ing intel­li­gence abroad;
  • GCHQ – the gov­ern­ment elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance agency and best buds with the US NSA;
  • Nation­al Cyber Secur­ity Centre – an off­shoot that pro­tects the UK against cyber attacks, both state and crim­in­al;
  • NCA – the Nation­al Crime Agency, mainly invest­ig­at­ing organ­ised crime;
  • not to men­tion the police and Cus­toms cap­ab­il­it­ies.

To provide Amer­ic­an con­text, MI6 equates to the CIA, GCHQ and the NCSC equate to the NSA, and the NCA to the FBI. Which rather begs the ques­tion of where exactly MI5 fits into the mod­ern scheme – or is it just an ana­chron­ist­ic and undemo­crat­ic throw-back, a typ­ic­ally Brit­ish his­tor­ic­al muddle, or per­haps the UK’s very own Stasi?

So why the new and expens­ive agency at a time of nation­al fin­an­cial uncer­tainty?

Of course I acknow­ledge the fact that the UK deserves to retain a com­pre­hens­ive and impress­ive defence cap­ab­il­ity, provided it is used for that pur­pose rather than illeg­al, need­less wars based on spuri­ous polit­ic­al reas­ons that cost inno­cent lives. Every coun­try has the right and the need to pro­tect itself, and the cybers are the newly-defined battle lines.

Moreover, it might be overly simplist­ic to sug­gest that this is just more empire-build­ing on the part of the thrust­ing and ambi­tious young Sec­ret­ary of State for Defence, Gav­in Wil­li­am­son. Per­haps he really does believe that the UK mil­it­ary needs aug­ment­ing after years of cuts, as the former Deputy Chair­man of the UK Con­ser­vat­ive Party and er, well-known mil­it­ary expert, Lord Ash­croft, wrote in the Daily Mail. But why a whole new intel­li­gence agency at huge cost? Surely all the exist­ing agen­cies should already be able to provide adequate defence?

Addi­tion­ally, by singling out Rus­sia as the hos­tile, aggressor state, when for years the West has also been bewail­ing Chinese/Ira­ni­an/North Korean et al hack­ing, smacks to me of polit­ic­al oppor­tunism in the wake of “Rus­siagate”, the Skri­pals, and Russia’s suc­cess­ful inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia. Those of a cyn­ic­al bent among us might see this as polit­ic­ally expedi­ent to cre­ate the etern­al Emmanuel Gold­stein enemy to jus­ti­fy the ever-meta­stas­ising mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex. But, hey, that is a big tranche of the Brit­ish, and poten­tially the post-Brexit, Brit­ish eco­nomy.

The UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are there to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the state”. So I do have some fun­da­ment­al eth­ic­al and secur­ity con­cerns based on recent West­ern his­tory. If the new organ­isa­tion is to go on the cyber offens­ive what, pre­cisely does that mean – war, unfore­seen blow back, or what?

If we go by what the USA has been exposed as doing over the last couple of dec­ades, partly from NSA whis­tleblowers includ­ing Bill Bin­ney, Tom Drake and Edward Snowden, and partly from CIA and NSA leaks into the pub­lic domain, a cyber offens­ive cap­ab­il­ity involves stock­pil­ing zero day hacks, back doors built into the inter­net mono­pol­ies, weapon­ised mal­ware such as STUXNET (now out there, mutat­ing in the wild), and the egre­gious break­ing of nation­al laws and inter­na­tion­al pro­to­cols.

To dis­cuss these points in reverse order: among so many oth­er rev­el­a­tions, in 2013 Edward Snowden revealed that GCHQ had cracked Bel­ga­com, the Bel­gian nation­al tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions net­work – that of an ally; he also revealed that the USA had spied on the Ger­man Chancellor’s private phone, as well as many oth­er Ger­man offi­cials and journ­al­ists; that GCHQ had been pros­ti­tut­ing itself to the NSA to do dirty work on its behalf in return for $100 mil­lion; and that most big inter­net com­pan­ies had col­luded with allow­ing the NSA access to their net­works via a pro­gramme called PRISM. Only last month, the EU also accused the UK of hack­ing the Brexit nego­ti­ations.

Last year Wikileaks repor­ted on the Vault 7 dis­clos­ures – a cache of CIA cyber weapons it had been stock­pil­ing. It is worth read­ing what Wikileaks had to say about this, ana­lys­ising the full hor­ror of how vul­ner­able such a stock­pile makes “we, the people”, vul­ner­able to crim­in­al hack­ing.

Also, two years ago a huge tranche of sim­il­arly hoarded NSA weapons was acquired by a crim­in­al organ­isa­tion called the Shad­ow Brokers, who ini­tially tried to sell them on the dark web to the highest bid­der but then released them into the wild. The cata­stroph­ic crash of NHS com­puters in the UK last year was because one of these cyber weapons, Wan­nac­ry, fell into the wrong crim­in­al hands. How much more is out there, avail­able to crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists?

The last two examples will, I hope, expose just how vul­ner­able such caches of cyber weapons and vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies can be if not prop­erly secured. And, as we have seen, even the most secret of organ­isa­tions can­not guar­an­tee this. To use the Amer­ic­an ver­nacu­lar, they can come back and bite you in the ass.

And the earli­er NSA whis­tleblowers, includ­ing Bill Bin­ney and Tom Drake, exposed just how easy it is for the spooks to manip­u­late nation­al law to suit their own agenda, with war­rant-less wiretap­ping, breaches of the US con­sti­tu­tion, and massive and need­less over­spend on pred­at­ory snoop­ing sys­tems such as TRAILBLAZER.

