Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
A recent interview on RTTV about the ongoing civil war in Libya following the NATO invasion last year:
Part One of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:
Anne is one of the most famous and respected journalists in Norway, and her chat show is extremely popular on prime time NRK TV on Friday nights. We had a lively session discussing the world of spying, what it was like to blow the whistle and go on the run, and the personal price that has to be paid.
Here’s the link to the whole show, and here’s my segment:
A look at the forensic and police failures around the investigation of the still inexplicable death of intelligence officer, Gareth Williams, in London in 2010.
Here’s the link.
I had an immensely stimulating time during my recent mini-tour of Scandinavian investigative journalism conferences, meeting informed, interesting, and interested people.
The focus of my talks was the nexus between the intelligence world and the media — lessons I had learned, researched and deduced during the whistleblowing years and beyond. I have heard so many hair-raising media stories over the years.…
And, having listened to the experiences of journalists from a wide variety of other countries, it seems I am on the right track.
First stop was the Grav conference in Sweden, where I gave a talk and had the pleasure of meeting investigative journalists who confirmed what I was saying, even if some of them didn’t think I had quite gone far enough! We also had fun at the “mingel” evening.
Next stop, next day, was the SKUP conference in Norway where I did a talk, and also a debate about the media and whistleblowers. Note to self: never, ever agree to do a morning debate after the legendary SKUP party the night before.
Finally, last weekend, I visited the Tutki 2012 journalism conference in Finland (Download Helsinki_Talk). The response was overwhelmingly positive, and once again I had confirmation of what I was saying from the journalists themselves.
So what can we do about this situation? I shall keep spreading the word, and the journalists themselves just need to keep saying a resounding “no” to the inducements, at least if they want to work on meaningful investigations. And what real journalist doesn’t, au fond?
Next stop Geneva, which is why I’m limbering up with the French.
How strange to stumble across this article in the Guardian newspaper yesterday, which describes a journalist’s justifiably paranoid experiences interviewing David Shayler and me back in 2000 while writing an article for Esquire magazine.
The author, Dr Eamonn O’Neill, now a lecturer in journalism at Strathclyde University, spent a few days with us in London and Paris way back when.
The Esquire article highlights the paranoia and surveillance that we had to live with at the time, and the contradictory briefings and slanders that were coming out of the British establishment and the media. O’Neill also intelligently tries to address the motivations of a whistleblower.
When it was published I was mildly uncomfortable about this article — I felt it didn’t do David full justice, nor did it appear to get quite to the heart of the issues he was discussing. I suppose, at the time, I was just too enmeshed in the whole situation.
Now, with hindsight, it is more perspicacious than I had thought. And rather sad.
This article is a timely reminder of how vicious the establishment can be when you cause it embarrassment and pain; the treatment meted out to David Shayler was brutal. And yet nothing has changed to this day, as we can see with the ongoing pursuit and vilification of Wikileaks.
My grand tour around Scandinavia continues next weekend, when I shall be giving the opening keynote at the Tutki!2012 investigative journalism conference in Helsinki. Looking forward to the conference!
Off on my travels again at the end of the week, with two keynotes at Scandinavian journalism conferences.
Topics under discussion will include everything from security and intelligence to the war on terror, civil liberties to ethics and media freedoms, government accountability to whistleblowing and Wikileaks.
On Saturday I travel on to Norway to speak at the SKUP conference to give a talk and also on Sunday morning to participate in a panel discussion about all things whistleblowing and Wikileaks. I gather that such discussions can get quite, um, lively.
I’m looking forward to an interesting and stimulating weekend.
Just back from the annual United Nations happy-clappy session about drug prohibition in Vienna, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. I was there as part of the delegation from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a global campaign of serving and former police officers, lawyers, judges, intelligence officers, customs officers and prison governors, all with years of experience on the front line of the drug war, and all of whom campaign against prohibition.
Why do they do this? Precisely because they have, during their professional lives, witnessed the terrible failure of the drug prohibition laws.
LEAP’s message is simple, logical and powerful, and its membership credible and experienced — have a look at the website.
The UN delegation consisted of former US drug prosecutor Jim Gierach, retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Pereira Karam, award-winning US prison superintendent Rick Van Wickler, and myself.
