Posts Tagged ‘Adam Curtis’

Bruce Page on Rupert Murdoch

January 27, 2016

I found an entire chapter devoted to Rupert Murdoch in the book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Petrolia: CounterPunch 2007). The book is about the end of critical, investigative journalism, particularly in America, and the way the press now colludes with and promotes Conservative parties and policies. The chapter on the Dirty Digger, ‘Murdoch’s Game’, describes the Australian media magnate’s rise to global dominance, his role as a right-wing propagandist and his psychopathic psychology. Part of the chapter is an interview with Bruce Page, an Australian-born British journalist and former member of the Insight team at the Sunday Times, before that august journal was bought out, along with the Times proper, by the Chunder from Down Under. Page had written a critical study of Murdoch and his empire of yellow journalism and sleaze, The Murdoch Archipelago. Other books have been written about the media magnate since then, and particularly since the phone hacking scandal. This chapter is still very interesting, and it’s worth reading the whole. However, I was particularly struck by certain passages, which I’ll reproduce here.

Cockburn himself makes a good point about Murdoch as a propagandist for Right-wing regimes.

core thesis is that Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent PCC ruling on the acquisition of DirecTV), monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it’s the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK’s Sun and News of the World, or the shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square.

Page on Murdoch’s attitude to offshore ownership and democracy:

“On sovereignty: my belief is that Murdoch and his like deeply fear every kind of collaboration between effective democratic entities. They can exist only in an offshore domain from which they truck and barter with comprador elites. Sadly for them, there is an antagonistic tendency which every now and then makes crucial advances: if and when the OECD countries organise a viable tax system, Newscorp is toast. The US and the EC have made more progress in that direction than is generally realised. Only crooks really like offshore, and crooks have no guaranteed monopoly over the world.”

‘Comprador’ is a Marxist term for the elites in subaltern countries, who collaborate in the economic domination of their country by the capitalist West. General Pinochet and his cronies in Chile would constitute such a ‘comprador elite’ after the CIA sponsored coup, for example.

Page makes the case that Murdoch learned his authoritarianism and mendacity from his father, the journalist, media mogul and propagandist Sir Keith Murdoch. Murdoch claimed to be an independent journalist, but worked behind the scenes to impose conscription for Australians during the First World War. He was also involved in a plot against the Ossie general, John Monash, purely because that senior officer was Jewish. This was despite the fact that it was Monash’s volunteers broke the German line at one of the battles. Page goes on and says of the way Murdoch’s own authoritarianism and sheer credulity have allowed him to dominate the world’s media.

“Journalists are insecure, because they must trade in the unknown. Their profession, said the sociologist Max Weber, is uniquely ‘accident prone’. Good management may reduce this insecurity-but Newscorp style actually uses insecurity as a disciplinary tool. And the seeming assurance of the authoritarian has tactical benefits: Murdoch can swap one attitude for another with zero embarrassment, and it enables him to ‘deliver’ newspapers to any power he approves of. Readers naturally grow sceptical. But this does not yet harm Newscorp’s business model.

“It would have been remarkable for Rupert to develop in non-authoritarian fashion, given his inheritance. When his father died, he had neither graduate from university, nor gained any real newspaper tradecraft. In order to take control of what was then News Limited, under the trust Sir Keith established, Rupert had to accept his father as a paragon of journalistic integrity: to convince the trustees, believers in that myth, of his desire to emulate it. Exactly when independence is essential for personal and professional development, a spurious parental image descended on him. And he has emulated the political propagandist, not the mythological paragon.

“The outcome attracts today’s politicians because a sickness afflicts them. In all developed societies trust in politics has declined: while democracy advances in the developing world, it finds itself ailing in its homelands. Finding themselves distrusted, politicians turn for a cure to tabloid journalism-Murdoch’s especially-which they realise is distrusted still more than themselves. They do so just as victims of a slow, fatal disease use quack remedies if the real cure still seems too strenuous.

“The real problem of politics is the increasingly complex, and therefore occult nature of advanced society. We fancy it has become more open, and it somewhat has. But progress has fallen behind the needs of better-educated, less deferential citizens whose problems grow more daunting intellectually. The state for which politicians are responsible cannot explain itself to its citizens. It might change this by opening itself far more freely to scrutiny. But against this the bureaucrats-public and private-on whom politicians rely for administrative convenience conduct relentless guerrilla attack. Should politicians choose to fight back, they will not lack allies, for most Western societies still have some competent, independent news media and the demand exists among citizens. In Britain, real newspapers and broadcasters like the BBC continue to be trusted, as Murdoch’s tabloids will never be. But quack remedies still appeal to governments: and all Murdoch asks in return is a little help in extending his monopolies.

“Of course, if the process goes far enough, only the quack remedy will be available, and democracy’s ailment would then be terminal.”

In other words, modern society is too complex to be easily explained by politicians and civil servants. The complex nature of modern life has meant that the educated want more information, not less. The civil servants don’t want this. The politicians also find themselves distrusted. So to the boost politicos’ popularity and for the civil servants to fob people off with less information than they want or need, both groups of officialdom turn to Murdoch.

I’ve got a feeling that Adam Curtis said something extremely similar in one of his documentaries years ago. I’ve got a feeling it was in the one where he attacked game theory, and its view of people as fundamentally selfish. And since then, the elite’s desire for secrecy and disinformation has come back in spades, as shown in Cameron and co.’s attempts to muzzle the Freedom of information Act. And guess what? They were helped into power by none other than the Dirty Rupe, dubbed in his homeland, ‘the Minister for Public Enlightenment’. This was the title the Nazis gave Goebbels. And if the cap fits, wear it.

Lobster: Garrick Alder on World War I as a Battle for Democracy

January 27, 2015

Lobster Logo

Garrick Alder, in his piece ‘Holding Pattern’ in issue 69 of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has a very interesting piece about the current myths flying about the First World War. Alder has been contributing to Lobster for many years, and I think I’ve seen his name amongst the credits as one of the ‘elves’ on QI. Amongst the other snippets of interest to the watchers of the murkier parts of history and the political landscape is the piece, ‘Set in Stone’. In this he follows a contemporary war memorial, that placed the date of the end of the First World War not as 1918, but the following year, 1919. The War was supposed to have ended on 11/11/1918, but there was an extension to allow the allies to advance and occupy the Rhineland.

He also notes that as its the centenary of the War’s outbreak, there has been a lot of talk about how the War was fought to protect democracy. He found this disquieting, a feeling probably shared by many of his readers. He points out that at the time Britain was not a democracy, and the monarch still held considerable power behind the scenes. So where did this myth come from?

Alder states that it

seems to have sprung from US President Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda advisor Edward Bernays, who helped Wilson craft an oftquoted slogan about ‘making the world safe for democracy’ to encourage the USA’s voters into supporting a war they had hoped to avoid.

and concludes

So the lie of the war being fought in the name of democracy was being told during the war itself. History is being rewritten under our noses – and this time, there are no living witnesses left to protest against it.

Bernays was Freud’s cousin, whom Adam Curtis identified in his excellent documentary, The Century of the Self, as the person, who incorporated Freud’s psychological theories into advertising and then into politics as a way of manipulating public opinion. As for the First World War, the catalyst was the campaigns of the Yugoslav peoples to gain more independence from their Austrian overlords. The War itself was fought not for democracy, but to decide the balance of power in Europe.

