RTTV Interview: Libya — the perfect storm

My RTTV inter­view today about Libya, tor­ture, and UK double-deal­ing:

 

Lawyers challenge integrity of UK spy torture inquiry

Gareth_Peirce_1It was widely repor­ted today that a num­ber of well-respec­ted Brit­ish law­yers and civil liber­ties organ­isa­tions are ques­tion­ing the integ­rity of the much-trum­peted inquiry into UK spy com­pli­city in tor­ture.

And about time too.  One hopes this is all part of a wider strategy, not merely a defens­ive reac­tion to the usu­al power play on the part of the Brit­ish estab­lish­ment.  After all, it has been appar­ent from the start that the whole inquiry would be ques­tion­able when it was announced that Sir Peter Gib­son would be chair­ing the inquiry.

Gib­son has cer­tain form.  He was until recently the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Com­mis­sion­er — the very per­son who for the last five years has been invited into MI5, MI6 and GCHQ for cosy annu­al chats with care­fully selec­ted intel­li­gence officers (ie those who won’t rock the boat), to report back to the gov­ern­ment that demo­crat­ic over­sight was work­ing won­der­fully, and it was all A‑OK in the spy organ­isa­tions.

After these years of happy frat­ern­ising, when his name was put for­ward to invest­ig­ate poten­tial crim­in­al com­pli­city in tor­ture on the part of the spies, he did the pub­licly decent thing and resigned as Com­mis­sion­er to take up the post of chair of the Tor­ture Inquiry.

Well, we know the estab­lish­ment always like a safe pair of hands.…  and this safety has also been pretty much guar­an­teed by law for the last six years. 

Ever since the Inquir­ies Act 2005 was pushed through as law, with rel­at­ively little press aware­ness or par­lia­ment­ary oppos­i­tion, gov­ern­ment depart­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies have pretty much been able to call the shots when it comes to the scope of sup­posedly inde­pend­ent inquir­ies.

Malcolm_RifkindInter­est­ingly, Tory grandee Sir Mal­colm Rif­kind, the former For­eign Sec­ret­ary who now chairs the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, has also weighed in to the debate.  On BBC Radio 4’s Today pro­gramme he stated:

I can­not recol­lect an inquiry that’s been pro­posed to be so open as we’re hav­ing in this par­tic­u­lar case. When was the last time the head of MI5 and the head of MI6 – the prime min­is­ter has made quite clear – can be summoned to this inquiry and be required to give evid­ence?

This from the seni­or politi­cian who has always denied that he was offi­cially briefed about the illeg­al assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya in 1996; this from the man who is now call­ing for the arm­ing of the very same extrem­ists to topple Gad­dafi in the ongo­ing shambles that is the Liby­an War; and this from the man who is also loudly call­ing for an exten­sion of the ISC’s leg­al powers so that it can demand access to wit­nesses and doc­u­ments from the spy organ­isa­tions. 

No doubt my head will stop spin­ning in a day or two.…

UK Intelligence and Security Committee to be reformed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya: my enemy’s enemy is my friend, until he becomes my enemy again…

UK Prime Min­is­ter, Dav­id Camer­on, reportedly made the start­ling state­ment recently that the mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion in Libya “unlike Iraq, is neces­sary, leg­al and right”. 

Blair_takes_the_oathWould it not be won­der­ful if he could take the next logic­al step towards joined-up think­ing and con­sider send­ing our esteemed Middle East Peace Envoy, a cer­tain Mr T Blair, over for a spot of por­ridge at the Inter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Court in The Hag­ue?  After all, Camer­on has now clearly implied that the Iraq war was “unne­ces­sary, illeg­al and wrong”.….

But back to Libya.  With the ongo­ing crisis — now war — much is being writ­ten about how the pre­vi­ous UK gov­ern­ment col­lab­or­ated with the Gad­dafi régime in the last dec­ade — while tacitly glossing over the last year of Coali­tion gov­ern­ment where, no doubt, sim­il­ar levels of coöper­a­tion and back-slap­ping and money-grub­bing were going on at the highest levels to ensure the con­tinu­ing flow of oil con­tracts to the UK.

But, yes, we should be dis­sect­ing the Labour/Gaddafi power bal­ance.  Gad­dafi had New Labour over the pro­ver­bi­al (oil) bar­rel from the late 1990s, when MI5 whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler exposed the failed and illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Col­on­el Gad­dafi, using as fall-guys a rag-tag group of Islam­ic extrem­ists.  The newly-elec­ted Labour gov­ern­ment’s knee-jerk response at the time was to believe the spook’s deni­als and cov­er-up for them.  Per­haps not so sur­pris­ing, as the gov­ern­ment min­is­ters of the day were uncom­fort­ably aware that the spies held files on them.  But this craven response did leave the gov­ern­ment pos­i­tion exposed, as Gad­dafi well knew.

