Anonymous Interventions

Anoth­er RT inter­view today, dis­cuss­ing the take-down of many Israeli web­sites by hackt­iv­ist group, Anonymous:

Israel Hacked — Anonym­ous assault act of protest, not ter­ror from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

The motiv­a­tion behind the protest, as pos­ted by Anonym­ous, stated to the Israeli gov­ern­ment: “You have NOT stopped your end­less human right viol­a­tions. You have NOT stopped illeg­al set­tle­ments. You have NOT respec­ted the cease­fire. You have shown that you do NOT respect inter­na­tion­al law.

Guardian article: the role of the spies in the UK

Here’s the text of an art­icle I wrote for The Guard­i­an a while ago, where I sug­gest we need a fresh per­spect­ive and some clear think­ing on the role of the spies in the UK

Worth reit­er­at­ing, fol­low­ing the pre-empt­ive arrest of protesters: 

Mark_KennedyThe cas­cade of rev­el­a­tions about secret police­men, start­ing with PC Mark Kennedy/environmental act­iv­ist “Mark Stone”, has high­lighted the iden­tity crisis afflict­ing the Brit­ish secur­ity estab­lish­ment. Private under­cov­er police units are hav­ing their James Bond moment – cider shaken, not stirred – while MI5 has become ever more plod-like, yet without the accom­pa­ny­ing over­sight. How has this happened to our demo­cracy without any pub­lic debate?

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 tar­nished. It also had a group of exper­i­enced under­cov­er cops – known then as the Spe­cial Duties Sec­tion – with time on their hands.

Acpo_logoIt should there­fore come as little sur­prise that Acpo, the private lim­ited com­pany com­pris­ing seni­or police officers across the coun­try, came up with the bril­liant idea of using this skill-set against UK “domest­ic extrem­ists”. Acpo set up the Nation­al Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit (NPOIU). This first focused primar­ily on anim­al rights act­iv­ists, but mis­sion creep rap­idly set in and the unit’s role expan­ded into peace­ful protest groups. When this unac­count­able, Stasi-like 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, plod has become increas­ingly spooky. What of the spooks?

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 are now allegedly doing – par­tic­u­larly when col­lud­ing with their US counterparts.

Also, MI5 and MI6 oper­ate out­side any real­ist­ic demo­crat­ic over­sight and con­trol. The remit of the intel­li­gence and secur­ity com­mit­tee in par­lia­ment only cov­ers 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. 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?

Climate_camp_and_policeThe 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 70s-90s.

Once we under­stand the real threats, we as a nation can dis­cuss the steps to take to pro­tect ourselves; what meas­ures should be taken and 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.

A tale of two countries — pre-emptive policing in Britain and Syria

What a dif­fer­ence a mere month makes in the UK media.  At the end of March The Inde­pend­ent news­pa­per pro­duced this art­icle in the wake of the huge TUC anti-cuts protest in Lon­don, where the Brit­ish Home Sec­ret­ary was cas­tig­ated for con­sid­er­ing great­er police powers to pre­vent such “trouble” again, with par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to the forth­com­ing roy­al wedding.

At the time former assist­ant com­mis­sion­er at Scot­land Yard, Andy Hay­man, who had served as the head of the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police Counter-Ter­ror­ism squad and was, umm,  reportedlymuch-esteemed officer before his early resig­na­tion, adop­ted a mus­cu­lar tone by call­ing for “snatch squads” and “dawn raids” to be car­ried out by police against sus­pec­ted trouble­makers.  How ter­ribly un-British.

Per­haps I’m start­ing at shad­ows, but with the above in mind two inter­est­ing aricles appeared in that very same news­pa­per today.

The first art­icle that caught my eye con­firmed there was indeed just such a secur­ity crack­down against sus­pec­ted dis­sid­ents in the UK on the eve of the roy­al wed­ding.  Lynne Owens, the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police assist­ant com­mis­sion­er in charge of the roy­al poli­cing oper­a­tion, is quoted as saying:

“We have to be abso­lutely clear. If any­one comes to Lon­don intend­ing to com­mit crim­in­al acts, we will act quickly, robustly and decis­ively.” She said the Met was work­ing with forces across the coun­try and would use “spot­ters” to identi­fy those caus­ing trouble.”

The art­icle goes on to say:

As police teams step up their pro­cess of “pre-event invest­ig­a­tion” and “intel­li­gence gath­er­ing”, reports have come in from pro­test­ers that plain-clothed police are turn­ing up at their homes to warn them against attend­ing Fri­day’s event.” 

Military&pageantryIt seems that the poor old Met is hav­ing con­nip­tions about poten­tially embar­rass­ing pro­test­ers sul­ly­ing the pageantry of the roy­al wed­ding and is put­ting our money where its mouth is.  Last week The Tele­graph also repor­ted that counter-intel­li­gence oper­a­tions were being con­duc­ted against “anarch­ists” to pre­vent trouble on 29th April.

Inter­est­ing use of lan­guage, but I sup­pose that one news­pa­per­’s “pro­test­er” will always be another­’s “anarch­ist”.…

So what of the second art­icle that con­cerned me?  This described the bru­tal secur­ity crack­down in Syr­ia, where the secret police were pre-empt­ively hunt­ing down and arrest­ing sus­pec­ted dissidents:

Syr­i­a’s feared secret police raided hun­dreds of homes yes­ter­day as author­it­ies stepped up attempts to crush the pro-reform movement.….”

UK For­eign Sec­ret­ary, Wil­li­am Hag­ue is quoted as say­ing that:

Syr­ia is now at a fork in the road… it can choose ever-more viol­ent repres­sion which can only ever bring short-term secur­ity for the author­it­ies there.”

How much more need I say?  Put­ting aside the fact that Hag­ue seems to have acquired his very own fork(ed tongue), the only dis­cern­able dif­fer­ence at this stage is in the sheer scale of the bru­tal­ity and repres­sion, not the mind-set or intent.

It’s a slip­pery slope.….