The article’s at http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster69/lob69-holding-pattern.pdf, on page 21.

Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

Vintage Curtis: The Power of Nightmares

January 23, 2015

This is an attempt to provide a fuller answer to the question Mike over at Vox Political posed in his post Terrorism, Islam, and the need to keep the Western world in fear. Mike suggested that politicians were exaggerating the scale of the threat from Islamist terrorists, and, for that matter, Russia, in order to keep us down. Ten years ago the Beeb’s Adam Curtis produced the documentary, The Power of Nightmares, arguing that this was precisely the case.

The Power of Nightmares: Politicians and the Use of the External Threat

The Power of Nightmares is a superb documentary. I found it stored at the Internet Archive. Broadcast eleven years ago, it was a series of 3 films titled Baby, It’s Cold Outside, The Phantom Victory and The Shadows in the Cave. The series examined the rise of the Neo-Cons in America, the origins of radical Islamism in the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and the War on Terror. Curtis took the view that the scale of the terrorist threat had been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality in order to serve the Neo-Cons’ right wing agenda. Politicians, according to Curtis, had used external threats to restore their own power and authority. Whereas once they power and prestige through offering the possibility of transforming the world for the better, people had now become disillusioned. In this post-ideological vacuum, politicians became mere managers. Now, by exploiting the fears of terrorism, and of terrible, unimaginable enemies that only they could correctly identify, they hoped to win back their status by presenting themselves as being the only people, who could protect us.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

In the first episode, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Curtis described the origins both of the Neo-Cons, and radical Islamism. The Neo-Cons were the followers of the philosopher Leo Strauss. Strauss believed that modern, liberal society had made Americans socially atomised, nihilistic and materialistic. He wished to counter this by stressing religion as a socially cohesive force, which could be used to unite America. His ideas were then taken over by Irving Kristol, a former liberal, who crossed over to the Dark Side following the race riots of the ’60s and ’70s. He believed that Liberalism itself was responsible for the breakdown and moral decline of American society. The Neo-Cons attempted to reverse this process, not only by using religion, but also by stressing the existence of an external threat. This would be used to unite Americans behind traditional, Conservative values, as well as restore American particularism – the view that America had a unique identity and duty to tackle evil in the world.

This external threat was the Soviet Union.

The Neo-Cons and the Demonisation of the USSR

Here, their ideas of the military power of the USSR was entirely illusory. The Neo-Cons were originally entirely cynical in their use of religion and the existence of an external threat. These were, to them, nothing more than Plato’s ‘Noble Lie’, a useful mythology to move the populace to a desired end. It did not matter whether the myth was factually true or not. As they became obsessed with finding evidence of Soviet military supremacy, they became convinced by their own propaganda.

This part of the film is blackly funny. The Neo-Cons hated Kissinger, because Kissinger was ruthless pragmatic. Kissinger did not believe in moral absolutes. He was merely interested in creating a stable world. He therefore signed the arms limitation agreements with the Brezhnev regime which formed the basis of the détente between America and the USSR. The Neo-Cons thus created ‘Team B’, to examine the military reports the government was using, but use them to show that in reality the Russians really were ahead of America. There was absolutely no evidence of this. And so the Neo-Cons decided that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. The absence of any evidence that the Soviet were superior, meant that they were so far ahead their weapon systems had evaded detection. The Americans had been unable to find any evidence that the Russians had acoustic detection equipment on their submarines. Instead of concluding, however, that this meant that they didn’t have any detection equipment, the Neo-Cons instead decided that the Soviets had something better, and so sophisticated, it was undetectable. Similarly, line of radar installations in the Soviet Far East were interpreted, not as anything as mundane as radar installations, but as a super-sophisticated laser weapon array. The Neo-Cons thought they finally had found the positive proof they needed when they discovered a document written by the CIA presenting the case that the Soviets were indeed militarily superior. Except that the CIA informed them that it was rubbish. They knew, because they’d written it, and it was nothing but black propaganda. They even brought out the document’s author, to tell the Neo-Cons that it was nonsense. But the Neo-Cons still wouldn’t believe it. The Neo-Cons had also managed to convince themselves that the USSR was responsible for the proliferation of Marxist terrorist organisations around the world, such as Germany’s notorious Baader-Meinhof Gang. Again, there was no evidence for this, and it was entirely illusory. Nevertheless, to the Neo-Cons it was a fact.

The Rise of Reagan

The Neo-Cons finally gained the power they craved when Reagan took office. Reagan had partly succeeded through an alliance with the American religious right. Believing that America was fundamentally corrupt, these had traditionally stood aloof from politics, as they did not wish to become entwined with such a corrupt system by voting. The Neo-Cons allied the religious Conservatives to oust more traditional Conservatives, who stressed personal freedom and choice. The film here includes footage of a Republican candidate stating his support for a woman’s right to choose on abortion being booed off the platform at a Republican convention. The result was the renewed Cold War in the 1980s, and the funding of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as part of Reagan’s confrontation with the Evil Empire.

Sayyid Qutb and Radical Islam

At the opposite political extreme were the radical Islamists, who took their ideas from Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was an Egyptian schoolteacher, who had gone to America in the 1950s to study the American way of life, and bring the lessons learned back to Egypt. He did, but they were lessons that the US definitely didn’t want to give. Like the Neo-Cons, he believed that American society was fundamentally rotten and materialistic. Americans pursued material goods, fussing over their lawns and consumer accessories. He was particularly shocked by a dance held in a church hall, which he described as being full of ‘love and lust’. While most Westerners would simply regard the dance as being entirely innocent, rather than any kind of orgy, to Qutb it was an example of the way Liberalism allowed people to give way entirely to their animal desires. And he definitely didn’t want this coming back to his homeland.

When he returned to Egypt, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood. He wanted a morally regenerate, Islamic society, that would enjoy all the technological and scientific benefits of Western society, but would have none of the materialism or permissiveness of Western Liberalism. The Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser, was adamant that Egypt would be a secular society, and Qutb was imprisoned and tortured. His experiences in prison convinced Qutb that Western liberalism and democracy were fundamentally brutal. He formulated an ideology which advocated the formation of an elite, who would act as a revolutionary vanguard to create the new Islamic society. The Islamist revolutionaries believed that by adopting Western values of democracy, the country’s political leaders had betrayed Islam. And as Islam’s enemies, they deserved to be killed.

The Assassination of Sadat and Ayman Zawahiri

This doctrine resulted in the assassination of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat. Qutb had been executed, and was succeeded as the leader of the Islamist revolutionaries by Ayman Zawahiri. Sadat was marked for assassination both because of the domestic corruption of his regime and because he signed the peace accords with Israel at Camp David. Sadat publicly denied any corruption, but in fact his administration was marked by the corrupt influence of six bankers. Rather than returning to the kind of arch-traditionalist Islam Zawahiri and the others wanted, he pursued an open-doors policy towards the West. His signing of the peace agreement with Israel was also seen, not as a heroic act of a genuine peacemaker, but as that of someone who had fundamentally betrayed Islam. As a result, the Islamists rose up and assassinated him.