MoS_G_Plot-credible_1997The CIA was fully cog­nis­ant of this failed plot at the time, as were the French intel­li­gence ser­vices.  The Gad­dafi Plot is once again being ref­er­enced in the media, includ­ing the Tele­graph, and a recent edi­tion of the Huff­ing­ton Post.  The details are still rel­ev­ant, as it appears that our enter­pris­ing spooks are yet again reach­ing out to a rag-tag group of rebels — primar­ily Islam­ists and the Senussi roy­al­ists based around Benghazi. 

The les­sons of the reck­less and ill-thought out Gad­dafi Plot were brushed under the car­pet, so his­tory may yet again be doomed to repeat itself.  Yes, Gad­dafi has been one of the biggest back­ers of ter­ror­ism ever, and yes he has bru­tal­ised parts of his own pop­u­la­tion, but if he were deposed how can the West be sure that those step­ping into the power vacu­um would not be even more dan­ger­ous?

Musa_Kousa_Hillary_Clinton_NY_2010The Liby­an gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to use the 1996 MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot as lever­age in its nego­ti­ations with the New Labour gov­ern­ment right up until (pub­licly at least) 2009.  Musa Kousa, the cur­rent For­eign Min­is­ter, played a key role through­out.  For many years Kousa was the head of the Liby­an Extern­al Secur­ity Organsi­ation and was widely seen as the chief archi­tect of inter­na­tion­al Liby­an-backed ter­ror­ism against the USA, the UK and France. 

Anoth­er appar­ent example of this mor­al black­mail caught my eye recently — this report in the Daily Mail.  Saif al-Islam Gad­dafi was afforded MI6-backed pro­tec­tion when he was finally allowed into the UK in Septem­ber 2002 to study at the LSE

The tim­ing was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, as only months earli­er Saif had won a libel case against the UK’s Sunday Tele­graph news­pa­per.  A grov­el­ling apo­logy was made by the news­pa­per, but Saif refrained from ask­ing for “exem­plary dam­ages” — which he would almost cer­tainly have won.  The res­ult­ing pay-off for this restraint appears to be that a mere five months later he was wel­comed into the UK with MI6-facil­it­ated pro­tec­tion.

Saif’s rela­tions with the UK had not always been so rosy. As back­ground to this case, in 1995 the Sunday Tele­graph had fallen hook, line and sinker for a MI6 clas­sic pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion.  As The Guard­i­an repor­ted, the secret­ive MI6 media manip­u­la­tion sec­tion, Inform­a­tion Oper­a­tions, (I/Ops), had suc­cess­fully spun a fake story to hap­less spook hack, Con Cough­lin, that Gad­dafi Juni­or was involved in cur­rency fraud.  This story was fake, but the paper trail it pro­duced was used by the spies as a pre­text to pre­vent Saif from enter­ing the UK at the time. 

Saif_Prince_AndrewBy 2002 this was all old his­tory, of course.  Saif was wel­comed to the UK, offi­cially to study for his MA and PhD at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics (and show­ing his grat­it­ude to that august insti­tu­tion with a hefty dona­tion of £1.5 mil­lion — it makes the new tuition fees for UK stu­dents seem bet­ter value for money), and unof­fi­cially to chum up to vari­ous Estab­lish­ment ena­blers to end Liby­a’s pari­ah status, open up luc­rat­ive trade chan­nels, and get the SAS to train up Liby­a’s spe­cial forces

The UK mil­it­ary must be just lov­ing that now.….

So I get the feel­ing that the UK gov­ern­ment has over the last dec­ade indeed “danced with the dev­il”.  After dec­ades of view­ing Libya and Col­on­el Gad­dafi as a Pri­or­ity One JIC intel­li­gence tar­get, the UK gov­ern­ment fell over itself to appease the Gad­dafi régime in the wake of the bungled assas­sin­a­tion attempt in 1996 and the libelling of his son.  These were the sticks Gad­dafi used; the car­rots were undoubtedly the Saif/MI6-facil­it­ated oil con­tracts

Of course, all this is now pretty much a moot point, fol­low­ing Dave Camer­on’s “neces­sary, leg­al and right” mil­it­ary inter­ven­tion.  If the wily old Col­on­el man­ages to hang on grimly to some semblence of power (and he has an impress­ive track-record of sur­viv­ing against the odds), then I doubt if he’ll be happy to coöper­ate with Brit­ish oil com­pan­ies in the future.  At the very least. 

Gad­dafi has already threatened “ven­geance” against the West, and it was repor­ted today that MI5 is tak­ing this all-too-pre­d­it­able risk ser­i­ously.

