Monthly Archives: April 2013


Shame, Lies and Secrecy on Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands remains a deep shame to the United Kingdom. In the 1960’s we forcibly deported an entire population a thousand miles, very much against their will, to make way for a United States air base. This is not an ancient evil; it continues to seep its poison into current actions, and the remnants of the deported population still linger in Mauritius, dreaming of home.

The Chagos outlines the stark hyprocrisy of UK policy on the Falklands. There we state the will of the islanders is paramount. In the Chagos, we state the will of the islanders is meaningless. Of course, the Falklanders are white-skinned, the Chagossians brown-skinned. That is the limit of the FCO’s attachment to self-determination as a principle. It is not for “Man Fridays”.

“Man Fridays”, according to the US Embassy Cable describing the briefing on Diego Garcia given them by FCO official Colin Roberts, is how Roberts referred to the inhabitants:

Roberts stated that, according to the HGM,s current thinking on a reserve, there would be “no human footprints” or “Man Fridays” on the BIOT’s uninhabited islands.

In the Diego Garcians’ latest attempt to get their home back, Roberts under cross-examination denied emphatically that he had used the term “Man Fridays”. It is difficult to see why the US diplomats who recorded his meeting with them used the term and put it in quotation marks, if Roberts did not use it. Roberts appears, on the face of it, to be potentially a perjurer in court. It was at this point the judges brilliantly resolved this issue by declaring the US Embassy cable ineligible in court on two grounds; firstly, its possession was a contravention of the UK’s official secrets act, as Roberts’ disclosure of the UK government’s duplicity was an official secret; secondly for it to be noticed by a court would contravene the Vienna Convention on the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.

This not only wiped out the problem of the apparent perjury by Colin Roberts; it collapsed the Chagos Islanders’ case that the US Embassy Cable clearly shows that the declaration of a Chagos Islands marine conservation area was merely a ruse to make it impossible for the inhabitants – who are artisan fishermen – to return:

He asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents. Responding to Polcouns’ observation that the advocates of Chagossian resettlement continue to vigorously press their case, Roberts opined that the UK’s “environmental lobby is far more powerful than the Chagossians’ advocates.”

Of course, I knew at the time what the evil David Miliband was doing, and I blogged about it in May 2010:

Miliband has now produced what is one of the most cynical acts in the history of British foreign policy. Dressed up as an environmentalist move, and with support from a number of purblind environmentalists, the waters around the Chagos Archipelago have been declared the world’s largest marine reserve – in which all fishing is banned. The islanders, of course, are fishermen.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36139130/ns/world_news-world_environment/

The sheer cynicism of this effort by Miliband to dress up genocide as environmentalism is simply breathtaking. If we were really cooncerned about the environment of Diego Garcia we would not have built a massive airbase and harbour on a fragile coral atoll and filled it with nuclear weapons.

The subsequent wikileaks release of the cable recording the US Embassy briefing by Colin Roberts – which shows just what an odious, immoral creep Colin Roberts is – confirms the truth at what I am saying. I am still very angry at the environmental organisations which allowed themselves to be used in this way; they were blinkered and stupid. There is nothing more dangerous than a good man with a monomania.

The Guardian rightly execrated the ludicrous court decision to pretend the wikileaked US cable did not exist. It rather undermines the famous legal maxim that “facts are stubborn things”. A truer maxim would be “Facts are things which vicious, authoritarian judges can make disappear when it benefits the government for them to do so”.

The implication that facts, no matter how true, can be ignored in court if the government did not wish those facts to emerge, is a major blow to the very possibility of whistleblowing. A judicial system where the court only considers government approved fact, is a cornerstone of fascism. What happened in that court was very serious indeed. Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Mitting are a disgrace to their profession, the compliant tools of a policy that should disgust all moral men.

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BBC the New Hammer of the Scots

I’d Hammer out Danger – I’d Hammer Out a Warning

BBC anti-Scots propaganda is moving beyond the risible towards the truly chilling. On the 26 April the first words on Reporting Scotland, issued by Unionist poster girl Sally Magnusson (no nepotism there) in sepulchral tones, were “There is a warning tonight” – that nobody, public or private , would get their pension paid properly after independence.

