The End of Privacy and Freedom of Thought?

I saw this chilling report in my Twit­ter feed today (thanks @Asher_Wolf): Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing deep pack­et inspec­tion tech­no­logy to throttle peer to peer shar­ing over the inter­net.

Des­pite being a clas­si­cist not a geek by train­ing, this sounds like I know what I’m talk­ing about, right?  Well some­what to my own sur­prise, I do, after years of expos­ure to the “hackt­iv­ist” eth­os and a grow­ing aware­ness that geeks may our last line of defence against the cor­por­at­ists.  In fact, I recently did an inter­view on The Keiser Report about the “war on the inter­net”.

Offi­cially, Tel­stra is imple­ment­ing this cap­ab­il­ity to pro­tect those fra­gile busi­ness flowers (surely “broken busi­ness mod­els” — Ed) with­in the enter­tain­ment and copy­right indus­tries — you know, the com­pan­ies who pimp out cre­at­ive artists, pay most of them a pit­tance while keep­ing the bulk of the loot for them­selves, and then whine about how P2P file shar­ing and the cir­cu­la­tion and enjoy­ment of the artists’ work is theft?

But who, ser­i­ously, thinks that such tech­no­logy, once developed, will not be used and abused by all and sun­dry, down to and includ­ing our bur­geon­ing police state appar­at­us? If the secur­ity forces can use any tool, no mat­ter how sor­did, they will do so, as has been recently repor­ted with the UK under­cov­er cops assum­ing the iden­tit­ies of dead chil­dren in order to infilt­rate peace­ful protest groups.

Writer and act­iv­ist, Cory Doc­torow, summed this prob­lem up best in an excel­lent talk at the CCC hack­er­fest in Ber­lin in 2011:

The shred­ding of any notion of pri­vacy will also have a chilling effect not only on the pri­vacy of our com­mu­nic­a­tions, but will also res­ult in our begin­ning to self-cen­sor the inform­a­tion we ingest for fear of sur­veil­lance (Nazi book burn­ings are so 20th Cen­tury).  It will, inev­it­ably, also lead us to self-cen­sor what we say and what we write, which will slide us into an Orwellian dysto­pia faster than we could say “Aaron Swartz”.

As Columbi­an Pro­fess­or of Law, Eben Moglen, said so elo­quently last year at anoth­er event in Ber­lin — “free­dom of thought requires free media”:

Two of my favour­ite talks, still freely avail­able on the inter­net. Enjoy.

The House I Live In” — drug panel discussion

I recently rep­res­en­ted LEAP at a pan­el dis­cus­sion in Lon­don about the failed war on drugs after a screen­ing of the excel­lent film The House I Live In, along with Steve Rolles of Trans­form and Niamh East­wood of Release:

Oval Space Cinema Club: ‘The House I Live In’ — Pan­el Dis­cus­sion from Oval Space on Vimeo.

British politicians Droning on

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 2 Octo­ber 2012

Only in the mad world of mod­ern Brit­ish polit­ics could it be pos­sible to con­nect MPs, drones and roy­al breasts. Is this sound­ing a little too bizarre? Let me explain.…

Way back in 2008 Con­ser­vat­ive MP Dami­en Green, who was at the time the Shad­ow Min­is­ter for Immig­ra­tion, was arres­ted on sus­pi­cion of eli­cit­ing leaks from a Home Office civil ser­vant that appeared to con­firm the then Labour gov­ern­ment was cov­er­ing up UK immig­ra­tion fig­ures.

When I say arres­ted, this was not the stand­ard, civ­il­ised and pre-arranged appoint­ment at the loc­al nick, which the police tra­di­tion­ally allow their polit­ic­al “mas­ters” or, for that mat­ter, their bud­dies at News Inter­na­tion­al.

Oh no, this was a full-on, Cold War-style arrest, car­ried out by the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism com­mand (known in the old days as Spe­cial Branch). Intriguingly, civil ser­vants appeared to have mis­lead­ingly hyped up the need for a heavy-handed police response by stat­ing that they were “in no doubt that there has been con­sid­er­able dam­age to nation­al secur­ity already as a res­ult of some of these leaks”.

And indeed, the res­ult­ing arrests bore all the hall-marks of a nation­al secur­ity case: secret police, dawn raids, and counter-ter­ror­ism style searches of the fam­ily home, the con­stitu­ency office, and — shock — an inva­sion of Green’s office in par­lia­ment.

Yet Green was not arres­ted under the terms of the Offi­cial Secrets Act. Instead, both he and his hap­less whis­tleblower, Chris­toph­er Gal­ley, were only seized on sus­pi­cion of breach­ing some arcane Vic­tori­an law (“aid­ing and abet­ting mis­con­duct in pub­lic office”).  I sup­pose arrest­ing a sit­ting MP for a breach of the OSA would have been just too polit­ic­ally tricky.

Leav­ing aside the under­stand­able upset caused to Green’s wife and chil­dren by the raid on their home, plus the fact that the police viol­ated not only their per­son­al effects such as bed sheets and love let­ters but also con­fid­en­tial leg­al papers about child abuse cases that Mrs Green was work­ing on, what really caused out­rage in the media and polit­ic­al classes was the fact that Plod had dared to invade the hal­lowed ground of par­lia­ment.

There was an out­cry from politi­cians about the “encroach­ing police state”. The case was duly dropped, the seni­or officer, Assist­ant Com­mis­sion­er Bob Quick, had to resign (but only after com­mit­ting yet anoth­er polit­ic­al gaffe), and oth­er stor­ies, such as the MP expenses scan­dal, grabbed the atten­tion of the main­stream media.

