War on Drugs has failed — ENCOD Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “war on drugs” has failed.

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

It is time for this insan­ity to cease.

Exile — ExBerliner Article

My most recent art­icle for the ExBer­liner magazine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No encryption? How very rude.

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia — once again Public Enemy No 1

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

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As people say, always fol­low the money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Terrorism

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge

Two hor­rors have dwelt in my mind for the last twenty years, ever since I read reports about ter­ror­ist groups while an impres­sion­able young intel­li­gence officer. The first involves the use of power tools as instru­ments of tor­ture; drills, indus­tri­al sanders, angle grinders. This is no secret now and the meme has been much used and abused by Hol­ly­wood and series such as “24”, but I still feel uncom­fort­able every time I am dragged into the “boy toy” sec­tion of a home improve­ment mega-store.

The second has recently hit the news as a grim res­ult of ISIS, the ultra-viol­ent Sunni sect that has swept across much of Syr­ia and Iraq, impos­ing the most dra­coni­an form of Sharia law in its wake upon the hap­less cit­izens of formerly sec­u­lar states.  I pity the poor women, and I pity still more the men of these com­munit­ies faced with the option of sub­mis­sion or grue­some murder.

For this is the oth­er image that haunts me: in 1995 six west­ern tour­ists were abduc­ted by a Kash­miri sep­ar­at­ist group, Al Faran. One of the abduct­ees, a Nor­we­gi­an called Hans Chris­ti­an Ostro, was found decap­it­ated, his head had been hacked off with a knife. The sheer hor­ror,  the ter­ror the poor man must have exper­i­enced, has haunted me ever since.

You can prob­ably see where I am going with this. I have not watched, nor do I have any inten­tion of ever watch­ing, the ISIS video of the grue­some murder of US journ­al­ist James Foley, wheth­er the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police deems it a crime to do so or not. I just feel hor­ror, again, and a deep well of sor­row for what his fam­ily and friends must be going through now.

Yet this is noth­ing new — we have known for months that ISIS has been behead­ing and cru­ci­fy­ing people as they ram­page across Syr­ia and Iraq. There has been a steady stream of del­ic­ately pix­il­ated heads on spikes in the west­ern media, and the out­rage has been muted.

And indeed, such behead­ings have long been car­ried out and filmed dur­ing the earli­er insur­gen­cies in Iraq — I remem­ber a young film maker friend who had stumbled across just such a sick pro­pa­ganda video way back in 2007 — he could not sleep, could not rid his mind of the images either.

It is bar­bar­ity pure and simple, but it is also effect­ive with­in the bound­ar­ies of its aims.

So, what are these aims? I just want to make two points before the West gets swept up in a new wave of out­rage to “bomb the bas­tards” for behead­ing an Amer­ic­an — after all, many hun­dreds if not thou­sands of people across the Middle East have already suffered this fate, to lack of any mean­ing­ful West­ern out­cry.

Firstly, ISIS has clear aims (indeed it pub­lished its five-year plan to great media deri­sion a couple of months ago). It is effect­ively using hideous bru­tal­ity and pro­pa­ganda to spread ter­ror ahead of its war front — this is a 21st cen­tury blitzkrieg, and it’s work­ing. The sheer hor­ror of what they do to any who attempt to res­ist is so great that appar­ently whole armies aban­don their weapons, banks have been left to be raided to the tune of half a bil­lion dol­lars, and entire vil­lages flee.

This is the pure defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism, and we can see that it is work­ing. ISIS is doing all this to build a new state. or caliphate, in the way that their warped fun­da­ment­al­ist inter­pret­a­tion of reli­gion sets out for them.

Secondly, and here’s the con­ten­tious bit, how pre­cisely is this dif­fer­ent from the ter­ror that the Israel­is have been vis­it­ing upon the many inno­cents killed in Gaza?  The Dahiya Doc­trine of dis­pro­por­tion­ate viol­ence to stun and quash res­ist­ance was exposed by Wikileaks — the Israeli “shock and awe”.  And also, how is this dif­fer­ent from what the US has been met­ing out to the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afgh­anistan over the last few years with their drone attacks?

All the above examples show strong mil­it­ary forces, ideo­lo­gic­ally motiv­ated, unleash­ing viol­ence and ter­ror on a huge, dis­pro­por­tion­ate scale on inno­cent pop­u­la­tions that have nowhere really to run.

The dif­fer­ence being? ISIS wields its own knives, does its own dirty work, and proudly films its grot­esque bru­tal­ity to cow its oppon­ents. This is prim­it­ive ter­ror­ism inter­sect­ing with social media, a bas­tard spawn of the 21st cen­tury.  And it still seems to be effect­ive, just as ter­ror of the guil­lot­ine res­on­ated through­out revolu­tion­ary France in the 18th cen­tury.

On the oth­er hand, the US and Israel prefer to be a bit more coy about their ter­ror­ist­ic strategies, hid­ing behind such phrases as “pro­por­tion­ate”, “self-defence”, “pre­ci­sion bomb­ing” and “spread­ing demo­cracy”. But who, ser­i­ously, falls for that these days?

Their armed forces are not dir­ectly get­ting their hands dirty with the blood of their vic­tims: instead, spotty young con­scripts safely hid­den in bunkers on the far side of the world, mete out death from the skies via sick snuff video games  — offi­cially called “pre­ci­sion” bombs and drone attacks that take out whole fam­il­ies. Heads can be blown off, bod­ies evis­cer­ated, limbs mangled and maimed, and all from a safe dis­tance.

We had the first proof of this strategy with the decryp­ted mil­it­ary film “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, where heli­copter pilots shot up some Reu­ters journ­al­ists and civil­ians in Iraq in 2007. That was bad enough — but the cov­er-up stank. For years the Pentagon denied all know­ledge of this atro­cious war crime, and it was only after Wikileaks released the inform­a­tion, provided by the brave whis­tleblower Chelsea Man­ning, that the fam­il­ies and the inter­na­tion­al com­munity learned the truth. Yet it is Man­ning, not the war crim­in­als, who is serving a 35 year sen­tence in a US pris­on.

Worse, by sheer scale at least, are the ongo­ing, wide-ran­ging unmanned drone attacks across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia, as cata­logued by the Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism in the UK. Many thou­sands of inno­cents have been murdered in these attacks, with the US jus­ti­fy­ing the strikes as killing “mil­it­ants” — ie any male over the age of 14.  The US is mur­der­ing chil­dren, fam­il­ies, wed­ding parties and vil­lage coun­cils with impun­ity.

And then the infam­ous pro­vi­sions of the US NDAA 2012. This means that the US mil­it­ary can extra-judi­cially murder any­one, includ­ing US cit­izens, by drone strike any­where in the world with no tri­al, no judi­cial pro­cess. And so it has come to pass.  Amer­ic­an Anwar Al Awlaki was murdered in 2011 by a drone strike.

Not con­tent with that, only weeks later the US mil­it­ary then blew his 16 year old son to pieces in anoth­er drone strike. Abdulrah­man — a child — was also an Amer­ic­an cit­izen. How, pre­cisely, is this atro­city not mor­ally equi­val­ent to the murder of James Foley?

