Le Mesurier Gets Cross 135

Perhaps the only fact on James Le Mesurier about which I would agree with the MSM war cheerleaders is that he was a very busy man. It is remarkable therefore that he found the time and inclination to follow “Philip Cross” on twitter. Given that “Philip Cross” has virtually never posted an original tweet, and his timeline consists almost entirely of retweets of Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and openly pro-Israel propaganda accounts, why would Le Mesurier bother to follow him?

“Philip Cross” has never posted any news other than to retweet columnists. He has never given an insight into a story. In addition to James Le Mesurier, why then were all these MSM journailsts following “Philip Cross” from before “he” gained notoriety for his Wikipedia exploits?

Oliver Kamm, Leader Writer The Times
Nick Cohen, Columnist The Guardian/Observer
Joan Smith, Columnist The Independent
Leslie Felperin, Film Columnist The Guardian
Kate Connolly, Foreign Correspondent The Guardian/Observer
Lisa O’Carroll, Brexit Correspondent The Guardian
James Bloodworth, Columnist The Independent
Cristina Criddle, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme
Sarah Baxter, Deputy Editor, The Sunday Times
Iain Watson, Political Correspondent, The BBC
Caroline Wheeler, Deputy Political Editor, the Sunday Times
Jennifer Chevalier, CBC ex-BBC
Dani Garavelli, Scotland on Sunday

Prominent Freelancers

Bonnie Greer (frequently in The Guardian)
Mason Boycott-Owen (The Guardian, New Statesman)
Marko Attilla Hoare (The Guardian)
Kirsty Hughes
Guy Walters (BBC)
Paul Canning

What attracted all of these senior MSM figures to follow an obscure account with almost no original content? No reasonable explanation of this phenomenon has ever been offered by any of the above. What a considerable number of them have done is to use the megaphone their plutocrat or state overlords have given them, to label those asking this perfectly reasonable question as crazed conspiracy theorists.

This week, on the day of Le Mesurier’s death, “Philip Cross” made 48 edits to Le Mesurier’s Wikipedia page, each one designed to expunge any criticism of the role of the White Helmets in Syria or reference to their close relationship with the jihadists.

“Philip Cross” has been an operation on a massive scale to alter the balance of Wikipedia by hundreds of thousands of edits to the entries, primarily of politically engaged figures, always to the detriment of anti-war figures and to the credit of neo-con figures. An otherwise entirely obscure but real individual named Philip Cross has been identified who fronts the operation, and reputedly suffers from Aspergers. I however do not believe that any individual can truly have edited Wikpedia articles from a right wing perspective, full time every single day for five years without one day off, not even a Christmas, for 2,987 consecutive days.

I should declare here the personal interest that “Philip Cross” has made over 120 edits to my own Wikipedia entry, including among other things calling my wife a stripper, and deleting the facts that I turned down three honours from the Crown and was eventually cleared on all disciplinary charges by the FCO.

I hazard the guess that at least several of the above journalists follow “Philip Cross” on twitter because they are a part of the massive Wikipedia skewing operation operating behind the name of “Philip Cross”. If anybody has any better explanation of why they all follow “Philip Cross” on twitter I am more than willing to hear it.

The “White Helmets” operation managed for MI6 by Le Mesurier was both a channel for logistic support to Western backed jihadists and a propaganda operation to shill for war in Syria, as in Iraq or Libya. Wars which were of course very profitable for arms manufacturers, energy interests and the security establishment. It should surprise nobody that Le Mesurier intersects with the Philip Cross propaganda operation which, with the active support of arch Blairite Jimmy Wales, has for years been slanting Wikipedia in support of the same pro-war goals as pushed by the “White Helmets”.

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The Sad Death of James Le Mesurier 231

We should never forget that all human deaths are tragedies. No human is perfect and none is completely evil. Even the most wretched, snivelling excuse of a human being you can possibly imagine – say Ian Austin – has known a mother’s love. Le Mesurier leaves a wife and children who will be mourning. We should not forget that.

Unfortunately he worked in a profession where you can very quickly move from an asset to a liability. Le Mesurier’s usefulness to Western security services, Israel and their Gulf allies came to an end when the jihadist headchoppers to whom Le Mesurier had been providing logistic support and invaluable propaganda, lost their last secure footing in Syria. That the white helmets worked hand in glove with the extreme jihadists, and moved out wherever they moved out, is beyond dispute as a matter of fact, whatever the state of denial of the mainstream media. That there is now nowhere in Syria that people can go around executing Christians with impunity, and simultaneously now nowhere that the White Helmets can operate, is not the coincidence the mainstream media affect to believe. Some of them possibly do believe it. As a wise man once observed, it is amazing what people can believe when their job depends on it.

Having stopped being useful, Le Mesurier became much more of a liability after Turkey took over further control of former jihadist controlled areas in Northern Syria. The chances of Turkey obtaining both documentary and first person testamentary evidence of the relationship between the White Helmets, the jihadists, and western and allied intelligence services increased substantially. Indeed I have reason to believe Turkey may already have done so. His potential liability to his former employers ratcheted up. This resulted in his death. Whether he was killed or took his own life from the resultant stress, I have no information at present.

As regular readers know I have excellent contacts in Turkey of precisely the right kind. Leading a life a great deal more complicated than just being a blogger, I regret that I have been unable to date to tell you the full truth of what I was doing in Ankara in December 2017, and probably will not be able to tell you for a year or two yet. I will now try to get further information from my contacts on Le Mesurier, but please understand it may not be instant.

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The UK’s Macabre Final Election 309

This is the final general election of the United Kingdom. The SNP has put Independence at the heart of its campaign, eschewing the dreadful error of the “don’t mention Independence” campaign of 2017 that led half a million potential supporters to sit on their hands on voting day. The SNP is going to win a thumping victory and eliminate the Tories from Scotland. Johnson’s hardline unionist pose, denying the sovereign right to choose of the Scottish people, would not be able to survive such a result. If the Tories were to think they would succeed in treating Scotland as Spain treats Catalonia, they would have a very rude awakening. Equally the SNP leadership will be politically unable to impose acceptance of whatever parameters Westminster attempts to impose. The divergence of politics and culture between Scotland and England is now so stark that the union is already over as a functioning political entity. It is now just a matter of arranging the obsequies.

It is essential to maximise the SNP vote at this election. Anything else is a distraction. It should be stated plainly that there is no seat in Scotland where an SNP vote risks handing the seat to the Tories. There are several where a Labour vote or a Green vote risks handing the seat to the Tories. To vote Labour or Green in Scotland in 2019 is an act of irresponsible self-indulgence. It must be SNP. After independence, which will be very soon, we can all go our own ways.

It is karma for the Lib Dems role in austerity that, just when the opportunity should arise for them to make massive gains as the major Remain party in England, they are saddled with Jo Swinson as leader. Her instincts are entirely right wing. When asked at her campaign launch why she said Jeremy Corbyn was unsuitable to be Prime Minister, by a journalist seeking more Corbyn knocking copy, her first and most immediate response was that Corbyn would not be prepared to give the order to British submarine commanders to fire nuclear weapons. Swinson combines inanity, delusion and ambition in a deeply unpleasant mix. It should not be forgotten that the Lib Dems were down to a handful of MPs after the last election and Swinson became leader from a very small field. Now some careerist Blairites have joined the sinking ship, Swinson’s right wing instincts are further reinforced. I am sure there are a few decent people still left in the Lib Dems. But they are invisible.

Nevertheless, there are many seats in England where people need to vote Lib Dem to defeat the Tory. The best practical scenario for the end of the UK is a Labour/Lib Dem/SNP alliance, that will eschew hard Brexit and agree a second Independence referendum for Scotland. Another scenario will also end in Independence but be messier and more dangerous. Even if we achieve Independence through a second referendum (and other options are available), that referendum would be a much dirtier fight even than 2014. We are already seeing in this election just how unrestrainedly pro-Tory the British media now is, and another Scottish referendum campaign would suffer not only that, but every dirty trick in the playbook of the British security services. Nevertheless, I have no doubt of the result.

Of course it is true that the media has always been biased, but it has got much worse. There has been a radical shift in the culture of the media in exactly the same way there has been a massive shift to the right in the Tory Party. While plutocrats always owned almost all of the media, in the complex relations within media institutions there were countervailing currents. Of course it was never true that editors and journalists had perfect ethics or integrity, but there were some notions of decency, balance, fairness and simple respect for the truth which did actuate, to some extent, editors and journalists. Even though these cultural factors might on the whole be outweighed by deference to the wishes of the bosses, by party allegiance or by personal ambition, these notions of proper conduct did on occasion provide some influence on behaviour and thus on media output.

Those journalistic standards have been almost entirely abandoned and you will scan the media in vain for evidence of fairness and balance. It is not a coincidence that at this time two of my good personal friends in the media, with whom I have major political differences but who are good professionals and decent people, John Sweeney and Peter Oborne, have left their posts at BBC Panorama and the Daily Mail respectively.

The state media is as bad as the plutocrat owned media. The BBC’s complicity in the Tory attack on Corbyn has been absolute, including the Tory set up interviews with Ian Austin and yesterday’s long anti-Corbyn plug by Sajid Javid on Marr. The Tory campaign is a disgrace. Johnson like May before him is being kept well away from any actual voters, and the BBC lights and frames his entirely artificial events with the careful precision of a Leni Riefenstahl. Kuenssberg and Robinson are simply Tory propagandists.

When realism does break through it is through citizen journalism, not the media. The outrageous statements of a ranting Boris Johnson in Northern Ireland, contradicting the EU withdrawal agreement, would never have been mentioned by the media if they had not gone viral from an individual’s mobile phone.

The claims that Johnson did not understand his own deal are wide of the mark. He is not stupid; he knows what is in it. If you listen very carefully to what he said then and subsequently, he is not claiming his deal does not specify any checks between Northern Ireland and the mainland. What he is stating is his assurance that there will be no checks. This confirms the fears I have been reporting within the FCO, that Boris Johnson simply has no intention of actually implementing the withdrawal agreement. He has been negotiating in bad faith with the EU, and signing up to things he has no intention of doing in order to “Get Brexit Done”. He has no moral scruples over lying, it is not his style to think beyond immediate personal advantage, and he is still enamoured of the idea that in the end the EU will always buckle because it needs the UK market.

