Britain’s Brave New World just got Braver

First pub­lished by Con­sor­ti­um News.

On 5th June 2018 the UK Home Sec­ret­ary, Sajid Javid, unveiled his new counter-ter­ror­ism ini­ti­at­ive that he says is tar­get­ing an ever-meta­stas­ising threat, yet it raises a raft of new ques­tions about people’s rights.

The gov­ern­ment is act­ing on the imper­at­ive that some­thing needs to be done. But MI5 — offi­cially known as the UK domest­ic Secur­ity Ser­vice and the lead organ­isa­tion in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism with­in the UK — has already, since the start of the war on ter­ror, doubled in size and has also been prom­ised yet more staff over the next two years.

Yet des­pite these boos­ted resources for MI5, as well as increased fund­ing and sur­veil­lance powers for the entire UK intel­li­gence com­munity, vir­tu­ally every ter­ror attack car­ried out in the UK over the last few years has been com­mit­ted by someone already known to the author­it­ies. Indeed, the Manchester bomber, Sal­man Abedi, had been aggress­ively invest­ig­ated but MI5 ignored vital intel­li­gence and closed down the act­ive invest­ig­a­tion shortly before he car­ried out the attack.

This fail­ure to tar­get known threats is not just a UK prob­lem. Attacks across Europe over the last few years have repeatedly been car­ried out by people already on the loc­al secur­ity radar.

New approaches are needed. But this latest offer­ing appears to be a med­ley of already failed ini­ti­at­ives and more wor­ry­ingly a poten­tially dan­ger­ous blue­print for a techno-Stasi state.

The main points of the new Home Office plan include: mak­ing MI5 share intel­li­gence on 20,000 “sub­jects of con­cern” with a wide range of organ­isa­tions, includ­ing loc­al coun­cils, cor­por­a­tions, loc­al police, social work­ers, and teach­ers; call­ing on inter­net com­pan­ies to detect and erad­ic­ate extrem­ist or sus­pi­cious con­tent; mak­ing online mar­ket­places such as Amazon and eBay report sus­pi­cious pur­chases; increas­ing sur­veil­lance of big events and infra­struc­ture; and passing even tough­er anti-ter­ror­ism laws.

This all sounds reas­on­able to those who are fear­ful of ran­dom attacks on the streets or at events – that is unless one has seen in the past how some ini­ti­at­ives have already been proven to fail or can fore­see in the future whole­sale abuse of increased sur­veil­lance powers.

It sounds reas­on­able until you real­ize how sim­il­ar ini­ti­at­ives have failed and how the new plan can make whole­sale abuse of sur­veil­lance powers more likely.

Intel­li­gence is not Evid­ence

The most chilling part of the MI5 plan is shar­ing intel­li­gence on 20,000 sub­jects of con­cern. First of all, this is intel­li­gence – by nature gathered from a range of secret sources that MI5 would nor­mally wish to pro­tect. When com­mu­nic­at­ing with counter-ter­ror­ism police, intel­li­gence agen­cies will nor­mally hide the source, but that will require an immense amount of work for 20,000 cases before the inform­a­tion can be shared. Secondly, bear in mind that intel­li­gence is not evid­ence. Effect­ively MI5 will be cir­cu­lat­ing par­tially assessed sus­pi­cions, per­haps even rumours, about indi­vidu­als, very widely about people who can­not be charged with any crime but who will fall under a deep shad­ow of sus­pi­cion with­in their com­munit­ies.

Also if this intel­li­gence is spread as widely as is cur­rently being sug­ges­ted, it will land in the laps of thou­sands of pub­lic bod­ies – for instance, schools, coun­cils, social care organ­isa­tions, and loc­al police. Mul­tiple prob­lems could arise from this. There will no doubt be leaks and gos­sip with­in com­munit­ies – so-and-so is being watched by MI5 and so on.

There will also be the inev­it­able mis­sion-creep and abuse of power that we saw almost 20 years ago when a whole range of the same pub­lic bod­ies were allowed access to the new eaves­drop­ping and sur­veil­lance law, the Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (2000). Back then, loc­al coun­cils were abus­ing counter-ter­ror­ism legis­la­tion to catch people who might be try­ing to play school catch­ment areas (dis­tricts) to get their chil­dren into bet­ter schools, or even, and I kid you not, might be cockle-rust­ling on their loc­al beach. Of course, such intrus­ive elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance powers have been sig­ni­fic­antly increased since then, with the Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act 2017, that allows bulk stor­age, bulk data­set hack­ing and hack­ing per se.

All this fol­lows the notori­ous Home Office counter-ter­ror­ism PREVENT scheme – the failed par­ent of these new pro­pos­als.

A dec­ade ago PREVENT was designed to reach out, build bridges with Muslim com­munit­ies across Bri­tain, encour­aging them to report any sus­pi­cious beha­viour to the author­it­ies to nip incip­i­ent rad­ic­al­isa­tion in the bud. Unfor­tu­nately it did not quite work out that way. Young Muslims told stor­ies of pres­sure from MI5 to spy on their com­munit­ies. It des­troyed com­munity trust rather than built it.

Unfor­tu­nately, this new Home Office scheme goes even fur­ther down the wrong path. It asks teach­ers, social work­ers, the loc­al police and oth­er author­ity fig­ures to go bey­ond report­ing sus­pi­cious beha­viour to actu­ally be giv­en a list of names to keep a awatch on “sub­jects of interest”.

The last time such a sys­tem of com­munity inform­ants used in Europe was ended when the Ber­lin Wall came down in 1989 and East Germany’s Stasi sys­tem of a vast net­work of inform­ers was revealed in all its hor­ror. How iron­ic that the same sys­tem that was devised to pro­tect the East Ger­man youth from the “dec­ad­ent influ­ence” of West­ern ideals is now being pro­posed in a “dec­ad­ent” West­ern coun­try to spy on its own youth for traces of rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Cor­por­ate Allies

Suf­fice to say that if the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment can­not even make the inter­net titans such as Google and Face­book pay their fair share in taxes, nor call Facebook’s Mark Zuck­er­berg to account in Par­lia­ment about the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­ica scan­dal, then good luck for­cing them make a mean­ing­ful effort to root out extrem­ist mater­i­al.

But even if they do agree, this idea is fraught with the trouble­some ques­tion of who gets to decide wheth­er some­thing is extrem­ist mater­i­al or a dis­sent­ing opin­ion against the estab­lish­ment?  Face­book, Google and You­tube are already enga­ging in what can only be called cen­sor­ship by de-rank­ing in search res­ults mater­i­al from legit­im­ate dis­sid­ent web­sites that they, with no his­tory of exer­cising news judge­ment, deem “fake news”.Such estab­lished news sites such as Wikileaks, Con­sor­ti­um­News and World Social­ist Web Site as well as many oth­ers lis­ted on the notori­ous and unre­li­able Pro­pOrNot list have taken a sig­ni­fic­ant hit since these restric­tions came into play on 23 April 2017.

