Have British Spies been hacking the EU?

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

Just after mid­night on 16 August I was called by LBC in Lon­don for a com­ment on a break­ing story on the front page of The Daily Tele­graph about Brit­ish spies hack­ing the EU. Even though I had just retired to bed, the story was just too irres­ist­ible, but a radio inter­view is always too short to do justice to such a con­vo­luted tale. Here are some longer thoughts.

For those who can­not get past the Tele­graph pay wall, the gist is that that the EU has accused the Brit­ish intel­li­gence agen­cies of hack­ing the EU’s side of the nego­ti­ations. Appar­ently some highly sens­it­ive and neg­at­ive slides about the Brit­ish Prime Minister’s plan for Brexit, the Chequers Plan, had landed in the lap of the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment, which then lob­bied the EU to sup­press pub­lic­a­tion.

Of course, this could be a genu­ine leak from the Brus­sels sieve, as Brit­ish sources are claim­ing (well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?). How­ever, it is plaus­ible that this is the work of the spies, either by recruit­ing a paid-up agent well-placed with­in the Brus­sels bur­eau­cracy, or through elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.

Before dis­miss­ing the lat­ter option as con­spir­acy the­ory, the Brit­ish spies do have form. In the run up to the Iraq war in 2003, the USA and UK were des­per­ate to get a UN Secur­ity Coun­cil res­ol­u­tion to invade Iraq, thus provid­ing a fig leaf of appar­ent legit­im­acy to the illeg­al war. How­ever, some coun­tries with­in the UN had their doubts and the USA asked Britain’s listen­ing post, GCHQ, to step up its sur­veil­lance game. Fore­warned is fore­armed in del­ic­ate inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­ations.

How do we know this? A brave GCHQ whis­tleblower called Kath­er­ine Gun leaked the inform­a­tion to The Observ­er. For her pains, she was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion under the dra­coni­an terms of the UK’s 1989 Offi­cial Secrets Act, and faced two years in pris­on. The case was only dropped three weeks before her tri­al was due to begin, partly because of the feared pub­lic out­cry, but mainly because her law­yers threatened to use the leg­al defence of “neces­sity” – a defence won only three years before dur­ing the case of MI5 whis­tleblower, Dav­id Shayler. Tan­gen­tially, a film is this year being made about Gun’s story.

We also have con­firm­a­tion from one of the early 2013 Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures that GCHQ had hacked its way into the Bel­ga­com net­work – the nation­al tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions sup­pli­er in Bel­gi­um. Even back then there was an out­cry from the EU bod­ies, wor­ried that the UK (and by exten­sion its closest intel­li­gence buddy the USA), would gain lever­age with stolen know­ledge.

So, yes, it is per­fectly feas­ible that the UK could have done this, even though it was illeg­al back in the day. GCHQ’s inces­tu­ous rela­tion­ship with the America’s NSA gives it massively great­er cap­ab­il­it­ies than oth­er European intel­li­gence agen­cies, and the EU knows this well, which is why is is con­cerned to retain access to the UK’s defence and secur­ity powers post-Brexit, and also why it has jumped to these con­clu­sions about hack­ing.

But that was then and this is now. On 1st Janu­ary 2017 the UK gov­ern­ment finally signed a law called the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act, gov­ern­ing the leg­al frame­work for GCHQ to snoop. The IPA gave GCHQ the most dra­coni­an and invas­ive powers of any west­ern demo­cracy. Oth­er­wise known in the Brit­ish media as the “snoop­ers’ charter”, it had been defeated in Par­lia­ment for years, but Theresa May, then Home Sec­ret­ary, pushed it through in the teeth of leg­al and civil soci­ety oppos­i­tion. This year the High Court ordered the UK gov­ern­ment to redraft the IPA as it is incom­pat­ible with European law.

The IPA leg­al­ised what GCHQ had pre­vi­ously been doing illeg­ally post-9/11, includ­ing bulk metadata col­lec­tion, bulk data hack­ing, and bulk hack­ing of elec­tron­ic devices.

It also notion­ally gave the gov­ern­ment great­er over­sight of the spies’ actions, but these meas­ures remain weak and offer no pro­tec­tion if the spies choose to keep quiet about what they are doing. So if GCHQ did indeed hack the EU, it is feas­ible that the For­eign Sec­ret­ary and the Prime Min­is­ter remained ignor­ant of what was going on, des­pite being leg­ally required to sign off on such oper­a­tions. In which case the spies would be run­ning amok.

