Corbyn, Len McCluskey, conspiracy theory, and Omar Wahid

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Britain’s biggest trade union, Unite, raised eyebrows this week when he speculated that MI5 might be conspiring to tarnish the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. This was news to me. Admittedly, I don’t bother with Twitter, but as far as I could see, these slurs were entirely the work the Parliamentary Labour Party and their supporters. Anything that has been construed as vaguely threatening was instantly reported as death threat, and blamed on Corbyn, such is the authoritarian crybullying of Labour’s professional political class. The hand of the deep state, as far as I could see, was neither needed nor apparent… until this Sunday.

Firstly it must be said, because McCluskey’s comments have roused scorn in certain quarters, that anybody with the least knowledge of the trade union movement (or the intelligence services, for that matter) will know there is absolutely no question that during the Cold War it was infiltrated by police and the security service, working either as informants, agents, undercover officers, and agent provocateurs. This infiltration occurred over many, many years and sometimes at the highest levels. For example: Brian Nicholson, the former president of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and a close ally of Neil Kinnock, was an MI5 informant. And Roger Windsor, the NUM’s chief executive during the miner’s strike, was regularly seeing a young woman called Stella Rimington. Len McCluskey spoke from institutional experience.

On the other hand, the PLP, in their effort to force Corbyn out, have really revealed their true colours. Accounts of death threats, hostility, aggression, violence, anti-Semitism, and Islamism have been fabricated in order to accuse the rank and file of their own party. Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire, who, when tweeted by a Bristol University student to “get in the sea”, reported it as a death threat – because “this person has just told me to drown and I believe that is a threat to kill”. Angela Eagle’s stalking-horse leadership bid had its launch meeting cancelled by the venue when the hotel she booked discovered who she was: her team blamed the change of venue on death threats from Corbyn supporters. She claimed Corbyn supporters bricked her office window: one window in the block her office occupied was broken in the middle of the night. It opened onto a communal stairway. Naturally, as New Labour do to everything, they turned it into a photo op.

"No, use the Vote Remain poster, it sends a better message."

“Use the Vote Remain poster, it sends a better message.”

Many politicians do this sort of thing nowadays, of course, it’s not just confined to Labour. After the vote on bombing Syria, the Tory MP for Telford, Lucy Allen, personally altered a Facebook message she’d received so she could tell everyone she’d been sent a death threat too. They’re all at it. Really we should be very worried that in an age of mass surveillance, detention without trial, and restricted speech our political class have decided that their biggest enemy is the electorate, but I digress. Can the deep state smear the Labour membership more malevolently than Labour MPs are? And why would they want to?

The alarmism of Labour MPs, no matter how dishonest and self-serving it is, forces the Security Service to do something. A few of these MPs are privy councillors. The defence of the realm comes into play. I realised the line had been crossed when I discovered that Omar Wahid had been pulled from his jihadi beat at the Mail on Sunday.

Wahid has filed nineteen pieces for the Mail since July 2015, although he has clearly written them for the MOD, SIS and MI5, who provide almost all of his sources and material. His output until now has been the usual propaganda about the dangers of Islamic extremism and how we’re defeating it both at home and in Middle East. Well not any more. Today the Mail printed two articles by Omar Wahid about Jeremy Corbyn supporters, whom Wahid described as another form of domestic extremism. You can read them here and here. The latter claims that Momentum is “described as Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard” (it doesn’t say by who); that it is “a hardline left-wing group” which has “secret links” with extremist Islamist organisations to “promote anti-Semitism” and “boost his support among Muslims.” It describes Momentum as a “cult-like cadre” having an “armed police” division and “a militant wing”. I have been to the odd Momentum meeting. Any Corbyn supporter – and there are a lot of them – knows that these articles are a disgrace. Yes, the Mail is a terrible right-wing paper, but what you must bear in mind is that Wahid is a client journalist of the intelligence community. This story comes from the same place as all his other stuff.

