Tony Soprano meets Joe McCarthy

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The murder of Pat Finucane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blitz Spirit?

Sir_Paul_StephensonThe most seni­or police officer in the UK, the Com­mis­sion­er of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Sir Paul Steph­en­son no less, is say­ing that the Brit­ish cit­izens are not tak­ing the threat of ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough.  “Al Qaeda” could strike at any minute, the enemy is with­in etc, etc.…

Now, for a man of his seni­or­ity, one pre­sumes that he has served as a police­man for a fair few years — pos­sibly in the 1970s, cer­tainly the 80s and 90s.  Which means that he should have a memory of what it means to be under the real, daily threat of bombs explod­ing that aimed to maim, kill and ter­ror­ize the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Lon­don and the rest of the UK.  After all, through­out those dec­ades the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA, backed by the fund-rais­ing activ­it­ies of cer­tain Amer­ic­an cit­izens and Col­on­el Gad­dafi of Libya — that erstwhile pat­ron of free­dom fight­ers every­where, now a staunch ally of the West in the “war on ter­ror” — was pretty much put­ting bombs down at will on UK streets.

Bishopsgate_Bombing_1993Dur­ing these years the UK has endured Lock­er­bie, Omagh, Bish­opsgate, Canary Wharf, and Manchester, to name but a few major atro­cit­ies.  A good sum­mary of the ter­ror­ist attacks against Lon­don alone over the last 150 years can be found here, with the first Tube bomb­ing occur­ring in 1885.  A pilot, Patrick Smith, also recently wrote a great art­icle about air­craft secur­ity and the sheer scale of the ter­ror­ist threat to the West in the 1980s — and asks a very per­tin­ent ques­tion: just how would we col­lect­ively react to such a stream of atro­cit­ies now? 

Put­ting aside my pro­fes­sion­al life at the time, I have per­son­al memor­ies of what it was like to live and work in Lon­don in the 1990s under the shad­ow of ter­ror­ism.  I remem­ber mak­ing my way to work when I was a fledging MI5 intel­li­gence officer in 1991 and com­mut­ing through Vic­tor­ia train sta­tion in Lon­don 10 minutes before a bomb, planted in a rub­bish bin, exploded on the sta­tion con­course.  One per­son was killed, and many sus­tained severe injur­ies.  One per­son had their foot blown off — the image haunted me for a long time.

I also vividly remem­ber, two years later, sit­ting at my desk in MI5’s May­fair office, and hear­ing a dull thud in the back­ground — this turned out to be a bomb explod­ing out­side Har­rods depart­ment store in Knights­bridge.  And let’s not for­get the almost daily dis­rup­tion to the tube and rail net­works dur­ing the 90s because of secur­ity alerts.  Every Lon­don­er was exhor­ted to watch out for, and report, any sus­pi­cious pack­ages left at sta­tions or on streets.  Yet because of the pre­ced­ing couple of dec­ades, this was already a nor­mal way of life in the city. 

Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On_PosterLon­don­ers have grown used to incon­veni­ence; they grumble a bit about the dis­rup­tion and then get on with their lives — echoes of the “keep calm and carry on” men­tal­ity that evolved dur­ing the Blitz years.  In the 1990s the only notice­able change to Lon­don’s diurn­al rhythm was that there were few­er US tour­ists clog­ging up the streets — an early indic­a­tion of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate, para­noid US reac­tion to a per­ceived ter­ror­ist threat.

Sep­ar­ate from the IRA, in 1994 a car bomb exploded out­side the Israeli embassy in Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don.  Des­pite ini­tial reports that Ira­ni­an-backed groups were respons­ible (and, it turns out, MI5 may have dropped the ball), Palestini­an act­iv­ists were blamed and con­victed, wrongly it turns out, as MI5 assessed that the Israeli intel­li­gence agency, Mossad, had pulled a dirty trick.

Ter­ror­ism on the streets of Lon­don was noth­ing new.  In the early 1980s my fath­er was in Lon­don attend­ing an invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism course and nar­rowly missed two bomb­ings — one in a res­taur­ant at Marble Arch a couple of hours after he and the rest of the course mem­bers had been eat­ing there, and anoth­er later that night close to the hotel he was stay­ing in at Lan­caster Gate. 

Dawson's_Field_VC10My Pa had anoth­er near miss in 1970 when he was a young air­line pilot fly­ing VC-10s around the world for BOAC. He was sup­posed to be the pilot of the VC-10 that ended up at Dawson’s Field in Jordan — hijacked by mem­bers of the PFLP and even­tu­ally blown up.  He had been pre­ven­ted from fly­ing from Bahrain that day as he was suf­fer­ing a bad dose of the ‘flu.