The stars have aligned perfectly for those of us who support Scottish Independence, and I am delighted that both Irish unification and Plaid Cymru have been given a bigger boost than seemed plausible just a very few years ago. This election is sordid, tawdry, corrupt and uninspiring; a fitting end for the UK and its long history of callous exploitation. Never has a state been more adept at using its system of law to shift resources from the poor to the rich. Never has a state’s dissolution been more overdue.

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World Exclusive: Post Testimony Interview with Randy Credico 69

Following his appearance as the main witness for the prosecution against former Trump aide Roger Stone, my good friend Randy Credico has had the entire American mainstream media chasing him for an interview. He has however decided to give only this single interview to me, which is put out here and which is free for everybody to use, with acknowledgement.

Five of the seven charges against Stone relate directly to Randy, who is the witness that Stone is accused of tampering with and attempting to intimidate. There is a tremendous irony here. The Mueller investigation was set up to reveal links between the Trump campaign, Russia and Wikileaks. There are no such links, as has already been proven in another US court. Roger Stone ends up being charged with lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee, by pretending he had links to Wikileaks when he did not. He is also charged with trying to intimidate Randy into saying there was such a link and Randy was the back channel; which I myself can attest is nonsense.

The Mueller investigation has thus ultimately ended up prosecuting people for telling the same pack of lies that Mueller himself was pushing. The Clinton media, including CNN, the Washington Post and New York Times, are baffled by this. They follow the Stone trial assiduously from delight in seeing a long term Trump hanger-on brought down, and in the hope something will come out about Wikileaks or Russia. Their reporting, as that of the BBC, has been deliberately vague on why Stone is being charged, contriving to leave their audience with the impression that Stone’s trial proves Trump connections to Wkileaks and Russia, when in fact it proves the precise opposite. A fact you will never learn from the mainstream media. Which is why I am doing this at 2am on a very cold Edinburgh night, for the small but vital audience which is interested in the truth.

So here is Randy.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Mainstream Media Pro-Johnson Propaganda Gets Into Full Swing 479

We are now under election broadcasting rules.

Ian Austin left the Labour Party nine months ago. He was then appointed by the Tories as Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Israel. As of yesterday, he is neither a MP nor a candidate for election. He is a minor politician who achieved only the most junior ministerial rank, PUSS, and for only seven months. He is best known for heckling Jeremy Corbyn while Jeremy Corbyn was delivering the official Labour response to the Chilcot Report on the illegal invasion of Iraq, shouting “Sit down and shut up” and “You stupid disgrace” at Corbyn for criticising the war.

STRANGELY THE BBC FORGOT TO MENTION THIS

We are now under election broadcasting rules. How and why was Ian Austin invited onto the BBC Radio 4 Today programme today? He left the Labour Party six months ago, and has been a huge critic of Corbyn. It is hardly a surprise that the Tory’s Trade Envoy to Israel advises people to vote Tory. So who initiated Ian Austin’s appearance on the BBC Today programme, and why? It is obvious that the BBC knew he was going to urge people to vote Tory – or why invite a non-MP and non-candidate, to say exactly the same things he has been saying since Corbyn became leader?

That the Today programme at the BBC is produced by a Tory, under a Tory BBC Head of News, and hosted by a Tory is established fact and beyond dispute. The facts we need to know are these. Did Austin first contact the BBC or did the BBC first contact Austin? Who took the editorial decision to include this item in the programme? Was any organisation involved at any stage in any of the discussions, or did Austin at all times represent himself purely as an individual?

Following Austin’s vitriolic attack on Corbyn as a racist and anti-semite on BBC Today, he was given eleven full minutes unanswered on BBC Breakfast from 8.56 to 9.07. The presenter stated that they had no official response from the Labour Party.

Yet we are in an election, and under election broadcast rules. The BBC must have known what Austin was going to say – otherwise why invite him on? Why was not another guest invited at the same time Austin was invited, to give balance?

Austin’s appointment as Trade Envoy to Israel is not a Civil Service appointment, it is a political appointment. He is a Tory appointee urging people to vote Tory. Under election broadcasting rules, the massive broadcasting time he is being given must count as Tory time, and be balanced out by broadcast time given to the Labour, SNP, Brexit, Lib Dem and Green parties. I strongly suspect that the BBC is intending to avoid this and claim Austin is Independent so the barrage of “Vote for Boris Johnson” time he is being given does not, they will claim, count as Tory time.

That the state broadcaster connives actively to launch a fierce character assassination of the opposition leader as a racist, and urge everyone to vote for the Government, is a disgrace. That they have not mentioned he is Tory Trade Envoy to Israel is a disgrace. This is not how media behaves in a real democracy. It shows the ferocity with which the UK Establishment will resist the current real threats to its continuing hegemony.

This is very dirty. It is going to get worse.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Rustam Aliev 121

UPDATE Nadira has decided, with great sadness, not to travel to Uzbekistan, having received information that it is not safe to do so. Not being able to attend your own parent’s funeral is heartrending. She has however been to the mosque and discussed charitable work she might undertake in her father’s name.

I also received a reply from the FCO to my request for assistance, which is unhelpful and raises some interesting questions. Nadira’s only “crime” has been to leave Uzbekistan without permission. The Uzbek law in this regard is a hangover from the old Soviet Union exit visa regime, and it is something which the UK historically regarded as in itself a breach of fundamental human rights. Those of my generation will recall the line “we never had to lock our people in”. The FCO appears fine with this now in Uzbekistan, and it is yet another startling reminder that Western government’s interest in human rights depends entirely on who is breaching them.

The second point is very topical. The FCO writes:

The FCO would provide consular assistance to you if required when in country. However, the Uzbeks’ interpretation of your wife’s nationality may limit the level of consular support that we would be able to provide to her.

Yet the FCO takes the precise opposite position in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As I have explained before, it is very longstanding UK policy that the government does not assist dual nationals in their country of second nationality. As explicitly stated in the case of Nadira, they accept the definition of nationality of the country that the person is in. I have personally witnessed consular help being denied to individuals on grounds of dual nationality in scores of cases during my FCO career.

Yet Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a UK/Iranian dual national, with Iranian nationality in the eyes of the government of Iran, has received consular assistance at a higher level than any living person, including sole UK citizens. That is a literal statement, nobody else living has had their consular case “adopted” as a state to state issue by the British government.

Let me be plain. I strongly urge the government of Iran to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe instantly, on humanitarian grounds. I know that the British government is illegally withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in defiance of a binding international arbitration ruling on the tank contract, but it is wrong to balance a life against cash. Iran is hurting its image even with its good friends by continuing to hold her.

But none of that answers the question of why Zaghari-Ratcliffe has, from the very start of her detention, been treated in a way that breaks all policy on consular treatment for dual nationals. If we had any decent and genuinely free journalists in this country it would be a question that had been discussed and politicians pressed for an answer. There are literally thousands of part British dual nationals in foreign jails, not receiving any assistance. Why should Nadira not be treated the same as Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a precisely analogous situation? Why has policy been ignored for just one individual?

There is a case for giving consular assistance to all British citizens abroad, whether or not they hold another nationality. That would require a very large increase in the FCO budget, and possibly not be effective because there is no legal obligation on the host country to acknowledge the second nationality and provide consular access. British government involvement has not actually helped Zaghari-Ratcliffe and probably has made matters worse. But any policy should be implemented fairly, in the same way for everyone to whom it applies. This very plainly is not happening.

ORIGINAL POST

Nadira’s father, the Uzbek playwright and theatre director Rustam Aliev, suffered a massive stroke yesterday and passed away in the early hours of this morning, age 60. Nadira is very sad at not having had the chance to see him before he died, and while awake all last night she set down her thoughts in this piece, which I find extremely powerful.

(SCREAM OF MY SOUL TONIGHT)
I wish I could turn back time
Only for a few hours, just a few hours back
Could’ve called you this morning
Could’ve said more than ‘I love you’
Would’ve said ‘The greatest gift you ever gave
Was freedom and you believed in me,
It was the best thing a woman wear
– when I was yet a teenager.’
You see because of this – I’m here today
Grateful and strong – that’s what I’d say.

I could tell you that even I’m far away
My heart & mind always loved you,
A few ups and downs, don’t matter at all
We cling to you, soul to soul.
Please clock take me to a few more hours back
Let me ask if he is proud of me
Let me ask if he ever had his own dream
Let me ask what he was like as a child…

Please hours have mercy – I was busy
I didn’t expect, I didn’t know that this day,
Today was his last.
Please let me let him know I loved him deeply,
he was the best
He often said he failed us, he never gave us anything,
that he was wasted and lost
He used to think he was the worst.
Please, restart the morning again
Let me tell him this – he was the best
And he gave the best – he gave me freedom
In my culture not all fathers
give freedom to their daughters.
He made me tough, he taught me to be strong
and sometimes neglect so I could find my way
through the fail.
He knew me, believed in me, he was never careful with me
or treated me like a princess doll.
He grew me tough, made me a warrior and said:
‘Go fly, you have wings, don’t be afraid, find your way
be your own kind’

It was weird,
but because of him I’m a free spirit.
Because of him I’m strong and live ‘my way’ in life.
Please clock take me back
Regrets are painful, they can attack
I love you, you hear me, please hear the echo of my soul
Ruthless time at least wave my sound fast, reach to his soul,
whilst its warm, tell him all:

Dad if you’re in the blue sky wondering, floating
or re-visiting your past,
Please hear me, Dad – ‘Thank you, daddy. Forgive me.
Know I loved you always, will always do,
and you’re the best, thanks for being just like YOU!’

