Monday, 15 August 2011

Her Majesty's Spooks: MI6 in the Middle East

This is just going to be a brief overview of a few operations undertaken by MI6 in the Middle East, again with sprinkled justifications and other relevant information. The operations that MI6 has carried out covers a wide area – hence why there is no unifying narrative except the involvement of MI6.

Gaddafi Negotiations (2003): In December 2003, Libya agreed to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction. After extensive negotiations with American and British officials, Libya was finally brought ‘out of the dark’, a remnant of the Lockerbie bombing and Gaddafi’s support of terrorism. According to The Telegraph it was MI6 who essentially worked through these negotiations: “there is no doubt that it was a coup for Britain's spies.” MI6 officers built up contacts, back channels and got through to the regime.

Inspections by British officials found that they had “more than ten sites where Libya was developing a fuel cycle to support nuclear weapons development and a uranium enrichment programme aimed at producing the core material for a nuclear weapon.” Libya had also gained a stash of chemical weapons and precursor material for biological weapons.

Of course, it was not only MI6: Gaddafi’s surrender was one of the positive effects of the Iraq war (or, the plans for the Iraq war): the change in the regional logic on WMD (this was anticipated by MI6 in one of its papers explaining the benefits of toppling Saddam). In a recently declassified interview with an MI6 officer (as part of the Iraq Inquiry), this is explicitly acknowledged:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Do you think it came as a direct consequence of the imminent attack on Iraq?
SIS1: I have no doubt about that at all. [...] They [Libya] thought, "Shit, this is real"

There are some who would decry the role of MI6 and Tony Blair in bringing Libya back on to the world stage. But, Britain’s role in the world is no longer confined to shaping it how it wants it.  Meaning that we must make decisions on which course of action is the least worst. The Times rose to Blair defence and rightly stated in an editorial that

Mr Blair makes no apology for his efforts to persuade Gaddafi to give up his nuclear and chemical weapons programmes. Nor should he. Had the Libyan dictator still been armed with these weapons he might well, like Saddam Hussein, have gassed his opponents or threatened his enemies with whatever weapons his scientists developed.

Even without taking recent events into consideration, the dismantlement of Libya’s WMD programmes is good in itself and as crude as it is to have relations with authoritarian regimes, it is even worse to have a regime, backing terrorists, having WMD which we cannot influence.

Palestinian Authority Plan (2004): As part of the ‘Palestine Papers’ series run by Al Jazeera and The Guardian, documents were leaked which showed an MI6 ‘blue print’ for cracking down on Hamas in the West Bank in 2004. The plans was suppose to clamp down on rejectionist, embolden moderates and calm Israeli security fears which would in turn lead to an easier situation for the moderates.

The document was written during the Second Intifada and part of plan was ‘security drive to address Israeli and US preconditions for reengagement.’ The document speficially states that the security drive would be on ‘suicide bombers, illegal arms collection, Qassam rockets, terror finance and closing arms smuggling into Gaza.’ It would be carried out by the PA but it would its success would be independently verified. The part of the plan which The Guardian finds “controversial” is the following:

“Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists – Hamas, PIJ, Al-Aqsa Brigades –through the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources.”

In 2011, I cannot see anything controversial about this: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Brigades are terrorist organisations who have all carried out suicide bombings. In 2004, during the Intifada, I can still not see anything wrong with this policy. It would be absolutely mind boggling if nobody had proposed stomping on these groups – even in 2006, when Hamas took part and was successful in election.

In proposing this plan, MI6 tried to shape policy in a way that would drive down attacks (on both sides, in the long term), strike down on terrorist organisations, move toward Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and create an atmosphere where peace could prevail. Controversial indeed. Interestingly, the Guardian states that

The leaked intelligence plan can be seen in retrospect as a blueprint for PA security control of the West Bank... Hundreds of Hamas and other activists have been routinely detained without trial at a time in recent years and subjected to widely documented human rights abuses.