Amazon, eBay and oth­er retail com­pan­ies are being asked to report sus­pi­cious sales of pre­curs­or mater­i­als for bombs and oth­er weapons. Car hire com­pan­ies will be asked to report sus­pi­cious indi­vidu­als hir­ing cars and lor­ries. Algorithms to detect weapons pur­chases may be feas­ible, but deny­ing rent­als to merely “sus­pi­cious” indi­vidu­als who’ve com­mit­ted no crimes strays into Stasi ter­rit­ory.

Back in the era of fer­til­iser lorry and nail bombs, laws were put in place across Europe to require fer­til­iser com­pan­ies to report strange pur­chases – from people who were not registered agri­cul­tur­al­ists, for example, Unfor­tu­nately, this law was eas­ily sub­ver­ted by Nor­we­gi­an right-wing ter­ror­ist, Anders Breivik, who simply worked to estab­lish a farm and then leg­ally pur­chased the ingredi­ents for his Oslo car bomb in 2011.

You are Being Watched

The UK is known as hav­ing the most CCTV cam­er­as per cap­ita in the West­ern world. There have been vari­ous plans mooted (some leaked to Wikileaks) to hook these up to cor­por­a­tions such as Face­book for imme­di­ate face tag­ging cap­ab­il­it­ies, and the devel­op­ment of algorithms that can identi­fy sus­pi­cious beha­viour in real time and the police can move to inter­cept the “sus­pect”.

Face recog­ni­tion cam­er­as are being tri­alled by three police forces in the UK – with soft­ware that can allegedly watch crowds at events and in sta­tions and poten­tially identi­fy known crim­in­als and sus­pects in a crowd and alert the police who will imme­di­ately move in and inter­cept.

Unfor­tu­nately, accord­ing to Big Broth­er Watch in the UK, these com­puter sys­tems have up to a 98% fail­ure rate. If the Home Sec­ret­ary is really sug­gest­ing that such dodgy soft­ware is going to be used to police our pub­lic spaces I would sug­gest that he ask his geeks to go back and do their home­work.

Do we really want to live in a coun­try where our every move­ment is watched by tech­no­logy, with the police wait­ing to pounce; a coun­try where if we are run­ning late or are hav­ing a stressed work day and seem “strange” to a per­son in a car hire com­pany, we can be tracked as a poten­tial ter­ror­ist; where chil­dren need to fear that if they ask awk­ward, if inter­ested, ques­tions of their teach­ers or raise fam­ily con­cerns with social care, they might already be on a watch list and their file is stack­ing up slowly in the shad­ows?

That way lies total­it­ari­ansim. I have been track­ing how a state can slide unthink­ingly into such a situ­ation for years, par­tic­u­larly look­ing at such warn­ings from his­tory as 1930s Ger­many and, over the last dec­ade, I have ser­i­ously begun to fear for my coun­try.

If these meas­ures go through Bri­tons could be liv­ing under SS-GB – the name of a book by the excel­lent spy writer, Len Deighton, in his envi­sion­ing of what the UK would have been like if the Nazis had suc­ceed in invad­ing dur­ing World War Two. The ulti­mate irony is that the acronym attrib­uted to MI5 at inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence con­fer­ences way back in the 1990s used to be UK SSUK Secur­ity Ser­vice. I hear it has changed now….

The Nice terror attack

Here is an inter­view I did in the middle of the night for RT about the Nice ter­ror­ist lorry attack:

And here is the art­icle I men­tioned about the French spy chief warn­ing that the next prob­lem­at­ic epis­ode could lead to civil unrest/war.

Terrorism, crime, or mental illness?

This morn­ing I was invited on to RT to do an inter­view about the break­ing story of a mass shoot­ing that occurred last night at a nightclub in Flor­ida in the USA.  You will, no doubt, have seen the head­lines by now — the biggest mass shoot­ing in mod­ern Amer­ic­an his­tory.

At the time, as the news was break­ing, I was some­what puzzled about what I could con­trib­ute — surely this was just anoth­er ghastly mas­sacre by the usu­al gun-tot­ing crazy that Amer­ica seems to spawn so reg­u­larly? After all, it seems that the Second Amend­ment is the last right stand­ing from the US con­sti­tu­tion, after all the oth­ers have been evis­cer­ated as a res­ult of the “war on ter­ror” and the social fric­tion caused by the fin­an­cial melt-down of the US eco­nomy?

How­ever, with a little thought on a mel­low European Sunday, I could see a num­ber of threads com­ing togeth­er, which I explored dur­ing the inter­view.  I would like to devel­op some of them fur­ther in this art­icle.

At the time I was inter­viewed, few hard facts had been con­firmed about the shoot­ing — merely a con­ser­vat­ive estim­ate of the num­ber of dead and wounded, and the fact the gun­man had been killed. Everything else was pure spec­u­la­tion. That did not stop much of the West­ern media from jump­ing to con­clu­sions — that this must be an ISIS-inspired attack and there­fore Muslim ter­ror­ism, by our cur­rent West­ern defin­i­tion.

I have a prob­lem with this cur­rent usage. When work­ing as an intel­li­gence officer with MI5 in the 1990s — at the height of the reli­gious civil war being waged between the Prot­est­ants and the Cath­ol­ics in North­ern Ire­land, our work­ing defin­i­tion was that “ter­ror­ism” was the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims. So “ter­ror­ism” has nev­er been a purely Muslim-ori­gin­ated concept, no mat­ter how the USA has chosen to define it since 9/11.

The reas­on I am mak­ing this rather obvi­ous point is that the USA, par­tic­u­larly, has always engendered some rather unsa­voury domest­ic “ter­ror­ist” groups, motiv­ated by Chris­ti­an or cult fan­at­icism — think the Branch Dav­idi­ans, or the Chris­ti­an fun­da­ment­al­ists mur­der­ing doc­tors and blow­ing up abor­tion clin­ics, or white suprem­acists ter­ror­ising black com­munit­ies or blow­ing up FBI offices such as the Oklahoma bomb­ing of 1995, which was ini­tially blamed on Middle East­ern ter­ror­ism. If that is not the use of viol­ence to achieve polit­ic­al aims, then our intel­li­gence agen­cies need to change the defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism.

As the shoot­ings in the Pulse nightclub in Flor­ida spe­cific­ally tar­geted a LGBT crowd, it is just as feas­ible that the gun­man could have fun­da­ment­al­ist Chris­ti­an beliefs that urged him to tar­get this com­munity as some ISIS-inspired jihadi.  After all, we have seen sim­il­ar attacks in the UK, with the Lon­don nail bomber tar­get­ing gay nightclubs in 1999.