If Gad­dafi is deposed, who can real­ist­ic­ally pre­dict the inten­tions and cap­ab­il­it­ies of those who will fill the power vacu­um?  We should have learnt from Afgh­anistan and Iraq: my enemy’s enemy is my friend — until he becomes my enemy again.….

 

The spies and Libya — time to dust off their conscience

As I’ve men­tioned before, the former heads of UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have a charm­ing habit of speak­ing out in sup­port of the rule of law, civil liber­ties, pro­por­tion­al­ity and plain com­mon sense — but usu­ally only after they have retired. 

Per­haps at their leav­ing parties their con­sciences are extrac­ted from the secur­ity safe, dus­ted off and giv­en back  — along with the gold watch?

DearloveEven then, post-retire­ment, they might try to thrice-deny poten­tially world-chan­ging inform­a­tion, as Sir Richard Dear­love did when ques­tioned by the fear­less and fear­somely bright Silkie Carlo about the leaked Down­ing Street Memo at his recent speech at the Cam­bridge Uni­on.  (The links are in two parts, as the film had to be mirrored on You­tube — Dear­love claimed copy­right on the orgin­al Love Police film and had it taken down.)

And “out of con­text”, my left foot — he could poten­tially have saved mil­lions of lives in the Middle East if he’d gone pub­lic with his con­sidered pro­fes­sion­al opin­ion about the intel­li­gence facts being fit­ted around a pre­con­ceived war policy in the run-up to the inva­sion of Iraq.

Would­n’t it be lovely if these esteemed ser­vants of the state, replete with respect, status and hon­ours, could actu­ally take a stand while they are still in a pos­i­tion to influ­ence world events?

Eliza_Manningham_BullerMy former boss, Bar­on­ess Eliza Man­ning­ham-Buller, has been unusu­ally voci­fer­ous since her retire­ment in 2007 and elev­a­tion to the peer­age.  She used her maid­en speech to the House of Lords to object to the pro­posed plans to increase police deten­tion of ter­ror­ist sus­pects without charge from 28 to 42 days; she recently sug­ges­ted that the “war on ter­ror” is unwinnable and that we should, if pos­sible, nego­ti­ate with “Al Qaeda” (well, it worked with the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA); and that the “war on drugs” had been lost and the UK should treat recre­ation­al drug use as a health rather than a crim­in­al issue. She steals all my best lines.…

But cred­it where cred­it is due.  Des­pite the fact that she used the full power of the Brit­ish state to pur­sue ter­ror­ist sus­pects up until 2007 and invest­ig­ate drug bar­ons in the 1990s, she did appar­ently try to make a stand while en poste in the run-up to the Iraq War.  Last year she gave evid­ence to the Chil­cot Enquiry, stat­ing that she had offi­cially briefed the gov­ern­ment that an inva­sion of Iraq would increase the ter­ror­ist threat to the UK.

So it’s obvi­ous that once a UK Prime Min­is­ter has come over all Churchil­lian he tends to ignore the coun­sel of his chief spooks, as we’ve seen with both the Down­ing Street Memo the Chil­cot Enquiry. 

With that in mind, I’ve read with interest the recent press reports that the UK author­it­ies appar­ently knew about Col­on­el Gad­dafi retain­ing stock­piles of mus­tard gas and sar­in (des­pite the fact that the world was assured in 2004 that it was his renun­ci­ation of WMDs that allowed him back into the inter­na­tion­al dip­lo­mat­ic fold) . 

So the key ques­tion is surely: is this anoth­er erro­neous45 minutes from attack” moment, with Gad­dafi’s alleged stock­piles of WMD a per­fect scare­mon­ger­ing pre­text to push for a full-on régime change in Libya; or is this genu­ine, and we were all lied to about Gad­dafi’s destruc­tion of his WMD stock­piles for eco­nom­ic advant­age and fat, juicy oil con­tracts?

The Wall Street Journ­al recently ran an art­icle quot­ing the con­cern of “gov­ern­ment insiders” about Gad­dafi’s poten­tial future ter­ror­ism threat against the West, up to and includ­ing WMDs, should he cling on to power.  Well, yes, it would hardly be sur­pris­ing if he were now to be as mad as a wasp with his ex-new best bud­dies.  Des­pite the sor­did rap­proche­ment in the last dec­ade, he has been for much of his life an invet­er­ate enemy of the West and spon­sor of world­wide ter­ror­ism.

Rather than wait­ing for his “K” and his retire­ment, would it not be won­der­ful if the cur­rent head of MI5, Jonath­an Evans, could extract his con­science from that dusty secur­ity safe and make a use­ful and informed state­ment to shed some light on the mess that the Liby­an war is rap­idly becom­ing?  He could poten­tially change the course of world his­tory and save untold lives.

