Posts Tagged ‘GCHQ’

Gordon Dimmack on Government Funded Disinformation House, the Integrity Initiative

December 30, 2018

A week or so I ago I put up an article looking at a piece by Mike about the Integrity Initiative. This is a government-funded disinformation programme run by the Institute for Statecraft, a private company whose funding also comes from the government and various right-wing think tanks, and whose staff appears to be drawn from the British military intelligence establishment.

The Integrity Initiative has caused a scandal because it claims that it was set up to combat Russian propaganda on the Net. It has expanded this, however, to include running smears against Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit. The company was first exposed when Labour MP Chris Williamson asked a question about it in parliament. The revelations about the organization’s political interference, both here and abroad, were truly shocking, but Duncan refused to say anything more about it, pleading that further information would reduce its effectiveness. One of those outraged at the Integrity Initiative and its malign activities was left-wing vlogger Gordon Dimmack, who states that this story is bigger than Brexit.

Dimmack has run a series of video about Integrity Initiative and its parent body, the Institute for Statecraft. In this one, he reveals the identities of three British journalists, who have worked for the organization in spreading disinformation and fake news. They are Ben Nimmo, and the Guardian’s Nick Cohen and Carole Cadwalladr.

Dimmack begins his discussion by running with Labour MP Chris Williamson’s own video about how his question about the government’s funding for the Institute revealed its dirty tricks campaign. It was revealed that last year it received 2.2 million pounds of government money, and was responsible for running political campaigns against various politicians and public figures across Europe. It and its pet journos put out disinformation to stop the attempts to by the Spanish Socialist party to get one of their country’s senior army officer, Pedro Banos, made its security leader. This was even before the Institute’s Spanish cluster got involved. One of the Initiative’s hacks is Ben Nimmo of DFR Labs, the DFR standing for ‘Digital, Foreign and Research’. Nimmo and his employers are funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Atlantic Council. Nimmo wrote a piece in the Scum claiming that Russia supported Corbyn, and then used his own piece as evidence to argue that Russia was not only promoting Corbyn as part of a disinformation campaign to sow division across the UK. Alan Duncan, the minister who answered Williams’ questions, then refused to reveal any more information. Dimmack comments on his excuse that it would damage the programme’s effectiveness, stating this means they’re frightened because they’ve been caught out. Williamson states that this is a threat democracy, and wants a public inquiry.

Dimmack himself notes that there have been four Labour MPs in parliament calling for an official investigation into the Initiative and its shady activities, including Jeremy Corbyn. But the media’s response has been to give it no coverage at all. The BBC wrote one article about it, which could have come from the Foreign Office. He states that the Guardian, or as he calls it, GCHQ’s propaganda rag, is very heavily implicated. Two of its journos, Carol Cadwalladr and James Ball, have attended Integrity Initiative sponsored events. They’ve also defended the Institute in the media and helped to cover this scandal up. They show that the media is not the ‘fourth estate’ holding government to account, but, in Dimmack’s phrase, ‘a fifth column’. Another Groaniad hack, Nick Cohen, has also attended events sponsored by the Initiative. Dimmack states that 90 per cent of Cohen’s articles are either attacks on Corbyn or Brexit.

He then moves on to an article by Craig Murray revealing the true location of the Institute for Statecraft’s headquarters. The lamestream media tracked it down to a disused timber mill in Auchtermuchtie, Fife, Scotland, owned by Daniel Lafeedney. Lafeedney, born with the more prosaic surname Daniel Edney, was formerly of D Squadron in the SAS and Military Intelligence. But Murray said that a quick search through relevant documents and a few phone calls revealed that the Institute’s real headquarters is in the basement of 2 Temple Place, London. This is definitely not a barn – it’s truly palatial, and was the London mansion of the millionaire William Waldorf Astor. The building has a website advertising itself as available for special functions, and showing off its opulent construction and decoration. It also invites people to donate to its maintenance. The Institute claims that it has no permanent staff, and shows nothing for rent, utilities or office expenses. In fact, the rent is paid by the Ministry of Defence. All of this is funded through MOD and the Foreign Office. Dimmack is naturally outraged, as the Ministry of Defence, as its name states, should be defending us rather than interfering in domestic politics or the affairs of foreign, allied states.

Lobster have also run a piece on the Initiative and its wretched parent, discussing government funding and its links to British intelligence, including MI6 and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. It was set up apparently by Gordon Brown after he read a book on CIA’s sponsorship of the arts during the Cold War by an American academic. The book was actually a condemnation of the agency, but Brown missed the point and thought getting the intelligence services to launch propaganda campaign through the arts and media was a good idea.

As for the attacks on Corbyn, this seems very much like a return to hackneyed form by the British secret state. During the Cold War the IRD, the intelligence services’ propaganda department, ran fake stories attacking the Nationalists in Ireland and the British left. One of the most infamous examples of this was the smears made by MI5 against ’70’s Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a KGB spy. The media’s silence on this issue is easily explained: very many newspapers were complicit in running government disinformation. According to Lobster, the Sunday Times under Andrew Neil ran stories for MI5 in the 1970s, while Tony Greenstein did a piece a little while ago about Cohen and the fake news the Guardian was printing to smear Julian Assange of Wikileaks.

Chris Williamson is right. We need a genuine investigation into the Institute for Statecraft and the Integrity Initiative. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lobster has been arguing for years that the British intelligence establishment is corrupt and out of control. And New Labour when they were in power aided this by showing a complete lack of interest in investigating or controlling it and its surveillance and smears of decent people to support the Tory establishment. There not only needs to be an investigation into the Integrity Initiative and the Institute for Statecraft, but tough questions need to be asked of the British intelligence esta

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Kitty S. Jones on Cambridge Analytica’s Datamining of Facebook

March 23, 2018

Aside from the Skripal poisoning, one of the major issues this week has been Cambridge Analytica and their datamining of Facebook to get the personal particulars of something like 50 million people, so that they could be targeted for political manipulation. Kitty’s article is a long one, but she makes some very good points. Not least is that GCHQ and the other western intelligence services discussed ways of using the internet to target particular individuals to manipulate them or disrupt groups that posed a threat to national security. She also connects this to ‘behavioural economics’ and the infamous Nudge Unit, which uses subtle psychological techniques to manipulate people into making decisions the government wants. With those two, we are well into the kind of dystopian future, where a totalitarian government manipulates the minds of its subjects portrayed in the Beeb’s classic SF series, Blake’s 7. Some of this datamining appears to have been done to benefit Russian oil interests. Michelle, one of the great commenters here, posted this to her piece, commenting on the immense value of personal information on the Net:

“The Wiley disclosure certainly had quite a media make over, he sits in a trendy bare room with a big photo shoot light for the Guardian and in a graffiti tunnel for ITV news, yet with all his intellectual prowess his deductive reasoning interestingly falls short on his employer making a link with Russian oil: “It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

REF: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump

The spotlight on this company must be just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2010 I had blogged about the EU intending to make it clear how internet users would have their digital data exploited and the New York Times had a comment re the intended EU overhaul of privacy regulations. I had written that the publishers value was not based on content or brand but on the information that can be collected about each digital visitor, as we click away our preferences and online patterns are being delivered up to the advertising market because the ability to sell this information about us is the true value a publisher holds. Here is the comment in the New York Times (20 Nov 2010) about the E.U´s intention to overhaul the online privacy rules to protect personal data which would hamper the “development of services” – a great euphemism for snooping:

“Rules requiring Internet companies to secure users’ consent upfront could hamper the development of services that align online advertising with Web users’ personal interests, as reflected in the Web sites they visit or the preferences they express in social networks and other online forums. From a marketer’s perspective, this could dilute one of the big advantages of the Web over traditional media.”