This gave my friend Kirsten a feeling of deja vu, and she did a quick trawl of the BBC’s continued and repetitive use of the words “Scottish independence” and “warning” in the same sentence. This is what she came up with:

“Scottish independence: Pension shortfall warning”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-22314646

“UK Treasury warning that an SNP plan for a currency union after independence”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-22246176

“Scottish independence: Warning over ‘weakened military'”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-21776602

“Scottish independence: ‘Havoc’ warning from pensions firm”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-20562203

“Scottish independence: Luxembourg warns against ‘going separate ways'”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21664450

“Scottish independence: Barroso warning on EU membership”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-20666146

“Scottish independence: Michael Moore issues warning over vote question”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-21016047

“Scottish independence: ‘Border checks’ warning from home secretary”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-17505302

And I can’t omit this brilliant spoof:
“Warning for SNP over renewable energy”
http://www.bbc.scotlandshire.co.uk/index.php/city-news/268-warning-for-snp-over-renewable-energy.html

Please note this amazing litany – and I use the word litany carefully, a verbal repetition to inculcate belief – includes only those where the deliberate practice of repetitive coupling of “independence” and “warning” has been captured by being written on the website; there are hundreds of other examples of broadcast, spoken use of the words “Warning” and “Scottish independence” in the same sentence by the BBC.

The presentation of every one of the above stories was in the most tendentious and anti-independence manner conceivable. They have all been countered and comprehensively rebutted.

By contrast, there are no BBC headlines that promote positive claims about Scottish Independence. You will look in vain for headlines that say “Yes campaign says independent Scotland will be eighth richest country in the world” or “Official GERS report shows Scotland’s public finances much healthier than those of the UK”. Such headlines just do not exist. Reporting Scotland or Newsnight Scotland has never, never been led by a positive story about independence. It has been led on dozens of occasions by the negative.

It astonishes me that even the use of the most obvious and blatant state propaganda techniques by the BBC do not result in any serious reaction from the political establishment. I repeat my call on Alex Salmond to request the intervention of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE to monitor the referendum and in particular to start immediately Phase 1 media monitoring. I am writing to Alex Salmond and to Chris Patten – both of whom at different times have been guests in my home -to seek a meeting on this issue of BBC bias.

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Burnes the Polymath

Can anyone find a full online version of K.M. Lyell’s 1881 Life, Letters and Journals of Charles Lyell, Bart. ? Normally google books or similar have such out of copyright books online free if of any interest, but all I can find is this limited preview of a Cambridge University Press edition. It is in my chain of thought today and I don’t want to break off and come back.

I have been struck quite frequently in both manuscript and published writings that Alexander Burnes plainly was no creationist and had a strikingly “modern” world view for someone born in 1805. Some of his observations of animal life take evolution as read, and his understanding of geological processes seems almost solecistic. One reason he survived journeys which Gerard, Moorcroft and Trebeck did not was that he dosed himself with quinine when the British army treated malaria with leeches. Burnes and Gerard contracted malaria together in Balkh and Termez – still malarial today – precisely where Moorcroft and Trebeck had done so fatally a decade previously. Gerard, a medical doctor, refused Burnes’ offered quinine for more traditional treatment (camomile!) and eventually died of his malaria.

Burnes was very directly a child of the Scottish Enlightenment and his range of knowledge across a wide variety of academic disciplines is truly striking. I early made a transcript of an account of a dinner in the Shalimar gardens near Lahore around 1837 with two eminent British palaeontologists, whom I find described in encyclopaedias as among the founders of the science. I can’t immediately put my hands on the transcript to give you their names, but Burnes plainly could discuss the subject intelligently. He was a friend and correspondent of Charles Lyell and sent him fossils. Burnes is quoted at length in Lyell’s Principles of Geology, a book as ground-breaking in its time as The Origin of Species and very much part of the same intellectual movement. (Yes, I know Lyell was building on Hutton). Lyell and Darwin were close and their relationship is a field of study in itself.

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“The Project” in Kazakhstan

A week ago Wikileaks released the transcript of a meeting between Julian Assange and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, together with a number of other liberal establishment figures from the USA. This transcript is an important read. Assange has been portrayed in the media as a crazed pantomime villain. The reflective and thoughtful person who emerges from these transcripts is not perhaps what people accept. I also find it encouraging that a major CEO like Schmidt himself comes over as a genuine thinker, with liberal instincts.