To this day, his view about both these incid­ents is to shrug and carry on.  Yes, it was a close shave, but if you allow incid­ents like that to col­our the rest of your life, then the concept of ter­ror­ism has already won.

The UK and its cit­izens have had plenty of hands-on exper­i­ence of liv­ing with the real­ity of war, polit­ic­al viol­ence and ter­ror­ism.   As a res­ult, I’m con­stantly flab­ber­gas­ted by the glob­al secur­ity crack­down since 9/11 and par­tic­u­larly in the UK after 7th July 2005.  It was ghastly, and my heart bleeds for the vic­tims, fam­il­ies, and sur­viv­ors, but major ter­ror­ist atro­cit­ies are hardly new to the UK

Gerard_Conlan_Guildford_4_releaseThe UK gov­ern­ment seems now to have for­got­ten hard-learned les­sons from the 1970s and 80s in the war in North­ern Ire­land: that dra­coni­an meas­ures — tor­ture, shoot to kill, intern­ment, mil­it­ary-style tribunals —  not only don’t work, but also are counter-pro­duct­ive and act as recruit­ing grounds for ter­ror­ist groups.  The flag­rant mis­car­riages of justice around cases like the Guild­ford Four and Birm­ing­ham Six rein­forced this per­spect­ive.  

And the UK has not been alone in Europe when it comes to liv­ing with the daily real­ity of ter­ror­ism: the Span­ish have endured Basque sep­ar­at­ist attacks for four dec­ades, as have the French — in addi­tion to those per­pet­rated in Par­is with dev­ast­at­ing res­ults by Algeri­an Islam­ic groups in the 1990s.  Ger­many suc­cess­fully dealt with the Baader-Mein­hof Gang (Red Army Fac­tion), and oth­er European coun­tries, such as Bel­gi­um and Italy, have endured Oper­a­tion Gla­dio style ter­ror­ist attacks over recent dec­ades.

But in all those years, none of our coun­tries gave up on the concept of basic val­ues and freedoms — indeed they seemed to learn use­ful les­sons from the repress­ive, failed exper­i­ment in North­ern Ire­land.  So why are we now fall­ing in line, unthink­ingly, with the hys­ter­ic­al and bru­tal US response post 9/11? 

Das_leben_der_anderenIn the UK we are effect­ively liv­ing under a Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance state, as I have pre­vi­ously and extens­ively writ­ten.  Oth­er North­ern European coun­tries are con­stantly pres­sured to fall in line with the US “war on ter­ror” fear men­tal­ity.  To its cred­it Ger­many is react­ing cau­tiously, even in the face of the cur­rent, hyped-up ter­ror threat.  But then we Europeans know the les­sons of his­tory — we’ve lived them, and Ger­many more than most.  The ghosts of the Gestapo and the Stasi still cre­ate a fris­son of fear in the col­lect­ive Ger­man­ic memory.

But return­ing to that doughty crime fight­er, Sir Paul Steph­en­son.  The day after he ticked off the UK pub­lic for not tak­ing ter­ror­ism ser­i­ously enough, he is once again in the media, pre­dict­ing an era of grow­ing civil unrest in the wake of the stu­dent riots in Lon­don, and chillingly stat­ing that the rules of the game had changed.  For­get about try­ing to nego­ti­ate with cam­paign­ers — now the only way to deal with them is to spy on them, as The Guard­i­an repor­ted:

We have been going through a peri­od where we have not seen that sort of viol­ent dis­order,” Steph­en­son said. “We had dealt with stu­dent organ­isers before and I think we based it too much on his­tory. If we fol­low an intel­li­gence-based mod­el that stops you doing that. Obvi­ously you real­ise the game has changed. Regret­tably, the game has changed and we must act.”

Big_BrotherLast year the same news­pa­per revealed that ACPO, the seni­or police officers’ private asso­ci­ation, was run­ning an illeg­al unit to spy on “domest­ic extrem­ists” (read polit­ic­ally act­ive cit­izens).  In response to the pub­lic out­cry, the head of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde, prom­ised to stop this Stasi-like prac­tice.  In the wake of the stu­dent protests, Sir Paul will prob­ably see a renewed need for the unit, no doubt under anoth­er name.  Big Broth­er grows apace — because, of course, we all know that Ocean­ia has always been at war with East­as­ia.…..