Needless to say, LEAP and all this breadth of relevant expertise was marginalised at the UN.
The UN is the sine qua non of bureaucracies, an organisation of such Byzantine complexity it makes your eyes bleed to look at it.
Each country around the world funds the UN via voluntary donations. Once they have coughed up, they are allowed to send national delegates to represent “their” interests at shindigs such as the CND. Those delegates are pre-briefed by their bureaucrats about the line they must take, and no dissent is allowed.
NGOs are notionally able to feed in their views to their delegates, although access is limited, and over the last few years the language of the CND has indeed moved towards harm reduction and children’s rights. But this merely propagates the basic, flawed premise that “drugs” are bad, not that the “war on drugs” has comprehensively failed, is ill-thought out, and actively damages society.
UN decisions on drug policy are made by consensus, which means that there is no real democratic debate and that the resolutions are so bland as to be meaningless. At no point whatsoever are evidence-based alternative solutions, such as regulated legalisation, even whispered in the corridors of power.
The CND’s key achievement this year was to get all the nations to reaffirm their commitment to the 100-year old International Hague Convention, the first drug prohibition law in a long and escalating legal litany of failure and harm. And this in the teeth of all evidence provided by the successful decriminalisation experiments in Portugal, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
So here’s where the fun kicks in, but I stress that this is my highly personal take on what it was like to attend the CND last week:
WARNING: CND appears to be a potent psychotropic drug which has unknown and potentially damaging effects on the human brain. Exposure to CND for even so short a period as a week can lead to disorientation, numbness, depression and a dislocation from reality. No data exists about the long-term psychological effects of prolonged exposure, but some subjects can display uncharacteristic aggression after only a couple of days’ experience of CND.
CND appears to be highly addictive leading to rapid dependency, and delegates return year after year for another hit. For a week, it’s party time, but then comes the crashing low, as they have to push CND on their own countries for another long year, against all common notions of decency, humanity and community.
CND is continually presented to vulnerable delegates as the only lifestyle choice. Those who question its efficacy are outcast from the gang. But what of the delegates’ rights to live a CND-free life, away from the peer pressure, bullying and violence? What about reducing the harm that CND increasingly causes to communities across the world?
As the godfathers of CND push the line of harm reduction programmes, developing countries are increasingly drawn into a life of sordid “money dependency”, even prostituting themselves politically to enable their continued reliance on CND.
The organisations controlling CND garner huge profits, and there is little political will to change the current set-up.
So, a win-win for the drug cartels, terrorists, enforcement agencies, governments, bureaucrats and the wider global “drug war” infrastructure.
Not so good for the rest of us.
Outrage continues to swell about the peremptory extradition of British citizens to face trial on tenuous charges abroad.
Thanks to the tireless campaigning of distraught family members, a growing anger in the UK press, and indignant questions and debates in Parliament — even our somnambulant MPs have roused themselves to state that Something Must be Done — the Extradition Act 2003 is now centre stage, and reform of the law will no doubt occur at some point.
As there is a growing consensus, why the delay? I have a theory, but first let’s review some of the most troubling recent cases.
The case that really brought the issue to widespread public attention is the decade-long extradition battle of Gary McKinnon. With this sword of Damocles hanging over his head for so long, poor Gary has already effectively served a 10-year sentence, uncertain of his future and unable to work in his chosen profession. Thanks to the indefatigable campaigning of his mother, Janis Sharp, his case has received widespread support from the media and politicians alike.
Despite this the Home Secretary, Theresa May (who has recently been working so hard in Jordan to protect the rights of Abu Qatada), has dragged her feet abominably over making a decision about whether Gary should be extradited to the US to face a possible 70-year prison sentence — even though the UK investigation into his alleged crime was abandoned way back in 2002.
Then there is the more recent case of student Richard O’Dwyer, wanted in the US even though he lives in the UK and has broken no British laws. He is facing a 10 year maximum security sentence if extradited. Once again, his mother, Julia, is tirelessly fighting and campaigning for her son.
