As the world waits to see how much of the Senate report on CIA torture is left unredacted in its imminent release, the British government and some of its former members must be worrying about what will be revealed of their own involvement.
Cameron can claim it all happened before his time; but he can hardly claim he didn’t learn of it since. All the current evidence seems to suggest that the Labour movers and shakers, including Blair and then foreign secretary Jack Straw knew and hushed up British involvement.
Just over a week ago, the Telegraph reported:
“The politicians took a very active interest indeed. They wanted to know everything. The Americans passed over the legal opinions saying that this was now ‘legal’, and our politicians were aware of what was going on at the highest possible level.
“The politicians knew in detail about everything – the torture and the rendition. They could have said [to MI6] ‘stop it, do not get involved’, but at no time did they,” said the source, who has direct and detailed knowledge of the transatlantic relations during that period.
The Telegraph: Tony Blair ‘knew all about CIA secret kidnap programme’
Britain, of course, has its own torture investigation in progress. When Gaddafi was overthrown, the victors found documents
>that appeared to show that Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, and other agents had been complicit in the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhadj, who was captured by the CIA with his pregnant wife and sent back to Libya.
The Independent: Tony Blair ‘knew everything about CIA interrogation programme’
The Metropolitan police are investigating whether any MI6 officers should be prosecuted for involvement with torture.
At issue now is whether Diego Garcia, a British island leased to the Americans, was a CIA ‘black prison’. If so, it could not have been used as such without British approval.
On 9 April, Al Jazeera America reported,
The Senate report, according to Al Jazeera’s sources, says that the CIA detained some high-value suspects on Diego Garcia, an Indian Ocean island controlled by the United Kingdom and leased to the United States. The classified CIA documents say the black site arrangement at Diego Garcia was made with the “full cooperation” of the British government. That would confirm long-standing claims by human rights investigators and journalists, whose allegations — based on flight logs and unnamed government sources — have routinely been denied by the CIA.
REVEALED: SENATE REPORT CONTAINS NEW DETAILS ON CIA BLACK SITES
It is possible that when the report is finally released, British approval will have been redacted. This would explain why Cameron remains silent. It is unlikely that he does not know what is included in the report. If British involvement is made clear, he probably believes that he can lay all blame at the feet of the previous Labour government. But either way, Britain and America are guilty of appalling behaviour both to and with the island of Diego Garcia:
Island of Shame is the first major book to reveal the shocking truth of how the United States conspired with Britain to forcibly expel Diego Garcia’s indigenous people–the Chagossians–and deport them to slums in Mauritius and the Seychelles, where most live in dire poverty to this day. Drawing on interviews with Washington insiders, military strategists, and exiled islanders, as well as hundreds of declassified documents, David Vine exposes the secret history of Diego Garcia. He chronicles the Chagossians’ dramatic, unfolding story as they struggle to survive in exile and fight to return to their homeland. Tracing U.S. foreign policy from the Cold War to the war on terror, Vine shows how the United States has forged a new and pervasive kind of empire that is quietly dominating the planet with hundreds of overseas military bases.
Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia
Last week I proposed an experiment. Index on Censorship had discussed what it calls ‘censorship by omission’; suggesting that a form of censorship exists in Britain through simple lack of information. This is censorship by omission rather than censorship by suppression.
At the same time, Der Spiegel published details from the Snowden files indicating that GCHQ had been involved in hacking German satellite communications companies. Glenn Greenwald described it in The Intercept:
One undated document shows how British GCHQ operatives hacked into the computer servers of the German satellite communications providers Stellar and Cetel, and also targeted IABG, a security contractor and communications equipment provider with close ties to the German government. The document outlines how GCHQ identified these companies’ employees and customers, making lists of emails that identified network engineers and chief executives. It also suggests that IABG’s networks may have been “looked at” by the NSA’s Network Analysis Center.