Roll on four years, and Dami­en Green has now ascen­ded to the giddy heights of Home Office Min­is­ter of State for Police and Crim­in­al Justice. Well, meet­ing his new staff must have been an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence for him.

But what is this man now doing in his emin­ent role, to stop the slide into the encroach­ing police state that is the UK? Of all people, one would expect him to be sens­it­ive to such issues.

Sadly, he appears to have already gone nat­ive on the job. It was repor­ted yes­ter­day that he is pro­pos­ing the use of police drones to spy on the UK pop­u­la­tion, but in an “appro­pri­ate and pro­por­tion­ate” man­ner of course.

The concept of small aer­i­al drones being used by UK police has been mooted for a few years now — indeed some police forces and secur­ity agen­cies have already bought them. But where­as the ini­tial, stand­ard jus­ti­fic­a­tion was that it would help in the “war on ter­ror” (as it has so ably done in the Middle East, where inno­cent fam­il­ies are routinely slaughtered in the name of assas­sin­at­ing mil­it­ants), mis­sion-creep has already set in.  Dami­en Green stated at the launch of the new Nation­al Police Air Ser­vice (NPAS) that drones could be use­ful mon­it­or­ing protests and traffic viol­a­tions. It has even been repor­ted that the Home Office plans to use non-leth­al weapons to do so.

Of course there are prob­lems around the use of drones in UK air­space.  Our skies are already very crowded and they could present a haz­ard to air­craft, although the BBC has repor­ted that drones could be air­borne in the next few years.  This appears to be the only argu­ment hold­ing the use of drones in check — for­get about civil liber­ties and pri­vacy issues.

This is par­tic­u­larly per­tin­ent as we look at the evol­u­tion of drone tech­no­logy.  Cur­rently the UK police are dis­cuss­ing toy-sized drones, but it has already been repor­ted that drones the size of birds or even insects, with autonom­ous intel­li­gence or swarm cap­ab­il­it­ies are being developed. And don’t even get me star­ted on the sub­ject of poten­tial mil­it­ar­isa­tion.…

There is a whole debate to be had about what can be viewed and what can­not — where does the pub­lic sphere end and the private begin? A couple of years ago I sug­ges­ted some­what facetiously that our best hope of defeat­ing the intro­duc­tion of sur­veil­lance drones in the UK might be indig­nant celebs suing the paparazzi for using the tech­no­lo­gies.  But per­haps the ante has already been upped in the recent fall-out from the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge and her roy­ally papped breasts.

If drone tech­no­logy becomes wide­spread, then nobody will have any pri­vacy any­where. But who knows, before we get to that stage per­haps HM Queen will come out swinging on the side of pri­vacy for her grand­daugh­ter-in-law, if not for the rest of her “sub­jects”. If that were to hap­pen then no doubt Dami­en Green will aban­don his new-found enthu­si­asm for these air­borne sur­veil­lance pests; if not to stop the “encroach­ing police state” of which he must have such col­our­ful recol­lec­tions, then at least to safe­guard any poten­tial knight­hood in his rosy min­is­teri­al future.

Interview for the Release newsletter, “TalkingDrugs”

An inter­view I did on behalf of LEAP this week for the news­let­ter of the UK cam­paign, Release.

Release, run by the indefatig­able Niamh East­wood, does excel­lent work provid­ing leg­al advice about drug issues, and cam­paign­ing for fairer and more com­pas­sion­ate drug laws.

The inter­view appeared in the campaign’s news­let­ter, “Talk­ing­Drugs”.

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

Q1 What led you into think­ing that cur­rent drug policies on illi­cit drugs were fail­ing?

My jour­ney began when I was work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer for MI5 in the 1990s.  One of my roles was invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics and work­ing closely with UK Cus­toms.  I learned then that try­ing to stop the flow of illi­cit mater­i­al into the UK (wheth­er drugs, weapons, or people) is like look­ing for a needle in the pro­ver­bi­al hay­stack.  Plus there is a huge over­lap between the fund­ing of organ­ised crime and ter­ror­ist groups.

Over the last dec­ade I have become a writer, com­ment­at­or and pub­lic speak­er on a vari­ety of inter-con­nec­ted issues around intel­li­gence, the war on ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, poli­cing, and civil liber­ties.  To me, the war on drugs meshes very closely with all these top­ics.  Three years ago I was approached by LEAP to become a speak­er, and then in March this year I became a mem­ber of the inter­na­tion­al board and also the Dir­ect­or of LEAP Europe in order to con­sol­id­ate the organisation’s work here.

Q2 Do you think that there are bar­ri­ers to police officers being hon­est about the effect­ive­ness of their actions to com­bat the trade in illi­cit drugs and is the great­er dis­quiet amongst those involved in law enforce­ment about cur­rent policies than is pop­ularly per­ceived ?

Yes, abso­lutely, and it’s not just amongst the police but also the wider law enforce­ment com­munity.

LEAP sup­port­ers, approach­ing 100,000 in over 90 coun­tries around the world, include judges, law­yers, pris­on gov­ernors, cus­toms and intel­li­gence officers, and former drug czars.  With­in all these pro­fes­sions there is a tacit under­stand­ing that you toe the con­ven­tion­al line.  In my exper­i­ence, most people go into this type of work hop­ing not only to have an inter­est­ing job, but also to do some good and make a dif­fer­ence.  Many then see the social fall-out, or that friends, fam­ily or com­munity are affected by the drug wars, and many serving offi­cials do ques­tion what it is all about and what it is really achiev­ing.

How­ever, they are there to do a job, which is uphold­ing and apply­ing the law.  The cul­tur­al pres­sure with­in such groups can make it extremely dif­fi­cult on many levels for them to speak out.

