Here is an interview I did last night about the Russians “hacking” the UK general election last year, conveniently appearing in The Sunday Times yesterday ahead of the UK local elections.….
Recently I was invited to be on the global council of a new tech policy intitiative called the Good Technology Collective, based in Berlin.
~ Founded by a group of technology enthusiasts led by 1aim co-founders Torben Friehe and Yann Leretaille, the GTC will serve as a crucial European forum for piloting technological advances in the 21st century. Through its Expert Council, it will bring together leading founders, engineers, scientists, journalists, and activists, who will research, generate conversation around, and offer counsel as to the societal impact of AI, virtual reality, Internet of Things, and data surveillance.
“We believe that there are ethical questions concerning how frontier technologies will affect our daily lives,” Leretaille said. “As a society, Europe deserves broad and accessible discussions of these issues, hosted by those who appreciate, understand, and worry about them the most.” ~
The Good Technology Collective (GTC), a new European think-tank addressing ethical issues in technology, will officially open its doors in Berlin on December 15th. The grand opening will kick off at 7:30PM (CET) at Soho House Berlin and I shall be one of the guest speakers.
Invitations are limited for the grand opening. Those interested in attending should contact: email@example.com; or, fill in the invitation form at: https://goo.gl/Xpndjk.
And here is an introductory interview I did for GTC recently:
Why We Must Fight for Privacy
We live in a society where shadowy figures influence what makes the news, who goes to jail, and even who lives or dies.
We live in a system where corporations and the state work together to take control of our information, our communications, and potentially even our future digital souls.
So we do not merely have the right, but rather the obligation, to fight for our privacy.
It is a simple human right that is essential for a functioning democracy.
But we are a long way away from having that right guaranteed, and we have been for a long time.
My Time as a Spy
I spent six years working with MI5, the British domestic counter-intelligence and security agency, in the 1990s. It was a time of relative peace after the Cold War and before the horrors of September 11, 2001, when the gloves came off in the War on Terror.
And even then, I was horrified by what I saw.
There was a constant stream of illegal wiretaps and files kept on hundreds of thousands of our citizens, activists, journalists, and politicians.
Innocent people were sent to prison due to suppressed evidence in the 1994 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London. IRA bombings that could have been prevented were allowed to take place, and the MI6 funded a plot to murder Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi using Al Qaeda affiliates. He survived, others did not.
This is just part of the corruption I saw intelligence and security agencies engage in.
The public and many politicians believe these agencies are accountable to them, but that is simply not how things work in reality. More often than not, we only know what they want us to hear.
State Manipulates News and Politics
I witnessed government agencies manipulate the news through guile and charm, at times even writing it themselves. Fake news is not new. The state has long shaped media coverage using various methods.
This was the case in the analogue era, and things have become worse in the era of the Web.
In the end, I felt there was no choice but to blow the whistle, knowing that it would end my career. My partner and I resigned, and we went into hiding.
We spent years on the run for breaching the UK Official Secrets Act. We would have been imprisoned if caught.
We fled Britain in 1997, spending three years in a French farmhouse and a location in Paris. My partner went to prison, twice, and we learned indelible lessons about state power along the way.
Learning the Value of Privacy
We also learned the value of privacy.
As high-value targets, we knew our communications and relatives were monitored.
So when I called or emailed my mother, I had to self-censor. I had to assume that her house was bugged, as yours could be.
Our friends were pressured into cooperating with the police. It was one way we were stripped of our privacy, corroding our spirit.
You lose trust in everyone around you, and you do not say anything that could give you away.
Surveillance Has Moved with the Times
That was then. Today, surveillance is part of our daily lives, on the Internet and in the street.
Edward Snowden recently revealed the scale of government surveillance. And it is mind-boggling.
The Snowden Effect, as it is known, has made 28 percent of the people in the United Kingdom rethink their online habits. If we do not feel we have privacy, then in a way it does not matter if someone is watching us. We will self-censor anyway. Just in case.
This has a tangible impact on society. It is the road to a world like Orwell’s 1984.
Legitimate activists know they can be watched. This means that protestors may think twice before getting involved with pressing issues. Surveillance is a sure-fire means of stifling democracy.
We Are All Being Watched
Snowden revealed that Internet companies opened their doors to the U.S. National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He also disclosed that British intelligence was handing over information on Europeans to American intelligence agencies.
Both government agencies can access our video communications. Apparently their personnel were forced to sit through so many explicit “romantic” video calls that they later had to receive counseling.
It might sound amusing. But it shows that the state is regularly invading our privacy.
And that is just government agencies. The corporate world is surveilling us, too. Companies have been granted exceptional powers to see who is sharing information and files across the Internet.