Not quite. The British policy stated that part of its policy was there to make sure that prisoners were “well treated.” Oh, if they had bothered to read the second document, it seems MI6 was weary about mass arrests: their plan assumes that Palestinians “will oppose attack security units that try and arrest suspects. A wide scale arrest campaign is therefore not achievable.” Meaning that mass arrests against “terrorists” would only go ahead with the support of the Palestinian population. The second document speaks only of arresting smugglers (which appears under the section about Qassams), terrorist handlers and financiers (which appears under the section about suicide bombing). The only link between the plan and the future arrest of Hamas members is the word "arrest."

Stuxnet (2010): Stuxnet is a computer worm which was used to “shut down the centrifuges that spin nuclear material at Iran’s enrichment facilities.” French intelligence sources told Le Canard that it was carried with the help of MI6 (along with the CIA and Mossad). The Institute for Science and International Security says that the virus may have shut down 1,000 centrifuges at Natanz – a 30% decrease in operation capacity. The Iranian government also conceded that because of the virus, “turning the Bushehr back ‘on’ could lead to a national electricity blackout.”

‘Operation Cupcake’ (2011): And just a final one which is probably a bit more hilarious than the aforementioned. Inspire magazine is a publication by Al Qaeda which seeks to inspire lone wolves in the West into attacking us. MI6 hacked into the publication so that when the instructions for a bomb were downloaded, they would be replaced by a recipe to make cupcakes. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Brooms vs. Crowbars

There are several theories on why the riots have been raging, none of them really seem satisfactory. The left wing loons are intent on claiming that this has something to do with the ‘cuts’ or because of not helping poor people. The right wing loons are determined on blaming it on a failure of multiculturalism or some other nonsense.

These are not a response to any current political action: it is much deeper than that. People on the left seem intent on portraying those who they seek to help as savages who are looting because the means of production are in private in hands or because the tax rate is 50% and not 60%. What this explanation involves is the demonization of the working class: oh, they’re poor and we’ve taken away their youth centres, EMA and increased their tuition fees, what else are they supposed to do apart from loot local businesses and set fire to people’s homes? Believe it or not, working class families have morals which is why it is this is not a rising of working class. Not even of most of them, not even a significant part of them. It is a rising of a minute minority of thugs. 

And, just as an aside, there is no empirical evidence for the claim that someone’s economic condition makes them more likely to riot or commit crime: DiPasquale and Glaeser (1996) using ‘international data’ conclude that there is ‘little evidence that poverty in the community matters’ to the incidence or intensity of riots. (As for the connection between poverty and crime, see this report by James Wilson in the Wall Street Journal or this lecture given by William P. Barr).

These vary same arguments which seek to relativise, justify or remove moral culpability from their actions could equally and just as wrongfully be applied to the EDL – poor, working class, uneducated, sidelined – can you blame them for threatening innocent British Muslims? Yes, I can - and should. This is a point already made by Edmund Standing (for an elaboration see his post or my previous post).

The whole explanation thus not only rests on the demonisation of the working class but it has no empirical basis. These are not normal people, they are not making a political point, they are criminals. As one rioter told Radio 4’s Today Programme after admitting that he could afford what he was stealing:

NR: “The fact you’re nicking shoes you can afford, thats to do with the government?”
R: "It's not about that, the government are not in control. If they were we wouldn't be able to do it"
NR: "So because the government isn't stopping you, thats why you're doing it?"
R: "Yeah, government tried and they failed. How many people have they arrested, like, 10 people?... I'll keep doing this every day until I get caught... [be]cause everyone else is doing it.”

As LibbyT from Harry’s Place rightly states this was not limited to poor, unemployed, socially excluded people who had no options before them: there were teachers, youth workers, university students among them. She goes on

Just how were these people – a cross section of society if there ever was one – “socially excluded”? None were “unemployed”. All had opportunities there for the grabbing. But instead of grabbing opportunities offered them, they chose to smash-and-grab hi-tech gear and flashy clothing through shattered windows on the High Street.

I also happen to agree with Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy that elements of the rich do, in effect, go out looting by other means through fraud, ‘tax evasion and avoidance.’ Neither the middle or the working classes are worthy of our disdain for the thugs among them. It follows that one should not make political points based on these points – particularly when particular parties are supposed to be those fighting for their interests.