My ‘experiment’ was simple. We know that the UK government has been trying to suppress reporting on GCHQ revelations through its involvement in the physical destruction of hard disks at The Guardian. So, I suggested, “Over the next few days it will be worth seeing just how much coverage this very major, very important story actually generates in the British mainstream press.”
The result? None.
It’s not a scientific experiment because I haven’t read all of the British mainstream national press from cover to cover since that time. Instead, this morning I used Google and searched on keywords from the Greenwald paragraph:
GCHQ Stellar Cetel IABG germany satellite communications
Searching the web got 3390 returns. In the top four pages (that’s all I checked) there is no single national British newspaper included. (My ‘experiment’ came in at #10, last on the first page.)
Searching the news had just five hits: Register, Help Net Security, IT News, TIME and Engadget.
Nothing whatsoever from any of the British national press.
The conclusion has to be that Britain suffers under a regime of censorship by omission. What we don’t know is how much of this ‘omission’ is effected by government pressure, nor whether Google has been persuaded to reduce the search rankings of any published articles — making it actually censorship by suppression.
Four days ago I wrote, Let’s not forget Assange. I did this because of a television interview between Eva Joly (a French-Norwegian prosecutor) and Malou von Sivers. While not unexpected, it was still surprising to hear that Joly had been refused meetings with the Minister for Justice, the Prosecutor-General, and the individual prosecutor Marianne Ny — in fact, anyone with anything to do with the legal case against Assange.
It is now clear why they would not talk to her: there simply is no legal case against Assange, just a political conspiracy. A new book by Prof. Marcello Ferrada de Noli (Sweden Vs Assange: Human Rights Issues) makes this very clear. (You can get an outline of de Noli here in my earlier post, Sweden — Paradise Lost, a continuing tragedy.)
Little in de Noli’s book is new, but seeing it all in one place is compelling. It starts, of course, with Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning’s Afghan leaks to WikiLeaks. The US, as we know, takes a dim view of whistleblowers, and was seriously embarrassed on the world stage by the Manning documents revealed by WikiLeaks. It wrote to its allies operating in Afghanistan requesting that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, be arrested. These allies, note, include both Sweden and Britain.
Sweden (its neutrality long discredited and, following the Snowden files, now known as The Sixth Eye) had the first opportunity — but it was always about the founder of WikiLeaks and never about the man called Julian Assange (see You cut off the head to kill the snake – the threat to Julian Assange).
When a complaint of rape was made, he was arrested. But there was no legal case against him. The case was dropped; but the political will to do the bidding of the US remained. However, since there was no legal case against him, simply re-arresting him would inevitably lead to his re-release.
Assange asked Marianne Ny, the prosecutor, if he could leave the country and was told he could do so. While traveling to the airport, which he did openly and in no haste, Ny decided to rearrest him. It appears that the only police that were not informed of this new warrant were the airport police where he was waiting to leave the country — in fact, Assange’s lawyer did not learn about the new warrant until three days after it was issued. By this time Assange was in the UK.
The standard way to get Assange back to Sweden would be through a European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which Sweden could rely on Britain to honour. Had he been arrested while still in Sweden, the process would be open and visible — and he would undoubtedly have been released (because there is no legal case) almost immediately. But if he is returned to Sweden under an EAW he would be held in prison and extradited to the US without public scrutiny.
In Britain Assange (well aware by now of what was going on) appealed the extradition back to Sweden. Most British lawyers believed his case was solid, and expected him to win. But remember that Britain, like Sweden, is one of the US allies that America had requested to arrest Assange. By indulging in semantic contortions, in claiming that the UK is subject to the French language version rather than the English language version of the same EU requirement, the judge was able to uphold the EAW and order Assange to be returned to Sweden.
By now, of course, Assange had been granted asylum in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. But the reality is, America had won. The case was never against Assange the man, but against WikiLeaks the organization. The purpose was to separate the founder from the founded to neutralize the organization.
