The Omniscient State 164


It is not whether the individual had done anything wrong: it is whether the state has done anything wrong. Hague’s plea for the omniscient state is chilling: if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. So it is alright for the state to eavesdrop all our social interactions, to follow our every move? Is there to be no privacy from the prying eye of the state, which can watch me on the toilet, and if I have done nothing wrong I have nothing to hide?

The terribly sad thing is that, by a media campaign which has raised public fear of terrorism beyond any rational analysis of the risk (depending which year you take as the base line, you have between 40 and 300 times more risk of drowning in your own bath than being killed by a terrorist) there is great public acceptance of the intrusive state. This of course depends on the notion that the state is not only omniscient but benevolent. I do urge anyone infected by this way of thinking to read Murder in Samarkand for a practical demonstration of just how malevolent, indeed evil, the state can be.

GCHQ and NSA share all intelligence reports, as do the CIA and MI6, under US/UK intelligence sharing agreements first put in place by Roosevelt and Churchill. That is one of the most widely known of all official secrets – there are probably fifty thousand current or retired civil servants like me who know that, and many academics, journalists etc – but even in the light of the Snowden revelations, you probably won’t see it much in print, and you won’t hear it in Parliament, because it is still a criminal offence to say it. Let me say it again:

GCHQ and NSA share all intelligence, as do the CIA and MI6, under US/UK intelligence sharing agreements first put in place by Roosevelt and Churchill. NSA and GCHQ do the large bulk of communication interception. Now both NSA and GCHQ are banned from spying on their own citizens without some motive of suspicion – though as Edward Snowden has been explaining, that motive of suspicion can be terribly slight, like you have someone as a facebook friend who has a facebook friend whose sister once knew someone connected with an animal liberation group. But in any event, the safeguards are meaningless as NSA and GCHQ can intercept communications of each other’s citizens and they share all information. I have been explaining this in public talks these last ten years – I am happy it is finally hitting the headlines.

We need Edward Snowden and we need Bradley Manning. I had hoped that the barefaced lies of Bush and Blair, leading to a war that killed hundreds of thousands, would make people see that politicians, and the corporate interests that stand so close behind them, simply cannot be trusted.

The world needs whistleblowers. Now more than ever.


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164 thoughts on “The Omniscient State

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  • Gary

    Very good post. The violation of civil liberties is shameful. It seems that the parameters of what is acceptable to say are shrinking all the time, and as has been mentioned before, the choice at elections very nominal.

  • Rob

    True enough. But isn’t it embarrassing that Hague wheels out the old “Nothing wrong, nothing to fear” chestnut that has been – and is so easily – discredited? He might at least attempt to present an actual argument in favour.

    “Give me six lines written by the most honest man in the world, and I will find enough in them to hang him” attributed to Cardinal Richelieu

  • Abe Rene

    Ah, they can’t spy on their own citizens, so they spy on each other’s and then exchange reports under the agreement. How clever! 🙂

    Seriously, we are talking about Western democracies, not Uzbekistan. Citizens are free to set up parties like Put An Honest Leftie into Parliament, get elected (if they can) and then change official policy.

  • Holebender

    If Hague is so blasé about privacy I look forward to him publishing all the UK Government’s secrets. After all, they can’t have done anything wrong, right?

    The Cabinet papers relating to devolution in the 1990s would be a good place to start.

  • Komodo

    “Hague claims all intelligence gathering done by the UK is governed by a stong legal framework.”

    As in, “if it comes to trial, the defendant is routinely not allowed to know what the evidence (if any) is against him.”

  • Indigo

    @Abe Rene

    “Seriously, we are talking about Western democracies, not Uzbekistan. Citizens are free to set up parties like Put An Honest Leftie into Parliament, get elected (if they can) and then change official policy”.

    Seriously?

    Do you really believe that MPs have any control at all over ‘national security’ matters?

  • KingofWelshNoir

    It’s a terrible irony that the internet which is such a wonderful development may turn out to be the means of our own ultimate ensnarement. It gives the spooks undreamed of possibilities for control and it seems we are being slowly bound round and round with digital spider silk. If you complain about the spider you are mocked as a conspiracy theorist. I suspect the reason for the public’s acceptance that you allude to is one of choice. They choose not too look, to reassure themselves that everything is still all right, because to contemplate the alternative is too disturbing.