Indeed, we had the same thing in the UK when Theresa May suc­ceeded in finally ram­ming through the invi­di­ous Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (IPA 2016). When she presen­ted it to par­lia­ment as Home Sec­ret­ary, she implied that it was leg­al­ising what GCHQ has pre­vi­ously been doing illeg­ally since 2001, and extend their powers to include bulk metadata hack­ing, bulk data set hack­ing and bulk hack­ing of all our com­puters and phones, all without mean­ing­ful gov­ern­ment over­sight.

Oth­er coun­tries such as Rus­sia and China have passed sim­il­ar sur­veil­lance legis­la­tion, claim­ing as a pre­ced­ent the UK’s IPA as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for what are claimed by the West to be egre­gious pri­vacy crack­downs.

The remit of the UK spooks is to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity” (whatever that means, as we still await a leg­al defin­i­tion) and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the state. I have said this many times over the years – the UK intel­li­gence com­munity is already the most leg­ally pro­tec­ted and least account­able of that of any oth­er West­ern demo­cracy. So, with all these agen­cies and all these dra­coni­an laws already at their dis­pos­al, I am some­what per­plexed about the per­ceived need for yet anoth­er costly intel­li­gence organ­isa­tion to go on the offens­ive. What do they want? Out­right war?

Former MI6 spy v Wikileaks editor: First Amendment Rights

First pub­lished on RT Op-Ed on 24 August 2018.

While it is all too easy to become frus­trated and annoyed by what passes for news in the leg­acy media these days, this art­icle in the Daily Mail did arouse my par­tic­u­lar ire early one morn­ing – and in this instance no par­tic­u­lar blame attaches to the news­pa­per, it is simply report­ing some unpal­at­able facts.

The gist of it is that former Brit­ish MI6 intel­li­gence officer and cur­rent mer­cen­ary spy-for-hire, Chris­toph­er Steele, author of the dis­cred­ited “Dirty Dossier” about Don­ald Trump, has been accor­ded First Amend­ment rights in a court case in the USA.

You might won­der why this art­icle caused me so much splut­ter­ing annoy­ance over my break­fast? Steele’s treat­ment is in marked con­trast to that accor­ded to Wikileaks pub­lish­er and edit­or in chief, Juli­an Assange, and the hypo­crisy is breath­tak­ing. Allow me to expound.

Chris­toph­er Steele is a Brit­ish intel­li­gence officer of pretty much my vin­tage. Accord­ing to what is avail­able pub­licly, he worked for MI6, the Brit­ish over­seas intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, for 22 years, serving in Rus­si­an in the early 90s and in Par­is at the end of that dec­ade – around the time that MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler, was imprisoned in that city pending a failed extra­di­tion case to the UK. It is prob­able that Steele would have been mon­it­or­ing us then.

After being outed as an MI6 officer in 1999 by his former col­league, Richard Tom­lin­son, he was pretty much desk-bound in Lon­don until he resigned in 2009 to set up, in the inim­it­able way of so many former spooks, a private con­sultancy that can provide plaus­ibly deni­able ser­vices to cor­por­a­tions and per­haps their former employ­ers.

Steele estab­lished just such a mer­cen­ary spy out­fit, Orbis Busi­ness Intel­li­gence, with anoth­er ex-col­league Chris Bur­rows in 2009. Orbis made its name in expos­ing cor­rup­tion at the heart of FIFA in 2015 and was there­after approached as an out-sourced part­ner by Fusion GPS – the com­pany ini­tially hired to dig dirt on pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Don­ald Trump in 2016 by one of his Repub­lic­an rivals and which then went on to dig up dirt on behalf of Hil­ary Clinton’s DNC.

The res­ult is what has become known as the “Dirty Dossier”, a grubby col­lec­tion of pruri­ent gos­sip with no real evid­ence or prop­erly sourced inform­a­tion. As a former MI6 intel­li­gence officer, Steele should be hanging his head in shame at such a shoddy and embar­rass­ingly half-baked report.

On a slightly tan­gen­tial note, there has been some spec­u­la­tion, sup­pressed in the UK at least via the D Notice cen­sor­ship sys­tem, that MI6 agent and Rus­si­an trait­or Sergei Skri­p­al, the vic­tim of the alleged Novichok pois­on­ing in the UK earli­er this year, remained in con­tact with his hand­ler Pablo Miller, who also is repor­ted to work for Orbis Busi­ness Intel­li­gence. If this were indeed the case, then it would be a logic­al assump­tion that Orbis, via Miller, might well have used Skri­p­al as one of its “reli­able sources” for the Dossier.

Des­pite all this, Steele has won a leg­al case in the USA, where he had been sued by three Rus­si­an olig­archs who claimed that the Dirty Dossier tra­duced their repu­ta­tions. And he won on the basis that his report was pro­tec­ted by First Amend­ment rights under the con­sti­tu­tion of the USA, which guar­an­tees US cit­izens the right to free­dom of expres­sion. Des­pite the fact that Steele is Brit­ish:

But Judge Anthony Epstein dis­agreed, writ­ing in his judg­ment that “advocacy on issues of pub­lic interest has the capa­city to inform pub­lic debate, and thereby fur­thers the pur­poses of the First Amend­ment, regard­less of the cit­izen­ship or res­id­ency of the speak­ers”.”

This is the nub of the issue: Steele, a former offi­cial UK intel­li­gence officer and cur­rent mer­cen­ary spy-for-hire, is gran­ted leg­al pro­tec­tion by the Amer­ic­an courts for dig­ging up and sub­sequently leak­ing what appears to be con­tro­ver­sial and defam­at­ory inform­a­tion about the cur­rent Pres­id­ent as well as vari­ous Rus­si­ans, all paid for by Trump’s polit­ic­al oppon­ents. And Steele is giv­en the full pro­tec­tion of the US leg­al sys­tem.