It is also feas­ible that they were indeed fully briefed and an argu­ment could be made that they would be cor­rect to do so. GCHQ and the oth­er spy agen­cies are required to pro­tect “nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being” of Great Bri­tain, and I can cer­tainly see a strong argu­ment could be made that they were doing pre­cisely that, provided they had pri­or writ­ten per­mis­sion for such a sens­it­ive oper­a­tion, if they tried to get advance intel­li­gence about the EU’s Brexit strategy.

This argu­ment becomes even more power­ful when you con­sider the prob­lems around the fraught issue of the bor­der between North­ern Ire­land and Ire­land, an issue about which the EU is being par­tic­u­larly intransigent. If a deal is not made then the 1998 Good Fri­day Agree­ment could be under threat and civil war might again break out in North­ern Ire­land. You can­not get much more “nation­al secur­ity” than that and GCHQ would be jus­ti­fied in this work, provided it has acquired the neces­sary leg­al sign-offs from its polit­ic­al mas­ters.

How­ever, these argu­ments will do noth­ing to appease the enraged EU offi­cials. No doubt the UK gov­ern­ment will con­tin­ue to state that this was a leak from a Brus­sels insider and oil will, pub­licly at least, be seen to have been poured on troubled dip­lo­mat­ic waters.

How­ever, behind the scenes this will mul­tiply the mutu­al suspicion,and will no doubt unleash a witch hunt through the cor­ridors of EU power, with top civil ser­vant Martin Sel­mayr (aka The Mon­ster) cast as Witchfind­er Gen­er­al. With him on your heels, you would have to be a very brave leak­er, whis­tleblower, or even paid-up agent work­ing for the Brits to take such a risk.

So, per­haps this is indeed a GCHQ hack. How­ever jus­ti­fi­able this might be under the leg­ally neb­u­lous concept of “nation­al secur­ity”, this will pois­on fur­ther the already tox­ic Brexit nego­ti­ations. As Angela Merkal fam­ously if dis­en­gen­ously said after the Snowden rev­el­a­tion that the USA had hacked her mobile phone: “no spy­ing among friends”. But per­haps this is an out­dated concept – nor has the EU exactly been entirely friendly to Brexit Bri­tain.

I am just wait­ing for the first hys­ter­ic­al claim that it was the Rus­si­ans instead or, fail­ing them, former Trump strategist-in-chief, Steve Ban­non, reportedly cur­rently on a mis­sion to build a divis­ive Alt-Right Move­ment across Europe…..

French intelligence exonerates Russia of election hacking

My recent RT inter­view about the French intel­li­gence report that exon­er­ated Rus­sia of try­ing to hack the recent pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, des­pite the claims of new Pres­id­ent, Emmanu­al Mac­ron. The same thing has happened in Ger­many too, much to Merkel’s dis­pleas­ure..

And so the tapestry of lies begins to fray:

No Evid­ence of Rus­si­an Hack­ing of French Elec­tion from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Donald Trump v the Spooks

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News on 16 Janu­ary 2017.

The clash between plu­to­crat­ic Pres­id­ent-elect Trump and the CIA is shap­ing up to be the heavy-weight prize fight of the cen­tury, and Trump at least is approach­ing it with all the enter­tain­ing bom­bast of Mohammed Ali at the top of his game. Rather than fol­low­ing the tra­di­tion of doing dirty polit­ic­al deals in dark corners, more com­monly known as fix­ing the match, Trump has come out swinging in the full glare of the media.

In that corner we have a deal-mak­ing, bil­lion­aire “man of the people” who, to European sens­ib­il­it­ies at least, reputedly espouses some of the mad­der US domest­ic obses­sions and yet has seemed to offer hope to many aggrieved Amer­ic­ans. How­ever, it is his pro­fessed pos­i­tion on build­ing a rap­proche­ment with Rus­sia and cooper­at­ing with Moscow to sort out the Syr­i­an mess that caught my atten­tion and that of many oth­er inde­pend­ent com­ment­at­ors inter­na­tion­ally.

In the oppos­ite corner his oppon­ents have pushed the CIA into the ring to deliv­er the knock-out blow, but this has yet to land.  Des­pite jab after failed jab, Trump keeps evad­ing the blows and comes rat­tling back against all the odds. One has to admire the guy’s foot­work.

