Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Survey of Burnes

I still spend most of my time working on Sikunder Burnes, Master of the Great Game.  I have 172,000 words at the minute, but that includes 800 odd footnotes, some of which are pretty discursive.  All is still being refined, worked up and added to.  I know that readers of this blog are a remarkably wide-ranging bunch, so from time to time you may be interested in a snippet

That same year, Burnes was given the task of surveying Cutch, with particular attention to the geographical changes caused by the great earthquake of 1819.  This had reshaped much of the Indus delta, with much land inundated by the sea, and the Runn of Cutch, a great salt desert, now covered in salt water for much of the year.  Burnes found the work very congenial.  It allowed him to apply his formidable intellect and scientific mind, and to employ his talents as a draughtsman.  It also had a real element of adventure for a 21 year old, as it involved riding alone through territories just taken under British influence and still potentially hostile.  He attacked the task with enthusiasm.  At the submerged town of Sindri he journeyed by boat for thirty miles along a great salt lake that until 7 years previously had been arable land.  At the site of the old fort which had guarded an entrance to the Indus, he stood on the top of the battlements, which still rose to only two inches below the water, and drank in what he described as the “novel sensation” of standing where there was only water; no land was visible to the horizon around all 360 degrees of vision.  He found that 2,000 square miles had been inundated, while elsewhere a mound fifty miles long and up to sixteen miles wide had been raised. Burnes also noted the new channels the Indus had cut to the sea since 1819, scouring through this and other newly raised land formations which had diverted it at the time of the earthquake.  He carefully charted, measured and drew the geological sections exposed by these new cuts.

Burnes returned in 1828 to complete this survey.  His work was so good it was used as the base for UN scientific studies of the next great Cutch earthquake in 2002. Published at Maloclm’s request by the Bombay Asiatic Society, it caught the attention of the great geologist Sir Charles Lyell, one of the founders of the modern science.  In his famous work “Principles of Geology” he quotes extensively from Burnes’ study, and uses his maps and illustrations.1

Lyell’s popular work did much to foster a great fashion for geology at the time, but also did much more.  It did a great deal to forward the cause of rationalism and to undermine further the hold of improbable religious belief.  An understanding of the processes and timescale of geological change was incompatible with the curious dogmatic belief that the earth was but a few thousand years old. Burnes had a great interest not only in geology but also in paleontology, and plainly had a modern understanding of these matters, and this may indeed have related to his own religious scepticism. It is generally accepted that Charles Lyell was important in laying the foundations of scientific thought about natural processes that were built on by Darwinism.

Burnes’ interest did not end with the completion of his survey, and he continued throughout his travels and explorations to pay close attention to the geology of the regions through which he travelled, beyond his obligation to report to the Company on exploitable minerals. Burnes and Lyell  were to meet at the Geological Society in London in 1835.2 He and Lyell became regular correspondents and Burnes sent back interesting discoveries and observations, and particularly fossils.3 In the New York edition of the Principles of Geology of 18684, Lyell was to refer to his debt to “my friend the late Sir Alexander Burnes.”

Alexander Burnes was also to become a personal friend of the great paleontologist Hugh Falconer and his associate Proby Cautley as they went about their work classifying eighty per cent of then known species of dinosaurs, discovering a high proportion of those in British India.5 Falconer was to become one of Darwin’s most fervent defenders.  He was also the originator of the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium, now scientific orthodoxy.  Burnes was able to discuss paleonotology with them on a footing of equality.  Lyell and Falconer were, like Burnes, also both from the coastal plain of North East Scotland, Lyell from Kirriemuir and Falconer from Forres.  Burnes also became a correspondent of Gideon Mantell, an unfortunate man even more reviled in his time by the religious community than Darwin, but now regarded as a great pioneer.

In his wide-ranging intellectual interest and his cool rationalism, Burnes was very much a product of the Scottish Enlightenment.  This attitude combined with his unabashed joie-de vivre and sexual freedom mark him out as the pre-Victorian he was.  Had he lived longer, perhaps like his acquaintance and contemporary Charles Trevelyan he would have learned to cloak his past in a heavy enveloping mantel of Victorian hypocrisy.  His early death exposed him to the full wrath of censorious Victorian historians in the immediately succeeding generation, and affected history’s attitude towards him until now. Let’s change that, me by writing this and you by reading it.

1Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, Vol.II pp306-11

2K M Lyell, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, p.454

3K M Lyell, Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, p.470

4Vol.II p.461

5Alexander Burnes, Cabool, p.116


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Six More Years of Tory Rule

The raison d’etre of the Tories is to ensure the state runs smoothly in the interest of the 1% of the population who own 70% of the wealth. Blair made sure New Labour had the same objective, the only purpose of the party structures now being as career ladders for the likes of Blair to join the 1%.

The Tories have learnt the lesson of Thatcher, that if you keep 42% of the English happy and feeling economically secure, and advantaged over the rest, then you can stay in power through the first past the post system.  This needs an inflated housing market, a few tax cuts, and a rhetoric identifying and excluding the outsiders, be they immigrants, benefit claimants or other groups.  Osborne has this political truth down to a fine art, as his budget showed.  If you are a middle class family able to spend 10,000 a year on childcare, you can now in effect get 2,000 a year from the government.  It is complex to administer, but most of the families who benefit much will be the kind who have accountants.  Similarly the pensions plan liberalisation will not mean a great deal to the poorest in society, although not wrong in itself.  Meanwhile endless benefit cuts are the lot of the needy.

New Labour are left spluttering on the sidelines because the differences in what it would do are so marginal as to be pointless.  What the country needs is massive state intervention to extract funds from the financial services industry and from those with obscenely accrued capital, and put them in to infrastructure in transport, energy efficiency, renewables, housing and high tech manufacturing, areas in which economic benefits are broadly spread in society including through employment.  There are legitimate areas of debate about how you do that – I favour tax incentivisation, or rather heavy tax disincentivisation of non-productive use of capital, rather than direct state agency, although you would need a mix.

Anyway, there is no radical economic choice of any kind on offer to the electorate, and the Tory/Labour divide is one of  tribal adherence rather than real policy difference.  But for what it is worth, with New Labour only leading in the polls by 4% just a year before the election, all precedent suggests that the Tories will easily recover that within the final year and there will be at least six more years of Tory government.

I do hope that Scots are quite clear-eyed about that before September.  The choice on the ballot is simple: Scottish independence, or Tory rule from South East England for the forseeable future.  The rest is smoke and mirrors.

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Deconstructing Putin

I listened live to Putin’s speech yesterday with great interest.  Here is my own analysis, for what it is worth.

Putin was strongest in his accusations of western hypocrisy.  His ironic welcoming of the West having suddenly discovered the concept of international law was very well done.  His analysis of the might is right approach the West had previously adopted, and their contempt of the UN over Iraq and Afghanistan, was spot on. Putin also was absolutely right in describing the Kosovo situation as “highly analogous” to the situation in Crimea. That is indeed true, and attempts by the West – including the Guardian – to argue the cases are different are pathetic exercises in special pleading.

The problem is that Putin blithely ignored the enormous logical inconsistency in his argument.  He stated that the Crimean and Kosovo cases were highly analogous, but then used that to justify Russia’s action in Crimea, despite the fact that Russia has always maintained the NATO Kosovo intervention was illegal(and still refuses to recognize Kosovo).  In fact of course Russia was right over Kosovo, and thus is wrong over Crimea.

I was very interested that Putin made distinct reference to the appalling crimes against the Tartars in the 1930’s, but also to the terrible suffering of Ukrainians in that period.  His references were not detailed but their meaning was clear.  I was surprised because under Putin’s rule there has been a great deal of rehabilitation of Stalin.  Archives that were opened under glasnost have frozen over again, and history in Russian schools now portrays Stalin’s foreign policy achievement much more than his crimes (and it is now again  possible to complete your Russian school education with no knowledge the Stalin-Hitler pact ever happened).  So this was both surprising and positive.  Designed to be positive was his assurance that Crimea will be trilingual.  We will see what happens; Putin’s Russia is in fact not tolerant of its ethnic populations in majority Russian areas, and in fact contains a great many more far right thugs than Ukraine –  probably about the same  percentage of the population.

The 97% referendum figure is simply unbelievable to any reasonable person and is straight out of the Soviet playbook – it was strange to see Putin going in and out of modern media friendly mode and his audience, with their Soviet en brosse haircuts and synchronized clapping – obviously liked the Soviet bits best.