When the FBI Is a Corporate Tool
In New Zealand, Kim Dotcom developed MegaUpload. It did have legitimate users, but the fact that some distributed pirated intellectual property led to an FBI raid on his home.
Likely under the influence of the FBI, the New Zealand authorities permitted surveillance to bolster the U.S. extradition case against him. In October 2012, Prime Minister John Key publicly apologized to Dotcom, saying that the mistakes made by New Zealand’s Government Communications and Security Bureau before and during the raid were “appalling.”
This was all a massive infringement on New Zealand’s sovereignty. One must wonder how the corporate world can wield so much influence that the FBI is able to a raid the home of an entrepreneur on foreign land.
This is not how government agencies are meant to work. It is a pincer movement between the corporations and the state.
This Is the Definition of Fascism
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini defined fascism as the merging of the state and the corporate world. And it is becoming increasingly clear that we are heading in this direction.
We are all constantly connected through our smartphones and computers. Incidentally, any hardware, even USB cables, produced after 1998 probably comes with a backdoor entry point for the government.
We also freely provide information on Facebook that would have taken security and intelligence agencies weeks to assemble before the era of digital communications.
We need to know who is watching that information, who can take it, and who can use it against us.
Research conducted today may one day lead to our entire consciousness being uploaded into a computer. Humans could become software-based. But who might be able to manipulate that information and how?
It is vital for us to start thinking about questions such as these.
Secret Legislation Can Change Our World
In Europe, we are seeing the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) forced upon us. It is a ghastly piece of legislation through which corporate lobbyists can negatively affect 500 million people.
Its investor-state dispute settlement clause grants multinational corporations the legal status of a nation-state. If they feel government policies threaten their profits, they can sue governments in arbitration tribunals. The treaty paperwork is kept in a guarded room that not even politicians working on the legislation can access freely.
Similar projects were attempted before, but they were overturned by the weight of public opinion. The public spoke out and protested to ensure that the legislation never came to pass.
We must protect our right to democracy and the rule of law, free from corporate intervention.
A Perfect Storm for Privacy?
A perfect storm against privacy is brewing. A debate continues over how much control the state should exercise over the Internet amid the threat of terrorism, which has become part of modern life.
Add to this the increasing tension between the United States and Russia and climate change, and things could get quite messy, quite fast.
We need privacy so we can protest when we need to. We need to be able to read and write about these topics, and discuss them. We cannot rely on the mainstream media alone.
We need privacy to be proper citizens. This includes the right to lobby our politicians and express our concerns.
We also have to be aware that politicians do not know what the intelligence and security services are doing. We need to take our privacy into our own hands.
As a start, we must all begin using encryption, open-source software and other tools to make sure we have privacy. If we do not, we will lose our democracy.
It took our ancestors hundreds of years of blood, sweat, tears and death to win the right to privacy.
We must defend that legacy.
Of course, all media outlets get attacked for “propaganda” (you should see the Daily Mail BTL comments about the BBC!), but this particular play book is getting old.
Here’s my take on the subject on, you’ve guessed it, RT:
Here are a couple of the interviews I have done this month, the first marking the release of US army whistleblower, Chelsea Manning and the second, ironically, discussing leaks from the US intelligence community, the most recent of which adversely impacted the investigation into the recent appalling Manchester bombing in the UK:
On 18 December last year I wrote an article about the possibility of a coup d’état in the USA, planned and executed by the CIA and other participants in the Deep State.
At the time I just wanted to highlight the potential problems that were arising from the CIA’s and the American élite’s objection to a Trump presidency and failure of the Clinton candidacy.
However, following fake news of the “Vermont hack” and the failure of the debunked report on “Russian hacking” of the election last week, it seems that the CIA and the wider deep state is dramatically raising the stakes today, with leaks to the media of dubious reports from a corporate spy company alleging corruption and sexual deviancy. How low can they go?
I would laugh at this farrago of nonsense if this escalation of accusation did not imply such an increasingly deadly course, on the part of the American establishment, to push for a showdown with Russia at any cost in 2017.
I fear that soon the curtain will finally be brought down on the puppet show that passes for democracy in America, and those who for decades have been pulling the strings will come raging into the light, red in tooth and claw. The illusion that the people really have a choice of president every four years will be irreparably shattered.
The old British truism that “it does not matter whom you vote for, the government always gets in” can also be applied to the US presidency — usually all candidates are approved and massively funded by the modern incarnation of Eisenhower’s infamous “military-industrial complex” and then assiduously supported by cheerleaders in the old corporate media, leaving the electorate with damn little meaningful choice.
This has been true from Reagan to Bush the First, from Clinton the First to Bush the Second and then on to Obama (the First?). It was supposed to have been true in the most recent election, where the élite’s choice pointed towards a contest between Bush the Third or Clinton the Second, either one of whom would have worked to the interests of Wall Street and continued the increasingly dangerous, interventionist, and hawkish global US foreign policy.