So who are the oppon­ents ranged behind the CIA, yelling encour­age­ment through the ropes? The obvi­ous cul­prits include the US mil­it­ary indus­tri­al com­plex, whose bot­tom line relies on an era of unend­ing war. As jus­ti­fic­a­tion for extract­ing bil­lions — even tril­lions — of dol­lars from Amer­ic­an tax­pay­ers, there was a need for fright­en­ing vil­lains such as Al Qaeda and, even more so, the head chop­pers of ISIS.  How­ever, since the Rus­si­an inter­ven­tion in Syr­ia in 2015, those vil­lains no longer packed so scary a punch, so a more endur­ing vil­lain, like Emmanuel Gold­stein, the prin­cip­al enemy in George Orwell’s “1984”, was required.  Rus­sia was the obvi­ous new choice, the old favour­ite from the Cold War play book.

The west­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies have a ves­ted interest in etern­al enemies to ensure both etern­al fund­ing and etern­al power, hence the CIA’s entry into the fight. As former Brit­ish MP and long-time peace act­iv­ist George Gal­lo­way so elo­quently said in a recent inter­view, an unholy alli­ance is now being formed between the “war party” in the US, the mil­it­ary-indus­tri­al-intel­li­gence com­plex and those who pre­vi­ously would have pub­licly spurned such accom­plices: Amer­ic­an pro­gress­ives and their tra­di­tion­al host, the Demo­crat­ic Party.

Yet, if the DNC had not done its best to rig the primar­ies in favour of Hil­lary Clin­ton, then per­haps we would not be in this pos­i­tion. Bernie Sanders would now be the Pres­id­ent-elect.

These estab­lish­ment forces have also revealed to the wider world a fact long known but largely dis­missed as con­spir­acy the­ory by the cor­por­ate main­stream media, that the two-party sys­tem in both the US and the UK is a sham. In fact, we are gov­erned by a glob­al­ised élite, work­ing in its own interest while ignor­ing ours. The Demo­crats, openly dis­gruntled by Hil­lary Clinton’s elec­tion loss and being seen to jump into bed so quickly with the spooks and the war­mon­gers, have laid this real­ity bare.

In fact, respec­ted US invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist Robert Parry recently wrote that an intel­li­gence con­tact admit­ted to him before the elec­tion that the intel­li­gence agen­cies did not like either of the pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. This may go some way to explain­ing the FBI’s inter­ven­tion in the run up to the elec­tion against Hil­lary Clin­ton, as well as the CIA’s attempts to de-legit­im­ise Trump’s vic­tory after­wards.

Wheth­er that was indeed the case, the CIA has cer­tainly held back no punches since Trump’s elec­tion. First the evid­ence-lite asser­tion that it was the Rus­si­ans who hacked the DNC emails and leaked them to Wikileaks: then the fake news about Rus­sia hack­ing the vot­ing com­puters; that then morph­ed into the Rus­si­ans “hacked the elec­tion” itself; then they “hacked” into the US elec­tric grid via a Ver­mont util­ity.  All this without a shred of fact-based evid­ence provided, but Obama’s expul­sion of 35 Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats last month solid­i­fied this dubi­ous real­ity in Amer­ic­ans’ minds.

All this has so far cul­min­ated, of course, in the “dirty dossier” alleg­a­tions last week about Trump, which he has rightly knocked down — it was des­per­ately poor stuff.

This last item, from a Brit­ish per­spect­ive, is par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing. It appears that a Wash­ing­ton dirt-dig­ging com­pany was hired by a Repub­lic­an rival to Trump to unearth any poten­tial Rus­si­an scan­dals dur­ing the primar­ies; once Trump had won the nom­in­a­tion this dirt-dig­ging job­bery was then taken over by a Demo­crat sup­port­er of Hil­lary Clin­ton. The anti-Trump invest­ig­a­tion was then sub-con­trac­ted to an alleged former Brit­ish spy, an ex-MI6 man named Chris­toph­er Steele.

Much has already been writ­ten about Steele and the com­pany, much of it con­tra­dict­ory as no doubt befits the life of a former spy. But it is a stand­ard career tra­ject­ory for insiders to move on to cor­por­ate, mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies, and this is what Steele appears to have done suc­cess­fully in 2009.  Of course much is pre­dic­ated on main­tain­ing good work­ing rela­tions with your former employ­ers.

That is the aspect that interests me most — how close a link­age did he indeed retain with his former employ­ers after he left MI6 in 2009 to set up his own private spy com­pany? The answer is import­ant because com­pan­ies such has his can also be used as cut-outs for “plaus­ible deni­ab­il­ity” by offi­cial state spies.