Any change to the inter­na­tion­al and nation­al drug laws will have to come from the politi­cians with­in the UN and nation­ally.  LEAP increas­ingly con­trib­utes to the polit­ic­al debate and is build­ing a groundswell of sup­port inter­na­tion­ally.   Most people today will know someone who has at least tried a cur­rently illeg­al drug.  They also instinct­ively know this is mere social exper­i­ment­a­tion, relax­a­tion or, at worst, a health prob­lem.  And pen­al­isa­tion, impris­on­ment and a crim­in­al record exacer­bates rather than helps the situ­ation.

Q3 Does the poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion impact the effect­ive­ness of poli­cing gen­er­ally and what bene­fits do you think could stem from ceas­ing to use law enforce­ment to attempt to dis­cour­age drug use?

There are mul­tiple strands to this issue: the diver­sion of police resources, the addi­tion­al crime caused by pro­hib­i­tion that is not dealt with suc­cess­fully, the diver­sion of resources from harm reduc­tion pro­grammes, the crim­in­al­isa­tion of what are essen­tially health issues, and the dis­rep­ute that res­ults for law enforce­ment.

The poli­cing of drug pos­ses­sion takes away vast resources from invest­ig­at­ing oth­er crimes such as burg­lary, rape and murder.  Yet it is largely point­less – those with a drug depend­ency need health inter­ven­tions, and there will always be replace­ments for any low-level deal­ers who are arres­ted and imprisoned.  If you arrest and con­vict a rap­ist, he will not be on the streets com­mit­ting more rapes; but if you catch a drug deal­er, you just cre­ate a job vacancy for which many will com­pete in ever more viol­ent ways for a slice of an incred­ibly luc­rat­ive mar­ket.

The UK anti-pro­hib­i­tion advocacy group, Trans­form, estim­ates that even if just can­nabis were leg­al­ised in the UK, an addi­tion­al $1.6 bil­lion would flow into the Brit­ish eco­nomy every year.  While tax raised on a con­trolled and reg­u­lated can­nabis trade is pre­dicted to provide the bulk of this ($1.2 bil­lion), $170 mil­lion would be saved from law enforce­ment, $155 mil­lion from the justice sys­tem, and $135 mil­lion from the pris­on sys­tem.

In the cur­rent eco­nom­ic situ­ation, can the UK afford not to con­sider altern­at­ives to the cur­rent drug war?

Also, as we have seen since the decrim­in­al­is­tion laws in Por­tugal since 2001 and Switzer­land since 1994, the “peace dividend” by end­ing the war on drugs would not only see a drop in prop­erty crimes (about 50% of which are com­mit­ted to fund drug depend­en­cies), it could also be used to fin­ance and extend harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  As we have seen in the case of tobacco across the West, we do not need to ban a sub­stance to reduce its use; edu­ca­tion and treat­ment are far more effect­ive.

Finally, illeg­al drugs are avail­able to any­one who wants to buy them on the streets of the UK.  The increas­ing mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the police to fight the war on drugs, the break­down of civil liber­ties for the same reas­on (mir­ror­ing the war on ter­ror), and the wide­spread flag­rant flout­ing of the drug laws by large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion, thereby “mak­ing an ass of the law”, has led to a break­down of trust and respect between the police and the policed. One of LEAP’s aims is to rebuild this trust, this social con­tract.

Q4 The impact on the safety of law enforce­ment per­son­nel of the ‘war on drugs’ should be an issue for oth­er mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions rep­res­ent­ing the sec­tor, will you be reach­ing out to them to encour­age cam­paign­ing on the issue?

Safety is cer­tainly an issue, although we have been more for­tu­nate in Europe than our col­leagues in the USA, where the more pre­val­ent gun cul­ture leads to many more law enforce­ment deaths.  That said, gang viol­ence is on the rise across Europe where organ­ised crime gangs fight increas­ingly viol­ent turf battles.

Mex­ico has been one of the worst hit coun­tries in the world.  Since the ramp­ing up of the war on drugs  almost six years ago, over 62,000 men women and chil­dren have been tor­tured and murdered in that coun­try, and many of them had no involve­ment what­so­ever in the drugs trade.  In fact, LEAP USA has just suc­cess­fully par­ti­cip­ated in the Mex­ic­an Cara­van for Peace, a group of act­iv­ists and fam­il­ies high­light­ing the tragedy, that toured across the USA for a month to raise aware­ness and fin­ished with a rally in Wash­ing­ton last week.

The increas­ing viol­ence of the drugs trade and the mil­it­ar­isa­tion of the response should be of con­cern to all law enfor­cers, mem­ber­ship organ­isa­tions and allied groups work­ing in the drugs sec­tor.  We need to think urgently about how to avoid a sim­il­ar spir­al of viol­ence in Europe.   LEAP is happy to reach out to such organ­isa­tions to devel­op a more humane solu­tion.

Q5 How would you like to see LEAP in Europe devel­op and will you be look­ing to lobby European policy makers in Brus­sels?

There are already LEAP speak­ers across most European coun­tries.  We in LEAP see the organisation’s primary goal as edu­ca­tion­al.  We shall be work­ing to build up speak­ing engage­ments for a wide vari­ety of groups and audi­ences, includ­ing the polit­ic­al sec­tor, as well as strength­en­ing our media expos­ure.  We recog­nise the valu­able work Release and oth­er NGOs and advocacy groups are already doing across Europe, and hope that you will see that we offer a unique voice and pool of expert­ise that can be used to strengthen your work.

