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Spooky cyberactivity in the aftermath of the torture report

Yesterday I heard a rumour that several non-MSM websites, which have been covering the US and UK’s historical and ongoing torture of illegally detained victims, were affected by varying forms of online disruption in the aftermath of the US Senate report.

I even heard talk that the website of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition was being blocked – and it turned out to be true! Virgin had censored it. The company claims it was a random mistake, or that it was something to do with the APPG hosting malware, neither of which strike me as being particularly plausible.

The legislation that built the “Great Firewall” which compels Virgin to put certain designated sites off-line is a product of the coalition government, of course.

In my case, my previous blog had some strange stuff going on with the links. Some were struck-through, others were pointed at an incorrent address. My hits were way down too. It’s all a bit strange, to be honest. Anyway, I’ve just been through my last post and it is now as it was when I first updated it to site.

If your blog or site has experienced any of this recent weirdness please let me know. I’d be interested to hear from you.

The BBC’s torture problem

I have blogged before about how mainstream Western journalism is – at best – in something like collective denial about the fact we’ve been torturing people on a routine basis for over a decade now. Even an after an eye-opening admission from the US President (“we tortured some folks”), news outlets soon resumed their editorial policy of not mentioning torture at all, or putting the word in quotation marks (there is no reason why the word torture should always need quotation marks). The best example of this is the BBC.

So, let’s take the Obama admission, which was as clear as a bell. Here’s the BBC headline:

9/11: Obama admits CIA tortured suspects after attacks

Somehow, a subber managed to sneak that one through. Immdiately afterwards, the BBC reverted to form. Last night I believe I watched it cover this week’s Senate torture report without using the word torture once. But let’s look at BBC headlines for US-UK torture stories since the war on terror began. The word will be put in quotation marks, or not used, and this is a deliberate policy. Here are a few examples, and remember these are all, unequivocally, indisputably, stories about actual, admitted torture:

Report on CIA details ‘brutal’ post-9/11 interrogations

‘Torture report’ stirs up row in US

CIA ‘torture': Senate due to publish report

Newspaper headlines: America’s ‘torture shame’

Bahrain blogger ‘tortured’ in jail with Shia opposition

CIA interrogation report: Battle lines being drawn

CIA report – as it happened

CIA interrogations report sparks prosecution calls

‘Vomiting and screaming’ in destroyed waterboarding tapes

UN publishes Afghanistan prisoner ‘torture’ report

Woolwich murder suspect: Michael Adebolajo held in Kenya in 2010

Hooded men: Irish government bid to reopen ‘torture’ case

UK pays £2.2m to settle Libyan rendition claim

The BBC cannot bring itself to admit the truth. Rarely is its deep-seated institutional bias so obvious. After all, it has no such qualms with the word torture when our enemies are accused of committing it. No inverted commas here!

Inside Saddam’s torture chamber

Saddam trial told of Iraq torture

Iraq’s tortured children

Syria accused of torture and 11,000 executions

Syria crisis: Living with the mental scars of torture

Torture claims by slain Russian

Russia torture-in-custody case: Police pair jailed (Jailed, you’ll notice!)

Russia forces accused of torture

Libya: Tripoli survivors tell of Gaddafi regime torture

And so on, and so on.

In contrast to its news coverage, the BBC does explicitly address the issue of torture in the “ethics” part of its website, where I found the following comments telling (italics mine):

“Torture involves deliberately inflicting physical or mental pain on a person without legal cause… Before you object that there can’t ever be a legal cause for inflicting pain, consider painful medical treatments, soldiers wounded in a legally declared war, or contestants in a boxing match… For much of history torture was used quite commonly, and without huge outcry. Civilisations such as the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans all used torture. Even the Church regarded it as an acceptable part of their armoury. Torture was used as part of many legal systems in the West until the early 19th century.”

Torture isn’t wrong or unethical if its legal, you see. What an interesting thing for a state broadcaster to say. It’s almost as if BBC editorial policy was being drafted by Foreign Office lawyers. Perhaps it was, albeit through a few proxies.

