Further evidence of the Israeli-Saudi Alliance: Pinkwashing Yemen

This piece, by an American undergraduate intern at The Tower magazine, was picked up by the Irish Times on the weekend, and it is the most cynical bit of “pro-intervention” journalism I have seen for some time. Someone on Tara Street should get their knuckles rapped for running it, and not lightly.

Yemen threw off its Saudi-US puppet, the “internationally backed” Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in a popular uprising in January (Hadi come to power during the Arab Spring in a deal which meant his predecessor could step down without facing criminal charges; Hadi was the sole election candidate and he claimed to have won over 99% of the vote). The uprising had been conducted under the aegis of the Houthis, a Shia-orientated power bloc which represented huge swathes of the country. Naturally, the Saudi royalty and other Emirati were terrified, as their brittle monarchies are particularly susceptible to popular revolution. As they are wont to do (see Bahrain), they blamed Iranian subterfuge for the fall of Hadi, rather than admit to their own inherent, undemocratic weaknesses, and thus the Houthi are portrayed not as any kind of national movement but simply as the agents of Tehran.

Consequently, a military alliance has been formed, to take back the country for the ousted placeman (he resigned, actually, but the details are convoluted). The Saudis and the UAE have ground troops inside the country. The UAE would appear to be working in loose conjunction with Al Qaeda, also an active force inside southern Yemen. Egypt, under Sisi, has also allied itself with Riyadh, although only in so far ( I believe) as offering to deploy some friendly warships. The US and the UK, both long-term opponents of popular government in the Middle East, are helping with intelligence-sharing and targeting (and they’ve been atrocious at it). I wouldn’t be surprised if some spec ops were involved too.

Formally, Israel and Saudi Arabia are sworn enemies, but it’s long been speculated they formed a secret alliance after “the redirection” of 2007, a theory supported by Gladstone’s article. The Tower magazine is the house publication of The Israel Project, an organisation described (by its supporters) as “Israel’s most effective nongovernmental public relations agency”, being “a private initiative funded by wealthy backers that [engages] journalists (and others) with information targeting their working needs.”

Founded in 2002, The Israel Project quickly became “one of the Jewish community’s fastest-growing organizations”, and is noted (again, by its supporters) for its “aggressive, in-your-face, style of operation”. It is headed by a guy who used to work as communications director at AIPAC. Everything The Tower publishers serves to advance Israeli interests. By its own admission, the magazine and the body behind it serve no other purpose. Surely the Irish Times must know this? It explains the article is an extract from a longer Tower piece in the footer.

Gladstone’s article is an example of pinkwashing, which is not a uniquely Israeli technique by any means, but the country does have a reputation for doing rather a lot of it. Homophobia is a major problem inside Israel itself, of course, but it would much rather use LGBT rights as an excuse to bomb countries it sees as geopolitical threats than attend to its own domestic problems.

Gladstone is fairly simple in his approach. Essentially, he argues that the Houthi are terrible because they have made it more difficult for middle class homosexuals to have house parties. You might think the Saudi bombs posed a bigger danger, and to Yemeni of all sexualities, but that’s not how pinkwashing works.

Bombing for gay rights!

Bombing for gay rights!

Irish Times readers might be interested to know that the article was originally titled ‘Will Yemen’s Gay Community Survive the Iran-Backed Militias Trying to Take Over?’ However, the article offers absolutely no evidence for any increased jeopardy whatsoever, and omits the fact that in Yemen, as in many Arabic countries, homosexuality has long been punishable by death. In short, it forgoes all context in order to construe a Houthi-related human rights emergency. It also repeats unqualified claims that the Houthi are Iranian-backed, and falsely asserts that Hadi is Yemen’s legitimate leader.

I have contacted Gladstone’s sole named interviewee for his opinion on the article but he has not yet responded. I understand he left the Yemen when he was three.

For those who are interested, I blogged about pinkwashing here.

Media reportage of events in Yemen has been appalling, so I will endeavour to construct a reliable timeline sometime over the next few days. If this is possible I will blog it, but if you know where to find one, please say.

The Syrian Civil War and the UN five years in

It’s been a while since we heard anything about the evils of the Syrian government. There is only so much media bandwidth for moral condemnation, and much of that has been taken up by Russia and ISIS (and in America, Iran). Although a lot of money has been spent vilifying Syria, usually in very discreet ways, it has slipped from the limelight as Washington becomes increasingly persuaded that the way to break-up Syria is to drop Assad as a casus belli and adopt ISIS instead.

