Thought police

Here is the full inter­view I did recently for RT about the announce­ment of a new sec­tion of the UK Met­ro­pol­it­an Police ded­ic­ated to hunt­ing down “inter­net trolls”.

And here is the clip used in the inter­view:

Thought Police from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

International Day of Privacy, Berlin Demo

The Inter­na­tion­al Day of Pri­vacy was cel­eb­rated glob­ally on 31 August, with the cases of Chelsea Man­ning and Edward Snowden bring­ing extra energy and res­on­ance to the sub­ject.

I was invited take part in a demon­stra­tion in Ber­lin, cul­min­at­ing with a talk at the hugely sym­bol­ic Branden­burg Gate. Here’s the talk:

Another abuse of UK terrorism laws

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge.

Dav­id Mir­anda had just spent a week in Ber­lin, before fly­ing back to his home coun­try, Brazil, via London’s Heath­row air­port. As he attemp­ted to trans­it on to his flight home — not enter the UK, mind you, just make an inter­na­tion­al con­nec­tion —  he was pulled to one side by the UK’s bor­der secur­ity officers and ques­tioned for nine hours, as well as hav­ing all his tech­nic­al equip­ment con­fis­cated.

Glenn Greenwald and his partner David MirandaHe was detained for the max­im­um peri­od allowed under the dra­coni­an terms of Sched­ule 7 of the UK’s Ter­ror­ism Act (2000).  His appar­ent “crime”? To be the part­ner of cam­paign­ing journ­al­ist Glenn Gre­en­wald who broke the Edward Snowden whis­tleblow­ing stor­ies.

Miranda’s deten­tion has caused out­rage, rightly, around the world. Dip­lo­mat­ic rep­res­ent­a­tions have been made by the Brazili­an gov­ern­ment to the Brit­ish, UK MPs are ask­ing ques­tions, and The Guard­i­an news­pa­per (which is the primary pub­lish­er of  Greenwald’s stor­ies), has sent in the law­yers.

This epis­ode is troub­ling on so many levels, it is dif­fi­cult to know where to begin.

Magna_CartaFirstly, the Ter­ror­ism Act (2000) is designed to invest­ig­ate, er, ter­ror­ism — at least, so you would think. How­ever it is all too easy for mis­sion creep to set in, as I have been say­ing for years.  The defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism has expan­ded to cov­er act­iv­ists, plac­ard wavers, and pro­test­ers as well as, now appar­ently, the part­ners of journ­al­ists.  The old under­stand­ing of due leg­al pro­cess is merely yet anoth­er quaint, Brit­ish arte­fact like the Magna Carta and habeas cor­pus.

In the UK we now have secret courts cov­er­ing all things “nation­al secur­ity”, we have per­vas­ive Big Broth­er sur­veil­lance as exem­pli­fied by GCHQ’s TEMPORA pro­gramme, and we have our spies involved in kid­nap­ping and tor­ture.

So Sched­ule 7 of the Ter­ror­ism Act is just anoth­er small nail in the coffin of his­tor­ic Brit­ish freedoms. Under its terms, any­one can be pulled aside, detained and ques­tioned by bor­der secur­ity guards if they are “sus­pec­ted of” involve­ment in, the com­mis­sion­ing of, or fin­an­cial sup­port for ter­ror­ism. The detain­ee is not allowed to speak to a law­yer, nor are they allowed not to answer ques­tions, on pain of crim­in­al pro­sec­u­tion. Plus their prop­erty can be indef­in­itely seized and ran­sacked, includ­ing com­puters, phones, and oth­er gad­gets.

Under Sched­ule 7 people can be ques­tioned for a max­im­um of 9 hours. After that, the author­it­ies either have to apply for a form­al exten­sion, charge and arrest, or release. Accord­ing to a UK gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment, 97% people are ques­tioned for less than 1 hour then released and only 0.06% are held for six hours.  Mir­anda was held up until the last minute of the full nine hours before being released without charge.