They were profoundly disappointed with the result. The Muslim Brotherhood had believed that the assassination of the liberal, secular leaders would provoke the masses to rise up against the Westernised, secular society that had been imposed on them. But the Egyptian masses didn’t rise up, and the Islamists were rounded up, and put on trial. As a result, the Islamists pushed their doctrine further. They decided that the Jaihiliyya, the non-Islamic state of ignorance created by Westernisation had corrupted even the people themselves. Hitherto they had confined their violence to politicians. Now they argued that even members of the public should be killed as traitors to Islam.

The Phantom Victory: Afghanistan and the Fall of Communism

Episode 2: The Phantom Victory discussed the War in Afghanistan, and the Neo-Cons fall from power with the accession of George Bush snr and then Bill Clinton to the presidency. The Americans saw the War in Afghanistan as part of their crusade to destroy the Soviet Union. They therefore began to arm the Mujahideen. These were initially organised around Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. Azzam, however, did not believe in killing non-combatants, and made his followers take an oath to that effect. In competition with Azzam, however, was a smaller group of Islamist rebels, the followers of Zawahiri, who were quite prepared to kill and murder innocents. These were the group Islamic Jihad. One of those idealistic Muslims, who went to Afghanistan to join the struggle against the Soviet, was Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was originally a follower of Azzam, but was seduced away from him to Zawahiri’s group. Complementing the fighters were many political dissidents, who had been released from prisons all over the Arab world in the hope that they would go to Afghanistan, and not come back.

Mikhail Gorbachev

Gorbachev, the new Soviet leader, was acutely aware of the immense problems facing the Soviet Union. He believed that the USSR was in danger of imminent collapse, and so wished to push forward a comprehensive campaign of reform. In order to do so, he wished to withdraw from Afghanistan in order to concentrate on the USSR’s domestic problems. He therefore sought a negotiated peace with Reagan and the Mujahideen. But the Reagan administration would not make a deal, and Gorby was shocked by their intransigence. In the period following the Soviet withdrawal, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet bloc collapsed completely. Both the American Neo-Cons and the radical Islamists believed they had been responsible for the USSR’s collapse. But this was untrue. The USSR fell, not because of military defeat, but because the regime and society was fundamentally rotten.

George Bush Snr

Convinced of America’s special destiny to promote democracy and correct moral values in the world, the Neo-Cons wanted Bush’s regime to export it at gunpoint to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during Gulf War I. But Bush was, like Kissinger, another pragmatist, and so was content merely with freeing Kuwait, and containing Saddam. He did not want to change the Iraqi regime, and his supporters believed that, had he adopted this aim, America would still be in Iraq 14 years or so later.

Bill Clinton

The Neo-Cons were further disappointed when Clinton became president. Slick Willy had succeeded partly by winning over Republican supporters alienated by the religious influence on their party. The Neo-Cons saw him in the same Manichaean terms they applied to the Soviet Union – as the embodiment of evil itself. They therefore sought to blacken him anyway they could. Clinton was accused of multiple adultery, of fraudulent land deals in the Whitewater scandal, assassinating one of his aides, and smuggling drugs through an airport in Arkansas. These accusations all came from a minute American Conservative magazine, the American Spectator. With the exception of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, none of this was true. And in the case of the Whitewater deal, the Clinton’s actually lost money. One of those speaking in the documentary about this was a former journalist on the magazine, who had initially believed these stories, but then came to repudiate them utterly.

The Brutal Collapse of Islamism in Algeria

The Islamists in the Middle East were also suffering their own setbacks. In Algeria, the Islamic party, the FLN, had won the first round of elections. They presented a challenge to democracy, as the Islamists wished to replace secular authority with that of the Qu’ran. This would effectively make political parties obsolete, as the Qu’ran could not be challenged as the source of law. The armed forces stepped in and seized power, rather than the secular society destroyed. The Islamist forces in their turn rose up against them. The result was a bloody civil war, in which the Islamists took to attacking and killing the civilians they felt had betrayed Islam by not supporting the revolution. The various Islamist militias were infiltrated by the Algerian armed forces, who turned them into committing increasingly extreme and horrific acts of terrorism. The intention was to turn ordinary Algerians away from these groups through disgust at the atrocities they were committing. The tactic succeeded, and the Islamists terrorists became ever more extreme. Finally they turned on each other. Each group believed that they, and only they, were the true Muslims. The end finally came with one Islamist group, led by a former chicken farmer, declaring that it and only it represented true Islam, and advocating the death of everybody else.

The Shadows in the Cave: Dubya and 9/11

Shadows in the Cave, the third and final film, took the story from the election of George ‘Dubya’ Bush
to the time the show was screened in 2004. As is now notorious, Dubya was another Neo-Con, and believed that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden really were at the centre of a vast, global terrorist network. This network was another illusion. There was just a number of different, radical Islamic groups, who used bin Laden as a source of funding. But bin Laden himself was in no way their leader. Rather, they were using him. The idea of a single terror network, al-Qaeda, really only appeared after 9/11, and was a result of the American legal system. In the aftermath, the Americans rounded up other Islamists, who had been complicit in the atrocity, with the aim also of convicting bin Laden himself. But the legislation under which the terrorists were tried had been put in place in order to deal with organised crime. In order to convict bin Laden, the authorities needed to prove that he was head of a distinct terrorist organisation with its own identity. And hence they produced al-Qaeda, which was largely a legal fiction. Bin Laden himself only started using the term after it was used by the Americans.

The 9/11 attack, rather than being a sign of the movement’s international strength, was even then the result of a small minority. Most of the Islamists in Afghanistan were radical nationalists, who wished to export the Islamic revolution to their own countries. However, rather than taking that step, bin Laden had gone for ‘the further enemy’ America.

The Northern Alliance: Dodgy Information and the Selling of Prisoners

In hunting down al-Qaeda, Americans also allied themselves with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, a group of warlords fighting the Taliban. They were given arms and money in return for intelligence and al-Qaeda prisoners. A total of a million dollars may have been given to them. But some of the information they supplied, and the prisoners they handed over, were much less than what they seemed.

Remember Tora Bora? Those were the caves in which bin Laden supposedly had his lair. The documentary includes footage of American news programmes, in which the caves were presented as a highly sophisticated complex, complete with separate living units, offices and replete with high-powered surveillance devices. The Americans duly bombed the caves, only to find to find that it was a simple series of caves. Some had been used to store equipment, but it was definitely not the underground Bond-villain style fortress it had been built up as.

As for the prisoners, many of whom may not have been directly involved in the attacks, but were shipped off to Gitmo anyway. It’s even doubtful how many of them were actually al-Qaeda terrorists. Some may just have been Arabs unlucky enough to have been picked off the street by the Northern Alliance to sell to the Americans.

The Hunt for Domestic Terrorists

The authorities were naturally keen to round up possible domestic terrorists. There developed a theory that there were a number of terrorist ‘sleeper cells’ in America, ready to rise up and commit further atrocities. Several of the Muslims arrested on suspicion of terrorism seem to have been innocent. There was a group of three men, who had gone away to a terrorist training camp, before returning to America. They were watched by the FBI for a year as suspected terrorists, but none of them did anything terrorist-related. In fact, one of them had been so desperate to get back to America, that he had actually feigned illness. Then one of them left for Bahrain, and sent his friends a letter, stating that he was getting married and would not see them for some time. The authorities swooped, believing that this was a code for a possible suicide attack on the American Gulf fleet. No, the message was as innocuous as it appeared. Rather than going to blow himself up, the man really had gone to get married, and so didn’t expect to see his friends for some time.