Yet the former is, to this day, widely seen as a mass killing, a “ram­page shoot­er” or a mad­man, and treated as a crim­in­al, where­as a Muslim com­mit­ting the same acts for sim­il­arly big­oted reas­ons is auto­mat­ic­ally deemed to be a ter­ror­ist. And we all know that “ter­ror­ism” is a unique form of “evil­tude” that imme­di­ately exposes the sus­pect  to great­er leg­al pen­al­ties at the very least and assas­sin­a­tion at the worst end of the scale, US cit­izen or not.

Ter­ror­ism is a crime — pure and simple — and it should be treated as a crime.  Muslim sus­pects of such crimes should not be kid­napped, tor­tured, held in isol­a­tion for years, or sub­ject to mil­it­ary tribunals with no real right to defence, any more than Chris­ti­an, athe­ist or any oth­er sus­pects should be.  Nor should spe­cific­ally “Muslim” ter­ror­ism be the excuse used to strip away all our basic and hard-won civic freedoms and human rights in our own coun­tries, yet that is what has been hap­pen­ing in the unend­ing “war on ter­ror”.

The UK went through this debate in the 1980s and 1990s — at the height of the Pro­vi­sion­al IRA and Loy­al­ist para­mil­it­ary bomb­ing cam­paigns across the UK — which was anoth­er reli­gious-based ter­ror­ist war, as I men­tioned before.  It also — at least from the PIRA side, received the bulk of its fund­ing from the Amer­ic­an Irish dia­spora. In fact, des­pite the peace pro­cess in North­ern Ire­land signed with the Good Fri­day Agree­ment in 1998, this fund­ing from Amer­ica only finally dried up in the after­math of 9/11.

And what of the third point in the title — the men­tal health issue? I men­tion this because there was a recent case in Lon­don of a knife-wield­ing man fren­ziedly attack­ing com­muters in an under­ground rail­way sta­tion last year. The report­ing at the time declared that he had been shout­ing “this is for Syr­ia” — as he attacked his fel­low trav­el­lers. At the time every­one assumed he was anoth­er rad­ic­al­ised jihadi car­ry­ing out a lone wolf attack.  Indeed, even people at the scene seemed con­vinced. One wit­ness cried out “You ain’t no Muslim, bruv”, a heart­felt sen­ti­ment that went vir­al over social media.

This story was head­line news in the UK at the time. The tri­al recently reached its con­clu­sion, and it now appears that the per­pet­rat­or had ser­i­ous men­tal health issues.  These may have latched onto jihadi ter­min­o­logy, but the motiv­a­tion was not ter­ror­ist­ic.

The guy prob­ably needed an earli­er inter­ven­tion by health pro­fes­sion­als, but he slipped through the cracks. That does not make him a ter­ror­ist though — no mat­ter what he said in his frenzy — and yet this con­clu­sion cer­tainly did not get the front page head­lines the ini­tial attack received.

Let us also look at the so-called “lone wolf” attacks that have happened across West­ern coun­tries over the last few years — in Canada, Lon­don, Aus­tralia, the USA, Den­mark — as well as the Par­is and Brus­sels attacks.  Many of the prot­ag­on­ists were already on the radar of the West­ern intel­li­gence agen­cies, but because they are drown­ing in a tsunami of inform­a­tion garnered for the mass sur­veil­lance of us all, these cru­cial nug­gets of real intel­li­gence were swamped.

Even worse, it appears that many of the people sub­sequently fingered as the per­pet­rat­ors had already been approached by the intel­li­gence agen­cies, as appears to be the case in Flor­ida too.

So, how does this all come togeth­er? There is not doubt that genu­ine psy­cho­paths or sad­ists are attrac­ted to ter­ror­ist as well as crim­in­al gangs to give free rein to their tend­en­cies — ISIS is an abso­lutely hor­ri­fy­ing example of this.  But the ideo­logy of such groups can also attract from a dis­tance the men­tally fra­gile, who can become use­ful idi­ots or delu­sion­al fol­low­ers, or vul­ner­able indi­vidu­als who can even be manip­u­lated by law enforce­ment. Add into the mix fun­da­ment­al­ist reli­gion, cult, or racial suprem­acy beliefs and it all gets too messy, too fast.

And yet.… all these groups use ter­ror to achieve their goals, but only a few are deemed to be ter­ror­ists rather than crim­in­als — and we all know now that any­one labelled a ter­ror­ist faces far high­er pen­al­ties than these oth­er cat­egor­ies of crime.

Intel­li­gence agen­cies are there to pro­tect our nation­al secur­ity — ie our nation’s integ­rity and its very exist­ence.  As I have said for many years now, such threats include immin­ent inva­sion, as Bri­tain faced dur­ing the Second World War, or glob­al anni­hil­a­tion as we all faced dur­ing the Cold War.

The ran­dom attacks of ter­ror­ist — or crim­in­al groups or men­tally ill people — cause trauma to the coun­try and the com­munit­ies in which they occur, but they do not threaten our country’s very sur­viv­al.

We need to cla­ri­fy our think­ing urgently, both around the defin­i­tions applied to such crimes and to the pro­por­tion­al­ity of the response we make. This will allow us to pre­serve and strengthen the concept of the rule of law and the notion of demo­cracy under which we all hope to live.

War on Drugs has failed — ENCOD Article

Below is an art­icle I recently wrote for the excel­lent European drug policy reform organ­isa­tion, European Coali­tion for Just and Effect­ive Drug PoliciesENCOD.  And here is the link to the ori­gin­al on the ENCOD web­site.

I have had the hon­our of serving as the European Dir­ect­or of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP) for the last four years, and have been thrilled to over­see the estab­lish­ment of thriv­ing nation­al groups in the UK and Ger­many, with the pos­sib­il­ity of more on the hori­zon. In my view, law enforce­ment offers a unique and crit­ic­al voice to the inter­na­tion­al drug policy reform debate.

LEAP, foun­ded in 2002, today has over 150,000 sup­port­ers and speak­ers in 20 coun­tries. We con­sist of police officers, law­yers, judges, pris­on gov­ernors, pro­ba­tion officers, intel­li­gence and mil­it­ary per­son­nel, and even inter­na­tion­al drug czars. What unites us is a shared pro­fes­sion­al know­ledge, exper­i­enced across the full spec­trum of law enforce­ment, that drug pro­hib­i­tion has egre­giously failed.

Over the last 50 years glob­al drug use has expo­nen­tially increased, the potency of illeg­al drugs has increased, they are ubi­quit­ously avail­able, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this inform­a­tion, how can our gov­ern­ments claim they are win­ning the “war on drugs” to cre­ate a “drug free world”?