Secondly, this abuse of power dis­plays all too clearly the points that Edward Snowden has dis­closed via Gre­en­wald about a bur­geon­ing and out-of-con­trol sur­veil­lance state. The deten­tion of Mir­anda dis­plays all the obsess­ive vin­dict­ive­ness of a wounded secret state that is buzz­ing around, angry as a wasp. Snowden has the pro­tec­tion of the only state cur­rently with the power to face down the brute might of US “dip­lomacy”, and Gre­en­wald still has the shreds of journ­al­ist pro­tec­tions around him.

Friends and part­ners, how­ever, can be seen as fair game.

I know this from bit­ter per­son­al exper­i­ence. In 1997 former MI5 intel­li­gence officer, Dav­id Shayler, blew the whistle on a whole range of UK spy crimes: files on gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, illeg­al phone taps, IRA bombs that could have been pre­ven­ted, inno­cent people in pris­on, and an illeg­al MI6 assas­sin­a­tion plot against Gad­dafi, which went wrong and inno­cent people died.

Work­ing with a major UK news­pa­per and with due respect for real nation­al secrets, he went pub­lic about these crimes.  Pre-empt­ively we went on the run togeth­er, so that we could remain free to argue about and cam­paign around the dis­clos­ures, rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into a max­im­um secur­ity pris­on for years. After a month on the run across Europe, I returned to the UK to work with our law­yers, see our trau­mat­ised fam­il­ies, and pack up our smashed-up, police-raided flat.

Annie_arrest_BWIn Septem­ber 1997 I flew back with my law­yer from Spain to Lon­don Gatwick. I knew that the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch wanted to inter­view me, and my law­yer had nego­ti­ated this ahead of my travel.  Des­pite this, I was arres­ted at the immig­ra­tion desk by six heav­ies, and car­ted off to a counter-ter­ror­ism suite at Char­ing Cross police sta­tion in cent­ral Lon­don, where I was inter­rog­ated for six hours.

At that point I had done noth­ing more than sup­port Dav­id. As anoth­er ex-MI5 officer I agreed that the spies needed great­er over­sight and account­ab­il­ity, but actu­ally my arrest was because I was his girl­friend and going after me would be lever­age against him. But is got worse — two days later Shayler’s two best friends and his broth­er were arres­ted on flag­rantly trumped-up charges. None of us was ever charged with any crime, but we were all kept on police bail for months.

Look­ing back, our treat­ment was designed to put more pres­sure on him and “keep him in his box” — it was pure intim­id­a­tion. Journ­al­ists and stu­dents were also threatened, har­assed, and in one case charged and con­victed for hav­ing the temer­ity to expose spy crimes dis­closed by Shayler. To this day, none of the crim­in­als in the UK intel­li­gence agency has ever been charged or con­victed.

So the threats and intim­id­a­tion around the Snowden case, and the deten­tion of Greenwald’s part­ner, are old, old tac­tics. What is new is the sheer scale of blatant intim­id­a­tion, the sheer bru­tish force. Des­pite the full glare of glob­al inter­net and media cov­er­age, the US and UK spooks still think they can get away with this sort of intim­id­a­tion. Will they? Or will we, the glob­al cit­izenry, draw a line in the sand?

Oh, and let’s not for­get the sheer hypo­crisy as well — the US con­demns Snowden for seek­ing refuge in Rus­sia, and cas­tig­ates that coun­try for its civil rights record on cer­tain issues. Be that as it may, the US estab­lish­ment should look to the log in its own eye first — that one of its young cit­izens faces the death sen­tence or life-long incar­cer­a­tion for expos­ing (war) crimes against the glob­al com­munity as well as the country’s own con­sti­tu­tion.

There is an inter­na­tion­ally-recog­nised leg­al pre­ced­ent from the Nurem­burg Nazi tri­als after World War 2: “just fol­low­ing orders” is not a defence under any law, par­tic­u­larly when those orders lead to vic­tim­isa­tion, war crimes and gen­o­cide.  The UK bor­der guards, as well as the inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence com­munit­ies and mil­it­ary, would do well to heed that power­ful les­son from his­tory.

So this overzeal­ous use of a law to detain the part­ner of a journ­al­ist merely trav­el­ling through the UK should make us all pause for thought. The West has long inveighed against total­it­ari­an regimes and police states. How can they not recog­nise what they have now become? And how long can we, as cit­izens, con­tin­ue to turn a blind eye?