But I want to focus rather narrowly on one point. Assange talks at length of his disappointment at the presentation of the State Department cables by Wikileaks’ mainstream media partners. In relation to the Guardian, among other things he says this:

“The Guardian redacted two thirds of a cable about Bulgarian crime, removed all the names of the people who had infiltrated – the mafioso – who had infiltrated the Bulgarian government. Removed a description of the Kazakstan elite, which said that the Kazakstan elite in general were corrupt, not even a particular name, just in general! Removed a description that a an energy company out of Italy operating in Kazakhstan was corrupt, so they have redacted for naming of individual names of people who might be unfairly put at risk, just like we do–that is what we require of them. They have redacted the names of mafioso, individual mafioso because they are worried that they might get sued for libel in London by this mafioso. They have redacted the names… they have redacted the description of a class of Kazakhstan elite, a class has been corrupt, and they have redacted descriptions of individual companies being corrupt because they don’t want to expose themselves to any risk at all.”

This is true, but not the whole story. At that time, I was trying without success to persuade Wikileaks to let me in to the cables in my are of expertise pre-publication, to assist with editing those on Africa and Central Asia to remove any risk to individuals. I was not able to do this because of Wikileaks’ exclusive deal with the newspapers, whom I thought they trusted to a remarkable degree.

A very senior figure ar the Guardian once said to me that “It should not be underestimated how far Rusbridger saw himself as an intrinsic part of The Project ” – The Project being Tony Blair’s plan to move the old Labour Party to a neo-con position and continue the Thatcher revolution (not that they called it that, even to themselves. Modernisation, Third Way etc.) Rusbridger, Michael White, Polly Toynbee, Andrew Rawnsley remain to this day fully paid up Blairites, and the Guardian continually, to this day, give a platform to Blair and Alistair Campbell, and publish article after article about how great is his legacy and how much he still has to contribute. I can’t bring myself to the emetic task of looking any of the offending articles up – perhaps people can kindly link to some in comments!

For several years now, a major stream of the massive Blair income has come from advisory and PR work for the murderous dictatorship of Kazakhstan – a government which massacres striking miners, which might be of interest to Blair’s former constituents. When I met Alistair Campbell in November he had recently come back from Kazahstan.

Julian Assange was quite right to infer that protecting themselves from possible libel suits had caused The Guardian to redact accounts of corrupt individuals. But that can hardly have accounted for the Guardian redacting a US Embassy observation that the ruling elite of Kazakhstan are corrupt as a class. Now what concern for the image of Kazakhstan might have led Alan Rusbridger to do that?

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Drawing Red Lines on Shifting Sands

In general I refrain from commenting on Syria, because the politics of that country are hugely complex and I simply do not know enough about it. If in the media in general people refrained from commenting on things they know they do not clearly understand, life would be easier for readers – except, of course, that most columnists don’t understand that they don’t understand.

The West is already heavily involved in Syria, giving large amounts of cash, and channelling weapons through the vicious despotisms of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain, to opposition forces, some of which are Islamic jihadist, some representing different tribal or religious power factions.

This makes life very confusing – the kidnappers and killers of UN Peacekeepers on the Golan Heights are some of William Hague’s “Good guys”, which is why those stories are so quickly glossed over. The truth is, of course, that the whole fallacy of the Blair interventionist model is that there are “good guys” in these situations who ought to be put in power by our military force, our money and the blood of our soldiers. As I explain at length in The Catholic Orangemen of Togo, this “good guy” fallacy led to the British Army installing the most corrupt government on earth in Sierra Leone, and we have gone on to do precisely the same thing, installing incredibly corrupt and bad governments, in Kabul and Baghdad. Having, of course, bombed the infrastructure of Iraq back to the Middle Ages first, A great deal of fog still shrouds Libya, but I expect we will soon see clearly exactly the same thing there.

Doubtless if western intervention becomes more direct in Syria, we will there again achieve regime change and the brilliant achievement of installing a government even more corrupt than the Assad regime. Of course the political proponents of the policy don’t really care about good governance or corruption, or death in war or devastation of infrastructure. They want governments which are allied with them. The wars themselves serve the interests of the politicians’ paymasters in the arms industry, mercenary companies and logistics providers like Halliburton. The subsequent corrupt governments are supposed to be friendly to western commercial and financial interests.

The motives and mechanics of the interventionists are clear. We have seen it all before. But their own militaries have had enough of being embroiled in endless conflicts, and there are no quick win solutions in ultra complex Syria. The Israelis have been signalling very, very hard to the US that the Assad family are OK by them and the last thing that Israel wants is a genuine democracy in Syria, which might want the Golan Heights back.

Obama, Cameron et al have thus been reduced to financial and vicarious weapon supply to the anti-Assad forces, and limited numbers of special forces assisting with sabotage operations to no great purpose. Meantime, hundreds of thousands have been killed in the ongoing civil war.