Most recently, Chris Tappin, a retired businessman and golf club president, has been shipped off to a Texas high security penitentiary following what sounds like a US entrapment operation (a technique not legally admissable in UK courts), and faces a 35 year sentence if convicted.
Despite having turned himself in, this elderly gent, who walks with the aid of a cane, is considered such a flight risk that he was last week denied bail. Once again, his wife Elaine has come out fighting.
My heart goes out to all these women, and I salute their tenacity and bravery. I remember living through a similar, if mercifully briefer, four months back in 1998 when the UK government tried and failed to extradite David Shayler from France to the UK to stand trial for a breach of the OSA. I remember with crystal clarity the shock of the arrest, the fear when he disappeared into a foreign legal system without trace, the anguish about his life in an alien prison.
And I remember the frightening moment when I realised I had to step up and fight for him — the legal case, dealing with MPs and the endless media work, including the terror of live TV interviews. And all this when you are worried sick about the fate of a loved one. Shall I just say it was a steep learning curve?
In the wake of the recent extradition cases, there have been questions in Parliament, motions, debates, reviews (Download Review), and there is an ongoing push for an urgent need for reform. And no doubt this will come, in time.
So why the delay? Why not change the law now, and prevent McKinnon, O’Dywer and many others being sacrificed on the American legal altar — the concept of “judicial rendition”, as I have mentioned before.
Well, I have a theory, one derived from personal experience. The British media — most notably the Daily Mail — inveigh against the unilateral extradition of UK citizens to the USA’s brutal prison régime. There is also some concern about extradition to other European jurisdictions — usually on the fringes to the south and east of the continent, regions where the British seem to have a visceral fear of corrupt officials and kangaroo courts.
But what many commentators seem to miss is the crucial legal connection — the extradition arrangements that ensure Brits can be shipped off to the US and many other legal banana republics comparable legal systems to face outrageous sentences are, in fact, embedded within the Extradition Act 2003. This is the act that enshrined the power of the European Arrest Warrant, the the act that was rushed through Parliament in the midst of the post‑9/11 terrorism flap.
And, of course, this is the very act that is currently being used and abused to extradite Julian Assange to Sweden merely for police questioning (he has not even been charged with any crime), whence he can be “temporarily surrendered” to the delights of the US judicial process. Hmm, could this possibly be the reason for the delay in reforming the Act?
Let me guess, you think this is beginning to sound a bit tin-foil hat? Surely it is inconceivable that the British politicians and judges would delay righting a flagrant legal wrong that manifestly results in innocent people being unjustly extradited and prosecuted? Surely our government would move swiftly to protect its citizens?
As I mentioned, my theory stems from personal experience. Once again delving into the mists of time, in 1997 David Shayler blew the whistle on the wrongful conviction on terrorist charges of two innocent Palestinian students, Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh. Their lawyer, the excellent Gareth Peirce, was immediately on the case, but the UK government dragged its heels for a year. Why?
During that time, the UK government tried to have Shayler extradited from France to the UK to stand trial. Government lawyers were confident of victory and delayed a decision on the students’ appeal against their convictions until the whistleblower was safely incarcerated in HMP Belmarsh, awaiting trial.
Except it all went wrong, and the French freed Shayler for being manifestly a political whistleblower, which in their legal opinion was not an extradictable offence. Only at that point did the UK government lawyers begin to work with Peirce on the Palestinian case, details of which can be found here.
So my theory is that the UK is dragging its feet about reforming the preposterous Extradition Act until it has Assange safely over in Sweden. However, they may be counting their chickens prematurely — and they should never, ever overlook the determination of the campaigning mother, in this case Christine Assange.
But in the meantime, while the UK continues to prostitute itself to the USA, how many more innocent people will have to suffer unjust and unjustifiable extradition?
Writers of the world, beware. A new threat to our freedom of speech is looming and, for once, I am not inveighing against the Official Secrets Act.
How did this whole mess begin? It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take exception to a book written and published about them in the USA. US law, somewhat surprisingly considering its current parlous state, provided no route to sue. However, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offending book had been sold in the UK — even if only a handful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon.co.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the process along magnificently.
And so was born the concept of “libel tourism”. Satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye has long been campaigning against this, other UK news outlets gradually followed suit, and the UK government is finally taking steps to rein in these egregious, if lucrative, legal practices.