So what is the real, qual­it­at­ive dif­fer­ence between the ter­ror engendered by ISIS, or by the Dahiya Doc­trine, or by the US drone strike pro­gramme? Is it just that ISIS does the dirty, hands on, and spreads its mes­sage shame­lessly via social media, while the US does the dirty in secret and pro­sec­utes and per­se­cutes any­one who wants to expose its egre­gious war crimes?

I would sug­gest so, and the West needs to face up to its hypo­crisy. A crime is a crime. Ter­ror­ism is ter­ror­ism.

Oth­er­wise we are no bet­ter than the polit­ic­al drones in George Orwell’s “1984”, rewrit­ing his­tory in favour of the vic­tors rather than the vic­tims, acqui­es­cing to etern­al war, and hap­pily mouth­ing News­peak.

New Ter­ror­ism, any­one?

The Year of Edward Snowden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Celebration of Whistleblowers

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

In the UK last week there was a series of events to cel­eb­rate the won­der­ful work of whis­tleblowers.

In pre­vi­ous dec­ades these brave and rare indi­vidu­als have often been all too eas­ily dis­missed with the usu­al, care­fully orches­trated media slanders of “dis­gruntled”, “too juni­or”, “sacked”, whatever ad nauseam. But no longer.

Now, in this era where we have been lied into illeg­al wars, where the banks privat­ise their profits yet make their risks pub­lic and get repeatedly bailed out, and when people are need­lessly dying in our hos­pit­als, more and more people real­ise the value that whis­tleblowers can bring to the pub­lic debate.

Indeed, the sys­tem is now so broken that the whis­tleblower is often the reg­u­lat­or of last resort.

Plus, of course, this is the era of Wikileaks, Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden. The concept of whis­tleblow­ing has gone glob­al in response to the scale of the threats we are all now facing from the mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex world-wide.

So last week was rather invig­or­at­ing and involved a num­ber of events that gave due cred­it to the bravery and sac­ri­fice of whis­tleblowers.

First up we had the inter­na­tion­al launch of the UK whis­tleblower sup­port group, The Whist­ler. This is a Brit­ish organ­isa­tion designed to provide a leg­al, psy­cho­lo­gic­al and social sup­port net­work to those in the UK brave enough to come out and blow the whistle on incom­pet­ence and crime from any sec­tor, pub­lic or private, and many hun­dreds have over the last few years, par­tic­u­larly from the fin­an­cial and health sec­tors.

Sadly all exper­i­ence the same treat­ment; vili­fic­a­tion, sup­pres­sion, and even the loss of their careers for dar­ing to expose the incom­pet­ence and even crime of oth­ers.  Sadly, while there is a law in place that is sup­posed to provide some pro­tec­tion, all to often this has failed over the last 16 years.  The Whist­ler provides a much needed ser­vice.

A num­ber of inter­na­tion­al whis­tleblowers were in the UK for the week for oth­er events, and The Whist­ler was able to host them and hear their stor­ies. Gav­in Mac­Fa­dyen of the Centre for Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism, and the indefatig­able cam­paign­er Eileen Chubb hos­ted the event, and former CIA ana­lyst Ray McGov­ern, NSA whis­tleblower Tom Drake, Jes­selyn Radack of the Gov­ern­ment Account­ab­il­ity pro­ject (The Whistler’s US coun­ter­part), and myself spoke. The Whist­ler will offi­cially be launched in the UK on 20th March, so watch this space.

The next night we found ourselves at the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Uni­on Soci­ety, which was kind enough to host the award cere­mony for the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence for the second year run­ning. You may remem­ber that last year the award went to Dr Tom Fin­gar, whose US Nation­al Intel­li­gence Estim­ate of 2007 single-handedly hal­ted to rush to war against Iran.

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates is a group of intel­li­gence, gov­ern­ment and mil­it­ary whis­tleblowers and cam­paign­ers.  Each year we vote to con­fer an award on a mem­ber of the intel­li­gence com­munity or related pro­fes­sions who exem­pli­fies CIA ana­lyst, Sam Adams’ cour­age, per­sist­ence and telling truth to power, no mat­ter what the con­sequences.

Since its incep­tion in 2002, the award has been giv­en to truth tell­ers Coleen Row­ley of the FBI, Kath­er­ine Gun of GCHQ, Sibel Edmonds of the FBI, Craig Mur­ray former UK ambas­sad­or to Uzbek­istan, Sam Provance former US army Sgt, Major Frank Gre­vil of Dan­ish intel­li­gence, Larry Wilk­er­son former US army Col­on­el, Juli­an Assange of Wikileaks, Thomas Drake of NSA and Jes­selyn Radack of the Depart­ment of Justice, Dr Thomas Fin­gar former Deputy Dir­ect­or of Nation­al Intel­li­gence, and Edward Snowden former NSA con­tract­or.

This year the award went, unan­im­ously and inev­it­ably, to Chelsea Man­ning, and many Sam Adams asso­ci­ates trav­elled to the UK to attend and to hon­our her achieve­ments and 2013 SAA laur­eate Edward Snowden sent through a con­grat­u­lat­ory mes­sage. Sadly and for obvi­ous reas­ons Chelsea could not receive the award in per­son, but her old school friend, Aaron Kirk­house read out a power­ful and mov­ing state­ment writ­ten by her for the occa­sion.

The fol­low­ing night the Uni­on hos­ted a debate on “This house would call Edward Snowden a hero”. I had the pleas­ure of arguing for the pro­pos­i­tion, along with US journ­al­ist Chris Hedges, NSA whis­tleblower Bill Bin­ney, and former UK gov­ern­ment min­is­ter Chris Huhne, and we won — 212 to 171 was the final tally, I believe.

I very much enjoyed the events, so a massive thanks to Polina Ivan­ova, the cur­rent Uni­on pres­id­ent, and her team who organ­ised the events.

The best part of the week though, apart from the set events, was hav­ing the time to be with oth­er intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers and fel­low cam­paign­ers. While in Lon­don we also all had the oppor­tun­ity to do a range of media inter­views with pro­grammes such as Bri­an Rose’s Lon­don Real TV and Afsh­in Rattansi’s “Going Under­ground” on RT.

Sadly but rather pre­dict­ably, the old media chose not to take advant­age of such a rich source of expert­ise in town.  Des­pite repeated invit­a­tions, the MSM failed to attend any of the events or inter­view any of the whis­tleblowers. But per­haps that’s bet­ter than the appallingly off-beam cov­er­age the Guard­i­an gave to Dr Fingar’s award cere­mony last year.

But the old media are behind the times, which are def­in­itely a’changing. In this post-Wikileaks, post-Man­ning and post-Snowden world, the tone of the debate has changed for good. Whis­tleblowers are increas­ingly val­ued as brave indi­vidu­als of con­science and there is much more aware­ness and interest in the issues of pri­vacy, human rights and the mean­ing of demo­cracy. Indeed, in the fun­da­ment­al mean­ing of free­dom.

Edward Snowden, Man of the Year

First pub­lished at RT Op-Edge.

When asked if Edward Snowden deserves to be the Man of the Year 2013, and I have been many times, my answer has to be a cat­egor­ic­al, resound­ing YES.