It is won­der­ful that so many organ­isa­tions and indeed gov­ern­ments around the world (par­tic­u­larly in Europe and Lat­in Amer­ica) are now focus­ing on explor­ing altern­at­ives such as decrim­in­al­is­tion and harm reduc­tion pro­grammes.  Based on our pro­fes­sion­al exper­i­ence, LEAP argues that we need, at very least, to con­sider the next logic­al step in the chain: con­trolled reg­u­la­tion of the drug mar­ket as we cur­rently do with alco­hol and tobacco.

Decrim­in­al­isa­tion may help to reduce the harm for the drug users, but leaves the drug trade in the hands of increas­ingly viol­ent glob­al organ­ised crime net­works.  Only by remov­ing the profit motive from this illi­cit trade can we end the involve­ment of the crim­in­al ele­ment and all the attend­ant viol­ence, and work to make the world safer for all.

The Scorpion Stare

I have writ­ten over the years about the encroach­ing sur­veil­lance state, the spread of CCTV and the increas­ing use of drones in our skies.  When the North East of Eng­land intro­duced talk­ing CCTV cam­er­as that could bark orders at passing ped­es­tri­ans in 2008, I thought that we were fast approach­ing the reduc­tio ad absurdum point — and indeed this sub­ject has raised a wry laugh from audi­ences around the world ever since.

Recently I have been read­ing with dis­may a slew of art­icles about the increas­ing cor­por­at­isa­tion of the sur­veil­lance state.  First I stumbled across a piece describ­ing Facebook’s latest innov­a­tion, Facedeal: cam­er­as planted in shops and bars that will use the facial recog­ni­tion and tag­ging abil­it­ies of FB to recog­nise you as a val­ued cus­tom­er and offer you a dis­count, simply because you have signed up to this Big Broth­er app on Face­book.

Add this to the fact that Face­book is prob­ably, well, an open book for to the entire US secur­ity appar­at­us, and you can see the poten­tial abuse of this sys­tem.  We shall effect­ively be bribed to allow ourselves to be spied on.

Facedeal is being trialed in the US.  Some European coun­tries, most not­ably Ger­many, have already stated that data recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy used even just for photo “tag­ging” is or could be deemed illeg­al. Ger­many spe­cific­ally has reg­u­la­tions that allow Inter­net users con­trol over their data. They are not going to like Facedeal.

Secondly, it was repor­ted today that Google had pat­en­ted intel­li­gent image recog­ni­tion tech­no­logy.  Com­bine this cap­ab­il­ity with Googles Earth and Street, and we are poten­tially look­ing at a truly pan­op­ticon soci­ety.  The Ger­mans are really not going to like that. (Nor indeed will cer­tain of the French, includ­ing the man who earli­er this year tried to sue Google after being pho­to­graphed hav­ing a pee in his own front garden).

Thirdly, Boe­ing has tri­umphantly launched the concept of the drone swarm, oper­at­ing with a hive men­tal­ity and upping the cap­ab­il­it­ies of mil­it­ary sur­veil­lance expo­nen­tially, while tak­ing much of the risk out of any oper­a­tion.

And finally, the Wikileaks story about Trap­Wire. This first emerged as yet anoth­er bonkers Amer­ic­an scheme, where the foot­age from CCTV street cam­er­as was being main­lined into the secur­ity appar­at­us. Sub­sequently, it has emerged via Wikileaks that Trap­wire is also being used in oth­er west­ern coun­tries, includ­ing the UK.

Not only can the securo­crats watch you, they too are installing face recog­ni­tion soft­ware that can identi­fy you. While this may not yet be as accur­ate as the spies might wish, Trap­Wire has also installed pre­dict­ive soft­ware that appar­ently can assess wheth­er you are act­ing, loiter­ing or walk­ing in a sus­pi­cious man­ner.  So you could pre-empt­ively be assessed to be about to com­mit a crime or an act of ter­ror­ism and, no doubt, appro­pri­ately and pre-empt­ively “dealt with”.

All of which must be so reas­sur­ing to protest groups such as Occupy, which have been sub­ject to massive CCTV sur­veil­lance in NYC and which have been labelled a “terrorist/extremist threat” in the City of Lon­don.

At the risk of sound­ing alarm­ist, we now all know what “being dealt with” in this era of anti-act­iv­ist SWAT teams, drone strikes and kill lists can poten­tially entail.

So where does this leave us as con­cerned cit­izens?  It strikes me that we are being cata­pul­ted into some sci-fi dysto­pia bey­ond even Orwell’s wild­est ima­gin­ings.  Any fan of mod­ern thrillers and sci-fi will be famil­i­ar with the concept of integ­rated super-com­puters that can watch our every move via CCTV.

The lat­ter is what Trap­Wire et al are work­ing towards.  These new tech­no­lo­gies remind me of a story line from a won­der­ful series of books called the The Laun­dry Files by Charles Stross.  These nov­els are a per­fect of mer­ging of Len Deighton’s lac­on­ic spy fic­tion, à la Harry Palmer, with the geek uni­verse and bey­ond. And, at the risk of a spoil­er, one of the story lines envis­ages a cent­ral­ised and weapon­ised CCTV sys­tem, main­lin­ing into the secret ser­vices, that can be turned on UK cit­izens if the bal­loon goes up. This sys­tem is code­named the “Scor­pi­on Stare”.

Sounds far-fetched? Well The Laun­dry Files are a rol­lick­ing good read, but do bear in mind not only that our CCTV sys­tems may be cent­ral­ised cour­tesy of Trap­Wire, but also that vari­ous law enforce­ment agen­cies in the UK are using micro-drones to spy on pro­test­ers, and that they have reportedly enquired if these drones could be weapon­ised.….