Keeping Abreast of Privacy Issues

In the wake of the Edward Snowden dis­clos­ures about endem­ic glob­al sur­veil­lance, the rather thread­bare old argu­ment about “if you have done noth­ing wrong and have noth­ing to hide, you have noth­ing to fear” has been trot­ted out by many Big Broth­er apo­lo­gists.

But it’s not about doing any­thing wrong, it’s about hav­ing an enshrined right to pri­vacy — as recog­nised in the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights agreed in 1948.  And this was enshrined in the wake of the hor­rors of World War 2, and for very good reas­on.  If you are denied pri­vacy to read or listen, if you are denied pri­vacy to speak or write, and if you are denied pri­vacy about whom you meet and see, then free­dom has died and total­it­ari­an­ism has begun.

Those were the les­sons learned from the growth of fas­cism in the 1930s and 1940s.  If you lose the right to pri­vacy, you also lose the abil­ity to push back against dic­tat­or­ships, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments, and all the attend­ant hor­rors.

How quickly we for­get the les­sons of his­tory: not just the rights won over the last cen­tury, but those fought and died for over cen­tur­ies. We recent gen­er­a­tions in the West have grown too bloated on ease, too fin­an­cially fat and socially com­pla­cent, to fully appre­ci­ate the freedoms we are cas­u­ally throw­ing away.

body_armourSo what sparked this mini-rant? This art­icle I found in my Twit­ter stream (thanks @LossofPrivacy). It appears that a US police depart­ment in Detroit has just sent out all the tra­di­tion­ally vital stat­ist­ics of its female officers to the entire depart­ment — weight, height and even the bra size of indi­vidu­al female police officers have been shared with the staff, purely because of an email gaffe.

Well people make mis­takes and hit the wrong but­tons. So this may not sound like much, but appar­ently the women in ques­tion are not happy, and rightly so. In the still macho envir­on­ment of law enforce­ment, one can but cringe at the “josh­ing” that fol­lowed.

Put­ting aside the obvi­ous ques­tion of wheth­er we want our police officers to be tooled up like Rob­ocop, this minor débâcle high­lights a key point of pri­vacy. It’s not that one needs to hide one’s breasts as a woman — they are pretty much obvi­ous for chris­sakes — but does every­one need to know the spe­cif­ics, or is that per­son­al inform­a­tion one step too far? And as for a woman’s weight, don’t even go there.….

So these cops in Detroit, no doubt all up-stand­ing pil­lars of their com­munit­ies, might have learned a valu­able les­son. It is not a “them and us” situ­ation — the “them” being “ter­ror­ists”, act­iv­ists, com­mun­ists, lib­er­als, Teabag­gers — whatever the theme du jour hap­pens to be.

It is about a fun­da­ment­al need for pri­vacy as human beings, as the Duch­ess of Cam­bridge also dis­covered last year. This is not just about height, bra size or, god for­bid, one’s weight. This is about big­ger issues if not big­ger boobs. We all have some­thing we want kept private, be it bank state­ments, bonk­ing, or bowel move­ments.

How­ever, with endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, we have already lost our pri­vacy in our com­mu­nic­a­tions and in our daily routines — in Lon­don it is estim­ated that we are caught on CCTV more than 300 times a day just going about our daily busi­ness.

More import­antly, in this era of fin­an­cial, eco­nom­ic and polit­ic­al crises, we are los­ing our free­dom to read and watch, to speak and meet, and to protest without fear of sur­veil­lance. It is the Stasi’s wet dream, real­ised by those unas­sum­ing chaps (and obvi­ously the chapesses with boobs) in law enforce­ment, the NSA, GCHQ et al.

But it is not just the nation state level spies we have to worry about. Even if we think that we could not pos­sibly be import­ant enough to be on that par­tic­u­lar radar (although Mr Snowden has made it abund­antly clear that we all are), there is a bur­geon­ing private sec­tor of cor­por­ate intel­li­gence com­pan­ies who are only too happy to watch, infilt­rate and destabil­ise social, media and protest groups. “Psy­ops” and “astro-turf­ing” are ter­ri­fy­ing words for any­one inter­ested in human rights, act­iv­ism and civil liber­ties. But this is the new real­ity.