Quite the oppos­ite – pro­hib­i­tion has enabled a glob­al and expo­nen­tially grow­ing black mar­ket.

I became aware of drug pro­hib­i­tion fail­ure while I was work­ing for MI5 back in the 1990s. One of my post­ings involved invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Cus­toms across the UK. This exper­i­ence made me aware that the “war” had been lost. It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive over­lap between the illeg­al drug mar­ket and ter­ror­ist fund­ing.

The US DEA estim­ates that over half the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups around the world gain the bulk of their fund­ing from drugs money. So on the one hand pro­hib­it­ing drugs and fight­ing the “war on drugs” sends the mar­ket under­ground and the res­ult­ing massive profits provide a key rev­en­ue stream to ter­ror­ists, not least ISIS which con­trols part of the flow of heroin from cent­ral Asia into Europe. On the oth­er hand the West is also waging the “war on ter­ror” to fight these same groups.

So what our gov­ern­ments give the mil­it­ary-secur­ity com­plex with one hand, they also give with the oth­er.

But is not all bad news. Coun­tries in Lat­in Amer­ica and states in North Amer­ica are leg­al­ising can­nabis, safe injec­tion rooms have rolled out across Europe, Canada is look­ing to leg­al­ise can­nabis, and the decrim­in­al­isa­tion of drugs has been hugely suc­cess­ful in coun­tries such as Por­tugal and the Czech Repub­lic.

Even at the UN level, which recently held a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion Gen­er­al Assembly Spe­cial Ses­sion in New York, the concept of harm reduc­tion is at least now being tabled by some coun­tries, although the pro­gress is gla­cial.

The times may not be chan­ging fast enough for many of us in the drug policy reform world, des­pite baby steps being made in the right dir­ec­tion by some coun­tries. Yet even the more pro­gress­ive coun­tries with­in the inter­na­tion­al com­munity are still con­strained by the leg­al straight jack­et that is the UN drug treaty frame­work.

And while harm reduc­tion is good pro­gress in that it no longer crim­in­al­ises those who choose to use, it utterly fails to address the big­ger prob­lem that I men­tioned before: that the crim­in­al­isa­tion of cer­tain drugs drives the mar­ket under­ground, provid­ing huge profits to organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist groups around the world every year. Pro­hib­i­tion has unleashed the biggest crime wave the world has ever seen. As with alco­hol pro­hibiton in 20th cen­tury Amer­ica, only leg­al­isa­tion and reg­u­la­tion will remove this mar­ket from the greedy grasp of crim­in­als.

I have just watched a old BBC News­night debate between comedi­an and act­or, Rus­sell Brand, and right-wing writer and com­ment­at­or, Peter Hitchens. The debate encap­su­lated the entrenched pos­i­tions of both the reform­ist and pro­hib­i­tion­ist camps. The former was rep­res­en­ted by Brand, a former drug user in recov­ery, advoc­at­ing abstin­ence-based ther­apy. The lat­ter by Hitchens, an anti-drug war­ri­or largely approach­ing the issue from a mor­al­ity pos­i­tion, who argued that tak­ing drugs is a crime and that all such crimes should be pro­sec­uted as a deterrence.

While nat­ur­ally I lean more towards the pos­i­tion of Brand, who two years ago elec­tri­fied a rather tur­gid annu­al UN Com­mis­sion on Nar­cot­ic Drugs meet­ing in Vienna by call­ing for full drug leg­al­isa­tion, and also while respect­ing his per­son­al exper­i­ences, I do think he’s miss­ing a trick.

Yes, those with drug depend­en­cies need help and com­pas­sion not pris­on, but the vast major­ity of those who choose to use do so recre­ation­ally, just for fun, and nev­er devel­op an addic­tion, just as only a minor­ity of those who choose to drink go on to devel­op alco­hol­ism. And yet the para­met­ers of the drug debate rarely stray bey­ond the well-worn issue of “prob­lem” users, both amongst reform­ist as well as pro­hib­i­tion­ist circles. We do not call all drink­ers alco­hol­ics so why, in the pub­lic dis­course, are all users of oth­er drugs clumped togeth­er as “addicts” in high-pro­file debates?

As for Hitchens, I remain baffled. He seems to think that all laws are immut­able, graven in stone with words from on high, and as such must there­fore be strictly enforced. This is tosh. All laws change and evolve to reflect the chan­ging mores of the soci­et­ies which write them. If this were not to hap­pen, we in the West would still burn witches, own slaves, not allow women to vote, out­law homo­sexu­al­ity and, in Amer­ica of course, alco­hol would remain pro­hib­ited. Yet now, all these out­dated, unjust, and cruel laws have been swept away,

In 2014 LEAP pub­lished a Pro­posed Amend­ment of the UN Treat­ies, in which we argue that all drugs should be brought with­in the orbit of the World Health Organ­isa­tion Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Tobacco Con­trol (2003). We argue that only full reg­u­la­tion and con­trol of the drug mar­ket will end the scourge of the illeg­al glob­al drug trade. Until this hap­pens at least $320 bil­lion per year profits will con­tin­ue to bene­fit only crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.

The “war on drugs” has failed.

Albert Ein­stein, who was not exactly a dullard, said that the very defin­i­tion of insan­ity was to con­tin­ue to do the same thing, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will even­tu­ally get a dif­fer­ent out­come. That is what we are see­ing with pro­hib­i­tion.

It is time for this insan­ity to cease.

The aftermath of Paris — Going Underground

Here’s a recent inter­view I did on RT’s Going Under­ground about the after­math of the Par­is attacks:

RT_Going_Underground_After_the_Paris_Attacks from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

Jihadi John and MI5

So this week the mur­der­ous behead­er of the Islam­ic State, “Jihadi John”, has been unmasked.  His real iden­tity is appar­ently Mohammed Emwazi, born in Kuwait and now a Brit­ish cit­izen who was raised and edu­cated in west Lon­don

Much sound, fury and heated debate has been expen­ded over the last couple of days about how he became rad­ic­al­ised, who was to blame, with MI5 once more cast in the role of vil­lain. In such media sound-bite dis­cus­sions it is all too easy to fall into facile and polar­ised argu­ments. Let us try to break this down and reach a more nuanced  under­stand­ing.