So it all depends on how you define the bal­loon, I sup­pose.

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 3 Septem­ber 2012

The Olympics — Welcome to the Machine

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 27 July 2012

OK, I was really so not plan­ning on ever writ­ing any­thing, what­so­ever, at any point while I con­tin­ue to breathe, about the Lon­don Olympics.  First of all I have abso­lutely zero interest in the cir­cus that is mod­ern com­pet­it­ive sport (pan­em et cir­censes), and secondly what more could I pos­sibly add to the scan­dals around the secur­ity?  All the inform­a­tion is out there if people choose to join the dots.

But syn­chron­icity plays its part.  Firstly, this morn­ing I read this excel­lent art­icle by former UK ambas­sad­or-turned-whis­tleblower, Craig Mur­ray, about how the UK is now under mar­tial law in the run-up to the Olympics.  Shortly after­wards I did an inter­view with the women’s glossy magazine, Grazia, about the secur­ity set-up around the games. I know, I know, some­times the heav­ens align in a once-in-a-cen­tury con­fig­ur­a­tion.…..

So on the back of this for­tu­it­ous align­ment and while my angry-o-meter is still spiked at the “dan­ger­ous” level, I wanted to set some thoughts down.

Craig is cor­rect — because of the Olympic Games, Lon­don has gone into full mar­tial law lock-down.  Nev­er before in peace-time has the cap­it­al city of the formerly Great Bri­tain seen such a mil­it­ary “defens­ive” pres­ence: mis­sile launch­ers on loc­al tower blocks primed to blow stray­ing com­mer­cial air­liners out of the skies over Lon­don, regard­less of “col­lat­er­al dam­age”; anti-air­craft bunkers dug in on Green­wich com­mon; and nav­al des­troy­ers moored on the Thames.

Plus, absent the prom­ised G4S pub­licly-fun­ded work-exper­i­ence slaves — sorry, secur­ity staff —  the mil­it­ary has been draf­ted in.  Sol­diers just home from patrolling the streets in Afgh­anistan in daily fear of their lives have had all leave can­celled.  Instead of the much-needed R & R, they shall be patrolling the Olympic crowds.  Does any­one else see a poten­tial prob­lem here?

And all this fol­lows a dec­ade of erosion of basic freedoms and civil liber­ties — all stripped away in the name of pro­tect­ing the UK from the ever-grow­ing but neb­u­lous ter­ror­ist threat.

But I would take it a step fur­ther than Craig Mur­ray — this is not just mar­tial law, this is fas­cist mar­tial law.

(And being con­scious of any poten­tial copy­right thought-crimes, I hereby give all due cred­it to a very fam­ous UK TV advert cam­paign which appears to use the same cadence.)

Why do I say this is one step bey­ond?

The Itali­an World War II dic­tat­or, Benito Mus­solini, is fam­ously cred­ited with defin­ing fas­cism thus: “the mer­ger of the cor­por­ate and the state”.

And this is pre­cisely what we are see­ing on the streets of Lon­don.  Not only are Lon­don­ers sub­jec­ted to an over­whelm­ing mil­it­ary and police pres­ence, the cor­por­ate com­mis­sars are also stalk­ing the streets.

When Seb Coe and Tony Blair tri­umphantly announced that Lon­don had won the Olympics on 6th July 2005, one of their man­tras was how Lon­don and the UK would bene­fit from the pres­ence of the games.  They painted a rosy pic­ture of loc­al busi­nesses boom­ing on the back of the influx of tour­ists.

But the cold real­ity of today’s Olympics is grey­er.  Com­muters are being advised to work from home rather than use the over­loaded trans­port net­works; the civil ser­vice is effect­ively shut­ting down; and Zil lanes for the “great and the good” of the Olympics uni­verse are chok­ing already con­ges­ted Lon­don streets.

Even worse, busi­nesses across the UK, but par­tic­u­larly the loc­al ones in the eco­nom­ic­ally deprived environs of the Olympic Park in East Lon­don, are cat­egor­ic­ally NOT allowed to bene­fit from the games.  Under the terms of the con­tracts drawn up by the cor­por­ate mega-spon­sors, Lon­don small busi­nesses are not allowed to cap­it­al­ize in any con­ceiv­able, pos­sible, min­is­cule way on the pres­ence of the games in their own city.

And these terms and con­di­tions are enshrined in the Olympics Act 2006; any infrac­tion of the rules car­ries a crim­in­al pen­alty.  For more than a week, cor­por­ate police enfor­cers have been patrolling Lon­don look­ing for infrac­tions of the Olympic trade­mark.  And this goes way bey­ond “Olympics R US” or some such.  As Nick Cohen wrote in an excel­lent recent art­icle in The Spec­tat­or magazine:

In the Lon­don Olympic Games and Para­lympic Games Act of 2006, the gov­ern­ment gran­ted the organ­isers remark­able con­ces­sions. Most glar­ingly, its Act is bespoke legis­la­tion that breaks the prin­ciple of equal­ity before the law. Bri­tain has not offered all busi­nesses and organ­isa­tions more powers to pun­ish rivals who seek to trade on their repu­ta­tion. It has giv­en priv­ileges to the ­Olympics alone. The gov­ern­ment has told the courts they may wish to take par­tic­u­lar account of any­one using two or more words from what it calls ‘List A’ — ‘Games’; ‘Two Thou­sand and Twelve’; ‘2012’; ‘twenty twelve’. The judges must also come down hard on a busi­ness or char­ity that takes a word from List A and con­joins it with one or more words from ‘List B’ — ‘Gold’; ‘Sil­ver’; ‘Bronze’; ‘Lon­don’; ‘medals’; ‘spon­sors’; ‘sum­mer’. Com­mon nouns are now private prop­erty.”