Sure, it has been an event­ful year and there are a lot of con­tenders. But Edward Snowden stands out for me for three key reas­ons:  his per­son­al and con­scious cour­age, the sheer scale of his dis­clos­ures and the con­tinu­ing, glob­al impact of what he did. Purely because of his actions we, the world’s cit­izens, are now able to have a dis­cus­sion about the nature of our civil­isa­tion and poten­tially call a halt to the fright­en­ing slide into a glob­al sur­veil­lance dysto­pia.

For the actions of Snowden have indeed laid bare the fact that we are liv­ing glob­al crisis of civil­isa­tion .  To date it is estim­ated the we have only seen about 1% of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed —  the merest hint of the tip of a mon­strous ice­berg.  What fur­ther hor­rors await us in 2014 and bey­ond?

The Per­son­al Risk

First of all, there is the per­son­al aspect.  Snowden has said that he does not want to be the story, he wants the focus to remain on the inform­a­tion.  I respect that, but it is worth remind­ing ourselves of the scale of sac­ri­fice this young man has made.  He had a well-paid job in Hawaii, an appar­ently happy rela­tion­ship, and good career pro­spects. All this he threw away to alert the world to the secret, illeg­al and dysto­pi­an sur­veil­lance sys­tem that has stealth­ily been smoth­er­ing the world.

But Snowden faced far more than merely throw­ing away a com­fort­able pro­fes­sion­al life. Over the last few years the US gov­ern­ment, appar­ently learn­ing well from its former colo­ni­al mas­ter the UK about the art of crush­ing of whis­tleblowers, has been waging a war against what it now deems the “insider threat” — ie per­sons of con­science who speak out. Pres­id­ent Obama has used the Espi­on­age Act (1917) to per­se­cute and pro­sec­ute more whis­tleblowers than all pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents in total before him.

This is indeed a “war on whis­tleblowers”. John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who refused to par­ti­cip­ate in the tor­ture pro­gramme and then exposed, it is cur­rently lan­guish­ing in pris­on; Thomas Drake, an earli­er NSA whis­tleblower, was threatened with 35 years in pris­on; young Chelsea Man­ning was mal­treated in pris­on, faced a kangaroo court, and is cur­rently serving a sim­il­ar sen­tence for the expos­ure of hideous war crimes against civil­ians in the Middle East. And the list goes on.

So not only did Edward Snowden turn his back on his career, he knew exactly the sheer scale of the leg­al risk he was tak­ing when he went pub­lic, dis­play­ing bravery very much above and bey­ond the call of duty.

The intel­li­gence apo­lo­gists in the media have inev­it­ably  shouted “nar­ciss­ism” about his brave step to out him­self, rather than just leak the inform­a­tion anonym­ously.  How­ever, these estab­lish­ment wind­bags are the real nar­ciss­ists. Snowden cor­rectly assessed that, had he not put his name to the dis­clos­ures, there would have been a witch-hunt tar­get­ing his former col­leagues and he wanted to pro­tect them. Plus, as he said in his very first pub­lic inter­view, he wanted to explain why he had done what he had done and what the implic­a­tions were for the world.

The Dis­clos­ures

The sheer scale and nature of the dis­clos­ures so far has been breath­tak­ing, and they just keep com­ing. They show that a vast, sub­ter­ranean sur­veil­lance state that has crept across the whole world, unknown and unchecked by the very politi­cians who are sup­posed to hold it to account. Indeed, not only have we learned that we are all under con­stant elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, but these politi­cians are tar­geted too. This is a glob­al secret state run­ning amok and we are all now tar­gets.

Only yes­ter­day, Der Spiegel repor­ted more egre­gious examples of how the spies bug us: hard­ware hacks, com­puter vir­uses and even microwave wavelengths attack­ing both our com­puters and us – tin foil hats might not be such a bad idea after all.…

The Implic­a­tions

Snowden’s dis­clos­ures have laid bare the fact that the inter­net has been thor­oughly hacked, sub­ver­ted and indeed mil­it­ar­ised against we the people.  The basic free­dom of pri­vacy,  enshrined in the UN Declar­a­tion of Human Rights in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Second World War, has been des­troyed.

Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidu­al cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments, and cer­tainly not a shad­owy and unac­count­able secret state.

The cent­ral soci­et­al func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the state.

By risk­ing his life, Edward Snowden has allowed us all to see exactly the scale of the threat now facing us and to allow us the oppor­tun­ity to res­ist.  We all owe him a debt of grat­it­ude, and it is our duty to ensure that his cour­age and sac­ri­fice has not been in vain.

TPP — copyright versus free speech

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

We, the cit­izens of the world, already owe NSA whis­tleblower Edward Snowden a huge debt of grat­it­ude.  Even the lim­ited pub­lic­a­tion of a few of the doc­u­ments he dis­closed to journ­al­ists has to date pro­voked a polit­ic­al and pub­lic debate in coun­tries across the plan­et — and who knows what oth­er nas­ties lurk in the cache of doc­u­ments, yet to be exposed?

Thanks to Snowden, mil­lions of people as well as many gov­ern­ments have woken up to the fact that pri­vacy is the vital com­pon­ent of free soci­et­ies.  Without that basic right we are unable to freely read, write, speak, plan and asso­ci­ate without fear of being watched, our every thought and utter­ance stored up to be poten­tially used against us at some neb­u­lous future date.  Such pan­op­tic glob­al sur­veil­lance leads inev­it­ably to self-cen­sor­ship and is cor­ros­ive to our basic freedoms, and indi­vidu­al cit­izens as well as coun­tries are explor­ing ways to pro­tect them­selves and their pri­vacy.

As I and oth­ers more emin­ent have said before, we need free media to have a free soci­ety.

But even if we can defend these free chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion, what if the very inform­a­tion we wish to ingest and com­mu­nic­ate is no longer deemed to be free?  What if we become crim­in­al­ised purely for shar­ing such un-free inform­a­tion?

The glob­al mil­it­ary secur­ity com­plex may be bru­tal, but it is not stu­pid. These cor­por­at­ist elites, as I prefer to think of them, have seen the new medi­um of the inter­net as a threat to their profits and power since its incep­tion. Which is why they have been fight­ing a des­per­ate rear­guard action to apply US pat­ent and copy­right laws glob­ally.

Pirate_Bay_LogoThey began by going after music shar­ing sites such as Nap­ster and impos­ing grot­esque leg­al pen­al­ties on those try­ing to down­load a few songs they liked for free, then try­ing to build nation­al fire­walls to deny whole coun­tries access to file shar­ing sites such as The Pir­ate Bay and per­se­cut­ing its co-founder Ana­kata, mer­ci­fully fail­ing to extra­dite Richard O’Dwyer from the UK to the US on trumped up charges for his sign­post­ing site to free media, and cul­min­at­ing in the take down of Megaup­load and the illeg­al FBI attack against Kim Dotcom’s home in New Zea­l­and last year.

But for all these high-pro­file cases of attemp­ted deterrence, more and more people are shar­ing inform­a­tion, cul­ture, and research for free on the inter­net. Using peer to peer tech­no­lo­gies like Bit­tor­rent and anonymising tools like Tor they are hard to detect, which is why the cor­por­at­ist lob­by­ists demand the sur­veil­lance state devel­op ever more intrus­ive ways of detect­ing them, includ­ing the pos­sib­il­ity of deep pack­et inspec­tion. And of course once such invas­ive tech­no­lo­gies are avail­able, we all know that they will not only be used to stop “pir­acy” but will also be used against the people of the world by the mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance com­plex too.