REF: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/technology/05privacy.html?_r=2

Evidently the misuse of data has been understood for many years, (as you have pointed out Sue), I also noted in 2010 a New Scientist article: “EVERY move you make, every twitter feed you update, somebody is watching you. You may not think twice about it, but if you use a social networking site, a cellphone or the internet regularly, you are leaving behind a clear digital trail that describes your behaviour, travel patterns, likes and dislikes, divulges who your friends are and reveals your mood and your opinions. In short, it tells the world an awful lot about you.”

REF: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727701-100-social-networks-the-great-tipping-point-test/

So how did the ‘security services’ miss Cambridge Analytica’s flagrant misuse of data when it has been clearly understood even in the public realm for almost a decade? These supposed revelations at this juncture come at a time when the hype to cold war status is already far too high…”

Kitty’s article is at: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2018/03/18/cambridge-analytica-the-commodification-and-marketisation-of-democracy/

And the Americans are not alone in using Cambridge Analytica, it seems. I found this report by RT about our government also using them and their parent company, SCL, to gather data on us. RT’s presenter, Polly Boiko, states that the two were hired by the Ministry of Defence, and paid for providing staff with training and for keeping government secrets on their computer, amongst other services. Yvette Cooper has demanded a wider investigation into their activities. They have also been hired by some very dodgy governments around the world. Like Kenya, where Cambridge Analytica was hired by the ruling party to gather data on its opponents, and create a psychological strategy that would allow them to hold on to power. The company has been accused of stirring up ethnic tensions as part of this. They were also hired by Ukraine to undermine the breakaway Donetsk Republic. This ended in failure, but the company’s report not only went to the Ukrainians who commissioned it, but was also shared with the British government. She concludes that the next stage of the scandal will probably be the company’s connections to the world’s governments.

This has been touched on today in the I newspaper, which reported that Israel had also hired the company to swing elections Nigeria and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is a real threat to democracy, but I doubt that many people are paying attention, because of the way May and her team are ramping up tensions with Russia to distract everyone from just how terrible they are. And if the MOD have been using them to gather data on British citizens, then the immediate comparison that comes to my mind is with the Stasi and the other totalitarian secret police. It ain’t Corbyn who’s a threat to democracy, but Cambridge Analytica and their Tory government paymasters.

The Case for Prosecuting Blair as War Criminal for Iraq Invasion

April 8, 2017

War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005: The Case against Blair, by Nicholas Wood, edited by Anabella Pellens (London: South Hill Press 2005).

This is another book I’ve picked up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. It’s an angry and impassioned book, whose author is deeply outraged by Blair’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the consequent carnage and looting and the massive human rights abuses committed by us and the Americans. William Blum in one of his books states that following the Iraq War there was an attempt by Greek, British and Canadian human rights lawyers to have Bush, Blair and other senior politicians and official brought to the international war crimes court in the Hague for prosecution for their crimes against humanity. This books presents a convincing case for such a prosecution, citing the relevant human rights and war crimes legislation, and presenting a history of Iraq and its despoliation by us, the British, from Henry Layard seizing the archaeological remains at Nineveh in 1845 to the Iraq War and the brutalisation of its citizens.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

After conversations with Rob Murthwaite, human rights law lecturer, the author presents a claim for investigation by The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB The Hague, The Netherlands, that there have been breaches of the ICC Statute by members of the UK Government and Military in the run up to and conduct of the war with Iraq. That there is also prima facie evidence that the Hague and Geneva conventions, the Nuremberg and the United Nations Charters have been breached, and that this evidence may allow members of the UK and US Governments, without state immunity or statute of limitations, to be extradited to account for themselves. The use of hoods, cable ties, torture, mercenaries, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, aggressive patrols and dogs, is examined. Questions are raised over the religious nature of the war, the seizure of the oil fields, Britain’s continuous use of the RAF to bomb Iraq in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1990s archaeologists acting as spies, the destruction of Fallujah, the burning and looting of libraries, museums and historic monuments; and the contempt shown towards Iraqis living, dead and injured.

In his preface Wood states that the conversation he had with Rob Murthwaite out of which the book grew, was when they were composing a letter for the Stop the War Coalition, which they were going to send to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Wood himself is an archaeologist, and states that he is particularly shocked at the imposition of American culture in Saudi Arabia. The book’s editor, Anabella Pellens, is Argentinian and so ‘knows what imprisonment and disappearance mean’.

In his introduction Wood argues that there were four reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first was to introduce democracy to the country. Here he points out that to Americans, democracy also means free markets and privatisation for American commercial interests. The second was to seized its oil supplies and break OPEC’s power. The third was Israel. The United States and Israel for several years before the War had been considering various projects for a water pipeline from the Euphrates to Israel. The Israelis also favoured setting up a Kurdish state, which would be friendly to them. They were also concerned about Hussein supplying money to the Palestinians and the Scuds launched against Israel during the 1992 Gulf War. And then there are the plans of the extreme Zionists, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere, to expand Israel eastwards into Iraq itself. The fourth motive is the establishment of American military power. Here Wood argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was not enough simply to invade Afghanistan: another country had to be invaded and destroyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American military machine.

Chapter 1 is a brief history of Iraq and its oil, with a commentary on the tragedy of the country, discussing the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion in the context of British imperialism, with another section on British imperialism and Kuwait.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the laws and customs of war, which also includes the relevant clauses from the regulations it cites. This includes

Habeas Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215

The establishment of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross

The Hague Convention of 1907: Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This includes a summary of the main clauses, and states the contents of the regulations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945
This sections shows how the judgements are relevant to the British invasion and occupation of Iraq. It also gives a summary of the judgments passed at the Nuremberg trials, beginning with the indictment, and the individual verdicts against Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Frick, Streicher, Rosenberg, Frank, Funk, Schacht, Doenitz, Raeder, Von Schirack, Sauckel, Jodl, Von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Von Neurath, Fritzsche, and Borman.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocols, containing extracts from
Convention 1 – For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field; Convention III – Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; IV – Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War.

There are also extracts from

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954;

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.

Protocols to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious Or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva 1980.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention and the treaty banning mines.

A summary of the rules of engagement for the 1991 Gulf War, which was issued as a pocket card to be carried by US soldiers.

The 1993 Hague Convention.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002.

The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the incorporation of the Rome Statute into British law. This gives both the aims of the act and a summary of the act itself.

Lastly there are a few paragraphs on the Pinochet case of 1998, and extradition as a method of bringing justice.

Chapter 3 is on allies in war as partners in war crimes committed.