I heard recently that a well-estab­lished loc­al café in Strat­ford, East Lon­don, that has for years been known as the Olympic Café, has been ordered to paint over its sign for the dur­a­tion of the games. If I owned the café, I would be temp­ted to sue the Olympic Com­mit­tee for breach of trade­mark.

It seems to me that this real-world trade­mark pro­tec­tion­ism is an exten­sion of the ongo­ing copy­right wars in cyber­space — a blatant attempt to use state level power and legis­la­tion to pro­tect the interests of the wealthy inter­na­tion­al mega-corps few.  We saw early attempts at this dur­ing the South Afric­an Foot­ball World Cup in 2010, and the Van­couver Winter Olympics the same year.

But the Lon­don Olympics take it to the next level: there is a long list of what you are not allowed to take into the sta­dia.  Spec­tat­ors will be sub­jec­ted to air­port-style secur­ity theatre.  This will ensure that no liquids of more than 100ml can be car­ried, although empty bottles will be allowed if people want to fill them up with tap water on site.  This, of course, means that more spec­tat­ors will be buy­ing their spon­sor-approved liquids in situ and at no-doubt over-inflated prices, to the bene­fit of one of the key Olympic spon­sors.

The Lon­don games seem to be the first time that the glob­al cor­por­ate com­munity is demon­strat­ing its full spec­trum dom­in­ance — where the leg­al, police, and mil­it­ary resources of the state are put at the dis­pos­al of the giant, bloated, money-suck­ing leech that is the Inter­na­tion­al Olympic Com­mit­tee.

Every city that has hos­ted the Olympics over the last four dec­ades has been fin­an­cially bled white; many are still pay­ing back the ini­tial invest­ment in the infra­struc­ture, even if it is now decay­ing and use­less. Greece, any­body?

But do the IOC or its region­al pimps care?  Hell, no. Like all good para­sites, once the ori­gin­al host has been drained dry, the Games move on to a new food source every four years.

What really, deeply puzzles me is why the hell are the people of Lon­don not out there protest­ing against this cor­por­at­ist putsch?  Per­haps they fear being shot?

How can it be a crime to take a full bottle of water into a sta­di­um when you want to watch a sport? How can it be a crime to tweet a pic­ture?  How can it be crim­in­al to cel­eb­rate the occa­sion in your loc­al pub with Olympic flags draped around your bar, drink­ing a beer and eat­ing a bur­ger mar­keted cheesily as “fit for cham­pi­ons” or some such?

The ori­gin­al ideals behind the recon­sti­t­u­tion of the mod­ern Olympics in 1896 were a highly roman­ti­cised and dis­tor­ted vis­ion of the val­ues of the ancient games.  But even that naïve ideal has been lost in the crapu­lous cor­por­at­ism that is the mod­ern event.

We have even gone way bey­ond the Roman view of bread and cir­cuses pla­cat­ing the masses.  Now we are into the hard­core real­politik of inter­na­tion­al cor­por­a­tions and nation­al gov­ern­ments using the games as a per­fect pre­text to tight­en the “secur­ity” screws even more.

And so the UK is proud to present full-blown Cor­por­ate Fas­cism Ver­sion 2.0.

Vae vic­tis.

The Report on BBC Radio 4 — the Death of Gareth Williams

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.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) UK Conference

Last month, in my new role as Dir­ect­or of LEAP Europe, I was invited to do a talk at the SSDP con­fer­ence in Lon­don.  It was great to meet the key SSDP organ­isers, and also share a plat­form with Jason Reed, the co-ordin­at­or of LEAP UK.

The stu­dent act­iv­ists of SSDP are demand­ing that our polit­ic­al classes instig­ate a mature, fact-based dis­cus­sion about the “war on drugs”.

Sorry to rehash all the well-known art­icles about why this “war” is such a fail­ure on every con­ceiv­able front, but just let me reit­er­ate 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 it would make the use and pos­sible abuse of recre­ation­al drugs a health issue rather than a crim­in­al mat­ter.

The stu­dents get this — why can’t our politi­cians?

Jason and I had a warm wel­come from the SSDP. They can see the value of law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als — police, judges, law­yers, and cus­toms and intel­li­gence officers — using their exper­i­ence to con­trib­ute to the debate. I look for­ward to LEAP work­ing more closely with the SSDP.

And do drop me an email if you would like to help LEAP in Europe.

The Gareth Williams Inquest

What a mess, what a cov­er-up.  The inquest into the sad, strange death of Gareth Wil­li­ams con­cluded yes­ter­day, with the cor­on­er rais­ing more ques­tions than she was able to answer.

It was also pat­ently obvi­ous that both MI6 and the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism Squad (SO15) hampered the invest­ig­a­tion, for the inev­it­able reas­ons of “nation­al secur­ity”.

When will MI6 real­ise that it is not above the law?

My heart goes out to Gareth’s fam­ily.

Just Say No — the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

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.

Un_system_chart_colourThe 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.

3_wise_monkeysUN 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.

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Cops Take Pro-Legalization Message to UN War on Drugs Meeting

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Law Enfor­cers Say End­ing Pro­hib­i­tion Will Improve Glob­al Secur­ity & Human Rights

VIENNA, AUSTRIA – Judges, pro­sec­utors and jail­ers who sup­port leg­al­iz­ing drugs are bring­ing their mes­sage to the United Nations Com­mis­sion on Nar­cot­ic Drugs meet­ing next week in Vienna. At the U.N. ses­sion, which comes just days after the Obama admin­is­tra­tion stepped-up its attempts to coun­ter­act the emer­ging anti-pro­hib­i­tion sen­ti­ment among sit­ting pres­id­ents in Lat­in Amer­ica, the pro-leg­al­iz­a­tion law enforce­ment offi­cials will work to embolden nation­al del­eg­a­tions from around the world to push back against the U.S.-led failed “war on drugs.”