The most official body charged with investigating Syrian war crimes is the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. That the UN feels the need to include the words ‘independent’ and ‘international’ in the Commissions’s formal title shows how sensitive it is to accusations of Western influence, but these fears cannot be allayed by nomenclature. It doesn’t help that of the five founding Commissioners one was a Turk who had completed a PhD in America (and who even spun her resignation into anti-Assad propaganda), another is an American whose employment history prior to joining the UN is unknown, while a third commissioner and the chairman have both held positions at American universities. Turkey and America, of course, are two long-standing belligerents in Syria’s proxy war.

The Commission itself was born out of a UN resolution, but not one derived from the Security Council or the General Assembly. It was a consequence of S-17/1, passed by the UN Human Rights Council, which currently counts amongst its rotating members Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two notorious systematic human rights abusers who also happen to be the two key backers of the Islamist paramilitaries inside Syria (and also Iraq, and also Yemen). This was not an auspicious start.

The resolution, and by obligation the Commission, took as read that there were “continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities, such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, [and the] torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including of children.” This followed on from an earlier fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, a man who was previously Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States (Jordan being yet another opponent of the Syrian government). It’s worth pointing out the Human Rights Council could have made the same condemnation, almost word-for-word, as regards the US inside Iraq, or Saudi Arabia generally, of Qatar, or of Bahrain, of Israel, or any number of Western proxies. That it didn’t is another suggestion of institutional bias.

The Syrian Civil War is now in its fifth year, and the Commission has grown quiet. Its communications have been few. Nevertheless, its chair continues to present the crimes of the insurgents as lesser in scale, intent, and effect than that of the government, even going so far as to refute the idea that anti-government forces have any strategy to indiscriminately shell or bomb civilian areas. At the same time, the Commission has highlighted the use of “barrel bombs” by the Syrian Air Force. Barrel bombs are a crude aerial munition “increasingly employed… to reduce the cost of the protracted aerial campaigns while increasing its ability to extend them over more restive areas. It also allowed them to expand the fleet of aircraft used in assault operations to include transport helicopters.”

After Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was officially destroyed (as well as the architecture which housed them) barrel bombs were adopted by the opponents of the Syrian government as a new and media-friendly way to emphasise Assad’s immorality. All news outlets have carried the story (here’s the BBC). Yet while the Commission’s report accepts these weapons are the consequence of a shortage of materiel, its Chairman continues to maintain that Damascus retains a “proven ability to conduct information led and precise attacks on military objectives.” How, exactly? If Paulo Pinheiro is referring to ground operations, I would dearly like to know how keen he’d be to see his son pick up an assault rifle and storm an apartment block.

Whatever the aims of the Syrian Air Force, in the hands of the UN HRC (as with Amnesty International and countless other organisations) the barrel bomb was another attempt at a “red line” triggering Western intervention. Its opinion that “area bombardment is prohibited by international humanitarian law” is a gross simplification (see Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, added 1977), but even if it were not, it’s hopelessly one-sided to indict Syria while ignoring the historical and ongoing bombardments committed by other countries.

The only other comment recently offered by the Commission has been to welcome the release of three “human rights defenders”, Hussein Ghrer, Maen Darwish, and Hani Al-Zaytani, who worked for the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus. They were arrested in February 2012 on charges of “publicizing terrorist attacks” and “promoting terrorist activities”. They were released this summer. I have no knowledge of the facts of the case, or of the provenance of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression in Damascus, but it is worth pointing out the law in our own country (and many others) is even more draconian, as the number of putative jihadis inside HMP Belmarsh testifies. Again, this has not met with any interest from the UN Human Rights Council.

The Commission’s most significant communication this year was the 64-page report it delivered this February. The report was originally expected to deal with allegations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, allegations which Western media had reported as fact for a number of years, in broadcasts which sometimes resembled blatant propaganda. As regards these alleged CW attacks, most notably the attacks at Al Ghouta and Khan Al Assan, the Commission confined itself to two paragraphs and the following conclusion:

“The Commission’s evidentiary threshold was not met with regard to the perpetrator for these incidents.”

That was it. All those news reports, all those column inches, those hours of tv reportage and political debate, the rise from anonymity of bloggers like Brown Moses, have been swept under the carpet by a single sentence. Events, dear boy, events.

For those, like me, who believed the CW attacks were never anything more than anti-Syrian propaganda, the report is as close to vindication as we are ever likely to get, at least until the victims turn up in later life as unscathed survivors. I haven’t seen a UN chemical weapons report as deliberately equivocal since the Iran-Iraq War. If the Commission cannot bring itself to account for these incidents, at least its most neutral Commissioner has gone off-message to hint at the truth.  For now, the villain de jour is ISIS, and ironically it is ISIS which the West has seized on to justify its long-awaited bombing of the Syrian army – which in turn is the chief opponent of the Islamic State. I haven’t seen foreign policy as perverse as this since the Cold War.