There is a clue there; civil war. Nobody is attacking us, and here is a hard lesson for politicians. There are wars we should not join in. We should have a role, indeed, in urging peace and trying to deploy all the means of conflict resolution. But it is not for us to fund or arm any side in a civil war. It is not our business and we have no legal right to do so. Work for peace, yes. Fuel war, no.

Within all this, Obama’s foolish decision to make the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons a red line makes matters worse. Of course chemical weapons should not be deployed. But I am not sure whether I would prefer to die with my guts spilling out after red hot metal ripped through my abdomen, or coughing my lungs out after inhaling chemicals. That hundreds of thousands can die one way, but hundreds dying the other way would be a cause of joining in the war, is not inherently logical to me.

I remain, I should say, very sceptical of evidence produced so far that chemical weapons have been deployed. Even if they had been used, given the consequences that might follow, one has to ask by whom. The cui bono would not point to Assad, quite the opposite.

I shall return to avoiding blogging about Syria. If I can’t blog about it because it is too complex and I don’t fully understand it, think how unwise you must be to imagine that bombing it or providing still more weapons will help.

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Guardian Channel Thatcher on Europe

I have arrived back in the UK from Ghana, and catching up on an unforgivably tendentious series of articles on Europe and governance in the Guardian. They are predicated on a Eurobarometer poll that showed, according to the Guardian, that:

Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the union’s worst ever crisis, new data shows.

That is not an unfair characterisation. In the UK, for example, 69% of the population disagreed with the proposition that they trust the EU as am institution. What is totally and tendentiously unfair, given the construct the Guardian puts on this information in a whole series of articles. is that the same poll shows that in the UK, 77% of the population disagreed with the proposition that they trust the UK government as an institution.

So the Guardian would have been on even stronger ground to assert:

Public confidence in the Westminster government has fallen to historically low levels, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the coalition, new data shows.

But it didn’t assert that, because it seeks to reassure us that the answer to our woes is to bring in Ed Balls and the red neo-cons who bailed out the banks, introduced tuition fees in England and Wales and started privatising the NHS, rather than George Osborne and the blue neo-cons who continued the process. In fact Westminster is not the answer to any question, in the eyes of the public.

Simon Jenkins article on the subject appears directly to be channelling the spirit of Thatcher. I can’t see a phrase here which could not have been penned by Thatcher, especially where he gets all sonorous:

“Treaties are not for ever, but nation states are”

The modern concept of a nation state accepted as the worldwide standard unit of government is essentially a nineteenth century construct, and a great many states have fallen apart recently. Besides which, Mr Jenkins is not keen on Scotland, which arguably was the nation which first articulated many of the properties of the modern idea of a nation state in the Declaration of Arbroath. He doesn’t want Scotland to prove him right about nation states being forever and thus irrepressible. He actually doesn’t believe what he writes himself. But I divert.

Jenkins’ ultra-conservative view is best summed up by his assertion that a major problem of the European Parliament is that it has “no governing party discipline and reflects no identifiable interest”. In other words, it is not like Westminster.

But party discipline is precisely what is wrong with Westminster. MPs are “whipped” – a most appropriate word, into voting in favour of the commercial interests, which are overwhelmingly, in the UK, City of London financial interests with the only major competition being arms industry interests, which support their party structures and promote the leadership of their parties. It makes no difference at all which party gets elected. If a party leader emerges who might actually make any difference, Murdoch and the establishment can be relied on to destroy him, witness Michael Foot and Charlie Kennedy, the two most decent – and talented – men to lead parties in my lifetime.

Jenkins thinks the problem with the European Parliament is the lack of this systematic domination of darkness. In truth, the problem of the European Parliament is that it lacks the power to bring the European Union under democratic control, but that is a defect capable of remedy.

Here are some more details of the Eurobarometer poll the Guardian omitted in its total misrepresentation. 70% wish to see a stronger EU role in regulating the financial services industry (p.28) and on the same page, 76% want to see stronger EU coordination of economic policy.

Large majorities across Europe support:
the introduction of a tax on financial transactions (71%)
tighter rules for credit rating agencies (79%)
a tax on profits made by banks (83%)
tighter rules on tax avoidance and tax havens (61%)

These are all areas where the Tory government has been among those blocking effective EU action, against the will of the people of the EU.

85% agreed that the EU would have to work close together as a result of the economic crisis, and 53% agreed the EU would emerge from it stronger in the long run. (p. 40).