As a little aside, since when did the USA fall for the concept of inherited political power, a de facto new monarchy?
But then an oxymoronic billionaire “man of the people” crowbarred his way into the contest and slashed all the strings of puppetry and privilege. Enter, stage left, the bullish, seemingly bigoted, and bemusingly successful Donald Trump.
As a Brit, currently cut adrift in a pre-Brexit Europe, I hold no brief for the dangers he may or may not pose to the much-vaunted American way of life in the good ol’ homeland. However, as I have stated before, with The Donald’s apparent determination to follow a strategy of US isolationism, to cut a deal in Syria, and effect a rapprochement with Russia, the wider world may just have dodged a nuclear bullet or at least an era of unending war.
Plus, the American people appear to have wanted a change, any change, from the hereditary privilege of the Washington élite. That change could well have come from another outsider, Bernie Sanders, if he had been given a fair chance. However, as we know from the leaked Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Podesta emails, the Democratic Party would stop at nothing to ensure the anointing of the chosen one — Clinton the Second
So why do I think that there may be a coup d’état looming in America’s near future?
Trump was elected on the promise of “draining the swamp” of the Washington political and corporate elites — this is deeply threatening to the vested interests, not least the CIA, whose daily briefings have been spurned by Trump, thereby rupturing the co-dependent relationship between the president and the politicly compromised intelligence agencies that has existed since 9/11 and which has caused so much global harm, starting with the ill-informed and illegal rush to war in Iraq in 2003. I shall return to the CIA later.
The American élite is facing the inauguration of a self-professed outsider who is threatening all their easily-bought privileges, one who seems more interested in cutting deals than bombing countries. Nor do they like his nominees to high office, especially that of Rex Tillerson, the current CEO of ExxonMobil, to the post of Secretary of State — after all, he has a track record of cutting deals too and with the Russians no less, and such a person as the top US diplomat might, gasp, help to bring to a close the new not-so-Cold War that is so important to the hawkish warmongers and their masters in the thriving US arms and security industry.
Therefore once Trump had been declared the official Republican nominee, the establishment push-back was all too predictable. The story of “Russian hacking” was initially trailed merely as media bait to divert the press from the real story — Hillary Clinton’s potentially illegal use of a private web server while acting as Secretary of State.
Then in November Wikileaks began to release even more damaging emails from the DNC and the Podesta files, which demonstrated quite how the Democrats had stitched up the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. The Democrats immediately cried foul — it must indeed be the Russians hacking their files and handing the information to Wikileaks (now cast as a Russian stooge — a move extremely useful in America’s ongoing attempts to frame the prosecution of Wikileaks editor Julian Assange as “espionage”, even though he is an Australian publisher stuck in Europe).
Unusually Assange went on the record to say the emails Wikileaks published did not come from the Russians: Wikileaks traditionally refuses to discuss its sources.
Then former UK Ambassador and Wikileaks ally, Craig Murray, went public by saying that, while he was in Washington earlier this year, he was given files that were then published on Wikileaks. His view is that the information came from a Democrat whistleblower with legal access — it was a leak by an insider, not a hack by an outsider.
Also earlier this week a group of former senior US intelligence officials, including the former Technical Director of the NSA, wrote an open letter to Congress explaining that, if indeed the Russians had hacked the DNC, the NSA would have been able to provide evidence to to prove this. Yet, at such a time of potential constitutional crisis, none has been forthcoming, either directly or via the CIA, even in the face of calls for the usual congressional hearings and special investigations.
So there is apparently no substantive evidence of Russian hacking during the election. However, there does appear to be some evidence around the issue of Clinton’s illegal server.
Eleven days before the American election the Director of the FBI, in the wake of the Anthony Weiner sexting case, reopened the investigation into the Clinton server scandal and published the fact, as he said, in the national interest. This caused howls of rage from the Democrats, and again “Russian hacking” was hyped in the media, thereby easily conflating the concept of the illegal server, the alleged hacks, the Russians, into one big lump of geek-speak that most people would not have the will to disentangle. Two days before the election, James Comey backed down, but the hacking seed had germinated.
Now it is coming into bloom — last week the CIA re-entered the fray, with reports about Russian hacking leaked to both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Since then, nameless “intelligence sources” and grandstanding politicians have been falling over themselves to speak to this subject, but it all remains very evidence-lite.
Plus there is apparently by no means a consensus amongst all seventeen of the US intelligence agencies with regards to the CIA’s claims. Indeed, until recently the FBI has directly contradicted them, and the FBI is in the business of pulling together evidence to prosecute a case under law.
