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If our democracy was working, you’d be standing trial, Tony

Not working for who, Tony?

Not working for who, Tony?

Gaze into the dead heart of the British left.

I repeat, until this man stands trial for his crimes the British left is extinct, British government is an expensive irrelvance, and the American Empire will continue to sink us all. National politics does, occasionally, have to pass a moral test to survive. Judging this man is one of those tests.

It has failed that test and will in all probability continue to fail it. Our political institutions are defunct. Blair is partly responsible for that collapse, he is a massive beneficiary of that collapse, and he is primed, still, to take further advantage of that collapse globally, with the dictatorial benevolence of his proposed “leader’s club”. All the while, of course, he will claim to be restoring that which he destroys.

Link to article

Link to definition of psychopathy


“Spookthink”: intelligence agencies and institutional mindsets

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Intelligence agencies are institutions, just like any other long-standing government department. If we really want to understand the reality of our domestic and foreign policy, we must perforce probe into the workings of our intelligence community, but it’s essential to remember that every spook is a civil servant, and every agency is ultimately no more than a government department. Increasingly I have adopted the view that Britain’s “intelligence community” have no grand, inter-generational geopolitical plans. In this day and age, what government department really does? That requires vision, which is not the stuff of bureaucrats. What our spooks actually crave is an easy life, except for the ambitious, who seek status and promotion, much like anyone else. I recently encountered two examples which illustrate this nicely.

Alex Wallerstein’s commendable nuclear secrecy blog, Restricted Data, has examined the uncensored Franck Report. Essentially, this was the work of a very small sub-group of civilian scientists who were part of the thousands of scientists working on the Manhattan Project. They grouped to form the Committee on Political and Social Problems, and were chaired by Nobel Laureate and German-Jewish émigré James Franck. They were the only part of the Project to officially register any inquiry at all into the political and social problems of this new atomic weaponry. They predicted the arms race and the problems of proliferation, and observed that a global atomic arms control regime would become imperative. They went on to say that the US would find this difficult to implement if it launched these secret weapons against occupied cities, because its global moral standing would sink to the level of Nazi Germany. They proposed “demonstrating” the bomb instead of using it against civilian populations, and allowing hostile governments to see what it could do.

How Little Boy was eventually "demonstrated".

How Little Boy was eventually “demonstrated”.

Their report was more or less ignored. President Hoover was never told it existed. Nobody even mentioned the  demonstration option to him. The report remained classified until after the war, and when it was finally published, in the May 1946 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it was heavily censored. Unredacted reports began circulating on the net two or three years’ ago (Wallerstein’s research shows that the redactions were entirely political, and nothing to do with national security).

“It doesn’t appear that anybody who had the authority to drop the bomb agonized over the question before dropping it,” Wallerstein writes. “What agonizing there was mostly came after the fact.”

As the notes of the Targeting Committee reflect, the men of the Manhattan Project spent far, far longer deciding where to drop the bomb than whether they should drop the bomb at all, and what the wider consequences of that act might be. The most awesome and destructive weapon mankind had ever devised was dropped simply because it was built. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the inevitable consequences of institutional mindset, with its inherent inability to question itself from any external perspective.

Franke’s Committee succeeded, at least, in raising the concerns of the US Secretary of War, who safeguarded himself by demanding that some other senior scientists be found to disagree with it. This doesn’t seem to have been particularly difficult. The Manhattan Project promptly supplied another committee in response, the so-called Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee on Nuclear Power, an ad hoc line-up consisting of Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi. They signed off on a short paper titled Recommendations on The Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons.

Ernest Lawrence later told a friend that they only debated the matter for ten minutes prior to signing the document. That bears some repeating: the architects of the atomic bomb spent ten minutes debating whether or not it should be used. The Manhattan Project had by then been running for about three years.

After Hiroshima, Ernest Lawrence told everyone he had been in favour of the demonstration option all along. James Franck abandoned atomic physics and worked on photosynthesis instead. Only one scientist ever left the Manhattan Project on the grounds of conscientious objection. He was a Pole named Jospeh Rotblat. When he asked to leave, he was immediately and groundlessly traduced as a Soviet spy.  Unknown sources fabricated evidence to this effect.