This has been achieved. Assange is not in asylum in the embassy, he is in prison in the embassy, permanently surrounded by British police. America is happy with this, because it is an open-ended life sentence with no appeal that has successfully decapitated WikiLeaks. If Assange were to ‘appeal’, he would have to leave the embassy. He would then be arrested by the British police and returned to Sweden. There he would be imprisoned until he could be secretly extradited to the US, to face trial for espionage and imprisoned for 40+ years.
The United States, Britain and Sweden are perfectly happy with the current situation. Assange has been imprisoned for life without trial.
The law is a slow and laborious process, not to be attempted by the faint of heart nor weak of pocket. Back in October, having exhausted UK attempts at challenging GCHQ’s mass surveillance and cooperation with the NSA, Big Brother Watch, English PEN, The Open Rights Group and Dr Constanze Kurz lodged a complaint against the UK government with the European Court of Human Rights.
Morally it is a very simple issue: GCHQ (and thereby the UK government) has no right to engage in mass surveillance of telecommunications (the GCHQ Tempora programme), nor share that information with, nor receive surveillance intercepts from, the NSA. Legally it is far more complex.
Three months later, this complaint has passed its first hurdle: the European Court has not rejected the complaint and has moved to the next stage: it has invited the UK government to explain why it should reject it.
A letter to the complainants was sent by the European Court dated 9 January. It provides procedural information, notes that the court decided “to give priority to the application”, and says:
The Government have been requested to submit their observations by 2 May 2014. These will be sent to you in order that you may submit written observations in reply on behalf of the applicants, together with any claim for just satisfaction under Article 41 (cf. Rule 60)…
The Government have been requested to deal with the questions set out in the document appended to this letter…
That appended document provides an excellent overview of the issues at stake, from the complex legal rather than simple moral standpoint. It is well worth reading if you have any interest in or concern over (which we all should) the UK and US mass surveillance of innocent citizens.
It is an important first hurdle. It will take many months to be settled, even if it ever is. But it also, perhaps, throws extra light on the UK government’s increasingly bellicose attitude towards Europe, threatening to revoke the Human Rights Act and even withdraw from the European Union if it doesn’t succeed in renegotiating membership terms to its own liking.
I find myself conflicted over Europe. This is a new thing for me. For years I have been very clear: the United Kingdom, which has never had the opportunity to vote for membership of the Union (only a ‘common market’ or free trade area), should leave the European Union as soon as possible.
My reasoning is very simple. The European Union is undemocratic. Laws are created by the European Commission, which is an unelected and unaccountable body. This is just plain wrong. In fact, it is anathema.
In a word, I do not trust Europe.
The difficulty is that I now trust my own government even less.
This current Cameron government (and a Labour government would be just the same – in fact, was just the same under Brown and Blair before him):
- is creating a central database of everybody’s health records, which it will then sell
- wants to create a national DNA database, hiding it within the NHS since Europe has said it would be illegal for the police to create one, which it will then sell
- still supports massive bonuses to the bankers who damn near destroyed society, and may yet still be the root cause of civil wars in Europe
- presides over and defends a lawless intelligence service that seems to think it is legal to tap the internet’s fibre communications cables
- introduces internet censorship for everyone through the guise of a ‘porn filter’
- is working hard to scuttle the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which would be wonderful for the people, but awkward for big business
- wants to make it a requirement for the ISPs to keep everyone’s communications data, and then make it available on demand to law enforcement (and others) without judicial oversight
- etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
In short, while I distrust the European Union, I actually fear the UK government. And this is my problem: an undemocratic body is now the greatest hope I have to protect my historical freedoms from my own elected government.
There is one aspect of what the European Parliament is calling the ‘surveillance scandal’ that is not to my mind being sufficiently addressed in Britain: what is GCHQ’s involvement in European hacking and surveillance doing for Britain’s standing in Europe?
While there is a relatively open and wide-ranging debate over the NSA in the US, there is virtually nil debate over GCHQ in the UK. The reason is basically twofold: firstly, the UK government has run a very successful campaign in keeping the lid on things (a combination of refusing to say anything, denying that anything wrong has been done, and bullying/persuading the media to say little or nothing about it); and secondly, the apathy of the British public is legendary. So long as it doesn’t directly affect us, we Brits just don’t care — and spying on foreign Europeans does not directly affect us.