First up is the now-notori­ous press con­fer­ence hos­ted by the cam­paign­ing group, Cage, in which the Research Dir­ect­or, Asim Qure­shi , claimed that MI5 har­ass­ment of Emwazi was the reas­on for his rad­ic­al­isa­tion. Emwazi had com­plained to Cage and appar­ently the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police that over the last six years MI5 had approached him and was pres­sur­ising him to work as an agent for them. Accord­ing to Cage, this har­ass­ment lead to Emwazi’s rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Yet recruit­ment of such agents is a core MI5 func­tion, some­thing it used to do with sub­tlety and some suc­cess, by identi­fy­ing people with­in groups who poten­tially could be vul­ner­able to induce­ments or pres­sure to report back on tar­get organ­isa­tions.  In fact, Brit­ish intel­li­gence used to be much more focused on gath­er­ing “HUMINT”.  The very best intel­li­gence comes from an (ideally) will­ing but at least co-oper­at­ive human agent: they are mobile, they can gain the trust of and con­verse with tar­gets who may be wary of using elec­tron­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions, and they can be tasked to gath­er spe­cif­ic intel­li­gence rather than wait­ing for the lucky hit on inter­cept.

MI5 used to be good at this — spend­ing time to really invest­ig­ate and identi­fy the right recruit­ment tar­gets, with a con­sidered approach towards mak­ing the pitch.

How­ever, it appears since 9/11 and the start of the bru­tal “war on ter­ror” that two prob­lems have evolved, both of which ori­gin­ated in Amer­ica. Firstly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems to have fol­lowed their US coun­ter­parts down a mor­al hel­ter-skel­ter, becom­ing re-involved in counter-pro­duct­ive and bru­tal activ­it­ies such as kid­nap­ping, intern­ment and tor­ture. As MI5 had learned at least by the 1990s, such activ­it­ies inev­it­ably res­ult in blow-back, and can act as a recruit­ing drum to the ter­ror­ist cause of the day.

(Tan­gen­tially, the Home Office also instig­ated the Pre­vent pro­gramme — in concept to counter rad­ic­al Islam in vul­ner­able social com­munit­ies, but in prac­tice used and abused by the author­it­ies to intim­id­ate and coerce young Muslims in the UK.)

Secondly, Brit­ish intel­li­gence seems over the last dec­ade to have blindly fol­lowed the US spies down the path of pan­op­tic­an, drag-net elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance.  All this has been long sus­pec­ted by a few, but con­firmed to the many by the dis­clos­ures of Edward Snowden over the last couple of years. Indeed it seems that GCHQ is not merely com­pli­cit but an act­ive facil­it­at­or and ena­bler of the NSA’s wilder ideas.  And what we now know is hor­rif­ic enough, yet it cur­rently remains just the tip of the ice­berg.

This deluge of inform­a­tion cre­ates gar­gan­tu­an hay­stacks with­in which some genu­ine intel­li­gence needles might reside — to use the ter­min­o­logy of the spy agency cheer­lead­ers. How­ever, it con­cur­rently swamps the intel­li­gence agen­cies in use­less inform­a­tion, while also cer­tainly throw­ing up a per­cent­age of false-pos­it­ives.  Bear­ing in mind the sheer scale of the leg­ally dubi­ous snoop­ing, even a 0.001% of false pos­it­ives could poten­tially pro­duce thou­sands of erro­neous leads.

Curi­ous people now have a world of inform­a­tion at their fin­ger­tips. They may click on an intriguing link and find them­selves on a rad­ic­al web­site; even if they click out quickly, the pan­op­ticon will have logged their “interest”. Or they could donate money to an appar­ently legit­im­ate char­ity; “like” the wrong thing on Face­book; fol­low the wrong per­son on Twit­ter; have their email hacked, or whatever.…

The Big Broth­er Borg algorithms will crunch through all of this inform­a­tion pre­dict­ably and pre­dict­ively, with sub­tleties lost and mis­takes made. Mind you, that happened in a more lim­ited fash­ion too at the height of the Cold War sub­ver­sion para­noia in Bri­tain in the 1970s and 1980s, when school­boys writ­ing to the Com­mun­ist Party HQ for inform­a­tion for school pro­jects could end up with a MI5 file, and divor­cing couples could denounce each oth­er.  But at least, then, whole pop­u­la­tions were not under sur­veil­lance.

I think this may go some way towards explain­ing so many recent cases where “lone wolf” attack­ers around the world have been known to their nation­al intel­li­gence agen­cies and yet been left to roam free, either dis­coun­ted as too low level a threat in the flood of inform­a­tion or oth­er­wise sub­jec­ted to bungled recruit­ment approaches.

In the ana­logue era much time, research and thought would go into identi­fy­ing per­sons of interest, and more cru­cially how to approach a tar­get either for dis­rup­tion or recruit­ment.  I should think that the spy super-com­puters are now throw­ing up so many pos­sible leads that approaches are made in a more hur­ried, ill-informed and less con­sidered way.

And this can res­ult in cases such as Michael Ade­bolayo whom MI5 approached and allegedly har­assed years before he went on to murder Drum­mer Lee Rigby in Wool­wich in 2013. The same may well have happened with Mohammed Emwazi. Once someone has been tar­geted, they are going to feel para­noid and under sur­veil­lance, wheth­er rightly or wrongly, and this might res­ult in grow­ing resent­ment and push them into ever more extreme views.

How­ever, I would sug­gest that MI5 remains merely the tool, fol­low­ing the dir­ect­ives of the UK gov­ern­ment in response to the ever-expand­ing, ever-neb­u­lous war on ter­ror, just as MI6 fol­lowed the dir­ect­ives of the Blair gov­ern­ment in 2003 when it allowed its intel­li­gence to be politi­cised as a pre­text for an illeg­al war in Iraq. MI5 might be an occa­sion­al cata­lyst, but not the under­ly­ing cause of rad­ic­al­isa­tion.

Unfor­tu­nately, by immers­ing itself in the now-over­whelm­ing intel­li­gence detail, it appears to be miss­ing the big­ger pic­ture — just why are young Brit­ish people tak­ing an interest in the events of the Middle East, why are so many angry, why are so many drawn to rad­ic­al views and some drawn to extreme actions.

Surely the simplest way to under­stand their griev­ances is to listen to what the extrem­ist groups actu­ally say? Osama Bin Laden was clear in his views — he wanted US mil­it­ary bases out of Saudi Ara­bia and US med­dling across the Middle East gen­er­ally to stop; he also wanted a res­ol­u­tion to the Palestini­an con­flict.

Jihadi John states in his ghastly snuff videos that he is met­ing out hor­ror to high­light the hor­rors daily inflic­ted across the Middle East by the US mil­it­ary — the bomb­ings, drone strikes, viol­ent death and mutil­a­tion.

To hear this and under­stand is not to be a sym­path­iser, but is vital if west­ern gov­ern­ments want to devel­op a more intel­li­gent, con­sidered and poten­tially more suc­cess­ful policies in response. Once you under­stand, you can nego­ti­ate, and that is the only sane way for­ward. Viol­ence used to counter viol­ence always escal­ates the situ­ation and every­one suf­fers.