That, now, is all changing. Only recently it was reported that the FBI is now supporting the CIA’s “beliefs”. I was puzzled about this volte face until I read this prominent op-ed by Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta, in the Washington Post where, in addition to blaming the Russians for “hacking the election” (note, no longer just the DNC emails and his own), he is attacking the FBI and its head, James Comey, and suggesting that the organisation is broken and “what’s broken in the FBI must be fixed and quickly”. Perhaps, for whatever reason, Comey can see the overturning of the election result as a real possibility now and is desperately rowing back.
In parallel, it seems that the CIA is fearful of retaliation if, against all their endeavours, Donald Trump does indeed get sworn in as the 45th president of the USA on 20th January next year. That goes some way to explaining why they are challenging the election result by pushing this line that the Russians “hacked the election”, the new headline that has morphed through the global MSM over the last couple of days from belief to established fact, with no evidence produced.
The CIA claims that Russian “hackers” were delving around in the emails of both the Democratic National Congress as well as the Republican equivalent for months before the November election. And yet only the Democrat emails were, the CIA asserts, passed on to Wikileaks and thereby published to order to sway the election result. Where is the proof? They have produced no evidence, in the face of of expert testimony from former senior intelligence officers as well as direct assertions from Wikileaks about the source of the DNC leaks. Indeed, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is refusing to brief the Congressional intelligence committees’ repeated requests to give a briefing.
That has not stopped the global mainstream media from whipping up an imagined new truth: that the Russians “hacked the election”. And the media frenzy has grown exponentially over the last few days.
This is why I fear an American coup d’état, possibly starting as soon as 19th December, the date when the Electoral College meets to ratify the election of Trump. All this Cold-War, anti-Russian hysteria is being used as a stick to beat the Electoral College members into ignoring their duty and vote in the way directed by the majority of the people of their state whom they are pledged to represent. Plus, who knows what juicy carrots may also have been offered?
If enough prove faithless to the electorate, then the election result will be overturned and Clinton the Second could ascend to the American throne. Even if the Electoral College does its sworn duty to the people, I fear that the CIA anti-Trump campaign may now have gathered so much momentum that the establishment may still find a way, any way possible, to stop Trump’s inauguration as president — after all we still have five weeks to get through before 20th January.
Trump is a known unknown and retains potential possibilities intriguing to the wider world. However, if the Electoral College starts a coup d’état on Monday and against all constitutional norms the coronation of Clinton proceeds, we know all too well what lies ahead: war.
On 9 January RT hosted a live streamed debate on its news show about the US intelligence report that attempted to prove that Russia had “hacked” the US election.
Also in the debate were former CIA Director, James Woolsey, and former CIA intelligence officer, Larry Johnson.
Here it is:
Published on Consortium News.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) of the USA has been hacked — cue a national American trauma, allegations of dirty tricks, fears that democracy has been subverted, all leading to what the next US president would call “our long national nightmare”.
But, no, I am not talking about the current Russo-phobic hysteria currently engulfing the US media, replete with claims about “fake news”, expelled Russian diplomats, and a lack of skepticism about the evidence-lite hacking allegations.
Instead I am dipping back into history — the old Watergate Scandal — when Richard Nixon’s “plumbers” stole information the old-fashioned way; they broke into the DNC offices, rifled the files and planted listening devices. On 17 June 1972, when police captured five burglars inside the DNC offices at the Watergate building in Washington, the case slowly unfolded over the next two years until President Nixon resigned on 9 August 1974, and was replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford who declared “our long national nightmare is over”.
During those two years, The Washington Post became internationally and justifiably famous for breaking the story about Richard Nixon’s role in the Watergate cover-up and — since then — generations of cub reporters have dreamed of being the next Woodward or Bernstein. Besides leading to the downfall of the mendacious and paranoid Nixon, the scandal contributed to the reining in of an out-of-control intelligence establishment culminating in the Church Committee hearings of 1975.
What followed was greater, if unfortunately temporary, control of the US intelligence agencies and at least an apparent respect for the rights of American citizens under the terms of the US Constitution. The work of The Washington Post then was indeed relevant and world changing.
The film depiction of the Post’s investigation — All the President’s Men — celebrated this exposé and confirmed in Western minds that our wonderful free press spoke truth to power. And perhaps, in this case, the press did (although I have to say that I preferred the meltdown scene in the prophetic film The Network, which envisioned the slide of the news media into ratings-driven madness).
But — regarding The Washington Post — how the mighty have fallen. Over the last couple of months, The Post has blown what was left of its journalistic reputation out of the water.
First it unblushingly reported the PropOrNot “blacklist” of “fake news” internet sites that were allegedly working at the Kremlin’s command to swing the US election to Donald Trump, except that list encompassed many of the most reputable independent (ie not US corporate-owned) English-language international news sites. Threatened with angry writs from some of the sites, the paper quickly printed a disclaimer distancing itself from the anonymous people behind PropOrNot, but still not apologising for the McCarthyistic smear.