Another group were arrested after they filmed themselves going to Disneyworld. This was seen by the authorities, following their experience with criminals, as a kind of casing video, in which the suspected terrorists were looking for points of attack. They had disguised their actions, however, simply as a group of tourists making an ordinary video of their day. Other evidence was a doodle from the house they occupied, which was interpreted as a secret map of the defences of an American base in Turkey by its head of security. It wasn’t. Subsequent investigation showed it had been drawn by a madman a year previously. The man had occupied the same house, and was convinced he was head of the Yemeni security forces. He had drawn the doodle, which then got lost down the back of the furniture, until it was discovered by the FBI.

Other suspects included a group of young Muslims, who’d been out paintballing. This was again interpreted as terrorist training, but was in fact exactly what it appeared: a group of young guys out paintballing.

And some of the people making the accusations were themselves very dodgy. One was a Mr Mimzy. Mimzy was a multiply fraudster, wanted on 13 counts. In return for a lighter sentence, Mimzy made a deal with the Federal authorities in which he accused one of the supposed ‘terrorist’ groups above. They were arrested, but his evidence was thrown out after he was heard telling one of his fellow prisoners that he’d made it all up.

The Mirage of a Dirty Bomb

And then there was the furore about the terrible possibility Islamic terrorists could produce a ‘dirty bomb’. This was a conventional bomb that was designed to hurl amounts of radioactive material out with the explosion, to contaminate the surroundings. People were naturally afraid that such a device would be used, and they, their friends and families were suffer a long, lingering death from radiation sickness.

The federal authorities had prepared for that, and experts from the various atomic organisation simulated the result of such a bomb. They found that rather than cause mass death, it would be extremely surprising if a single person died. They found that it was possible people would suffer a massive, but non-fatal exposure to radiation, but only if they remained where they were for a long time.

A very long time.

About a year.

In reality, the bomb’s explosion would result in the material being so widely scattered and rarefied, that there simply would not be enough of it to cause serious harm, especially if the detonation zone was carefully clean up afterwards.

British Failures

And just in case we in Britain think that it’s only the Americans who got carried away with this, Curtis provided some domestic examples from Blair’s Britain. When Britain joined the hunt for bin Laden, it was with much fanfare. We were going to do better than the Americans, because of our long experience fighting terrorism in Northern Ireland. This didn’t fare much better either. Curtis shows footage of a British officer looking embarrassed as he admits that they haven’t found bin Laden, or captured any terrorists either. Of the 664 people arrested after 9/11 in London, all but a handful were guilty of no more than watching terrorist videos or reading their literature. Many of them were not actually terrorists at all. One of the Jihadis was the owner of a gym, which specialised in self-defence training. It was called ‘Ultimate Jihad Training’, but in reality its only client was a security guard, who wanted to learn how to defend himself at his job. The vast amount of terrorism in Britain was committed, not by Muslims, but by the Protestant and Roman Catholic paramilitaries in Ulster.

Curtis’ film argues that rather than really existing, Blair and the others had taken over the precautionary principle from the Green movement. This urged that even if there was no evidence of a threat, one should nevertheless be prepared for the very worst, and take precautions. The result was politicians imagining a series of terrible threats and events, for which there was no evidence. He contrasted the panic sweeping Britain with the relative calm in Spain. Despite the horrors of 7/7, the Spanish had not panicked and become afraid their entire society was under threat. He concluded that, while there clearly was a threat of Islamist terrorism, and there had been legitimate reasons for suspecting some of those arrested as terrorists, Bush, Blair and the other politicos had massive overstated the extent of the threat. A threat existed, but we were actually quite safe.

The series can be found at:

https://archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares-Episode1BabyItsColdOutside

It’s very well worth watching.

Vox Political: Have Politicians Exaggerated the Danger of Islamic Terrorism?

January 23, 2015

On Monday, Mike over at Vox Political posted the following article, Terrorism, Islam, and the need to keep the Western world in fear, suggesting that Western leaders have exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism for their own purposes, to keep us in line. Mike’s article begins

Does anybody else think the reaction to the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo – along with that against ISIS (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days), Al-Qaeda and, for that matter, Russia – has been, at the very least, off-colour?

Terrorists attack the staff of a magazine, claiming to be doing so in the name of Islam (we have no proof that this was their purpose and may never have it), so there’s a huge backlash against Muslims and the same magazine’s next issue – with a cover featuring a poor (yet still offensive) attempt at caricaturing Muhammad himself – sells five million copies; its normal circulation is 60,000.

Here in the UK, David Cameron does his best to use the attack as an excuse for even greater government intrusion into citizens’ privacy, on top of the incursions already enacted by his government.

Is it really about keeping us safe, or is it about keeping us down?

Way back in 2004 Adam Curtis addressed this problem in his documentary series, The Power of Nightmares, which examined the rise of the Neo-Cons and their crusade against the Soviet Union and then al-Qaeda. Curtis showed that they had deliberately exaggerated the scale of the threat, in order to create a sense of social solidarity and purpose in the West. Curtis’ central argument was that, whereas once politicians had power and prestige through offering their peoples the chance of a better life, this had no been lost. They were now intent on regaining it by promising to protect us from threats that only they understood.

In short, it’s about keeping us down, and making us more Conservative through fear of the terrible Other.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/19/terrorism-islam-and-the-need-to-keep-the-western-world-in-fear/. Go and read it.

Spitting Image on Peter Wright and Spycatcher

January 16, 2015

Last week I put up long blog post about Adam Curtis’ article, ‘Bugger’ at his site on the BBC discussing the long history of incompetence and paranoia in MI5. In it I mentioned the fiasco over the former spy, Peter Wright, and the publication of his book, Spycatcher. Wright was one of the spies, like the head of the CIA, James Jesus Angleton, who believed that the British Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was a KGB agent. Wright published his book, Spycatcher, in 1987. This was immediately banned in Britain because it was considered to have broken the Official Secrets Act with one of its disclosures. The ban became an unenforceable farce, however, as the book was freely available just about everywhere else in the world, and so people took to ordering it from America. Never slow to mock the sheer stupidity of the authorities, Spitting Image made several sketches satirising it and Wright himself.

Here’s Spitting Image satirising the ban on Spycatcher:

In this sketch, the Gorbachevs watch Blind Date and discuss Spycatcher, concluding that Maggie would have made a great Soviet leader:

And in this sketch, ‘The Spy Who Came in from Australia’, a Bond spoof, Wright is portrayed as writing his book simply because he was annoyed about not getting his pension. The sketch mentions MI5’s bugging of CND’s phones, and their destabilisation of the Labour Party.

Adam Curtis’ Bugger: A Century of Paranoia, Incompetence, Failure and Smears in MI 5

January 11, 2015

Gerbil

Agent ‘Whisters’ of the elite Gerbil Squadron. Danger Mouse and Penfold were unavailable for comment.

As the Human Rights Blog has warned, this week the government is trying to rush through further legislation that will diminish traditional British freedoms as part of its anti-terror campaign. These measure are ill thought out, and represent potentially serious breaches of human rights and justice. Yet they have apparently support from both sides of the House, and criticism has been extremely muted. Anyone who genuinely believes that these measures will be administered by a sober, professional intelligence service, concerned for justice and with a clear and objective view of the threats to Britain from without and within should read the post on Adam Curtis’ blog ‘Bugger’ on the BBC site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/entries/3662a707-0af9-3149-963f-47bea720b460. It has the slogan ‘Maybe the real state secret is that spies aren’t very good at their job, and don’t know very much about the world’.