The USA still needs to learn this les­son. The UK had learned it, res­ult­ing in the end of the war in North­ern Ire­land, but it now seems to have been for­got­ten. It is not rock­et sci­ence — even the former head of MI5, Lady Man­ning­ham-Buller, has said nego­ti­ation is the only suc­cess­ful long-term policy when deal­ing with ter­ror­ism.

Along with the UK, many oth­er European coun­tries have suc­cess­fully nego­ti­ated their way out of long-run­ning domest­ic ter­ror­ist cam­paigns. The tragedy for European coun­tries that have recently or will soon suf­fer the new mod­el of “lone wolf” atro­cit­ies, is that our gov­ern­ments are still in thrall to the failed US for­eign policy of “the war on ter­ror”, repeated daily in gory tech­ni­col­our across North Africa, the Middle East, cent­ral Asia, and now Ukraine.

Glob­al jihad is the inev­it­able response to USA glob­al expan­sion­ism, hege­mony and aggres­sion. As long as our gov­ern­ments and intel­li­gence agen­cies in Europe kow­tow to Amer­ic­an stra­tegic interests rather than pro­tect those of their own cit­izens, all our coun­tries will remain at risk.

The Ottawa Shootings — my RT interview

Yes­ter­day I was asked to do an inter­view on RT in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Ott­awa shoot­ings. As I said, there needs to be a full forensic invest­ig­a­tion, and I would hope that the gov­ern­ment does not use this ter­rible crime as a pre­text for yet fur­ther erosion of con­sti­tu­tion­al rights and civil liber­ties. Calm heads and the rule of law need to pre­vail.


ISIS and Western intelligence role in the Middle East

Here is my recent inter­view on RT London’s flag­ship news show, “Going Under­ground”, dis­cuss­ing ISIS, Syr­ia and wider west­ern intel­li­gence inter­ven­tions in the Middle East:


The New Terrorism

First pub­lished on RT Op-Edge

Two hor­rors have dwelt in my mind for the last twenty years, ever since I read reports about ter­ror­ist groups while an impres­sion­able young intel­li­gence officer. The first involves the use of power tools as instru­ments of tor­ture; drills, indus­tri­al sanders, angle grinders. This is no secret now and the meme has been much used and abused by Hol­ly­wood and series such as “24”, but I still feel uncom­fort­able every time I am dragged into the “boy toy” sec­tion of a home improve­ment mega-store.

The second has recently hit the news as a grim res­ult of ISIS, the ultra-viol­ent Sunni sect that has swept across much of Syr­ia and Iraq, impos­ing the most dra­coni­an form of Sharia law in its wake upon the hap­less cit­izens of formerly sec­u­lar states.  I pity the poor women, and I pity still more the men of these com­munit­ies faced with the option of sub­mis­sion or grue­some murder.

For this is the oth­er image that haunts me: in 1995 six west­ern tour­ists were abduc­ted by a Kash­miri sep­ar­at­ist group, Al Faran. One of the abduct­ees, a Nor­we­gi­an called Hans Chris­ti­an Ostro, was found decap­it­ated, his head had been hacked off with a knife. The sheer hor­ror,  the ter­ror the poor man must have exper­i­enced, has haunted me ever since.

You can prob­ably see where I am going with this. I have not watched, nor do I have any inten­tion of ever watch­ing, the ISIS video of the grue­some murder of US journ­al­ist James Foley, wheth­er the Met­ro­pol­it­an Police deems it a crime to do so or not. I just feel hor­ror, again, and a deep well of sor­row for what his fam­ily and friends must be going through now.

Yet this is noth­ing new — we have known for months that ISIS has been behead­ing and cru­ci­fy­ing people as they ram­page across Syr­ia and Iraq. There has been a steady stream of del­ic­ately pix­il­ated heads on spikes in the west­ern media, and the out­rage has been muted.

And indeed, such behead­ings have long been car­ried out and filmed dur­ing the earli­er insur­gen­cies in Iraq — I remem­ber a young film maker friend who had stumbled across just such a sick pro­pa­ganda video way back in 2007 — he could not sleep, could not rid his mind of the images either.

It is bar­bar­ity pure and simple, but it is also effect­ive with­in the bound­ar­ies of its aims.

So, what are these aims? I just want to make two points before the West gets swept up in a new wave of out­rage to “bomb the bas­tards” for behead­ing an Amer­ic­an — after all, many hun­dreds if not thou­sands of people across the Middle East have already suffered this fate, to lack of any mean­ing­ful West­ern out­cry.

Firstly, ISIS has clear aims (indeed it pub­lished its five-year plan to great media deri­sion a couple of months ago). It is effect­ively using hideous bru­tal­ity and pro­pa­ganda to spread ter­ror ahead of its war front — this is a 21st cen­tury blitzkrieg, and it’s work­ing. The sheer hor­ror of what they do to any who attempt to res­ist is so great that appar­ently whole armies aban­don their weapons, banks have been left to be raided to the tune of half a bil­lion dol­lars, and entire vil­lages flee.

This is the pure defin­i­tion of ter­ror­ism, and we can see that it is work­ing. ISIS is doing all this to build a new state. or caliphate, in the way that their warped fun­da­ment­al­ist inter­pret­a­tion of reli­gion sets out for them.

Secondly, and here’s the con­ten­tious bit, how pre­cisely is this dif­fer­ent from the ter­ror that the Israel­is have been vis­it­ing upon the many inno­cents killed in Gaza?  The Dahiya Doc­trine of dis­pro­por­tion­ate viol­ence to stun and quash res­ist­ance was exposed by Wikileaks — the Israeli “shock and awe”.  And also, how is this dif­fer­ent from what the US has been met­ing out to the peoples of Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afgh­anistan over the last few years with their drone attacks?

All the above examples show strong mil­it­ary forces, ideo­lo­gic­ally motiv­ated, unleash­ing viol­ence and ter­ror on a huge, dis­pro­por­tion­ate scale on inno­cent pop­u­la­tions that have nowhere really to run.

The dif­fer­ence being? ISIS wields its own knives, does its own dirty work, and proudly films its grot­esque bru­tal­ity to cow its oppon­ents. This is prim­it­ive ter­ror­ism inter­sect­ing with social media, a bas­tard spawn of the 21st cen­tury.  And it still seems to be effect­ive, just as ter­ror of the guil­lot­ine res­on­ated through­out revolu­tion­ary France in the 18th cen­tury.

On the oth­er hand, the US and Israel prefer to be a bit more coy about their ter­ror­ist­ic strategies, hid­ing behind such phrases as “pro­por­tion­ate”, “self-defence”, “pre­ci­sion bomb­ing” and “spread­ing demo­cracy”. But who, ser­i­ously, falls for that these days?