Then, last Friday, the paper was at it again — breathlessly reporting that the Vermont energy grid was apparently hacked by the scapegoat du jour, Russia. Although there should have been some obvious questions asked: why Vermont? What has that state ever done to Russia? Well, not much as it turns out; nor Russia to Vermont.
Yet again the Post has revised its reporting down to the fact that a laptop, completely unconnected to the grid according to the energy provider’s statement, had been infected by malware. In other words, there was no Russian hacking into the Vermont power grid.
And yet, because it’s The Washington Post, this fake breaking “news” was taken seriously and metastasised through the body politic of America and beyond. This Russian hacking became a “post-truth” reality, no matter how fact-free the original story. (I hereby propose a #factfreediet for us all on Twitter for January, so we can highlight this phenomenon.)
But here is the obvious next questions: why did this non-story appear in The Washington Post and why now? Has the paper suddenly fallen prey to a revamped Operation Mockingbird, its editorial stuffed to the gills with CIA agents of influence?
As I have written before, the CIA and its associates within the Deep State appear to be hell bent on undermining the legitimacy of the Trump election result and this hyping of Russian hacking is one of the key weapons in this struggle. So perhaps the Deep State players are (re)activating a few agents of influence in the mainstream American media?
But there may possibly be a more tangential explanation for The Washington Post’s plunge into fiction: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and one of the wealthiest people in the world. Amazon is not only the favourite purveyor of all goods online, but also suspected (at least in the UK) of massive tax avoidance scams as well as abusive employment practices in the same country.
Bezos is also, since 2013, the proud owner of The Washington Post, a purchase that heralded his unexpected business swerve into the old mainstream media. The deal to buy the newspaper was reported in the business press to have cost him $250 million.
Interestingly in the same year Amazon cut a deal to develop a cloud-based service for the CIA — a deal worth a reported $600 million over ten years. It also appears that this service has expanded across all 17 of America’s intelligence agencies, so who can tell what it might be worth to Amazon now and in the future?
It is no doubt just an interesting coincidence that the Bezos-owned Washington Post is the fount of the current stream of CIA assertions that the Russians are hacking key USA institutions, starting with the DNC — which then somehow became “hacking the election” — and now the utility grid. Bezos himself has asserted that he exerts no direct control over the editorial decisions of the newspaper, and he has left in place many of the neoconservative editors who preceded his stewardship, so there may not be any need for direct orders.
Of course, all state-level players, including the Russians and certainly the Americans, are going to be probing the basic systems underpinning all our countries for vulnerabilities. That is what intelligence agencies do, and it is also what mercenary spy companies do on behalf of their corporate clients, and what hackers (either of the criminal flavour or the socially-minded hacktivists) do too. The dodgy malware, the code, the vulnerabilities are all out there, often for sale or squirrelled away by the national spy agencies for potential future advantage.
Whatever the truth about the DNC hacking allegations, The Washington Post sadly seems uninterested in properly pursuing it — indeed it seems interested in little beyond pursuing the specific political agenda of fanning a dangerous distrust of Russia and undermining the legitimacy of the President-elect Trump.
If such a compliant corporate culture had existed back in 1972 at the time of the first DNC “hack”, the Watergate Scandal would surely never have been exposed. And the old media still wonders why it is no longer trusted?
The ripple effects of the Donald Trump election victory in America continue to wash over many different shorelines of public opinion, like so many mini-tsunamis hitting the Pacific rim over the last few last weeks. The seismic changes have indeed been global, and not least in Europe.
First up, the Eurocrats have been getting in a bit of a flap about the future of NATO, as I recently wrote. In the past I have also written about the perceived “insider threat” - in other words, whistleblowers — that has been worrying governments and intelligence agencies across the Western world.
Currently the Twittersphere is lighting up around the issue of “fake news”, with Western mainstream media (news purveyors of the utmost unsullied probity, naturally) blaming Trump’s unexpected victory variously on the US alt-media shock jocks, fake news trolls and bots, and sovereign-state media outlets such as the Russian RT and Sputnik.
In the wake of US Democrat claims that Russia was interfering in the election process (not a practice that the USA has ever engaged in in any other country around the world whatsoever), we now have the US Green Party presidential candidate apparently spontaneously calling for recounts in three key swing-states in the USA.
The German government has already expressed concern that such “fake” news might adversely influence the almost inevitable re-election for a fourth term as Chancellor, Angela Merkel. Despite having been proclaimed the closest partner of the USA by President Obama on his recent speed-dating visit to Europe, and perhaps wary of the rising nationalist anger (I hesitate to write national socialist anger, but certainly its ugly face is there too in the German crowd) Merkal is getting in an electoral first strike.