More EMP nonsense about Iran

In my last blog I mentioned that US Senator Ron Johnson (a former plastics executive) was concerned Iran had developed an Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb, or EMP. The chief problem with this ridiculous claim is that no EMP has ever been developed, as far as we know. It is the stuff of science fiction, although Boeing recently announced it was attempting to produce one for the USAF. Whether this turns out to be a feasible weapon remains to be seen, but I’m sure they will spend a lot of tax dollars finding out.

Johnson’s EMP claims, while wildly unfounded, are now being echoed by other American hawks. Senator Ted Cruz is now also adamant that “the single greatest threat to the United States if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon is an Electromagnetic Pulse. A nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere over the Eastern seaboard could kill tens of millions of Americans.”

Not content with how the earlier Johnson-Moniz exchange ended (Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was being grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the dangers of Iranian WMD), Cruz went on the offensive from the get-go, claiming Moniz had no idea what EMPs were, and that he hadn’t read the relevant briefing papers.

Moniz is a nuclear physicist and long-time MIT professor with a PhD from Stanford in theoretical physics, and is considered one of the foremost scientific experts in his field. Cruz got quite cross when Moniz felt unable to share his fears, because an EMP weapon remains a speculative what-if even for America’s military, which is the most lavishly funded in human history. Which makes the recent Boeing leak appear rather timely for the military industrial complex, doesn’t it?

It seems some thought and planning has gone into sinking Obama’s deal with Iran, and that an Iranian EMP was settled on as the line to take. Whoever decided that deeply implausiable angle must have had a lot of money on the table. Little wonder that this same week former President Jimmy Carter called the US “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

Iran: What about the flux capacitor?

The shekel has a lot to say about the Iranian nuclear deal. Zionism’s proclivity to see danger lurking everywhere has always made it a welcome influence on Capitol Hill, where shouting about evil foes has been the Republican modus operandi since the Cold War. It itsn’t at all suprising that America’s right-wing, and its mainstream media, are screaming blue bloody murder about Obama’s “historic” nuclear deal with Iran. I haven’t yet read the finer details of the agreement, but I’m sure it contains sufficient loopholes for the hawks to subvert it inside a few years, just as they did with UNSCOM in Iraq.

In my preliminary opinion the deal is a perfectly legitimate piece of politics with the dangers and risks mostly on the Iranian side. The anti-deal hysteria, however, has been ignorant and rampant in equal measure. My favourite nugget, which I relate here for flavour, is related by Said Arikat at al-Araby, concering the four and a half hour grilling the Senate Foreign Relations Committe gave John Kerry:

The hearing itself bordered at times on the ridiculous.For example, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson (a former plastics business executive) took it upon himself to lecture Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz (a nuclear physicist by trade) about the dangers of something called an Electromagnetic Pulse bomb – a staple of science fiction, and an age-old worry within certain right-wing groups who thrive on conspiracy theories.

Until recently, Iran has never been accused of wishing to acquire fictitious weaponry.


And for Washington that’s business as normal, folks. Ron Johnson has a degree in business and accountancy from the University of Minnesota. AIPAC was actually one of his smallest campaign contributors, although the organization/s behind a further $449,000 of his war chest is categorized by Maplight as “unknown.”



Ten questions from Peter Beswick of the David Kelly Campaign Group

David Kelly campaigner Peter Beswick has supplied ten questions for me to answer as regards the Hutton Inquiry. He and I have different opinions about Kelly’s death, and Peter initially suspected I was some sort of SIS plant. I thought this exchange might illustrate why we differ, and could prove helpful for anyone who is interested in the subject. These questions are an abridged version of an earlier comment by Peter which I have held back on until I was able to contact my handlers for further instructions.*

1. What makes you think Hutton covered up Kelly’s relationships with various intelligence services? And what specifically do you think was covered up?

Hutton omits or belittles the truth that Kelly helped British, American and Israeli governments subvert UNSCOM and UNMOVIC. He sees no disinformation in the inspection process or the drive to war. Indeed he closes his eyes to all Western intelligence activity within the inspectorates. The refusal to countenance this aspect closes several lines of inquiry.

2. What specifically do you think the Hutton inquiry covered up regarding the reality of UK’s foreign policy?

That it was illegal, that it was justified by lies, and that it was ruinously destructive towards Iraq. Hutton is not prepared to ascribe to Kelly any kind of posthumous whistleblower’s defence. Ironically, he is right in doing so: Kelly was no whistleblower.

3. What do you believe were the precise nature of the pressures that drove Kelly to kill himself? The ones that Hutton covered up?

I explain in my book that Kelly had been told he had lost his security clearance. As well as exiling him from his professional world, this would also have triggered an investigation into his personal life which threatened to be deliberately invasive. Imagine it as something that looks, in a best-case scenario, like a smear campaign, and in a worst-case scenario, state blackmail.