It’s interesting to reflect that in 2006, while Western torturing was in full swing, the BBC commissioned a (transparently biased) global poll to see if people supported torture. The UK government couldn’t have got away with that, nor the Foreign Office, but the BBC could. “Nearly a third of people worldwide back the use of torture“, it reported.  Suffice to say a pro-torture tone crept into more than a few BBC reports and interviews, during the heyday of the GWOT. James Naughtie and Stephen Sackur were particularly suspect.

Unsuprisingly, perhaps, the ethics section of the BBC website is no longer updated, otherwise it might have to revise its comment that “evidence obtained through torture is not admissible in British courts.” Similarly, perhaps it might parrot less confidently the FO’s claim that “the UK is committed to combating torture globally, and continues to implement an active campaign to help eradicate it.” That seems a somewhat bold assertion, given that Bahrain, for example, routinely tortures pro-democracy activists, yet the Royal Navy has just established a permanent base there, “just one example of our growing partnership with Gulf partners to tackle shared strategic and regional threats” (according to our Foreign Secretary). Or, as I have also blogged before now, that SIS is managing a Kenyan counter-terrorist unit that routinely tortures its suspects and agents.

Bear this in mind, because torture is not going to go away. In fact, it is becoming systemic and institiutionally entrenched. That SIS-assisted torture I mentioned is occurring right now. The CIA’s black bases remain open. Guantanamo is still running. Appendix M of the current US Army Field Manual still lists “interrogation technics” which the UN’s Committee Against Torture says (PDF) amount to torture. One interesting unredacted disclosure in the US Senate report is that the CIA paid over $80 million to psychologists to refine and develop “enhanced interrogation” techniques. That’s an investment predicated on a return over time.

Most tellingly, the American right now officially considers the Senate report itself a form of treachery, and warns of terrorist reprisals, a percevied threat which like all perceived terrorist threats since 9/11 has been taken with the utmost seriousness. It will only result, of course, in more state-sanctioned torture, and a greater suppression of truth, because this isn’t just about torture. This is also, inevitably, about lying, transparency, justice and democracy itself. Torture is not the only crime the Senate report exposes. But the train has left the station, it shows no signs of stopping, and we are all locked in the same carriage.

The only person so far arrested for torture has been the guy who told us it was going on.

Un bon mot pour Julien

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in iChains.

(My summary of Assange’s piece for the New York Times.)

Oh, and while I’m lazily sticking up links to stuff I haven’t written, can I draw your attention to a Globe and Mail review for Donald Trump’s new restaurant in Toronto? Here’s a restaurant reviewer who understands that food is a battlefield on which the people are losing gound…

America at the Trump hotel: The food is amazing – but you shouldn’t eat here, ever

 

 

Britain’s terrible food paradox continues: “Celebrity Chef restaurants worst in country”

Being someone who actually enjoys food, rather than treats it as a positional good, I’ve blogged about our perverse, commodified, relationship with grub before now. However I take it as some vindication that the new Harden’s guide says restaurants run by celebrity chefs offer some of the most overpriced and worst-cooked food in London.

Heston Blumental and Marcus Wareing come in for a particular clobbering, and Gordon Ramsey doesn’t get off lightly either.

This will be a rich subject for future historians – how a nation of food banks sits glued to the telly watching kitchen-based reality shows while its more affluent citizens fork out small fortunes to dine at what are effectively marketing stands for media personalities, where they can play make-believe in the reflected glory of an imaginary life. For now, however, it beggars belief. This country has no idea how to eat, which must mean it has only some scant idea of how to live.