But that is still not enough for the cor­por­at­ists.  Largely US-based, they are now try­ing to flex their polit­ic­al muscle glob­ally.  First the US claims that any site end­ing with a tier one US domain name (.com, .org, .net and .info) comes under US law — any­where in the world — and can be taken down without warn­ing or redress by a diktat from the US gov­ern­ment.

More egre­giously still, the US cor­por­at­ists have been try­ing to impose their leg­al domin­ion glob­ally via a series of secret region­al trade agree­ments: ACTA, TTIP/TAFTA, SOPA, and now in the recently Wikileaked details of the Trans-Pacific Part­ner­ship (TPP) tar­get­ing the coun­tries around the Pacific rim.

These agree­ments, writ­ten by cor­por­ate lob­by­ists, are so secret that the demo­crat­ic rep­res­ent­at­ives of sov­er­eign coun­tries are not even allowed to read the con­tents or debate the terms — they are just told to sign on the dot­ted line, effect­ively rub­ber-stamp­ing legis­la­tion that is anti­thet­ic­al to the vast major­ity their cit­izens’ interests, which gives great­er sov­er­eign powers to the interests of the cor­por­a­tions than it does to nation states, and which will crim­in­al­ise and dir­ectly harm the people of the world in the interests of the few.

One of the pro­pos­als is that mul­tina­tion­al cor­por­a­tions can sue nation­al gov­ern­ments for future lost profits based on pat­ents not gran­ted or envir­on­ment­al restric­tions. This is noth­ing short of full-on cor­por­at­ism where inter­na­tion­al law and glob­al treat­ies serve a hand­ful of large cor­por­a­tions to the det­ri­ment of nation­al sov­er­eignty, envir­on­ment­al health and even human life.

For by pro­tect­ing “intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty” (IP), we are not just talk­ing about the cre­at­ive endeav­ours of artists. One does not need to be a law­yer to see the fun­da­ment­al prob­lem­at­ic assump­tions in the goals as defined in the leaked doc­u­ment:

Enhance the role of intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty in pro­mot­ing eco­nom­ic and social devel­op­ment, par­tic­u­larly in rela­tion to the new digit­al eco­nomy, tech­no­lo­gic­al innov­a­tion, the trans­fer and dis­sem­in­a­tion of tech­no­logy and trade;

This state­ment assumes that IP, a made-up term that con­fuses three very dif­fer­ent areas of law, is by defin­i­tion bene­fi­cial to soci­ety as a whole. No evid­ence for these claimed bene­fits is provided any­where. As with “what-is-good-for-Gen­er­al-Motors-is-good-for-Amer­ica” and the the­ory of ”trickle down” eco­nom­ics, the bene­fits are simply assumed and altern­at­ive mod­els act­ively and wil­fully ignored. The idea that most soci­et­ies on the plan­et might vastly bene­fit from a relax­a­tion of pat­ent laws or the length of copy­right is not even up for debate. This des­pite the fact that there is plenty of research point­ing in that dir­ec­tion.

These secret pro­posed treat­ies will enforce pat­ents that put the cost of basic phar­ma­ceut­ic­als bey­ond the reach of bil­lions; that privat­ise and pat­ent basic plants and food; and that pre­vent the shar­ing of cut­ting edge aca­dem­ic research, des­pite the fact that this is usu­ally pro­duced by pub­licly fun­ded aca­dem­ics at our pub­licly fun­ded uni­ver­sit­ies.

The price, even today, of try­ing to lib­er­ate research for the pub­lic good can be high, as Aaron Swartz found out earli­er this year.  After try­ing to share research inform­a­tion from MIT, he faced a witch hunt and dec­ades in pris­on. Instead he chose to take his own life at the age of 26. How much worse will it be if TPP et al are rat­i­fied?

It is thanks to the high-tech pub­lish­er, Wikileaks, that we know the sheer scale of the recent TPP débacle.  It is also heart­en­ing to see so many Pacific rim coun­tries oppos­ing the over­ween­ing demands of the USA. Aus­tralia alone seems sup­port­ive — but then region­ally it bene­fits most from its mem­ber­ship of the “Five Eyes” spy pro­gramme with Amer­ica.

The intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty wars are the flip side of the glob­al sur­veil­lance net­work that Snowden dis­closed — it is a clas­sic pin­cer move­ment.

hAs well as watch­ing everything we com­mu­nic­ate, the cor­por­at­ists are also try­ing to con­trol exactly what inform­a­tion we are leg­ally able to com­mu­nic­ate, and using this con­trol as jus­ti­fic­a­tion for yet more intrus­ive spy­ing. It’s the per­fect self-per­petu­at­ing cycle.

By cur­tail­ing the powers of the spy agen­cies, we could restore the inter­net to its ori­gin­al func­tion­al­ity and open­ness while main­tain­ing the right to pri­vacy and free speech — but main­tain­ing a 20th cen­tury copyright/IP mod­el at the same time is impossible. Or we could give up our pri­vacy and oth­er civil rights to allow spe­cif­ic pro­tec­ted indus­tries to carry on coin­ing it in. A last option would be to switch off the inter­net. But that is not real­ist­ic: mod­ern coun­tries could not sur­vive a day without the inter­net, any more than they could func­tion without elec­tri­city.

As a soci­ety we’re going through the pain­ful real­isa­tion that we can only have two out of the three options. Dif­fer­ent cor­por­at­ist interest groups would no doubt make dif­fer­ent choices but, along with the vast major­ity of the people, I opt for the inter­net and pri­vacy as both a free chan­nel for com­mu­nic­a­tion and the free trans­fer of use­ful inform­a­tion.

Like any social change (the abol­i­tion of slavery, uni­ver­sal suf­frage), this is also accom­pan­ied by heated argu­ments, leg­al threats and repres­sion, and lob­by­ist pro­pa­ganda. But his­tor­ic­ally all this sound and fury will sig­ni­fy.… pre­cisely noth­ing. Surely at some point basic civil rights will make a comeback, upheld by the legis­lature and pro­tec­ted by law enforce­ment.

The choice is simple: inter­net, pri­vacy, copy­right. We can only choose two, and I know which I choose.

The Empire Strikes Back

First pub­lished by RT Op-Edge.

Andrew Park­er, the Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al of the UK’s domest­ic secur­ity Ser­vice (MI5) yes­ter­day made both his first pub­lic speech and a super­fi­cially robust defence of the work of the intel­li­gence agen­cies. Read­ing from the out­side, it sounds all pat­ri­ot­ic and noble.

Darth_VaderAnd who is to say that Park­er does not believe this after 30 years on the inside and the MI5 group­think men­tal­ity being what it is? Let’s give him the bene­fit of the doubt. How­ever, I have two prob­lems with his speech, on both a micro and a macro scale.

Let’s start with the micro — ie the dev­il in the detail — what is said and, cru­cially, what is left unsaid. First up: over­sight, which the spook apo­lo­gists have dwelt on at great length over the last few months.

I wrote about this last week, but here’s some of that dev­il­ish detail. Park­er cor­rectly explains what the mech­an­isms are for over­sight with­in MI5: the Home Office war­rants for oth­er­wise illeg­al activ­it­ies such as bug­ging; the over­sight com­mis­sion­ers; the Com­plaints Tribunal; the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. This all sounds pretty reas­on­able for a demo­cracy, right?