On the oth­er hand we have an award-win­ning journ­al­ist and pub­lish­er, Juli­an Assange, whose organ­isa­tion Wikileaks has nev­er been found to report any­thing fac­tu­ally incor­rect in over 10 years, being told that if he were to be extra­dited from his cur­rent polit­ic­al asylum in the Ecuadori­an embassy in Lon­don to face the full wrath of a venge­ful Amer­ic­an estab­lish­ment, he is not entitled to claim pro­tec­tion of the First Amend­ment because his is an Aus­trali­an cit­izen not an Amer­ic­an.

It has been an open secret for years that the US gov­ern­ment has installed a secret Grand Jury in Vir­gin­ia (the home of the CIA) to invest­ig­ate Assange and bring him to “justice” for pub­lish­ing embar­rass­ing US gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments as well as evid­ence of war crimes. There have been calls from US politi­cians for the death sen­tence, life in pris­on without parole, and even assas­sin­a­tion. The US has been scrab­bling around for years to try to find any charge it could poten­tially throw at him – hell, it will prob­ably make up a new law just for him, so des­per­ate as it is to make an example of him.

How­ever, the fake “Rus­siagate” nar­rat­ive gave the US deep state an addi­tion­al spur – against all evid­ence and Assange’s own state­ments – it alleges that “Rus­sia” hacked the DNC and Podesta emails and Assange was the con­duit to make them pub­lic. This is seen as a win-win for the US estab­lish­ment, appar­ently if erro­neously prov­ing that Rus­sia hacked the US pres­id­en­tial elec­tion and con­firm­ing that Assange runs an “non-state hos­tile intel­li­gence agency”, accord­ing to cur­rent CIA Dir­ect­or, Mike Pom­peo

Except he does not. He is an edit­or run­ning a high-tech pub­lish­ing out­fit that has caused embar­rass­ment to gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions around the world, not just Amer­ica. If he can be pro­sec­uted for pub­lish­ing inform­a­tion very much in the pub­lic interest, then all the leg­acy media feed­ing off the Wikileaks hydrant of inform­a­tion are equally vul­ner­able.

This being the case, surely he of all people requires the pro­tec­tion of the First Amend­ment in the USA? Oth­er­wise the concept that free media can hold power to account is surely dead?

Have British Spies been hacking the EU?

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

Just after mid­night on 16 August I was called by LBC in Lon­don for a com­ment on a break­ing story on the front page of The Daily Tele­graph about Brit­ish spies hack­ing the EU. Even though I had just retired to bed, the story was just too irres­ist­ible, but a radio inter­view is always too short to do justice to such a con­vo­luted tale. Here are some longer thoughts.

For those who can­not get past the Tele­graph pay wall, the gist is that that the EU has accused the Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies of hack­ing the EU’s side of the nego­ti­ations. Appar­ently some highly sens­it­ive and neg­at­ive slides about the Brit­ish Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit, the Chequers Plan, had landed in the lap of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment, which then lob­bied the EU to sup­press pub­lic­a­tion.

Of course, this could be a genu­ine leak from the Brus­sels sieve, as Brit­ish sources are claim­ing (well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?). How­ever, it is plaus­ible that this is the work of the spies, either by recruit­ing a paid-up agent well-placed with­in the Brus­sels bur­eau­cracy, or through elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.

Before dis­miss­ing the lat­ter option as con­spir­acy the­ory, the Brit­ish spies do have form. In the run up to the Iraq war in 2003, the USA and UK were des­per­ate to get a UN Secur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tion to invade Iraq, thus provid­ing a fig leaf of appar­ent legit­im­acy to the illeg­al war. How­ever, some coun­tries with­in the UN had their doubts and the USA asked Britain’s listen­ing post, GCHQ, to step up its sur­veil­lance game. Fore­warned is fore­armed in del­ic­ate inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­ations.

How do we know this? A brave GCHQ whis­tleblower called Kath­er­ine Gun leaked the inform­a­tion to The Observ­er. For her pains, she was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­coni­an terms of the UK’s 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, and faced two years in pris­on. The case was only dropped three weeks before her tri­al was due to begin, partly because of the feared pub­lic out­cry, but mainly because her law­yers threatened to use the leg­al defence of “neces­sity” – a defence won only three years before dur­ing the case of MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler. Tan­gen­tially, a film is this year being made about Gun’s story.

We also have con­firm­a­tion from one of the early 2013 Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures that GCHQ had hacked its way into the Bel­ga­com net­work – the nation­al tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­pli­er in Bel­gi­um. Even back then there was an out­cry from the EU bod­ies, wor­ried that the UK (and by exten­sion its closest intel­li­gence buddy the USA), would gain lever­age with stolen know­ledge.

So, yes, it is per­fectly feas­ible that the UK could have done this, even though it was illeg­al back in the day. GCHQ’s inces­tu­ous rela­tion­ship with the America’s NSA gives it massively great­er cap­ab­il­it­ies than oth­er European intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the EU knows this well, which is why is is con­cerned to retain access to the UK’s defence and secur­ity powers post-Brexit, and also why it has jumped to these con­clu­sions about hack­ing.

But that was then and this is now. On 1st Janu­ary 2017 the UK gov­ern­ment finally signed a law called the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act, gov­ern­ing the leg­al frame­work for GCHQ to snoop. The IPA gave GCHQ the most dra­coni­an and invas­ive powers of any west­ern demo­cracy. Oth­er­wise known in the Brit­ish media as the “snoop­ers’ charter”, it had been defeated in Par­lia­ment for years, but Theresa May, then Home Sec­ret­ary, pushed it through in the teeth of leg­al and civil soci­ety oppos­i­tion. This year the High Court ordered the UK gov­ern­ment to redraft the IPA as it is incom­pat­ible with European law.