Nadira is rightly insistent on returning immediately to Tashkent for her father’s funeral, and of course I shall go with her. However as everyone who has read “Murder in Samarkand” will understand, this is very fraught and potentially dangerous. Neither of us have ever returned to Uzbekistan after leaving in 2004. The visa requirement for British visitors was abolished earlier this year. Nadira is a British citizen since 2009. I have both spoken to and written to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to request their assistance and protection, but heard nothing back substantive yet. I hope the government of Uzbekistan will allow Nadira to mourn her father in peace.

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The Incredible Disappearing Farage, and Other Electoral Oddities 622

For a decade Nigel Farage has been flung into our living rooms continually by the BBC. Even when UKIP barely registered a blip in the opinion polls, he was a regular on Question Time and the other news, current affairs and politics programme. Farage’s celebrity was a BBC creation. He served an important purpose. At a time when the wealth gap was growing exponentially, and working conditions and real incomes of ordinary people were deteriorating sharply, Farage helped amplify the Establishment message that the cause of these problems was not the burgeoning class of billionaires sucking up the world’s resources, but rather the poor immigrants also scratching to make a living.

Having undermined the prospects of a left wing reaction to massively increasing inequality, Farage has now served his purpose. The exigencies of fighting an election under first past the post are such that Farage has become a potentially serious problem for the wealthy elite. The Brexit Party is a fundamental threat to Boris Johnson’s strategy of moving the Tory Party decisively to the hard right and attempting to win seats on the back of working class anti-immigrant votes in the Midlands and North of England. More liberal Scottish, London and South Western Tory voters have been deliberately abandoned, and consituencies sacrificed, in order to chase hard racist votes. Those indoctrinated to hate their fellow man if he has a Polish accent, are now required by the elite to vote Tory, not to vote for the Brexit Party.

The remarkable result of this is that, at precisely the point where Farage’s influence will be most crucial in determining the future of politics in the UK, he has been dropped by the media. I am extremely confident in my perception that he has appeared less in the last month than at any period in the preceding decade. Having been boosted into prominence by the BBC when they were insignificant, the BBC will do everything it possibly can to dampen down Farage and his Brexit Party now they legitimately deserve coverage as a critical factor.

I am happy to state with confidence that this election will backfire on the Tories. The strong evidence from both the 2017 election and the Scottish referendum campaign, is that once broadcasting rules on equal time come into play, the impact on voters is profound of hearing direct from normally derided people and their normally ridiculed arguments.

The Johnson/Cummings electoral strategy is catastrophically bad. First past the post rewards regional voter concentration. Cummings plan is to sacrifice votes in traditional Tory areas in order to pile them up in traditionally hostile areas. The result will be to even out their vote, lose regional concentration and lose the election. They can pile on two million racist votes in traditional Labour constituencies without gaining more than a dozen seats. That will merely cancel out losses in Scotland. That people en masse are going to forget the devastation of their communities by Thatcher or the generations of fight for a decent living is far from probable. The antipathy to the Tories in parts of the UK is not “tribal”, it is the result of generations of hard experience.

The Brexit Party may have more appeal than the Tories in traditional Labour consituencies, but neither they nor the Tories will win any significant number of them. It is in the marginals of the Midlands and Lancashire where the Brexit Party may damage the Tories’ chances, not in Sunderland and Hartlepool which will stay Labour. The SNP is going to sweep Scotland, the Liberal Democrats make substantive gains in London and the South West and the Labour Party will do much better in London and the North than anybody now expects. The Midlands, both East and West, are hard to predict and the key battleground, but the number of possible Tory gains is not enough to compensate for their losses elsewhere. The Tories could end up with the largest share of the vote, perhaps 36%, but less seats than the Labour Party. That is what I expect to happen.

The fly in this alluring ointment is that the Liberal Democrats have shifted so decisively to the right on economic policy. In general I advise everyone in England to vote tactically to defeat the Tories in their constituency, but obviously both Lib Dems and Labour have individual right wing horror candidates I could never ask anyone to vote for.

Here in Scotland, Independence remains the overriding priority. We must escape from Tory domination and the right wing jingoism that so infects English politics; but also it is simply normal for a nation to be Independent. So we all have to vote and campaign for the SNP in what could be a decisive moment in our history.
Incidentally, there is not a single constituency in Scotland where there is a plausible argument that to vote SNP risks letting a Tory in. I am hopeful that we will sweep the Tories out of Scotland completely this time. I am also quite keen about the SNP helping Corbyn pass the basis of a radical left wing reform agenda through Westminster, whilst briefly on a swift route to Independence.

Now that would be a good Christmas present.

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Grenfell Report Phase 1 Seeks to Blame the Firefighters 232

One simple fact cannot be hidden. The firefighters did not cause the fire. Phase 1 of Judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s report of the public inquiry into the Grenfell disaster has been released to relatives prior to publication tomorrow. According to the Guardian, it concentrates blame on the firefighters in charge of tackling the blaze. This is an entirely predictable Establishment ploy; blame the little people.

I do not doubt mistakes were made by the firefighters; there will always be well-intentioned errors by those trying to cope with such a terrible crisis. Moore-Bick may be correct in his identification of them. Adherence to the established “stay in your flat” doctrine was disastrously wrong in these circumstances. But the firefighters were not the reason the fire started and spread so quickly. The primary reason was inadequate regulation of the burgeoning fashion for cladding old buildings, and inadequate enforcement of such regulation as was in place.

Moore-Bick may, a couple of years from now, ultimately produce a most damning report of government failings that caused the Grenfell Disaster. But these issues will only be dealt with as Phase 2 of the report, by which time public emotion and recollection will have faded further. I question the methodology of producing an initial report on the events of the night, and a second on the “historical background”, when the “historical background” actually contains the fundamental causes of the tragedy. The second report, when it eventually arrives, will have far less media coverage. The abiding message in the eyes of the duped public will be that the fault lay with the fire brigade.

So let us recall now what really happened.

Deregulation is fundamental to Tory ideology. Speaking specifically on multi-occupation buildings, Fire Minister Bob Neill stated on 16 June 2011:

Over the years, regulations – and the inspections and bureaucracy that go
with them – have piled up and up. This has hurt business, imposing real
burdens and doing real damage to our economy. Reducing the number
of rules and regulations is therefore absolutely central to the Coalition
Government’s vision for Britain, removing barriers to economic growth and
increasing individual freedoms. We have given a clear commitment that where
regulation cannot be justified, we will remove it.

That is one of many examples of vital context given in an excellent pamphlet by the Fire Brigades Union. It is the background to the government’s continued failure over years to address the need for new regulation of developments in cladding.

After six people died due to combustible cladding in the Lakamal House fire of 2009, Tory Minister Eric Pickles’ instinct was to use this disaster to reduce regulation; “My department is committed to a programme of simplification of building regulations”. In the seven years between that statement and the Grenfell fire, the coalition government had still done precisely nothing on cladding regulation.

Meantime, Boris Johnson as Mayor of London was taking an axe to the London Fire Service, closing twelve fire stations. Firemen involved in regulation and inspection were particularly cut. Johnson effectively reduced the number of firemen involved in operational regulation enforcement by half. Total fire brigade staff were reduced by a quarter.

This is the essential background to any criticism of the operational performance of the fire brigade.

Finally, the owners of the building, Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council – arguably the UK’s wealthiest council – bear ultimate responsibility for repeated failures to address fire safety concerns and for putting flammable cladding on the building in order to improve its appearance for the benefit of wealthy neighbours in the surrounding streets. A council planning document made plain that it was clad for the neighbours’ benefit, not that of the residents, “to accord with the development plan by ensuring that the character and appearance of the area are preserved and living conditions of those living near the development suitably protected”. The aim of the cladding was to disguise the existence of accommodation perceived as for poor people.

I have not previously blogged much about Grenfell because I have a distaste for disaster journalism. But if public perception grows that the disaster was the fault of the firefighters, that would be an outrage.

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Assange in Court 847

UPDATE I have received scores of requests to republish and/or translate this article. It is absolutely free to use and reproduce and I should be delighted if everybody does; the world should know what is being done to Julian. So far, over 200,000 people have read it on this blogsite alone and it has already been reproduced on myriad other sites, some with much bigger readerships than my own. I have seen translations into German, Spanish and French and at least extracts in Catalan and Turkish. I only ask that you reproduce it complete or, if edits are made, plainly indicate them. Many thanks.

BEGINS

I was deeply shaken while witnessing yesterday’s events in Westminster Magistrates Court. Every decision was railroaded through over the scarcely heard arguments and objections of Assange’s legal team, by a magistrate who barely pretended to be listening.

Before I get on to the blatant lack of fair process, the first thing I must note was Julian’s condition. I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both. I will come to the important content of his statement at the end of proceedings in due course, but his difficulty in making it was very evident; it was a real struggle for him to articulate the words and focus his train of thought.

Until yesterday I had always been quietly sceptical of those who claimed that Julian’s treatment amounted to torture – even of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – and sceptical of those who suggested he may be subject to debilitating drug treatments. But having attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that yesterday changed my mind entirely and Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness.

I had been even more sceptical of those who claimed, as a senior member of his legal team did to me on Sunday night, that they were worried that Julian might not live to the end of the extradition process. I now find myself not only believing it, but haunted by the thought. Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable. Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later. The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.

The charge against Julian is very specific; conspiring with Chelsea Manning to publish the Iraq War logs, the Afghanistan war logs and the State Department cables. The charges are nothing to do with Sweden, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with the 2016 US election; a simple clarification the mainstream media appears incapable of understanding.

The purpose of yesterday’s hearing was case management; to determine the timetable for the extradition proceedings. The key points at issue were that Julian’s defence was requesting more time to prepare their evidence; and arguing that political offences were specifically excluded from the extradition treaty. There should, they argued, therefore be a preliminary hearing to determine whether the extradition treaty applied at all.

The reasons given by Assange’s defence team for more time to prepare were both compelling and startling. They had very limited access to their client in jail and had not been permitted to hand him any documents about the case until one week ago. He had also only just been given limited computer access, and all his relevant records and materials had been seized from the Ecuadorean Embassy by the US Government; he had no access to his own materials for the purpose of preparing his defence.