Chapter 4 is on the deception and conspiracy by Bush and Blair, which resulted in their invasion. This begins by discussing the American plans in the 1970s for an invasion of the Middle East to seize their oil supplies during the oil crisis provoked by the Six Day War. In this chapter Wood reproduces some of the relevant correspondence cited in the debates in this period, including a letter by Clare short.

Chapter 5 describes how Clare Short’s own experience of the Prime Minister’s recklessness, where it was shown he hadn’t a clue what to do once the country was conquered, led her to resign from the cabinet. Wood states very clearly in his title to this chapter how it violates one of the fundamental lessons of the great Prussian militarist, Clausewitz, that you must always know what to do with a conquered nation or territory.

Chapter 6: A Ruthless Government describes the vicious persecution of the government’s critics and their removal from office. Among Blair’s victims were the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, who killed himself after questioning by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and MOD and an intense attempt by Blair and his cabinet to discredit him; the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavin Davies, the Beeb’s chairman, and the reporter, Andrew Gilligan. Others target for attack and vilification included Katherine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Dr Brian Jones, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Deputy Legal Advisor to Foreign Office, George Galloway, Paul Bigley, the brother of the kidnap victim Ken Bigley, and Clare Short. Bigley’s apartment in Belgium was ransacked by MI6 and the RFBI and his computer removed because he blamed Blair for his brother’s kidnap and beheading by an Iraqi military faction. There is a subsection in this chapter on the case of Craig Murray. Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who got the boot because he told the government that the president was an evil dictator, who had boiled someone alive. This was most definitely not something Blair wanted to hear.

Chapter 7 is a series of cases studies. Each case has its own section, which includes the relevant Human Rights and war crimes legislation.

7A is on the breakdown of the country’s civil administration and political persecution. The two are linked, as Blair and Bush had all members of the Baath party dismissed from their posts. However, membership of the party was a requirement for employment in public posts across a wide range of fields. Wood points out that you could not even be a junior university lecturer without being a member of the party. As a result, the country was immediately plunged into chaos as the people who ran it were removed from their positions without anyone to take over. In this chapter Wood also discusses the unemployment caused by the war, and the disastrous effect the invasion had on the position of women.

7B is on the destruction of services infrastructure.

7C is on damage to hospitals and attacks on medical facilities.

7D is on the destruction and looting of museums, libraries and archaeological sites. Remember the outrage when ISIS levelled Nineveh and destroyed priceless antiquities in Mosul? The US and Britain are hardly innocent of similar crimes against this most ancient of nation’s heritage. The Americans caused considerable damage to Babylon when they decided to make it their base. This included breaking up the city’s very bricks, stamped with the names of ancient kings, for use as sand for their barricades around it. Remind me who the barbarians are again, please?

7E – Seizing the Assets is on the American and British corporate looting of the country through the privatisation and seizure of state-owned industries, particularly oil. This is very much in contravention of international law.

7F – Stealing their plants. This was covered in Private Eye at the time, though I’m not sure if it was mentioned anywhere else. Iraq has some of the oldest varieties of food crops in the world, among other biological treasures. These are varieties of plants that haven’t change since humans first settled down to farm 7-8 thousand years ago. Monsanto and the other GM firms desperately wanted to get their mitts on them. So they patented them, thus making the traditional crops Iraqi farmers had grown since time immemorial theirs, for which the farmers had to pay.

7G describes how the Christian religious element in the war gave it the nature of a Crusade, and religious persecution. The aggressive patrols and tactics used to humiliate and break suspects involve the violation of their religious beliefs. For example, dogs are unclean animals to Muslims, and would never be allowed inside a house. So dogs are used to inspect suspect’s houses, even the bedrooms, by the aggressive patrols. Muslims have their religious items confiscated, in contravention of their rules of war. One man was also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is was against his religion as a Muslim. The message by some of the army ministers and preachers that Islam is an evil religion means that Iraqis, as Muslims, are demonised and that instead of being viewed as people to be liberated they are cast as enemies.

There are several sections on the restraint of suspects. These include the use of cable ties, hoods, which have resulted in the death of at least two people, setting dogs on people, standing for hours and other tortures, which includes a list of the types of torture permitted by Donald Rumsfeld, aggressive patrolling, killing and wounding treacherously – which means, amongst other things, pretending to surrender and then shooting the victims after they have let their guard down, marking the bodies of victims in order to humiliate them, the deliberate targeting of the house owned by the Hamoodi family of Chemical Ali, the mass shooting from aircraft of a wedding party in the Iraqi desert by the Americans, but supported by the British; another incident in which people gathered in a street in Haifa around a burning US vehicle were shot and massacred; cluster bombs, including evidence that these were used at Hilla; the use of depleted uranium. Thanks to the use of this material to increase the penetrating power of shells, the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers and birth defects has rocketed in parts of Iraq. Children have been born without heads or limbs. One doctor has said that women are afraid to get pregnant because of the widespread incidence of such deformities; the use of mercenaries. Private military contractors have been used extensively by the occupying armies. Counterpunch has attacked their use along with other magazines, like Private Eye, because of their lawlessness. As they’re not actually part of the army, their casualties also don’t feature among the figures for allied casualties, thus making it seem that there are fewer of them than there actually is. They also have the advantage in that such mercenaries are not covered by the Geneva and other conventions. Revenge killings by British forces in the attacks on Fallujah. 7W discusses the way the Blair regime refused to provide figures for the real number of people killed by the war, and criticised the respected British medical journal, the Lancet, when it said it could have been as many as 100,000.

In the conclusion Wood discusses the occupation of Iraq and the political motivations for it and its connection to other historical abuses by the British and Americans, such as the genocide of the Indians in North America. He describes the horrific experiences of some Iraqi civilians, including a little girl, who saw her sisters and thirteen year old brother killed by British soldiers. He states that he hopes the book will stimulate debate, and provides a scenario in which Blair goes to Jordan on holiday, only to be arrested and extradited to be tried as a war criminal for a prosecution brought by the farmers of Hilla province. The book has a stop press, listing further developments up to 2005, and a timeline of the war from 2003-5.

The book appears to me, admittedly a layman, to build a very strong case for the prosecution of Tony Blair for his part in the invasion of Iraq. Wood shows that the war and the policies adopted by the occupying powers were illegal and unjust, and documents the horrific brutality and atrocities committed by British and US troops.

Unfortunately, as Bloom has discussed on his website and in his books, Bush, Blair and the other monsters were not prosecuted, as there was political pressure put on the ICC prosecutor and chief justice. Nevertheless, the breaches of international law were so clear, that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld was forced to cancel a proposed holiday in Germany. German law provided that he could indeed be arrested for his part in these war crimes, and extradited to face trial. To which I can only salute the new Germany and its people for their commitment to democracy and peace!

While there’s little chance that Blair will face judgement for his crimes, the book is still useful, along with other books on the Iraq invasion like Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the works of William Bloom, in showing why this mass murderer should not be given any support whatsoever, and his attempt to return to politics, supposedly to lead a revival of the political centre ground, is grotesque and disgusting.