The IPA leg­al­ised what GCHQ had pre­vi­ously been doing illeg­ally post-9/11, includ­ing bulk metadata col­lec­tion, bulk data hack­ing, and bulk hack­ing of elec­tron­ic devices.

It also notion­ally gave the gov­ern­ment great­er over­sight of the spies’ actions, but these meas­ures remain weak and offer no pro­tec­tion if the spies choose to keep quiet about what they are doing. So if GCHQ did indeed hack the EU, it is feas­ible that the For­eign Sec­ret­ary and the Prime Min­is­ter remained ignor­ant of what was going on, des­pite being leg­ally required to sign off on such oper­a­tions. In which case the spies would be run­ning amok.

It is also feas­ible that they were indeed fully briefed and an argu­ment could be made that they would be cor­rect to do so. GCHQ and the oth­er spy agen­cies are required to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being” of Great Bri­tain, and I can cer­tainly see a strong argu­ment could be made that they were doing pre­cisely that, provided they had pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a sens­it­ive oper­a­tion, if they tried to get advance intel­li­gence about the EU’s Brexit strategy.

This argu­ment becomes even more power­ful when you con­sider the prob­lems around the fraught issue of the bor­der between North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land, an issue about which the EU is being par­tic­u­larly intransigent. If a deal is not made then the 1998 Good Fri­day Agree­ment could be under threat and civil war might again break out in North­ern Ire­land. You can­not get much more “nation­al secur­ity” than that and GCHQ would be jus­ti­fied in this work, provided it has acquired the neces­sary leg­al sign-offs from its polit­ic­al mas­ters.

How­ever, these argu­ments will do noth­ing to appease the enraged EU offi­cials. No doubt the UK gov­ern­ment will con­tin­ue to state that this was a leak from a Brus­sels insider and oil will, pub­licly at least, be seen to have been poured on troubled dip­lo­mat­ic waters.

How­ever, behind the scenes this will mul­tiply the mutu­al suspicion,and will no doubt unleash a witch hunt through the cor­ridors of EU power, with top civil ser­vant Martin Sel­mayr (aka The Mon­ster) cast as Witchfind­er Gen­er­al. With him on your heels, you would have to be a very brave leak­er, whis­tleblower, or even paid-up agent work­ing for the Brits to take such a risk.

So, per­haps this is indeed a GCHQ hack. How­ever jus­ti­fi­able this might be under the leg­ally neb­u­lous concept of “nation­al secur­ity”, this will pois­on fur­ther the already tox­ic Brexit nego­ti­ations. As Angela Merkal fam­ously if dis­en­gen­ously said after the Snowden rev­el­a­tion that the USA had hacked her mobile phone: “no spy­ing among friends”. But per­haps this is an out­dated concept – nor has the EU exactly been entirely friendly to Brexit Bri­tain.

I am just wait­ing for the first hys­ter­ic­al claim that it was the Rus­si­ans instead or, fail­ing them, former Trump strategist-in-chief, Steve Ban­non, reportedly cur­rently on a mis­sion to build a divis­ive Alt-Right Move­ment across Europe…..

Living in a World Bereft of Privacy

First Pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

A few days ago I first received a men­acing mes­sage from someone call­ing her­self Susana Per­itz, telling me that “she” had hacked my email, planted mal­ware on my com­puter, and had then filmed me get­ting my jol­lies while watch­ing “inter­est­ing” porn online. Her email had caught my atten­tion because it had writ­ten in the sub­ject line a very old pass­word, attached to a very old email address I had not used for over a dec­ade, and the mal­ware must have been planted on a defunct com­puter.

Put­ting aside the fact that I am far more con­cerned about GCHQ or the NSA hack­ing my com­puter (as should we all be), this did rather amuse me.

Appar­ently, I must pay this “Susana” $1000 via Bit­coin or, shock, have my alleged pleas­ures shared with my acquaint­ances. And just last night I received anoth­er cour­teous request for cash from someone call­ing them­selves Jil­l­ie Abdulrazak, but the price has now inflated to $3000.

Why am I not con­cerned? Well, I can safely say — hand on heart — that I have nev­er watched online porn. But this got me think­ing about how or why I could have been singled out for this mark of a blackmailer’s esteem, and that brings me on to some rather dark thoughts.

It is per­fectly pos­sible that a rare, unguarded moment of long-dis­tance online love might have been cap­tured (but by whom?). That would prob­ably be over a dec­ade ago and would cer­tainly have been using the old email account which was attached to the par­tic­u­lar pass­word at the time.

How­ever, even those memor­ies have been denied me – I dis­tinctly remem­ber that I have been too para­noid for too long and have always covered the built-in com­puter cam­era lens. Any­thing that could pos­sibly have been recor­ded could only be audio – a saucy phone call at most. There can be no video of my young­er self, alas.

I have had good reas­on to be para­noid. In the late 1990s I sup­por­ted my former part­ner and fel­low MI5 intel­li­gence officer, Dav­id Shalyer, in his whis­tleblower exploits to expose the crimes and incom­pet­ence of the UK spy agen­cies at the time.

This res­ul­ted in us lit­er­ally going on the run across Europe, liv­ing in hid­ing for a year in la France pro­fonde, and anoth­er two years in exile in Par­is before he vol­un­tar­ily returned to the UK in 2000 to face the music and inev­it­ably, under the terms of the UK’ dra­coni­an 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, being sent to pris­on for expos­ing the crimes of Brit­ish spies.From those years, know­ing what we knew about the spies’ cap­ab­il­it­ies even then, the sense of being always poten­tially watched has nev­er rubbed off.