VanwicklerRichard Van Wick­ler, a cur­rently-serving jail super­in­tend­ent who will be rep­res­ent­ing Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP) in Vienna, says, “World lead­ers who believe we could bet­ter handle drug prob­lems by repla­cing crim­in­al­iz­a­tion with leg­al con­trol are becom­ing less and less afraid of U.S. repris­al for speak­ing out or reform­ing their nations’ policies. And for good reas­on.”

Van Wick­ler, who has was named 2011’s Cor­rec­tions Super­in­tend­ent of the Year by the New Hamp­shire Asso­ci­ation of Counties, explains, “Voters in at least two U.S. states will be decid­ing on meas­ures to leg­al­ize marijuana this Novem­ber. It would be pure hypo­crisy for the Amer­ic­an fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to con­tin­ue force­fully push­ing a rad­ic­al pro­hib­i­tion­ist agenda on the rest of the world.”

In recent weeks, Pres­id­ents Otto Perez Molina of Guatem­ala, Juan Manuel San­tos of Colom­bia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Felipe Cal­der­on of Mex­ico have added their voices to the call for a ser­i­ous con­ver­sa­tion on altern­at­ives to drug pro­hib­i­tion, caus­ing U.S. Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden to travel to Lat­in Amer­ica this week in an unsuc­cess­ful attempt to quash the debate.

GierachFormer Chica­go drug pro­sec­utor James Gier­ach, recently a fea­tured speak­er at a con­fer­ence in Mex­ico City last month atten­ded by the first lady of Mex­ico and the former pres­id­ents of Colom­bia and Brazil, says, “The unend­ing cycle of car­tel viol­ence caused by the pro­hib­i­tion mar­ket has turned a steady trickle of former elec­ted offi­cials cri­ti­ciz­ing pro­hib­i­tion into a flood of sit­ting pres­id­ents, busi­ness lead­ers and law enforce­ment offi­cials call­ing for an out­right dis­cus­sion about leg­al­iz­a­tion. It’s time for the U.S. and the U.N. to acknow­ledge that leg­al con­trol, rather than crim­in­al­iz­a­tion, is a much bet­ter way to man­age our drug prob­lems. The world can have either drug pro­hib­i­tion, viol­ence and cor­rup­tion or it can have con­trolled drug leg­al­iz­a­tion with safe streets and mor­al fab­ric, but it can’t have both.”

The UN meet­ing in Vienna is an annu­al oppor­tun­ity for nations around the world to re-eval­u­ate drug con­trol strategies and treat­ies. More inform­a­tion about the meet­ing is here

In recent years, coun­tries like Por­tugal and Mex­ico have made moves to sig­ni­fic­antly trans­form crim­in­al­iz­a­tion-focused drug policies into health approaches by fully decrim­in­al­iz­ing pos­ses­sion of small amounts of all drugs. Still, no coun­try has yet to leg­al­ize and reg­u­late the sale of any of these drugs. Doing so, the pro-leg­al­iz­a­tion law enfor­cers point out, would be the only way to pre­vent viol­ent transna­tion­al crim­in­al organ­iz­a­tions from profit­ing in the drug trade.

Maria.KaramAlso attend­ing the con­fer­ence on behalf of LEAP will be former Brazili­an judge Maria Lucia Karam and former UK MI5 intel­li­gence officer Annie Machon.

Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP) rep­res­ents police, pro­sec­utors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and oth­ers who sup­port leg­al­iz­a­tion after fight­ing on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and learn­ing firsthand that pro­hib­i­tion only serves to worsen addic­tion and viol­ence. More info can be found here.

CONTACT:

Tom Angell: 001 202 557‑4979 or media@leap.cc

Shaleen Title: 001 617 955‑9638 or speakers@leap.cc

DoubleThink Disorder — a new pathology

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.

RitalinBut 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.  

Kevin_and_PerryAs 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.….

Ivory_tower2On 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.  

LEAP_logoBut, 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.

Tony_BlairI 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.…

Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn 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.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile 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.  

TrotskyFrom 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.

Greenham-commonSince 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.

Mark_KennedyAnd 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?

The Official Secrets Act — when will the British media learn?

I have been watch­ing with a cer­tain cyn­ic­al interest the unfold­ing of Oper­a­tion Weet­ing, one of the pleth­ora of Met­ro­pol­it­an Police invest­ig­a­tions into the UK phone hack­ing scan­dal, involving many of our favour­ite play­ers: shady private invest­ig­at­ors, pred­at­ory journ­al­ists, bent cop­pers, and politi­cians con­tort­ing them­selves in an effort to pro­tect both their own repu­ta­tions and their Friends in High Places.  And the ripples are spread­ing inter­na­tion­ally.  Noth­ing like a little bit of globil­isa­tion.…

Rupert_and_Rebekah The Guard­i­an news­pa­per has made most of the early run­ning in expos­ing the cor­rupt prac­tices of the now defunct News of the Screws, high­light­ing all the dubi­ous tabloid prac­tices of hack­ing, blagging, pinging, and god knows what else.  All this done with the help of bot­tom-feed­ing private invest­ig­at­ors, but also mani­festly with the help of cor­rupt police officers who were not averse to the idea of tak­ing a bribe to help their friends in Wap­ping.  And how far might this “trickle down cor­rup­tion” might have gone, um,  up?