  • nevermind

    If staff in these offices are not shuffled regularly, this cockiness of officers/civil servants employed by the state to such agencies can result in clique’s forming along political/military industrial/intelligence lines, working against what is considered private.

    If we have created states which now want to disallow doubt, want to proceed on this one sided economic wrecking increasingly fleecing the taxpayers wherever possible, and proceed to manipulate and girate around an electoral system just to produce establishment friendly regimes, then we now have to find ways of ending this theatre macabre.

    Do not ask me how, I might be tempted to answer.

  • conallboyle

    Craig, you’ve hit on the touchstone of UK policy — the US-UK tie-up. We — meaning the UK govt.– will do anything up to and including squandering British lives in terror-exacerbating illegal wars, to keep in with the Yanks. So how about a UK Independence Party which declares us free of Yankee subservience?

    Oh I see we’ve already got a UKIP and all they want is out of cuddly Europe, and carry on brown-nosing the Yanks!!

  • Apostoli

    Media eavesdropping on UK citizens => Courts + Leveson
    Media eavesdropping on MP’s (done nothing wrong, nothing to worry) => Blackmail
    Government eavesdropping on UK citizens => Fuck all

  • nevermind

    Well written Craig, is this an issue that will blow over fast?
    I expect Clark would say ‘I told you to get encryption’
    Had my enigmail installed some time ago, but only the coffee mornings get encrypted, all important material is only diverted in conversation.

    My advice is, talk less electronically, even letters are safer and modern adhesives make for a comprehensive barrier to a letter opener.

    My other advice is, pick a festival and organise there, it used to happen at the Big Green Gathering, now a shadow of its former self, after being harassed into shut down by the last Labour administration.

    Talk to people face to face, or encrypt, in most cases its much better because you can see responses and body signs, even if that person is not responding in words.

    I have encryption so have others here, lets use it more and enable others to try installing it. I’m running it on Linux installed by Clark, works well.

  • Parky

    But by now most sane people should be aware that the internet is not a really a secure medium and you should not be putting anything in an email or blogg or Facebook page that you’d be embarrassed for anyone else to know. I have my doubts even if you encrypt the messages.

    It is astounding what people will reveal about themselves on a public forum that they wouldn’t tell their next door neighbours. Following the litigation brought against public figures, who really should know better, it shows that this technology is more dangerous than it seems and should carry a health warning. If you use Facebook or Twitter unwisely, you only have yourself to blame if there are unexpected consequences.

  • Abe Rene

    @Indigo “Do you really believe that MPs have any control at all over ‘national security’ matters?”

    I can think of a number of possible ways: being on commons select committees, being on party policy committees, and being cabinet ministers.

  • Abe Rene

    Still on the subject of state snooping, I wonder why Edward Snowden didn’t take connecting flights all the way to Rejkjavik and then ask for asylum, instead of flying into Hong Kong, given both its past cooperation with US authorities in law enforcement (see some past episodes of Hawaii Five-O for fictional illustrations), and now being under the ultimate authority of Red China?

  • Komodo

    ….and now being under the ultimate authority of Red China?

    You mean that place with the monolithic surveillance apparatus and a press which flatters the rich guys?

    Oh, that>/i> place with the monolithic surveillance apparatus and a press which flatters the rich guys. I get it now.

  • Komodo

    See what I did there? Again:
    Oh, that place with the monolithic surveillance apparatus and a press which flatters the rich guys. I get it now.

  • Ed Davies

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    Conallboyle: “So how about a UK Independence Party which declares us free of Yankee subservience?”

    Yes, I’ve thought that’s strange for a while. Why are UKIP so anti-Europe but never say anything about the US?
    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)

    iEYEARECAAYFAlG1qbEACgkQ5EfOQv4V189atACdEikKn7AIkFQtz/dHR4qgaJ8G
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  • Abe Rene

    @Komodo “See what I did there?”
    Well, there’s a number of possibilities. Uzbekistan, wealthy Arab states, Russia (for tycoons who support Putin)…

  • Indigo

    @abe rene

    @Indigo “Do you really believe that MPs have any control at all over ‘national security’ matters?”