In truth, Britain’s relationship with food has been going downhill since the Inclosure Acts, and it has seen worse material inequality too, but what strikes me today is the utter intellectual poverty of the moneied. In previous generations and eras the people with cash were, however unintentionally, patrons of the arts. This should really be a fuller post, but historically the wealthy sponsored the Renaissance and the Baroque, or they spent their own (sometimes dwindling) inheritances to carve out their own careers as Romantics and Modernists. Their wealth and privilege afforded them some sort of confident aesthetic sensibility, which is essential for any kind of honest judgement. It is in fact the stuff of which culture is born. Now they’re as craven, mindless and programmed as the rest of us. There is something deeply pitiful about David and Samantha Cameron, Tony and Cherie Blair, Simon Cowell, Bradley Cooper, Lily Allen, David Beckham, Lindsay Lohan and Nigella Lawson (supposedly a chef herself) all booking and paying to show off their expensive dental work in a restaurant that has been slammed not just by Westminster Council – for countless environmental failures – but by the country’s pre-eminent restaruant guide for truly awful food. But the food never mattered. The paparazzis are waiting patiently outside, and that’s all that counts.

There is a terrible vacuum evident here; food is one of the windows through which we can see it. The fig-leaf that is “economic growth” can only cover so much.

In Defence Of The Empty Commons Meme

I write books, which are long, cumbersome things, so I don’t respond to the internet as promptly as other writers do. Still, someone has to defend this meme, which went around Facebook a few days ago.

COR image

Well, you get the point right? Ah! Careful now. Do you really get the point? Because Isabel Hardman of The Spectator tells us what this this meme is a pernicious, menacing and deliberate deceit. It’s the danger of the internet, you see, which is damaging our trust in politicians. Look again at the image. Is your trust in politicians damaged? Well, apparently it’s the internet doing that. Because those are “totally inaccurate graphics”. Hardman argues that the mainstream media constitute a reliable, knowledgeable and experienced source of information, and that this meme exemplifies a dangerous, nihilistic, treachery.

Well, let me point something out. The “totally inaccurate graphics” are reflected only in the last two images. The others are accurate. The two images Hardman refers to, depicting a crowded Commons – the one captioned as a debate on MP’s expenses and the other as a debate on MP’s salary – were actually debates on the second reading of the Higher Education Bill and MPs gathering after the 2010 General Election. They do not show what they purport to. So, Hardman, a fair point. But they were first misattributed in exactly the same way here, and to a much wider audience, by the following professional news organisations:

The Guardian

ITV

The BBC

The Mirror

and also The Telegraph, which employs Hardman to write a column.

So her Spectator blog has nothing to do with the internet at all. Or memes. This is a right-wing establishment journalist defending an establishment press from the democratizing powers of the internet. Suffice to say she never bothered pointing out the same mistake when it was made by all of the above.It’s okay to share stuff without checking when you’re a professional like Hardman, you see. When we do it we’re deliberately spreading a dangerous and pernicious lie.

On first impressions this  looked like the self-willed obsolosence of the mainstream press. Then I read the comments on her article. The woman responsible for the image, who is called Katie Simpson, signed up to explain she had made an honest mistake and that her fundamental point still stood. Anyonymous Spectator commenters have rounded on her for being incompetent, a liar, and jealous of all the money that MPs make. This astounded me until I realised two things: the English have long made a virtue out of deference to authority, and opinion has always been more important than truth to the political classes.

The real truth is that our lack of trust in politicians is reflected by this meme, not created by it. Politicians have achieved that distrust all on their own, without any outside help. Their auxiliaries won’t win that trust back by blaming the internet, or everyday people like Katie Simpson, however hard they try to shift the blame.

Deciphering the ISC’s Woolwich Report Part Two: MI6’s Dirty War in Kenya

After a few news cycles it seems the media have finally caught up with the report’s most significant aspect: the harassment and torture of Adebolajo by MI5 and SIS respectively. I was amazed the Committee bothered to ask any questions about this at all, but they did. I’d be surprised if it was Rifkind’s idea. Understanding the significance of these questions necessitates context.