At a slightly more worrying level, the European Parliament on 23 November voted for a resolution to counter “propaganda” from Russia — and incredibly equated that country’s media with terrorist groups such as ISIS — the very organisation that Russia is currently trying to help crush in Syria and which the West and NATO are at least officially opposed to.
Equating the content of licensed and networked media outlets — however much they may challenge Western orthodoxies — to the horrors of ISIS snuff videos seems to me to be wilfully blind if not downright and dangerously delusional. Or perhaps we should just call it propaganda too?
Whatever happened to the rights of freedom of expression enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights? Or the concept that a plurality of opinion encourages a healthy democracy?
In America too, we have had reports this week that Google and Facebook are censoring alleged “fake” news. This is the start of a very slippery slope. Soon anyone who dissents from the orthodoxy will be deemed fake and disappear into the corporate memory black hole. Google in 2014 suggested a precursor to this, the Knowledge Vault, a search system that would promote approved websites and disappear those deemed inaccurate at least by Google algorithms. But who controls those?
Once again our corporate overlords seem to be marching remarkably in time — almost a lock step — with the mood of the political establishment.
So how did this all kick off? With remarkably prescient timing, in October the arch-neoconservative UK-based think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, published a report entitled “Putin’s Useful Idiots: Britain’s Right, Left and Russia”. Well, at least it got its apostrophes right, but much of the rest is just so much hate-filled bile against those who call out the failed Washington Consensus.
The Henry Jackson Society is an odious organisation that was founded in Cambridge eleven years ago. One of its initial signatories was Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of the UK’s foreign intelligence agency MI6, and of some personal notoriety for peddling the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that took the UK into the disastrous and illegal Iraq war in 2003, as well as feeding in the fake intelligence about Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger that US Secretary of State Colin Powell used as a justification for the same war at the United Nations.
Despite all this, he remains happily retired, bloated with honours, while at the same time threatening the British establishment with his full memoirs to posthumously preserve his reputation and avoid prosecution for a breach of the Official Secrets Act, as I have written before.
The Henry Jackson Society has also folded into itself an organisation called the Centre for Social Cohesion — apparently established to build better integration for the Muslim community in the UK, but which for the last decade has done nothing but stir up Islamophobia. As others have written, the phrase “modern McCarthyites” might not be stretching this concept too far. And now it seems to be turning its ire against Russia.
Its emphasis has been unrelentingly anti-Islam for many years, so it was interesting that this establishment-embedded Society had a fully-formed report about the renewed Red Menace subverting our Western media just ready and waiting to be published ahead of the US elections.
So where does this all leave us?
It may well be that Facebook will begin to disappear so-called fake news — which could have repercussions for all the activist groups that, against all advice and common sense, continue to offer up their plans/organise events on that medium.
We may see the same censorship on Google, as well as dissident websites disappearing down the proposed memory-hole of the Knowledge Vault. Sure, such pages may be recorded on sites like the WayBack Machine et al, but who really searches through that reflexively? Most us us don’t even get through the first page of Google hits anyway. In our digital age, this will make the 20th century practice of your analogue dictator — the airbrushing of political opponents out of history — look positively quaint.
But, just as the Gutenberg Press was a radical innovation in the 15th century that led to a rapid spread of written ideas and the resulting censorship, repression and a thriving underground media, so the the current crackdown will lead to the same push-back.
Then we have to consider the potential censorship of state-owned news outlets such as RT, the Chinese CCTV, and the Iranian Press TV. Where will that leave other state-owned organisations such as the BBC, RAI and other international Euro-broadcasters? Oh, of course, they are part of the Western media club, so it’s all hunkey-dorey and business as usual.
But this can be a two-sided fight — only two months ago RT’s UK bankers, the state-owned Nat West Bank, announced that they were going to shut down the channel’s UK accounts, with no reason or redress. I gather that a similar threat was then issued against the BBC in Russia, and the case was quietly dropped.
Over the last 20 years I have been interviewed by hundreds of major media outlets across Europe, many of them state-owned. However, it is only when I appear on RT.com that I am accused of supporting a state-propaganda outlet, of being a useful idiot — and this has become increasingly marked over the last couple of years.
All these measures smack of an ill-informed and out-of-touch panic reaction by a hitherto complacent establishment. Before they attempt to airbrush history, we need to remember that history teaches some useful lessons about such elitist crackdowns: they never end well for anyone.
Here is a recent interview I did for the RT UK’s flagship news channel, “Going Underground” about the horrors of the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill — the so-called “snoopers charter” — that will legalise previously illegal mass surveillance, mass data retention, and mass hacking carried out by GCHQ in league with the NSA:
My interview starts at 19 minutes in — there is Brexit stuff first, about which I shall write more about soon.…
It was reported in The Guardian newspaper today that the UK parliamentary joint committee on human rights was questioning the legal framework underpinning the use of British drone strikes against terrorist suspects.