Furthermore, the defence argued, they were in touch with the Spanish courts about a very important and relevant legal case in Madrid which would provide vital evidence. It showed that the CIA had been directly ordering spying on Julian in the Embassy through a Spanish company, UC Global, contracted to provide security there. Crucially this included spying on privileged conversations between Assange and his lawyers discussing his defence against these extradition proceedings, which had been in train in the USA since 2010. In any normal process, that fact would in itself be sufficient to have the extradition proceedings dismissed. Incidentally I learnt on Sunday that the Spanish material produced in court, which had been commissioned by the CIA, specifically includes high resolution video coverage of Julian and I discussing various matters.

The evidence to the Spanish court also included a CIA plot to kidnap Assange, which went to the US authorities’ attitude to lawfulness in his case and the treatment he might expect in the United States. Julian’s team explained that the Spanish legal process was happening now and the evidence from it would be extremely important, but it might not be finished and thus the evidence not fully validated and available in time for the current proposed timetable for the Assange extradition hearings.

For the prosecution, James Lewis QC stated that the government strongly opposed any delay being given for the defence to prepare, and strongly opposed any separate consideration of the question of whether the charge was a political offence excluded by the extradition treaty. Baraitser took her cue from Lewis and stated categorically that the date for the extradition hearing, 25 February, could not be changed. She was open to changes in dates for submission of evidence and responses before this, and called a ten minute recess for the prosecution and defence to agree these steps.

What happened next was very instructive. There were five representatives of the US government present (initially three, and two more arrived in the course of the hearing), seated at desks behind the lawyers in court. The prosecution lawyers immediately went into huddle with the US representatives, then went outside the courtroom with them, to decide how to respond on the dates.

After the recess the defence team stated they could not, in their professional opinion, adequately prepare if the hearing date were kept to February, but within Baraitser’s instruction to do so they nevertheless outlined a proposed timetable on delivery of evidence. In responding to this, Lewis’ junior counsel scurried to the back of the court to consult the Americans again while Lewis actually told the judge he was “taking instructions from those behind”. It is important to note that as he said this, it was not the UK Attorney-General’s office who were being consulted but the US Embassy. Lewis received his American instructions and agreed that the defence might have two months to prepare their evidence (they had said they needed an absolute minimum of three) but the February hearing date may not be moved. Baraitser gave a ruling agreeing everything Lewis had said.

At this stage it was unclear why we were sitting through this farce. The US government was dictating its instructions to Lewis, who was relaying those instructions to Baraitser, who was ruling them as her legal decision. The charade might as well have been cut and the US government simply sat on the bench to control the whole process. Nobody could sit there and believe they were in any part of a genuine legal process or that Baraitser was giving a moment’s consideration to the arguments of the defence. Her facial expressions on the few occasions she looked at the defence ranged from contempt through boredom to sarcasm. When she looked at Lewis she was attentive, open and warm.

The extradition is plainly being rushed through in accordance with a Washington dictated timetable. Apart from a desire to pre-empt the Spanish court providing evidence on CIA activity in sabotaging the defence, what makes the February date so important to the USA? I would welcome any thoughts.

Baraitser dismissed the defence’s request for a separate prior hearing to consider whether the extradition treaty applied at all, without bothering to give any reason why (possibly she had not properly memorised what Lewis had been instructing her to agree with). Yet this is Article 4 of the UK/US Extradition Treaty 2007 in full:

On the face of it, what Assange is accused of is the very definition of a political offence – if this is not, then what is? It is not covered by any of the exceptions from that listed. There is every reason to consider whether this charge is excluded by the extradition treaty, and to do so before the long and very costly process of considering all the evidence should the treaty apply. But Baraitser simply dismissed the argument out of hand.

Just in case anybody was left in any doubt as to what was happening here, Lewis then stood up and suggested that the defence should not be allowed to waste the court’s time with a lot of arguments. All arguments for the substantive hearing should be given in writing in advance and a “guillotine should be applied” (his exact words) to arguments and witnesses in court, perhaps of five hours for the defence. The defence had suggested they would need more than the scheduled five days to present their case. Lewis countered that the entire hearing should be over in two days. Baraitser said this was not procedurally the correct moment to agree this but she will consider it once she had received the evidence bundles.

(SPOILER: Baraitser is going to do as Lewis instructs and cut the substantive hearing short).

Baraitser then capped it all by saying the February hearing will be held, not at the comparatively open and accessible Westminster Magistrates Court where we were, but at Belmarsh Magistrates Court, the grim high security facility used for preliminary legal processing of terrorists, attached to the maximum security prison where Assange is being held. There are only six seats for the public in even the largest court at Belmarsh, and the object is plainly to evade public scrutiny and make sure that Baraitser is not exposed in public again to a genuine account of her proceedings, like this one you are reading. I will probably be unable to get in to the substantive hearing at Belmarsh.

Plainly the authorities were disconcerted by the hundreds of good people who had turned up to support Julian. They hope that far fewer will get to the much less accessible Belmarsh. I am fairly certain (and recall I had a long career as a diplomat) that the two extra American government officials who arrived halfway through proceedings were armed security personnel, brought in because of alarm at the number of protestors around a hearing in which were present senior US officials. The move to Belmarsh may be an American initiative.

Assange’s defence team objected strenuously to the move to Belmarsh, in particular on the grounds that there are no conference rooms available there to consult their client and they have very inadequate access to him in the jail. Baraitser dismissed their objection offhand and with a very definite smirk.

Finally, Baraitser turned to Julian and ordered him to stand, and asked him if he had understood the proceedings. He replied in the negative, said that he could not think, and gave every appearance of disorientation. Then he seemed to find an inner strength, drew himself up a little, and said:

I do not understand how this process is equitable. This superpower had 10 years to prepare for this case and I can’t even access my writings. It is very difficult, where I am, to do anything. These people have unlimited resources.

The effort then seemed to become too much, his voice dropped and he became increasingly confused and incoherent. He spoke of whistleblowers and publishers being labeled enemies of the people, then spoke about his children’s DNA being stolen and of being spied on in his meetings with his psychologist. I am not suggesting at all that Julian was wrong about these points, but he could not properly frame nor articulate them. He was plainly not himself, very ill and it was just horribly painful to watch. Baraitser showed neither sympathy nor the least concern. She tartly observed that if he could not understand what had happened, his lawyers could explain it to him, and she swept out of court.

The whole experience was profoundly upsetting. It was very plain that there was no genuine process of legal consideration happening here. What we had was a naked demonstration of the power of the state, and a naked dictation of proceedings by the Americans. Julian was in a box behind bulletproof glass, and I and the thirty odd other members of the public who had squeezed in were in a different box behind more bulletproof glass. I do not know if he could see me or his other friends in the court, or if he was capable of recognising anybody. He gave no indication that he did.

In Belmarsh he is kept in complete isolation for 23 hours a day. He is permitted 45 minutes exercise. If he has to be moved, they clear the corridors before he walks down them and they lock all cell doors to ensure he has no contact with any other prisoner outside the short and strictly supervised exercise period. There is no possible justification for this inhuman regime, used on major terrorists, being imposed on a publisher who is a remand prisoner.

I have been both cataloguing and protesting for years the increasingly authoritarian powers of the UK state, but that the most gross abuse could be so open and undisguised is still a shock. The campaign of demonisation and dehumanisation against Julian, based on government and media lie after government and media lie, has led to a situation where he can be slowly killed in public sight, and arraigned on a charge of publishing the truth about government wrongdoing, while receiving no assistance from “liberal” society.

Unless Julian is released shortly he will be destroyed. If the state can do this, then who is next?

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No Inquest for Dawn Sturgess

The killing of poor Dawn Sturgess was much the most serious of the events in Salisbury and Amesbury that attracted international attention. Yet nobody has been charged, no arrest warrant issued and no inquest held.

The inquest for Dawn Sturgess has today been yet again postponed, for the fourth time, and for the first time no new prospective date has been given for it to open. Alarmingly, the coroner’s office are referring press enquiries to Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command – which ought to have no role in an inquest process supposed to be independent of the police.

Congratulations to Rob Slane and to John Helmer for their excellent work in following this.

It appears very probable that the independent coroner’s inquiry process is going to be cancelled and, as in the case of David Kelly, replaced by a politically controlled “public inquiry” with a trusty or malleable judge in charge, like Lord Hutton of Kincora. This is because the truth of Dawn Sturgess’ death in itself destroys key elements of the government’s narrative on what happened in Salisbury.

Simply put, the chemical that killed Dawn Sturgess could not have been the same that allegedly poisoned the Skripals. Charlie Rowley is adamant that he found it in a packaged and fully sealed perfume bottle, in a charity bin. Furthermore he states that it was a charity bin he combed through regularly and it had not been there earlier, in the three months between the alleged attack on the Skripals and his taking it from the bin.

The government narrative that “Boshirov and Petrov” used that perfume bottle to attack the Skripals, then somehow resealed the cellophane, and disposed of it in the bin, depends on the Russians having a tiny plastic resealing technology concealed on them (and why bother?), on their taking a long detour to dispose of the “perfume” in a charity bin – the one method that guaranteed it being found and reused – and the “perfume” then achieving a lengthy period of invisibility in the bin before appearing again three months later.

Those are only some of a number of inconvenient facts. Perfume does not come as a gel; it cannot both have been applied as a gel to the Skripals’ doorknob and sprayed on to Dawn Sturgess’ wrists. Gels do not spray. Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW was able to state it was from the same batch as the chemical allegedly used on the Skripals’ house.

Then there is the fascinating fact that it took eleven days of intensive searching for a vial of liquid in a small modern home, for the police to find the perfume bottle sitting on the kitchen counter.

Nobody has been charged with the manslaughter or murder of Dawn Sturgess. There is still an international arrest warrant out for Boshirov and Petrov for the attack on the Skripals. Very interestingly indeed, this warrant has never been changed into the names of Chepiga and Mishkin.