MI5’s Real History: Incompetence and Paranoia

Curtis’ point is that MI5’s history from its inception at the First World to the end of the Cold War in the 1980s is largely one of incompetence and abject failure. It’s few successes were either the result of accidents, or actually due to efforts by outside agencies, like the police. Some of them have even fabrications by the agency itself, designed to promote itself. The image of cold efficiency promoted in John Le Carre’s novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People are completely opposite to the reality. In reality the agency has been riddled with failure and incompetence and torn by factionalism. And rather than having a clear, objective view of the world, the spies have been massively paranoid to the point where they suspected Prime Minister Harold Wilson of being a KGB agent, and did not actually believe that Communism had fallen.

William LeQueux, The 1906 Invasion Scare and the Foundations of MI5

Curtis’ post includes the story of how William LeQueux, who feared a coming war with Germany, offered his 1906 book The Invasion of Britain to the Daily Mail. The book was set in 1910, and designed to warn the British of the dangers of a possible German invasion. Lord Northcliffe accepted the book, but changed the German invasion route through East Anglia and the east coast, so that the Germans conquered towns, where there were actually Daily Mail readers. The result was a runaway success for the book, and an invasion scare, which saw people writing into the Mail informing on neighbours they suspected – falsely- of being German spies.

The scare led, however, to the creation of MI5. In 1914, the agency boasted that it had successfully broken a German spy ring, and imprisoned the captured agents. But as recent historians have uncovered, this was completely false. It was a lie designed to promote the new agency.

Cecil Day-Lewis and the Magnetic Mountain

During the 1930s, when the Agency was determined to guard Britain against the threat of revolutionary Communism, they placed Cecil Day-Lewis, Damian Day-Lewis’ father, under surveillance as a suspected Communist. This was because he had made a £5 donation to the British Communist party. However, they failed to find any further evidence that he was a revolutionary Marxist, despite the fact that he was the author of the poem, The Magnetic Mountain, hailed as the most revolutionary poem by an Englishman, which actually called for Communist revolution.

Factionalism and Percy Sillitoe

In the 1940s the agency had real success in turning German agents against their masters and sending them false information. But this success was offset by the development of vicious factionalism within the spy agencies. Curtis quote the journalist Philip Knightley on the atmosphere of failure and nepotism within the organisations. After the War, the new Labour government tried to clean the mess up by placing in charge Percy Sillitoe. Sillitoe had had great success before the War when, as Chief Constable of Glasgow, he cracked down on the razor gangs in the city. Sillitoe was treated with contempt and insubordination by the spies, he had been brought in to sort out. He was eventually forced out after a string of traitors were found, like Klaus Fuchs, who had passed nuclear secrets to the Russians. None of these had been unmasked by MI5, however.

Anthony Blunt

And the situation got worse with the scandal around Philby, Maclean, Burgess and co. When the agency was told that Anthony Blunt was a Communist mole in 1965, they were so embarrassed that they gave him immunity from prosecution, and he carried on with his job as the ‘surveyor’ of the Queen’s art collection. In fact the Queen Mother had known he was a Communist as far back as 1948.

Oleg Lyalin

The agency suffered a further setback in 1971 by one of its few real successes. This was the success of the Soviet agent Oleg Lyalin for drunk driving. Lyalin wanted to stay in Britain with his British mistress, and in exchange for this he named 105 Soviet spies, who were then deported. This effectively broke the Soviet spy network in Britain, and left the agency with very little to do. The British government and the civil service were extremely suspicious about the agency’s claims that there was a continuing Soviet threat in the UK. Ted Heath, the Tory Prime Minister, also had a low view of them. He stated they talked the most dreadful nonsense, and were even paranoid of about Mirror readers they saw on the underground as a threat to British security.

The Hunt for the ‘Fifth Man’

Curtis also discusses the agency’s hunt for the ‘fifth man’ in Burgess and Maclean case. This was prompted by the fact that MI5 actually couldn’t accept the fact that the reason they hadn’t uncovered the moles was simply their own incompetence. No, there were further moles, secretly helping the Soviet spies, further up in the organisation. And so they accused a string of highly placed figures, including the head of MI5, Roger Hollis, the Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson and Sir Andrew Cohen, the former governor of Uganda.

Chapman Pincher, Nigel West and Peter Wright

Chief among those publishing these stories and accusations in the press were Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express, and Nigel West. I remember both of these journalists from their columns in those newspapers, and how they were promoted as almost infallible experts in the weird world of the spies. It’s interesting and amusing to find how misguided they were, and says much about the paranoid mindset of both those newspapers. One of the main people behind the accusation that Wilson was a spy was Peter Wright, the author of Spycatcher, whose publication also upset Maggie. Wright revealed one too many official secrets in the book, and so it was duly banned in Britain. But it remained freely available in the rest of the world, and so people in this country simply took the step of ordering it from America, Australia and New Zealand instead. The result was a farce, which Private Eye’s cartoonist, the humourist Willie Rushton, sent up in his book, Spythatcher.

And what was Wright’s reason for suspecting that Wilson was a spy? He had made a series of business trips to the USSR before becoming Prime Minister. And, er, that’s it. and he surrounded himself with people the agency didn’t like and didn’t trust. He did. Yes, really.

It got to the point where Maggie herself accused Lord Rothschild of being the ‘fifth man’, to the incredulity of both Labour and Tories. In 1986 the deputy leader of the Labour party, Roy Hattersley, backed by some of the Prime Minister’s own party, called in parliament for her to retract this spurious accusation.

Graham Mitchell and the Chess Conspiracy

The paranoia continued, however, with MI5 suspecting the international chess expert, Graham Mitchell, of passing on British secrets in the letters describing the chess moves he was playing by correspondence with other chess players in the USSR. The journalist James Rusbridger attempted to end all this by making clear that he believed the accusations were false, and journalists and the government misled by right-wing loonies in MI5. Unfortunately, he was found dead from a bizarre game of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and so the paranoia continued. Curtis quotes John Le Carre on the reality behind his novels about MI5. Rather than being cold professionals, they were really mediocre failures.

Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime

The revelation of further moles in MI5 continued with the cases of Michael Bettaney and Geoffrey Prime. Bettaney was a former University Nazi, who admired Adolf and sang the Nazi party anthem in pubs. Despite this, he was recruited into MI5. After being posted to Northern Ireland, where he witnessed some of the horrors of the terrorist campaign first hand, he announced that was now a Communist. He was caught, because he began taking secrets home. He stuffed some of these into the letterbox of Arkady Gouk, the deputy head of the Russian embassy. Gouk didn’t know anything about Bettaney, however, and thought MI5 were trying to frame him. He thus took the secrets back to MI5 and informed on Bettaney.

Geoffrey Prime was a former RAF officer and a member of staff at GCHQ in Cheltenham. He left to work as a taxi driver, while also passing official secrets onto the Russians. He was caught as he was vicious paedophile, and his car was spotted in the area of one of the girls he assaulted. After the police came round to interview him about it, he confessed to his wife, who then, three weeks later, informed the cops.