I also just want to make a quick point about the working class in this country. We have issues with poverty; people live in damp houses, people live in the streets, some go without three meals today. But let us not kid ourselves, as LibbyT, rightly says again

The truth is that the spoilt youth of Britain – including the poorest and most ‘excluded’ – still have more care, comfort and opportunity than 90% of the planet. It’s time we stopped helping them to feel aggrieved

20% of people in Egypt live below the poverty line, they were subjected to authoritarian rule, little democratic rights and hard repression. Their revolution was mostly non-violent. They, like the working classes here, did not start looting, they did not start burning homes, stopping officers. And yet, people on the left believe that these riots are a ‘reaction’ and that it has many ‘complex causes.’ It’s little wonder that Egyptians are now mocking the rioters. Here is just one example via the New York Times:

The debate about helping the worst off in our society is a different and necessary one. I have avoided the issue of whether the cuts are justified, whether I agree with increased tuition fees or scrapping EMA. I believe to do so is to send out the wrong message: namely, that these riots are making a political point or they are because of those things. Issues or welfare and representations are pertinent now as they were before: crime reducing programmes should and always be run. But this is not about that. 

Two days after the riots started, I began collecting quotes from people on the ground experiencing the events. Here is a small collection of them to help reinforce the argument that I have made above and for future reference:

"We want to make it absolutely clear - they have nothing to protest against. There is nothing in a sense of injustice and there has been no spark that has led to this. This has been senseless violence and senseless criminality of a scale I have never experienced in my career before"  Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police Gary Shewan.

"And let me say this; this was not an angry crowd, this was a greedy crowd. What we were dealing with was dishonesty and disorder.” – West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims

So I think the prime motivators behind the looting are greed and jealousy, rather than sorrow and anger. Basic human failings that have been around forever. Not contemporary political gripes but certainly contemporary social malaise."  Stephen Williams MP (Lib Dem)

"I am capable of differentiating between such mindless violence and political protest. I will always defend the latter but this is not political any more. They are looting and burning cars not because society has pushed them there, but because they can. I can’t muster an ounce of sympathy for them.” – Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy

"I don't think it is anger. A lot of it is motivated by people sending messages to one another... looking for something exciting to do."  Simon Hughes MP (Lib Dem)

"Come on, being fed up and emotional doesn't lead you to brick in a bookies. I mean a lot of this is greed and mindless violence and we need call it what it is.. Lets not stigmatise black people as whole, for every looter, there are hundred of black children that are really trying." - Dianne Abbott MP (Labour).

There are a few really good articles to read on the riots; Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s article ‘The root causes of the British riots’, LibbyT’s article ‘An ‘Underclass’ Rebellion?’ at Harry’s Place, Sunny Hundal’s article ‘Only poor people go looting and other claims’ at Liberal Conspiracy, Talal Rajib’s article ‘The riots that will define my generation’ at The Urbanite

Monday, 8 August 2011


Using descriptions from Twitter, the above picture of a Metropolitan Police officer was generated.

I’ve been using Twitter to follow the recent riots in London – for its many virtues (people were tweeting actual videos and photographs), there were an equal amount, if not more, vices. Aside from rumours raging (false reports of riots in areas there were no riots), the fringe elements of British society decided to come out and make as many political points as they could. The radical rapper Kareem Dennis, known as Lowkey has several tweets which sum up the kind of nonsense that was being posted:

Unfortunately this is the only language the Metropolitan Police understand or respect.

Rich people don't loot and happy people don't riot. Nothing is black and white

When you collectively brutalise a community why wouldn't that community respond brutally?

To answer his question: this isn’t the “community” doing anything, it’s a group of thugs. According to Dennis, two wrongs really do make a right, or at least allow for an “understanding.” I handle this baloney about the false distinction between understanding and excusing in another post so I wont handle it here. But you can clearly see it: if someone is treated brutally and the only language the ‘aggressor’ understands is attacking shops, post offices, public transport – can you really blame him? No, you have removed moral culpability.

When people have NO other way of holding the police accountable for their brutality, what do you expect?