So, know­ing abso­lutely that I have nev­er watched any online porn and that I always keep my com­puter cam­era lens covered, “Susana” and “Jil­l­ie” can go whistle. You have tried to shake down the wrong para­noid ex-MI5 whis­tleblower, darlings. And my tech people are now hunt­ing you.

Any pos­sible audio could, I sup­pose, be spliced in some way to some dodgy video to make this the stuff of a blackmailer’s dreams. That, surely, will be easy to forens­ic­ate – and indeed I have oth­er friends who can do this, at world class level.

Altern­at­ively, the former love at the time could have recor­ded the audio for his own nefar­i­ous per­son­al usage for some neb­u­lous time in the future. And if that future is now, after he had shown him­self a long time ago to be chron­ic­ally dis­hon­est, why do this in 2018 when we have been sep­ar­ated for years?

Or indeed, he may have con­tin­ued to used the old email account him­self to watch vile mater­i­al – he cer­tainly had the pass­word back then and per­haps he uses it to dis­tance him­self from his own porn habit (fap­ware, as the geeks call it)? If that is the case, he is even less hon­our­able than I had con­sidered him to be.

Or per­haps this is some type of dark LoveInt oper­a­tion by the spooks, in some failed attempt to fright­en or embar­rass me?

But there is, of course, a big­ger, more polit­ic­al pic­ture.

Ever since I worked as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, before going on the run with Dav­id Shayler dur­ing the whis­tleblow­ing years in the late 1990s, I have been pain­fully aware of the tech cap­ab­il­it­ies of the spies. Even back then we knew that com­puters could be cap­tured by adversar­ies and turned against you – key­stroke log­gers, remote record­ing via micro­phones, cam­er­as switched on to watch you, and many oth­er hor­rors.

The whis­tleblow­ing of Edward Snowden back in 2013 has con­firmed all this and more on an indus­tri­al, glob­al scale – we are all poten­tially at risk of this par­tic­u­lar inva­sion of our per­son­al pri­vacy. I have kept my com­puter and mobile cam­era lenses covered for all these years pre­cisely because of this threat.

One spe­cif­ic Snowden dis­clos­ure, which has received little MSM trac­tion, was a pro­gramme called OPTIC NERVE. This was a GCHQ pro­gramme (fun­ded by Amer­ic­an money) that allowed the spooks to inter­cept in real time video con­fer­en­cing calls. It turned out, hor­ror, that 10% of them were of a sala­cious nature, and the spooks were shocked!

I have spoken about pri­vacy and sur­veil­lance at con­fer­ences around the world and have many, many times had to debate the sup­pos­i­tion that “if you are doing noth­ing wrong, you have noth­ing to hide”.

How­ever, most people would like to keep their intim­ate rela­tion­ships private. In this era of work travel and long dis­tance rela­tion­ships, more of us might well have intim­ate con­ver­sa­tions and even video play via the inter­net. In an adult, con­sen­su­al and mutu­ally pleas­ur­able con­text, we are doing noth­ing wrong and we have noth­ing to hide, but we surely don’t want the spooks to be watch­ing us or listen­ing in, any more than we would want the crim­in­als cap­tur­ing images and try­ing to shake us down for money.

This low-level and ama­teur attempt at extor­tion is ris­ible. Unfor­tu­nately, the threat from our gov­ern­ments spy­ing on us all is not.

Britain’s Brave New World just got Braver

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

On 5th June 2018 the UK Home Sec­ret­ary, Sajid Javid, unveiled his new counter-ter­ror­ism ini­ti­at­ive that he says is tar­get­ing an ever-meta­stas­ising threat, yet it raises a raft of new ques­tions about people’s rights.

The gov­ern­ment is act­ing on the imper­at­ive that some­thing needs to be done. But MI5 — offi­cially known as the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice and the lead organ­isa­tion in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism with­in the UK — has already, since the start of the war on ter­ror, doubled in size and has also been prom­ised yet more staff over the next two years.

Yet des­pite these boos­ted resources for MI5, as well as increased fund­ing and sur­veil­lance powers for the entire UK intel­li­gence com­munity, vir­tu­ally every ter­ror attack car­ried out in the UK over the last few years has been com­mit­ted by someone already known to the author­it­ies. Indeed, the Manchester bomber, Sal­man Abedi, had been aggress­ively invest­ig­ated but MI5 ignored vital intel­li­gence and closed down the act­ive invest­ig­a­tion shortly before he car­ried out the attack.

This fail­ure to tar­get known threats is not just a UK prob­lem. Attacks across Europe over the last few years have repeatedly been car­ried out by people already on the loc­al secur­ity radar.

New approaches are needed. But this latest offer­ing appears to be a med­ley of already failed ini­ti­at­ives and more wor­ry­ingly a poten­tially dan­ger­ous blue­print for a techno-Stasi state.

The main points of the new Home Office plan include: mak­ing MI5 share intel­li­gence on 20,000 “sub­jects of con­cern” with a wide range of organ­isa­tions, includ­ing loc­al coun­cils, cor­por­a­tions, loc­al police, social work­ers, and teach­ers; call­ing on inter­net com­pan­ies to detect and erad­ic­ate extrem­ist or sus­pi­cious con­tent; mak­ing online mar­ket­places such as Amazon and eBay report sus­pi­cious pur­chases; increas­ing sur­veil­lance of big events and infra­struc­ture; and passing even tough­er anti-ter­ror­ism laws.

This all sounds reas­on­able to those who are fear­ful of ran­dom attacks on the streets or at events – that is unless one has seen in the past how some ini­ti­at­ives have already been proven to fail or can fore­see in the future whole­sale abuse of increased sur­veil­lance powers.