Further, Kelly was a loyal civil servant, but his masters lay in SIS, not the MOD, and certainly not DSTL. He was still obliged to keep his work for SIS secret, and he did so up until his death. His loyalty towards SIS was an additional pressure.

Kelly also had certain personal obligations towards the Iraqi scientists he had alternately courted and intimidated for over a decade. He had made all kinds of threats and inducements towards them in secret. Concerns over the treatment of these scientists, all now high value detainees in various military prisons, may have contributed to his mental state. Certainly they appear to have bothered his colleague Rod Barton, who spoke to the media of their mistreatment.

4. Where do you think Kelly stayed on the night of 9th July 2003 and why do you think Janice Kelly went along with the elaborate tale of the flight to Weston Super Mare as described?

I think she and David stayed at an SIS safe house much nearer to home, and she went along with the Weston story because like her husband, she was loyal towards the service, and sought to protect it. There are operational and legal reasons why you might not disclose these things in public, particularly if they are immaterial to Kelly’s death.

5. Why do you think Hutton covered up the repositioning of the body after it was found by the search team?

He didn’t cover it up, perhaps the opposite. Without the testimony of witnesses at the Hutton Inquiry, you wouldn’t know the body had been moved at all. But he did ignore it, one assumes because he judged it to be immaterial. He did the same thing about the third man who was accompanying DC Coe, who we can safely assume was an officer of MI5 or MI6. I have little doubt that Kelly’s body was searched by the intelligence services prior to being handed over to Thames Valley Constabulary, and that such privileged access would be routine for someone of Kelly’s importance. Hutton, like Mrs Kelly, glosses over the activities of SIS as much as humanly possible.

6. What is your take on the disappearing / reappearing dental records, why Page misled the inquiry regarding the fingerprints and why they were only replaced after Kelly’s death? Given that they were most probably taken on the night of 9th July.

My take is that it was probably a mistake on the part of the dental surgery and the records were just misfiled. I can’t see why anyone would need dental records; I can’t see why anyone would physically remove the records instead of snap them with a camera; I can’t see why anyone, having stolen the records, would risk discovery twice by sneaking in to replace them. One could ask the dental surgery, of course.

7. What do you make of Gilligans revelations that he was told by journalist Mike Smith that the police were looking for a body. The police knew Kelly was dead before the body was found. And his boss Sambrook was informed painkillers were involved several hours before the blister packs were found in Kelly’s coat pocket by the forensic team?

My memory might have gone, but this is news to me. When did Gilligan say all this, and to whom? He didn’t mention any of this at Hutton. There is a quality of Chinese whispers to it. For now I can only add that, if you worried Kelly had sought to kill himself, it would have been perfectly natural to check the Co-Praxamol packs in the house, and see if any were missing.

8. DC Coe misled the inquiry about who accompanied him to the scene, the position of the body when he said he first saw it, how long he remained at the scene after the ambulance crew arrived and what he did in the two hours that he remained when he said he wasn’t there. He also misled the inquiry about his involvement in the search of Kelly’s home. What do you make of this?

See my answer to question five. The spooks were there first, and Coe was with one of them.

9. Evidence heard at Hutton (supplemented by forensic reports) indicates that 10 times more blood was witnessed on the right knee Dr Kelly jeans in the afternoon than was witnessed in the morning, a similar size stain was witnessed on the left knee but that had been diluted. In the morning the stain was described variously as the size of a 10p, the size of a 50p and 25mm in diameter. In the afternoon the stain was measured by the forensic team as 80mm in diameter, an area increase of more than 10 times. What do you think was going on?

Responding to this off the cuff, it would seem the stain grew a bit by the time it was measured by the forensics team. The body may only have to have been moved very slightly for this to happen. I suppose it is even possible that it might not have to be moved at all, perhaps some very small post-death blood flow from an open would occur during decomposition. The difference in the volume of blood needed to make an 80mm stain as opposed to a 25mm stain is only a few drops. Alternately, the forensics team may have measured the stain on the inside of the fabric, where it would appear bigger.

10. Mai Pederson’s lawyer had supplied the police with a 10 page witness statement 2 weeks before Page took the stand and said she had declined to give a statement. Why do you think that was and do you think her statement would have been useful?

