The Constitutional Threat Posed By The Intelligence World

According to America's Director of National Intelligence, this man is a Russian agent.

According to America’s Director of National Intelligence, this man is a Russian agent.

The Iraq war saw British and American intelligence agencies fabricate and misrepresent evidence to justify an invasion in a process in which British and American governments were complicit. It worked perfectly well. Politicians and spooks reached into the magic hat called “intelligence” and pulled out whatever claims they needed. No one else was allowed to see into the hat, and those few people who had seen inside it would go to prison if they told you what was really in there.

None of that is honestly disputed by serious and sensible people. It has been the subject of much concern. However, most of this concern has been outward facing. That is to say, it has focused on the war’s disastrous and criminal effects upon the Middle East. Focused internally, this concern never developed much beyond a hatred of neoconservatives and corporate media. People never examined the constitutional impact of this “magic hat”, perhaps because it was felt the episode was a one-off. Sadly, as manifestly egregious as this process was, it was not a singular event. It is a built-in feature of the Western world. It’s an intrinsic capacity which cannot be removed without fundamentally altering the country we live in. Given what is currently happening in the US, it is absolutely vital that the constitutional impact of this system is considered as soon as possible.

The Hillary Clinton camp spent much of her doomed campaign blaming Vladimir Putin for Trump’s electoral successes, a deception which intensified once the election was decided. This dishonest Russia-bashing reflects terribly on the sort of President Hillary would have been, and in truth I am glad that she lost.But the important point is this: the intended effect of claiming Russia somehow rigged the election is not to vilify Putin. It is to de-legitimize a domestic democratic election. And like Blair and Bush, Hillary has been able to count on spooks in high places to back up fanciful claims.

The Director Of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper issued an official statement this Friday that Russia somehow hacked the US election result. Here is the statement.  Clapper was the same DNI who lied to the US Congress in order to conceal America’s mass surveillance programme (it was Clapper’s false testimony which prompted Edward Snowden to leak the truth). Like all politically helpful spooks in high places, Clapper has gone entirely without punishment for his crime, because that is simply what happens.

The system, or mechanism, which facilitated the Iraq War is not just alive and well. Its resources and powers have grown phenomenally. It is to Britain’s credit that the same thing has not happened here – yet. But it will. The political class tried to de-legitimize  the last two leadership elections of the Labour Party in a way that is broadly similar to the way the political class in America are trying to defeat the President Elect. Those hundreds of thousands of incoming Labour members who voted for Jeremy Corbyn were hailed as anti-Semitic Trotskyist infiltrators, and while I am relieved that our own intelligence agencies were not a driving force in this, they did leave a footprint or two.

Any political party that wants to earn the trust of the electorate needs to make the politicisation of the intelligence services an urgent matter of reform. Western intelligence services have been influencing elections abroad for generations. It is only a matter of time until the chickens come home to roost.






Why senior spooks are faking Brexit worries

On the front page of today’s Sunday Times comes a carefully controlled release from John Sawers, ex-C of SIS,  and Jonathan Evans, ex-head of MI5. They warn that Brexit would leave the UK in a more dangerous position, as intelligence-sharing arrangements with Europe would suffer.

The real reason Sawers and Evans have been ordered to go on-record is that the UK has to pretend that all the intelligence it sucks up via bulk intercept is done with EU permission, and thus some belated concern has to be shown that we care.  You need to remember that MPs Tom Watson and David Davies will soon have their day in court over the UK’s secret mass surveillance programmes – and they have chosen (for reasons not entirely clear) to go to Luxembourg, not Strasbourg. The EU has expedited the case with unusual and deliberate efficiency. The hearing is not far off.

In fact, the UK’s EU membership makes little difference. Britain is going to scoop all that information up regardless, from the UK and the EU and everywhere else Five Eyes can get access to. Remember that a few days after Bataclan another ex-C, Richard Dearlove, wrote in Prospect that “whether one is an enthusiastic European or not, the truth about Brexit from a national security perspective is that the cost to Britain would be low.” That’s the truth of it. Omand has been more cautious about Brexit, but then he is compelled to by dint of the warning he earlier issued against Scottish independence: it would (supposedly) give “rUK” a borders problem.

Sadly, senior spooks can never be taken at face value.

What underpins today’s release from Sawers and Evans is the drive to maintain and protect the mass surveillance machine. Bulk interception is a behemoth that has come to dominate the entire intelligence community, and this is already having a constitutional effect. It is a monster that cannot be stopped unless the West can tame or redefine the concept of national security, or find some way of subjecting it to the rule of law. You’ll know if that happens when judges start sending the odd senior spook to prison (for things like contempt of court, obstructing the course of justice, or perjury).