What transformed and magnified the murder of Lee Rigby into to an act of terrorism, and a major politico-cultural event, was the British establishment and the milking of public sentiment. In fact it was this sensationalism which made the ISC report compulsory – the idea a man should be stabbed on a British street does not normally call for a pretend overhaul of the county’s intelligence apparatus. A British soldier was stabbed to death in Cyprus six months previously, and again the following summer in Barbados, without triggering government inquiries. The area where Rigby was murdered sees stabbings on a weekly basis without arousing the slightest concern in Parliament or the media. Similarly, none of the murders committed by soldiers themselves (and there have been several in between the death of Drummer Rigby and today) have raised governmental eyebrows or editorial alarm. Ironically, it is the earnestness of the Woolwich report which reveals the mechanics of this absurd amplification.

To any neutral observer, Rigby’s murder was homicide as a precursor to suicide-by-cop. Any terroristic ambitions on the part of his killers had been reduced to nil by the 22 May 2013. The sudden, futile murder of Lee Rigby was the final act of two hopeless men. Given the harassment and infiltration of Britain’s Muslim communities is both rife and intense, I had privately assumed that the pair had killed their handler. But the British military was simply following its standard procedure of informing the serviceman’s family before the press. Nevertheless my assumption was not a wholly misplaced. The report confirms what has already become widely known: Adebolajo spent his final years of freedom surrounded by aspiring handlers, against whom he ultimately rebelled.

The circumstantial and indirect evidence for this is abundant. The answers of the intelligence and security services on this point, and SIS in particular, when pressed by the Committee itself, are described in the report as “dismissive”, “pre-judging”, “completely inappropriate”, “uncertain”, “unclear”, “difficult”, “deeply unsatisfactory”. Suffice to say the Committee “does not agree with SIS’s assessment” and is “deeply concerned”. The root of all this is Adebolajo’s arrest and torture in Kenya.

Adebolajo flew to Kenya in late 2010, reportedly under a false passport which gave his name as Michael Olemindis Ndemolajo. Obtaining a false UK passport is tricky, but procuring one of specific age and ethnicity (a Nigerian Yoruba) under a very similar name is impressive – unless you’re an intelligence agency. The Kenyans arrested “Ndemolajo” in late November, at a guesthouse on the Kenyan island of Lamu, on the understanding he was trying to cross into neighbouring Somalia, and some days after this arrest Adebolajo appeared in court, and thus in Kenyan media, under that assumed identity. The Foreign Office apparently provided consular assistance to him under that name also.

SIS told the ISC they had no idea Adebolajo was in Kenya until two days after his arrest. In truth Adebolajo had been picked up by a Kenyan counter-terrorist unit that was part-staffed by SAS soldiers and part-run by SIS. Furthermore, one of the people instrumental in facilitating Adebolajo’s pseudonymous trip was a Kenyan-based British “Subject of Interest” already known to MI5. Five asked Six if he was their guy. Answer came there none, at least as far as the ISC knows.

So let’s recap: Adebolajo gets, from somewhere, a superb fake passport. He flies to Kenya. He has arranged to meet a guy out there who is probably already an MI6 agent. He is arrested and detained almost immediately, with the participation of British Special Forces. No legal grounds are given for his arrest. Despite this, he appears in court anyway, and his photo thus appears in the press.

Who took this photo?

Adebolajo as ‘Ndemolajo’ in a Mombasa courtroom. British officials told Kenyan police he was a “clean man.”

Interestingly, the photo was taken by one Michael Richards, an unknown photographer who has only ever distributed two photos through AFP – this, and one depicting the January 2012 appearance in a Mombasa courtroom of Lamu cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed, charged on six counts related to the illegal possession of firearms. He was bailed, and reappeared on the same charges in August, when the Kenya police explained they hadn’t actually taken any photos, or even an inventory, of the weapons in question. That’s because Rogo had been fitted up by the same SIS-led anti-terror unit that entrapped Adebolajo. When the trial duly collapsed, that same unit killed Rogo in an extrajudicial execution, shooting him more than seventeen times while he was driving his car, narrowly missing his five year-old daughter, but catching his wife in the leg. Still, that’s pretty good aim for a drive-by. That was in late August, 2012, and it triggered riots. It is impossible to understand the Woolwich killing without taking into account MI6’s dirty war in Kenya.

“The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers,” Adebolajo told a passerby that May morning on Wellington Street. “So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands? Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us?”