I can tell you that Mai Pederson isn’t in the mood to talk about any of this anymore. Most of the lying at the Inquiry was done to obscure the intervention of MI5 and MI6. If you’re a police officer I am sure it is a requirement of your job that you never reveal your relationships (if any) with either service. But Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page’s comment that Pederson added absolutely nothing to his inquiry is an absolute whopper. I honestly don’t think he knew what was in her ten page report, or what she said at interview. In suppressing this evidence he had no way of knowing she wouldn’t then give an interview to the British media, for example, which is exactly what she did. I can only conjecture that Pederson’s report never found its way into the Thames Valley Investigation, and that she was interviewed by people other than Thames Valley police officers. Probably she was interviewed by MI6, MI5, or Special Branch, who were nominally “helping” out. Nobody from these organisations would owe any obligation to pass on sensitive material to normal constabularies, and it may have been suppressed by them, rather than Page. They would simply lie to him about what was said. It would also express Page’s curious expression that “she declined to give a statement as such”, because intelligence officers wouldn’t be able to take one down.

Pederson’s press interviews reveal that she had a reasonably intimate knowledge of David Kelly. She knew he had an elbow injury, for example. As for his difficulty swallowing pills, I was never able to verify it. Her statement should absolutely have found its way into the Inquiry, even if it pointed in the wrong direction. Pederson, like Norman Baker and Richard Spertzel, is of the opinion he was murdered by Iraqi intelligence. I find this implausible. The capability of Iraqi intelligence in Britain in July 2003 was nil. It was not much better inside Iraq. I don’t understand why they would want to kill Kelly either. The weapons inspectors inside Iraq were much easier targets, and I don’t think any attempt was ever made on any of them, during the inspections or after the war. During the occupation Charles Duelfer was in a Humvee that got hit by an IED, but I don’t know that he was targeted specifically.

One aspect of Pederson’s press interviews, then, is the vilification of Saddam’s Iraq, using Kelly’s death to further the same goal he pursued in his working life. You’ll also notice that few newspapers were able to resist the implication that Pederson and Kelly were sleeping together, even while printing her categorical denial. Tom Mangold has been pushing the idea of a Kelly-Pederson affair for years, but he can’t make the story stand up. These journalists did not arrive at this conclusion on their own. They were led there, and I refer you to my third answer. There were individuals priming to smear Kelly at the time of his death.





Cameron “Steps Up” To What? Britain is Anti-Syria, not Anti-Islamic State

Ignore the rhetoric, the propaganda, and spin. Washington means to take down Assad, not ISIS, and we’re going to help them. ISIS has long been part of the plan. The US and the UK have effectively backed ISIS for years. Consider a few bullet points:

  • There are no sanctions on ISIS or their Gulf funders. There are sanctions against Syria and its allies Iran and Russia.
  • British citizens are, for the most part, free to leave and join ISIS if they wish.
  • A vociferous propaganda campaign has been waged against the Syrian government in its fight against ISIS, whilst the government (and thus most of the media) has been silent about Saudi and Qatar, which whom ISIS originates.
  • Repeated allegations of CW use by the Syrian government has resulted in comprehensive CW disarmament under international auspices; during this time ISIS has obtained CW shells and the capability to use them.
  • Despite repeated advice, and abandoning all logic, Britain and the US refuse to co-operate with the elected Syrian government, pretending (as they have from the start of the Syrian Civil War) that Syria has something called “a moderate opposition” (whose media figureheads they bankroll).
  • The West are so set against the Syrian government that not only do they refuse to ally with them, they have pooled intelligence with Israel, which assassinates Syria’s senior leaders at will, as they fight against ISIS.
  • No measures have been taken against Turkey, which has been acting as ISIS’ land bridge for men and materiel. At the same time, Turkey has been an open and vocal enemy of the Syrian government.
  • Much of the materiel in use by ISIS in Iraq is of American origin, commandeered from camps and stores left, quite deliberately, in the heart of the Sunni triangle under Sunni command after America’s withdrawal.
  • Western military action against ISIS has confined itself to protecting the Kurdish client statelet.

Lord Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff, has said that Britain’s plan to take down ISIS won’t work. Of course it won’t. It’s not supposed to. A man of his experience is being disingenuous if he cannot express that, on its current course, Western policy plainly seeks to fragment the Middle East into something that will, under one name or another, recognise the Sunni triangle as a distinct political entity. Lord Richards is allowed to reason why. After all, he’s retired now. But instead it appears he would much prefer to carry on pretending he has a commission, and do what officers have always done, which is to ask for more soldiers.

Defence Committee Chair Julian Lewis has accused Cameron of making up policy “on the hoof”, but there are two very good reasons for that. A) The ultimate goal is so manifestly imperial and exploitative the public isn’t yet ready to hear it. B) Cam has to follow Washington’s lead, and he can’t know exactly what that is. Compared to Blair, whose secret and obsequious promises of blind support for any possible American military action granted him a certain foreknowledge, Cameron is in the dark. But if Lewis or anyone else really wants to know what the plan is, don’t ask the Cabinet. Ask the Washington think tanks.