The European public are Keynesian. Tellingly only 39% of the population believe that reducing public deficits and debt are the answer to the economic crisis (p. 25). Which shows what kind of place a truly democratic Europe would be.

The final nail in the Rusbridger/Jenkins/Thatcher argument is that 23% believe the European Union is the most important body for dealing with the economic crisis, as opposed to 20% who thought their national government or 13% who thought the IMF (p.17).

Rusbridger and Jenkins each accepts a salary many times that of the Prime Minister from the Guardian Trust, at the same time the Guardian is making strong cuts in staff numbers to reduce costs and reorienting its online content to the preferences and prejudices of a US audience to try and improve its online revenue stream. I presume they produce this UKIP friendly bilge because its popular with the very right wing audience that, judging by their comments sections, they have succeeded in attracting to click and boost those advertising counters.

It was once a good newspaper. As Rusbridger, war criminal cheerleader Michael White, super-rich Simon Jenkins and the others all seem determined to go on as long as Mugabe, I expect soon very few will remember the days when the Guardian was a good newspaper.

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Ludicrous Claims Department

Yet another example of the appalling standards of modern journalism from the Guardian, with journalists not thinking about what they write, and of the fakery of the industry of “analysts” that leech off the “War on Terror”.

Zhukov has analysed some 30,000 violent attacks in the Caucusus region and found that in most cases there is substantial chatter between instigators followed by a claim of responsibility for the incident

Really? 30,000 attacks analysed, including researching the internet traffic of the perpetrators and their public statements?

That is rather a lot of work. Firstly you have to identify the attack and identify the perpetrator. Then you have to access their internet use and go through it looking for relevant reading, comments or relevant messages.

Let us presume you have such good access to the security services that they do all of that for you, and serve up the results to you on a plate, and that you trust their diligence, honesty and analytical ability sufficiently to work just from what you were given. If you were being served up ready to analyse dossiers of relevant internet traffic of perpetrators of attacks, how many such dossiers could you in any meaningful way analyse in a working day to form a view on the individual? Perhaps four?

Now let us presume four weeks holiday a year and five working days a week. It would take you 33 years of solid work, doing nothing else in your professional life, to analyse thirty thousand cases. That is to make the startling assumption that there is meaningful material on as many as thirty thousand cases to analyse, and you have access to it.

30,000 attacks analysed? Bullshit. Pure bullshit.

To compound which the Guardian also brings us that silk suited leech on public funds, Ed Husain of the discredited Quilliam Foundation. What passes for mainstream media analysis on security issues is risible.

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Murder in Samarkand Goes Paperless

Finally Murder in Samarkand is coming out in an electronic edition. Here it is on Kindle. I expect it will be available on other platforms as well.

I cheer myself up sometimes by reading the customer reviews on Amazon. Very few books with so many reviews have so high an average rating. To find that the book means a lot to so many people helps me feel my own existence is worthwhile. If you have read it and have you not already done so, you might consider posting your own review. While I can’t pretend I find the less admiring reviews equally cheering, I do find them useful and instructive too, so please do be frank.

I also strongly commend David Hare’s radio adaptation and David Tennant’s performance in it. If you haven’t already listened to that, click on David Tennant’s picture top right then persist in clicking on play in subsequent pages. The BBC seems determined it will not get broadcast a second time despite the star names attached, so anything you can do to get others to listen to it via your own blogs etc is appreciated.

This is an unapologetic “keep Craig’s morale up” post!!

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Unionist Propaganda Surge

George Osborne is all over the media warning that an independent Scotland must follow Tory foreign policies if it wishes to stay in the pound. In fact the pound does not belong to the English – it was a new, shared currency created in 1707.

The problem of all liars is consistency. Keeping today’s lies straight with yesterday’s. My favourite bit of today’s attempt to bully the Scots is this:

“The UK government believes that a newly independent Scottish government would be required to formally commit to joining the euro as a condition of its EU membership”.

They seem to have forgotten their last big lie, which was that an independent Scotland would be kicked out of the EU and unable to join. Oh dear. They can’t both be true.

What is most amusing is the fact that an independent Scotland would, according to the official GERS report acknowledged by the Treasury, actually have a smaller fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP than the current UK, so Osborne’s admonitions should better be addressed to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer who is … err…

As for Osborne’s warnings that the oil price may be volatile (presumably along with the whisky price), I am happy to take our chances on that one. A commodity in finite supply for which demand continues steadily to increase seldom suffers devastating and permanent price plunges.