Of course, what he neg­lects to men­tion is how these sys­tems can be gamed by the spies.

The applic­a­tion for war­rants is a tick-box exer­cise where basic leg­al require­ments can be by-passed, the author­ising min­is­ter only ever sees a sum­mary of a sum­mary.… ad infin­itum.… for sig­na­ture, and nev­er declines a request in case some­thing lit­er­ally blows up fur­ther down the line.

Sure, there are inde­pend­ent com­mis­sion­ers who over­see MI5 and its sur­veil­lance work every year and write a report. But as I have writ­ten before, they are giv­en the roy­al treat­ment dur­ing their annu­al vis­it to Thames House, and officers with con­cerns about the abuse of the war­rantry sys­tem are barred from meet­ing them. Plus, even these ano­dyne reports can high­light an alarm­ing num­ber of “admin­is­trat­ive errors” made by the spies, no doubt entirely without malice.

The com­plaints tribunal — the body to which we can make a com­plaint if we feel we have been unne­ces­sar­ily spied on, has always found in favour of the spies.

And finally, the pièce de résist­ance, so to speak: the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment. How many times do I have to write this? Top cops and Parker’s spy pre­de­cessors have admit­ted to lying suc­cess­fully to the ISC for many years. This is not mean­ing­ful over­sight, nor is the fact that the evid­ence of earli­er major intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers was ignored by the ISC, except for the part where they might be under invest­ig­a­tion by MI5 them­selves.…

Of course, the cur­rent Chair of the ISC, Sir Mal­com Rif­kind, has entered the lists this sum­mer to say that the ISC has just acquired new powers and can now go into the spies’ lairs, demand to see papers, and over­see oper­a­tion­al activ­it­ies. This is indeed good, if belated, news, but from a man who has already cleared GCHQ’s endem­ic data-min­ing as law­ful, one has to won­der how thor­ough he will be.

While the com­mit­tee remains chosen by the PM, answer­able only to the PM, who can also vet the find­ings, this com­mit­tee is irre­deem­ably undemo­crat­ic. It will remain full of cred­u­lous yes-men only too happy to sup­port the status quo.

Secondly, what are the threats that Park­er talks about? He has worked for MI5 for 30 years and will there­fore remem­ber not only the Cold War era, where Soviet spies were hunted down, but also the very real and per­vas­ive threat of IRA bombs reg­u­larly explod­ing on UK streets. At the same time hun­dreds of thou­sands of polit­ic­ally act­ive UK cit­izens were aggress­ively invest­ig­ated. A (cold) war and the threat of ter­ror­ism allowed the spies a drag-net of sur­veil­lance even then.

V_for_Vendetta_masksHow much worse now, in this hyper-con­nec­ted, data-min­ing era? One chilling phrase that leapt out at me from Parker’s speech was the need to invest­ig­ate “ter­ror­ists and oth­ers threat­en­ing nation­al secur­ity”. Nation­al secur­ity has nev­er been leg­ally defined for the pur­poses of UK law, and we see the goal posts move again and again. In the 1980s, when Park­er joined MI5, it was the “reds under the bed”, the so-called sub­vers­ives. Now it can be the Occupy group encamped in the City of Lon­don or envir­on­ment­al act­iv­ists wav­ing plac­ards.

So now for my macro con­cerns, which are about wider con­cepts. Park­er used his first pub­lic speech to defend not only the work of his own organ­isa­tion, but also to attack the whis­tleblow­ing efforts of Edward Snowden and the cov­er­age in The Guard­i­an news­pa­per. He attempts to seam­lessly elide the work and the over­sight mod­els of MI5 and GCHQ.  And who is fall­ing for this?  Well, much of the UK media appar­ently.

This mud­dies the waters. The con­cerns about Snowden’s dis­clos­ures are glob­al — the TEMPORA pro­ject affects not only the cit­izens of the UK but people across Europe and bey­ond. For Rif­kind or the For­eign Sec­ret­ary to com­pla­cently say that GCHQ is over­seen by them and everything is hun­key-dorey is just not good enough, even for the hap­less cit­izens of the UK. How much more so for those unrep­res­en­ted people across the world?

The IOCA (1985) and later and much-abused RIPA (2000) laws were writ­ten before the UK gov­ern­ment could have con­ceived of the sheer scale of the inter­net. They are way out of date — 20th cen­tury rolling omni­bus war­rants hoover­ing up every scrap of data and being stored for unknown times in case you might com­mit a (thought?) crime in the future. This is noth­ing like mean­ing­ful over­sight.

Unlike the UK, even the USA is cur­rently hav­ing con­gres­sion­al hear­ings and media debates about the lim­its of the elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance pro­gramme. Con­sid­er­ing America’s mus­cu­lar response after 9/11, with illeg­al inva­sions, drone strikes, CIA kill lists and extraordin­ary kid­nap­pings (to this day), that casts the UK spy com­pla­cency in a par­tic­u­larly unflat­ter­ing light.

Plus if 58,000 GCHQ doc­u­ments have really been copied by a young NSA con­tract­or, why are Park­er and Rif­kind not ask­ing dif­fi­cult ques­tions of the Amer­ic­an admin­is­tra­tion, rather than con­tinu­ing to jus­ti­fy the anti­quated Brit­ish over­sight sys­tem?

Finally, Park­er is show­ing his age as well as his pro­fes­sion when he talks about the inter­webs and all the implic­a­tions.  As I said dur­ing my state­ment to the LIBE com­mit­tee in the European Par­lia­ment:

  • Without free media, where we can all read, write, listen and dis­cuss ideas freely and in pri­vacy, we are all liv­ing in an Orwellian dysto­pia, and we are all poten­tially at risk. These media must be based on tech­no­lo­gies that empower indi­vidual cit­izens, not cor­por­a­tions or for­eign gov­ern­ments. The Free Soft­ware Found­a­tion has been mak­ing these recom­mend­a­tions for over two dec­ades.
  • The cent­ral soci­etal func­tion of pri­vacy is to cre­ate the space for cit­izens to res­ist the viol­a­tion of their rights by gov­ern­ments and cor­por­a­tions. Pri­vacy is the last line of defense his­tor­ic­ally against the most poten­tially dan­ger­ous organ­isa­tion that exists: the nation state. There­fore there is no ‘bal­ance between pri­vacy and secur­ity’ and this false dicho­tomy should not be part of any policy debate.

US/UK spy chiefs cover up NSA surveillance scandal

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge. Also on Inform­a­tion Clear­ing House and The Huff­ing­ton Post.

The dis­par­ity in response to Edward Snowden’s dis­clos­ures with­in the USA and the UK is aston­ish­ing.  In the face of right­eous pub­lic wrath, the US admin­is­tra­tion is con­tort­ing itself to ensure that it does not lose its treas­ured data-min­ing cap­ab­il­it­ies: con­gres­sion­al hear­ings are held, the media is on the warpath, and seni­or securo­crats are being forced to admit that they have lied about the effic­acy of endem­ic sur­veil­lance in pre­vent­ing ter­ror­ism.