Their armed forces are not dir­ectly get­ting their hands dirty with the blood of their vic­tims: instead, spotty young con­scripts safely hid­den in bunkers on the far side of the world, mete out death from the skies via sick snuff video games  — offi­cially called “pre­ci­sion” bombs and drone attacks that take out whole fam­il­ies. Heads can be blown off, bod­ies evis­cer­ated, limbs mangled and maimed, and all from a safe dis­tance.

We had the first proof of this strategy with the decryp­ted mil­it­ary film “Col­lat­er­al Murder”, where heli­copter pilots shot up some Reu­ters journ­al­ists and civil­ians in Iraq in 2007. That was bad enough — but the cov­er-up stank. For years the Pentagon denied all know­ledge of this atro­cious war crime, and it was only after Wikileaks released the inform­a­tion, provided by the brave whis­tleblower Chelsea Man­ning, that the fam­il­ies and the inter­na­tion­al com­munity learned the truth. Yet it is Man­ning, not the war crim­in­als, who is serving a 35 year sen­tence in a US pris­on.

Worse, by sheer scale at least, are the ongo­ing, wide-ran­ging unmanned drone attacks across the Middle East and Cent­ral Asia, as cata­logued by the Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism in the UK. Many thou­sands of inno­cents have been murdered in these attacks, with the US jus­ti­fy­ing the strikes as killing “mil­it­ants” — ie any male over the age of 14.  The US is mur­der­ing chil­dren, fam­il­ies, wed­ding parties and vil­lage coun­cils with impun­ity.

And then the infam­ous pro­vi­sions of the US NDAA 2012. This means that the US mil­it­ary can extra-judi­cially murder any­one, includ­ing US cit­izens, by drone strike any­where in the world with no tri­al, no judi­cial pro­cess. And so it has come to pass.  Amer­ic­an Anwar Al Awlaki was murdered in 2011 by a drone strike.

Not con­tent with that, only weeks later the US mil­it­ary then blew his 16 year old son to pieces in anoth­er drone strike. Abdulrah­man — a child — was also an Amer­ic­an cit­izen. How, pre­cisely, is this atro­city not mor­ally equi­val­ent to the murder of James Foley?

So what is the real, qual­it­at­ive dif­fer­ence between the ter­ror engendered by ISIS, or by the Dahiya Doc­trine, or by the US drone strike pro­gramme? Is it just that ISIS does the dirty, hands on, and spreads its mes­sage shame­lessly via social media, while the US does the dirty in secret and pro­sec­utes and per­se­cutes any­one who wants to expose its egre­gious war crimes?

I would sug­gest so, and the West needs to face up to its hypo­crisy. A crime is a crime. Ter­ror­ism is ter­ror­ism.

Oth­er­wise we are no bet­ter than the polit­ic­al drones in George Orwell’s “1984”, rewrit­ing his­tory in favour of the vic­tors rather than the vic­tims, acqui­es­cing to etern­al war, and hap­pily mouth­ing News­peak.

New Ter­ror­ism, any­one?

NSA industrial espionage

In the wake of the recent ARD inter­view with Edward Snowden, here are my com­ments on RT yes­ter­day about the NSA’s involve­ment in indus­tri­al espi­on­age:

NSA’s big nose in big busi­ness from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

I recom­mend look­ing at the Edward Snowden’s sup­port web­site, and also keep an eye open for a new found­a­tion that will be launched next month: Cour­age — the fund to pro­tect journ­al­ist­ic sources.

CCC talk — the Four Wars

Here is my recent talk at the CCC in Ham­burg, dis­cuss­ing the war on ter­ror, the war on drugs, the war in the inter­net and the war on whis­tleblowers:

30C3 — The Four Wars; Ter­ror, whis­tleblowers, drugs, inter­net from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

LEAP talk at Akzept drug conference in Bielefeld

Here’s a talk I did last week at the inter­na­tion­al Akzept Con­fer­ence in Biele­feld about pro­hib­i­tion and the failed “war on drugs”:

Akzept Kon­gress 2013 from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

London Real TV Interview — coming soon

Here is a taster of my recent inter­view on Lon­don Real TV. It was diverse, lively and fun, and should be broad­cast in full tomor­row:

Annie Machon — Whis­tleblower — Lon­don Real TV from Annie Machon on Vimeo.

OHM 2013 — Geeks and Drugs

ohm2013_logoAs I have men­tioned before, the Dutch geek­fest Observe, Hack, Make (OHM 2013) was not just a chance for geeks to play with cool tech toys, the whole event also had a very strong polit­ic­al track. While there was inev­it­ably a lot of focus on whis­tleblow­ing in the wake of the Snowden dis­clos­ures, anoth­er speak­er track attrac­ted a lot of atten­tion: glob­al drug policy and the fail­ure of pro­hib­i­tion.

This was a track I sug­ges­ted and I was pleased that three speak­ers were giv­en the chance to dis­cuss this on the main stage. While com­ing to the sub­ject from rad­ic­ally dif­fer­ent per­spect­ives and exper­i­ences, the under­ly­ing mes­sage of all three was that the “war on drugs” was an abject fail­ure that caused massive and increas­ing harm to the glob­al pop­u­la­tion.

John Gilmore was first up. John made his dosh dur­ing the tech boom, and has since spent sig­ni­fic­ant sums try­ing to reform the failed drug policies with­in his home coun­try, the good ol’ US of A. Of course, there, it was always going to be an uphill battle.  The USA is the foun­tain head of pro­hib­i­tion, ram­ming the drug con­ven­tions of 1961, 1971, and 1988 through the United Nations by brute dip­lo­mat­ic force.

To this day, the US remains the key power ensur­ing that the UN upholds these con­ven­tions, des­pite the fact that the policy of pro­hib­i­tion has mani­festly failed, des­pite the fact that many coun­tries have exper­i­mented suc­cess­fully with harm reduc­tion and decrim­in­al­isa­tion of per­son­al use, and des­pite the fact that these laws are from a dif­fer­ent era and are wildly out of date — in the 1960s HIV and AIDS had yet to emerge, and rap­idly mutat­ing “leg­al highs” were unknown.

And let’s not for­get that the USA is the world’s biggest con­sumer coun­try of drugs. It is Amer­ica that drives this illeg­al mar­ket. And it is in Amer­ica that 20 states have leg­al­ised the medi­cin­al use of can­nabis, and two states have fully leg­al­ised the use even, gasp, purely for pleas­ure. The hypo­crisy is breath­tak­ing.

But change is afoot. Primar­ily, I believe, because the USA no longer needs the “war on drugs” as a pre­text for invading/interfering with oth­er coun­tries, now it has the “war on ter­ror”. But also because of the excel­lent work of research and edu­ca­tion­al civil soci­ety groups. The Beckley Found­a­tion, set up by Aman­da Feild­ing in 1998, is one such.