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The Official Tsarnaev Story Makes No Sense

There are gaping holes in the official story of the Boston bombings.

We are asked to believe that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was identified by the Russian government as an extremist Dagestani or Chechen Islamist terrorist, and they were so concerned about it that in late 2010 they asked the US government to take action. At that time, the US and Russia did not normally have a security cooperation relationship over the Caucasus, particularly following the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. For the Russians to ask the Americans for assistance, Tsarnaev must have been high on their list of worries.

In early 2011 the FBI interview Tsarnaev and trawl his papers and computers but apparently – remarkably for somebody allegedly radicalised by internet – the habitually paranoid FBI find nothing of concern.

So far, so weird. But now this gets utterly incredible. In 2012 Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who is of such concern to Russian security, is able to fly to Russia and pass through the airport security checks of the world’s most thoroughly and brutally efficient security services without being picked up. He is then able to proceed to Dagestan – right at the heart of the world’s heaviest military occupation and the world’s most far reaching secret police surveillance – again without being intercepted, and he is able there to go through some form of terror training or further Islamist indoctrination. He then flies out again without any intervention by the Russian security services.

That is the official story and I have no doubt it did not happen. I know Russia and I know the Russian security services. Whatever else they may be, they are extremely well-equipped, experienced and efficient and embedded into a social fabric accustomed to cooperation with their mastery. This scenario is simply impossible in the real world.

We have, by the official account, the involvement of the two Tsarnaev brothers, the FBI and the Russian security services. The FBI have a massive recent record of running agent provocateur operations to entrap gullible Muslims into terrorism. The Russian security services have form on false flag Chechen bombings. Where the truth lies may be difficult to dig out. But the above official version is not true.

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LSE Get It Wrong on North Korea

On BBC World, I just watched John Sweeney’s excellent Panorama documentary on North Korea. The LSE have complained bitterly about the BBC using the cover of an LSE student trip to film inside North Korea.

The LSE is absolutely wrong here. What is the purpose of academic contact if it does not result in the revealing and dissemination of truth?

I am perhaps particularly sensitive on this point as , in my own field, the small western academic community dealing with Central Asia, with a tiny number of honourable exceptions, pull their punches and in their publications hide the truth about Central Asia’s appalling dictatorships, in order to maintain their “access”. But “access” has no purpose if not used to reveal truth, and what the learned professors really mean is they wish to maintain their own career and income.

If nobody from the LSE is ever allowed into the terrible North Korean dictatorship again, that will be a bad thing. But the benefit of the very wide spreading of truth by John Sweeney’s documentary is worth a very, very great deal more. The academics of the LSE may not entirely use their “access” to lick Kim Jong Whatever’s arse. But the said academics certainly don’t want to be associated with the spreading of the obvious truth that the said arse reeks to high heaven.

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India and Women

Since the horrific bus rape case, the problems of rape in India have been firmly on the western media agenda. Today BBC World is carrying two different and terrible stories – one of the rape of a five year old girl in Delhi, and one of the death of a rape victim in a botched abortion.

I spent several weeks last year researching in archives in India. I had expected to love the country and its culture, and to my surprise I found I detested it.

I initially stayed a week in a budget tourist hotel in Delhi a short walk from Connaught Square and the main railway station. My window looked out on a street that seemed very busy with pedestrians 24 hours a day. At any moment I could see a hundred or more people clearly, and I soon noticed something very strange – there were virtually no women out on the street, undoubtedly less than 5% of the people out and about. Yes, if you went to Connaught Square you could see middle class women, particularly students, walking around. But not in more normal Delhi streets.

As I flew to different Indian cities on internal airlines, I noticed that security at Indian airports was segregated – there were separate male and female lines for bags and scanners. The female lines were virtually deserted, and it was evident that women are a very small percentage of passengers on internal Indian flights. On top of which, I three times had the experience of sitting next to businessmen who were travelling business class while their family was behind in economy. This was evidently thought perfectly normal.

It is all getting worse – just one straw in the wind, but it is only in the last two years it has become actually illegal to serve a beef steak in Delhi.

I am not even going to start getting in to the appalling caste system, and the dreadful gap between rich and poor. Knowing Africa very well, I had expected India to be in some ways similar. But in fact inequality was far worse, and the educational level of the poor was far worse, than the countries I know well in Africa. Taxi drivers in Delhi, for example, were nearly all completely illiterate. Here in Accra you would never meet a taxi driver who cannot read an address. In the National Archives of India, even some senior archivists do not speak a word of English – the official language of the country, and crucially the language of the archives they are supposed to be curating. In Accra the archivists are extremely well educated at British and American universities.