Tony Soprano meets Joe McCarthy

Now I’m not a huge fol­low­er of US polit­ic­al the­at­rics.  Give it a few years and the US of A will prob­ably exit from the world stage pur­sued by a bear (or panda).  So why waste your time on a dying beast?  All you can do is try to avoid the death throes as best you can. 

But this did piqué my interest, purely from the Hol­ly­wood-block­buster schlock value.  The new Chair of the US Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, Repub­lic­an Con­gress­man for New York Peter King, has opened a hear­ing called  “The Extent of Rad­ic­al­iz­a­tion (with a “z”) in the Amer­ic­an Muslim Com­munity and that Com­munity’s Response.” 

Here is the  Down­load Full_text and here’s the video of King’s open­ing state­ment:


 

Now isn’t it won­der­ful that esteemed politi­cian Peter King has woken up to the dangers of “the enemy with­in” — or not?  Over the last last few months he has flag­rantly dis­played his pro­found ignor­ance vis a vis the concept of ter­ror­ism.  Last Decem­ber he called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wikileaks, the high-tech con­duit extraordin­aire for pub­lic-spir­ited whis­tleblowers around the world, as a “ter­ror­ist organ­is­tion”.  

And this from a politi­cian who is repor­ted to be a life-long sup­port­er of the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA — anoth­er reli­gious minor­ity group that fought for its self-pro­claimed ideals — and was for dec­ades the “enemy with­in” the UK

In fact, until 9/11 the US Irish com­munity was by far the biggest fun­der of PIRA ter­ror­ism for dec­ades — so don’t believe everything that is writ­ten about Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya. 

I sup­pose it still holds true that one man’s ter­ror­ist is anoth­er man’s free­dom fight­er, and Rep Peter King is clearly adher­ing to that point of view.….

Look­ing at the above video, I can­’t get out of my head that it’s a bit like put­ting the fic­tion­al organ­ised crime boss, Tony Sop­rano, in charge of a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee invest­ig­at­ing organ­ised crime.

But it gets worse.  King even men­tions the dread phrase “des­pite what passes for con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in cer­tain circles, there is noth­ing rad­ic­al or un-Amer­ic­an in hold­ing these hear­ings”.  Was­n’t that also what a cer­tain Sen­at­or Joe McCarthy said in the 1950s about the Com­mun­ist witch­hunts?

Osama_bin_Laden_portraitSuch mor­on­ic state­ments would poten­tially be amus­ing — if it were not for the fact that Peter Chair is the King of the Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee of the world’s dying and des­per­ate super-power, the USA

Oops, silly me, I muddled the words.….

But sadly he is, and no doubt the whole world will feel the reper­cus­sions of this.  The morph­ing of the fic­tion­al Tony Sop­rano and para­noid Joe Kennedy has spawned a hellish brat — let’s call him Emmanuel Gold­stein, for ease of ref­er­ence.

 

RTTV interview — dancing with the devil — how not to deal with “rogue” states

Here is an inter­view I did for RTTV on 3 March 2011 about the pos­sib­il­ity of West­ern inter­ven­tion in the unfold­ing Liby­an crisis:

 

Inter­est­ingly, a radio record­ing of the Dutch “res­cue” mis­sion I men­tioned has appeared on the inter­net.  It appears that the pilots were less than hon­est about their flight plans and inten­tions, say­ing that they were head­ing to their ship south of Malta rather than back towards Tripoli.… where they are even­tu­ally caught.

Also, do have a read of this excel­lent art­icle by Seamus Mil­ne of The Guard­i­an about rami­fic­a­tions of pos­sible West­ern inter­ven­tion.

That said, it looks like this view­point is being ignored.  The Daily Mail repor­ted today that MI6 officers and SAS sol­diers are mass­ing in the East of Libya to assist the rebels.  Well, at least they’re doing it openly now, unlike the illeg­al and failed Gad­dafi Plot of 1996.

Bleat: the assassination of dissidents

Black_sheep?OK, so I’m not sure if my concept of Bleats (half blog, half tweet) is being grasped whole­heartedly.  But so what — it makes me laugh and the Black Sheep shall perservere with a short blog post.….

So I’m a bit puzzled here.  UK Prime Min­is­ter Dave Camer­on is quoted in today’s Daily Tele­graph as say­ing that:

It is not accept­able to have a situ­ation where Col­on­el Gad­dafi can be mur­der­ing his own people using aero­planes and heli­copter gun­ships and the like and we have to plan now to make sure if that hap­pens we can do some­thing to stop it.”

But do his Amer­ic­an best bud­dies share that, umm, humane view?  First of all they have the CIA assas­sin­a­tion list which includes the names of US cit­izens (ie its own people); then those same “best bud­dies” may well resort to assas­sin­at­ing Wikileak­s’s Juli­an Assange, prob­ably the most high pro­file dis­sid­ent in inter­na­tion­al and dip­lo­mat­ic circles at the moment; plus they are already waging remote drone war­fare on many hap­less Middle East­ern coun­tries — Yeman, Afgh­anistan, Pakistan.….

