Christopher Steele, David Kelly, and the Hutton Inquiry

Not this again: the media have one image of Steele, and yes, he's wearing a tuxedo.

Not this again: the media have one image of Steele, and yes, he’s wearing a tuxedo.

My last post expressed concern about the possibility our intelligence services might seek to unduly influence British elections, and since then it has transpired that a former SIS officer, and a few of his former SIS colleagues, sought to do precisely that to the last US Presidential election. Months before the vote, Christopher Steele was privately touting a now notorious dossier of entirely fictional Trump allegations supplied to him (so Steele claimed) by impeccable sources in Russian intelligence. The finer details of this episode are unclear to me, but what I find particularly interesting is the light it casts on an aspect of the Hutton Inquiry, which was held (14 years ago now) to examine “the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly”.

I have no idea if Christopher Steele and David Kelly ever met, although considering Steele was working under diplomatic cover in Moscow while Kelly toured the country as part of a secret biowarfare inspection team, I think it’s safe to say they may well have done. Although they both relied on obviously unreliable humint to draft dodgy dossiers, no working relationship suggests itself. What I am more interested in is Christopher Steele’s current whereabouts.

After Steele was named as the originator of this dossier the press were at his family home within hours. The exact process by which he was identified, and his home tracked down, is also unclear, but by the time the journalists arrived, he had gone. According to reports, Steele and his family had left the night before. They had dropped their three cats off with a neighbour for safekeeping, and without saying where they were going, they disappeared in such a hurry that they left all their lights on. Where they are now, nobody knows. Every single mainstream media outlet has it that Steele’s family are in a safe house some where, and “security sources” (whoever they might be) are briefing journos to this effect.

When David Kelly first came to the attention of the world’s media, when he was “blown”, he too, together with his wife Janice, very suddenly disappeared from their family home. Nobody knew where they went. To this day, we – the public – do not know where the Kellys were between the 9th and 12th of July 2003. Without providing actual addresses (or being asked for them), Janice Kelly told the Inquiry they stayed at a hotel in Weston-Super-Mare and a friend’s house in Cornwall.  The problem with this is that eyewitnesses saw them at other locations during this period. Rod Godfrey, a fellow weapons inspector living near Swindon, told the Inquiry he was visited by Kelly at his home on the morning of the 10th. And a few locals in Kelly’s village told me (and plenty of other people) that Kelly still attended the cribbage night in the Hind’s Head as usual.

As I maintain in Kelly’s biography, Dark Actors, the couple were almost certainly accommodated in a government safe house during this period. It is, after all, exactly what is happening to the Steeles. It is standard procedure for anyone who maintains and utilises covert human sources for SIS. The holy, unbreakable bond between source and handler can never be broken: this is perhaps the only cardinal rule of intelligence work, and it is obeyed even when the sources feed the handlers nothing but rubbish. Even rubbish has its uses, as long as it’s the right kind of rubbish, and it isn’t hard for sources to guess at what is required. The point is that to keep these relationships secure, both source and handler must be protected.

Now that he has gone to ground, Steele may never publicly surface ever again. Kelly, in comparison, was shoved back into the media limelight by his own government within days. He was never allowed back into Iraq, and shortly after his televised appearance before the Select Committee, he killed himself. Kelly’s sources were rounded up by the Americans, put into orange jump suits, and repatriated into other countries under false identities. Those who are still alive experience very close supervision by their new host governments and by the US. Steele’s sources, on the other hand, are still out there, and still selling. To say this situation opens a can of worms is an understatement. But the point I wanted to raise is this:

Steele’s safe house reminds us that Janice Kelly’s testimony to Hutton was deliberately stripped of any SIS content. The same went for any other “witness” appearing at Hutton who depended in any way on a civil service pension. These witnesses had to secure permission from the government before they appeared, and their testimony was vetted in advance by Treasury solicitors. The late Brian Jones relates all this in his book. Those witnesses who couldn’t be cowed in this way weren’t called. And Hutton, of course, agreed to it all, his deference to national security being absolutely typical of the British judiciary.

Anyone who thinks you can hold a satisfactory inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly while allowing the government to omit any detail its deems pertinent to national security is deeply deluded, or stridently dishonest.

It’s worse than Denning in ’63.