I don’t know how effective or widespread their efforts will be, but as regards the battle to take-down Corbyn, it’s clear the spooks now have some skin in the game.

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On a similar note, I see that our state broadcaster has been rather selective of the footage it chose to use when reporting Corbyn’s leadership rally in Salford today. They used a shot which portrayed his audience at about twentieth of its actual size. Come to think of it they did the same thing when he spoke at Cardiff last year. I was reminded of what they did to the footage of the Battle of Orgreave. Labour’s problems today are far different to those it faced in the early eighties, contrary to what people might try and tell you, but the deep state has grown exponentially since then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Eradicate Right-Wing Vermin” T-Shirt is NOT photoshopped by Right-Wing

*** EDIT: Error level analysis is not a sufficiently robust tool to reach the conclusion this image is photoshopped. There are other technical reasons which could produce the same result. I am withdrawing this claim. I believe I was wrong to make it. I leave the (angry) article below up as a record, and a warning. I intend to post on error level analysis in the near future. Apologies.***

***FURTHER EDIT: The sister of the man in the t-shirt has contacted me to verify the photo as genuine (see below). The man himself has given an interview with the Sqwawkbox Blog here. I’ve pulled the blog post because the photo has in any case been appropriated by professional political centrists who currently seek to portray half the electorate as a dangerous lynch mob. Indeed, Britain’s richest woman branded him a fascist. He’s actually a health and safety union rep.***

 

On The Bombing Of Markets

Forget about the brokers in Shanghai.

On Sunday the 16th of August the market in Douma, an outer suburb of Damascus, was bombed. The news was first reported by the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in a series of escalating bulletins until it finally arrived at the headline “more than 330 civilians killed and wounded in the genocide committed by the regime warplanes in Duma”.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

Doumas market hours later. Credited to Firas Abdullah, who is reported by Al Jazeera and others to be a local photographer, but who is known to the Austrian police as a Tunisian Al Qaeda supporter.

The “international community”, as the West and its satellites are fond of calling themselves, was quick to voice its outrage, as it has been throughout its five year campaign for Syrian regime change.

The UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien (ex-Cambridge, ex-Conservative MP), said he was “particularly appalled” at this “unlawful, unacceptable” targeting of non-combatants. The US State Department formally “condemns, in the strongest terms, the recent deadly airstrikes… on a market in the Damascus suburb of Douma that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds, including innocent women and children.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price said: “This latest tragedy is just another reminder of the inhumane acts perpetrated daily by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.  The regime is responsible for killing thousands of innocent Syrian civilians and destroying entire towns and cities, historical sites, schools, mosques, markets, and hospitals.  These abhorrent actions underscore that the Assad regime has lost legitimacy and that the international community must do more to enable a genuine political transition.”

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said, the “airstrikes, following its other recent market bombings and attacks on medical facilities, demonstrate the regime’s disregard for human life. As we have said, Assad has no legitimacy to lead the Syrian people. The United States is working with our partners toward a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Assad that brings an end to such attacks and leads to a future that fulfils Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, inevitably chipped in. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (ex-Harrow, ex-Cambridge, son of Jock Colville, undisclosed relationship with the Foreign Office, wink wink), whose office has maintained since 2012 that they have “enough evidence of war crimes to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court”, was equally keen to voice his concern over “the outrageous bombing of a busy local marketplace.”

And so on, and so on.

Then the Douma Co-ordinating Committee, one of a network of committees set up on or before 2011, and funded by the US State Department and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, released a list of the dead (although it requires translation). It has 102 names on it. Ninety nine of them are men. Does that sound like a normal gender spread for an Arabic market? The Syrian government maintain they actually targeted a rebel HQ near the market. Given the fatalities, and Douma’s long-standing status as a rebel bastion, doesn’t that sound more plausible than the idea Assad’s air force are targeting Sunday markets?