Aman­da gave an excel­lent talk, focus­ing on the dual nature of Beckley’s work: policy and sci­entif­ic research. Her view is that sound nation­al and inter­na­tion­al policy can­not be developed unless it is based on evid­ence, research and facts. Yet the cur­rent “war on drugs” has become almost an art­icle of faith that too many politi­cians are afraid to chal­lenge.

Beckley aims to provide the research and the facts. It funds and estab­lishes sci­entif­ic research that enables lead­ing sci­ent­ists, such as Pro­fess­or Dav­id Nutt in the UK, to research the poten­tial thera­peut­ic bene­fits of cur­rently illeg­al drugs, and also to assess the dif­fer­ent soci­et­al harms caused by all drugs, both licit and illi­cit. To date, the pro­hib­i­tion ortho­doxy has inhib­ited free sci­entif­ic research to the det­ri­ment of many people across the plan­et.

Aman­da was pleased to be able to announce two new research pro­jects just start­ing in the UK, into the poten­tial thera­peut­ic bene­fits of psilo­cybin (magic mush­rooms) and LSD. Beckley has also recently com­mis­sioned a cost bene­fit ana­lys­is of the leg­al­isa­tion of (only) can­nabis is the UK. The res­ults will be form­ally announced in Septem­ber, so for now I shall con­fine myself to say­ing that they are encour­aging.

Using such research, Beckley is thus in a pos­i­tion to advise gov­ern­ments about devel­op­ing fact-base policy. One of the key areas of the world invest­ig­at­ing poten­tially bene­fi­cial altern­at­ives to pro­hib­i­tion is Lat­in Amer­ica, and Aman­da has developed close work­ing rela­tion­ships with a num­ber of gov­ern­ments across the region.

And under­stand­ably so — Lat­in Amer­ica, as one of the key pro­du­cer regions of the world, has been rav­aged by the drug wars. Viol­ent organ­ised crime car­tels have grown so wealthy and power­ful that they can sub­vert whole coun­tries, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments and law enforce­ment, and ter­ror­ise whole pop­u­la­tions in their quest to dom­in­ate the illeg­al drugs trade.

In Mex­ico, since the war on drugs was ramped up 7 years ago, it is estim­ated that over 70,000 inno­cent people have been kid­napped, tor­tured and killed in drug-related viol­ence. Many have simply been dis­ap­peared.

Finally I also did a talk at OHM as the European dir­ect­or of Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hib­i­tion (LEAP).

LEAP is a unique voice in the glob­al drug policy debate. The organ­isa­tion, only 11 years old, has over 100,000 sup­port­ers and a pres­ence in 120 coun­tries. We con­sist of police officers, judges, law­yers, pris­on gov­ernors, intel­li­gence per­son­nel, and even drug czars. What unites us is a shared pro­fes­sion­al know­ledge, exper­i­enced across the spec­trum of drug law enforce­ment, that pro­hib­i­tion has egre­giously failed.

Over the last 50 years drug use has expo­nen­tially increased, the potency of illeg­al drugs has increased, they are ubi­quit­ously avail­able, and the price of street drugs has gone through the floor. Faced with this inform­a­tion, how can our gov­ern­ments claim they are win­ning the “war on drugs” to cre­ate a “drug free world”? Quite the oppos­ite — pro­hib­i­tion has enabled a glob­al and expo­nen­tially grow­ing black mar­ket.

I became aware of the drug pro­hib­i­tion fail­ure while I was work­ing for MI5. One of my post­ings involved invest­ig­at­ing ter­ror­ist logist­ics, which meant that I had to work closely with UK Cus­toms across the UK. This exper­i­ence made me very aware that the “war” had been lost.  It also made me very aware, early on, that there was a massive over­lap between the illeg­al drug mar­ket and ter­ror­ist fund­ing.

The US DEA estim­ates that over half of the des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist groups around the world gain the bulk of their fund­ing from drugs money. So on the one hand pro­hib­it­ing drugs and fight­ing the “war on drugs” sends the mar­ket under­ground and that black money provides a key rev­en­ue stream to the ter­ror­ists. On the oth­er hand the West is also waging the “war on ter­ror”.  What they give with one hand they take away with anoth­er.

One stark example of this is the cur­rent melt-down in Libya — coun­try that was “grate­fully” lib­er­ated by NATO two years ago. The dic­tat­or was tor­tured and killed, MI6 and the CIA were help­ing the “spon­tan­eous” rebels. the infra­struc­ture was ruined, and the bulk of the coun­try is now run by ban­dit mili­tias which bru­tal­ise the inhab­it­ants pr impose hard-line Islam­ism on them. Many pre­dicted this would hap­pen, includ­ing myself.

What was not pre­dicted was the explo­sion in the drug trade. Over the last dec­ade west­ern Africa has become one of the main trans­it regions between the pro­du­cer coun­tries (Lat­in Amer­ica) and the con­sumer coun­tries in Europe. It now appears that this luc­rat­ive trade has not only res­ul­ted in destabil­ising coun­tries, lead­ing to viol­ent narco-states such as Mali and Guinea-Bis­sau, the trade has also become a stream of income to Al Qaeda affil­i­ated groups in Libya. Which is bad for west­ern secur­ity, is bad for the sta­bil­ity of Libya, but is also bad for the people of Libya, where there has reportedly been an explo­sion of drug use and rock­et­ing infec­tions of HIV.

There have been many suc­cess­ful attempts to alle­vi­ate the pen­al­isa­tion of drug users in many European coun­tries — Por­tugal, the Neth­er­lands and Switzer­land spring to mind. Because of more lib­er­al decrim­in­al­isa­tion laws, all these coun­tries have seen a decrease in drug use and asso­ci­ated crime, plus good health out­comes and the free­ing up of law enforce­ment resources across the spec­trum to go for the drug traders.

How­ever, we in LEAP would argue that only full reg­u­la­tion, con­trol and tax­a­tion of the drug mar­ket will deal with the scourge of the inter­na­tion­al drug trade. Until that hap­pens, this glob­al trade, estim­ated by even the UN at being worth between $320 bil­lion and $500 bil­lion per year, will only profit organ­ised crime car­tels and ter­ror­ist organ­isa­tions.

The “war on drugs” has failed. Albert Ein­stein said that the very defin­i­tion of insan­ity was to con­tin­ue to do the same, even if it repeatedly fails, in the hope that you will even­tu­ally get a dif­fer­ent out­come. That is what we are see­ing with pro­hib­i­tion.

And the geek com­munity under­stand this too. Of course they do, they are sci­ent­ists. I was heartened by their interest and by their response. Let’s all cam­paign to end this insan­ity.

Here is a video of my talk at OHM on the sub­ject:

LEAP — End­ing the war on drugs and people (OHM 2013) from Annie Machon on Vimeo.