So, what can we do? Let’s remem­ber that most law enforce­ment people in the var­ied agen­cies are us — they want a stable job that feels val­ued, they want to provide for their fam­il­ies, they want to do the right thing. Reach out to them, and help those who do have the cour­age to speak out and expose wrong­do­ing, be it law enforce­ment pro­fes­sion­als speak­ing out against the failed “war on drugs” (such as those in LEAP) or intel­li­gence whis­tleblowers expos­ing war crimes, illeg­al sur­veil­lance and tor­ture.

Thomas_PaineBut also have the cour­age to protest and throw the tired old argu­ment back in the faces of the secur­ity proto-tyr­ants. This is what the found­ing fath­ers of the USA did: they risked being hanged as trait­ors by the Brit­ish Crown in 1776, yet they still made a stand. Using the “sedi­tious” writ­ings of Tom Paine, who ended up on the run from the UK, they had the cour­age to speak out, meet up and fight for what they believed in, and they pro­duced a good first attempt at a work­able demo­cracy.

Unfor­tu­nately, the USA estab­lish­ment has long been cor­rup­ted and sub­ver­ted by cor­por­at­ist interests. And unfor­tu­nately for the rest of the world, with the cur­rent geo-polit­ic­al power bal­ance, this still has an impact on most of us, and provides a clear example of how the chan­ging polit­ic­al land­scape can shift the goal posts of “accept­able” beha­viour — one day your are an act­iv­ist wav­ing a plac­ard, the next you are poten­tially deemed to be a “ter­ror­ist”.

But also remem­ber — we are all, poten­tially, Tom Paine. And as the end­less, neb­u­lous, and frankly largely bogus “war on ter­ror” con­tin­ues to rav­age the world and our demo­cra­cies, we all need to be.

In this post-PRISM world, we need to take indi­vidu­al respons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect our pri­vacy and ensure we have free media. At least then we can freely read, write, speak, and meet with our fel­low cit­izens. We need this pri­vacy to be the new res­ist­ance to the creep­ing total­it­ari­an­ism of the glob­al elites.

Read the sem­in­al books of Tom Paine (while you still can), weep, and then go forth.….

With thanks to my moth­er for the title of this piece. It made me laugh.

Dutch festival OHM — Observe, Hack, Make

Today I am limber­ing up to attend the Dutch geek fest­iv­al, Observe Hack Make (OHM 2013). A lot of talks from whis­tleblowers, sci­ent­ists, geeks, futur­ists and bleed­ing edge tech people. The vis­ion­ar­ies?

You decide — all talks will be live streamed and avail­able after­wards. Enjoy!

The Secret Policemen’s Balls-Up

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge, with the slightly more cir­cum­spect title: “Brit­ish police secretly oper­ated out­side demo­crat­ic con­trol for years”. Also on HuffPo UK.

In the wake of the glob­al impact of the ongo­ing Edward Snowden saga, a smal­ler but still import­ant whis­tleblower story flared and faded last week in the UK media.

Peter Fran­cis revealed that 20 years ago he had worked as an under­cov­er cop in the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Force’s secret Spe­cial Demon­stra­tions Squad (SDS) sec­tion. In this role, Fran­cis stated that he was tasked to dig up dirt with which the Met could dis­cred­it the fam­ily of murdered black teen­ager, Steph­en Lawrence and thereby derail their cam­paign for a full and effect­ive police invest­ig­a­tion into his death.  The Lawrence fam­ily cor­rectly believed that the ori­gin­al invest­ig­a­tion had been fumbled because of  insti­tu­tion­al police racism at that time.

The fact that secret police were pos­ing as act­iv­ists to infilt­rate protest groups will come as no shock after the cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men in 2011, start­ing with DC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”.  Kennedy was uncovered by his “fel­low” act­iv­ists, and nine more quickly emerged in the wake of that scan­dal. This has res­ul­ted in an enquiry into the shad­owy activ­it­ies of these most secret officers, accus­a­tions that the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice sup­pressed key evid­ence in crim­in­al tri­als, and a slew of court cases brought by women whom these (pre­dom­in­antly male) police officers seduced.