From the moment I heard of the attack on Dawn Sturgess I worried that she – a person down on her luck and living in a hostel – was exactly the kind of person the powerful and wealthy would view as a disposable human being if her death fitted their narrative. The denial of an inquest for her, and the complete lack of interest by the mainstream media in the obvious nonsense of the official story that ties her to the Skripal poisoning, tends to confirm these fears. What Dawn Sturgess’ death tells us, beyond doubt, is that the government narrative is fake and the Skripal and Sturgess cases are two separate incidents. Which makes a local origin of the chemical very much more likely. No wonder the government is determined to avoid the inquest.

I was struck today that the tame neo-con warmongering “Chemical weapons expert” Hamish De Bretton Gordon, former head of the British Army’s chemical weapons unit, appeared on Sky News. He was being interviewed on use of white phosphorous by Turkey in Syria and repeatedly tried to deflect the narrative on to alleged chemical weapons use by Syrian government forces, arguing that the present crisis was the moral responsibility of those who opposed western military action against Assad. But what particularly struck me was that he appeared by Skype – from Salisbury. When you look at the British government’s own chemical weapons expertise, you are continually led back to Salisbury, perhaps not surprisingly given the location of Porton Down.

I am aiming to make a full documentary film on the Salisbury events entitled “Truth and the Skripals”, based around the questions raised on this blog. I shall be looking to launch crowdfunding for the documentary shortly, probably within the week.

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Bad Faith Negotiation

I seldom comment on Brexit, largely because I neither see leaving the EU as a panacea nor the EU itself as a Utopia, and am alienated by the over-extravagant passions and claims on both sides. In addition to that, the FCO is largely excluded from Brexit negotiations, being perceived by the Tories as a nest of remainers, so I seldom get any interesting information fed to me by ex-colleagues.

I should admit at this point that my apparently effortless expertise on myriad subjects is something of a fake, because often posts are prompted and informed (and very rarely, even written) by someone on the inside, and sometimes it is not possible to tell you that. But sometimes I can tell you, and today this knowledge comes from the inside.

The Legal Advisers of the FCO remain the UK government’s source of expertise on public international law. When the Attorney General publishes his view on such a matter, it has been drafted by FCO Legal Advisers or at the least is based on a minute from them. The sole exception to this of which I know was when Blair’s Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, received formal advice from FCO Legal Advisers that to invade Iraq would be an illegal war of aggression. Goldsmith then flew to Washington on instruction from Blair and Goldsmith’s final advice that the war was legal was based on drafting, not from FCO Legal Advisers, but from George Bush’s Legal Advisors. That is one of those incredible facts that I often find hard to understand do not lead to active public outrage. I wish I was a more religious man and could be sure that Hell awaits Goldsmith. I comfort myself with the thought that Goldsmith might himself be religious and cowering.

There is currently considerable alarm in the FCO that Legal Advisers have been asked about the circumstances constituting force majeure which would justify the UK in breaking a EU Withdrawal Agreement in the future. The EU did not fall for Johnson’s idea that a form of Northern Irish “backstop” would only come into effect with the future sanction of Stormont, as this effectively gives a hardline unionist veto, and Barnier was not born yesterday. The situation that Johnson and Raab appear now to contemplate is agreeing a “backstop” now to get Brexit done, but then not implementing the agreed backstop when the time comes due to “force majeure”.

There are two major problems with this line of thinking. The first is that it will give unionists an incentive to foment disorder in order to justify breaking the backstop agreement – indeed there is a concern that might be the tacit understanding Johnson is reaching with the DUP. Remember the British state conspired with the same people to murder the lawyer Pat Finucane and destroyed the evidence as recently as 2002.

The second problem is one of bad faith negotiation, and this is what is troubling the diplomats of the FCO. To negotiate an agreement with the secret intention of breaking it in future is a grossly immoral proceeding, and undermines the whole principle of good international relations. I should like to be able to say that I am sure this cannot be the intention. But when I look at Johnson, Raab and Cummings, I am really not so sure at all. It is possible that Johnson will succeed in the apparently insurmountable challenge of securing a deal all parties can agree, by the simple strategy of promising some parties he has no intention of honouring it.

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Weep for Catalonia, Weep for Liberalism in Europe

The vicious jail sentences handed down today by the fascists (I used the word with care and correctly) of the Spanish Supreme Court to the Catalan political prisoners represent a stark symbol of the nadir of liberalism within the EU. That an attempt to organise a democratic vote for the Catalan people in pursuit of the right of self determination guaranteed in the UN Charter, can lead to such lengthy imprisonment, is a plain abuse of the most basic of human rights.

I was forced to withdraw my lifelong personal support for the EU when, in response to the vicious crushing of the Catalan referendum by Francoist paramilitary forces, when the whole world saw grandmothers hit on the head and thrown down stairs as they attempted to vote, all the institutions of the EU – Council, Commission and Parliament – lined up one after the other to stress their strong support for the Madrid paramilitary action in maintaining “law and order”.

Today we see the same thing. As the Catalans are imprisoned for efforts at democracy, the EU Commission stated that it “respects the position of the Spanish judiciary” and “this is, and remains, an internal matter for Spain, which has to be dealt with in line with its constitutional order.” The Commission here is simply ignoring what is very obviously a fundamental breach of basic human rights. This is far worse than anything Poland or Hungary have done in recent years, and the Commission is also showing a quite blatant hypocrisy in its relative treatment of its Western and Eastern members.

There was a time when the EU was a shining example of economic and environmental regulation and of regional wealth redistribution. My fondness for the institution dates from it being one of our few defences from economic Thatcherism. But it has evolved into something very different, a mutual support club for neoliberal political leaders.

I do not much blog about Brexit because I am less concerned about it than the majority of the population. I neither think remaining inside is essential nor that leaving it is a political panacea. I do desperately wish to retain freedom of movement, and believe leaving the customs union would be economic self-harm on a large scale. A Norway style relationship would suit me fine, but by and large I prefer to stay out of the argument. I do believe that, as a matter of democratic legitimacy, having had the 2016 referendum the result should be respected; England should leave and Scotland and Northern Ireland remain.

But I also say this. A million people are expected to march on Saturday in support of the EU. That is the EU which has just expressed its active support for the jailing of Catalans for holding a vote. They join Julian Assange as political prisoners in the EU held for non-violent thought crime.

I say this to anyone thinking of marching on Saturday. It is morally wrong, at this time, to show public support for the EU, unless you balance it by showing your disgust at the fascist repression of the Catalans and the EU’s support for that repression. Every single person going on Saturday’s march has a moral obligation to balance it by sending a message to the EU Commission that their support for this repression is utterly out of order, and carrying a flag or sign on the march indicating support for the Catalan political prisoners. Otherwise you are just a smug person marching for personal self interest. Alongside the progenitors of the Iraq War, who doubtless will again dominate the platform speeches.

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The Foreign Office Must Be Challenged Over Sacoolas’ Immunity

The government has stepped up its lies about immunity in the Sacoolas case to a breathtaking degree. I genuinely am astounded by the sheer audacity of the lies now being told, including a staggeringly mendacious FCO-briefed BBC article yesterday stating that “23,000 individuals in the UK have diplomatic immunity” and that it extends to “drivers and cooks”. This follows up the breathtaking FCO statement to Sky News that RAF Croughton “is regarded as an annex to the US Embassy in London” – a total falsehood.

What I cannot understand is why. The entire incident is extremely strange. On the face of it, Harry Dunn’s death was a tragic accident caused by somebody who had not long been in the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. This dreadful mistake is forgivable, as Harry’s very sensible parents have said; there seems little reason to believe the justice system would have been more harsh. There was no conceivable need to run away. That is what they cannot forgive.

Make no mistake; the spiriting of the Sacoolas family out of the UK was a considered act by the US Government and, in the case of a manslaughter in an allied state, the decision not to waive immunity would have been taken right at the top of the State Department. Make no mistake about it either, the FCO would have been informed and complicit in the decision and has only pretended to protest after massive public pressure, got up by Harry’s admirable family a full three weeks after the incident had been, the government would have hoped, successfully buried.

But why? It should be stated that it is the norm to waive diplomatic immunity in serious cases between allied or friendly developed states, where each has confidence in the other’s justice system. Unless the accident did not happen as stated, or there is a Chris Huhne type blame switch involved (Trump yesterday very carefully made the point that cameras had confirmed the identity of the driver – I was not sure why he brought this up when nobody had questioned it), it is very hard to understand why diplomatic immunity has been insisted on in this case. Assuming that Anne Sacoolas was the driver and the incident was as described, the only explanation I can think of is that it was hoped by getting them out the country to avoid all publicity and scrutiny of Jonathon Sacoolas’ real job, which is to spy on British citizens communications’ for GCHQ, who face legal impediments in doing so.

I would like to be able to say that if that cover-up is the plan, it has backfired, except that the media has unanimously censored all reporting of what Sacoolas actually does in the UK. Which is quite extraordinary given the massive but (deliberately) wildly misleading coverage of this case. I wish there were many more places than here you could come to learn the truth, but there are not. In which context, it is worth noting that both Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post have joined the DSMA Notice Committee and become willing tools of the UK security services.

After I pointed out that Sacoolas does not appear on the Diplomatic List, does not hold diplomatic rank and is not accredited to a diplomatic mission, and therefore cannot be a “diplomatic agent” under the Vienna Convention, the FCO first admitted this and claimed his immunity stemmed from a separate bilateral agreement, as reported by Sky News.

Having negotiated many international agreements in my time in the FCO, I know that they need to be given effect in UK domestic law, usually by Order in Council. I therefore searched for legislation giving the Secretary of State authority to grant immunity from criminal prosecution under bilateral agreements for spy bases, and I could find nothing. The legal basis for granting immunities under the Vienna Convention is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which enacted it into UK legislation. The legal basis for granting military immunity under Status of Forces Agreements, or for NATO personnel, is clear and set out in the Visiting Forces Act of 1952.

I could find nothing that would give legal powers to a Secretary of State to grant immunity to US spies on military bases working on communications interception of UK citizens. No legislation was passed to give legal effect in the UK to the reputed bilateral agreements which cover this.

I therefore wrote to the FCO asking for a copy of the bilateral agreement under which Sacoolas has immunity, and a copy of the UK legislation giving the authority to grant the immunity to the Secretary of State. I have not received any reply, but apparently it concentrated minds because the FCO has now switched to make an aggressive – and nonsensical – assertion that Sacoolas is a diplomat in terms of the Vienna Convention.