What do I expect? If that were the case, I expect you to use your democratic rights, to protest, to lobby, to hold members of parliament who refuse to deal with the issue accountable using your ballot. It’s called being civilised in a democratic society. And thats assuming that these protests are exclusively about brutality, they are not. Currys, Vodafone has nothing to do with brutality, the local curry house, the people made homless have nothing to do with this. 

The British army is burning Afghanistan and Libya as we speak, so I think you can get over a Bus.

There is a difference between sovereign nations responding to an attack by clearing out an illegitimate government, with massive human rights violations, which harboured the responsible individuals to stop future attacks in self-defence. The Afghan people have consistently supported the assistance. And we responded to the call of the Libyan people to stop their manic leader from killing them.

When the British Army burns whole countries you know nothing about and loots them of their natural resources where is your indignation?

You’re obviously referring to Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Libya. Who do you know that knows ‘nothing’ about these wars? You may have uneducated friends, I do not. As for ‘looting’ their resources, in Iraq there was an auction for Iraq oil deals in 2009: the winners were mostly Russians and Chinese. Even after the rise of oil prices in the U.S, the Iraqi government refused to lower the price. “Looting” indeed.

In this country you are factually more likely to die at the hands of the police than at the hands of a terrorist.

Oh really? According to the IPCC’s report ‘Deaths in or following custody’ only 5% of the 333 deaths between 1998-2009 were a result of police restraint. That’s 16 people. And even then, 13 officers were brought to trial, and they were all found not guilty. But, let me guess, a British court of law isn’t good enough for you? There were 52 victims of the 7/7 attacks. That was one attack: as I mentioned in the last post, 12 attacks were stopped between 2000-2009. And to really make your conspiracy-laden head explode, the current threat level for international terrorism is “substantial – this means there is a strong possibility of an attack.” So, there are more victims, more frequent and higher risk from terrorism.

Another radical self-described activist Jody McIntyre re-tweeted:

Don't salute people terrorising small business' but love hearing bout major corporations being set alight #salute

Lowkey also said that he didn't ‘have sympathy for M&S or footlocker.’ Yeah, because these major corporations are part of “police brutality” right? Because its not people who live in the community who use and work in these shops? Because it’s not individuals who own corporations? Because small businesses don’t strive to be bigger and better? Cool story bro.

I haven't mentioned Mark Duggan because I think it imprudent without waiting for the conclusions of the IPCC. However, even if the police stabbed him in the face repeatedly, the response is not attacking public transport and terrorising communities. It is holding people through the democratic and justice system. But somehow I doubt people like Dennis are able to engage in rational discourse. We should count ourselves lucky that 9/11 truther extremists like him are a fringe.

Friday, 5 August 2011


When I opened up The Guardian this morning I saw an article about a document they had obtained on Britain's torture policy. I didn’t bother reading their article at first (since they have consistently butchered documents for their own political ends). After finishing the policy, I was quite surprised and happy at our policy. And then I read The Guardian article which made me want to write an actual overview of the document – sprinkled with justifications and showing how The Guardian has again misconstrued an important document.

The document present the policy with regards to ‘torture and mistreatment’ in 2006 (although the original policy stems from 2002). The policy states that MI5 and MI6

do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. The agencies will not carry out any action which it is known will result in inhuman or degrading treatment.

But of course, you won’t get to read this in The Guardian’s article until you get to the 20th paragraph. The policy goes even further in stating that

It is an offence for an officer to incite the offence of torture committed by a foreign liaison service. An officer will be guilty of incitement where he intend to incite torture.. For this purpose, deliberately closing one's eyes to the consequence of one's action is deemed to be the same as knowing those consequences.

The same applies to aiding or abetting torture. The main part that interests The Guardian is not the policy of torture, which has a categorical ban but information which has been obtained by torture by foreign security services or could lead to torture if information is given to said foreign security services.