But, hey, that’s precisely when your offshore crown dependencies, otherwise known as British tax havens, come into their own. The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubious financial practices of these islands, the most geographically convenient being the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the attitude to self-regulation makes the practices of the Square Mile look positively Vestal.
Now it appears that Guernsey is looking to become a hub of another lucrative offshore practice: libel tourism.
Guernsey has its own parliament — the States — and can make its own laws. So as the libel door closes on the UK mainland, a firm of offshore tax lawyers has identified a wonderful business opportunity.
Jason Romer is the managing partner and intellectual property specialist at the large “wealth management” legal firm Collas Crill. According to his firm’s website, he also, coincidentally, sits on the island’s Commercial IP Steering Group and the Drafting Sub-Committee, and is thus conveniently on hand to steer the new legislation through the States.
Also coincidentally, he appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of Eady’s infamous “super-injunction” régime which has had such a chillingly expensive effect on the British media in the last decade.
So, if this law is passed, anyone, anywhere around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guernsey. These rights can even last indefinitely after the original owner’s death.
This means that anyone, anywhere, who feels that their “image” has been inappropriately reproduced/copied/pirated — the correct legal terminology is hazy — can then sue through the Guernsey courts for redress. This could potentially be a powerful new global tool for the suppression of free speech. As public outcry swells internationally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemocratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap precisely in the wrong direction.
Guernsey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years. Ever since the 1980s infestation of offshore bankers and trust fund lawyers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social division. Before then it was proud of its egalitarianism, Norman-French heritage, beautifully anachronistic pace of life, and an economy based on tomatoes and tourism.
Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its economy based on rotten financial apples and offshore libel tourism.
I just wanted to get that out of my system now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for damaging its “image rights”.…
An update is apparently due of the 1994 edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, the psychiatrists’ bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a disorder, and then, no doubt, prescribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expensive form of therapy. Anyone who has ever watched Adam Curtis’s excellent “Century of Self” will be aware of the pathologising of society to the benefit of the psychiatric professions and far beyond.
I am not making light of serious mental illnesses requiring specialised and long term treatment such as bipolar, schizophrenia or chronic depression. These are crippling and soul-destroying conditions and many families, including my own, have been touched by them.
But I am concerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few decades where, for example, increasing numbers of children are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Ritalin (which can also lead to a thriving black market in the onward sale of said drug). And we are apparently about to see ever more divaricating disorders added to the shrinks’ bible.
As this recent article in The Independent states, stroppy teens will now have “oppositional defiance disorder”, and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suffering from “hypersexual disorder”. (How on earth will this be diagnosed — will potential sufferers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Management meetings could be so much more diverting as people break off to write an update every so often — although they might have to pretend they’re playing buzzword bingo.) And those suffering from shyness or loneliness will suffer from “dysthymia”. Well, as a classicist, I’m glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today’s lexicon.
I know that such behavioural traits can be debilitating, but to pathologise them seems rather extreme — enough to give a person a complex.….
On another somewhat facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the internet rounds recently. It appeared to suggest that having a robust distrust of your government was also about to be pathologised as Anti-Government Phobia, which I presume would mean that vast swathes of the world’s population were mentally ill. However, I think the clue to the legitimacy of the piece was in the name of the supposed author: Ivor E. Tower MD.….
However, back to the point of this article. This was the paragraph in the Indie report that really got my goat:
“More worrying, according to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as illnesses, such as “paraphilic coercive disorder”, applied to men engaged in sexual relationships involving the use of force. They are more commonly known as rapists.”
So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a disorder.
But, but, but.… the key point LEAPing out at me, if you’ll forgive the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in direct, sharp contrast to how we deal with an immense and ongoing problem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed “war on drugs”. In this phoney war millions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, continue to be treated as criminals rather than as patients.
Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known articles about why this war is such a failure on every conceivable front, let me just make three key points: prohibition will always fail (as this classic “Yes Minister” scene depicts), and the regulation and taxation of recreational drugs (in the same way as alcohol and tobacco) would be good for society and for the economy; it would decapitate organised crime and, in some cases, the funding of terrorism; and, most pertinently for the purposes of this article, it would make the use and possible abuse of recreational drugs a health issue rather than a criminal matter.