An inquiry into Steele is equally important, given that it would touch not just on the subversion of democratic processes but also, critically, the toxic interplay between private sector money and intelligence community sources. Kelly got crucified, Steele gets to sneak off into the shadows a wealthy man. Why? Both of them peddled rubbish. But only one of them ever briefed truthfully against his own government.

Steele's house in Farnham. Wonder what a land registry search would show. An offshore holding company in the Caribbean, perhaps?

Steele’s house in Farnham. I wonder what a land registry search would show. An offshore holding company in the Caribbean, perhaps?

 

Decoding Richard Dearlove’s “popular uprising” speech

Since I last blogged (senior spooks briefing against Brexit), none other than Richard Dearlove, another former head of MI6, has surfaced on the BBC, espousing his own views on the European referendum. Dearlove gave a brief lecture during the broadcaster’s World On The Move Day, “a special day exploring how the movement of people is changing the world”.

Dearlove describing immigration as a terrorist threat.

Dearlove believes: a) immigration presents a terrorism threat, b) Europeans present a terrorism threat, c) terrorism, terrorism everywhere.

In Dearlove’s speech he repeated arguments he had earlier made in article for Prospect magazine this March: that the UK’s national security would not be jeopardized by leaving the EU. In fact, “there would be some gains if we left”, including the chance to dump the European Convention on Human Rights (an argument later echoed by the Home Secretary, although of course the ECHR is not an EU institution) and the ability to restrict inward immigration from the EU – because Dearlove, whatever his protestations to the contrary, directly and explicitly conflates immigration and terrorism.

As I blogged earlier, this view is not shared by David Omand (ex-GCHQ), John Sawers (ex-SIS), Jonathan Evans (ex-MI5), the European Union, NATO, President Obama, David Cameron, and a few others. Dearlove is a lone voice. He’s under absolutely no compulsion to stick his head above the parapet like this. Why is he doing it? Who is making him?

I don’t know, and neither does any other commentator, including those who speculate that it must have something to do with the Chilcot Inquiry. The publication of the Chilcot Inquiry has been delayed until after the EU referendum, something Dearlove knew before the rest of us. His public comments about Brexit would appear to have begun around the time he knew the referundum would be happening first. So what?

Dearlove is member of the Henry Jackson Society. I can tell you one thing from this, apart from the obvious: Richard Dearlove is not an intellectual. He is not a thinking man. Throw away any prejudice or presumption you might have about the sort of person who you think rises to the top of MI6 and replace it with the sort of prejudice you have about the sort of person who rises to the top of, say, the Environment Agency, or a local authority, or a chancellorship in a redbrick or former poly. I wonder about the extent of his self-awareness.

Close-reading a Dearlove speech is frustrating. Nevertheless, here is my run-down on Dearlove’s recent Brexit speech for the BBC:

0:37 Dearlove disavows that intelligence agencies form government policy

“Intelligence and security services are simply contributors to a strong policy-making,” he says, fluffing the line. This is an echo of his assertions at the Chilcot Inquiry, assertions that are palpably untrue, especially and particularly in the case of Iraq. Note also that he speaks of intelligence agencies generally. He doesn’t specify an agency or a country.

0:53 Continued justification for Middle East regime change

“History tells us that human tides are irresistable unless the gravitational pull that causes them is removed.” He then goes on to shoehorn in an awkward and clichéd Edward Gibbon reference about how the Roman Empire collapsed because it couldn’t manage the free movement of Europe’s tribes. Is this for the yanks? UK spooks love the America-as-Rome analogy, it makes them Ancient Greeks

3:18 The UK provides the EU’s counter-terrorism intel

The UK is the EU’s only member state whose intelligence agencies have a counter-terrorism capability, Dearlove argues, tacking on the usual riders about the tremendous global reputation of British intelligence-gathering. Neither of those points are true, they are sales puffs. But what is he selling, and to whom?

3:00 Bi-lateral intel-sharing arrangements with the UK

Dearlove signed up Hungary to one such arrangement after the end of the Cold War. The inference appears clear to me: the UK can act as a disributing centre of EU intelligence inside or outside the EU. I am beginning to think this is essentially an American-facing presentation about protecting the “special relationship” from any referendum fallout.

5:26 Dearlove actually refers to the UK as the US but corrects himself halfway through.

Freudian slip #1 (yes, this speech is about the special relationship)

5:50 “Intelligence and security liaison is highly pragmatic and outside the military sphere is not subject to formal treaty agreements.”