(That Rotblat was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of how independent the Nobel Committee, and Sweden, used to be. Would Martin Luther King get a Peace Prize from today’s Committee? I think they would be more inclined to J. Edgar Hoover’s view. But I digress.)

One should bear Joseph Rotblat in mind on the rare occasions when the employees of secret institutions are openly seen to display objective thought. The treatment of Edward Snowden shows that nothing has changed. This is how institutions work. Such entities cannot question themselves, and reflexively abhor constituent individuals who can. This tendency is probably strongest in “secret” institutions, because the nature of that secrecy acts to further prohibit scrutiny while providing easier ways to castigate dissent. Meaningful self-inquisition is vital for institutional functionality, and it is a virtual impossibility in places like GCHQ, SIS, MI5, the DIS, or indeed anywhere in the MOD.

You could improve the efficicency of this place simply by setting it on fire.

You could improve the efficiency of this place simply by boarding it up.

My second lesson on how the institutional mindset affects intelligence agencies was provided by a reading of Kim Philby’s autobiography. As far as I’m aware, Kim Philby is the greatest British spy who ever lived. He spied for the other side, of course, but the fact remains (and tells us something about the nature of the intelligence world itself, but I digress).  Anyway, during World War Two, the British Legation in Berne had a German walk-in carrying suitcases full of Nazi documents. It took a lot of nerve to cross the Swiss border with a suitcase full of secret Nazi paperwork, so the Brits rejected him out of hand as a plant. Undeterred, the German promptly walked over to the Americans’ newly opened OSS office, then headed by Allen Dulles, where he was warmly welcomed. The documents he carried proved to be authentic and were highly valued by all customers. Dulles reckoned he was the best Nazi source of the war. He was almost certainly Fritz Kolbe.

One of the greatest walk-ins of all time. We told him to bugger off.

One of the greatest walk-ins of all time. We told him to bugger off.

Philby recounts how senior officers at SIS responded to news of their mistake not by accepting and learning from the obvious truth, but by continuing to dismiss the intel as fake without even attempting verification. The worst of the bunch were Claude Dansey, then Assistant Chief, and Felix Cowgill, Six’s head of counter-espionage, both of whom sought to repress any product from the Berne walk-in purely to protect their own reputations and advance their own careers. Bear in mind this was before 1943 was over; prescient minds may have seen which way the war would end, but there was still an awful lot of it left. Philby was only able to authenticate this valuable information, via the Government Code and Cypher School, because his superior, Cowgill, went off to America for a few weeks. And he was only able to secure authorisation for distribution from Dansey by offering to fake its origin, so that when the OSS’ Berne stuff arrived on British desks it looked like it was from a British source (with this in mind I am extremely curious about the actual origin of things like the Oslo Report).

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Dansey thought he was pretty amazing.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Dansey thought he was pretty amazing.

I find the attitudes Philby relates very telling. They are entirely in accordance with the institutional mindset. Namely, that the first priority of any member of any institution is always their standing within that institution. Their second priority is the reputation of the institution itself: Dansey did tell Philby he didn’t want SIS to be overshadowed by the OSS, but this only as a subsequent justification when his transparent careerism came to light. These priorities, together with the incapacity for objective judgement outside the institutional lens (see above), comprise the Iron Law of Institutions, which needs to be borne in mind whenever one considers any intelligence agency or service. We might call it spookthink.

Spookthink does a lot to explain Iraq, and indeed Iraq does a lot to affirm the Law. There are a lot of people who could probably have stopped us waging an illegal, destructive, misguided war if they a) had some objective, non-institutional idea about the failings of their department/s and b) hadn’t cared more about their own good standing (as they saw it). Perhaps, like Dansey did, some of these folk argue they only sought to protect the reputation of their employer instead. If so, that reputation was upheld only in certain parts of Washington, and perhaps not even there. Amongst the British people, and maybe most of the world, it remains irrevocably damaged.

Two conclusions spring to mind. One: Institutions are probably the worst entities which could exist for collecting and analysing secret, important information (“intelligence” is wholly an institutional term). Two: if, as Karl Popper argued, our institutions are what safeguard open society, they might just as easily close it too. Perhaps, by dint of their very structure, they might be more inclined to do so.

The Master of Pembroke College.