Many people at some point in their lives experiment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work. A small percentage will go on to develop medical problems.
That is the crux of the argument here. Excessive abuse of drugs, both licit and illicit, is manifestly a health issue and yet some people are criminalised. Compare and contrast the proposed new shrinks’ bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as medical disorders.
I would call this rank hypocrisy, but perhaps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name? I propose Societal DoubleThink Disorder.
The Bankers’ Bonus being that it would conveniently (psycho)pathologise all our “peace-speaking” war-mongering politicians, “free market” monopolistic big businesses, and “publicly owned but private profit” banks.
Praise the Government and pass the Ritalin.…
An interesting article in yesterday’s Telegraph by political commentator Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada. This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the British political and media classes over the last couple of days. Oborne’s article strips out the bombast and takes us back to basic principles — as did this other recent article in the Independent a day or two ago by Christina Patterson.
However, what really grabbed my attention in Oborne’s article was his reference to David Maxwell Fyfe, the British politician and lawyer who was tasked by Sir Winston Churchill to lay the foundations of the European system of human rights after the atrocities of World War Two — a period when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.
While Maxwell Fyfe laid some good foundations for European law, his name also has resonance to all who worked for the UK domestic Security Service, MI5, during or in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. It was Maxwell Fyfe’s directive, issued in 1952, that was instrumental in allowing MI5 to spy on British political activists subversives. This directive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a legal footing for the first time in its then 80 year history, with the Security Service Act 1989. Here is a segment about the Maxwell Fyfe directive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers”:
“Background to subversion
At this time MI5 was still using the same criteria for recording individual subversives and their sympathisers as was set out by Home Secretary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952. He called on the services to identify any individual engaged in undermining Parliamentary democracy, national security and/or the economic well-being of the UK by violent, industrial or political means. In fact, many would argue that groups who used only political means to get their point across were merely exercising their democratic rights. In fact, MI5 used photos of demonstrations, copies of election lists and even lists of subscribers to radical left-wing book clubs as indicators of subversive sympathy and membership. Of course, the world was a very different place when I joined the section, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declaration, not least because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies.
From Maxwell-Fyfe’s statement to Parliament, which was never made law, MI5 and subsequent governments used to argue that all members of certain parties –such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) or later the bewildering array of Trotskyists, with names like the International Marxist Group (IMG), Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), anarchists and the extreme right — were threats to the security of the state or our democratic system. This in itself is a contentious proposition. None of these Trotskyist groups was cultivating Eastern bloc finance or building bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legitimate democratic methods to make their case, such as standing in elections, organising demonstrations and educating ‘the workers’. They certainly had no allegiance to a foreign power, the primary raison d’etre for the investigation of subversion, because, unlike the Communist Party, they abhorred the Eastern bloc.
Since MI5 was effectively investigating individuals for holding opinions the government did not like — a very un-British position — it was always at pains to point out that it took its responsibilities with regard to human rights very seriously, although not seriously enough to ensure that these activities were regulated by a legal framework. All the service’s phone taps prior to the passing of the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlawful because there was no legislation governing the interception of communications.”
The directive was not a legally binding document, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive section tasked with hunting “subversives” during those decades. It allowed intelligence officers great latitude in interpreting what was deemed subversive activity and who were “legitimate’ targets. And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this system by paranoid, senior intelligence officers over the years. More information can be found in this chapter on subversion from the book.
So my point is, yes, Britain ostensibly led the way in developing a system to protect human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War. But the very architect of that system then produced the directive that gave British spies carte blanche to investigate political dissidents within their own country, which they abused for decades.
And now we have commentators rightly saying that we should uphold basic human rights’ values in cases such as Abu Qatada. But what about all the UK activists who were illegally investigated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more pertinently today, what about all the activists and protesters who have been aggressively spied upon by the unaccountable, undercover police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illegal category of “domestic extremists”?
I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace activist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrusive surveillance over the last 6 years. Perhaps he should quote Maxwell Fyfe on human rights during his case?