What I found most extraordinary, is that whereas here in Ghana all the rich Ghanaians I know would absolutely agree that it is highly desirable to raise the education, standard of living and welfare of the poorest in society; in India I found an extraordinary callousness among wealthy Indians to be the norm; they simply do not believe lifting the poor from poverty is desirable.

Yes, the stories about rape in India have touched on a very important point about the position of women in an increasingly oppressive and rabidly conservative Hindu society. But that is part of a much wider picture. In the UK a combination of India’s historic anti-colonial role, its legend in hippy chic and latterly a reverence for economic growth appears to be handicapping a much needed airing of truths on just what a narrow, nationalist, repressive and bigoted country India is becoming.

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The Tsarnaev Conundrum

Cui Bono? Putin. The alleged actions of the Tsarnaev brothers are a massive setback to the cause of Chechen nationalism. The Russian government have been trying for a decade to conflate the repression of Chechen nationalism with the western construct of “the global war on terror”, with very limited diplomatic success. Now expect to hear continually about “Al Qaeda in the Southern Caucasus” in the next few years. Events in Boston have been a massive diplomatic coup for Putin.

In the late 1830’s, Palmerston launched a (disastrous) secret service operation to ship weapons to anti-Russian rebels in modern Chechnya and Dagestan. This was contributory to the tensions that caused the First Anglo-Afghan War, and will feature in my forthcoming biography of Alexander Burnes. For almost two hundred years now there has been covert Western encouragement of anti-Russian movements in the Caucasus – which is not to say that the West was involved in or encouraged the urban terrorist wing of the Chechen nationalist movement in modern times. But links between Chechen nationalists and the US government have been maintained, and there is no support whatsoever among any significant Chechen nationalist leadership for the Boston bombings.

I cannot recommend too highly “Darkness at Dawn” by David Satter, a book which is crucial to an understanding of a key part of the modern world. Satter sets out an extremely strong case, from eyewitness interviews at the time, that The “Chechen” apartment bombings which paid such a crucial part in building the cult of Putin, were false flag – something which the British Embassy in Moscow also strongly inclined to believe. There is a history of false Chechen bombings being very helpful to Putin. These bombings are very helpful to Putin.

It is perfectly possible that this is not relevant at all, and the Tsarnaev brothers became radicalised in the United States by real, and non-Chechen related, terrorists, or simply auto-radicalised. But presuming the Tsarnaevs really did plant these bombs, just who was ultimately pulling the strings and why may be an extremely complex question – and one to which young Dzokhar Tsarnaev is most unlikely to know the real answer.

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Altered States

I avoided the Thatcherfest yesterday by flying to Accra, and landed slap in the middle of a State Visit by President Ahmadinejad. Any number of levels of irony there. I am however pleased to see President John Mahama – an old friend of mine – giving out a fairly clear signal he is not going to be a US puppet. That was reinforced yesterday by a high profile announcement from the Ministry of Finance of a new policy aimed at increasing the – hitherto very limited – social benefit from Ghana’s oil and mining industries. Just how much this will amount to in practice remains to be seen, but I am very pleased to see that, as John Mahama’s Presidency in his own right gets underway, the direction of travel may be more radical and aimed at social justice.

Another piece of good news from West Africa yesterday was President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria’s announcement of a negotiating committee to try to open negotiations with Boko Haram on the basis of a ceasefire and an amnesty. The committee’s remit includes a specific commitment to look at underlying grievances that had led to the unrest.

Nigeria shows much greater wisdom than the standard Western government line that the state can do no wrong and that all terrorist movements must be crushed by military force – something that often leads into an unending revenge cycle. Insurgency movements are indeed always caused – no matter how psychotic or vicious individual terrorists may be and no matter how evil some of their acts. For any terrorist or insurgency activity to have sufficient support in a host population to have a resilient existence, that population must believe itself to have a legitimate grievance. Ultimately the only way to overcome terrorism is to talk to the terrorists. Which is not to say I think this initiative will succeed; but it is certainly the right thing to try.

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Crass

In the week they took hundreds of pounds from people in severe poverty, MPs and Lords claim up to £3,750 each to return from their luxury holidays to spout off in honour of Margaret Thatcher. Meantime the media are busy classifying any potential protest or expression of opinion at the taxpayer funded funeral jamboree as “potential terrorism”.