For those keen to pore over pictures of this and other bombed markets, and ponder the damage and corpses therein, or lack therof, Eric Draitser has a compendium of links in this very relevant article. Draitser is of the opinion that the extant footage from Douma is far less gruesome than might be expected. What makes things murkier still is that soon afterwards all the bodies were buried in mass graves, so no identification or inquest is possible.What footage we do have reveals no sign at all of how the men were killed. They’re wrapped in blankets, and most do seem to be of fighting age. Draitser even speculates they might just as easily have been brought in from fighting elsewhere. Unsurprisingly it turns out that at least one of the Douma market victims miraculously survived.

Get into character Mohammad: you've just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

Mohammad has just emerged from three days trapped in rubble.

In 2013 Douma was also the scene of another alleged war crime: a chemical weapons attack, one of several such attacks across Syria, attacks which were extensively recorded and reported. However, as with the market bombing, I’m not quite sure the evidence for these stacks up either (the UN feels the same way, so does Stratfor, and so does Gareth Porter, to name but a very few, while Mossad, the JIC and The Sun thought otherwise).

The story reminded me that despite the fact markets have no military value, they’re bombed all the time. Sometimes we presume it is simply an accident, like when the RAF bombed the market at Fallujah, killing between 50 people (the MoD’s figure, when they eventually admitted responsibility) and 200.  But in almost every case, with the exception of four or five relatively minor incidents in Israel, whenever markets have been bombed over the last twenty years or so, the victims have been Muslim (I have started to compile a spreadsheet). These bombings occur with incredible frequency, and an astonishing number of them are never claimed by any terrorist group. Isn’t that bizarre? It suggests a strategy of tension, or perhaps several of them. Certainly it warrants further study.

Most of all, the reports from Douma reminded me of the market bombings in Sarajevo, or the Markale massacres, as they are sometimes known. The market in Sarajevo was bombed three times: once in 1992, once in 1994, and again in 1995. Or perhaps more accurately, it was hit by 120mm mortar shells. On each occasion there was ambiguity about whether the Serbs were actually responsible. General Michael Rose believed the shells actually came from the Bosnian side. Multiple sources (such as Michael Rose, David Owen, Boutros Boutros Ghali, President Mitterand, and Yasushi Akashi, the UN Special Envoy for Bosnia) refer to a secret UN investigation which found exactly that. A second, non-secret UN report (the one intended for publication) confined itself to saying the attack could not be confidently attributed to any particular faction.

I have visited the market in Sarajevo. An arc of attack was not apparent. Sightlines were few and very narrow. It would take exceptional skill, I think, to accurately and reliably hit it with the groupings and timings we are asked to believe in. I do not seek to exonerate the Bosnian Serbs, who seem to have sniped and shelled Sarajevo at will, but the mortar attacks in question reveal what you might call a tradition of unattributed, misreported, propagandistic attacks on Muslim markets. And the CIA and the Saudi-funded Islamists were present then just as they are today.

Sarajevo market bombed. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

The bombing of Sarajevo market. What started here? (Patrick Chauvel, 5 February 1994).

In memoriam.

 

 

Further evidence of the Israeli-Saudi Alliance: Pinkwashing Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bombing for gay rights!

Bombing for gay rights!

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

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

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

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

The Syrian Civil War and the UN five years in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More EMP nonsense about Iran

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

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

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

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

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

Syria: Chemical Weapons Finger Points Yet Again At The Islamists

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s at the end of the GCHQ rainbow?

Did you know that the 17th of May is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia? I didn’t. IDAHTB (or whatever clonking acronym it goes by) has been going since 2004, and I’m sure it’s probably a well-intentioned and positive thing. GCHQ celebrated the day by getting itself lit up in rainbow colours. Dave Cameron promptly tweeted about it.

gchqgay

Looks quite nice, doesn’t it?