Adebolajo had been detained by those British soldiers. He had been tortured, or at least threatened with torture, by either those soldiers or their Kenyan accomplices, and he had a better idea of what the Secret Intelligence Service were doing in Kenya than any mainstream media outlet. By October this SAS-SIS Kenyan anti-terror outfit (ARCTIC in the ISC report) had performed five assassinations – that we know of- in as many months. The total as of today is 21.

On his return to the UK, Adebolajo is freely readmitted (Kenya maintains he was deported, the ISC were told he flew back under his own ticket). No interest is shows in his passport, his treatment while detained, the legal grounds for his arrest, or the identity of the individual/s he met during his stay. The Kenyan sojourn is as clear a set-up as you’ll ever see. Either SIS were trying to turn Adebolajo, or they were trying to turn his younger brother, a teacher in Saudi who they were in contact with around this time.

Back in the UK, separate from SIS’s efforts, MI5 step-up their attempts to claim him for their own. As far as we know, they confine these attempts to police harassment, or “disruption”. “Disruption,” the report explains, “is the term MI5 uses describe ‘actions taken to manage risks posed by Subjects of Interest or networks,’ for instance arresting and imprisoning an individual.” So at MI5’s insistence they pick Adebolajo up again and again, for alleged drugs offences (the ISC report refers to him openly as a drug dealer), for involvement in the London riots, anything they can possibly think of. He is never charged.

“Disruption based on criminal activities offers a potential opportunity to reduce the threat posed by extremists,” the report notes, approvingly, while failing to reflect that every known criminal allegation against Adebolajo was a fabrication by MI5. Bear in mind that during this time there is also a photo of Adebloajo, as Ndemolajo, in that Mombasa courtoom, registered with the photo library at AFP. Only SIS know that it’s him. This is probably just one of the things that Vauxhall Bridge had over the Adebolajo brothers. Anything recorded or videod during Michael’s Kenyan detention would also constitute effective leverage.

That’s the full backdrop to Michael Adebolajo’s last act while a free, albeit compromised, man. His younger and more impressionable co-criminal remains a cipher. Adebolajo’s decision to a murder a British soldier was his own, but it was shaped and formed by two things. The spirit of Islamist jihad was one. The second was his treatment by British intelligence. Each must share equal blame. It isn’t appropriate, or right, for SIS to treat UK citizens like they were Soviet officers. I wonder if his aspirant handlers have the self-awareness to feel guilty. Knowing the institutional mindset, I doubt it.

In between my last two posts the media have come somewhat closer to all this. Cameron has announced the new Intelligence Services Commissioner will look into possible SIS miscounduct. This will occur under greater secrecy, and with even more bias, than the ISC routinely operates, so I would expect it to be completely pointless. Very few people care anyway.

Deciphering the ISC’s Woolwich Report Part One: it isn’t about Facebook

Well, the ISC report into the murder of Lee Rigby turned out to be a 200 page pdf which did contain some surprises (see my previous post). In an age of 24 hour rolling news cycles, it’s clear no media outlet bothered to properly read it before commenting. Some broadcasters and newspapers announced the report deemed the attack “unpreventable”, others the exact opposite. This sort of ambiguity does not creep into parliamentary reports by accident, I can promise you. It is very deliberate and there is a knack to it.

In this case the big “what if” lauded by the report was the “discovery” that apparently Michael Adebolajo contacted “an individual overseas” in December 2012 on an unnamed social network and told him, graphically but non-specifically, of his intent to kill a soldier. The Committee were told (by whom we know not) that this material came to light only after the sad murder of Drummer Rigby. We can only assume they were not misinformed. I wouldn’t be greatly suprised if the message had never existed in the first place. In any case:

“It is difficult to speculate on the outcome,” wrote the Committee, modestly, before adding with no discernible effort “but [if MI5 had access to this exchange] there is a significant possibility that MI5 would then have been able to prevent the attack.”