This is a key line. It stresses the idea that as well as being secret, undemocratic and unaccountable, intelligence liaison is essentially about perception: what you think you might get and who you think might supply it. Hence all these sales puffs. Hence all the crackpot realism and bullshit. These things are the lifeblood of intelligence as per Dearlove’s model. It also suggests the possiblity that there may be key negotiations underway right now, between the UK and the EU, using the UK’s impending EU referendum as leverage. If so, these negotiations have already been presented to the US as added value by their junior British partners.

6:12 Dearlove describes mass immigration as mass co-ordination but then corrects himself.

Freudian slip #2 (European mass co-ordination are what these negotiations are about)

6:30 The EU may have run its course. Our choice is going to be strategic.

“If Europe cannot act together to persuade a majority of its citizens that it can gain control of its migratory crisis then the EU will find itself at the mercy of a populist uprising which is already stirring. The stakes are very high and the UK referendum is the first roll of the dice in a bigger geopolitical game.”

The irresponsible puffs of a perception-centred former spymaster. Apparently a lot of the old Kremlinologists were prone to this kind of melodrama. It’s sales talk.

In short, I don’t think this has that much to do with Dearlove wanting to protect his reputation from the looming Chilcot Report. Chilcot won’t alienate Dearlove from his American sponsors, they expect him to get slated and they value him all the more for taking the hit. I think this is just Atlanticism, which, of course, is why we went to war in Iraq in the first place. The Henry Jackson Society, the Hudson Union Society (co-founded by Louise Mensch) and whatever other unsubtle proxies exist for concentrated neoconservative power are happy to have him.

I understand there was a panel Q and A afterwards in which Dearlove stated that “to offer visa-free access to 75 million Turks to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean seems perverse, like storing gasoline next to the fire.”

Gasoline is not, of course, a British word. Immigration and counter-terrorism would present far smaller problems had we not helped destroy the sovereign nations of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, conflicts which are all conpsicuously absent from his speech. Dearlove bears a key responsibility for the problems he is taking money to advise us on, offering solutions you can rest assured will be either impossible or counter-productive. Thus the cycle of perception-led intelligence perpuates. When will it end? When the dollars stop.

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.

There Are No Cleanskins: running agents in the age of social media

For as long as humint as existed, agents have supplied it. Defectors and refugees provide human intelligence, sometimes for very long periods of time prior to their actual departure from theatre. Other human intelligence comes from what you might call infiltration, through men and women who are enticed to join target organisations, or occupy other designated areas, using real or assumed identities.

That used to be the model, anyway. Problematically, assumed identities in an age of social media are impossible. You will be found out. Somebody will see you, and remember you. State-level intelligence agencies already have some capability to run automated facial recognition programmes on all popular social media. Indeed, this is one of the key reasons why employees of MI5, SIS and GCHQ are specifically forbidden to post or update social media profiles. Direct infiltration under cover, like the Metropolitan Police were doing with protest groups in the nineties, is no longer a viable technique. You cannot live long under alias if you are on the internet.

With that in mind, let us consider the sheer volume of agents which the British intelligence community is likely to be handling. MI5 used to state in its own recruitment literature that its handling officers are expected to run between twenty and thirty agents a head (remember the vast majority of these will be using their real identities). That sort of workload is probably similar to that found in SIS. Budgets for running agents have increased dramatically since 9/11, so it is reasonable to assume that networks have been growing since then. MI5 employ around 4,000 people. Assuming it can task one thousand operational intelligence officers with Islamic extremism, the Security Service’s biggest concern, they could very easily be expected to be running somewhere between two and three thousand agents. Almost every one of these will be people using their own identities, pretending to be committed jihadis.

In 2007 Jonathan Evans, then Director General of MI5, publicly announced that his officers were monitoring two thousand potential Islamic terrorists (“potential”, nota bene). In February of this year, “highly placed MI5 sources” told the Financial Times there were now 3,000 on the “watchlist”. You will notice that both these figures bracket exactly the likely range of MI5’s Islamist agent population. And I do not think this is a coincidence.

Ponder the history of Northern Ireland, a field in which MI5 applied far less resources than it currently does to combating Islamic extremism. By the time of the Good Friday Agreement, British intelligence was collectively running not hundreds, but thousands, of agents and informers in Ulster. Military personnel I knew often complained to me that “we know who all the bad guys are, we could take them all out in one weekend” but politics made it impossible. This was partly true. We didn’t just know who all the bad guys were, we were paying them. They were agents, also known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS).