Intel­li­gence is not Evid­ence

The most chilling part of the MI5 plan is shar­ing intel­li­gence on 20,000 sub­jects of con­cern. First of all, this is intel­li­gence – by nature gathered from a range of secret sources that MI5 would nor­mally wish to pro­tect. When com­mu­nic­at­ing with counter-ter­ror­ism police, intel­li­gence agen­cies will nor­mally hide the source, but that will require an immense amount of work for 20,000 cases before the inform­a­tion can be shared. Secondly, bear in mind that intel­li­gence is not evid­ence. Effect­ively MI5 will be cir­cu­lat­ing par­tially assessed sus­pi­cions, per­haps even rumours, about indi­vidu­als, very widely about people who can­not be charged with any crime but who will fall under a deep shad­ow of sus­pi­cion with­in their com­munit­ies.

Also if this intel­li­gence is spread as widely as is cur­rently being sug­ges­ted, it will land in the laps of thou­sands of pub­lic bod­ies – for instance, schools, coun­cils, social care organ­isa­tions, and loc­al police. Mul­tiple prob­lems could arise from this. There will no doubt be leaks and gos­sip with­in com­munit­ies – so-and-so is being watched by MI5 and so on.

There will also be the inev­it­able mis­sion-creep and abuse of power that we saw almost 20 years ago when a whole range of the same pub­lic bod­ies were allowed access to the new eaves­drop­ping and sur­veil­lance law, the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2000). Back then, loc­al coun­cils were abus­ing counter-ter­ror­ism legis­la­tion to catch people who might be try­ing to play school catch­ment areas (dis­tricts) to get their chil­dren into bet­ter schools, or even, and I kid you not, might be cockle-rust­ling on their loc­al beach. Of course, such intrus­ive elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance powers have been sig­ni­fic­antly increased since then, with the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act 2017, that allows bulk stor­age, bulk data­set hack­ing and hack­ing per se.

All this fol­lows the notori­ous Home Office counter-ter­ror­ism PREVENT scheme – the failed par­ent of these new pro­pos­als.

A dec­ade ago PREVENT was designed to reach out, build bridges with Muslim com­munit­ies across Bri­tain, encour­aging them to report any sus­pi­cious beha­viour to the author­it­ies to nip incip­i­ent rad­ic­al­isa­tion in the bud. Unfor­tu­nately it did not quite work out that way. Young Muslims told stor­ies of pres­sure from MI5 to spy on their com­munit­ies. It des­troyed com­munity trust rather than built it.

Unfor­tu­nately, this new Home Office scheme goes even fur­ther down the wrong path. It asks teach­ers, social work­ers, the loc­al police and oth­er author­ity fig­ures to go bey­ond report­ing sus­pi­cious beha­viour to actu­ally be giv­en a list of names to keep a awatch on “sub­jects of interest”.

The last time such a sys­tem of com­munity inform­ants used in Europe was ended when the Ber­lin Wall came down in 1989 and East Germany’s Stasi sys­tem of a vast net­work of inform­ers was revealed in all its hor­ror. How iron­ic that the same sys­tem that was devised to pro­tect the East Ger­man youth from the “dec­ad­ent influ­ence” of West­ern ideals is now being pro­posed in a “dec­ad­ent” West­ern coun­try to spy on its own youth for traces of rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Cor­por­ate Allies

Suf­fice to say that if the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment can­not even make the inter­net titans such as Google and Face­book pay their fair share in taxes, nor call Facebook’s Mark Zuck­er­berg to account in Par­lia­ment about the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­ica scan­dal, then good luck for­cing them make a mean­ing­ful effort to root out extrem­ist mater­i­al.

But even if they do agree, this idea is fraught with the trouble­some ques­tion of who gets to decide wheth­er some­thing is extrem­ist mater­i­al or a dis­sent­ing opin­ion against the estab­lish­ment?  Face­book, Google and You­tube are already enga­ging in what can only be called cen­sor­ship by de-rank­ing in search res­ults mater­i­al from legit­im­ate dis­sid­ent web­sites that they, with no his­tory of exer­cising news judge­ment, deem “fake news”.Such estab­lished news sites such as Wikileaks, Con­sor­ti­um­News and World Social­ist Web Site as well as many oth­ers lis­ted on the notori­ous and unre­li­able Pro­pOrNot list have taken a sig­ni­fic­ant hit since these restric­tions came into play on 23 April 2017.

Amazon, eBay and oth­er retail com­pan­ies are being asked to report sus­pi­cious sales of pre­curs­or mater­i­als for bombs and oth­er weapons. Car hire com­pan­ies will be asked to report sus­pi­cious indi­vidu­als hir­ing cars and lor­ries. Algorithms to detect weapons pur­chases may be feas­ible, but deny­ing rent­als to merely “sus­pi­cious” indi­vidu­als who’ve com­mit­ted no crimes strays into Stasi ter­rit­ory.

Back in the era of fer­til­iser lorry and nail bombs, laws were put in place across Europe to require fer­til­iser com­pan­ies to report strange pur­chases – from people who were not registered agri­cul­tur­al­ists, for example, Unfor­tu­nately, this law was eas­ily sub­ver­ted by Nor­we­gi­an right-wing ter­ror­ist, Anders Breivik, who simply worked to estab­lish a farm and then leg­ally pur­chased the ingredi­ents for his Oslo car bomb in 2011.