What the report doesn’t reflect is that all the social media are backdoored to hell by the NSA. The Snowden leaks made all this perfectly clear. There may very well be some interdepartmental squabbles, and the information might not flow with complete freedom across the Atlantic, but all MI5 had to do, if wanted to see that message, was look. It didn’t.

“The party which could have made a difference,” the Report opines, “was the company on whose platform the exchange took place. However, this company does not appear to regard itself as under any obligation to ensure that its systems identify such exchanges, or to take action or notify the authorities when its communications services appear to be used by terrorists. There is therefore a risk that, however unintentionally, it provides a safe haven for terrorists to communicate within.”

Much like the Royal Mail doesn’t open everybody’s envelopes, for example. The ISC now seem to want pro-active scanning – presumably on some automated keyword algorithm basis – that automatically scans Facebook content so it can be passed on to the authorities for anything terror-related. This is probably already being done. The ISC, untroubled by legal implications or current practices, or indeed the possibility that it might alert the world’s terrorists to an open channel, decided to hoist this flag up the mast anyway, although it admitted it had no real idea what was going on.

“It has been difficult to gain a clear understanding from GCHQ and the company of exactly what happened in this particular case. The monitoring process used by the company is still not sufficiently clear to the Committee or, it appears, to GCHQ. On the basis of the evidence we have received, the company does not have procedures to prevent terrorists from planning attacks using its networks.”

You can perhaps forgive the ISC for failing to achieve clarity here. After all, their US equivalent has no idea what’s going on either. The US Senate’s Intelligence Committee has been lied to repeatedly by very senior people about the scope of the NSA’s DIGINT activity. In fact, the NSA even hacked the computers of the Committee itself, which it then intimidated and smeared (I’m sure the NSA knows quite a lot about Rifkind et al too).

Whether the Committee were hoodwinked about this communications blackspot or not, what beggars belief is the idea that they should then chose to conspicuously highlight it. Hey, it’s official! If you’re a UK terrorist, get your Facebook dummy accounts set up now!

You’re left wondering if this is disinformation, which is exactly the sort of thing a hobbled ISC would put out, or incompetence, a binary dilemma which has long been the hallmark of intelligence services everywhere. Conventional government departments can easily be dismissed as unfit for purpose, while those which labour under the veil of the Official Secrets Act offer the tantalising prospect there is actually something else going on. Often there is: lying. However, in this aspect the report’s opinions neatly echo those expressed by GCHQ’s new director Robert Hannigan in the FT earlier this month (which includes the inevitable swipe at that great whistle-blower Edward Snowden). The report and the FT article are so obviously synchronised one is reminded of Rifkind’s stated belief that the Committee should be a public relations agency for the intelligence services, rather than any way of democratically overseeing them. Is “Colonel” Rifkind a spook manqué or is he just expertly handled?

In summary, the Facebook stuff is a bum steer. Possibly, assuming actual competence, it was conceived as an easy headline to distract from the Report’s meatier element: the very likely role of the SIS in facilitating the torture of British citizens abroad (in this case Adebolajo). To my great astonishment, this is something the report actually touches on.

 More in Part Two.

NB Aside from the ISC’s uninformed and remit-breaking decision to blame the internet for everything, The Open Rights Group have listed twenty two other missed opportunities, beyond this Facebook message, which should have flagged Adebolajo as a threat. These are all listed in the report itself, but de-emphasised, so the focus can rest on social media. The Group’s list can be read here. Personally, before Britain’s Perma-War on Terror opens a new front in Palo Alto, I think it might be worth reassessing the bloody shambles that is our foreign policy, but that would probably require a revolution a la Russell Brand.

 

Waiting for Rifkind to do his thing

The Intelligence and Security Committee will soon publish its report into the killing of Lee Rigby.

It will conclude that the Security Service needs more powers to spy on British citizens. It will demand a greater level of operational activity on the part of MI5 and Special Branch, and thus greater funding. It may hint at the need for more draconian anti-terror legislation. It won’t mention the Secret Intelligence Service whatsoever, despite the seminal events that occurred abroad. In terms of actual criticism, it will probably hint at better inter-departmental communication. Well, possibly. If that. It will certainly contain, at the very least, qualified praise for all the services involved.