CCTV doesn’t prevent crime

So, the argu­ment about CCTV and our big broth­er soci­ety rumbles on. A seni­or police­man, Detect­ive Chief Inspect­or Mick Neville of the Visu­al Images, Iden­ti­fic­a­tions and Detec­tions Office (Viido) at New Scot­land Yard, has been quoted as say­ing that only 3 per cent of crimes have been solved by CCTV evid­ence. Des­pite the UK hav­ing the highest per cap­ita num­ber of CCTVs in the world, this brave new world has failed to make us safer.

A few oth­er police forces, and nat­ur­ally the secur­ity com­pan­ies flog­ging the kit, say that CCTV has at least dra­mat­ic­ally reduced oppor­tun­ist­ic crimes. Who should we believe?

What can­not be dis­puted is the fact that there are well over 4,000,000 CCTVs in this coun­try, and the organ­isa­tion, Pri­vacy Inter­na­tion­al, assesses that we are the most watched cit­izenry in Europe.

While some law-abid­ing cit­izens say they feel intim­id­ated by CCTV and how the inform­a­tion could poten­tially be mis­used, most people seem not to care. In fact, the major­ity appar­ently feel safer if they can see CCTV on the streets, even if this per­vas­ive sur­veil­lance has in no way dis­cour­aged crimes of viol­ence. So why this gap between per­cep­tion and real­ity?

One of my pet the­or­ies has always been to blame Big Broth­er. No, not the book. I have always been flum­moxed by the pop­ular­ity of the TV show and the pleth­ora of real­ity TV spin-offs. My instinct­ive reac­tion was that it was sim­il­ar to being “groomed” to accept round-the-clock intru­sion into our per­son­al lives. More than accept – desire it. The clear mes­sage is that such sur­veil­lance can lead to instant fame, wealth and access to the Z‑list parties of Lon­don. And for that we are sleep-walk­ing into a real Orwellian night­mare.

Slightly flip­pant the­or­ies aside, it is inter­est­ing that one of the most cited examples of the need for CCTV was the Bish­opsgate bomb­ing in Lon­don in 1993. In this case a lorry bomb, filled with a tonne of home made explos­ive (HME) was det­on­ated in the heart of the city of Lon­don by the IRA. One per­son was killed, many were injured, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds worth of dam­age was caused, not to men­tion the fact threat the IRA scored a huge pub­li­city coup.

But this had noth­ing to do with the lack or oth­er­wise of CCTV in the streets of the City. It was an intel­li­gence fail­ure, pure and simple.

This attack could and should have been pre­ven­ted. It occurred while I was work­ing in MI5, and it was widely known in the ser­vice at the time that the bomber should have been arres­ted six months before dur­ing a sur­veil­lance oper­a­tion. Des­pite the fact that he was seen check­ing out anoth­er lorry bomb in stor­age, he was allowed to walk free and escape to the Repub­lic of Ire­land due to pro­ced­ur­al cock-ups. Months later, he returned to the City and bombed Bish­opsgate.

By rely­ing increas­ingly on tech­no­lo­gies to pro­tect us, we are fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Amer­ic­ans. They have always had an over-reli­ance on gad­gets and giz­mos when seek­ing to invest­ig­ate crim­in­als and ter­ror­ists: satel­lite track­ing, phone taps, bugs. But this hoover­ing up of inform­a­tion is nev­er an adequate replace­ment for pre­cise invest­ig­at­ive work. Plus, any crim­in­al or ter­ror­ist worth their salt these days knows not to dis­cuss sens­it­ive plans elec­tron­ic­ally.

Scat­ter-gun approaches to gath­er­ing intel­li­gence, such as blanket sur­veil­lance, still at this stage require human beings to pro­cess and assess it for evid­en­tial use. That, accord­ing to DCI Neville, is part of the prob­lem. There is just too much com­ing in, not enough staff, insuf­fi­cient co-oper­a­tion between forces, and the job lacks per­ceived status with­in the police.

The oth­er prob­lem of an over-reli­ance on tech­no­logy is that it can always be hacked. The most recent hack­ing has broken the RFID chips that we all carry in our pass­ports, Oyster cards and the planned ID cards. New tech­no­lo­gies can­not guar­an­tee that our per­son­al data is secure, so rather than pro­tect­ing us, they make us more liable to crimes such as iden­tity theft.

So once again nation­al and loc­al gov­ern­ment bod­ies have rushed to buy up tech­no­logy, without fully think­ing through either its applic­a­tion or its use­ful­ness. And without fully assess­ing the implic­a­tions for a free soci­ety. Just because the tech­no­logy exists, it does not mean that it is fit for pur­pose, nor that it will make us safer.