Not only that, the FCO’s admission to Mark Stephens, reported in that original article by Sky News, that Sacoolas was not a diplomat under the Vienna Convention has been expunged from history. The Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall had tweeted a reply to me copying this report, as evidence there was no DSMA notice controlling the reporting of the Sacoolas case.

Yet this article, held up by Bunkall as evidence of a free media, was within 24 hours totally rewritten to remove the FCO’s admission that Sacoolas was not on the diplomatic list, and replace it with the new FCO attack line of strong assertion that Sacoolas is covered by the Vienna Convention, and to highlight Dominic Raab’s entirely insincere and pretend effort to request Sacoolas’ return. The story has in effect been completely rewritten by the FCO. This is what the same page, the same url, Bunkall tweeted out looks like now:

Pretty well all that remains of the original – accurate – story is the url, now totally at odds with the content https://news.sky.com/story/husband-of-us-woman-granted-diplomatic-immunity-not-registered-diplomat-11830734. There is no acknowledgement that the story has been changed, and the original is strangely not available even on the wayback machine. If Bunkall has not tweeted it, it would be difficult to prove this brief moment of reporting the truth had never existed. The irony of Bunkall’s tweeting a now completely censored report as evidence of press freedom is stunning.

Forgive me but I here must insert my original post on Sacoolas to make plain the actual legal position:

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

ENDS

With this in mind, let us examine the claims made by the FCO to the media in response. From that Sky News report we have:

This is utter nonsense. It is simply untrue. RAF Croughton is not an annex to the US Embassy. The FCO has invented this lie to counter the fact that, to qualify for diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, Sacoolas must be attached to a diplomatic mission. RAF Croughton is not a diplomatic mission. A RAF base cannot be a US Embassy.

That RAF Croughton is an annex of the US Embassy can be immediately disproved. An Embassy is the sovereign territory of the nation which owns it. Within Embassy premises, the law which applies is the law of the Embassy’s state, not the host state. That is not the case in RAF Croughton. That RAF Croughton is not an Annex of the US Embassy can be instantly proven beyond any doubt or argument by the fact that the bye-laws applicable within it are promulgated by the UK Secretary of State for Defence.

If the base were an annex to the US Embassy, the UK Secretary of State could not make bye-laws for it. There is no mention within the bye-laws covering security and management of and access to RAF Croughton of any area within it being part of the US Embassy. The claim is a simple and straightforward lie, and a rather desperate one.

Finally, if RAF Croughton were an annex to the US Embassy and if Mr Sacoolas were a diplomat, the cars of both he and his wife would have diplomatic CD plates. Mrs Sacoolas was not driving a diplomatic car – an obviously vital fact in this case, again omitted from all mainstream media reporting.

There are further lies in the Sky News report.

On the contrary, the Diplomatic List is a comprehensive record of every diplomat notified to the FCO as having diplomatic status by Diplomatic Note – and as specified in Article 10 of the Vienna Convention, a person must be so notified to become a “diplomatic agent”. There are no “diplomatic agents” not on the Diplomatic List.

I was in the Foreign Office for 20 years and a member of its Senior Management Structure for 6 years. It would be nice if you took my word for this, but you don’t have to – it is very neatly explained at the very start of the Diplomatic List:

The entire purpose of the list is to record those with diplomatic immunity and the legislation under which they get it. From page 127 to 137 it lists those who have diplomatic immunity not under the Diplomatic Privileges Act – which only covers national Embassies and High Commissions – but under other legislation as they work not for nations but for international agencies: and in every individual case the Diplomatic List names the specific legislation which confers the immunity.

The major purpose of the London Diplomatic List is to be a compendium of diplomatic status with a precise attribution of immunity and its source. As Sacoolas is not listed as a diplomat of the US Embassy in the Diplomatic List or the Consular List, he is not a “diplomatic agent” entitled to full diplomatic immunity. Full stop. As explained below, Sacoolas’ wife would only have diplomatic immunity while driving privately if he held a full diplomatic rank (in which case her car would have diplomatic CD plates, which it does not).

The FCO claim that the Diplomatic List only covers London is also ludicrous. The same government webpage gives you the full list of consulates, with their consuls, and even of honorary consuls, outside of London. It does not list Embassy annexes outside London because there are none and the concept does not exist in international law. Embassy outposts from the capital are consulates or consular offices.

The FCO is trying to convince you that their entire section of staff who work on diplomatic accreditations and constantly update the Diplomatic List, are wasting their time on an entirely pointless exercise producing futile and incomplete lists. I wonder how those employees’ morale is today.

But Raab’s FCO did not stop there with the lies. They then briefed the BBC to produce an article on diplomatic immunity so full of lies as to be truly astonishing. I am prepared to confess that I could not complete this blog entry for three days because I was genuinely emotionally upset by the realisation that the UK now has a government whose noted penchant for “aggressive” media and opinion management means it is prepared to employ the big lie on any occasion and subject.

The BBC article is plainly based entirely on an FCO briefing and written with the express and sole intention of obscuring the fact that Sacoolas is not a diplomat. It contains so many outrageous lies that I am afraid this article is going to get still longer. If you have had the patience to stick with me so far, please bear with me a bit further.

This is another quite extraordinary lie, as anybody can easily confirm simply by reading the Vienna Convention. As explained above, full diplomatic immunity is enjoyed only by “diplomatic agents” who must be persons “Having diplomatic rank”.

As very plainly set out in articles 37 of the Vienna Convention:

Article 37
1.The members of the family of a diplomatic agent forming part of his household shall, if they are
not nationals of the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 36.

2.Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of
their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or
permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29
to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified
in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties. They
shall also enjoy the privileges specified in article 36, paragraph 1, in respect of articles imported at the
time of first installation.

3.Members of the service staff of the mission who are not nationals of or permanently resident in
the receiving State shall enjoy immunity in respect of acts performed in the course of their duties,
exemption from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive by reason of their employment and the
exemption contained in article 33.

So “diplomatic agents” “having diplomatic rank” – which, remember, Sacoolas does not have – hold full immunity as do their families.

“Administrative and technical staff” have immunity from prosecution only while performing acts “in the course of their duties”. That is while actually engaged in work for their governments, not outwith their working time. Their families also have exactly the same immunity, and as the families do not have any official duties to be engaged in, in practice their immunity is only civil ie from taxation.

In the case of another spy, Shai Masot, not on the diplomatic list, when challenged as to his diplomatic status the FCO claimed he was not a “diplomatic agent” but only “technical and administrative staff”. As an NSA communications interception expert Sacoolas could arguably be “technical and administrative staff” if it were true that RAF Croughton were an annex of the US Embassy – but that plainly is not true.

However even were Sacoolas covered by immunity as “technical and administrative work” he and his family would only be covered for events that happened in the direct course of his work, and very, very plainly Anne Sacoolas would not have had diplomatic immunity when she hit Harry Dunn. She only had immunity if Sacoolas is a full blown “diplomatic agent” – which he isn’t. We are yet to be told what “diplomatic rank” he allegedly holds. So for the BBC to try to obscure the case with cooks and gardeners – who as “service staff” have even less immunity and their families none at all – is deliberate obfuscation.

This is an utterly tendentious claim. As explained above, the only people with practical diplomatic immunity outside their actual work are full blown diplomats, and there are just over 3,000 of them, all captured in the Diplomatic List. The BBC report attempts to make out that categories such as “international organisations” account for significant parts of this alleged horde of diplomats, but as noted above those from international organisations entitled to diplomatic immunity are all in the London Diplomatic List pp 127 to 137 and amount to just 220 people. It is also worth remembering that the majority of family members who have immunity are children.

There is a much larger number of military personnel who enjoy immunity under the Visiting Forces Act – a total disgrace, in my view – but this is not diplomatic immunity and it is not claimed Sacoolas has it. I have no idea where the ridiculous 23,000 figure for diplomatic immunity originates. Dominic Raab’s arse seems the best bet.

The Johnson/Raab PR strategy here is plain – to drown investigation of Sacoolas’ extremely dodgy claim to political asylum in a sea of tens of thousands of fictitious holders of dodgy political asylum. The government has decided to make us overlook Sacoolas by pretending that there are 23,000 obscure foreigners roaming our country as “diplomats”, each of whom has the license to burgle your home, piss on your floor, kill your daughter and rape your son without facing any possible criminal prosecution or comeback. If this were true, it would be a catastrophic and alarming state of affairs. Thankfully it is a great morass of fiction the government has created within which to try and bury Sacoolas.

This fake “diplomatic immunity” needs to be challenged in court, but I am not sure anyone except Harry Dunn’s family has the locus to do this. Their son was killed by the wife of a spy and to avoid political embarrassment about his activities, the government has falsely connived at a status of diplomatic immunity and then pretended to be trying to get Mrs Sacoolas back. That is an awful lot to take in for people in a terrible state of grief. After losing a son, the cognitive dissonance involved in uncovering state secrets, and learning that the state is malevolent and senior ministerial office holders are liars, is a huge hurdle to surmount. The Dunn family have first to summon the will to fight it, and then to avoid the attempts to hug them in the suffocating embrace of an establishment lawyer – believe me the powers that be will be covertly thrusting one at them – who will advise them they are most likely to make progress if they rock no boats.

The only people I know of who effectively enjoy secret diplomatic immunity are spies from CIA/NSA like Jonathon Sacoolas or from Mossad like Shai Masot. There are not any other categories of pretend diplomats having immunity, and the elaborate charade to pretend that there are is a nonsense. It must not distract from the fact that the claim that the government can grant US and Israeli intelligence agencies diplomatic immunity at will is a lie. The government is acting illegally here. There is no legislation that covers Raab in allowing Mrs Sacoolas to kill – albeit accidentally – with impunity.

I pray both the government and Mrs Sacoolas will be brought to account. I hope Mr and Mrs Dunn find what peace they can with their loss, and are able to remember with due warmth the eighteen wonderful years that I am sure they had with their son.