Des­pite the self-right­eous­ness of oth­er UK news­pa­pers, it has also now become appar­ent that these dubi­ous and poten­tially illeg­al prac­tices were com­mon through­out Fleet Street, and oth­er nation­al news­pa­pers are also under invest­ig­a­tion.

And yet it appears that all this could have been nipped in the bud over a dec­ade ago, when Steven Nott, a con­cerned Brit­ish cit­izen, tried to expose the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of mobile phones after he stumbled across the prac­tice by acci­dent.  He took his find­ings to a vari­ety of nation­al news­pa­pers, all of whom seem to have ini­tially thought there was a good story, but every time the news was bur­ied.  Well, I sup­pose it would be, wouldn’t it — after all, why would hacks expose a prac­tice that could be so use­ful?

But back to the dear old OSA and the media.

Police_news_international In yesterday’s Observ­er news­pa­per, it was repor­ted that the police have threatened the journ­al­ists at The Guard­i­an with the Offi­cial Secrets Act (1989) to force them to dis­close the iden­tity of their source amongst the police officer(s) in Oper­a­tion Weet­ing who leaked use­ful inform­a­tion to the news­pa­per to help its expos­ure of illeg­al prac­tices.  And, rightly, the great and the good are up in arms about this dra­coni­an use of a par­tic­u­larly invi­di­ous law:

John Cooper, a lead­ing human rights law­yer and vis­it­ing pro­fess­or at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity, echoed Evans’s con­cerns. “In my view this is a mis­use of the 1989 act,” Cooper said. “Fun­da­ment­ally the act was designed to pre­vent espi­on­age. In extreme cases it can be used to pre­vent police officers tip­ping off crim­in­als about police invest­ig­a­tions or from selling their stor­ies. In this instance none of this is sug­ges­ted, and many believe what was done was in the pub­lic interest.

Cooper added: “The police action is very likely to con­flict with art­icle 10 of the European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights, which pro­tects free­dom of speech.”

But I think he’s miss­ing a bit of recent leg­al his­tory here.  The UK had the 1911 OSA which was sup­posed to pro­tect the coun­try from espi­on­age and trait­ors, who faced 14 years in pris­on upon con­vic­tion.  Need­less to say this pro­vi­sion was rarely used — most of the cold war Soviet moles in the estab­lish­ment were allowed to slink off to the USSR, or at the very most be stripped of their “K”.

How­ever, as I’ve writ­ten before, the revised 1989 OSA was much more use­ful for the estab­lish­ment.  It was spe­cific­ally put in place to stop whis­tleblow­ing after the embar­rass­ment of the 1980s Clive Ponting/Belgrano case. 

Ponting The new act was spe­cific­ally designed to strip away the “pub­lic interest” defence used by Pont­ing in his tri­al, and also to pen­al­ise journ­al­ists who had the temer­ity to report leaks and whis­tleblow­ing from the heart of the estab­lish­ment.  The OSA (1989) has been used extens­ively since the late 1990s, des­pite the fact that many seni­or fig­ures in the former Labour gov­ern­ment opposed its pro­vi­sions when it went through Par­lia­ment.   Journ­al­ists are just as liable as whis­tleblowers or “leak­ers” under the pro­vi­sions of this act (the infam­ous Sec­tion 5).

So, back to The Guard­i­an and its leg­al cham­pi­ons.  I agree with what they are say­ing: yes, the 1989 OSA  has a chilling effect on free­dom of speech that unduly vic­tim­ises both the whis­tleblower and the journ­al­ist; yes, it is a uniquely dra­coni­an law for a notion­al West­ern demo­cracy to have on its books; yes, there should be a defence of “act­ing in the pub­lic interest”; and yes, the OSA should be deemed to be incom­pat­ible with Sec­tion 10(2) of the European Con­ven­tion of Human Rights, guar­an­tee­ing free speech, which can only be cir­cum­scribed in the interests of “nation­al secur­ity”, itself a leg­ally undefined, neb­u­lous, and con­tro­ver­sial phrase under Brit­ish law.

David_Shayler_High_Court But if all the out­raged law­yers read up on their case law, par­tic­u­larly the hear­ings and leg­al dog­fights in the run up to Regina v Shayler cases, they will see that all these issues have been addressed, appar­ently to the sat­is­fac­tion of the hon­our­able m’luds who preside over Brit­ish courts, and cer­tainly to the estab­lish­ment fig­ures who like to use the OSA as their “get out of jail free” card.

So I wish The Guard­i­an journ­al­ists well in this con­front­a­tion.  But I have to say, per­haps they would not have found them­selves in this situ­ation today vis a vis the OSA if, rather than just a few brave journ­al­ists, the media insti­tu­tions them­selves had put up a more robust fight against its pro­vi­sions dur­ing its bas­tard birth in 1989 and its sub­sequent abuse.

It has been repor­ted today that the police may have down­graded their invest­ig­a­tion to a purely crim­in­al mat­ter, not the OSA.  Whatever hap­pens does not obvi­ate the need for the media to launch a con­cer­ted cam­paign to call for reform of the invi­di­ous OSA.  Just because one of their own is no longer threatened does not mean the chilling threat of this law has gone away.  As Mar­tin Luth­er King said while imprisoned in 1963:

Injustice any­where is a threat to justice every­where.”

I would also sug­gest the new gen­er­a­tion work­ing in the Brit­ish media urgently read this excel­lent book­let pro­duced by John Wadham of Liberty and Art­icle 19 way back in 2000 Down­load Article_19_Liberty_on_OSA_2000,  to remind them­selves of fun­da­ment­al argu­ments against dra­coni­an legis­la­tion such as the OSA and in favour of the free­dom of the press.