Percy Craddock and the End of Communism

What finally discredited MI5 and the spies was their utter failure to predict the end of Communism, or even to accept that it had actually occurred when it had. The head of MI5, Percy Craddock, believed that the apparent collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc was a ruse, and that the USSR still remained, poised for world domination.

This was precisely the same attitude as various far-right conspiracy nutters in the American mid-West in the 1990s. They too didn’t accept that the USSR had collapsed, and so devised elaborated conspiracy theories in which it was still covertly existing. Among some of the more bizarre of these theories was that the Russians had secretly established bases just across the border in Canada and Mexico. On a given, tanks would pour out of these bases in preparation for the invasion of the Land of the Free. I don’t think Craddock was as far gone as to believe that, but from the sound of it he was still very far from reality.

Failure to Predict Fall of Shah in Iran

Faced with this manifest failure to accept facts, even Thatcher lost patience with them. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has been saying since the 1980s that the British intelligence agencies were corrupt, out of control and incompetent. They point out that the only Prime Minister in the ’70s and ’80s who actually bothered to read their reports was Maggie Thatcher. All the others thought they were rubbish. And on the international scene, none of the intelligence agencies predicted the fall of the Shah and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The closest they came was the CIA’s prediction that the Ayatollah Khomeini would return to Iran to act as a Gandhi-like figure of peaceful protest.

If only.

The Gerbil Counterspies

One of the weirder schemes of the spooks at MI5 was to use gerbils to identify spies and terrorists. The idea was that they would identify them from the smell of their extra sweat they produced from fear. This had to be abandoned, as the gerbils couldn’t tell the extra sweat from terrorists on airplanes from that of people who were simply scared of flying. Hence the photo at the top of the post.

How Competent are the Spies Now?

Curtis makes the serious point that the spies are in control of vast budgets, and claim that they have reformed. The mistakes of the past could not be made today. But we, the public, cannot be sure, because the agencies are secret, and we can’t be informed how they’ve changed for security reasons.

Wrongful Internment Iraqi Students

This has very serious implications for human rights abuses in this country. Curtis begins his piece with the story of 33 Iraqi Ph.D. students, who were interned as potential terrorists and spies in 1991 during the War with Iraq. The students were all listed in a letter the Iraqi embassy had sent to the Bank of England, requesting that their student grants should not be frozen. The letter had been signed by the Iraqi deputy military attaché. MI5 considered this clear evidence that they were spies, and so they were interned at Rollestone Camp in Salisbury Plain. IN fact the military attaché was also the official in charge of administering the grants.

The students were later released after MI5 was challenged to produce the evidence showing that they were spies. They hadn’t any.

In the meantime, the students had been detained without either they or their lawyers knowing the reasons for it.

Threat from Secret Courts and the New Anti-Terrorism Act

The Human Rights Blog, in their post about the new anti-terror legislation, has raised its concerns that these measures are a further attack on British freedom, and that the potential for terrible miscarriages of justice is great.

The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice, Tom Pride, Johnny Void, and Mike over at Vox Political, have also raised their concerns about the secret courts planned by the Tories and Lib Dems. These courts will examine the cases of suspected terrorists in closed session, so that the accused and their lawyers may not know what they evidence against them is.

The danger that British citizens will be either exiled or interned as terrorists without an open trial, on the flimsiest evidence, is thus very real. So real it cannot be ignored.

The Tories, Lib Dems and the supporters of this bill across the House have shown that they fear British freedom as much as they fear the terrorists. They are knee-jerk authoritarians, and this bill should be stopped immediately.

Je Suis Charlie

January 8, 2015

The world was stunned and horrified yesterday when three masked gunmen burst into the headquarters of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, and murdered twelve of the staff. The motive for the attack was in retaliation for the edition in 2011 when the magazine published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The attackers shouted ‘Allahu akbar’, (‘God is greatest’ in Arabic), and one of them said ‘Now we have avenged the Prophet.

Tributes have poured in today for the victims from across the world, including places as far from Paris as London, New York and Rio de Janeiro. Vigils have been held in which crowds have held up pens both as a tribute to the cartoonists, and a symbolic defence of the right to free speech. The organisers of these demonstrations made it clear that they were about spreading love, and advised ‘haters stay away’.

Mike over at Vox Political is a long-term member of the comics community and a friend of a number of comic artists. He has published his view of the matter in the article ‘Je Suis Charlie’, the slogan now being adopted across the world to express solidarity with the victims of this massacre. It begins

You won’t see any images purporting to be of the Prophet Muhammad on Vox Political.

This is because this writer has been on good terms with many Muslims and understands that any such depiction is extremely insulting to them and to their faith. Why would anybody want to inflict a bitter insult on someone they consider to be a friend?

By the same token, if an insult of such magnitude was inflicted on Yr Obdt Srvt, the possibility of a machine-gun attack figuring in any retaliatory gesture is, quite simply, unthinkable. Civilised people don’t do that. Psychopaths do that.

Yet this is what we are being told happened at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris today (January 7).

He goes on to say:

Whatever the perpetrators thought they were doing today, they were not exacting vengeance for an insult, or justice for a crime. They were murdering a dozen innocent people because one of them had drawn a picture.

The article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/01/07/je-suis-charlie/#comments.

Among the comments to this article is this, from a practising Muslim, Nightentity who used to instruct converts and those who had return to Islam:

Those that believe these so called Imams are Ignorant of their faith and will believe anything they hear that makes them seem intelligent and all knowing to the other Ignorant. Terrorism is not Islamic, you don’t cause suffering to the aged the weak and the innocent, you don’t hide behind masks and scarves, you stand like a man and fight a man’s battle. These terrorists are cowards and weaklings for they hide behind a faith that does not condone what they do. Yes there are Hadith out there that say certain things, but these are obscure and are not accepted as true Hadith. These terrorists are only out for power and control, they are not true Muslims in any sense of the word. And yes I can speak with some authority on this as I am a Muslim and used to teach new converts (or reverts) and children the basics of Islam and how to pray etc. I have probably ruffled quite a few feathers if this is read by certain quarters, but when we defend Islam the least we can do is use our words, and so I have. xx

I studied Islam at College as part of the Religious Studies course, and done some reading myself on Islam. The shariah religious law code does forbid attacks on non-combatants in warfare, such as children, the elderly, and women. Adam Curtis covered the rise of radical Islam in his series, The Power of Nightmares. Curtis took the view that the spectre of a world-wide, radical Islamic movement, al-Qaeda, was largely a myth. There was no monolithic, global terrorist organisation but rather a continuum of individual radical Islamist terrorist groups, all with slightly different beliefs and produced by differing circumstances from country to country. Al-Qaeda’s ideology, which justified attacks on civilians, was actually the product of Western total war doctrines, which had been taken over by Sayyid Qutb, one of the founders of modern Islamic radicalism. Curtis himself took the view that the real dangers of Islamic terrorism had been magnified in the West by politicians for their own ends. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, also considered that the menace of Islamist terrorism was also being used by the West’s intelligence services after the fall of Communism, to find a new enemy, which could be used to continue funding and fight off possible budget cuts.

Curtis’ documentary was made and broadcast before 9/11, and so some – but not all – of his conclusions in the series should be rejected. Nevertheless, other documentaries have made pretty much the same point about terrorism being un-Islamic. A documentary broadcast a few years ago by Channel 4 on radical Islam filmed one radical Muslim actually admitting this. ‘Well, of course terrorism is against Islam’, he said, ‘but what can we do?’