    “I can think of a number of possible ways: being on commons select committees, being on party policy committees, and being cabinet ministers”.

    Well, I have no confidence in any of these, I’m sorry to say, although I think even the MPs or cabinet ministers concerned may be as naive as their electors.

    The first has become window dressing for a gullible public … as for the others … any real influence on decisions/policy in such matters is largely illusory.

    It’s called a democratic deficit.

  • Komodo

    I was referring to the typo, Abe. Obviously he could go anywhere he liked. He could even stay in his own country – a place with a monolithic surveillance apparatus and a press which flatters the rich guys.
    See what I did there?

  • Abe Rene

    Of course. Snowden might not be in HK at all! (Lightly slaps his forehead). Where he might be is anyone’s guess. South America, maybe.

  • Parky

    @Abe Good point, the guy is obviously not daft and maybe he’s led them on a false trail, false passports travel tickets, he could be anywhere and it sounds like he’s been planning this for a long time, however I doubt that his efforts in the long term will stop the spooks long term plans for global domination of the electronic ether.

  • Passerby

    The facts have always pointed to the oppressive, regressive state surveillance apparatus, that is running a deep state separate and different from the dog and pony kabuki set in place for the benefit of the hamburger munchers.

    Peter Wright in “spy catcher” without any shame or sense of irony recants his trolling through the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) files captured from the infamous German SS secret police. The fact that Wright’s outlook was similar to the SS Secret Police somehow is lost in the excitement of his hunt for the “communist menace”.

    Those engaged in the circle jerk of “democracy”, “freedom”, “ballots” are in fact kidding themselves and shutting their eyes to an all intrusive state that has lost its tenuous grip on reality and is steaming ahead to compensate for the current crisis of bankruptcy of: ideas, thought, financial tenets, and moral principles.

  • willyrobinson

    I was quite surprised to read Snowden distancing himself from Bradley Manning, claiming that at least he had read all that he disclosed, and verified that noone would be harmed.

    It seemed a bit mean. Manning is on trial and likely to be treated even more harshly now.

  • Mick S

    This is old news, and something I protested to my MP at the time about prior to the passing of RIPA in 2000. It provides the legal framework that Hague is using. For example the justification around getting communications data (that’s the fact that a communication has taken place including timings and other metadata) are:

    “In the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health, for the purpose of assessing or collecting any tax, duty, levy or other imposition, contribution or charge payable to a government department and for the purpose, in an emergency, of preventing death or injury or any damage to a person’s physical or mental health, or of mitigating any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health.”

    Authorisation is provided by a senior member of the organisation making the request. In practice this data will be collected continually with the authorisation being requested in order to search it for specific individuals.

    The response from my MP (Marsha Singh) when I protested against the act were along the lines of Hague.,”If you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve nothing to worry about.”.

    What has changed between then and now? The technology has caught up with the intentions. Expect more defence of the position from all sides of the house, the opposition can hardly object as they brought powers in. Also look for positive leaks, about how the data has been used to thwart terrorist groups or paedophile rings. Just think of the children!

  • Brendan

    The Guardian live coverage is making me laugh. Example quotes:

    “Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the original USA PATRIOT Act, calls the newly exposed NSA program to harvest Americans’ phone records an “abuse” of the law.”

    Alss, in relation to Clapper’s blatant perjury:

    “Feinstein responds that James Clapper is a model of honesty and says perhaps the question –or the answer– has been misunderstood.”

    And McCain has been wheeled out to talk about ‘overreach’ in the Patriot act.

    It’s all a sham. Senselessbrenner and McCain were warned that the Patriot act was likely to result in exactly what we’ve got. They were warned by numerous people, repeatedly – including Greenwald. So either they didn’t know, which makes them idiots, or they did know, which makes them liars. And Feinstein’s reply was just a joke. A more straight-forward example of lying to Congress you’ll be hard-pressed to find, and her defense is embarassing. I’ve no doubt, though, that everyone has had their marching orders, including the risible fake known as Obama.

    As to Hague, well I think we all know about Hague. He’s lying. His other, ah, issues are his own, but his routine dishonesty is our problem. How this failed leader became Forn Sec is beyond me, unless it’s related to these, uhm, other issues about which we may only speculate.

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