Oh, and now the UK gov­ern­ment seems poised to launch cov­ert spy drones into the skies of Bri­tain.  Even the UK’s most right-wing main­stream news­pa­pers, the Daily Tele­graph and the Daily Mail, expressed con­cern about this today.  Appar­ently these drones have yet to be weapon­ised.….

It’s a slip­pery slope down to an Orwellian night­mare.

 

Varsity newspaper interview, February 2011

The Secret Ser­vice: “A very Brit­ish mess”

Olivia Crel­lin inter­rog­ates Annie Machon on her life after MI5

by Olivia Crel­lin

Thursday 3rd Feb­ru­ary 2011

Annie Machon, former MI5 agent, is the image of glam­our and guts. Her blonde hair, of the bomb­shell vari­ety, frames a face that, far from being that of the reserved and stealthy spook, exudes energy, enthu­si­asm, and open­ness.

Andrew_Griffin_Varsity_Newspaper_2011Unlike her former part­ner, the whis­tleblower Dav­id Shayler, Machon seems to have emerged rel­at­ively unscathed from the years imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the couple’s attempts to reveal ser­i­ous MI5 blun­ders in 1996.

Now work­ing as a self-pro­fessed “author, media pun­dit, journ­al­ist, cam­paign­er and prom­in­ent pub­lic speak­er”, she has made a “new way of life” out of selling her­self, her past, and her story. And she’s doing a good job.

Machon, who stud­ied Clas­sics at Cam­bridge, is the most recent in a long line of fam­ous spies to have emerged from the Uni­ver­sity – most not­ably the Cam­bridge Spies who defec­ted to the Rus­si­ans dur­ing the Cold War.

Best known for her whistle-blow­ing on issues such as MI5’s alleged involve­ment in the attemp­ted assas­sin­a­tion on Gad­dafi, Machon is an oft-con­sul­ted expert on cur­rent affairs top­ics such as Wikileaks, the infilt­ra­tion of act­iv­ist groups, and the 9/11 Truth Move­ment, cri­tiquing what she sees as con­tem­por­ary society’s des­cent into a “police state”.

Com­ment­ing on the “very Brit­ish mess” that is the cur­rent UK Intel­li­gence Ser­vices, Machon’s answers to my ques­tions blend per­son­al anec­dote with hard-hit­ting asser­tions. She sounds con­vin­cing. Des­pite no longer hav­ing any insider inform­a­tion, she still has plenty to say.

Recruited dur­ing the “mar­gin­ally golden eth­ic­al era” of the 1990s, Machon’s exper­i­ence of MI5 was nev­er­the­less riddled with anti­qua­tion, con­fu­sion, insu­lar­ity and suf­foc­a­tion.

Draw­ing atten­tion to MI5 and MI6’s “cul­ture of just-fol­low-orders”, an eth­os that former head of MI5 Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton also acknow­ledged, Machon believes that the UK Intel­li­gence Ser­vices have, for a long time, been their own worst enemy.

Entrenched in unne­ces­sary laws, a “hangover” from the organisation’s counter-espi­on­age ori­gins, Machon states that until the spooks “open up a little bit to con­struct­ive cri­ti­cism from the oth­er side, so that [MI5] can get a bit of fresh air, they’re going to spir­al down into… tor­ture and things.”

While Machon asserts that there was no use of tor­ture in her time with the agency – it was con­sidered “counter-pro­duct­ive” and “uneth­ic­al” – she did hear some hor­ror stor­ies from the older boys’ exper­i­ence in North­ern Ire­land includ­ing one case con­cern­ing an agent, code­named Steak Knife, who was per­mit­ted to tor­ture and even kill his fel­low intel­li­gence officers in order to keep his cov­er in the “Nut­ting Squad” of the IRA – “A sick James Bond got­ten out of hand.”

Machon refers to these stor­ies as “a sort of petri dish of the abuses that we are see­ing now with the Muslim com­munity”. Just as the trend to tar­get one group of soci­ety returns, the use of tor­ture, as exper­i­enced in Ire­land, comes full circle. “It makes me shiver,” Machon tells me, “that people who were per­haps my friends, ideal­ist­ic twenty-somethings when I was an officer, who I might’ve had drinks with, had din­ner with, whatever, might be those people now.”