I know what the ISC is, and I think I know which way its chairman leans too. He fell under the spell a long, long time ago.  How did Lord Macdonald describe him? “Badly compromised.”

I have little doubt, but let’s see.

Who are the cossacks of East Ukraine?

What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse?

This painting has been part of my alternating desktop wallpaper for years, but only this week did I bother to find out what it actually depicted. “The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks” is an 1880s historicist work by the terrific Ilya Repin. These Cossacks were independently-minded refugees from the autocratic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and they settled in central and eastern Ukraine during the fifteenth century. Depending on which story you believe, they either started raiding the Ottoman Empire in the south, or the Ottoman Empire then started expanding northwards, but in either case there was a degree of mutual aggression. The Cossacks were pre-eminent fighters, and defeated the Sultan’s forces at the Dneiper River. Sultan Mehmed IV was inclined to see this only as a slight speed bump, and sent them an ultimatum demanding they submit to his rule before he sent his next wave of troops. The reply the Cossacks are drafting in this picture went as follows:

 

O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are you, that can’t slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we’ve no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck your mother.

You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, fuck your own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!

Yours,

Koshovyi Otaman, Ivan Sirko, and the whole Zaporozhian Host.

Hardly diplomacy at its most nuanced, but the Sultan eventually backed off (the word Cossack comes from the Turkish for ‘free man’). By the time they wrote that letter they were already drifting into the Russian fold, where they were left alone until Catherine the Great formally cancelled their autonomy and besieged their settlements in the 1770s. After that the Cossacks were no longer a distinct political entity.

People in that part of the world have always had great admiration for the freedom and self-sufficiency of the Cossacks, and thus when the late Cold War entered its cultural phase, various Ukrainian nationalists claimed they were the true descendants, culturally and/or politically, of the famous Zaporozhian host. But this is hard-right, US-funded revisionism of the crassest kind. Western and central Ukraine was agriculturalist, and it was Polish-Lithuanian, which the Cossacks detested. When the Cossack leader Vyhovsky tried to reach a compromise with that Commonwealth, the Cossack rank and file executed his deputies and then went after Vyhovsky himself. Which I think makes clear who today’s Cossacks really are.

Look at the Cossack glee in Repin’s painting and then imagine the little men of east Ukraine’s new miniature republics proclaiming their tiny kingdoms into existence with no thought for for anyone’s freedom bar their own, no expectation of recognition beyond their borders, and causing headaches for every major power which crosses their path, Russia included. Just as they always have done.

I wish them well.

If you want a proper look at this painting, here’s a link to a much larger reproduction:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/50/Ilja_Jefimowitsch_Repin_009.jpg

Rasmussen’s fracking faux pas reminds us the juju men are still at large

Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the twelfth Secretary General of NATO for half a decade. He retired last month.

NATO is the biggest military alliance in human history. It was formed to defeat an enemy that no longer exists, and has not existed for about thirteen years.

Rasmussen is an economics graduate and a keen amateur cyclist. He was Denmark’s taxation minster for a while in the late eighties/early nineties and then became Prime Minster in 2001, a position he held for eight years, during which he strongly supported the Iraq War, citing the ongoing covert manufacture of Iraqi WMDs as justification. He was a pro-intervention politico, sending Danish troops to Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kosovo too.

Rasmussen’s government oversaw the trial and sentencing of Major Frank Grevil, a member of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service who did four months for leaking to the press that the Service knew there were no WMDs in Iraq, and had briefed Rasmussen to that end. During the Jyllands-Posten controversy, when the Danish newspaper printed anti-Islamic cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Rasmussen refused to meet with the Ambassadors of eleven Middle Eastern countries. During his second term, rumours began to spread that Rasmussen was being courted for a top international job. He resigned and took up post at NATO.

The ongoing failures of NATO during his tenure are too profound to be addressed here. Two quick bullet points: it helped destroy a stable and peaceful Libya, turning it into a bloody Islamist morass, and is currently busy destabilising the Ukraine. The organisation badly needs to find a neutral gear or it will end up as nothing but a murderous echo chamber for electoral American politics.