In Northern Ireland, collusion between paramilitaries and the intelligence community was rife. British intelligence officers bloodied their hands. They protected informants even when they killed innocent civilians, and they continue to protect them today. As astonishing as it may seem, there are many cases where operational officers knew innocents would be killed, and they did nothing to stop it. They even actively helped facilitate it. According the De Silva Report, 85%  of UDA targeting was done by the British intelligence community. Although the BBC’s Panorama programme is often hyperbolic, asinine and biased, Darragh Macintyre’s Britain’s Secret Terror Deals was a superb recap of what we know.

Information about agent handling in Northern Ireland continues to drip into the public domain. The three reports of Lord Stevens are all still classified, but he has let slip some incredible revelations. During his investigations into collusion between terrorists and the British intelligence community, the former Met commissioner arrested 210 former paramilitaries.

“Of the 210 people we arrested,” Stevens told the press, “only three weren’t agents.”

Please, please ponder that statistic. Stevens’ sample shows an infiltration rate of 98.6%. At least half of the IRA were actually British informants. Now apply that ratio to the number of potential Islamist terrorist suspects mentioned above, bearing in mind that we are dedicating far more resources to this newer threat. If you were to draw a Venn diagram of jihadi suspects and jihadi agents, I suspect you would have two circles that almost exactly overlap.

The profile of Islamist terrorists supports this conclusion. There are no cleanskins. Every attempted act of terrorism, every terrorist sympathiser, everyone is already known and on file. But, we are told, the Security Services somehow overlooked them. Do you believe this? Do you believe the argument made by Evans and others, that “we simply don’t have the resources to follow everyone all of the time”? I believe the reverse is more likely. Our intelligence community is more than adequately resourced, and the vast majority of so-called jihadis have existing operational relationships with the police and/or the Security Service and/or some other branch of the intelligence community. Given the sheer scale of Britain’s agent network, mistakes in handling will be made, which explain instances like the murder of Lee Rigby (the Intelligence and Security Committee has yet to deliver its promised report on the mishandling of Michael Adebolajo).

Agents know their job requires that they break the law, and agents expect they will be protected from the consequences. This is the essence of the deal. In the words of one former Belfast agent, they “walked on water”. Some were effectively state-sponsored serial killers. Their successors exist today, paid recruits of SIS and MI5, in Iraq and Syria. I cannot and will not pretend I know that Jihadi John is a British agent, but he is the son of a former agent, and if I was a non-cleanskin Islamist agent in place I would behave exactly as he has done. Indeed, such behaviour may have been expected of me by my target, as a kind of test or induction. You could speculate on any number of reasons why Mohammed Emwazi became “radicalised”, but the most likely is surely that some intelligence agency was paying him. There is even a 2009 audio recording in circulation in which Emwazi claims he isn’t an extremist, and that MI5 are harassing him.

It is absolutely par for the course that Emwazi’s family is protected by the UK government. They have been given safe houses in Britain and Kuwait, where his father is voluntarily talking to Kuwaiti intelligence.

I think I know what will happen to the majority of UK Islamists who left to join ISIS. They will disappear, like all the Iraqi WMD scientists did. They will just vanish. They will be exfiltrated and offered new lives. It won’t be hard to get them out: the SAS are already driving around ISIS territory in fancy dress. Emwazi may already have left. Similarly, I am confident the bodies of Reyaad Khan and Ruhul Amin will never be found. Undoubtedly, their families have been or will be offered settlements by the government.

“We’re confident [Khan is] dead but not absolutely categoric,” tweeted Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization. Of course you can’t be categoric. Very few agents can be accommodated on re-entry as comfortably as Majiid Nawaz or Tommy Robinson.

 

FOOTNOTE Agents who were recruited in the late nineties, before the dawn of social media, and who are still in place, will have been compelled to continue under their assumed identities. There are probably still a couple in the trade union movement. Indeed I can think of one very likely candidate, who is currently demonstrating a puzzling solidarity with Ukrainian nationalists. I doubt any of his communist/anarchist colleagues have ever met a single member of his family.

 

 

“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.

 

2015: A Year of Blow-back Beckons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.