While there seems to be a “demo­crat­ic will” to get rid of “some of the more Dra­coni­an laws from under the last gov­ern­ment”, Machon believes that instances such as Mark Kennedy’s under­cov­er infilt­ra­tion of an act­iv­ist group demands soci­ety to take a closer look at the ways in which we pro­tect nation­al secur­ity. “Once you start erod­ing someone’s civil liber­ties on one front, it’ll cas­cade. That’s how Ger­many found itself in a Fas­cist state in the 1930s,” the former-spy asserts. “They didn’t wake up one morn­ing and Hitler was in power. It’s a very slip­pery slope.” This is why Machon, above all oth­er issues, is call­ing for an “adult debate” about the work­ings of Secret Intel­li­gence in a “mature demo­cracy”.

One organ­iz­a­tion that Machon sees as con­trib­ut­ing to this debate is Wikileaks. Machon praised this form of new media, call­ing it “fant­ast­ic” as a “high-tech con­duit to enable whis­tleblowers” in con­trast to the “self-cen­sor­ship and fear” of the main­stream press, which blocks the flow of such inform­a­tion to the pub­lic.

Machon advised stu­dents at the Cam­bridge Uni­on to find altern­at­ive sources of inform­a­tion for their news, cit­ing coun­tries’ decept­ive use of false-flag ter­ror­ism. “I’m not say­ing that every major ter­ror­ist atro­city might be a dirty trick, but you have to keep that pos­sib­il­ity in the back of your mind,” she warned.

It’s all about a sort of breach of trust,” Machon con­cludes, which is “cor­ros­ive for a demo­cracy.” Wheth­er it’s an issue like 9/11, or the bail­ing out of the banks or the war in Iraq, Machon asserts that the erosion of civil liber­ties is finally for­cing soci­ety to “become demo­crat­ic­ally engaged again, which can­not be bad.”

In many ways Annie Machon is serving her coun­try as stealth­ily and determ­inedly as if she had nev­er left MI5. Tak­ing the “same sort of fun­da­ment­al drive to try and make a dif­fer­ence, to try and change things for the bet­ter,” into this new arena of her work, she hands me a red-and-black busi­ness card with her shades-tot­ing self on it and the phrase “Using Our Intel­li­gence” emblazoned on the front.

There’s always the debate,” she tells me cryptic­ally, “is it bet­ter to be inside the tent piss­ing out or out­side the tent piss­ing in?”

The murder of Pat Finucane

Mov­ing swiftly past the pruri­ent, thigh-rub­bing glee that most of the old media seems to be exhib­it­ing over the alleged details of Juli­an Assange’s love life, let’s re-focus on the heart of the Wikileaks dis­clos­ures, and most import­antly the aims under­pin­ning them: trans­par­ency, justice, and an informed cit­izenry liv­ing with­in fully-func­tion­ing demo­cra­cies.  Such quaint notions.

In the media mael­strom of the Cableg­ate dis­clos­ures, and the res­ult­ing infant­ile and thug­gish threats of the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al class, is easy to lose sight of the fact that many of the leaked doc­u­ments refer to scan­dals, cor­rup­tion and cov­er-ups in a range of coun­tries, not just the good old US of A.

Pat_FinucaneOne doc­u­ment that recently caught my atten­tion related to the notori­ous murder twenty-one years ago of civil rights act­iv­ist, Pat Finu­cane, in North­ern Ire­land.  Finu­cane was a well-known law­yer who was shot and killed in front of his wife and three small chil­dren.  There has long been spec­u­la­tion that he was tar­geted by Prot­est­ant ter­ror­ist groups, in col­lu­sion with the NI secret police, the army’s notori­ous and now-dis­ban­ded Forces Research Unit (FRU), and/or MI5.

Well, over a dec­ade ago former top plod, Lord (John) Stevens, began an inquiry that did indeed estab­lish such state col­lu­sion, des­pite hav­ing his inquiry offices burnt out in the pro­cess by person/s allegedly unknown half-way through the invest­ig­a­tion.  Stevens fought on, pro­du­cing a damning report in 2003 con­firm­ing the notion of state col­lu­sion with Irish Loy­al­ist ter­ror­ist activ­it­ies, but nev­er did cla­ri­fy exactly what had happened to poor Pat Finu­cane.

How­ever, Finu­cane’s trau­mat­ised fam­ily has nev­er stopped demand­ing justice.  The recent dis­clos­ure shines a light on some of the back-room deals around this scan­dal, and for that I’m sure many people thank Wikileaks.

The “Troubles” in North­ern Ire­land — such a quint­es­sen­tially Brit­ish under­state­ment, in any oth­er coun­try it would have been called a civil war — were decept­ive, murky and vicious on both sides.  “Col­lu­sion” is an elast­ic word that stretches bey­ond the strict notion of the state.  It is well-known that the US organ­is­tion, NORAID, sup­por­ted by many Amer­ic­ans claim­ing Irish ances­try, was a major fun­drais­ing chan­nel for, um, Sinn Féin, the polit­ic­al wing of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, from the 1970s onwards. 