This June the Brookings Institute published “Deconstructing Syria“. The plan is simple. Use US military power, and the justification of fighting ISIS, to create “safe zones” inside Syria. Inside these zones train a new force (that mythical “moderate opposition” again) to unseat Assad. It’s a stupid plan that didn’t work with Iraq and won’t work with Syria. A nation state generally resists the political will of openly hostile foreign forces, it’s how nation states work. What it could achieve, over ten or twenty years (which is exactly how long the fight against ISIS is supposed to take) is the destruction of Syria, consigning it to the same fate as Libya. That would be perfectly fine for Washington and London and all the Gulf monarchies they protect. But it should be considered yet another war crime by everyone else.

Dark days. During the Iran-Iraq War, at least we contented ourselves simply with selling arms to both sides. As regards ISIS and Assad, we are now planning to fight on both sides: police actions in Kurdistan and guerilla warfare over the border. The scheme’s only saving grace may be that it’s impossible.

Syria: Chemical Weapons Finger Points Yet Again At The Islamists

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights is a one-man London-based outfit which has made and conveyed allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses against the Syrian government since the outset of the Syrian Civil War. In a conflict that has seen the Saudi and Qatar spend a fortune in anti-Assad propaganda (just as they did during Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait), it can be safely assumed that the SOHR is on somebody’s payroll. I have long suspected that SIS was funding it, because it clearly doesn’t have very much money (the Observatory is run out of a two-bed terrace in Coventry) and our spooks have nowhere near the budgets the Emiratis do. I feel encouraged in this suspicion by the fact that now we are taking military action against the Syrian opposition (albeit in a dodgy, illicit, non-parliamentary way), the SOHR has finally started to report incidents in which non-government forces have done something wrong.

Towards the end of June Islamic State troops used chemical shells against Kurdish YPG fighters south of Tal Brak, and also against a residential neighbourhood in the nearby city of Al Hasakah. The SOHR also tell us the claims are backed up by doctors’ testimony and laboratory analysis, although such claims have proved almost worthless in the past. We don’t have any casualty figures either, but simply to shift the allegations of chemical weapons use from Assad to the Islamists constitutes a remarkable roll-back.

It would be nice to think that SIS have suddenly decided to do something in Syria that actually benefits both Britain and Syria, but in reality our foreign policy now calls for twice as much propaganda. No, three times. Vauxhall now has to vilify both sides in the Syrian Civil War while marketing a non-existent moderate opposition at the same time. Jesus, can’t we just back Assad and stop helping Gulf monarchies to destroy a soverign country? The Syrians have voted him in, he’s promised reform, and he’s the best hope peace has. Anyone in the Foreign Office who can’t see that is a bloody zealot. The collective denial of that institution never ceases to amaze me. It’s like Iraqi WMD all over again.

NB Lebanese television first reported that anti-government forces were using CW against the Kurds in 2013.


Why Hilary’s Deleted Emails Are More Dangerous Than Any Leak

“Beware he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.” Pravin Lal, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Firaxis Games.


Every foreign policy catastrophe has, at its root, secret diplomacy. Examples abound, yet we refuse to learn from them, and the same mistakes are repeated again and again, to terrible, illegal, counter-productive, and sometimes genocidal effect. The most important thing we could demand of our politicians is transparency, but recent events show that if anything, we are moving further away from it, and into an era of secrecy, elitism, and obfuscation.

Secret diplomacy is generally considered to be one of the fundamental causes of the First World War. As it drew to its murderous close, US President Woodrow Wilson drew up fourteen points as a blueprint for a permanent world peace, first among which was a ban on private diplomacy. The world needed “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”. The principle became a founding covenant of the League of Nations.

It was too late for Wilson to undo the damage caused by that secret diplomacy which had occurred during the war itself. The worst of this affected a region which is still reeling from the trauma: the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration were both drawn up behind closed doors. Inevitably, the Great War also saw a great amount of propaganda too. Propaganda and secret diplomacy are co-dependent, because covert rationales can never be publicly exposed, and so additional motives must be manufactured. In this regard too, the Great War foreshadowed the future.

In my own lifetime, secret diplomacy was rife, and continues to shape events like never before. The countless assassinations and coups and proxy wars of the Cold War were all the product of secret diplomacy. None bode well. But since the War on Terror, secret diplomacy has exploded. In fact, the harbinger event of our current age, 9/11, has a foreign policy component which continues to be deliberately concealed at the highest level: the role of Saudi Arabia.

Then came the invasion of Iraq, an act of secret diplomacy writ large. The truth behind it remains impenetrable, we can only be certain it was never enacted for the reasons proposed to the public. Naturally, as with all secret diplomacy, the key decisions were all made in a very tight circle, whose members refuse to reveal their true deliberations. All of this is now notorious. A quick (British) sketch would include the “sofa cabinet” of Tony Blair, which refused to take minutes; the use of ministerial veto by Jack Straw to prevent publication of what minutes were taken; the refusal by the Cabinet Office to release the minutes of conversations between Blair and Bush in the build-up to war; the concealment of exhaustive intelligence that disproved Blair’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was developing WMD. In America the situation was even graver.