Whether protest at the funeral is tasteful or not is a fair question. But there is no question it is perfectly lawful. There is virtually no understanding of the very notion of civil liberty in the mainstream media.

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Margaret Thatcher

By chance I knew Margaret Thatcher rather better than a junior civil servant might have been expected to, not least from giving her some maritime briefings during the First Gulf War. On another occasion Denis and I once got absolutely blind drunk in Lagos – I had been given him to look after for the day, and the itinerary started with the Guinness brewery and went on to the United Distillers bottling plant, before lunch at the golf club. I had to reunite him with his spouse for the State Banquet and quite literally fell out of the car. Happy days.

I can say I was on first name terms with her – she always called me by my first name. Except unfortunately she thought that was Peter. I recall she came out to Poland when I was in the Embassy there and I was embarrassed because she knew me, and thus greeted me more warmly than my Embassy superiors. The problem was lessened by her continuing to call me Peter very loudly, even after I corrected her twice.

In person she was frightfully sharp, she really was. If you gave her a briefing, she had an uncanny ability to seize on the one point where you did not have sufficient information. She also had that indescribable charisma – you really could feel when she entered a room in a way I have never experienced with anybody else, not Mandela or Walesa, for example. You may be surprised to hear that in person I found her quite likeable.

Yet she was a terrible, terrible disaster to this country. The utter devastation of heavy industry, the writing off of countless billions worth of tooling and equipment, the near total loss of the world’s greatest concentrated manufacturing skills base, the horrible political division of society and tearing of the bonds within our community. She was a complete, utter disaster.

Let me give one anecdote to which I can personally attest. In leaving office she became a “consultant” to US tobacco giant Phillip Morris. She immediately used her influence on behalf of Phillip Morris to persuade the FCO to lobby the Polish government to reduce the size of health warnings on Polish cigarette packets. Poland was applying to join the EU, and the Polish health warnings were larger than the EU stipulated size.

I was the official on whose desk the instruction landed to lobby for lower health warnings. I refused to do it. My then Ambassador, Michael Llewellyn Smith (for whom I had and have great respect) came up with the brilliant diplomatic solution of throwing the instruction in the bin, but telling London we had done it.

So as you drown in a sea of praise for Thatcher, remember this. She was prepared to promote lung cancer, for cash.

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Toe in the Water

I am trying to ease back in to blogging again, after a few weeks of being mentally immersed in early nineteenth century Mumbai. I find I care more deeply than makes a great deal of sense about understanding the people in Alexander Burnes’ story. For example, the incredibly irascible and sometimes plain irrational Sir Henry Pottinger: I still have not found out the real cause of his monumental falling out with Burnes in 1834. Also if anyone can help me by shedding light on the reason for his later sudden removal as Hong Kong’s first governor I should be grateful. I can find rather coy Victorian references about him resigning owing to the British merchant community finding him difficult to work with, but I don’t have the time to go hunting in more detail down this particular side-alley. In the very many Pottinger manuscript letters from the mid 1930s I have read, I find some of them so wild and ill-judged, paranoid even, that I begin to wonder if he were not addicted to opium – which was less uncommon than you might think among British officials in India.

See, I started trying to blog something away from Burnes, and I find myself automatically producing one of the thousand questions I have been trying to resolve for my book. To tear myself into the present in an abrupt and rather random way, I am not sure I have ever expressed my appreciation of Peter Tatchell. He does great work, and keeps banging on undaunted. I wish I had his singleness of purpose.

I continue to be quietly confident with the way the Scottish independence referendum will go, whatever the opinion polls may say. Nuclear weapons and Conservative Prime Ministers are each less welcome in Scotland than a dose of the clap, so to have one come up to extol the virtues of the other is a real double whammy. The prospect of losing cannon fodder is one of the reasons the Tories don’t like Scottish independence. But the nuclear argument is a complete bust. North Korea’s weapon development shows precisely that Trident is as much use as a chocolate teapot against any actual developments in the real world. No serious discussion of the North Korean situation has ever mentioned British nuclear weapons as a factor that might influence the behaviour of that – entirely deplorable – regime.

There is not the remotest chance that anyone who actually possesses nuclear weapons and a delivery system would attack the UK with them. The continued existence of Germany, Spain, Italy and Sweden must be a real mystery to Cameron, who purports not tonbelieve we can continue to exist without throwing $140 billion we don’t have to the United States in return for Trident. Of course Cameron is no fool and does not believe that either; it is just that, like most politicians, he understands that delivering huge tranches of taxpayers’ cash to his paymasters, is his job.

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