Just this week Gen­er­al Alex­an­der, the head of the NSA with a long track record of mis­lead­ing lying to gov­ern­ment, was forced to admit that the endem­ic sur­veil­lance pro­grammes have only helped to foil a couple of ter­ror­ist plots. This is a big dif­fer­ence from the pre­vi­ous num­ber of 54 that he was tout­ing around.

Cue calls for the sur­veil­lance to be reined in, at least against Amer­ic­ans. In future such sur­veil­lance should be restric­ted to tar­geted indi­vidu­als who are being act­ively invest­ig­ated.  Which is all well and good, but would still leave the rest of the glob­al pop­u­la­tion liv­ing their lives under the bale­ful stare of the US pan­op­ticon. And if the cap­ab­il­ity con­tin­ues to exist to watch the rest of the world, how can Amer­ic­ans be sure that the NSA et al won’t stealth­ily go back to watch­ing them once the scan­dal has died down — or just ask their best bud­dies in GCHQ to do their dirty work for them?

I’m sure that the UK’s GCHQ will be happy to step into the breach. It is already par­tially fun­ded by the NSA, to the tune of $100 mil­lion over the last few years; it has a long his­tory of cir­cum­vent­ing US con­sti­tu­tion­al rights to spy on US cit­izens (as for­eign­ers), and then simply passing on this inform­a­tion to the grate­ful NSA, as we know from the old Ech­el­on scan­dal; and it has far more leg­al lee­way under Brit­ish over­sight laws. In fact, this is pos­it­ively seen to be a selling point to the Amer­ic­ans from what we have seen in the Snowden dis­clos­ures.

GCHQ is abso­lutely cor­rect in this assess­ment — the three primary UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are the least account­able and most leg­ally pro­tec­ted in any west­ern demo­cracy. Not only are they exempt from any real and mean­ing­ful over­sight, they are also pro­tec­ted against dis­clos­ure by the dra­coni­an 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, designed spe­cific­ally to crim­in­al­ise whis­tleblowers, as well as hav­ing a raft of legis­la­tion to sup­press media report­ing should such dis­clos­ures emerge.

This might, indeed, be the reas­on that the UK media is not cov­er­ing the Snowden dis­clos­ures more extens­ively — a self-cen­sor­ing “D” Notice has been issued against the media, and The Guard­i­an had its UK serv­ers smashed up by the secret police. 1930s Ger­many, any­one?

Defend­ers of the status quo have already been out in force. For­eign Sec­ret­ary Wil­li­am Hag­ue, who is notion­ally respons­ible for GCHQ,  said cosily that everything was leg­al and pro­por­tion­ate, and Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, the cur­rent chair of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment last week staunchly declared that the ISC had invest­ig­ated GCHQ and found that its data min­ing was all leg­al as it had min­is­teri­al approv­al.

Well that’s all OK then.  Go back to sleep, cit­izens of the UK.

What Hag­ue and Rif­kind neg­lected to say was that the min­is­teri­al war­rantry sys­tem was designed to tar­get indi­vidu­al sus­pects, not whole pop­u­la­tions. Plus, as the For­eign sec­ret­ary in charge of MI6 at the time of the illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi in 1996, Rif­kind of all people should know that the spies are “eco­nom­ic­al with the truth”.

In addi­tion, as I’ve writ­ten before, many former top spies and police have admit­ted that they misled lied to the ISC. Sure, Rif­kind has man­aged to acquire some new powers of over­sight for the ISC, but they are still too little and 20 years too late.

This mir­rors what has been going on in the US over the last few years, with seni­or intel­li­gence offi­cial after seni­or offi­cial being caught out lying to con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees.  While in the UK state­ments to the ISC have to date not been made under oath, state­ments made to the US Con­gress are — so why on earth are appar­ent per­jur­ers like Clap­per and Alex­an­der even still in a job, let alone not being pro­sec­uted?

It appears that the US is learn­ing well from its former colo­ni­al mas­ter about all things offi­cial secrecy, up to and includ­ing illeg­al oper­a­tions that can be hushed up with the neb­u­lous and leg­ally undefined concept of “nation­al secur­ity”, the use of fake intel­li­gence to take us to war, and the per­se­cu­tion of whis­tleblowers.

Except the US has inev­it­ably super-sized the war on whis­tleblowers. While in the UK we star­ted out with the 1911 Offi­cial Secrets Act, under which trait­ors could be imprisoned for 14 years, in 1989 the law was amended to include whis­tleblowers — for which the pen­alty is 2 years on each charge.

The US, how­ever, only has its hoary old Espi­on­age Act dat­ing back to 1917 and designed to pro­sec­ute trait­ors. With no updates and amend­ments, this is the act that is now rolled out to threaten mod­ern whis­tleblowers work­ing in the digit­al age. And the pro­vi­sions can go as far as the death pen­alty.

Pres­id­ent Obama and the US intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment are using this law to wage a war on whis­tleblowers. Dur­ing his pres­id­ency he has tried to pro­sec­ute sev­en whis­tleblowers under this Espi­on­age Act — more than all the pre­vi­ous pres­id­ents com­bined — and yet when real spies are caught, as in the case of the Rus­si­an Spy Ring in 2010, Obama was happy to cut a deal and send them home.

An even more stark example of double stand­ards has emerged this August, when a leak appar­ently jeop­ard­ised an ongo­ing oper­a­tion invest­ig­at­ing a planned Al Qaeda attack against a US embassy in the Middle East. This leak has appar­ently caused imme­di­ate and quan­ti­fi­able dam­age to the cap­ab­il­it­ies of the NSA in mon­it­or­ing ter­ror­ism, and yet nobody has been held to account.

But, hey, why both­er with a dif­fi­cult invest­ig­a­tion into leak­ing when you can go after the low-hanging fruit — oth­er­wise known as prin­cipled whis­tleblowers who “out” them­selves for the pub­lic good?

This to me indic­ates what the US intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture deems to be the real cur­rent issue — “the insider threat” who might reveal cru­cial inform­a­tion about state crimes to the world’s pop­u­la­tion.

And yet the US rep­res­ent­at­ives still trot out the tired old lines about ter­ror­ism. Sen­at­or Lind­sey Gra­ham stated this week that the cur­rent level of endem­ic sur­veil­lance would have pre­ven­ted 9/11. Well, no, as pre­vi­ous intel­li­gence per­son­nel have poin­ted out. Coleen Row­leyTime Per­son of the Year 2002 — is fam­ous for high­light­ing that the US intel­li­gence agen­cies had pri­or warn­ing, they just didn’t join the dots. How much worse now would this pro­cess be with such a tsunami of data-mined intel­li­gence?

In sum­mary, it’s good to see at least a semb­lance of demo­crat­ic over­sight being played out in the USA, post-Snowden. It is a shame that such a demo­crat­ic debate is not being held in the UK, which is now the key ena­bler of the USA’s chron­ic addic­tion to elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.

How­ever, I fear it is inev­it­ably too little too late. As we have seen through his­tory, the only pro­tec­tion against a slide towards total­it­ari­an­ism is a free media that allows a free trans­fer of ideas between people without the need to self-cen­sor.  The glob­al US mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex is embed­ded into the DNA of the inter­net. We can­not rely on the USA to vol­un­tar­ily hand back the powers it has grabbed, we can only work around them as Brazil has sug­ges­ted it will do, and as the EU is con­tem­plat­ing.

Oth­er than that, respons­ib­il­ity for our pri­vacy rests in our own hands.