But the dis­clos­ures of Peter Fran­cis plumb new depths.  In the wake of the Steph­en Lawrence murder, many left-wing and anti-Nazi groups jumped on the band­wag­on, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and pro­vok­ing con­front­a­tions with the far-right Brit­ish Nation­al Party.  There was a clash near the BNP’s book­shop in south Lon­don in 1993.  So, sure, the Met Police could poten­tially just about argue that the under­cov­er officers were try­ing to gath­er advance intel­li­gence to pre­vent pub­lic dis­order and riot­ing, although the sheer scale of the oper­a­tion was utterly dis­pro­por­tion­ate.

How­ever, what is com­pletely bey­ond the Pale is this appar­ent attempt to smear the trau­mat­ised fam­ily of a murder vic­tim in order to derail their cam­paign for justice.

The role of under­cov­er cops spy­ing on their fel­low cit­izens who are polit­ic­ally act­ive is dis­taste­ful in a demo­cracy. And the fact that, until the ori­gin­al scan­dal broke in 2011, the recon­sti­t­uted SDS con­tin­ued to tar­get peace and envir­on­ment­al protest groups who offered no threat what­so­ever to nation­al secur­ity is dis­grace­ful — it smacks of the Stasi in East Ger­many.

To make mat­ters even worse, when details emerged two years ago, it became appar­ent that the SDS Ver­sion 2.0 was oper­at­ing out­side the form­al hier­archy of the police, with what little demo­crat­ic over­sight that would provide. In fact, it emerged that the SDS been renamed the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU) and had for years been the private fief­dom of a private lim­ited com­pany — the Asso­ci­ation of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).  With­in a notion­al demo­cracy, this is just gobsmack­ing.

So how did this mess evolve?

From the late 19th cen­tury the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Spe­cial Branch invest­ig­ated ter­ror­ism while MI5, estab­lished in 1909, was a counter-intel­li­gence unit focus­ing on espi­on­age and polit­ic­al “sub­ver­sion”. The switch began in 1992 when Dame Stella Rim­ing­ton, then head of MI5, effected a White­hall coup and stole primacy for invest­ig­at­ing Irish ter­ror­ism from the Met. As a res­ult MI5 magic­ally dis­covered that sub­ver­sion was not such a threat after all – this rev­el­a­tion only three years after the Ber­lin Wall came down – and trans­ferred all its staff over to the new, sexy counter-ter­ror­ism sec­tions. Since then, MI5 has been eagerly build­ing its counter-ter­ror­ism empire, des­pite this being more obvi­ously evid­en­tial police work.

Spe­cial Branch was releg­ated to a sup­port­ing role, dab­bling in organ­ised crime and anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but not ter­ribly excited about either. Its prestige had been ser­i­ously den­ted. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then to MI5 as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

It should there­fore come as little sur­prise that ACPO came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. It renamed the SDS as the NPOIU, which first focused primar­ily on poten­tially viol­ent anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able unit was revealed it rightly caused an out­cry, espe­cially as the term “domest­ic extrem­ist” is not recog­nised under UK law, and can­not leg­ally be used as jus­ti­fic­a­tion to aggress­ively invade an individual’s pri­vacy because of their legit­im­ate polit­ic­al beliefs and act­iv­ism.

So, as the police become ever more spooky, what of MI5?

As I men­tioned, they have been aggress­ively hoover­ing up the pres­ti­gi­ous counter-ter­ror­ism work. But, des­pite what the Amer­ic­ans have hys­ter­ic­ally asser­ted since 9/11, ter­ror­ism is not some unique form of “evil­tude”. It is a crime – a hideous, shock­ing one, but still a crime that should be invest­ig­ated, with evid­ence gathered, due pro­cess applied and the sus­pects on tri­al in front of a jury.

A mature demo­cracy that respects human rights and the rule of law should not intern sus­pects or render them to secret pris­ons and tor­ture them for years. And yet this is pre­cisely what our spooks have been doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US coun­ter­parts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 have for years oper­ated out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. Until this year, the remit of the Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment has only covered the policy, admin­is­tra­tion and fin­ance of the spies. Since the committee’s incep­tion in 1994 it has repeatedly failed to mean­ing­fully address more ser­i­ous ques­tions about the spies’ role, and has been repeatedly lied to by seni­or spies and police officers.