The Master of Pembroke College. Worryingly.


Where Are You, Steven Hayden?

I’m trying to find one Steven Hayden, a former Chief Petty Officer of the Royal Navy, who once lived in Purbrook in Hampshire. He had/has a family and would be around 47 years of age now.

If you know him, if you knew him, or if you are him, could you please drop me a line? I heard he was at Leydene in the early nineties, was then attached to Naval Intelligence for a spell, did some time in the Adriatic listening to Serbian comms, and was next posted up in Lincolnshire (New Waltham, maybe?). In 1997, if the Rumour Mill is grinding the right way, he was on HMS Beaver when it Crossed The Line. It would be good to hear any of that confirmed by someone real.

At the moment I’m not 100% sure the gentleman ever really existed, despite the fact he was tried in court. Well, to be clear, he pled guilty to (deep breath) “without lawful authority [making] a damaging disclosure of a document relating to security or intelligence which was in [his] possession by virtue of [his] position as a Crown servant”. He told the court he sold a classified warning about Iraqi anthrax to The Sun for £10,000.  If you have long enough memories, this was a ridiculous story about the Iraqi military attacking Britain by smuggling anthrax into the country via duty free bottles of alcohol and perfume.

'Saddam's Anthrax In Our Duty-Frees', 25 March '98. Utter bollocks.

‘Saddam’s Anthrax In Our Duty-Frees’. Utter bollocks.

“Because of the national security implications,” the BBC reported, “the details of the offence cannot be reported and were explained during a closed session.” Right. What could possibly have been sensitive about it? You can’t expect you can protect your source if you splash his (obviously duff) product over every docks and airport in the country. In truth the warning Hayden passed on was itself deliberate misinformation. It was supposed to be leaked to the media. That was why it had been written, and that was why it had been distributed as an all-ports bulletin. With perfect timing it hit the papers a few days before America planned to bomb Iraq in 1998, thereby generating a groundswell of supportive puplic opinion; a good little bit of psyops from somebody.

“Saddam Hussein is plotting to flood Britain with deadly anthrax disguised as duty-free goods,” blasted The Sun. “Saddam could kill the world. Before long, the boil on the world’s backside must be lanced. Before its poison spreads too far.”

That could practially have been drafted by an intelligence officer (think Colin Wallace). It’s almost too perfect.

The tell here is that the US had planned to bomb Iraq the next week, but within days Scott Ritter, as team leader out in Iraq, decided to pull back from a deliberately provacative UNSCOM inspection, so it was cancelled. This was top secret stuff. Very few people knew about that. Instead the bombs fell in December, six months later.

Some people thought it a little unprofessional of The Sun to publish such a panic-inducing, unfounded story. Guess who didn’t? The following day, in a piece titled “Blair: Well-Done My Sun”, the paper reported how the Prime Minister “last night praised the Sun’s ‘responsible’ reporting of Saddam Hussein’s threat to unleash deadly anthrax on duty-free shoppers. The PM rejected claims that our story yesterday about a secret ‘all-ports alert’ was likely to cause panic.”

The reason it didn’t cause panic was because it was ridiculous. But Blair had already begun his toxic love-in with the worst of the British media. It bode ill for an awful lot of people.

Hayden did a year in jail. Rather unfairly, and entirely inevitably, nobody from The Sun was ever prosecuted. Apparently they’re allowed to bribe intelligence officers with envelopes full of cash (assuming an exchange or offer of money was ever made in the first place. Decades later Rebekah Brooks admitted in court to authorising the payment, but I’m not sure I believe a word she says).

Lancaster and Hayden arrive at court.

Lancaster and Hayden arrive at court.

I would contact the lawyer who defended Hayden, former Lieutenant Commander David Lancaster, but he’s not exactly high profile these days either. Lancaster was an equity partner in Hampshire law firm Warner, Goodman and Street, and had a lot of RN personnel on his case book, Wrens in particular. In this sense Lancaster was a logical choice for Hayden to make: by all accounts the lawyer did a good job for his RN clients, which made him fairly popular amongst the rank-and-file. He stood up for their employment rights, and rebuffed lazy prosecutions from the service’s Regulating Branch, which was often profoundly unethical.  He succeeded against the Ministry of Police too. David Kelly could have done with someone like Lancaster in his corner.