The book notes that millions of ordinary Brits opposed the war and marched against it. Between 100 and 150 MPs also voted against it. One of those who didn’t, was Iain Duncan Smith, who shouted ‘Saddam must go!’ Somehow, given Smith’s subsequent term in the DWP overseeing the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of benefit claims after their benefits were stopped, this didn’t surprise. He is clearly a militarist, despite his own manifest unfitness for any form of leadership, military or civil.

Lobster Article on British Prime Ministers and the Secret State

October 13, 2016

The Winter 2016 issue of Lobster also has a very disquieting review by John Newsinger of a book on the relationship between British Ministers and the intelligence services, The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers by Richard Aldrich and Rory Cormac. This discusses not only the way British prime ministers have co-operated with the secret services in the bugging and surveillance of the Left, and how they used the services in a series of foreign operations, including Iraq, but also how the same intelligence services also worked against them, including interventions by foreign espionage services in Britain. In doing so, several reputations are left tarnished and some convenient myths destroyed.

One of the keenest supporters of British intelligence against his domestic opponents was Harold Wilson. When he was in office in the 1960s, Wilson had had leftwing trade unionists put under surveillance, taps placed on their phones, and bugged. This included the participants in the 1966 strike by British merchant seamen. Others kept under very close watch included, naturally, the Communist party. He also encouraged other rightwing union leaders to cooperate with MI5. Those, who did so included Harry Crane, the head of the GMWU, who passed information onto Sarah Barker, the Labour Party’s national agent, who in turn passed it on to the spooks.

Wilson also continued the secret wars the Tories had begun in Yemen and Indonesia. The British, Saudis and Israeli secret services provided aid and assistance to rebels, who perpetrated the same kind of atrocities as ISIS. Unlike ISIS, they didn’t cause a scandal and international terror by posting them online. Newsinger notes that Aldrich and Cormac state that the extent of the British involvement in the 1965 massacre of the Left in Indonesia is a mystery. As this also involved the commission of atrocities, besides which those of ISIS seem pale by comparison, this is a very convenient mystery. It’s widely believed that Wilson kept Britain out of the Vietnam War, but this is not the case. Wilson actually wanted to send a token force, but was prevented from doing so because of the extent of British public opinion against the War and the opposition of the left wing within the Labour party itself. This did not prevent him from providing the Americans with intelligence support. This involved not only GCHQ, but also MI6, who provided reports on the effect of American bombing campaigns from the British embassy in Hanoi. The Americans were also allowed to operate their biggest CIA station in that part of Asia from Hong Kong. In addition to this, Wilson also wanted MI6 to assassinate Idi Amin, but they refused. Considering the carnage wrought by this monster, it’s a pity that they didn’t.

Wilson himself was the subject of various intelligence plots and smears against him, despite his collaboration with the intelligence services. This involved not only MI5, but also the South African intelligence service, BOSS. This got to the point where it was literally spies watching other spies, with BOSS spying on the anti-apartheid campaign, while themselves being spied on by MI5. BOSS were allowed to get away with their espionage, however, as it was claimed that they had a film of MPs taking part in an orgy and a dossier on a sex scandal that was far more shocking and compromising than Christine Keeler.

Ted Heath in the 1970s had Jack Jones, the leader of the TGWU put under surveillance. Joe Gormley, the head of the NUM, was also an informant for special branch throughout the decade. The usual practice at MI5 when a company requested assistance monitoring radical trade unionist was to pass the case on to the Economic League, a private outfit specialising in blacklisting trade unionists. But Ford also demanded that Special Branch vet their workforce, to which Heath agreed. This led to more firms demanding information on trade unionists, including Massey Ferguson. Not only was the British government under Heath actively compiling blacklists of trade unionists, Heath himself demanded that MI5 should have some of the militant activists ‘done’.

Under Thatcher the number of private intelligence agencies tackling her domestic enemies, like CND, increased. But Newsinger observes that the book does not cover at all the involvement of this agencies in the machinations against the NUM in the Miners’ Strike, and the establishment of the scab Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Newsinger comments

Perhaps the official material is not available, but not to have any discussion of the great miners’ strike at all is a serious shortcoming. The very absence of material, if this was indeed the case, is tremendously significant and deserved discussion. This was, after all, the decisive engagement that shifted the balance of class forces and made everything that has followed possible.

The book also covers Blair’s wars, which Newsinger does not cover in his review, finding the book’s revelations about Cameron’s own warmongering in Libya and Syria more interesting. MI6 and the Defence chiefs advised Cameron not to try to bring down Gaddafi. This didn’t stop him, and Cameron had the agency and SAS give the rebels training, arms and body armour. MI6 wanted the Libyan dictator sent into exile into Equatorial Guinea, where his own links to them would not be placed in any danger by him having to appear before an international human rights court. But this problem was, as Newsinger notes, solved by his death.

The book also reveals that a number of people within MI6 and the CIA did not believe that Assad’s regime in Syria was responsible for the Sarin attack in Ghoutta. They believed that the real perpetrators were the al-Nusra Front, backed by Turkey, which hoped to provoke the US into starting a bombing campaign. The US was ready with a fleet of aircraft, which Britain was also set to join, but the operation was cancelled due to the disagreements over responsibility for the atrocity within the US secret services.

The authors also report that Mossad has also been responsible for kidnappings and murders in London, but give no further information.

Newsinger concludes that ‘after reading this book we not only know more than we
did, but also how much more we need to know and unfortunately how much we are likely to never know….’

What is also clear from reading this is not only the extent of the involvement of British prime ministers in covert operations, against left-wingers and trade unionists in Britain and a series of foreign regimes abroad, but also the weakness of parliament in restraining them. British involvement in the bombing of Syria was stopped because of dissension within the American intelligence community, not because of opposition from parliament. As for Heath targeting British trade unionists for surveillance and possible assassination, Newsinger remarks on how this is ‘dynamite’, which should be investigated by the Commons Intelligence Select Committee. There is not the most remote chance of this happening, however, as the Commons Intelligence Select Committee is really
just a parliamentary spittoon into which the intelligence agencies occasionally feel obliged to gob.

Lobster’s entire raison d’etre is the belief that western, and particularly the British intelligence services are out of control and responsible for immense crimes that otherwise go undocumented and unpunished. Newsinger’s review of this book and its potentially explosive contents bear out this belief. It also hints by its omissions that there is more buried yet deeper, which may never be brought to light.

The article’s at: http://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster72/lob72-black-door.pdf

Private Eye on Corbyn and Trotskyite Anti-Parliamentarianism

August 20, 2016

Private Eye was running the old Blairite line yesterday that under Corbyn, Labour was being infiltrated by Trotksyites from the Socialist Worker’s Party. In the ‘Focus on Fact’ strip, which seems to be just the Blairites trying to have their revenge against the old Labour left for slights and incidents in the 1980s, they quoted the Socialist Workers’ a saying that all Momentum events were open to them. As proof of this, they further cited the SWP as saying that they’d managed to sell 127 copies of their paper at Momentum rally Newcastle, and about 20 or 30 odd in one of the southern towns.

Now I might be missing something, but this seems less than conclusive proof that they’ve infiltrated the Labour party. The fact that they are not thrown out of Momentum might show that there is some sympathy for them in Momentum, but it does not show that they have infiltrated it. Look at what was not said: the Socialist Workers did not say that they had infiltrated Momentum, only that they weren’t kicked out of Momentum’s rallies.