This terrible secrecy became entrenched to the extent that those who breached it, or even alleged it existed, either lost their jobs or were prosecuted as criminals. David Kelly, of course, is an example which is close to my heart, but there are many others. Civil servant David Keogh and MP’s researcher Leo O’Connor were both jailed simply for passing minutes of a 2004 Bush-Blair meeting to O’Connor’s MP (who, to his undying shame, dobbed them in to Downing Street and Special Branch). The content of the memo they passed on has never been made public, but it is believed to relate to future planned war crimes, such as bombing the media offices of a respected broadcaster in a neutral country. It is, at the time I write this, still illegal in the UK to suggest that the secret trial of Keogh and O’Connor proved that Bush and Blair supported bombing Al Jazeera’s branch in Qatar.

One decision from this episode I find particularly curious is Coalition Provisional Authority Order Two, which disbanded the Iraqi military. Nobody has owned up to this. It was the first thing Paul Bremer did when Bush appointed him Presidential Envoy. Bremer has said only that he worked it out with the Pentagon, and considering Bremer’s only line manager was superhawk neocon Donald Rumsfeld, it seems likely that that Rummy was instrumental. But Rumsfeld isn’t talking, and George Bush has even said he can’t remember why they did it. What is tantalising about this disastrous decision is the light it shines, namely that the ultimate geopolitical aim of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to destroy Iraq as a sovereign nation. This is exactly what Saddam and most Iraqis believed the West always intended, and history has borne them out.

Although it remains intrinsically self-defeating, secret diplomacy has only accelerated since the fall of Baghdad. On one side we have a wall of silence and lies, on the other we have empirical reality and the odd leak. A case in point would be what Seymour Hersh reported as “the redirection”, whereby America presaged its withdrawal from Iraq by covertly fomenting Sunni sectarianism not just in Iraq (where it also boosted the Kurds) but also in Syria and Lebanon, thereby ensuring the impossibility of a stable, democratic Iraq. This began with an informal meeting of inner-circle Bush-era neocons, presided over by Elliott Abrams, architect of some earlier eighties secret diplomacy known as Iran-Contra. Faced with the stark truth that secret diplomacy hadn’t worked, they concluded this was simply because it hadn’t been secret enough, and “the redirection” was confined almost entirely to the Vice President’s office. Even the spooks were frozen out.

Fast forward to Hilary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, during which she used a private server, which allowed her, when State Department officials asked for copies of her emails, to delete about 30,000 of them. Hilary’s private server was a deliberate and very blatant circumvention of American law. Those emails are gone. They will never be subpoenaed by Congress. They will never be collected by the National Archives and Records Administration. I suspect that like the Nixon with his tapes, Hilary cannot bring herself to bin them entirely, but for the purposes of everyone else in the world, they are no more. This sets a disastrous precedent. It is the precise opposite of what Woodrow Wilson advised in the aftermath of the world’s worst ever war.

Consider where we have come to. There is something called the truth. There is something called democracy. At home or abroad, effective government policy has to rest on both those points. Yet whenever anyone (often through enormous sacrifice) drags some element of the foreign policy sphere towards either, they are branded traitors, and/or mentally ill. As with that terrible Assange biopic, they are accused of “stealing” secrets. But they haven’t stolen them, they have only given them to us, to history and the world. The information is still there, in its classified silo. They are accused of endangering lives, or worse, but every time these accusations are made they are swiftly rebutted by fact.

Wherever you stand on Assange and Snowden and Manning et all, you must concede this: the whistleblower who hands you a memo is a far lesser worry than the warmonger who burns it behind closed doors. There isn’t a single plaintiff whose life has been endangered by the revelations of Wikileaks and Snowden, but there are bodies falling in Libya and Syria and Yemen and the Ukraine every day, and I do not know if our true role in these crises will ever be officially disclosed. History is set to become a very challenging discipline if chunks of it can now be routinely deleted.




The Hutton Inquiry website is quietly disposed of

When Brian Hutton commenced his inquiry into “the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly” it was heralded as a paradigm of government openness. That sounds hard to believe given how it turned out, but more than a few people praised it for the light it shone on government and military processes. It revealed a great deal of David’s personal life too. It rifled through his emails and phone bills and shared whatever information it thought pertinent with the public.