——————————————

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Jonathan Sacoolas Is Not, and Has Never Been, a Diplomat

UPDATE: Since I published this article the mainstream media, including at least Sky News and the Guardian, have started to report that Sacoolas does not have diplomatic immunity. This is a massive reversal in the MSM line, though to date none have published that he works for NSA or explained the NSA/GCHQ relationship. The MSM are all quoting the lawyer Mark Stephens, rather than this blog, as the source of the information. I would gently note that I can so far find no evidence of Stephens pointing out Sacoolas is not on the Diplomatic List until some hours after I broke the story, and that when he gave radio interviews yesterday Stephens was unaware of the fact.

Ultimately however it does not matter that I am not credited; what matters is my lead has in practice been followed and there is now a much stronger point of pressure available to get justice for Harry Dunn.
END OF UPDATE

There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state

Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).

The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;

Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).

Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.

None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.

The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.

I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.

——————————————

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An Unpopular Article

This article is probably unpopular. The point of this blog is not to make you agree, but to make you think; if I did not express views which are not the view of the majority, there would be no point in writing at all. This is not an applause seeking echo chamber of popular sentiment.

Boris Johnson has no more ardent political opponent than I. But some of the hysteria about him is overblown.

As a teenage delegate to a Liberal Party conference in 1976 (I think in Llandudno), I had to fend off the amorous advances of a politician who persisted even after I plainly told him I was not gay, and I ended up stabbing his wandering hand with the pin of my delegate’s badge, after which he went away. I regarded his behaviour as over drunken and over randy, but took the attitude then and now that humans are not perfect and inclined occasionally to fall prey to their basic instincts, especially when drinking. If we expected everyone to be perfect, we would live our entire lives in a state of disappointment. I expect a majority of sexually active adults have similar experiences at some time. I do not believe it healthy or sensible to elevate them to serious crimes.

(For the sake of clarity, I should add that I have never personally been accused of an unwanted physical advance).

I really do not care whether Boris Johnson squeezed Charlotte Edwards’ leg 20 years ago. I firmly believe women are every bit the equal of men, and I do not understand why it is somehow reckoned that Ms Edwards, and others in the same position, were unable to stab his hand with a fork, throw a drink in his face, or embarrass him by telling him clearly to stop. I do not accept the notion that difference of age and status between full adults makes firm rejection impossible – that thought did not cross my mind with the politician in Llandudno, who was a good deal older, more famous and wealthy than I, and in a position to further my political ambitions. Ms Edwards saying nothing at the time, saving it up for twenty years and then attempting to use the claim to cause major damage, appears to me behaviour as bad as the original.

I do realise that in this I have outlived the mores of the times. But no matter how fiercely I oppose a no deal Brexit – and I think it would be disastrous for every one but a few nasty financial speculators – I do not think the approach of throwing the kitchen sink of accusations against Boris Johnson is good for the long term health of politics. It also obscures with chaff the allegations of real wrongdoing, like directing public funds and assistance to the company of a woman with whom he was in a sexual relationship. That should be investigated. That is real wrongdoing.

Johnson’s arrogance before the Commons in refusing to apologise for the prorogation of parliament was deeply unpleasant, but I do not approve of the effort to delegitimise his use of language. Words like “surrender”, “betrayal” and “traitor” have centuries of political use behind them. Boris Johnson is as entitled to free speech as anyone else. It is perfectly legitimate for opponents to argue that his language is deliberately divisive and thus people ought to vote against him in the interests of harmony. The electorate can pay heed or not to such argument, as they see fit. But it is quite another thing to argue that such language should be excised from public life. Robust debate is an important aspect of free speech. Controlling the language of your opponents is the antithesis of democracy. I am firmly with John Stuart Mill on this one.

People were offended by Galileo and Darwin, by Gandhi, by Jesus and Mohammed. Causing offence is important to human development. Everyone is entitled to do it, even Boris Johnson.

Finally I had the misfortune to see Jess Phillips on BBC Breakfast TV yesterday morning and she gave, as an example of abuse of MPs the fact that every time she speaks about anti-semitism in the Labour Party she receives emails stating that she is exaggerating, or is a puppet of Israel. A great deal of what MPs plainly see as abusive online activity looks to me simply like people expressing their disagreement. People can be entirely right or entirely wrong in their views, but they still have a right to express them to Members of Parliament. I found Ms Phillips objection to people expressing disagreement deeply worrying.

I have no doubt MPs do receive death threats – I do myself sometimes, generally originating in Florida for some strange reason. But I do wonder how much exaggeration there is of this.

The Laura Kuenssberg case is seminal here. You may recall that 35,000 people signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for her removal for pro-Tory bias and after a major headline news campaign headed by the Guardian and BBC, claiming that the petition was full of abusive and misogynistic comments, 38 Degrees deleted the petition. However I went through all the comments personally and could only find one comment and a single related tweet which was in any way abusive or misogynistic. When I challenge 38 Degrees to produce the evidence of abuse, there was none. That was a very worrying example of the limiting of perfectly legitimate protest against Kuenssberg, on an excuse of “abusive social media” which was a lie.

There is insufficient plain speaking already in politics and the attempt to further contain and constrain, and limit political thought to acceptable channels and vocabulary, is worrying. Let Johnson say what he wills, and let the electorate judge that.

As for behaviour, I do not wish to see any further correspondence of the Overton window with sex negative feminism. I can personally think of one mutually fulfilling physical relationship in my own history, where the crossing of that difficult line from friendship to physical intimacy did indeed start with the squeeze of a leg under the table. The initiation of more intimate physical contact is the most critical point in the complex courtship rituals of developed human societies. To insist that verbal agreement must always be sought before a move to kiss or an exploratory caress of a leg or a shoulder, is a fundamental change in culture which I am not at all sure is desirable. The essential qualifier is of course that, if the other person either verbally or by action does not welcome the tentative first move, then the initiator must desist immediately. It is my own belief that sex-negative feminism seeks quite deliberately to invalidate perfectly normal heterosexual courtship and that the chattering classes have far too readily adopted this, in the interests of identity politics.

I am perfectly aware that what I have written will offend some pleasant people and is against current fashionable thinking. I am also well aware that less pleasant people will utterly misrepresent what I have written as a justification of sexual assault. I deplore entirely any non-consensual sexual activity forced on anyone, and I believe that the slightest indication of disapproval should lead to an instant stop. But to deny the existence of non-verbal communication, and make an issue of non-violent initiation of contact outside an erogenous zone, is to me not legitimate. I would also refer you to my last post, and the extraordinary difference in the treatment in these matters by the media and political classes purveying identity politics of those within the neo-liberal “centrist” consensus, like Bill Clinton and Brendan Cox, and those outside it, like Boris Johnson, Alex Salmond or Julian Assange. This is a misguided and an extraordinarily selective outrage.

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Heroes, Villains and Establishment Hypocrisy

Trump and Johnson’s populism have shaken the old Establishment, and raised some very interesting questions about who is and who is not nowadays inside the Establishment and a beneficiary of the protection of the liberal elite. Yesterday two startling examples in the news coverage cast a very lurid light on this question, and I ask you to consider the curious cases of Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox, two of the most undeserving and unpleasant people that can be imagined.

The BBC news bulletins led on the move to impeach Donald Trump for, as they put it, his efforts to get the President of Ukraine to undermine a political opponent. To be plain, I think Trump was quite wrong to get personally involved in this, but please park the entire subject of Donald Trump to one side for the next ten minutes.

What I find deeply reprehensible in all the BBC coverage is their failure to report the facts of the case, and their utter lack of curiosity about why Joe Biden’s son Hunter was paid $60,000 a month by Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer, as an entirely absent non-executive director, when he had no relevant experience in Ukraine or gas, and very little business experience, having just been dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve for use of crack cocaine? Is that question not just little bit interesting? That may be the thin end of it – in 2014-15 Hunter Biden received US $850,000 from the intermediary company channeling the payments. In reporting on Trump being potentially impeached for asking about it, might you not expect some analysis – or at least mention – of what he was asking about?

As far as I am aware, the BBC have not reported at all the other thing Trump was asking Zelensky about – Crowdstrike. Regular readers will recall that Crowdstrike are the Clinton linked “cyber-security” company which provided the “forensic data” to the FBI on the alleged Russian hack of the DNC servers – data which has been analysed by my friend Bill Binney, former Technical Director of the NSA, who characterises it as showing speeds of transfer impossible by internet and indicating a download to an attached drive. The FBI were never allowed access to the actual DNC server – and never tried, taking the DNC’s consultants word for the contents, which itself is sufficient proof of the bias of the “investigation”.

Crowdstrike also made the claim that the same Russia hackers – “Fancy Bear” – who hacked the DNC, hacked Ukrainian artillery software causing devastating losses of Ukrainian artillery. This made large headlines at the time. What did not make any MSM headlines was the subsequent discovery that all of this never happened and the artillery losses were entirely fictitious. As Crowdstrike had claimed that it was the use of the same coding in the DNC hack as in the preceding (non-existent) Ukraine artillery hack, that proved Russia hacked the DNC, this is pretty significant. Trump was questioning Zelensky about rumours the “hacked” DNC server was hidden in the Ukraine by Crowdstrike. The media has no interest in reporting any of that at all.

It is plain in that case that Trump is the media’s villain and the Bidens, father and son, are therefore heroes being protected by the Establishment media. Now let us look at the case of Brendan Cox.

Boris Johnson’s behaviour in the Commons two nights ago was reprehensible. Watching the unrepentant and aggressive braying of the Tory MPs, I was genuinely concerned about the consequences for democracy should these empowered right wingers ever get a majority. Johnson has removed the social restraint which used to cloak their atavistic instincts.

This Tory display also very much reinforced what I have been saying for years, that we will not gain Scottish Independence through a repeat of 2014. We were allowed a referendum with only moderate cheating by the British state purely because they believed there was no chance we could win. They have been disabused. There will never be a Section 30 order an an agreed referendum again. We will have to seize Independence by means which the British state will deem unlawful. Anybody not prepared to do that is not serious about Independence.