As for selling newspapers, at one time all Labour party or trade union events attracted people from the extreme left-wing parties. Way back in the 1980s a friend of mine went to a demonstration in Cheltenham against the banning of trade unions at GCHQ. He came back with a stack of papers being sold by people from the Communist party, including a copy of Worker’s Dreadnought, which was the paper of the ILP, still just about hanging on at that stage. And the Anarchist Ian Bone on his website talked about heckling Ed Miliband when Not So Red Ed came to speak out at an anti-austerity rally.

All this piece really showed is that there were some in Momentum, who weren’t completely hostile to the SWPs attending. But that’s quite different from infiltrating Momentum. If the story is true, of course. And given the fact that the Blairites have lied and lied again as if it’s going out of fashion, there’s no reason to believe that it is.

Elsewhere, the Eye also saw fit to mention that the SWP was against parliamentary democracy. This was to frighten us all again with the spectre of Trotskyites worming their way into Momentum to seize control of the Labour party, win power, and turn this country into Marxist dictatorship. It’s the kind of stupid, paranoid conspiracy theory that the Scum ran in the 1987 General Election, Frederick Forsythe turned into a thriller, and Maggie read and approved. It’s classic Thatcherite scaremongering. But it perversely had the effect of making me actually think higher of the SWP for a moment.

I don’t have much sympathy for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Their leader, Dave Renton, has written some excellent articles for Lobster, but the part itself is a threat and a nuisance because it does try to infiltrate and take over other left-wing protest groups and organisations. I’ve mentioned before how they broke up Rock Against Racism by infiltrating it and turning it into front organisation. There was also trouble on campus in Cheltenham in the 1990s when some of the students organised a demonstration against student fees. Unfortunately, someone also naively invited the Socialist Workers, who turned up with their megaphones haranguing the students, before being chased off by College and NUS staff.

Despite their stupid and destructive tactics, they’re right about parliamentary democracy. The corporate domination of parliament has shown it to be increasingly corrupt. 78 per cent of MPs are millionaires, holding between them 2,800 directorships in 2,400 companies, with a combined workforce of 1.2 million people and £220 billion. The laws passed by parliament reflect this corporate dominance – pro-free trade, anti-welfare, with a concern for ‘flexible labour markets’ through zero-hours and short term contracts. This bears out the Marxist idea that the state is an institution of class oppression.

As for the horrors of soviet-style government, Trotsky and Lenin were champions of the workers, soldiers’ and peasants soviets set up spontaneously by Russia’s working people during the first phase of the 1917 Revolution. Before the Bolshevik coup, these were genuinely democratic institutions. Apart from the Bolsheviks, there were other Socialist parties elected to them, including the Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and Trudoviks, parties later dissolved and purged by the Bolsheviks. Now I think we need a genuinely democratic system of workers’ assemblies and a workers’ chamber in parliament in this country, because of the overwhelming upper class bias of existing parliamentary institutions. And it isn’t just the Trotskyites in the SWP, who want a system of worker’s soviets. I think Dennis Skinner says something positive about them in his autobiography. And I have the impression that the Tribune group within the Labour party also support this form of government. On their books website they offer a documentary history of the Council Revolution in Germany. This is interesting, because one of the major supporters of the council system, the Bavarian premier Kurt Eisner, did so not because he wanted to destroy democracy, but augment and buttress it using the workers’ and peasants’ soviets.

The Bolsheviks effectively neutered the workers’ council in Russia by taking them over and turning them into the instruments for exclusive Bolshevik government. But this doesn’t mean that they originally weren’t a good idea. And the Eye’s denunciation of the anti-parliamentary attitude of the Socialist Workers to my mind actually makes them look good when parliament is so corrupt, unrepresentative and increasingly hostile to working class representation and policies.

Private Eye on Parliamentary Committee Scrutinizing Arms Trade

March 11, 2016

I found this piece in Private Eye for the 15th-28th November 2013 reporting the questioning of representatives of the arms trade by a parliamentary committee in that issue’s ‘Called to Ordure’ column. It’s still relevant now, after nearly three years, because of the way we are still selling arms to brutal, anti-democratic regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Please don’t call them “missiles” or “landmines”, and certainly not “tools of military repression”. They are, according to the arms trade, “goods”, and the foreign regimes that buy them are “the ultimate end users of the goods”.

So heard MPs more than once when Westminster’s arms export controls select committee took evidence from four “defence exporters” (to use another euphemism). Unofficial leader of this genteel quartet was middle-aged Brummie called David Hayes from the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence, a trade lobbying group which uses the acronym Egad. Egad, indeed.

Alongside Hayes: arms-trade consultant Michael Bell; Susan Griffiths from weapons manufacturer MBDA; and Bernadette Peers, from the Strategic Shipping Company, a company name so bland you might believe it was exporting nothing more dangerous than cauliflowers to the Canaries.

MPs noted that government reporting on arms dealers has been reduced, Whitehall’s Export Control Organisation (ECO) now doing only an annual report of statistics instead of the quarterly updates it used to offer. The people from Egad were breezily unconcerned by this, insisting it made no difference. Hayes said there was a “very, very low risk” that less frequent reporting of special arms-sale licences wold be detrimental to transparency.

Three critics of the arms trade also gave evidence. Roy Isbister, from conflict-reduction group Saferworld, said that the reduction in ECO’s reports had come as “a bombshell”. You can say that again, Roy. Several bombshells, really, packed and ready for shipping. Oxfam had sent along one Martin Butcher. With that surname, shouldn’t he have been on the other side of the argument?

Committee chairman Sir John Stanley (Con, Tonbridge & Malling) wondered if the arms dealers were concerned about “extra-territorial” prosecutions, under which a British arms trader may be guilty of wrongdoing if he or she breaks British law while abroad. Bell was most aggrieved by this. “We have reservations of principle!” he declared, this peddler of munitions with a highly-tuned sense of ethics.

Extra-territorial prosecutions meant that a business executive would be “subject to two jurisdictions for the same actions” and that offended Bell’s strong sense of morality. Bell also had “reservations of practice” because “the only people who suffer are the compliant”.

Richard Burden (Lab, Birmingham Northfield) noted that the United States had recently relaxed its arms-trade licence requirements, meaning US weapons manufacturers can now export pretty much willy-nilly to 36 countries where they would previously have faced greater government checks. Hayes argued that with one of these countries being Turkey, “American exporters are at a clear advantage over UK exporters”. Western government might want to beware, because it was hard to know who would be “the ultimate end user of the goods” in an arms deal. Interesting to hear an arms trader make this argument; it is usually heard from the peaceniks.

Bell pointed out that one of the countries covered by the US’s new, looser rules is Argentina. Uh oh. The MPs went a rather greeny-grey tinge. The tension was relieved only when Ann Clwyd’s mobile trilled into life at high volume with a Gangnam-style ringtone. Clwyd (Lab, Cynon Valley) didn’t know how to turn the device off and had to leave the room to take the call. Good to see the arms trade being scrutinised by such tech-savvy legislators.