They got him in the end, though. An undercover reporter from the regional BBC programme Inside Out pretended he’d been charged with possession of a Class A drug, and approached Lancaster for help. He then used a hidden camera to film Lancaster offering him some rather too handy advice. As a result Lancaster was struck off and sentenced to three years, over what was an imaginary fifty quid wrap of cocaine, for a case that didn’t exist. Hardly cutting-edge journalism. I have a pretty strong suspicion it was the Ministry of Defence police who stuck the BBC team onto Lancaster in the first place.

Oddly enough the reporter chiefly responsible for Lancaster’s retreat-from-view has also gone-to-ground: he hid out in mid-Wales for a couple of years then re-emerged as an author. His past does not appear in his author bio.

Puzzling business all round, no?


(I can’t suppose this might be anything other incidental, but one of Lancaster’s wins against the Minstry of Defence police was presided over by a Judge Andrew Chubb, yet another ex-Navy officer, whose charred body was found in the ashes of his garage a few days later. His garage had exploded. The widow Chubb might know something more about it but she moved to Australia and refused to leave for a second inquest. People have always speculated on Chubb’s death, because his life included not only a mysterious explosion but a divorce, a big house, and a possibly crazy mistress, but there are plenty of other reasons why people might be murderously angry with judges. The Daily Mail is the sort of paper where you can read your fill on this: here.)


Top jobs currently vacant in Riyadh and Sana’a

As I was penning my last post, two Middle Eastern countries lost their leaders.

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, died in hospital from a lung condition. He was aged “about ninety” – nobody ever found out how old he was (I doubt there were any registry offices in mid-twenties Saudi Arabia). Abdullah was admitted to hospital some weeks ago, so if his decline was inevitable this would have influenced some recent political and parapolitical events. What observers of the mainstream media will notice is the way journalists, and especially American journalists, continually refer to the late king as a reformer. This is like referring to Louis XVIII as a reformer. Really it’s just a way of masking our support for a despicable regime: by blindly asserting the guy in charge is 0.01% better than his rivals, we can thus pretend he is worthy of our obsequious support. Hence all Saudi leaders are always referred to, absurdly, as modernisers and reformers. They are no such thing. The dynasty is inherently incapable of reform. Resisting reform is pretty much the Saudi raison d’etre. I mean look at this:

Some (by no mean all) draconian Saudi punishments. Source: Middle East Eye

Some (by no mean all) draconian Saudi punishments. Source: Middle East Eye

Whatever faces they might pull for the public, the knives will be out in the House of Saud. Saudi successions are rarely smooth, and how could they be, with so many foreign countries angling for influence? One obvious consequence has already occurred, and it is the fall from power of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in Yemen. I mentioned him in the post below; he was a pro-US Saudi-puppet. While Abdullah was ailing in hospital, the Yemen’s Houthi rebels surrounded the presidential palace. Unable to flee in to Saudi Arabia as his predecessor did, Hadi resigned, as did his newly-appointed Prime Minister, and the rest of the cabinet (isn’t it strange how governments which claim to win over 99% of the votes in every election always end up tumultuously overthrown).

What this throws into relief the utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy – as does almost every major international event these days. Washington just lost their boy in Sana’a to a popular (and by definition) anti-American grassroots movement. Cue the inevitable drivel from the State Department about an illegitimate coup, as was noticably missing in their response to the military overthrow of an elected leader in Egypt, or the ousting, by shadowy neo-fascist gunmen, of an elected leader in the Ukraine. Some of the yanks are already calling for Hadi’s re-instatement – whereas you’ll remeber that the Russians had the good grace and common sense to pronounce Yanukovych utterly finished. As you listen to, and read about, the endless vilification of Russia, spare a moment to think about what our leaders look like in the Middle East.

Obama and Abdullah.

Obama and Abdullah.

Bush and Abdullah.

Bush and Abdullah.

Cameron and Abdullah

Cameron and Abdullah

Blair and Abdullah

Blair and Abdullah

Charlie Windsor dressing up for Abdullah (it's never happened the other way around).

Charlie Windsor dressing up for Abdullah (it’s never happened the other way around).