Alas, judges have always shown extreme deference to the intelligence community, and have done ever since the days of Mansfield Cumming. And so it is inevitable, given the rapid acceleration in growth which the IC has experienced through the War on Terror and bulk intercept, that the spooks present a real and growing constitutional concern.

It is becoming common for senior spooks to weigh in on all kinds of public policy issues. Other civil servants hold their tongue, but the spies enjoy special priviliges: lying to the public for the executive is part of their job description. If you’re in any doubt about that, I refer you to the history of Iraq.

PS The President of the European Commission has announced that the EU should form its own intelligence agency. Newspaper reports in the mainstream media are at unusual pains to make clear this is a product of his own internal think-tank. I doubt that. I suspect the proposal has come about because the USUK bulk interception boys have decided to offer the EU some of their intelligence take as a way of keeping Brussels on board with their covert data collection. Such an agency would provide the mechanism by which this product could be shared.

Judas Iscariot is the Secret Saint of Spooks and Agents

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” John 1:10.

“Not one, but all of the things attributed by tradition to Judas Iscariot are false.” Thomas De Quincey

The man who really gave us the Easter Bank Holiday probably isn’t the guy you think he is.

It was never about the money.

It was never about the money.

At Sunday School children are told that Judas Iscariot is the arch-betrayer, the fallen apostle who gave Jesus to the Romans, consigning the Son of God to a public and excruciating death for thirty pieces of silver. Like all mainstream media narratives, that tale is useful to certain powerful parties, but it doesn’t really make much sense, does it?

Let us forget for a moment the theological paradox that it is impossible to betray an all-knowing deity, and focus on the prosaic. As certain intrepid Gnostics have pointed out, Jesus Christ was a famous preacher who gave daily performances to audiences of thousands. Roman security services hardly needed a visual id on the suspect. They couldn’t possibly have required the services of Judas Iscariot. Judas, as he is officially portrayed, is entirely superfluous.

Many of the Gnostic texts, dismissed by the early church as heretical, described him as the best of the apostles (whether he was the best or the worst, he was still selected by an omnipotent deity, so one can safely assume Judas possessed at least some virtue). De Quincey later postulated that Judas must have led the authorities to Jesus so that the Son of God would be forced to reveal his true divinity, in all its powers, thereby triggering a mass uprising against the Roman Empire. Others have resorted to philosophy in order to justify the story. Some argue Judas vilified and mortified his own flesh so as to glorify Christ, some offer that Judas believed himself unworthy of being good and acted out of humility, some maintain Judas sought hell because he thought happiness and morality to be divine attributes only, some consider him to be an instrument in the mystery of humanity’s pre-planned redemption. That last viewpoint is perhaps the only one which is broad enough to be irrefutable, and it makes clear that Judas Iscariot was a tool. He was an agent, and not of the Roman Empire.

The true nature of Judas’ actions are unknown. His motivation is a mystery, and his ultimate fate is widely disputed. Matthew has him hanging himself in the Potter’s Field, as per the conclusion of some vague prophecy. In the Acts of the Apostles he simply falls down and bursts asunder. The Codex Tchacos, found in Egypt in the seventies, says he was stoned by the other disciples. The early Christian leader Papias told his followers Judas wandered about like a tramp until he was run over by a chariot. I like to think he went to ground somewhere and died in his old age.

In Three Versions of Judas, a short story of characteristic genius by the brilliant Jorge Luis Borges, he is revealed to be… well, I think you should read that yourself, if you’re interested.

But a famous, vilified, individual, about whom we know nothing except that the official version cannot be true, an individual who appears, pivotally, at a turning point in history? Judas Iscariot’s canonization is officially refuted by all organised Christian religions, but somewhere a very small circle of people knew what he did and why. The reasons are all gone now: forgotten, lost to history. The truth of it will never be known. The only thing we have is the outcome. I wonder if it all worked out as intended. I doubt it. Life never does.

So here’s to all the Judases, to the mysterious and despicable names which confound us, the Mohammed Emwazis and Lee Harvey Oswalds and Saad Al Hillis and Jonathan Moyles and Edward Snowdens and Kim Philbys and Hafizullah Amins, and to their handlers, the Sarah Davies’ and Anthony Arnolds and Michael Savages. May the secret policemen of the world keep their distance a little while longer yet.

Ends and means, my readers. Enjoy your eggs.

“Spookthink”: intelligence agencies and institutional mindsets

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Intelligence agencies are institutions. If we really want to understand the reality of our domestic and foreign policy, we must 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 considered himself 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 public 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.)


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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who took this photo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 More in Part Two.

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


Waiting for Rifkind to do his thing

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

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

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

I have little doubt, but let’s see.