The meeting was not just about multi-million pound weapon systems. The committee heard about the enthusiastic exporting of machetes, police whips, handcuffs and sjambok-style truncheons to troubled countries, where, presumably, democracy-hungry protestors can draw comfort from being gored, whacked and manacled by “goods” made in Blighty.

Surprise, surprise, the kingdom of GCHQ (and, er, the late News of the World) is also a world-leader in producing “anti-privacy equipment” as Stanley put it. Isbister flourished statistics about how arms licences to the Middle East recently have, er, rocketed and now form half our arms exports. Perhaps it is no wonder the government was so keen to life the arms embargo on Syria and why it has given “priority market” status to Libya, despite that country’s alarming political instability.

Mike Gapes (Lab, Ilford South) had unearthed statistics on gun exports. These included 24,000 assault rifles, 9,000 rifles, 1,000 “super rifles” and 3,000 “sporting guns” to places such as Sri Lanka, the Seychelles and the Maldives. I say, Jeeves: how is the grouse shooting in the Maldives this season?

These guns were exported without much paperwork because they were listed as being required for “anti-piracy” purposes. Gapes suggested that “some of these weapons might be diverted to othe5r purposes than anti-piracy”. Surely not! Sir Malcolm Bruce (Lib Dem, Gordon) said that some 40,000 firearms had been shipped from Britain under the anti-piracy label and wondered if “there is a danger a perfectly genuine concern about piracy could be a cover for getting more weapons” sold to foreign governments.

Oliver Sprague from Amnesty International was worried that such weapons were often sold to countries where there was not much “human rights training”. Human rights training? Perhaps that can become the next growth area for British exports.

With the Middle East now forming over half the market for British arms exports, this explains why David Cameron was so keen to boast about having sold ‘wonderful things’ to Saudi Arabia and places like it in his visit to the BAE plant in Wharton, Lancashire.

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.

Working Class Experience and the Tories’ Hatred of International Human Rights Legislation

May 19, 2014

Democrat Dissection pic

William(?) Dent, ‘A Right Honble Democrat Dissected’, 1793. In Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Death, Disease and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2001) 243. The caption for this reads: The various portions of his anatomy display every form of hypocrisy and immorality, personal and political.

The Tories Attack on Human Rights Legislation

Last week I reblogged Mike’s piece, ‘The Tory Euro Threat Exposed’, which demolished some of the claims the Tories were making about the EU, including their promise to hold a referendum on Europe. One of the criticisms Mike made was against the Tories’ plans to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Mike pointed out that the Court is actually nothing to do with the EU, and if Britain withdrew, it would mean the Tories could pass highly illiberal legislation ignoring and undermining the human rights of British citizens. He specifically mentioned workfare, the right to a fair trial and the current laws protecting the disabled as areas that would be under threat. It is not just European human rights legislation and international justice that the Tories are opposed to. They also plan to repeal Labour’s human rights legislation at home.

The Memoir of Robert Blincoe and 19th Century Working Class Political Oppression

Jess, one of the commenters on mine and Mike’s blog, suggested that the part of the problem was that most people now don’t recall a time when there was no absolutely no respect for human rights in Britain, and people were genuinely oppressed and jailed for their political beliefs. As a corrective, she posted a link to The Memoir of Robert Blincoe, a 19th century working-class activist, who was jailed for setting up a trade union. She wrote

Part of the ‘problem’ convincing people of the validity of human rights legislation is they have no concept, or memory, of what things were like before such things began to be regulated. Or the fight it took to force such legislation through Parliament.

This small book, ‘Memoir of Robert Blincoe’, now online, courtesy of Malcolm Powell’s Northern Grove Publishing Project
http://www.malcsbooks.com/resources/A%20MEMOIR%20OF%20ROBERT%20BLINCOE.pdf

“The Memoir….” was first published by Richard Carlile in his journal ‘The Lion’ in 1828. It was republished as a pamphlet the same year, and then re-serialised in ‘The Poor Man’s Advocate’ later the same year.

The pioneer Trades Unionist, John Doherty republished it in 1832, with the co-operation of Blincoe and additional text. Caliban reprinted Doherty’s text in 1977. For some reason it was not mentioned in Burnett, Mayall and Vincent (Eds) Bibliograpy (of) The Autobiography of The Working Class.

19th Century Oppression, thatcher’s Assault on the Unions, British Forced Labour Camps and the New Surveillance State

She has a point. For most people, this was so long ago that it’s no longer relevant – just another fact of history, along with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Great Reform Act and the Workhouse. It’s an example how things were grim back in the 19th century, but it doesn’t really have any direct significance today. In fact, it’s extremely relevant as the Tories are doing their best to strangle the Trade Unions with legislation following their decimation with the Miners’ Strike under Thatcher. The Coalition has also passed legislation providing for the establishment of secret courts, and Britain is being transformed into a surveillance society through the massive tapping of phones and other electronic communication by GCHQ. And I reblogged a piece from one of the other bloggers – I think it was Unemployed in Tyne and Weare – about the existence of forced labour camps for the unemployed here in Britain during the recession of the 1920s. I doubt anyone outside a few small circles of labour historians have heard of that, particularly as the authorities destroyed much of the documentation. Nevertheless, it’s a sobering reminder that Britain is not unique, and that the methods associated with Nazism and Stalinism certainly existed over here.

Britain as Uniquely Democratic, Above Foreign Interference

Another part of the problem lies in British exceptionalism. There is the view that somehow Britain is uniquely democratic, with a mission to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world. This conception of one’s country and its history is strongest in America, and forms a very powerful element of the ideology of the Republican party and the Neo-Cons. America has repeatedly refused to allow international courts jurisdiction in America and condemned criticism of American society and institutions by the UN, on the grounds that these organisations and the countries they represent are much less democratic than the US. To allow them jurisdiction in America, or over Americans, is seen as an attack on the fundamental institutions of American freedom. Thus, while America has demanded that foreign heads of states responsible for atrocities, such as the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, should be tried at the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, it has strenuously resisted calls for the prosecution of American commanders accused of similar crimes.

Britain Not Democratic for Most of its History

This sense of a unique, democratic destiny and a moral superiority to other nations also permeates the British Right. Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP for Dorset, who wishes to privatise the NHS, has written a book, on how the English-speaking peoples invented democracy. It’s a highly debatable view. Most historians, I suspect, take the view instead that it was the Americans and French, rather than exclusively the English-speaking peoples, who invented democracy. Britain invented representative, elected government, but until quite late in the 19th century the franchise was restricted to a narrow class of propertied men. Women in Britain finally got the right to vote in 1918, but didn’t actually get to vote until 1928. Part of the Fascist revolt in Britain in the 1930s was by Right-wing, die-hard Tories alarmed at all of the proles finally getting the vote, and the growing power of Socialism and the trade unions. Technically, Britain is still not a democracy. The architects of the British constitution in the 17th and 18th centuries viewed it as mixed constitution, containing monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, with each component and social class acting as a check on the others. The House of Commons was the democratic element. And the 17th and 18th century views of its democratic nature often seem at odds with the modern idea that everyone should have the inalienable right to vote. It seems to me that these centuries’ very restricted view of democracy ultimately derived from Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle considers a number of constitutions and forms of government and state, including democracy. His idea of democracy, however, is very definitely not ours. He considers it to be a state governed by leisured, landed gentlemen, who are supposed to remain aloof and separate from the lower orders – the artisans, labourers, tradesmen and merchants, who actually run the economy. In his ideal democracy, there were to be two different fora – one for the gentlemen of the political class, the other for the rude mechanicals and tradesmen of the hoi polloi.