All this openness was highly selective, of course. There was a great deal Hutton chose not to share or examine, and in doing so he obscured the true pressures that were acting on Kelly that fateful day. This sleight-of-hand was partly what allowed him to pronounce not only that Kelly committed suicide (a conclusion that I too share, although with far less certainty) but also that his suicide had nothing to do with the Iraq War but was instead brought about by his intense shame in having been caught out talking to journalists off-the-record without permission. That evidence which the Inquiry had not selected, but which it could not reasonably withhold, such as the testimony of David Broucher (who appeared at his own insistence), Hutton traduced or ignored.  But nevertheless, the Hutton Inquiry website was a fantastic resource for any researcher or historian, and it contained a great deal of primary documentation, however selective it might be, available for download as PDFs. Alas, it is no more.

I tried to access it today for the first time in two years and found that the domain now belongs to one Alistair Maylum of Faversham, Kent, who (it appears) buys and sells domain names. The government has jettisoned the lot. The transcripts and the PDFs are no longer there. Instead any visitors are confronted with a generic web template for a personal injury solicitors. I mean look at it.  However fake Hutton’s openness, this is a sadder and more cynical development still. The website could not possibly have been axed for reasons of cost, its costs were trifling. It was something else, incompetence or censorship or both.

My biography of Kelly, Dark Actors, came out in July 2013. Within four months the website I had used extensively to research it was offline. Many of its footnotes and citations now point nowhere. So trust not in the cloud, and always download whatever you can, because the cloud sees all, and what may be there one day may not be there the next.

(Thankfully the transcripts are still mirrored here, as for the documentary evidence, I have no idea if a comprehensive mirror exists anywhere.)

POSTSCRIPT: All is not lost! Peter Beswick has very helpfully pointed out that the whole Hutton site (as far as I can see) is currently mirrored in the National Archives web archive. Thank god for that. For the link to the mirror, see his comment below. My despondency was somewhat misplaced.



That terrible Snowden article in The Sunday Times isn’t psyops

The Sunday Times has published an atrocious bit of journalism about the Edward Snowden revelations, alleging the whistleblower has “betrayed” British spies to the Russians and Chinese. The piece is an entirely unsubstantiated mishmash of unattributed sources who frequently contradict each other as well as many facts about the case which are already established.

While I was completely unsurprised to see the piece picked up and echoed uncritically by other components of Britain’s mainstream media, such as the BBC, I was heartened to see that the piece has already been comprehensively demolished online by just about every relevant blogger, news site and forum (highlights include Glenn Greenwald here and Craig Murray here; incidentally the Greenwald piece has already come under a spurious legal challenge from the Sunday Times, while Murray’s website has succumbed to a mysterious DNS attack) What an incredible display of the profound and innate difference between corporate and online media. But in America, the crucible of the Snowden story, even parts of the corporate media had a hard time swallowing this terrible, terrible piece of work – which the Sunday Times published as a headline, front-page story. Look, for example, at this interview between CNN anchor George Howell and one of the Sunday Times reporters responsible for the piece, “home affairs correspondent” Tom Harper (who is young Harper related to, I wonder?).

A common reaction to this story is to assume the piece is a result of government disinformation. After all, spooks and authoritarians everywhere are trying to vilify Snowden and cover up the extent of the illegality he exposed, and these efforts have always been fairly transparent and predictable. However, the Harper piece is even worse than that. As Craig Murray observes, the article contains so many operational misconceptions about gathering humint that I can only conclude that the disinformation is all on the part of the newspaper.

I have said it before now, and I will say it again here: corporate media is so lazy, venal and biased that it disinforms as a matter of course. It cannot always be the fault of the spooks when a newspaper or broadcaster lies. In this grubby scrape for a story I suppose that Harper may indeed have spoken to officers of MI5 or SIS, but only perhaps a recent graduate entrant, or a dim and distant retiree; someone who has basically no operational knowledge, and is keen to inflate their importance and the seriousness of their department (this is a trait of civil servants the world over). As for any non-attributable utterances coaxed out of officials at the Home Office or in Downing Street, well, they would know literally nothing about British agents in China or anywhere else.

This is story is so poor, its fact-checking and verification so shoddy, and its general thrust at such variance with the American version of events, that the blame must lie with the paper. It wasn’t just Tom Harper who wrote it, after all. The by-lines also went to Richard Kerbaj, the Sunday Times’ very own security correspondent, and Tim Shipman, its political editor. That’s how deep the rot is. And remember that the Sunday Times is not exactly short of cash.

How long can a major British newspaper get away with punting nonsense like this? The influence of the idiot box and the dead tree press must surely be diminishing at a yearly rate. There will surely come a day when people marvel that such things ever swung elections, and I hope very much it comes soon. Only one thing is sure: we won’t be reading about in the press, or hearing about it on the television. The more a rag like The Sun roars its relevance, for example, the more worried you know News International is.