Peter_kingSuch net­works provided even more sup­port than Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya with his arms ship­ments, and the cash well only dried up post‑9/11.  As you can see in this recent art­icle in the The Tele­graph, even the incom­ing Chair­man of the House Home­land Secur­ity Com­mit­tee, New York Con­gress­man Peter King (who iron­ic­ally called for the des­ig­na­tion of Wkileaks as a “for­eign ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tion”) appears to have been a life long sup­port­er of Sinn Féin.

With this in the back of our minds, it appears that Dub­lin and Wash­ing­ton kept push­ing for a full inquiry into Finu­cane’s murder — and in 2005 it looked like MI5 would finally co-oper­ate

How­ever, the dev­il was in the detail. Coin­cid­ent­ally, 2005 was the year that the UK gov­ern­ment rushed through a new law, the Inquir­ies Act, which scan­dal­ously allowed any depart­ment under invest­ig­a­tion (in this case MI5) to dic­tate the terms and scope of the inquiry. 

Col­lu­sion by any state in the unlaw­ful arrest, tor­ture, and extraju­di­cial murder of people — wheth­er its own cit­izens or oth­ers — is state ter­ror­ism.  Let’s not mince our words here.  Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al provides a clear defin­i­tion of this concept.

As the The Guard­i­an  art­icle about Finu­cane so succintly puts it:

When a state sanc­tions the killing of cit­izens, in par­tic­u­lar cit­izens who are law­yers, it puts the rule of law and demo­cracy in jeop­ardy. And when a state enlists aux­il­i­ary assas­sins, it cedes its mono­poly over state secrets: it may feel omni­po­tent, but it is also vul­ner­able to dis­clos­ure.”

Mercenaries1Indeed.  North­ern Ire­land was like a Petri dish of human rights abuses: tor­ture, Dip­lock courts (aka mil­it­ary tribunals), kid­nap­pings, curfews, shoot-to-kill, inform­ers, and state col­lu­sion in assas­sin­a­tions.

The infec­tion has now spread.  These are pre­cisely the tac­tics cur­rently used by the US, the UK and their “aux­il­i­ary assas­sins” across great swathes of the Middle East.  Per­haps this explains why our nation states have been out­flanked and have ceded their mono­poly over secrets.

Will justice ever be done?  In the past I would have said, sadly, that would be highly unlikely.  How­ever,  cour­ageous organ­isa­tions like Wikileaks and its ilk are improv­ing the odds.

RTTV interview — in defence of Wikileaks

On 6 Decem­ber I appeared on RTTV’s CrossTalk dis­cus­sion pro­gramme along­side whis­tleblow­ing UK ex-dip­lo­mat Carne Ross, to talk about the implic­a­tions of Wikileaks:

 

 

Sir John Sawers, head of MI6, makes historic public appearance

For the first time in 100 years “C”, the head of the UK for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vice SIS (com­monly known as MI6) has gone pub­lic.

Former career dip­lo­mat Sir John Saw­ers (he of Speedo fame) yes­ter­day made a speech to the UK Soci­ety of Edit­ors in what appeared to be a pro­fes­sion­ally dip­lo­mat­ic rear-guard action in response to a num­ber of hot media top­ics at the moment.

Choos­ing both his audi­ence wisely and his words care­fully, he hit on three key areas:

Tor­ture: Leg­al cases are cur­rently going through UK courts on behalf of Brit­ish vic­tims of tor­ture, in which MI5 and MI6 intel­li­gence officers are alleged to have been com­pli­cit.  The Met­ro­pol­it­an Police are cur­rently invest­ig­at­ing a num­ber of cases.  Over the last week, a Brit­ish mil­it­ary train­ing manu­al on “enhanced” inter­rog­a­tion tech­niques has also been made pub­lic. How­ever, Saw­ers unblush­ingly states that MI6 abides by UK and inter­na­tion­al law and would nev­er get involved, even tan­gen­tially, in tor­ture cases.  In fact, he goes on to assert that the UK intel­li­gence agen­cies are train­ing the rest of the world in human rights in this regard.

 

 

Whis­tleblow­ing: In the week fol­low­ing the latest Wikileaks coup — the Iraq War Diar­ies, com­pris­ing nearly 400,000 doc­u­ments detail­ing the every­day hor­ror of life in occu­pied Iraq, includ­ing war crimes such as murder, rape and tor­ture com­mit­ted by both US and UK forces — Saw­ers states that secrecy is not a dirty word: the intel­li­gence agen­cies need to have the con­fid­ence that whis­tleblowers will not emerge to in order to guard agent and staff iden­tit­ies, as well as main­tain­ing the con­fid­ence of their inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence part­ners that their (dirty?) secrets will remain, um, secret.  One pre­sumes he is advoc­at­ing against the expos­ure of war crimes and justice for the vic­tims.