How seriously the British ruling class took democracy and constitutional freedom can be seen in the very rapid way they removed and abolished most of it to stop the proles rising up during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Burke is hailed as the founder of modern Conservatism for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he argued for cautious, gradual change firmly grounded and respecting national tradition, as opposed to the violence and bloodshed which occurred over the other side of the Channel, when the French tried rebuilding their nation from scratch. At the time, however, Burke was seen as half-mad and extremely eccentric for his views.

Imperial Government and Lack of Democracy in Colonies

The lack of democracy became acute in the case of the countries the British conquered as they established the British Empire. The peoples of Africa, the Middle East and Asia were largely governed indirectly through their indigenous authorities. However, ultimate authority lay with the British governors and the colonial administration. It was not until the 1920s, for example, that an indigenous chief was given a place on the colonial council in the Gold Coast, now Ghana. Some governors did actively try to involve the peoples, over whom they ruled, in the business of government, like Hennessy in Hong Kong. For the vast majority of colonial peoples, however, the reality was the absence of self-government and democracy.

British Imperial Aggression and Oppression of Subject Peoples

And for many of the peoples of the British Empire, imperial rule meant a long history of horrific oppression. The sugar plantations of the West Indies have been described as ‘concentration camps for Blacks’, which have left a continuing legacy of bitterness and resentment amongst some West Indians. The sense of moral outrage, as well as the horrific nature of imperial rule for Black West Indians and the indigenous Arawak and Carib peoples in books on West Indian history written by West Indians can come as a real shock to Brits, who have grown up with the Whig interpretation of history. Other chapters in British imperial history also come across as actually quite sordid, like the annexation of the Transvaal, despite the fact that the Afrikaaner voortrekkers who colonised it did so to get away from British rule. The Opium War is another notorious example, the colonisation of Australia was accompanied by the truly horrific genocide of the Aboriginal peoples, and the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’, which saw much of the continent conquered by the French and British, was largely motivated by the desire to grab Africa and its resources before the Germans did.

Whig Interpretation of History: Britain Advancing Freedom against Foreign Tyranny

All this gives the lie to the Whig interpretation of history. This was the name the historian Butterfield gave to the reassuring, patriotic view of British history being one natural progression upwards to democracy and the Empire. There’s still an element of it around today. The view of the Empire as promoted by patriotic text books like Our Empire Story, was of Britain establishing freedom and justice against foreign tyrants and despots, civilising the backward nations of Africa and Asia. Similar views can be found in Niall Ferguson, who in his books states that Europe and America managed to overtake other global cultures because of their innately democratic character and respect for property. Ferguson presented this idea in a television series, which was critiqued by Private Eye’s ‘Square Eyes’.

Another, very strong element in this patriotic view of British history is the struggle Between Britain and foreign tyrants, starting with the French in the Hundred Years War, through the Spanish Armada, and then the Napoleonic War and Hitler, and finally as part of the Western free world standing against Communism. In fact, many of the regimes supported by Britain and the Americans weren’t very free at all. Salvador Allende of Chile, although a Marxist, was democratically elected. He was over thrown in the coup that elevated General Pinochet to power, sponsored by the CIA. Similar coups were launched against the democratic, non-Marxist Socialist regime of Benz in Guatemala. And it hasn’t stopped with the election of Barak Obama. Seumas Milne in one of his pieces for the Guardian, collected in The Revenge of History, reports a Right-wing coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras, again sponsored by America. at the same time Britain and America supported various Middle Eastern despots and tyrants, including the theocratic, absolute monarchies of the Gulf States, against Communism. If you are a member of these nations, in South and Central America and the Middle East, you could be forgiven for believing that the last thing the West stands for is democracy, or that it’s a hypocritical pose. Democracy and freedom is all right for Britain, America and their allies, but definitely not something to be given to the rest of the world. And certainly not if they don’t vote the way we want them.

Origin of Link between Britain and Democracy in Churchill’s Propaganda against Axis

In fact, it’s only been since the Second World War that the English-speaking world has attempted to make itself synonymous with ‘democracy’. While Britain previously considered itself to be a pillar of freedom, this was certainly not synonymous, and in some cases directly opposed to democracy. Some 18th and 19th century cartoons on the radical ferment about the time of the French Revolution and its supporters in Britain are explicitly anti-democratic. Martini Pugh in his book on British Fascism between the Wars notes that large sections of the colonial bureaucracy, including the India Office, were firmly against the introduction of democracy in England. According to an article on the origins of the English-Speaking Union in the Financial Times I read years ago, this situation only changed with the Second World War, when Churchill was faced with the problem of winning the propaganda battle against Nazi Germany. So he attempted win allies, and hearts and minds, by explicitly linking British culture to the idea of democracy. This may not have been a hugely radical step, as Hitler already equated Britain with democracy. Nevertheless, it completed the process by which the country’s view of its constitution, from being narrowly oligarchical, was transformed into a democracy, though one which retained the monarchy and the House of Lords.

House of Lords as Seat of British Prime Ministers, Not Commons

And it wasn’t that long ago that effective power lay with the upper house, rather than the Commons. During the 19th and early 20th centuries a succession of prime ministers were drawn from the House of Lords. It was only after Lloyd George’s constitutional reforms that the head of government came from the Lower House, rather than the chamber of the aristocracy.

Most of this is either unknown, or is just accepted by most people in Britain today. The British’ idea of themselves as uniquely democratic is largely accepted unquestioningly, to the point where just raising the issue of how recent and artificial it is, especially with regard to Britain’s colonies and the Empire’s subaltern peoples, is still extremely radical. And the Conservatives and their fellows on the Right, like UKIP, play on this assumption of democratic superiority. Europe, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, isn’t as democratic us, and has absolutely no right telling us what to do.

Need to Challenge Image of Britain as Uniquely Democratic, to Stop Tories Undermining It

And so the British image of themselves as innately, quintessentially democratic and freedom-loving, is turned around by the Right to attack foreign human rights legislation, courts and institutions, that help to protect British freedoms at home. This needs to be tackled, and the anti-democratic nature of much of British history and political culture needs to be raised and properly appreciated in order to stop further erosion of our human rights as British citizens, by a thoroughly reactionary Conservative administration determined to throw us back to the aristocratic rule of the 19th century, when democracy was itself was highly suspect and even subversive because of its origins in the French Revolution.

The Horrors of 19th Century Industrial Society and the Rejection of Liberalism for Socialism

March 14, 2014

Hearder Europe pic

I found this description of the origins of socialism in the 19th century in Harry Hearder’s Europe in the Nineteenth Century 1830-1880, 2nd edition (London: Longman 1988). He explains that it arose through the rejection of Liberalism by some 19th century intellectuals, who believed that its concentration on individual rights had been inadequate to protect people from the harsh poverty and exploitation of modern industrial society.