I digress. Johnson’s behaviour is appalling and he is at an interesting stage where the Establishment and its media is unsure whether to embrace or repudiate him, the calculation depending on whether they think he will win, and on the impact of Brexit on their personal financial interests. But as with Trump, I ask you to set aside your judgement on Johnson and not think of him for a moment.

Yesterday BBC news programmes brought us repeated appearances of Brendan Cox to comment on Boris Johnson and other MP’s parliamentary behaviour. This Brendan Cox:

One such allegation was that Cox pinned a co-worker to a wall by her throat while telling her ‘I want to fuck you’. Cox left the organisation before being subjected to scrutiny on this and other allegations. However, another woman, a senior US official who met him at a Harvard University event, made similar allegations against him, ‘of grabbing her by the hips, pulling her hair, and forcing his thumb into her mouth’ ‘in a sexual way’. In contrast to Assange’s treatment, and despite a social-media furore, for nearly three years there was largely a media blackout on the story. At last, in February 2018, a right-wing tabloid broke the embargo and reported the allegations, and other news organisations had to follow suit. Finally, ‘Cox apologised for the “hurt and offence” caused by his past behaviour’ and announced he was withdrawing from public life.

I strongly recommend you to read that last linked article. Cox is very much on the wavelength of the Establishment media, a full member of the New Labour neo-liberal elite who shuttled between jobs in the Labour Party and in high paying neo-liberal propaganda organisation Save the Children. Cox was personally pocketing £106,000 a year plus expenses from donations to the “charity”. A serial unfaithful sexual aggressor, his wife’s murder sees him recast by the media as the grieving survivor of a perfect marriage. Precisely his strongest political supporters – Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy etc – are Julian Assange’s bitterest opponents due to far flimsier, hotly denied and less attested sexual allegations than those against Cox. But neo-liberals get a free pass from the modern feminist movement (cf Bill Clinton).

Boris Johnson’s behaviour was a dsgrace. But that is no reason for the BBC rehabilitation of the “retired from public life” sexual predator.

The fascinating thing is the binary, good versus evil, narrative which is being pursued in the liberal media. Trump and Johnson are bad. Therefore Hunter Biden and Brendan Cox must be good. The truth, of course, is much more complex than that. I am afraid to say that if you want an excessive simplification, a more accurate one would be that the entire political elite on all sides are self-serving and venal.

There is a more interesting story inside that, where significant portions of the public have lost respect for the Establishment, due in large part to the vast and increasing wealth gap in society, but this disillusion has been battened on by populist charlatans, and particularly directed against immigrants. This feels like an extremely unstable phase in society and politics. But instability brings the possibility of radical change, which is indeed much needed. We must all work for good from it.

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Johnson Enters Neo-Con Heaven

There has been remarkably little media commentary on the effect of the UK leaving the EU Common Foreign Policy, even though this is a major aim of Johnson, Gove and the Tory Brexiteers. The media appear not to have noticed the existence of the Common Foreign Policy. We saw perhaps the first public glimpse of the UK’s new foreign policy yesterday when Boris Johnson breached the EU Common Foreign Policy to join Donald Trump in denouncing the Iran nuclear treaty. As the UK has not actually left the EU yet, that was bad faith and an illegal act against an EU treaty obligation, but following the law is evidently of no concern whatsoever to Johnson.

There could not have been a more apt symbolism than the fact that on the day of the Supreme Court judgement that he had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament, Boris Johnson’s major public engagement was a press conference sitting alongside Donald Trump. That is the future of the Tory version of Brexit. Other Lexit options are theoretically available, but this is what the UK’s current government intends you to get.

Of recent years EU foreign policy has been fairly characterised as neo-con, though it has rowed back somewhat from the high water mark of endorsement of the destruction of Libya. But freed from common positions on Iran, Russia, Syria and issues such as climate change, we are going to see a much more full-on neo-con approach from the UK – and one which, as now over Iran, is openly allied with the USA and against Europe. Some of the things Johnson said about the Iran nuclear deal on Monday in New York were jaw-dropping even by Johnson’s standards. “I think there’s one guy who can do a better deal and one guy who understands how to get a difficult partner like Iran over the line and that is the president of the United States,” is but one example.

My reading of Trump is that he is as contemptuous of brown-nosers as he is of opponents, but let that play out. What is plain is that, if Johnson survives as PM and Brexit goes through, Trump is going to have an unquestioning acolyte in Johnson. As I have previously reported, this is crucially going to extend to UK support for Trump’s Israel policy. It will very probably lead to UK support for Israeli annexations in the Jordan Valley – which EU Common Foreign Policy would not allow – and Johnson plans an announcement before Christmas on the moving of the UK Embassy to Jerusalem.

Johnson also blamed Iran for direct involvement in the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities at Khurais and Abqaiq. This is far from proven, and I am utterly confused by the narrative the western government and media complex has been pumping out on the event. We have been treated to an update of the Singapore Gun Myth. My generation and older were brought up to believe that Singapore had fallen in World War 2 because the guns were all fixed pointing out to sea and the attack came by land. In fact this was largely untrue and in any event not the main problem, which was appalling generalship and resulting rock-bottom morale. We are now nonsensically told that all of Saudi Arabia’s air defences only point South towards Yemen and therefore missiles from Iran crept in the side.

This is absolutely untrue. Saudi Arabia’s entire weapons capacity is massively focused on Iran, as are the manifold detection devices of the numerous US bases. Besides modern air defence systems are omnidirectional. The Patriot missile defence system is not the best in the world, though it is the most expensive; however you cannot just creep up behind it and shout “boo!” Not even the Saudis would pay billions of dollars for that.

Nor is it true that the Patriot system cannot detect cruise missiles. While it may have been designed with long range ballistic missiles in mind, it was only ever intended to intercept them in the last phase of their approach and cannot detect at more than 70km away. Saudi Arabia spent $1.57 billion dollars on PAC3 missiles: “A new Patriot advanced capability (PAC-3) missile has increased effectiveness against tactical ballistic and cruise missiles through the use of advanced hit-to-kill technology. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, with Raytheon the systems integrator. The PAC-3 has a Ka-band millimetre wave seeker developed by Boeing.”

That drones evaded the defences seems possible. That is a fascinating demonstration of the new possibilities in assymetric warfare. As we witnessed in Gatwick, even entirely non-existent drones can be very effective. That cruise missiles were involved seems unlikely unless a very large number were launched – there has been no claim of any intercepts. The cruise missile claim is of course the grounds for the claim of Iranian involvement. That any substantial number of cruise missiles were launched from Iran into Saudi Arabia and none of them were picked up by the defences of the numerous warships in the Gulf, by the US military bases or by the Saudi air defences is so improbable as to be utter nonsense.

Any event which leads to a massive but very temporary spike in the oil price will have potential beneficiaries aside from where we are being told to look. On present public knowledge, however, a Houthi attack with drones seems the most probable explanation, as indeed the Houthis have claimed. Given the appalling bombardment from the air of Houthi civilians, I would regard such an attack as entirely justified. The addition of cruise missiles from Iran to the story seems to me wildly improbable but an entirely predictable propaganda ploy. It does however give us a glimpse of what the future of Trump/Johnson foreign policy could hold for the UK.

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Judicial Blowback

The Tory government, under both May and Johnson, has made plain its contempt for the rule of law repeatedly, and not only over the prorogation of parliament. In the last few days we have seen the Tories admit to illegal sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, in direct breach of a ruling by the Court of Appeal, for which “accident” Liz Truss gave a completely fake apology.

The Home Office has simply ignored court rulings in several immigration cases. To this must be added the whole “enemies of the people” attitude of the government supporting media towards judges in cases involving Brexit, and the remarkably equivocal noises from No 10 over respecting the Supreme Court on prorogation.

The arguments of today’s Supreme Court judgement were extremely strong. But even Supreme Court judges are human. No matter how much the judgement may be presented as purely the product of rarified intellect, I have no doubt the surprisingly unanimous view of the court was to some extent influenced by the chance to hit back decisively at a political faction which has cast the judiciary as the enemy and attempted to undermine them and to ignore or override inconvenient judgements.

Boris, meet Hubris.

I have expressed at length my view that the idea the Queen was “misled” is a nonsense. David Cameron’s description of the process of getting the Queen to intervene in the Scottish Independence referendum, involving multiple conversations with her private secretary (a senior civil servant on secondment), lifts the lid a bit for those who have not been inside the system. There will have been detailed discussions with the Queen’s private office of the prorogation and its motives, which Buckingham Palace could see as well as any of us. One cheerful thing about today’s ruling is that it states unequivocally that an Order in Council, issued with the authority of the Queen, is void if unlawful. This is as much a poke in the eye for the Queen as it is for Boris Johnson, despite the near unanimous pretence of her immaculate innocence and infallibility.

I had drafted a piece on Boris and Iran, but given today’s overwhelming news focus am leaving that till tomorrow.

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Dedicated to David Allen Green, Joshua Rosenberg, Joan Smith, Hadley Freeman, Jess Phillips, David Aaronovitch and the entire staff of the Guardian/Observer

As of today Julian Assange has finished his jail sentence for missing police bail. There is no Swedish charge or request for his extradition, those risibly flimsy sexual allegations no longer being needed by the state.

As of today, Julian Assange is in prison purely and simply for publishing secrets of the US state, revealing war crimes and the dirtiest of diplomacy. I should like to dedicate this post to all of those in the title and dozens of their colleagues in the British “liberal” establishment, all of whom claimed that Julian’s fears of being incarcerated in the UK or Europe facing extradition for publishing US secrets were entirely bogus and a mere pretext for hiding, and that this would never happen. Those of us who said this was a real fear and a real danger were, myself most definitely included, derided as fantasist, deluded, paranoid and conspiracy theorist.

So now Julian is a political prisoner, a journalist in a maximum security prison, probably for years, waiting for his case to be heard and extradition faced for the grievous crime of doing his job and publishing. While the British liberal establishment simply buries its nose in its perfumed handkerchief and pretends that the fear it derided as imaginary, has not come true.

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