The spooks are effect­ively above the law, while at the same time pro­tec­ted by the dra­coni­an Offi­cial Secrets Act. This makes the abuses of the NPOIU seem almost quaint. So what to do? A good first step might be to have an informed dis­cus­sion about the real­ist­ic threats to the UK. The police and spies huddle behind the pro­tect­ive phrase “nation­al secur­ity”. But what does this mean?

The core idea should be safe­guard­ing the nation’s integ­rity. A group of well-mean­ing envir­on­ment­al pro­test­ers should not even be on the radar. And, no mat­ter how awful, the occa­sion­al ter­ror­ist attack is not an exist­en­tial threat to the fab­ric of the nation in the way of, say, the planned Nazi inva­sion in 1940. Nor is it even close to the sus­tained bomb­ing of gov­ern­ment, infra­struc­ture and mil­it­ary tar­gets by the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA in the 1970s-90s.

Only once we under­stand the real threats can we as a nation dis­cuss the neces­sary steps to take to pro­tect ourselves effect­ively; what meas­ures should be taken, what liber­ties occa­sion­ally and leg­ally com­prom­ised, and what demo­crat­ic account­ab­il­ity exists to ensure that the secur­ity forces do not exceed their remit and work with­in the law.

It is only by going through this pro­cess that can we ensure such scan­dals as the secret police will remain firmly in the past. And in the wake not only of Peter Francis’s con­fes­sions but the sheer scale of the endem­ic elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance revealed by Edward Snowden, this long-over­due nation­al debate becomes ever more neces­sary.

The House I Live In” — drug panel discussion

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

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

Interview for the Release newsletter, “TalkingDrugs”

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

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

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

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scorpion Stare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pub­lished in The Huff­ing­ton Post UK, 3 Septem­ber 2012

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

A look at the forensic and police fail­ures around the invest­ig­a­tion of the still inex­plic­able death of intel­li­gence officer, Gareth Wil­li­ams, in Lon­don in 2010.

Here’s the link.

The Gareth Williams Inquest

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

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

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

My heart goes out to Gareth’s fam­ily.

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

LEAP_logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTACT:

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

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

DoubleThink Disorder — a new pathology

An update is appar­ently due of the 1994 edi­tion of the “Dia­gnost­ic and Stat­ist­ic­al Manu­al of Men­tal Dis­orders”, the psy­chi­at­rists’ bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a dis­order, and then, no doubt, pre­scribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expens­ive form of ther­apy.  Any­one who has ever watched Adam Curtis’s excel­lent “Cen­tury of Self” will be aware of the patho­lo­gising of soci­ety to the bene­fit of the psy­chi­at­ric pro­fes­sions and far bey­ond.

I am not mak­ing light of ser­i­ous men­tal ill­nesses requir­ing spe­cial­ised and long term treat­ment such as bipolar, schizo­phrenia or chron­ic depres­sion.  These are crip­pling and soul-des­troy­ing con­di­tions and many fam­il­ies, includ­ing my own, have been touched by them.

RitalinBut I am con­cerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few dec­ades where, for example, increas­ing num­bers of chil­dren are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Rital­in (which can also lead to a thriv­ing black mar­ket in the onward sale of said drug). And we are appar­ently about to see ever more divar­ic­at­ing dis­orders added to the shrinks’ bible.  

Kevin_and_PerryAs this recent art­icle in The Inde­pend­ent states, stroppy teens will now have “oppos­i­tion­al defi­ance dis­order”, and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suf­fer­ing from “hyper­sexu­al dis­order”. (How on earth will this be dia­gnosed — will poten­tial suf­fer­ers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Man­age­ment meet­ings could be so much more divert­ing as people break off to write an update every so often — although they might have to pre­tend they’re play­ing buzzword bingo.)   And those suf­fer­ing from shy­ness or loneli­ness will suf­fer from “dys­thy­mia”.  Well, as a clas­si­cist, I’m glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today’s lex­icon.