A more important reaction against laissez-faire liberalism and middle-class democracy was represented by a new creed, the creed of socialism. In January 1848 de Tocqueville, addressing the Assembly of the July Monarchy in the last days of its life, had pointed out a significant fact that in recent times in Paris a large number of writings had appeared attacking the right of property. Less than six months later Europe witnessed the first major socialist rising in the June Days in Paris. The idea of social equality which had gathered appreciable support under the July Monarchy was not an entirely new one in 1830. Babeuf, the follower of Robespierre in the 1790s, had worked for his idea of a dictatorship of the poor. But the creation of an industrial proletariat provided a more clearly distinguishable class, not synonymous with ‘the poor’, but large enough to justify a new political faith, and to provide the fighting columns to support such a faith. The terrible conditions of industrial workers in England and France, to be discussed in a later chapter, attracted in the first place the attention of philanthropists or agitators, who had no complete politico-economic philosophy with which to conduct the onslaught on the capitalist exploiters. But slowly it began to be realized by small groups of thinkers that the rights of the individual as thy had been defined by the English, American and French Revolutions did not protect the great majority of men in the new industrialized society from an unreasonable amount of suffering and what was in practice only a modified form of slavery. A real continuity of social justice could not be obtained merely by legislating in favour of a free economy. The free play of the laws of supply and demand did not protect the weak from the strong… French followers of Saint-Simon [early Utopian Socialist] could concentrate upon the central theme of his message, and one of them, Pierre Leroux, named the theme ‘socialism’. (pp. 57-8).

We’ve seen in our own day the massive inadequacy of the free market to provide prosperity for the working and lower middle classes. Since the 19th century the vast majority of Socialists in Western Europe have been keen defenders of democracy and individual rights, if not the right to property. The situation in this regard is now the reverse. It is the Right that is now consistently trying to undermine the rights of the very poorest members of society. Mike over at Vox Political , Jayne Linney and very many other left-wing bloggers have covered the way they have ignored parliament, and treated with contempt the calls by its committees for a cumulative impact assessment into the way the government’s welfare reforms have affected the poor and disabled it claims to be helping.

They have also attempted to pass further legislation outlawing public protests, under the guise that this may be a nuisance to the communities where the protests are held. The Angry Yorkshireman over at another Angry Voice has also covered the massive expansion of covert surveillance by this government. He has a story today about how GCHQ’s massive monitoring of the net included taking screen snaps of people having cybersex. This rather lurid fact is part of the wider point, that GCHQ was snooping on ordinary citizens, who had committed no offence and for whose surveillance they had no legal warrant. See his piece this morning: GCHQ: Spying on people’s cybersex sessions in Order to “Protect” Them, at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/gchq-yahoo-optic-nerve-horwood.html. The parapolitical magazine, Lobster, since it first appeared in the 1980s, criticised the massive expansion of the powers, corruption, and political interference of the British secret state. The magazine was unimpressed by Blair’s signal refusal to curb its growth or organise any proper investigation into its failures – such as those that allowed the 7/7 bombing to occur. Its growth seems to have expanded even further under the Tories and Tory Democrats. Its spying on the ordinary suggests that the government now regards everyone of its citizens as a potential threat, an attitude that can only lead to more paranoia and more attempts to limit liberty and freedom of speech.

The need for socialist legislation to combat the poverty created by the free market is as necessary as ever. And there needs to be proper, liberal, democratic legislation to curb the expansion and development of the surveillance state. But I cannot see any of the latter coming from the Tories or Lib Dems, despite their claims to represent and promote individual liberty.

Guardian and Snowden on Britain Spying on Americans for America: America Angry, but this Not News

October 13, 2013

The Guardian is at the centre of a diplomatic and legal storm over its publication of information leaked by Edward Snowden that Britain was regularly tapping and monitoring Americans’ phone calls and electronic messages on behalf of the American intelligence services. The American constitution forbids the American state from doing this, so the Americans got round this block by getting us to do it for them. This was then one of the revelations leaked by Snowden, which was picked up and printed by the Guardian. The scandal was briefly mentioned by Dan Snow on the Beeb’s satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You. Snow was of the opinion that it had damaged relations between Britain and America by angering the Americans. This is probably true, but the information itself – that Britain was spying for America on American citizens – isn’t remotely new. It was already available to anyone with a library card, a good bookshop, or a subscription to Lobster, Steamshovel Press or any of the other parapolitical ‘conspiracy’ magazines. Simon Davies’ book, Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, published by Pan in 1996 states that GCHQ was monitoring telephone lines and sharing this information with the Americans. GCHQ’s main listening station at Menwith Hill in 1994 had 40,000 active telephone lines connected to it, although the Home Secretary had only authorised 871 new wiretaps. As for computer listening systems like PRISM, which monitor telephone lines and record conversations containing a number of key words, those have been around for a very long time. Lobster carried several stories about ECHELON, a similar listening system in the ’80s and ’90s.

The technology even formed the basis for the plot of an episode of the short-lived BBC SF series, Star Cops, in 1986. In the episode ‘Intelligent Listening for Beginners’, Nathan Spring and his band of near-future rozzers are called in to investigate the claim by an Indian computer tycoon that he has developed a computer system that will spy on Anarchist terrorist groups and prevent the kind of cyberterrorist attacks that were responsible for a train crash in the Channel Tunnel. In fact, the Subcontinent’s answer to Steve Jobs has in fact done no such thing. His computer system is an abject failure, and he has himself sabotaged it in his residence on the Moon. The faked worm attack will kill him, and take Spring with him, but will appear to vindicate him by showing that his system has been successful. Spring, however, fortunately is able to shoot the tycoon and make his escape before the computers melt down and the house explodes. Star Cops was short lived and lasted only a single season. Looking back, it was in many respects wildly optimistic. It was set only a decade or so away, in 2026, when the new generation of spaceplanes developed by Martin Marietta had finally made the space age a reality. People were travelling into orbit to work on space stations, and further to laboratories, mines and industrial units on the Moon. There was also a small colony on Mars. Well, here we are nearly three decades hence and this is still very far away. If only! The series was scripted by Chris Boucher, the script editor and writer on the bleak, dystopian SF series, Blake’s 7. Star Cops was based very much on solid scientific fact, or what was believed to be possible at the time. Its predictions are, in many cases, wildly inaccurate. In the series’ future world, the Soviet Union and Communist bloc still existed, and Anarchists, rather than Radical Islam, were responsible for global terrorism. This is apart from the expected breakthrough in mass space travel and commercialisation. The series was entirely right about intelligent listening systems, though.

So, while the American state may be angered by Snowden’s revelations, they aren’t really providing much in the way of new information. What has made the difference is that they were picked up and published by a respected, national newspaper. They were thus made available to a mass public, rather than the few thousand or so, who read books on the intelligence services and the secret state, or the even smaller numbers reading very specialist, niche magazines like Lobster.

For vintage SF fans, here’s the Star Cops’ episode ‘Intelligent Listening for Beginners’.

Part 1

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Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5