I oppose the use of torture because I believe that it is immoral, other methods are more (or at least as) effective, that torture yields unreliable information and its counter-productive. However, ex post facto, I would not refuse information which has life-saving intelligence. Meaning, I would oppose the torture of an Al Qaeda member but once information has been obtained, I will not risk further lives by not using it. I see no contradiction in this: it is a fact that torture can lead to accurate information. But that ignores that it is not the only, or even moral, way of doing so. It is this reasoning that the British policy broadly follows.

The policy described here will be divided into: (a) passing or seeking information and (b) receiving information. In the section on ‘passing or seeking information’, there are three different levels of knowledge that an officer have which will have different consequences:

[1] He does know that his actions will not result in torture or mistreatment... to proceed will be lawful.

[2] While he does not know, he foresees a real possibility that the consequences will include torture or mistreatment... he must refer the matter to his senior line management before proceeding further.
Line management may conclude that there is not a real possibility... but if [they] share the assessment of the officer, they should consider attaching a further caveat to the information or request [to the effect that information given should not be used for questioning of any individual or if it is to be used for question, such questioning should conform with the international legal standards and that information sought should not be obtained from any individual in detention or questioning should conform to international legal standards]

However a caveat is only of value of the officer believes that will be observed... If it is not considered possible to retain reliable assurances [or if there is any doubt] the matter should be referred to senior management before proceeding further... They will balance the risk of mistreatment and the risk that the officers actions could be judged to be unlawful against the need for the proposed action. All of the relevant circumstances will be taken to into account. These will include operational imperative for the proposed actions, such as if the action involved obtaining life-saving intelligence, the level of mistreatment anticipated and how likely those consequences are to happen.

Its worth stopping here just to see how The Guardian covered this part of the document. This was the part that they chose to lead with. They claim that the section in bold shows that the policy “instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought against the amount of pain they expected a prisoner to suffer.”

Ur, not quite. The section this is under is ‘While he does not know, he foresees a real possibility that the consequences will include torture or mistreatment.’ Thus, the whole process must be weighed accordingly: “They will balance the risk of mistreatment” against “the need for the proposed action.”

Most important are the last words of the bold section: “how likely those consequences [torture] are to happen.” The whole point about this section is that MI5 and MI6 do not know but foresee a real possibility. Which is why they must balance the risk of it actually being obtained by or leading to torture against the need to obtain or give “life saving intelligence.” It’s misleading of The Guardian to say that they are balancing the pain of an individual and intelligence. No, they are balancing the risk of any torture against the necessity of vital information. If there is going to be torture as a result of his actions that is a completely different matter.

Which is why in the case where

[3] He knows what the consequence will be and those consequences include torture or mistreatment. The procedure is initially the same as for [2], with the matter being referred upwards. However, even with the use of caveats and/or assurances, [if] it is known that the consequences will include torture or mistreatment then the action will not be allowed to proceed. The Agencies will not authorise any action which it is known will result in the mistreatment of an individual.

This allows MI5 and MI6 to seek or share intelligence from foreign liaison services so long as they (i) do not know that it will lead to torture and (ii) the real possibility is balanced against the necessity. And in case there was any doubt, under the ‘receiving information’, the policy states that:

Where the Agency knows or has reason to believe that a particular liaison service uses torture or other mistreatment to obtain information, the Agency should consider obtaining assurances, before continuing to receive such information. If it is not considered possible to obtain reliable assurance [or if there is any doubt] senior management... must decide to continue to receive such information. As above, all relevant circumstances will be taken into account [i.e. whether its life-saving information]

It is also worth noting that The Guardian ran an article in 2009 about this very policy where it claimed that it said:

"Given that they are not within our ­custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this [torture],” the policy said.

This is nowhere to be found in the policy. In fact, it says the opposite:

The Agencies are committed to ensuring so far as possible the observance of human rights by [foreign] liaison services... it is clearly vital that the Agencies' relationships with liaison services are conducted in a way that eliminates or minimises [torture]

I’m sure The Guardian will issue an apology for libelling our security services who have done a great job of keeping us safe: between 2000-2009, 12 attacks were stopped by MI5 and MI6 in the UK. Just a final note, whether this policy was followed and the cases of other individuals is a completely different matter. This has just been about stating and justifying the official policy of the British government (while poking fun at the Guardian).