2015: A Year of Blow-back Beckons

If the Charlie Hebdo shootings signify anything, it’s that the year ahead will be one of blow-back for Western foreign policy. Despite the bold assertions of Obama’s State of the Union address, the high tide mark of Western influence has been reached. Ponder what is currently happening at home and abroad, and consider the context.

The so-called “Arab Spring” delivered the opposite of what our pundits and politicos promised. After a Western-sponsored coup d’etat Egypt is now a military dictatorship busily jailing and executing the elected Muslim Brotherhood it displaced. Meanwhile, GCC sponsorship and a NATO bombing campaign has turned Libya into a violent Islamist basket-case. In Yemen, despite widespread popular unrest, Saudi-puppet President Saleh hung on to power, ruling from Riyadh. Eventually his vice-president succeeded him, a man of almost identical political leanings, with what is claimed to be 99.8% of the vote (he was the only candidate in the election).

In Bahrain the government simply blamed the Shia for the uprisings and sprayed the protestors with bullets, torturing more than a few and cracking down on any sort of free speech and political assembly, a process which continues to this day. The Bahraini King did establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry to look into it all, which did confirm that yes, widespread human rights abuses from torture up to murder had taken place. It then suggested “recommendations” which would “improve accountability and bring government practice into line with international standards”. A tyrannical massacre was thus reduced to a matter of management, practices and standards. Bahrain’s Commission was such a staggering example of cynical state arrogance that I am sure it could only have been suggested by the mandarins of the British civil service.

In Tunisia alone things worked out reasonably well but the worst of the Arab Spring took place, of course, in Syria, where a brutal dictatorship had a long history of meeting popular uprisings with bloody suppression. The leaders there stood their ground, and what happened next revealed the true dynamics behind this so-called Arab Spring: the demonstrators turned out to be foreign-paid or foreign-born Islamist guerrillas with no central agenda, manifesto, or negotiating platform. Western media repeatedly and consistently misreported this fact, spreading instead all-too-familiar disinformation about WMD and human rights, and clinging to the manufactured Manichean narrative of good-democratic-Western-minded freedom fighters versus evil Arab dictator.

The reality is that Syria’s foreign-sponsored civil war made the incumbent government truly popular amongst the people who actually had to live in the country. Assad went from being a dictator to an elected president, one who had voluntarily disarmed his country of WMD under international supervision, and who was tabling substantial domestic reform. In contrast his opponents, those we pay and support, were silent, squabbling killers posting crazy YouTube videos. We know them now as the Islamic State. The idea that we could ever productively support a credible “moderate resistance” in Syria was either a fig-leaf to cloak our anti-democratic alliance with the Emiratis, or utter stupidity.

For those who could see all this, Kiev’s Euromaidan was simply the opening of a new front. Moscow had been one of Assad’s key supporters; Putin had been clear that Russia would veto any UN proposal for Western air strikes against the country. Russia had by then learnt the lessons of Libya: apparently we hadn’t. Thus the States, Israel, and the Emiratis lent their unconditional support to whoever promised they could shift the Ukraine out of its Russian orbit, a task almost as impossible and destructive as forcefully dislodging Gaddafi or Assad or Saddam. They were driven by the same “levitating self-confidence” (as John Le Carre put it) which saw them invade Iraq. Now, as will generally happen when you decide to challenge observable reality, everything is unravelling. Can we really insist it is perfectly legitimate to fund guerrillas in Syria, against an elected President, and at the same time isolate Russia on the grounds (for which we provide no evidence) that it is funding resistance fighters on its own doorstep? Fighters, one might add, who are resisting an unconstitutional government, and who are acting in pursuit of regional self-determination? It’s utter nonsense. Obama has no right to speak of advancing democracy in the Ukraine. Territorial integrity, perhaps, but no more.