Well, the simple answer is: don’t murder civilians. Even Western military tacticians have abandoned the total war doctrine.

As for the spectre of radical Islamic terrorism being used by Western politicians and industrialists to promote their own interests, that did happen with Bush and Blair’s spurious pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but he was a secular tyrant. He had absolutely no connection to Osama bin Laden, who cordially hated him and the secular Ba’athist regime. The real reason for the invasion of Iraq were purely economic: the desire of the big oil companies, including the Saudis, to seize the country’s oil industry and its reserves; and by the Neo-Cons and their corporate backers to pillage the country’s industry and create their shoddy free trade utopia. Hussein supported the Palestinians, which is why Likud wanted the invasion of Iraq. But he was not an Islamist, and had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.

What the people of the world need to do at this time, is to stand together against the terrorists and the preachers of hate, both Islamist and the nationalist demogogues in the West, who will try to foment hatred against innocent Muslims, and defend peace and free speech.

19th Century Liberals Not Democrats

April 13, 2014

Libertarians claim that they returning to the real Liberalism of the 19th century, while also claiming that they stand for true, individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. Yet historians have pointed out that in the 19th century, while Liberals fought for individual freedoms against aristocratic privilege and feudal oppression, they were not Democrats and feared the working classes. Peter Jones in the book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) states

Liberalism in the nineteenth century was the belief that government should be carried on by means involving consent among the various sections of society or the nation. Liberalism’s intellectual justification was derived from eighteenth-century rationalism, which had attacked all forms of arbitrary power, particularly the power of kings. Liberals believed that the power of traditional institutions, such as the Church and the monarchy, should be restrained by institutions presenting the interests of society more generally and the aristocracy and the more wealthy sections of the middle class in particular. The liberal programme – government by parliament or representative assembly, freedom of the press and individual freedom – was most popular among the emerging classes of manufacturers, merchants and professionals, who saw the privileges of the Church and the most wealthy sections of the aristocracy as obstacles to their own economic and social betterment. Liberals, as distinct from those who preached democracy, believed in the sovereignty of parliament rather than the sovereignty of the people. Middle-class liberals regarded democracy with suspicion, since it was associated in their minds with the excesses of the First French Republic . Consequently middle-class liberals in both Britain and France advocated broadening the property franchise: ‘Vox populi, vox dei, which gives to the majority the infallibility of God … is the most dangerous and most despotic absurdity that has ever emerged from the human brain. If you want to ruin a state give it universal suffrage’, so claimed Odilon Barot, leader of the Dynastic Opposition in the 1840s.

This concern for the interests of the middle classes and the fear of democracy and the working class explains why von Hayek and Mises, the founders of modern Libertarian, were prepared to serve and give their approval to extreme Right-wing regimes – Dollfuss’ Austrofascist dictatorship in Austria, and General Pinochet in Chile. It also explains why sections of the Italian Liberal party actively co-operated with Mussolini and appointed him as a coalition partner. In this milieu, Pareto’s elitism, which stemmed from his belief in free trade, was merely part of a general distrust of the masses taken to its logical conclusion. And Fascism did gain support from the Italian middle classes for its support of liberismo – sound money, a balanced budget, free trade and private enterprise against the threat of Socialism and organised Labour. The same authoritarian mindset also explains why the Tory Democrats have supported highly authoritarian and illiberal initiatives by the Tories, like secret courts and the Gagging Law.

This fundamental authoritarianism is disguised, but nevertheless extremely strong in other areas of Right-wing ideology. The Neo-Conservatives of Bush’s administration considered themselves to be ‘Democratic revolutionaries’. Nevertheless, they believed strongly in limited the power of the state in favour of extreme laissez-faire economic policies. One Neo-Con politician interviewed on Adam Curtis’ series How We Lost Our Dreams Of Freedom, stated that the democracy they wanted to introduced was ordered to exclude state economic intervention. The NeoCons have even written their policies into the Iraqi constitution to make them unalterable. This policy no doubt influenced David Cameron in his statements that he would try to force subsequent governments to follow his policies even if the Tories lost next year’s elections.

For all their claims to represent individual freedom, Libertarians, as the self-professed heirs of 19th century Liberalism, share the same distrust of democracy and fear and despise the working class and organised labour. The freedom they espouse are those only for a very restricted class of the wealthy and privileged.

Manufacturing Compliance: The Nudge Unit and its Privatisation

February 10, 2014

Blakes 7 weapon

Federation scientist Cozer and his companion, the freed slave Rashel, await galactic freedom fighter Blake in the Blake’s 7 episode, Weapon.

Last Friday and today, the I newspaper has run articles reporting the impending privatisation of the Government’s Behaviour Insights Team, or Nudge Unit. The article describes the unit as using

‘insights from the emerging field of behavioural economics and psychology to subtly change the processes, forms and language used by government – to achieve outcomes that are in the in the “public good” and save money.’

A boxed article at the side then goes on to explain it more fully, stating that

‘Nudge articulates the idea that people can be persuaded to make the right decisions by simple changes in how choices are presented to them.’

It goes on to explain that the theory was first proposed in a book of the same name, published in 2008 by the economics professor Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein. They acknowledged that people frequently make bad decisions in their lives, thus contradicting one of the central tenets of economics – that people will always act rationally for their own good. The two authors then argued that the way choices are phrased or presented – the ‘choice architecture’ can be framed so that it nudges ‘people towards the most beneficial outcome without restricting their personal freedom.’

Although the two authors stated that “‘the libertarian aspect of our strategies lies in the straightforward insistence that, in general, people should be free to do what they like.” They then qualified this with the statement that it was ‘legitimate for choice architects to try to influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier and better.”

Today’s I carries an interview with one of the founders of the Nudge Unit, David Halpern. He states that the Unit was set up four years ago under Tony Blair as his Strategy Unit, at a time when ‘the Blair administration was expanding the size of the state – spending more and regulating more’, often according to Blair’s own personal inclination. It did not, however, catch on with the Labour government, and only came into its own with the arrival of the Coalition in 2010. Halpern states that ‘Their instincts were generally ‘we’ve got no money and we’re going to constrain the size of the state and deregulate’.

The Nudge Unit is now about to be part-privatised into a company partly owned by the government, partly owned by the social-enterprise charity, Nesta, and partly owned by Halpern and his fellow employees.

As it is presented in the I, the Nudge Unit sounds very jolly and entirely innocuous. The piece opens with Halpern describing the work of the American psychologist, Carol Dweck, and her work showing how well school children perform in tests can be boosted simply by telling them that they’ve made a good effort.

It then describes the way the Unit experimented with personalised text messages to encourage people, who were about to be hit by the bailiffs, to pay their bills on time.

In the concluding paragraphs, Halpern describes his goal to unlock ‘hidden entrepreneurs’ ‘who never get beyond garages’. He mentions the way the mountain bike arose simply through someone experimenting in their garage with bits of other bikes. ‘Studies’, according to Halpern, ‘suggest 6 per cent of Britons have come up with a significant adaptation in the last year. But most never diffuse.’

The only doubts raised about the Unit and its methods are whether they are effective. The boxed article states that it has its critics, who have argued, like Baroness Julia Neuberger in the House of Lords, that there is little evidence that it works on large scales. The main article, however, leaves the reader in little doubt: ‘A lot in government were nervous of Nudge but the theory did work in practice – and the services of the Nudge team were suddenly in demand’. Hence its privatisation three years down the line.