Another abuse of UK terrorism laws

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

Dav­id Mir­anda had just spent a week in Ber­lin, before fly­ing back to his home coun­try, Brazil, via London’s Heath­row air­port. As he attemp­ted to trans­it on to his flight home — not enter the UK, mind you, just make an inter­na­tion­al con­nec­tion —  he was pulled to one side by the UK’s bor­der secur­ity officers and ques­tioned for nine hours, as well as hav­ing all his tech­nic­al equip­ment con­fis­cated.

Glenn Greenwald and his partner David MirandaHe was detained for the max­im­um peri­od allowed under the dra­coni­an terms of Sched­ule 7 of the UK’s Ter­ror­ism Act (2000).  His appar­ent “crime”? To be the part­ner of cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald who broke the Edward Snowden whis­tleblow­ing stor­ies.

Miranda’s deten­tion has caused out­rage, rightly, around the world. Dip­lo­mat­ic rep­res­ent­a­tions have been made by the Brazili­an gov­ern­ment to the Brit­ish, UK MPs are ask­ing ques­tions, and The Guard­i­an news­pa­per (which is the primary pub­lish­er of  Greenwald’s stor­ies), has sent in the law­yers.

This epis­ode is troub­ling on so many levels, it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.

Magna_CartaFirstly, the Ter­ror­ism Act (2000) is designed to invest­ig­ate, er, ter­ror­ism — at least, so you would think. How­ever it is all too easy for mis­sion creep to set in, as I have been say­ing for years.  The defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism has expan­ded to cov­er act­iv­ists, plac­ard wavers, and pro­test­ers as well as, now appar­ently, the part­ners of journ­al­ists.  The old under­stand­ing of due leg­al pro­cess is merely yet anoth­er quaint, Brit­ish arte­fact like the Magna Carta and habeas cor­pus.

In the UK we now have secret courts cov­er­ing all things “nation­al secur­ity”, we have per­vas­ive Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance as exem­pli­fied by GCHQ’s TEMPORA pro­gramme, and we have our spies involved in kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So Sched­ule 7 of the Ter­ror­ism Act is just anoth­er small nail in the coffin of his­tor­ic Brit­ish freedoms. Under its terms, any­one can be pulled aside, detained and ques­tioned by bor­der secur­ity guards if they are “sus­pec­ted of” involve­ment in, the com­mis­sion­ing of, or fin­an­cial sup­port for ter­ror­ism. The detain­ee is not allowed to speak to a law­yer, nor are they allowed not to answer ques­tions, on pain of crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion. Plus their prop­erty can be indef­in­itely seized and ran­sacked, includ­ing com­puters, phones, and oth­er gad­gets.

Under Sched­ule 7 people can be ques­tioned for a max­im­um of 9 hours. After that, the author­it­ies either have to apply for a form­al exten­sion, charge and arrest, or release. Accord­ing to a UK gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment, 97% people are ques­tioned for less than 1 hour then released and only 0.06% are held for six hours.  Mir­anda was held up until the last minute of the full nine hours before being released without charge.

Secondly, this abuse of power dis­plays all too clearly the points that Edward Snowden has dis­closed via Gre­en­wald about a bur­geon­ing and out-of-con­trol sur­veil­lance state. The deten­tion of Mir­anda dis­plays all the obsess­ive vin­dict­ive­ness of a wounded secret state that is buzz­ing around, angry as a wasp. Snowden has the pro­tec­tion of the only state cur­rently with the power to face down the brute might of US “dip­lomacy”, and Gre­en­wald still has the shreds of journ­al­ist pro­tec­tions around him.

Friends and part­ners, how­ever, can be seen as fair game.

I know this from bit­ter per­son­al exper­i­ence. In 1997 former MI5 intel­li­gence officer, Dav­id Shayler, blew the whistle on a whole range of UK spy crimes: files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, illeg­al phone taps, IRA bombs that could have been pre­ven­ted, inno­cent people in pris­on, and an illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi, which went wrong and inno­cent people died.

Work­ing with a major UK news­pa­per and with due respect for real nation­al secrets, he went pub­lic about these crimes.  Pre-empt­ively we went on the run togeth­er, so that we could remain free to argue about and cam­paign around the dis­clos­ures, rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into a max­im­um secur­ity pris­on for years. After a month on the run across Europe, I returned to the UK to work with our law­yers, see our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies, and pack up our smashed-up, police-raided flat.

Annie_arrest_BWIn Septem­ber 1997 I flew back with my law­yer from Spain to Lon­don Gatwick. I knew that the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch wanted to inter­view me, and my law­yer had nego­ti­ated this ahead of my travel.  Des­pite this, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk by six heav­ies, and car­ted off to a counter-ter­ror­ism suite at Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for six hours.

At that point I had done noth­ing more than sup­port Dav­id. As anoth­er ex-MI5 officer I agreed that the spies needed great­er over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, but actu­ally my arrest was because I was his girl­friend and going after me would be lever­age against him. But is got worse — two days later Shayler’s two best friends and his broth­er were arres­ted on flag­rantly trumped-up charges. None of us was ever charged with any crime, but we were all kept on police bail for months.

Look­ing back, our treat­ment was designed to put more pres­sure on him and “keep him in his box” — it was pure intim­id­a­tion. Journ­al­ists and stu­dents were also threatened, har­assed, and in one case charged and con­victed for hav­ing the temer­ity to expose spy crimes dis­closed by Shayler. To this day, none of the crim­in­als in the UK intel­li­gence agency has ever been charged or con­victed.

So the threats and intim­id­a­tion around the Snowden case, and the deten­tion of Greenwald’s part­ner, are old, old tac­tics. What is new is the sheer scale of blatant intim­id­a­tion, the sheer bru­tish force. Des­pite the full glare of glob­al inter­net and media cov­er­age, the US and UK spooks still think they can get away with this sort of intim­id­a­tion. Will they? Or will we, the glob­al cit­izenry, draw a line in the sand?

Oh, and let’s not for­get the sheer hypo­crisy as well — the US con­demns Snowden for seek­ing refuge in Rus­sia, and cas­tig­ates that coun­try for its civil rights record on cer­tain issues. Be that as it may, the US estab­lish­ment should look to the log in its own eye first — that one of its young cit­izens faces the death sen­tence or life-long incar­cer­a­tion for expos­ing (war) crimes against the glob­al com­munity as well as the country’s own con­sti­tu­tion.

There is an inter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised leg­al pre­ced­ent from the Nurem­burg Nazi tri­als after World War 2: “just fol­low­ing orders” is not a defence under any law, par­tic­u­larly when those orders lead to vic­tim­isa­tion, war crimes and gen­o­cide.  The UK bor­der guards, as well as the inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence com­munit­ies and mil­it­ary, would do well to heed that power­ful les­son from his­tory.

So this overzeal­ous use of a law to detain the part­ner of a journ­al­ist merely trav­el­ling through the UK should make us all pause for thought. The West has long inveighed against total­it­ari­an regimes and police states. How can they not recog­nise what they have now become? And how long can we, as cit­izens, con­tin­ue to turn a blind eye?

Dearlove Doublethink

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News, RT Op-Edge, and The Real News Net­work.