You are Being Watched

The UK is known as hav­ing the most CCTV cam­er­as per cap­ita in the West­ern world. There have been vari­ous plans mooted (some leaked to Wikileaks) to hook these up to cor­por­a­tions such as Face­book for imme­di­ate face tag­ging cap­ab­il­it­ies, and the devel­op­ment of algorithms that can identi­fy sus­pi­cious beha­viour in real time and the police can move to inter­cept the “sus­pect”.

Face recog­ni­tion cam­er­as are being tri­alled by three police forces in the UK – with soft­ware that can allegedly watch crowds at events and in sta­tions and poten­tially identi­fy known crim­in­als and sus­pects in a crowd and alert the police who will imme­di­ately move in and inter­cept.

Unfor­tu­nately, accord­ing to Big Broth­er Watch in the UK, these com­puter sys­tems have up to a 98% fail­ure rate. If the Home Sec­ret­ary is really sug­gest­ing that such dodgy soft­ware is going to be used to police our pub­lic spaces I would sug­gest that he ask his geeks to go back and do their home­work.

Do we really want to live in a coun­try where our every move­ment is watched by tech­no­logy, with the police wait­ing to pounce; a coun­try where if we are run­ning late or are hav­ing a stressed work day and seem “strange” to a per­son in a car hire com­pany, we can be tracked as a poten­tial ter­ror­ist; where chil­dren need to fear that if they ask awk­ward, if inter­ested, ques­tions of their teach­ers or raise fam­ily con­cerns with social care, they might already be on a watch list and their file is stack­ing up slowly in the shad­ows?

That way lies total­it­ari­ansim. I have been track­ing how a state can slide unthink­ingly into such a situ­ation for years, par­tic­u­larly look­ing at such warn­ings from his­tory as 1930s Ger­many and, over the last dec­ade, I have ser­i­ously begun to fear for my coun­try.

If these meas­ures go through Bri­tons could be liv­ing under SS-GB – the name of a book by the excel­lent spy writer, Len Deighton, in his envi­sion­ing of what the UK would have been like if the Nazis had suc­ceed in invad­ing dur­ing World War Two. The ulti­mate irony is that the acronym attrib­uted to MI5 at inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence con­fer­ences way back in the 1990s used to be UK SSUK Secur­ity Ser­vice. I hear it has changed now….

A Tale of Two Tortures

First pub­lished by Con​sor​ti​um​news​.com.

It was with some dis­be­lief that I read of two tor­ture-related stor­ies emer­ging around the same time last week. The first was about the leg­al vic­tory of Abdul Hakim Bel­haj, Liby­an dis­sid­ent, kid­nap vic­tim of MI6 and the CIA, and tor­ture vic­tim of Col­on­el Gad­dafi. UK gov­ern­ment­al apo­lo­gies were finally made and repar­a­tion paid. For once justice was seen to be done and the use of tor­ture con­demned.

Mean­while, across the pond last week the reverse side of the same coin was on full dis­gust­ing dis­play. Our Amer­ic­an chums are in the pro­cess of attempt­ing to appoint an alleged notori­ous tor­turer as the head of the CIA.

While nom­in­ee Gina Haspel had soft-ball ques­tions lobbed at her by a tame pack of sen­at­ors at her con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, retired CIA seni­or ana­lyst, former pres­id­en­tial briefer, and now justice act­iv­ist, Ray McGov­ern, who stood up and said what the Sen­at­ors knew, but would not say; namely that she super­vised — dir­ectly, on site — the water­board­ing of Al Nashiri, who had been kid­napped and brought to the first secret CIA pris­on abroad (in Thai­l­and) for “inter­rog­a­tion.” McGov­ern was dragged out by four burly police, thrown to the ground, and injured when addi­tion­al police piled on. Here is a link to the video of this assault.

By jux­ta­pos­ing these two incid­ents I am not try­ing to make the point that the UK is mor­ally bet­ter than the USA when it comes to tor­ture over the last 17 years – mani­festly it has not been – but cer­tainly in the time I served in MI5 in the 1990s the use of tor­ture was ver­boten. Partly for eth­ic­al reas­ons, but mainly because the Brit­ish Deep State had learned to its cost how counter-pro­duct­ive the use of tor­ture and illeg­al impris­on­ment could be dur­ing the early stages of the bit­ter civil war in North­ern Ire­land in the 1970s.

Unfor­tu­nately those hard-won les­sons were gen­er­a­tion­al, and that peer group began to retire in the late 1990s. As a res­ult, come the after­math of 9/11, when the USA lurched down a path of harsh mil­it­ary retali­ation, illeg­al war, kid­nap­ping and tor­ture, the com­pli­ant Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies fol­lowed hel­ter-skel­ter down the same path, all in the name of the spe­cial intel­li­gence rela­tion­ship.

So, back to the Bel­haj case. To get to the root of this I shall need to trans­port you back to 1995. Although the US-fun­ded Mujahideen in Afgh­anistan was by then morph­ing into Al Qaeda and had just about hit the radar of MI5 as an emer­gent, if region­al threat, peace seemed to be break­ing out all over the world: the Cold War was offi­cially over, a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion to the civil war in North­ern Ire­land was in the mak­ing, and there even seemed to be some pro­gress with the run­ning polit­ic­al sore that is Palestine and the Israeli occu­pa­tion, with the Oslo Accords of 1993.

How­ever, Libya – at that time a “rogue” nation – was still on the West­ern intel­li­gence hit list. Partly because it was sus­pec­ted by the UK gov­ern­ment to have been behind the Lock­er­bie bomb­ing in 1988 and the search for the per­pet­rat­ors was a top level pri­or­ity for MI6 in which it had failed for years to make any pro­gress, and partly because Gad­dafi had largely closed the huge Liby­an oil reserves to West­ern oil com­pan­ies.