Now all this seems entirely benign. Few people would cavil at methods that get people to pay their bills on time, thus avoiding a visit from the bailiffs, or get children to do better at their exams, or, indeed, just to have ‘longer, healthier and better’ lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

In the 20th century, such departments like the Nudge Unit would have been the objects of considerable fear and suspicion, especially after the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century used propaganda and coercion to generate the mass obedience and approval they demanded from their captive populations. This found its expression in the various dystopian regimes portrayed in Science Fiction. One of the great Science Fiction series of the 1970s and ’80s was Blake’s 7. This was a space opera, whose heroes were a kind of ‘Dirty Dozen’ let loose in a strange, totalitarian far future. They were led, at least in the first two of their four TV seasons, by Roj Blake, a former dissident, who had been captured and then suffered psychiatric torture at the hands of the Federation. This was a future Fascist super-state, which governed through a mixture of military force, propaganda and advanced psychological techniques and drugs, that sapped the will to resist from its people. The Federation permitted no freedom of speech, belief or movement amongst its citizens. Dissidents were brutally murdered, and the survivors framed and re-educated. Heading its armed forces was the seductive Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and her henchman, the violent and psychotic Travis, played by Brian Croucher. Both Croucher and Pearce have appeared in Dr. Who; Pearce as a treacherous alien super-scientist, Jocini O’ the Franzine-Greeg in the Colin Baker/Patrick Troughton Story ‘The Two Doctors’, and Croucher in the early Tom Baker serial ‘The Robots of Death’. He has also appeared in Eastenders and as an East End hard man in the detective drama, New Tricks.

Blake’s 7 was influenced by Star Wars and Star Trek, though it’s characters and background were darker than either of those two SF classics. Blake’s second-in-command, Kerr Avon, was a ruthless embezzler with a cynical contempt for idealists. ‘Show me the man who believes something, and I will show you a fool’. Such attitudes were not a fictional exaggeration. Similar sentiments were expressed by the evolutionary biologist, Jacques Monod, who once said ‘Scratch an idealist, and an egotist will bleed’. It isn’t hard to feel that the show’s creator, Terry Nation, had modelled the cool, rational, scientific Avon on Monod and other scientists like him.

And the methods used by the Federation to keep its citizens enslaved were also chillingly real. The show several times covered conditioning and similar brainwashing techniques used by the Federation to break and then manipulate its victims’ psychologies. Blake himself had been conditioned by intensive psychological therapy after he was captured leading a revolutionary group. Under the influence of the therapists he betrayed the other members, confessed to his own guilt, and was then reprogrammed to forget all about the events, his arrest, trial and the mass executions of his friends and family.

This aspect of the Federation was based on the notorious brainwashing techniques associated with the Communist dictatorships, particularly Mao’s China and the brutal regime of ‘self-criticism’ for those who challenged the Great Leader’s precepts during the Cultural Revolution. It also bore more than a little resemblance to the Soviet abuse of psychiatry revealed by Solzhenitsyn in Cancer Ward. Soviet psychiatrists had invented a spurious form of ‘schizophrenia’, which was curiously amorphous, taking just about any form required by the doctors diagnosing it and their superiors. It was used to incarcerate in lunatic asylums any and all opponents of regime. These ranged from religious believers to Communist idealists, such as a general and Old Bolshevik, who vociferously felt that Brezhnev’s Soviet Union had betrayed the noble principles of the Revolution. It also harks back to Skinner’s experiments in conditioning in the 1960s, and his fictional description of a utopian system in which the citizens had perfected themselves through the use of such psychological techniques.

About a decade ago Adam Curtis described the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, had used Freudian theory to lay the foundations of modern PR in his landmark series, The Century of the Self. Curtis was similarly unimpressed by PR, and dissected the way such techniques were used by corporations, the government, and some of the more sinister self-improvement cults that sprang up in the 1960s to control people’s minds. He was particularly unimpressed by the way the self-realised people of the Hippy counterculture then went off and, from reasons of liberated self-interest, voted for Ronald Reagan. The existence of the Nudge Unit seems to suggest that Halpern and his fellows saw the theories, and instead of looking at the dangers and fallacies accompanying it like the rest of the viewing public, immediately thought it was all rather cool.

Blake Carnell Weapon

The psycho-social strategist Carnell and Supreme Commander of Federation forces, Servalan, contemplate the success of David Cameron’s ‘Nudge Unit’.

Apart from the use of conditioning and psycho-therapy, the Federation armed forces also included an elite corps of ‘pscho-social strategists’, nicknamed ‘puppeteers’ by the rest of the Federation’s Starship Troopers. These specialised in using advanced psychological techniques to predict and manipulate the behaviour of the regime’s opponents. For example, in the episode, ‘Weapon’, Servalan uses one such puppeteer, Carnell, played by Scott Fredericks, to predict the mental breakdown and then manipulate a scientist, Cozer, who has designed an unstoppable superweapon, IMIPAC. Her goal is to seize the weapon for herself, while at the same killing the Blake and his crew and taking over their spaceship, the Liberator. Of course it all fails, and the weapon is taken over instead by the former slave girl, Rashel, with whom Cozer had escaped, and the other weapon in Servalan’s plan, a clone of Blake. The two become guardians of the weapon, with Travis remarking wryly ‘The weapon protects itself’.

With fears of totalitarian states manipulating and abusing their victims’ minds in reality and SF, something like the Nudge Unit would have been enough to bring anyone with a distrust of authoritarian government out onto the streets, from old school Conservatives with a hatred of Communism and Fascism all the way across the political spectrum through Liberals, Socialists to members of the Hippy counterculture, who were extremely suspicious of what their own governments were doing about this through reading the reports about MKULTRA and the CIA LSD experiments in the underground press.

And there are real dangers to this. Who, for example, decides what project is going to make people happier, with longer, better lives? Cameron undoubtedly claims it’s the Tories, but with something like 38,000 people dying per year thanks to welfare cuts and benefit sanctions, we can safely discount his opinion. Mike has several times mentioned the Nudge Unit in posts on his blog over at Vox Political, pointing out that the forms and courses used by the Coalition as part of their welfare to work package have been set up by the Nudge Unit with the deliberate intention of getting the unemployed to blame themselves, rather than the government’s policies, for their inability to get a job. Like the children in Dweck’s experiment, they are being encouraged to do better in a situation that is not their fault. It tacitly reinforces the government’s values and the economic system which leaves the unemployed without a job, and frequently without hope. And this is most definitely malign.

This is quite apart from the dangers of ‘function creep’, in which an administrative technique or department gradually acquires more power and extends its scope, as more administrators see its potential for solving their problems. The Nudge Unit is perhaps only a minor part of British government at the moment, but it has the potential to become something far larger and much more sinister. If we don’t carefully monitor it and similar initiatives, it could easily expand into something every bit as totalitarian and manipulative as Blake’s 7 Federation and its psycho-strategists.

I found the opening titles to the first season of the Blake’s 7 on Youtube. They show some of the major themes of the Federation – the use of armed force, brainwashing and surveillance. I leave it to you to decide for yourself how much of this unfortunately is coming true, though there are surveillance cameras all over the streets and Boris Jonson has bought two water cannons to use on any more protesters in London. Here it is. Enjoy!