In a sen­sa­tion­al art­icle in a UK news­pa­per last week­end, the former head of the UK’s for­eign intel­li­gence gath­er­ing agency, MI6, appears to have broken the code of omer­tà around the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence case used as the pre­text for the Iraq war in 2003.

DearloveSir Richard Dear­love, former head of MI6 and cur­rent Mas­ter of Pem­broke Col­lege, Cam­bridge, con­tac­ted the UK’s Mail on Sunday news­pa­per to state that he had writ­ten his ver­sion of the (ab)use of intel­li­gence in the run-up to the US/UK inva­sion of Iraq.  With the long-awaited and much-delayed offi­cial Chil­cot Enquiry into the case for war about to be pub­lished, Dear­love is obvi­ously aware that he might be blamed for the “sex­ing up” of the intel­li­gence, and that Teflon Tony Blair might once again shuffle off all respons­ib­il­ity.

You’ll no doubt have some vague recol­lec­tion that, in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment pro­duced a couple of reports “mak­ing a case for war”, as Major Gen­er­al Michael Laurie said in his evid­ence to the enquiry in 2011: “We knew at the time that the pur­pose of the [Septem­ber] dossier was pre­cisely to make a case for war, rather than set­ting out the avail­able intel­li­gence, and that to make the best out of sparse and incon­clus­ive intel­li­gence the word­ing was developed with care.”

The first such report, the Septem­ber Dossier (2002), is the one most remembered, as this did indeed “sex up” the case for war as the deceased Iraqi weapons inspect­or Dr Dav­id Kelly exposed. It also included the fraud­u­lent intel­li­gence about Sad­dam Hus­sein try­ing to acquire urani­um from Niger. It was this lat­ter claim that Colin Pow­ell used to such great effect at the UN Secur­ity Coun­cil.

Rupert_Murdoch

Also, just six weeks before the attack on Iraq, the “Dodgy” Dossier, based largely on a 12-year old PhD thes­is culled from the Inter­net, but con­tain­ing nug­gets of raw MI6 intel­li­gence — was presen­ted by spy and politi­cian alike as omin­ous pre­mon­it­ory intel­li­gence.

Most mem­or­ably in the UK, it led to the bogus “Brits 45 minutes from Doom” front-page head­line in Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun news­pa­per, no less, on the eve of the cru­cial war vote in Par­lia­ment.

Inter­est­ingly from a Brit­ish leg­al pos­i­tion, it appears that Tony Blair and his spin doc­tor Alastair Camp­bell released this report without the pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion of the head of MI6, which means that they would appear to be in breach of the UK’s dra­coni­an secrecy law, the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989).

Thus was made the dodgy case for war.  All lies — mil­lions of deaths and many more maimed, wounded, and dis­placed, yet no one held to account.

Sub­sequently, there was also the notori­ous leaked Down­ing Street Memo, where Sir Richard Dear­love was minuted as say­ing that the intel­li­gence and facts were being fit­ted around the [pre­de­ter­mined war] policy.

On July 23, 2002 at a meet­ing at 10 Down­ing Street, Dear­love briefed Tony Blair and oth­er seni­or offi­cials on his talks with his Amer­ic­an coun­ter­part, CIA Dir­ect­or George Ten­et, in Wash­ing­ton three days before.

In the draft minutes of that brief­ing, which were leaked to the Lon­don Times and pub­lished on May 1, 2005, Dear­love explains that George Bush had decided to attack Iraq and the war was to be “jus­ti­fied by the con­junc­tion of ter­ror­ism and weapons of mass destruc­tion.”  While then-For­eign Sec­ret­ary Jack Straw points out that the case was “thin,” Dear­love explains mat­ter-of-factly, “the intel­li­gence and facts are being fixed around the policy.”

Tony_BlairThere is no sign in the minutes that any­one hic­cuped — much less demurred — at ”mak­ing a case for war” and fur­ther­ing Blair’s determ­in­a­tion to join Bush in launch­ing the kind of “war of aggres­sion” out­lawed by the post-world war Nurem­berg Tribunal and the UN treaty.

The acqui­es­cence of the chief spies helped their polit­ic­al mas­ters main­line into the body polit­ic unas­sessed, raw intel­li­gence and forged doc­u­ments, with dis­astrous con­sequences for the people of Iraq and the world.

Yet Dear­love long remained unre­pent­ant. Even as recently as 2011, post-retire­ment and bloated with hon­ours, he con­tin­ued to deny culp­ab­il­ity. When ques­tioned about the Down­ing Street Memo dur­ing an address to the pres­ti­gi­ous Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Uni­on Soci­ety by the fear­less and fear­somely bright stu­dent, Silkie Carlo, Dear­love tried grandi­loquently to brush her aside.

But were the remarks in the Memo really “taken out of con­text” as Dear­love tried to assert? No – the text of the Memo was clear and expli­cit.

So Dear­love could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives across the Middle East if he had gone pub­lic then, rather than now as he is threat­en­ing, with his con­sidered pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy.

Would it not be lovely if these retired ser­vants of the crown, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Doing so now, purely to pre­serve his repu­ta­tion rather than to pre­serve lives, is even more “eth­ic­ally flex­ible” than you would nor­mally expect of an aver­age MI6 intel­li­gence officer. Per­haps that is why he floated to the top of the organ­isa­tion.

Dear­love is right to be wor­ried about how both Chil­cot and his­tory will judge him.  These intel­li­gence fail­ures and lies have been picked over and spec­u­lated about for years. They are an open secret.

But hold­ing the gun of dis­clos­ure to the UK government’s head smacks of des­per­a­tion.  He is quoted as say­ing that he has no plans to breach the Offi­cial Secrets Act by pub­lish­ing his mem­oirs. But by pub­lish­ing an account of the run-up to the Iraq war, he would be still guilty of a breach of the OSA. It has been estab­lished under UK law that any unau­thor­ised dis­clos­ure crosses the “clear bright line” of the law. And Dear­love seems well aware of this – his ori­gin­al plan was for his account to be made avail­able after his death.

Rectum_DefendeI can see why he would plan that – firstly he would not risk pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­coni­an terms of the OSA, but his account would, in his view, set the record straight and pro­tect his repu­ta­tion for pos­ter­ity.  A posthum­ous win-win.

The offi­cial motto of the UK spies is “Regnum Defende” — defence of the realm. Serving intel­li­gence officers mord­antly alter this to “Rectum Defende” — politely trans­lated as watch your back.

Dear­love seems to be liv­ing up to the motto.  He must be one very frightened old man to be con­tem­plat­ing such pre­ma­ture pub­lic­a­tion.

With cred­it and thanks to former CIA ana­lyst, cur­rent truth-tell­er and gen­er­al pain in the “regnum” to the intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment, Ray McGov­ern, and also Sander Venema for his eleg­antly clas­sic­al rework­ing of the final image.

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­crat­ic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the glob­al impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cov­er cop in the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­cred­it the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Steph­en Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­gin­al invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tion­al police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­in­al tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Steph­en Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wag­on, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish Nation­al Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cov­er officers were try­ing to gath­er advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cov­er cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­gin­al scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­ment­al protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to nation­al secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Ger­many.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the form­al hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­crat­ic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  With­in a notion­al demo­cracy, this is just gobsmack­ing.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by seni­or spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-over­due nation­al debate becomes ever more neces­sary.