So when, in 1995, a Liby­an mil­it­ary intel­li­gence officer (sub­sequently code­named TUNWORTH) walked into the Brit­ish embassy in Tunis and asked to speak to the res­id­ent spook, MI6 leapt at the chance to get rid of Gad­dafi, solve the Lock­er­bie case, and allow Bri­tain and its allies to once again plun­der the vast Liby­an oil reserves.

TUNWORTH had a group of “rag-tag Islam­ist extrem­ists” to carry out this coup attempt, and wanted sup­port and money from MI6, which was quickly offered. The attack was illeg­al under UK law, which required a min­is­teri­al sign-off before such an oper­a­tion, it went wrong, and it killed inno­cent people. How much hein­ous could it get? Here is the full account of this failed coup attempt.

So how does this fit in with Abdul Hakim Bel­haj? Well, it turns out he was the co-founder of the Liby­an Islam­ic Fight­ing Group (LIFG), the very organ­isa­tion that MI6 had fun­ded for this attack. As a res­ult, he was a wanted man in Libya. And after Gaddafi’s return to the inter­na­tion­al fold fol­low­ing his notori­ous deal in the desert with then-UK Prime Min­is­ter, Tony Blair, in 2004, Bel­haj was the gift from MI6 that sealed the deal.

In 2004 he and his preg­nant wife were tracked down and inter­cep­ted by MI6 in Kuala Lum­pur, Malay­sia. They were flown to Bangkok in Thai­l­and and held in a CIA black site, before onward trans­it to Libya. The flight took 18 hours, and both Bel­haj and his preg­nant wife were lashed to the floor of a US mil­it­ary trans­port plan for the dur­a­tion.

Bel­haj was sub­sequently held in the notori­ous Abu Selim pris­on for the next six years where he was repeatedly and hideously tor­tured. He was finally released under an amnesty brokered by Gaddafi’s son and heir, Saif al-Islam, in 2010.

All that might have been that, except the West made a cata­stroph­ic decision to once again try to depose Col­on­el Gad­dafi in 2011. This time the charge was led not by the USA but by France and its Pres­id­ent at the time, Nic­olas Sarkozy, but ably backed up by the ever-reli­able UK and USA, in a “human­it­ari­an inter­ven­tion” to pro­tect the cit­izens of Islam­ist Benghazi – which by the way was not under dir­ect threat at the time. Anoth­er fab­ric­ated excuse for a West­ern war of aggres­sion.

(As a side note, Sarkozy is cur­rently under invest­ig­a­tion for illeg­ally accept­ing fifty mil­lion euros from Gad­dafi to fund his bid for the French Pres­id­ency in the 2007 elec­tion, and in the same year Gad­dafi was awar­ded a full state vis­it to France.)

This time the West achieved openly and shame­lessly, in the gaze of the world’s media, what they had failed to do shame­fully and in secret in 1996: it toppled Gad­dafi, who was caught, bru­tal­ised and buggered with a bay­on­et, murdered, and his mutil­ated corpse  left on dis­play for days. His son, Saif al-Islam was cap­tured, tor­tured and imprisoned. He is now free and re-enter­ing the polit­ic­al fray in Libya.

In the chaos that fol­lowed the over­throw of Gad­dafi, Human Rights Watch staff made it to Libya and found a cache of doc­u­ments left in the office of notori­ous intel­li­gence chief, Musa Kusa, who had fled the coun­try ini­tially to the UK and then fled on to Qatar.

Amongst these doc­u­ments was a let­ter from the MI6 Head of Counter-Ter­ror­ism, Sir Mark Allen, dated from 2004. He had helped facil­it­ate the “deal in the desert”, and wrote a con­grat­u­lat­ory let­ter to Musa Kusa about being able to help facil­it­ate the cap­ture of Bel­haj, and effect­ively to see him as a “gift” to the Liby­an régime in 2004, as a ges­ture of good will.  Here is an excerpt from Allen’s let­ter to Musa Kusa, sub­mit­ted by Belhaj’s law­yers:

I con­grat­u­late you on the safe arrival of [Mr Bel­haj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demon­strate the remark­able rela­tion­ship we have built over recent years.….Amusingly, we got a request from the Amer­ic­ans to chan­nel requests for inform­a­tion from [Mr Bel­haj] through the Amer­ic­ans. I have no inten­tion of doing any such thing. The intel­li­gence about [Mr Bel­haj] was Brit­ish… I feel I have the right to deal with you dir­ect on this”.

Because of that good will, the Gad­dafi régime fatally trus­ted its new rela­tion­ship with the West; and a man and his preg­nant wife suffered, and the coun­try as a whole con­tin­ues to suf­fer immensely from the ensu­ing civil war that fol­lowed Gaddafi’s assas­sin­a­tion..

The court case last week in the UK was a vic­tory for them. Bel­haj him­self, des­pite suc­cess­ive UK gov­ern­ments offer­ing one mil­lion pounds to drop the case, has always stated that he only required £1, plus an acknow­ledge­ment and apo­logy from the UK gov­ern­ment about what happened to him. This week he finally received it.

For her ordeal, his wife accep­ted half of the amount offered. The three UK key play­ers – PM Tony Blair, For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw, and MI6 Sir Mark Allen nat­ur­ally have yet again not been called to account. Not a blem­ish to their repu­ta­tions….

So are we likely to see the same admis­sion of guilt from the instig­at­ors of the US tor­ture pro­gramme?

Far from it. Even if the Gina Haspel con­firm­a­tion hear­ing in Wash­ing­ton goes against her, the fact she was even con­sidered for the post of head­ing the CIA is utterly shame­less. As was the dis­gust­ing treat­ment of CIA pen­sion­er and peace pro­test­er, Ray McGov­ern.

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.