Here is an interview I did for RT today about the questionable legality of the UK drone strike programme:
Below is an article I recently wrote for the excellent European drug policy reform organisation, European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies — ENCOD. And here is the link to the original on the ENCOD website.
I have had the honour of serving as the European Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) for the last four years, and have been thrilled to oversee the establishment of thriving national groups in the UK and Germany, with the possibility of more on the horizon. In my view, law enforcement offers a unique and critical voice to the international drug policy reform debate.
LEAP, founded in 2002, today has over 150,000 supporters and speakers in 20 countries. We consist of police officers, lawyers, judges, prison governors, probation officers, intelligence and military personnel, and even international drug czars. What unites us is a shared professional knowledge, experienced across the full spectrum of law enforcement, that drug prohibition has egregiously failed.
Over the last 50 years global drug use has exponentially increased, the potency of illegal drugs has increased, they are ubiquitously available, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this information, how can our governments claim they are winning the “war on drugs” to create a “drug free world”?
Quite the opposite – prohibition has enabled a global and exponentially growing black market.
I became aware of drug prohibition failure while I was working for MI5 back in the 1990s. One of my postings involved investigating terrorist logistics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Customs across the UK. This experience made me aware that the “war” had been lost. It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive overlap between the illegal drug market and terrorist funding.
The US DEA estimates that over half the designated terrorist groups around the world gain the bulk of their funding from drugs money. So on the one hand prohibiting drugs and fighting the “war on drugs” sends the market underground and the resulting massive profits provide a key revenue stream to terrorists, not least ISIS which controls part of the flow of heroin from central Asia into Europe. On the other hand the West is also waging the “war on terror” to fight these same groups.
So what our governments give the military-security complex with one hand, they also give with the other.
But is not all bad news. Countries in Latin America and states in North America are legalising cannabis, safe injection rooms have rolled out across Europe, Canada is looking to legalise cannabis, and the decriminalisation of drugs has been hugely successful in countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic.
Even at the UN level, which recently held a once-in-a-generation General Assembly Special Session in New York, the concept of harm reduction is at least now being tabled by some countries, although the progress is glacial.
The times may not be changing fast enough for many of us in the drug policy reform world, despite baby steps being made in the right direction by some countries. Yet even the more progressive countries within the international community are still constrained by the legal straight jacket that is the UN drug treaty framework.
And while harm reduction is good progress in that it no longer criminalises those who choose to use, it utterly fails to address the bigger problem that I mentioned before: that the criminalisation of certain drugs drives the market underground, providing huge profits to organised crime cartels and terrorist groups around the world every year. Prohibition has unleashed the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen. As with alcohol prohibiton in 20th century America, only legalisation and regulation will remove this market from the greedy grasp of criminals.
I have just watched a old BBC Newsnight debate between comedian and actor, Russell Brand, and right-wing writer and commentator, Peter Hitchens. The debate encapsulated the entrenched positions of both the reformist and prohibitionist camps. The former was represented by Brand, a former drug user in recovery, advocating abstinence-based therapy. The latter by Hitchens, an anti-drug warrior largely approaching the issue from a morality position, who argued that taking drugs is a crime and that all such crimes should be prosecuted as a deterrence.
While naturally I lean more towards the position of Brand, who two years ago electrified a rather turgid annual UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna by calling for full drug legalisation, and also while respecting his personal experiences, I do think he’s missing a trick.
Yes, those with drug dependencies need help and compassion not prison, but the vast majority of those who choose to use do so recreationally, just for fun, and never develop an addiction, just as only a minority of those who choose to drink go on to develop alcoholism. And yet the parameters of the drug debate rarely stray beyond the well-worn issue of “problem” users, both amongst reformist as well as prohibitionist circles. We do not call all drinkers alcoholics so why, in the public discourse, are all users of other drugs clumped together as “addicts” in high-profile debates?
As for Hitchens, I remain baffled. He seems to think that all laws are immutable, graven in stone with words from on high, and as such must therefore be strictly enforced. This is tosh. All laws change and evolve to reflect the changing mores of the societies which write them. If this were not to happen, we in the West would still burn witches, own slaves, not allow women to vote, outlaw homosexuality and, in America of course, alcohol would remain prohibited. Yet now, all these outdated, unjust, and cruel laws have been swept away,
In 2014 LEAP published a Proposed Amendment of the UN Treaties, in which we argue that all drugs should be brought within the orbit of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (2003). We argue that only full regulation and control of the drug market will end the scourge of the illegal global drug trade. Until this happens at least $320 billion per year profits will continue to benefit only crime cartels and terrorist organisations.