I know that such beha­vi­our­al traits can be debil­it­at­ing, but to patho­lo­gise them seems rather extreme — enough to give a per­son a com­plex.….

Ivory_tower2On anoth­er some­what facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the inter­net rounds recently.  It appeared to sug­gest that hav­ing a robust dis­trust of your gov­ern­ment was also about to be patho­lo­gised as Anti-Gov­ern­ment Pho­bia, which I pre­sume would mean that vast swathes of the world’s pop­u­la­tion were men­tally ill.  How­ever, I think the clue to the legit­im­acy of the piece was in the name of the sup­posed author: Ivor E. Tower MD.….

How­ever, back to the point of this art­icle. This was the para­graph in the Indie report that really got my goat:

More wor­ry­ing, accord­ing to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as ill­nesses, such as “para­ph­il­ic coer­cive dis­order”, applied to men engaged in sexu­al rela­tion­ships involving the use of force. They are more com­monly known as rap­ists.”

So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a dis­order.  

LEAP_logoBut, but, but.… the key point LEAP­ing out at me, if you’ll for­give the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in dir­ect, sharp con­trast to how we deal with an immense and ongo­ing prob­lem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed “war on drugs”.  In this phoney war mil­lions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, con­tin­ue to be treated as crim­in­als rather than as patients.

Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known art­icles about why this war is such a fail­ure on every con­ceiv­able front, let me just make three key points: pro­hib­i­tion will always fail (as this clas­sic “Yes Min­is­ter” scene depicts), and the reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of recre­ation­al drugs (in the same way as alco­hol and tobacco) would be good for soci­ety and for the eco­nomy; it would decap­it­ate organ­ised crime and, in some cases, the fund­ing of ter­ror­ism; and, most per­tin­ently for the pur­poses of this art­icle, it would make the use and pos­sible abuse of recre­ation­al drugs a health issue rather than a crim­in­al mat­ter.

Many people at some point in their lives exper­i­ment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work.  A small per­cent­age will go on to devel­op med­ic­al prob­lems.  

That is the crux of the argu­ment here. Excess­ive abuse of drugs, both licit and illi­cit, is mani­festly a health issue and yet some people are crim­in­al­ised.  Com­pare and con­trast the pro­posed new shrinks’ bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as med­ic­al dis­orders.

Tony_BlairI would call this rank hypo­crisy, but per­haps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name?  I pro­pose Soci­et­al Double­Think Dis­order.  

The Bankers’ Bonus being that it would con­veni­ently (psycho)pathologise all our “peace-speak­ing” war-mon­ger­ing politi­cians, “free mar­ket” mono­pol­ist­ic big busi­nesses, and “pub­licly owned but private profit” banks.

Praise the Gov­ern­ment and pass the Rital­in.…

Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn inter­est­ing art­icle in yesterday’s Tele­graph by polit­ic­al com­ment­at­or Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada.  This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the Brit­ish polit­ic­al and media classes over the last couple of days.  Oborne’s art­icle strips out the bom­bast and takes us back to basic prin­ciples — as did this oth­er recent art­icle in the Inde­pend­ent a day or two ago by Christina Pat­ter­son.

How­ever, what really grabbed my atten­tion in Oborne’s art­icle was his ref­er­ence to Dav­id Max­well Fyfe, the Brit­ish politi­cian and law­yer who was tasked by Sir Win­ston Churchill to lay the found­a­tions of the European sys­tem of human rights after the atro­cit­ies of World War Two — a peri­od when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile Max­well Fyfe laid some good found­a­tions for European law, his name also has res­on­ance to all who worked for the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice, MI5, dur­ing or in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Cold War.  It was Max­well Fyfe’s dir­ect­ive, issued in 1952, that was instru­ment­al in allow­ing MI5 to spy on Brit­ish polit­ic­al act­iv­ists sub­vers­ives.  This dir­ect­ive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a leg­al foot­ing for the first time in its then 80 year his­tory, with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act 1989. Here is a seg­ment about the Max­well Fyfe dir­ect­ive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers”:

Back­ground to sub­ver­sion

At this time MI5 was still using the same cri­ter­ia for record­ing indi­vidu­al sub­vers­ives and their sym­path­isers as was set out by Home Sec­ret­ary Dav­id Max­well-Fyfe in 1952.  He called on the ser­vices to identi­fy any indi­vidu­al engaged in under­min­ing Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy, nation­al secur­ity and/or the eco­nom­ic well-being of the UK by viol­ent, indus­tri­al or polit­ic­al means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only polit­ic­al means to get their point across were merely exer­cising their demo­crat­ic rights.  In fact, MI5 used pho­tos of demon­stra­tions, cop­ies of elec­tion lists and even lists of sub­scribers to rad­ic­al left-wing book clubs as indic­at­ors of sub­vers­ive sym­pathy and mem­ber­ship.  Of course, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place when I joined the sec­tion, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declar­a­tion, not least because of the dis­in­teg­ra­tion of the Soviet Uni­on and its East­ern bloc allies.  

TrotskyFrom Maxwell-Fyfe’s state­ment to Par­lia­ment, which was nev­er made law, MI5 and sub­sequent gov­ern­ments used to argue that all mem­bers of cer­tain parties –such as the Com­mun­ist Party of Great Bri­tain (CPGB) or later the bewil­der­ing array of Trot­sky­ists, with names like the Inter­na­tion­al Marx­ist Group (IMG), Work­ers’ Revolu­tion­ary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Party (RCP) and Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Group (RCG), anarch­ists and the extreme right — were threats to the secur­ity of the state or our demo­crat­ic sys­tem.  This in itself is a con­ten­tious pro­pos­i­tion.  None of these Trot­sky­ist groups was cul­tiv­at­ing East­ern bloc fin­ance or build­ing bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legit­im­ate demo­crat­ic meth­ods to make their case, such as stand­ing in elec­tions, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and edu­cat­ing ‘the work­ers’.  They cer­tainly had no alle­gi­ance to a for­eign power, the primary rais­on d’etre for the invest­ig­a­tion of sub­ver­sion, because, unlike the Com­mun­ist Party, they abhorred the East­ern bloc.

Greenham-commonSince MI5 was effect­ively invest­ig­at­ing indi­vidu­als for hold­ing opin­ions the gov­ern­ment did not like — a very un-Brit­ish pos­i­tion — it was always at pains to point out that it took its respons­ib­il­it­ies with regard to human rights very ser­i­ously, although not ser­i­ously enough to ensure that these activ­it­ies were reg­u­lated by a leg­al frame­work.  All the service’s phone taps pri­or to the passing of the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlaw­ful because there was no legis­la­tion gov­ern­ing the inter­cep­tion of com­mu­nic­a­tions.”

The dir­ect­ive was not a leg­ally bind­ing doc­u­ment, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive sec­tion tasked with hunt­ing “sub­vers­ives” dur­ing those dec­ades.  It allowed intel­li­gence officers great lat­it­ude in inter­pret­ing what was deemed sub­vers­ive activ­ity and who were “legit­im­ate’ tar­gets.  And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this sys­tem by para­noid, seni­or intel­li­gence officers over the years.  More inform­a­tion can be found in this chapter on sub­ver­sion from the book.

So my point is, yes, Bri­tain ostens­ibly led the way in devel­op­ing a sys­tem to pro­tect human rights in the after­math of the Second World War.  But the very archi­tect of that sys­tem then pro­duced the dir­ect­ive that gave Brit­ish spies carte blanche to invest­ig­ate polit­ic­al dis­sid­ents with­in their own coun­try, which they abused for dec­ades.

Mark_KennedyAnd now we have com­ment­at­ors rightly say­ing that we should uphold basic human rights’ val­ues in cases such as Abu Qatada.  But what about all the UK act­iv­ists who were illeg­ally invest­ig­ated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more per­tin­ently today, what about all the act­iv­ists and pro­test­ers who have been aggress­ively spied upon by the unac­count­able, under­cov­er police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illeg­al cat­egory of “domest­ic extrem­ists”?

I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace act­iv­ist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrus­ive sur­veil­lance over the last 6 years.  Per­haps he should quote Max­well Fyfe on human rights dur­ing his case?