Cameron mentioned Turing, of course, because the life and suicide (in 1954) of Britain’s greatest code-breaker, Alan Turing, is a sorry episode of homophobia at work. But I’m sure that GCHQ is now as meticulously impartial and institutionally tolerant as any other government department, which is a good thing. In fact, I doubt the private sector will ever be able to match the public sector in this or any other aspect of employee welfare. Nevertheless, you have to give this light-show a thumbs-up. Except. Except, except, except. There are some humongous caveats.

GCHQ is an institution with no regard for privacy, that helps disseminates propaganda, and which facilitates death and division – and this is simply assertion of fact, not a criticism. Which is why, over on The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald describes this rainbow gesture as “a deeply cynical but highly effective tactic… Support for institutions of militarism and policies of imperialism is now manufactured by parading them under the emotionally manipulative banners of progressive social causes.”

He does have a point. Issues of equality are increasingly used as justification for military action. There’s a crowd of people, here and in the US, who believe we can achieve greater sexual equality in Iran, for example, by bombing and starving their people, and then forcibly imposing an undemocratic government on them. There are even people stridently insistent that this should happen, who consider any contrary position to be moral cowardice.

Most recently, this tactic reared its head in Russia, over the winter olympics at Sochi in 2014, in the aftermath of the Urkainian Euromaidan, and concurrent with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The media, and a swathe of government-funded NGOs, relentlessly pushed the line that Russia was a homophobic country worthy of sanction and boycott – policies which by no small coincidence were at that same time being pushed by Washington, Langley and the Pentagon for entirely geopolitical reasons. Russia certainly looks like a homophobic country to me (a Levada poll had 85% of Russians against same-sex marriages, for example, and a further 87% against gay pride marches) but let’s not forget that according to several studies, the Ukraine is more homophobic still. Russia’s vaguely worded law against “gay propaganda”, which proved so controverisal in the west, was passed in Kiev without a murmur of disapproval – or even awareness. And the extremely right-wing street thugs at the forefront of the Kiev coup, so ardently supported by the West, are the ones in the vanguard of Ukraine’s violent intolerance.

Ukrainian nationalists scaring the country's first Gay Pride march off the streets.

Ukrainian nationalists scaring the country’s first Gay Pride march off the streets.

At exactly the same time Western governments were vilifying Russia for homophobia, they were effectively encouraging it in her Ukrainian neighbour. So these LGBT concerns are transpararently hypocritcal, even without taking into account the gross sexual prejudice to be found in other Western allies, such as Saudi Arabia. It’s worth stressing that homosexuality is not a crime in Russia, as it is in Nigeria, India, or all the Arab emirates, for example.

Incidentally, this “gay propaganda” we’re talking about? Much of it appears to be distributed by US- and NATO-funded NGOs, and it would be considered pretty provocative in many parts of the US and the UK, let alone Russia.

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A provocative, counter-productive waste of money, unless you’re a neocon propagandist.

A final point. Russia’s biggest LGBT organization, the Russian LGBT Network, opposed the sanctions and boycotts and general Western hysteria over Sochi. It wasn’t really helping, they said. But all the organizations that beat the drum over Sochi were either Western, or Western-funded, and they did not care. Russian gays, like Russian Crimeans, Russian Ukrainians, like the Russians of South Osettia and Transnistria, like the Shia of Iraq and Yemen, like the secular Arabs of Assad’s Syria, or the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, simply do not exist in the eyes of the West. They are invisible people, and so they cannot really suffer. Their opinions do not count.

Before we send over the bombers, before we freeze the bank accounts, and before we commence our finger-wagging, holier-than-thou diatribes over the importance of sexual equality, or gender equality, or religious equality, or any other force-fed issue de jour, we need to respect our common humanity first. Tolerance comes from love and acceptance. It does not come from bombing, from spying, from propaganda, from hatred, from intimidation, from capitalist greed or imperial avarice.

There is something sickening and transparent about a regime which trumpets its tolerance for lesbians and gays and bisexuals and all other members of the sexual spectrum while denying the most basic human rights to Palestinians, or Russian Ukranians, or any other ethnic group. But it happens an awful lot these days.