The underlying point is that the West and its proxies have failed. Inevitably. Assad is staying, at least until his third seven year term expires in 2021. If social media is anything to go by, the chatter I’ve picked up suggests that Syrians are now more concerned with Lebanon and Iran than with the dwindling proponents of the Civil War, which is now in endgame, something that may be reflected in Israel’s airstrike against Iranian brigadier general Mohammad Ali Allah-Dadi. Terrorist bombings will continue, but recede to what the Royal Ulster Constabulary used to call “a tolerable degree of violence”.  Meanwhile IS will hold on to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, which will become a dwindling pocket of heavily bombed jihadis. The House of Saud’s proposed security wall is a trick borrowed from Israel, and reveals not just a similar siege mentality, but the unspoken alliance which now exists between the Arab monarchies and the Zionist project. That alliance is one aspect of an over-arching change, further seen in the news that Saudia Arabia is re-opening its Embassy in Baghdad after a period of twenty-five years (that it didn’t open one during the American occupation is telling).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how high the Saudis build their wall. Acceptance of Assad is inevitable, as is rapprochement with Iran. As rapprochement nears, the propaganda against it will grow ever more ridiculous (see for example this piece of abject fantasy in Der Speigel). But it will happen. Then, in a process which has already started, a few hundred active, armed Islamist jihadis will return to their native Europe. Until now the West has either covertly facilitated or deliberately ignored their activities, because they were aligned to foreign policy goals. When the GCC realise Iran isn’t a threat, and the Emiratis reach an accomodation with Tehran,the only purchase anyone will have on these people will be their government handlers – assuming they had any.

Officially, the War on Terror has gone on for fourteen years, but these networks present something new. Until now, those Muslims arrested by British police for UK terrorism offences have generally been entrapped halfwits guilty of little more than saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or downloading a dodgy PDF. The calibre of Islamist now returning from the Middle East is quite different. Consequently we will see an even greater reduction in our human rights and civil liberties: witness John Sawers’ witless appeal for The End Of The Internet As We Know It. While some of this blather is probably retrospective justification for collection techniques already underway, if there is anything more they can grab, the intelligence community will take it. Secrecy will become the new privacy, and not everyone will be able to afford it.

Much has been written about the increasing militarisation of US police departments, particularly in the US, where social division and material inequality only worsened during the country’s first black Presidency. The tear gas and Pentagon-supplied armoured vehicles of Ferguson are a symptom of this. Remember, this was a country that responded to the flooding of New Orleans by building impromptu prison camps. The American state is terrified of large public protest; as terrified as the Gulf monarchies, probably. The UK government isn’t that much different. From 2005 to 2010 they banned protest anywhere within half a mile of Westminster.

The reason the American government is so senstive about this is because they have spent the last two decades paying for “colour revolutions” in countries of interest, not just covertly but overtly, through the National Endowment for Democracy. Similarly, the Emiratis have been paying for the boots-on-the-ground in Libya and Syria and parts of Iraq, and look what they’ve achieved. There is a general strategy here.

Supposedly, we have spent the years since 9/11 making the Middle East safe for democracy. We have failed. Instead, we have become much more like the Gulf monarchies we prop up. Our democracies have grown brittle and autocratic. Our governments are unrepresentative. Our media is supine and craven. Our institutions are hollowed out. Our societies are divided by caste. This is the blow back of our long War on Terror: we have finally created an environment conducive to real terrorism.



A Death in Wester Ross: Willie MacRae’s flat tyre

“You don’t trust the political establishment in Scotland or in London, and that’s lesson number one.” Willie MacRae after the Mullwarcher Inquiry, 1980willie macraeI spent years studying the life and death of David Kelly before I concluded, on the balance of probalities, that the scientist did commit suicide. There are many legitimate complaints that can be made about the way his disappearance and death were handled by the state, but I do not think these undermine the murder/suicide fundamentals. The deep state has covered up murder in this country, however. With that in mind, this hogmany led me to reflect on the fate of Willie MacRae.

The mysterious death, in April 1985, of SNP vice chair and prominent anti-nuclear activist Willie MacRae continues to provoke astonishment. His Wikipedia bio provides a brief description of the man as politician, and as corpse. In short: he was found unconscious in his smashed car in a burn thirty yards from the A87, a couple of miles upstream from Loch Cluanie, by an Australian tourist named Alan Crowe [sic], who reportedly turned out to be a pilot in the RAAF. Only when MacRae arrived at Aberdeen Infirmary (having transferred from Raigmore in Inverness) did a nurse disclose he had been shot in the head. He died that night. A pistol was subsequently or retrospectively discovered in the burn by police, after the car had been removed. Suffice to say none of the civilian eyewitnesses present at the crash site saw one there.