This, one also pre­sumes, is the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for US politi­cians who pro­pose cyber-attacks against Wikileaks and the declar­a­tion by some US polit­ic­al insiders that Juli­an Assange, spokes­man of the organ­isa­tion, should be treated as an unlaw­fully des­ig­nated “unlaw­ful com­batant”, sub­ject to the full rigour of extra-judi­cial US power, up to and includ­ing assas­sin­a­tion. 

Spuri­ous media claims of unveri­fied “dam­age” are the hoary old chest­nuts always dragged out in whis­tleblower cases.  After Wikileaks released its Afghan War Blog in July, gov­ern­ment and intel­li­gence com­ment­at­ors made apo­ca­lyptic pre­dic­tions that the leak had put mil­it­ary and agent lives at risk.  US Defense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates has since gone on the record to admit that this was simply not true. 

Dur­ing the Shayler whis­tleblow­ing case a dec­ade ago, the gov­ern­ment repeatedly tried to assert that agent lives had been put at risk, and yet the form­al judge­ment at the end of his tri­al stated that this was abso­lutely not the case.  And again, with the recent Wikileaks Iraq War Blog, gov­ern­ment sources are using the same old man­tra.  When will they real­ise that they can only cry wolf so many times and get away with it?  And when will the journ­al­ists regur­git­at­ing this spin wake up to the fact they are being played?

Account­ab­il­ity:  Saw­ers goes on to describe the mech­an­isms of account­ab­il­ity, such as they are.  He accur­ately states, as I have pre­vi­ously described ad nauseam, that under the 1994 Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Act, he is notion­ally respons­ible to his polit­ic­al “mas­ter”, the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, who has to clear in advance any leg­ally dubi­ous for­eign oper­a­tions (up to and includ­ing murder – the fabled “licence to kill” is not fic­tion, as you can see here).

The 1994 ISA also estab­lished the Prime Min­ister­’s Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee (ISC) in Par­lia­ment, which many com­ment­at­ors seem to believe offers mean­ing­ful over­sight of the spies.  How­ever, as I have detailed before, this is a mere fig leaf to real account­ab­il­ity: the ISC can only invest­ig­ate issues of policy, fin­ance and admin­is­tra­tion of the spy agen­cies.  Dis­clos­ures relat­ing to crime, oper­a­tion­al incom­pet­ence or involve­ment in tor­ture fall out­side its remit.

But what hap­pens if intel­li­gence officers decide to oper­ate bey­ond this frame­work? How would min­is­ters or the ISC ever know?  Oth­er spy mas­ters have suc­cess­fully lied to their polit­ic­al mas­ters in the past, after all.

Sir John has the gall to say that, if an oper­a­tion is not cleared by the For­eign Sec­ret­ary, it does not pro­ceed.  But what about the Gadaf­fi Plot way back in 1996, when MI6 was spon­sor­ing a group of Islam­ic extrem­ist ter­ror­ists in Libya to try to assas­sin­ate Col­on­el Gadaf­fi without, it has been asser­ted, the pri­or writ­ten approv­al of the then-For­eign sec­ret­ary, Tory politi­cian Mal­com Rif­kind?  This was repor­ted extens­ively, includ­ing in this art­icle by Mark Thomas in the New States­man. What hap­pens if rogue MI6 officers blithely side-step this notion­al account­ab­il­ity — because they can, because they know they will get away with it — because they have in the past?

MoS_August_97_QPlot_CredibleIn the interests of justice, UK and inter­na­tion­al law, and account­ab­il­ity, per­haps a new Conservative/Coalition gov­ern­ment should now reas­sess its approach to intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers gen­er­ally, and re-exam­ine this spe­cif­ic dis­clos­ure about Libya, which has been backed up by inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence sources, both US and French, in order to achieve some sort of clos­ure for the inno­cent vic­tims in Libya of this MI6-fun­ded ter­ror­ist attack? And it is finally time to hold the per­pet­rat­ors to account — PT16, Richard Bart­lett, and PT16B, Dav­id Wat­son, who were the seni­or officers in MI6 respons­ible for the murder plot.

As civ­il­ised coun­tries, we need to rethink our approach to the issue of whis­tleblow­ing. Lies, spin,  pro­sec­u­tions and thug­gish threats of assas­sin­a­tion are beneath us as soci­et­ies that notion­ally adhere to the prin­ciples of demo­cracy.  If we can only real­ist­ic­ally hope that the actions of our gov­ern­ments, mil­it­ary forces, and intel­li­gence agen­cies are trans­par­ent and account­able via whis­tleblowers, then we need to ensure that these people are leg­ally pro­tec­ted and that their voices are heard clearly.