The “war on drugs” has failed.
Albert Einstein, who was not exactly a dullard, said that the very definition of insanity was to continue to do the same thing, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will eventually get a different outcome. That is what we are seeing with prohibition.
It is time for this insanity to cease.
My written evidence to the Scrutiny Committee in the UK Houses of Parliament that is currently examining the much-disputed Investigatory Powers Bill (IP):
1. My name is Annie Machon and I worked as an intelligence officer for the UK’s domestic Security Service, commonly referred to as MI5, from early 1991 until late 1996. I resigned to help my partner at the time, fellow intelligence officer David Shayler, expose a number of instances of crime and incompetence we had witnessed during our time in the service.
2. I note that the draft IP Bill repeatedly emphasises the importance of democratic and judicial oversight of the various categories of intrusive intelligence gathering by establishing an Investigatory Powers Commissioner as well as supporting Judicial Commissioners. However, I am concerned about the real and meaningful application of this oversight.
3. While in the Service in the 1990s we were governed by the terms of the Interception of Communications Act 1985 (IOCA), the precursor to RIPA, which provided for a similar system of applications for a warrant and ministerial oversight.
4. I would like to submit evidence that the system did not work and could be manipulated from the inside.
5. I am aware of at least two instances of this during my time in the service, which were cleared for publication by MI5 in my 2005 book about the Shayler case, “Spies Lies, and Whistleblowers”, so my discussing them now is not in breach of the Official Secrets Act. I would be happy to provide further evidence, either written or in person, about these abuses.
6. My concern about this draft Bill is that while the oversight provisions seem to be strengthened, with approval necessary from both the Secretary of State and a Judicial Commissioner, the interior process of application for warrants will still remain opaque and open to manipulation within the intelligence agencies.
7. The application process for a warrant governing interception or interference involved a case being made in writing by the intelligence officer in charge of an investigation. This then went through four layers of management, with all the usual redactions and finessing, before a final summary was drafted by H Branch, signed by the DDG, and then dispatched to the Secretary of State. So the minister was only ever presented with was a summary of a summary of a summary of a summary of the original intelligence case.
8. Additionally, the original intelligence case could be erroneous and misleading. The process of writing the warrant application was merely a tick box exercise, and officers would routinely note that such intelligence could only be obtained by such intrusive methods, rather than exploring all open source options first. The revalidation process could be even more cavalier.
9. When problems with this system were voiced, officers were told to not rock the boat and just follow orders. During the annual visit by the Intelligence Intercept Commissioner, those with concerns were banned from meeting him.
10. Thus I have concerns about the realistic power of the oversight provisions written into this Bill and would urge an additional provision. This would establish an effective channel whereby officers with concerns can give evidence directly and in confidence to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner in the expectation that a proper investigation will be conducted and with no repercussions to their careers inside the agencies. Here is a link to a short video I did for Oxford University three years ago outlining these proposals:
11. This, in my view, would be a win-win scenario for all concerned. The agencies would have a chance to improve their work practices, learn from mistakes, and better protect national security, as well as avoiding the scandal and embarrassment of any future whistleblowing scandals; the officers with ethical concerns would not be placed in the invidious position of either becoming complicit in potentially illegal acts by “just following orders” or risking the loss of their careers and liberty by going public about their concerns.
12. I would also like to raise the proportionality issue. It strikes me that bulk intercept must surely be disproportionate within a functioning and free democracy, and indeed can actually harm national security. Why? Because the useful, indeed crucial, intelligence on targets and their associates is lost in the tsunami of available information. Indeed this seems to have been the conclusion of every inquiry about the recent spate of “lone wolf” and ISIS-inspired attacks across the West – the targets were all vaguely known to the authorities but resources were spread too thinly.
13. In fact all that bulk collection seems to provide is confirmation after the fact of a suspect’s involvement in a specific incident, which is surely specifically police evidential work. Yet the justification for the invasive intercept and interference measures laid out in the Bill itself is to gather vital information ahead of an attack in order to prevent it – the very definition of intelligence. How is this possible if the sheer scale of bulk collection drowns out the vital nuggets of intelligence?
14. Finally, I would like to raise the point that the phrase “national security” has never been defined for legal purposes in the UK. Surely this should be the very first step necessary before formulating the proposed IP Bill? Until we have such a legal definition, how can we formulate new and intrusive laws in the name of protecting an undefined and nebulous concept, and how can we judge that the new law will thereby be proportionate within a democracy?
Here is an interview I did for RT today as the news broke that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention would announce tomorrow the findings of its report into the Julian Assange case.
The BBC apparently reported today that the ruling would be in Assange’s favour.