Of course, I’m not sug­gest­ing that happened in this case, but Steele reportedly remained on good terms with MI6 and was well thought of.  For a man who had not been sta­tioned in Rus­sia for over 20 years, it would per­haps have been nat­ur­al for him to turn to old chums for use­ful con­nec­tions.

But this ques­tion is of extreme import­ance at a crit­ic­al junc­ture for the UK; if indeed MI6 was com­pli­cit or even aware of this dirt dig­ging, as it seems it might have been, then that is a huge dip­lo­mat­ic prob­lem for the government’s attempts to devel­op a strong work­ing rela­tion­ship with the US, post-Brexit. If MI6’s sticky fin­gers were on this case, then the organ­isa­tion has done the pre­cise oppos­ite of its offi­cial task — “to pro­tect nation­al secur­ity and the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK”.

MI6 and its US intel­li­gence chums need to remem­ber their des­ig­nated and legis­lated roles with­in a demo­cracy — to serve the gov­ern­ment and pro­tect nation­al secur­ity by gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, assess­ing it impar­tially and mak­ing recom­mend­a­tions on which the gov­ern­ment of the day will choose to act or not as the case may be.

The spies are not there to fake intel­li­gence to suit the agenda of a par­tic­u­lar régime, as happened in the run-up to the illeg­al Iraq war, nor are they there to endem­ic­ally spy on their own pop­u­la­tions (and the rest of the world, as we know post-Snowden) in a point­less hunt for sub­vers­ive activ­ity, which often trans­lates into legit­im­ate polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and acts of indi­vidu­al expres­sion.

And most espe­cially the intel­li­gence agen­cies should not be try­ing to sub­vert demo­crat­ic­ally elec­ted gov­ern­ments. And yet this is what the CIA and a former seni­or MI6 officer, along with their power­ful polit­ic­al allies, appear to be now attempt­ing against Trump.

If I were an Amer­ic­an I would be wary of many of Trump’s domest­ic policies. As a European con­cerned with great­er peace rather than increas­ing war, I can only applaud his con­struct­ive approach towards Rus­sia and his offer to coöper­ate with Moscow to staunch the blood­shed in the Middle East.

That, of course, may be nub of his fight with the CIA and oth­er ves­ted interests who want Rus­sia as the new bogey­man.  But I would bet that Trump takes the CIA’s slurs per­son­ally. After all, giv­en the ugli­ness of the accus­a­tions and the lack of proof, who would not?

So, this is a world cham­pi­on­ship heavy-weight fight, over who gets to hold office and wield power, an area where the US and UK intel­li­gence agen­cies have con­sid­er­able exper­i­ence in rig­ging matches and knock­ing out oppon­ents. Think, for instance, Ira­ni­an Prime Min­is­ter Mohammad Mossad­eq in 1953; Chilean Pres­id­ent Sal­vador Allende in 1973; Iraqi lead­er Sad­dam Hus­sein in 2003; and Liby­an lead­er Muam­mar Gad­dafi in 2011. Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-Assad in Syr­ia is punch-drunk but still stand­ing, thanks to some good corner sup­port from Rus­sia.

How­ever, it would appear that Trump is a stranger to the spies’ self-defined Queens­bury Rules in which tar­gets are deemed para­noid if they try to alert the pub­lic to the planned “régime change” or they become easy tar­gets by stay­ing silent. By con­trast, Trump appears shame­less and pug­na­cious. Street-smart and self-pro­mot­ing, he seems com­fort­able with bare-knuckle fight­ing.

This match has already gone into the middle rounds with Trump still boun­cing around on his toes and rel­ish­ing the fight. It would be iron­ic if out of this nasty prize fight came great­er world peace and safely for us all.

Is the USA Facing a Coup d’Etat?

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.

First pub­lished on RT:

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.

Shades of Watergate — the fake Russian Hacking

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?

CIA threatens cyber attacks against Russia

The CIA was recently repor­ted to have issued the threat of cyber attacks against the Rus­si­an lead­er­ship, in retali­ation for alleged and unsub­stan­ti­ated claims that Rus­sia is try­ing to influ­ence the Amer­ic­an elec­tions.

Here is an inter­view I did yes­ter­day about this, and wider, issues:

Amer­ic­ans should fear elec­tion hack­ing by US estab­lish­ment, not Rus­sia’ from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

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.