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?

 

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.

 

 

The BBC’s torture problem

I have blogged before about how mainstream Western journalism is – at best – in something like collective denial about the fact we’ve been torturing people on a routine basis for over a decade now. Even an after an eye-opening admission from the US President (“we tortured some folks”), news outlets soon resumed their editorial policy of not mentioning torture at all, or putting the word in quotation marks (there is no reason why the word torture should always need quotation marks). The best example of this is the BBC.

So, let’s take the Obama admission, which was as clear as a bell. Here’s the BBC headline:

9/11: Obama admits CIA tortured suspects after attacks

Somehow, a subber managed to sneak that one through. Immdiately afterwards, the BBC reverted to form. Last night I believe I watched it cover this week’s Senate torture report without using the word torture once. But let’s look at BBC headlines for US-UK torture stories since the war on terror began. The word will be put in quotation marks, or not used, and this is a deliberate policy. Here are a few examples, and remember these are all, unequivocally, indisputably, stories about actual, admitted torture:

Report on CIA details ‘brutal’ post-9/11 interrogations

‘Torture report’ stirs up row in US

CIA ‘torture': Senate due to publish report

Newspaper headlines: America’s ‘torture shame’

Bahrain blogger ‘tortured’ in jail with Shia opposition

CIA interrogation report: Battle lines being drawn

CIA report – as it happened

CIA interrogations report sparks prosecution calls

‘Vomiting and screaming’ in destroyed waterboarding tapes

UN publishes Afghanistan prisoner ‘torture’ report

Woolwich murder suspect: Michael Adebolajo held in Kenya in 2010

Hooded men: Irish government bid to reopen ‘torture’ case

UK pays £2.2m to settle Libyan rendition claim

The BBC cannot bring itself to admit the truth. Rarely is its deep-seated institutional bias so obvious. After all, it has no such qualms with the word torture when our enemies are accused of committing it. No inverted commas here!

Inside Saddam’s torture chamber

Saddam trial told of Iraq torture

Iraq’s tortured children

Syria accused of torture and 11,000 executions

Syria crisis: Living with the mental scars of torture

Torture claims by slain Russian

Russia torture-in-custody case: Police pair jailed (Jailed, you’ll notice!)

Russia forces accused of torture

Libya: Tripoli survivors tell of Gaddafi regime torture

And so on, and so on.

In contrast to its news coverage, the BBC does explicitly address the issue of torture in the “ethics” part of its website, where I found the following comments telling (italics mine):

“Torture involves deliberately inflicting physical or mental pain on a person without legal cause… Before you object that there can’t ever be a legal cause for inflicting pain, consider painful medical treatments, soldiers wounded in a legally declared war, or contestants in a boxing match… For much of history torture was used quite commonly, and without huge outcry. Civilisations such as the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans all used torture. Even the Church regarded it as an acceptable part of their armoury. Torture was used as part of many legal systems in the West until the early 19th century.”

Torture isn’t wrong or unethical if its legal, you see. What an interesting thing for a state broadcaster to say. It’s almost as if BBC editorial policy was being drafted by Foreign Office lawyers. Perhaps it was, albeit through a few proxies.

It’s interesting to reflect that in 2006, while Western torturing was in full swing, the BBC commissioned a (transparently biased) global poll to see if people supported torture. The UK government couldn’t have got away with that, nor the Foreign Office, but the BBC could. “Nearly a third of people worldwide back the use of torture“, it reported.  Suffice to say a pro-torture tone crept into more than a few BBC reports and interviews, during the heyday of the GWOT. James Naughtie and Stephen Sackur were particularly suspect.

Unsuprisingly, perhaps, the ethics section of the BBC website is no longer updated, otherwise it might have to revise its comment that “evidence obtained through torture is not admissible in British courts.” Similarly, perhaps it might parrot less confidently the FO’s claim that “the UK is committed to combating torture globally, and continues to implement an active campaign to help eradicate it.” That seems a somewhat bold assertion, given that Bahrain, for example, routinely tortures pro-democracy activists, yet the Royal Navy has just established a permanent base there, “just one example of our growing partnership with Gulf partners to tackle shared strategic and regional threats” (according to our Foreign Secretary). Or, as I have also blogged before now, that SIS is managing a Kenyan counter-terrorist unit that routinely tortures its suspects and agents.

Bear this in mind, because torture is not going to go away. In fact, it is becoming systemic and institiutionally entrenched. That SIS-assisted torture I mentioned is occurring right now. The CIA’s black bases remain open. Guantanamo is still running. Appendix M of the current US Army Field Manual still lists “interrogation technics” which the UN’s Committee Against Torture says (PDF) amount to torture. One interesting unredacted disclosure in the US Senate report is that the CIA paid over $80 million to psychologists to refine and develop “enhanced interrogation” techniques. That’s an investment predicated on a return over time.

Most tellingly, the American right-wing now officially considers the Senate report itself a form of treachery, and warns of terrorist reprisals, a percevied threat which like all perceived terrorist threats since 9/11 has been taken with the utmost seriousness. It will only result, of course, in more state-sanctioned torture, and a greater suppression of truth, because this isn’t just about torture. This is also, inevitably, about lying, transparency, justice and democracy itself. Torture is not the only crime the Senate report exposes. But the train has left the station, it shows no signs of stopping, and we are all locked in the same carriage.

The only person so far arrested for torture has been the guy who told us it was going on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who took this photo?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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