Before leaving NATO Rasmussen gave a speech at Chatham House for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, during which he said the following:

“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engages actively with so-called non-governmental organizations, environmental organizations working against shale gas – obviously to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas. That’s my interpretation.”

Finding any evidence for this would be very easy indeed, but none was offered, because none exists. Environmental groups deny it. Russia denies it. NATO immediately distanced itself, saying that Rasmussen was only expressing a personal opinion. One wonders which allies Rasmussen was referring to, and about the acuity of his own interpretative powers. Ever since the events of the Maidan there has been a resurgence of Cold War hawkishness, and this comment exemplifies that perfectly. One is reminded of defectors like Yuri Bezmenov, who made a good living in Reagan’s America by claiming the KGB were expending 80% of its resources on cultural infiltration: promoting atheism, advocating social work, promoting the values of collectively-funded healthcare, questioning the material acquisition of wealth, and so on. No evidence for any of that was ever found either, but to the anxious and angry right it had the quality of a lullaby. Doubts about the American dream could be dismissed once more as the work of the devil, and Bezmenov ate well.

Leaving Rasmussen’s powers of interpretation to one side, the most pertinent question is who fed him this rubbish. One demographic leaps avidly into frame: the ex-spooks who now work in the energy sector. They could present him with the sort of chatter he felt able to drop into conversation; official, classified intelligence would be strictly no-go. The links between big oil and British intelligence, for example, are widely known and long established. These firms have been used to provide cover for working spies in the past, and that relationship continues after service: Shell and BP have been bankrolling old spooks for decades. Consultancies like Hakluyt & Co offered lucrative opportunities to broker intelligence on environmental groups and corporate rivals, while top brass like Sir Mark Allen were hired directly. Clearly, there is money to be made. What Rasmussen repeated in Chatham was a sales pitch; like many sales pitches it crumbled on exposure to daylight. Whether they were British or not, I’d bet it was former intelligence officers who spun him the tale.

What Rasmussen’s naivety both occludes and exposes is the extent to which energy companies and environmental groups alike are subject to the machinations of former and serving intelligence officers. Rest assured, these aren’t Russian. They are overwhelmingly British and American, with a smattering of German and French. Russian sponsorship of the anti-fracking movement is negligible to non-existent, despite what Curveballs its money-minded advocates might drag out in private.

Western activity in this area is far more extensive, and one doesn’t even have to look abroad to know that. Domestic infiltration of environmental groups by the police, the security service, and private sector intelligence consultancies has been rife for decades. In some cases police officers fathered children with activists in order to validate their cover. Such intrusions and subterfuges have been largely pointless, but economy of activity is alien to the nature of bureaucracies. Further afield, the SIS men have been markedly more aggressive.

Those without especially long memories will remember the failed counter-coup in Sierra Leone, a small country with less small reserves of oil and gas, which proved to be the last hurrah of the white mercenary in Africa. The resulting scandal dragged several prominent figures into its maw, and the sell-swords in question had not long returned from putting down an insurrection in a mineral-rich province of Papua New Guinea. Both actions were SIS-backed.

What about the present day? In Myanmar the National Endowment for Democracy (an offshoot of the US State Department), Exxon, BP, Chevron and total are funding newspapers and activist groups to oppose the building of hydroelectric dams. The country’s pursuit of renewable energy has been discreetly opposed ever since Naypyidaw turned to China, and not the World Bank, for help, leaving the States scrabbling to exert some of its “soft power”.

Lastly, I’d wager it was someone with a background in intelligence who coaxed ex-BP CEO Tony Hayward into Kurdistan. Have any of those supertankers full of stolen Iraqi oil actually docked yet? Or are they still transferring at sea to cloak the origin of their cargo?

If any single power bloc has infiltrated both the environmental movement and the energy sector, it is the member countries of the Western alliance which Rasmussen has supposedly been overseeing for the last five years.