Willie Macrae's antique pistol. Apparently.

Willie MacRae’s antique pistol. Apparently.

The coroner ruled it a suicide: MacRae had got drunk, crashed, and killed himself with it. MacRae held no firearms certificates, but the other partner in his law firm, one Ronald Curren Kerr Welsh, told police “he was aware that MacRae possessed a small calibre revolver, and indeed the gun found at the crash site was a knackered .22 Smith and Wesson. Two shots had been fired. Welsh also told police he was so worried about MacRae’s whereabouts that night that he rang every police station on MacRae’s route. If this is true, than as with Kelly, MacRae “disappeared” in his final hours. After talking to the police, Welsh disappeared himself. He has given one press interview in thirty years. Nobody knows where he is or what he’s doing. Google him. It’s like he doesn’t exist. He’s the Mai Pederson of the tale, and as with Mai Pederson, Welsh was plagued by allegations of financial irregularities.

Like Kelly, McRae had been alone for an undetermined number of hours prior to his discovery, and his movements leading up to his death are unknown (or undisclosed). Like Kelly, Macrae had obscured links to the world of intelligence, having Cold War connections to foreign communist movements. MacRae saw out World War Two as a young officer in the prestigious Seaforth Highlanders, and saw combat in Europe, but as the war ended the regiment was sent to the Far East, where under Louis Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC) it was used to maintain Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. Rather than go home in 1946, when Dutch troops relieved them, it appears MacRae transferred to the Royal Indian Navy. It was a strange decision. Most troops were eager to get home. They had wanted to defeat Hitler, not supress colonial subjects, and some SEAC units grew so disillusioned they mutinied: the RAF in India, the Parachute Regiment in Malaya, the crew of HMS Northway in Singapore. With Britain’s military presence in the region crumbling fast, rebellion spread to the colonial forces. The Royal Indian Navy was next. Back in Blighty the establishment press blamed Soviet infiltrators. Russophobic scapegoating has long been habitual to our civil service, but these reports may have rested on a kernel of truth.

In either case, MacRae’s wartime experience meant he must have been either a subversive red or an imperial authoritarian, a confusing choice of opposites which is characteristic of many agents from that era. After his death there were reports that MacRae also served in military intelligence, but I can’t see how these were sourced. Nevertheless I am tantalised by the possiblity that during this period MacRae became an agent for one side or the other. In either case he would have remained a compromised indiviudal for the rest of his life. I feel I should further add at this point that MacRae was also, reportedly, homosexual. Naturally this only emerged after his death.

Like Kelly, MacRae’s body was found outdoors, in a remote spot. As with Kelly, the site was interfered with by parties unknown. Like Kelly, MacRae was involved in very public government inquiries (or committee hearings). Like Kelly, the feelings of his bereaved family were, cynically, invoked by the state as a reason not to embark on a more serious investigation. Like Kelly’s, that family has remained silent. As with Kelly, state actors were briefing against MacRae subsequent to his death: he was troubled, he was alcoholic, he was homosexual, he was heartbroken, he had a string of drink driving offences and was worried about facing imprisonment for a further charge (hence his abrupt, drunken crash, and subsequent suicide in the driving seat – although MacRae’s blood was never tested for alcohol or drugs, and his driving record has never been publicly substantiated or officially disclosed).

Look, for example, at the letter the young Lord Advocate Baron Fraser of Carmyllie wrote to fellow Tory Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the Solicitor General for Scotland. He wrote that “the irresistable inference to be drawn from all the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic death is that MacRae took his own life. This inference draws yet further support from the conversation Mr McRae [sic] had with his brother and another friend [note that Ronnie Welsh’s name is not disclosed] indicating firm suicidal intentions following a number of personal incidents which troubled him deeply… McRae’s death was neither suspicious nor unexplained… if an inquiry had been instructed… law officers might well have been criticised for using an inquiry only to cause embarassment to the SNP. All that an inquiry would have revealed would have been deeply unhappy personal details of a very unhappy member of that Party. I trust I have reassured you there is no mystery about his death. It was a sad and unhappy end for Mr McRae. It is now time to respect the wishes of his family and leave his memory in peace.”