It is all helped by the European Treaty that says that national security is national concern. The British government can and simply does say to Europe, ‘what GCHQ does is none of your concern, and it is not our policy to talk about what our intelligence agencies do.’
The result is that the man in the British street has no idea of what is actually happening in Europe, nor the dismay with which Britain and the British are now considered abroad.
Yesterday I asked Jan Philipp Albrecht, an elected member of the European Parliament and a leading light in its Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee, how Britain is now viewed in relation to GCHQ. (You can get more details here: Exclusive: Jan Philipp Albrecht Speaks to Infosecurity Ahead of Calling Snowden as a Witness.)
My question was this:
What does Britain spying on fellow members of the EU do for the future relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe?
His reply, verbatim:
It is already today a huge damage to the relationship between UK and the rest of Europe. The attacks of the GCHQ on TelCom services like Belgacom and on servers on huge internet companies are illegal cyberattacks which come near to the notion of cyberwar. The involvement of issues not covered by national security like economic spying splits the Union and throws it back to the fight between national economies in the last century. It will harm the economies in Europe including the British and the trust in the institutions as well as the digital market severely.
It is worth considering this. Firstly, between the lines, there is clear anger. Secondly, he comes as near as dammit to accusing Britain of waging cyberwar against its allies. Thirdly, he brushes aside the notion that the surveillance is based on national security and anti-terrorism, and includes the accusation of ‘economic spying’. And lastly he likens that economic spying to the situation of twentieth century Europe; a century in which economic rivalry led to two world wars. This is what Europe thinks of Britain and the British today.
Does it matter? Too damn right. Despite our aloofness, we don’t actually want to leave Europe. Prime minister Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe. This is what most Brits want; but what Cameron wants is to eliminate Europe from those areas that limit his freedom to do what he wants. His main aims, which he will sell to the British public in terms of maintaining British sovereignty, is to limit data protection and eliminate the jurisdiction of the European court. These will benefit big business and GCHQ; but be bad for the people.
But — and this is the point — because of the surveillance scandal, he may be in for a surprise. He will threaten Europe that unless he gets what he wants, Britain may leave the Union. And the rest of Europe will simply say, ‘Good riddance.’
It’s the throwaway last comment in yesterday’s Le Monde report on NSA spying that worries me most: “In Europe, only Germany and the United Kingdom are beyond France in terms of number of interceptions. But for the British, this was done with the consent of their government…”
Did you know that? That the British government specifically allows the NSA to spy on British citizens? How bloody dare they!
But when you think about it, it’s fairly obvious. Britain is now a full-blooded police state, controlled by MI5, GCHQ and now including the National Crime Agency. How much do you know about Tempora and other GCHQ surveillance programs? I’m willing to bet that it’s very little, just a few passing comments in the Guardian and other serious newspapers.
The whole thing has been effectively stifled by the government and its agencies. Government officers entered the Guardian’s premises and forced and oversaw the physical destruction of the hard drives containing Snowden’s documents. In Washington, British agents called on the editor of the New York Times and asked her not to publish Snowden’s documents. Luckily she was protected by the US constitution, and declined. But back in the UK, the government’s lap dog known as the Daily Mail published an opinion calling the Guardian irresponsible and accusing it of putting lives in danger.
And all the time the British government ceaselessly works to undermine the European Union’s proposed data protection law, claiming that it will stifle growth and burden business. Palpable nonsense. Cameron and his cohorts simply fear that it could put a stop to its secret surveillance programs.
Right now a group of civil liberties organizations is taking the government to the European Court over GCHQ’s illegal activities. Britain’s response? To threaten to abolish the Human Rights Act and remove itself from the European Court’s jurisdiction.
Frankly, it all beggars belief. But you’d better believe it, because this is Britain today.