Suffice to say Fraser hadn’t talked to Fergus MacRae, or Ronnie Welsh. Fraser was simply repeating, probably in good faith, what he had been told by the police, specifically Special Branch, who had actually been monitoring Willie MacRae at some length. Indeed, we now know that many of the people who walked in and out of his office were paid-up Security Service/Int Corps stooges, like Adam Busby.adambusby

Perhaps most coincidentally of all, purely from my personal point of view, is that at the time of MacRae’s death, Kelly was working a few miles down the road. He was busy decontaminating Gruinard Island, where the Army had tested wartime anthrax bombs. Let’s be clear about this: that part of Scotland, during the Cold War era, was pure spook country. You had the submarine bases at Faslane and Coulport and Rosyth. There was a NATO muntions store at Glen Douglas, and other armament depots at Beith and Crombie. Much nearer still you had Gruinard, and the Z-Berth at Loch Ewe, which was a deep sea dock for submarines, which means they can stay underwater until the very last moment. It isn’t on any map. It’s marked only by a single buoy. BUTEC, over the water at Applecross, was where they monitoried submarines’ accoustic signatures. That’s some pretty secretive stuff.

Spies roamed the countryside. Whenever subs launched there were foreigners taking photos from the waters’ edge. The men in trenchcoats were something of a standing joke. I have it on personal authority that for many years the Post Office in Aultbea, the tiny village on Loch Ewe, stocked the Soviet newspaper Pravda. Initially I thought this may have had something to do with the fact the Murmansk convoys left from Loch Ewe during the Second World War (my great uncle sailed on them). I realise now it was simply a gag. Whatever the reason, MacRae died in the midst of all this. His anti-nuclear campaigning, his Scottish nationalism, his wartime record, this all put him very firmly on that radar. Like Kelly in his final weeks, he was followed on and off by the Security Service.

A number of documents were quietly released by the Northern Police in April 2013 thanks to a Freedom of Information request by Andy Muirhead. These reveal a few interesting details. The pistol MacRae is alleged to have owned, and shot himself with, turns out to be a Smith and Wesson Model 1, of the first or second run. That means it was at least 117 years old. It would be interesting to know where that came from. According to the police, there was a box of ammuntion in the car, and MacRae had fully loaded the gun. It had fired two shots. One entered MacRae’s right temple. What happened to the other bullet is not recorded.

Even more exotic were the Bank of China foreign exchange notes found in his possession. They only amounted to what would then have been about eighty quid, but these yuans were not commonly seen in the UK in 1985. Where did they come from? Why did MacRae have them? Was he being paid off, or paying someone off?

Photos of the “wreckage” bothers me slightly. The car doesn’t appear wrecked at all. It may have rolled, because there appears to be mud on the roof. It also lost both wing mirrors and the entire rear window, including the seal. There’s impact damage to the front, yet it went off a straight, kerbless road onto a descending incline. I don’t feel qualified to make a judgement, but I wish the police had recovered all the car parts, to ensure the car had not been involved in an accident elsewhere earlier that evening. It doesn’t look like they bothered.

The crash site.

The crash site.

What the police documents do not reveal (or disprove) are the claims that MacRae had changed a tyre that night. During that evening one of his tyres burst, or was slashed, and was changed for a spare. As far as I can see, these rumours have persisted for years. I don’t know where they originate, and would like to, because I think they could be important. Here’s why. There was a retired SIS agent living in Inverness called Stephen Kock (he was involved in arming Iraq during the eighties, questions were later asked about him in Parliament, he’s in Hansard).

Stephen Kock before a Defence Select Committee.

Stephen Kock before a Defence Select Committee.

In 1990 he appeared in Oban Sheriff’s Court because on another remote road west of Glasgow, one very like the one MacRae travelled, he had approached two men changing the tyre on their van. He then produced a pistol and fired off a couple of warning shots, telling them “I am a soldier, you know.” He was fined £650.

Changing your tyre in that part of Scotland looks like an element of tradecraft to me. Need to justify waiting on a deserted road without arousing suspicion? Need a clear visual signal to rendezvous with unknown party? Jack up your car.

Who MacRae met when he changed his tyre (if he changed his tyre) is unknown. I’m pretty sure it would be instructive.

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-wing 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.