The attempt to downplay Russia’s diplomatic isolation was also a bit strange.  He thanked China, though China had very pointedly failed to support Russian in the Security Council.  When you are forced to thank people for abstaining, you are not in a strong position diplomatically.  He also thanked India, which is peculiar, because the Indian PM yesterday put out a press release saying Putin had called him, but the had urged Putin to engage diplomatically with the interim government in Kiev, which certainly would not be welcome to Putin.  I concluded that Putin was merely trying to tell his domestic audience Russia has support, even when it does not.

But what I find really strange is that the parts of the speech I found most interesting have not drawn any media comment I can see.  Putin plainly said that in his discussions with Kuchma on the boundaries of Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they hadn’t wanted to open any dispute with what they expected to be a friendly neighbor, and that therefore the boundaries of Ukraine had never been finally demarcated.  He said twice the boundaries had not been demarcated.  That seemed to indicate a very general threat to Eastern Ukraine. He also spoke of the common heritage of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine in a way that indicated that he did not accept that Ukraine might choose a political future away from Russia.

Secondly, he said that on the day the Soviet Union broke up, Russians in many places had “woken up to find themselves in a foreign country.” Again from the context in which he said it, this referred not just to Crimea, and not just even to the rest of Ukraine, but to Russian nationals all over the Former Soviet Union.  I would be worrying a lot about this part of the speech if I was Kazakh, to give just one example.  Putin seemed to be outlining a clear agenda to bring Russian speaking areas of CIS countries back in to Mother Russia – indeed, I see no other possible interpretation of his actions in Georgia and Ukraine.

I think that we should start listening much more carefully to what he says. I also think that the weakness of the EU’s response to events gives Putin a very dangerous encouragement to pursue further aggrandizement.  I posted a few days ago:

The EU I expect to do nothing.  Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West.  I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park.  (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.)  Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited.

The truth is of course that the global political elite are in the pockets of the global financial elite, and while ordinary Russians are still desperately poor, the money the oligarchs rip out of Russia’s backward commodity exporting economy is parceled around the world financial system in ways that make it impossible for the western political classes to do anything.  Whose funds would the hedge fund managers look after?  Whose yacht could Mandelson and Osborne holiday on?

Personally I should like to see a complete financial freeze on the entire Russian oligarchy.  The knock on effects would only hurt a few bankers, and city types and those who depend on them (cocaine dealers, lap dancers, Porsche dealers, illegal domestic servants).  Sadly we shan’t see anything happen. They won’t let Eton go bust.


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Disappearing Aircraft 5626

I had fairly well concluded that the most likely cause was a fire disrupting the electrical and control systems, when CNN now say the sharp left turn was pre-programmed 12 minutes before sign off from Malaysian Air Traffic control, which was followed fairly quickly by that left turn.

CNN claim to have this from an US official, from data sent back before the reporting systems went off.  It is hard to know what to make of it: obviously there are large economic interests that much prefer blame to lie with the pilots rather than the aircraft.  But if it is true then the move was not a response to an emergency.  (CNN went on to say the pilot could have programmed in the course change as a contingency in case of an emergency.  That made no sense to me at all – does it to anyone else?)

I still find it extremely unlikely that the plane landed or crashed on land  I cannot believe it could evade military detection as it flew over a highly militarized region.  Somewhere there is debris on the ocean.  There have been previous pilot suicides that took the plane with them; but the long detour first seems very strange and I do not believe is precedented.  However if the CNN information on pre-programming is correct, and given it was the co-pilot who signed off to air traffic control, it is hard to look beyond the pilots as those responsible for whatever did happen.  In fact, on consideration, the most improbable thing is that information CNN are reporting from the US official.

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When Lavrov Was Right

When NATO forces attacked Serbia in 1999, killing many civilians, in order to establish the current disastrous mafia statelet of Kosovo, Sergei Lavrov spoke very wisely at the Security Council.  He said:

              Attempts to justify strikes as preventing humanitarian catastrophe were not recognized by international law, he said.  The use of unilateral force would lead to a situation with devastating humanitarian consequences.  No considerations of any kind could serve to justify aggression.  Violations of  law could only be combated on the solid basis of the law.

Attempts to apply other standards to international law and disregard other laws created a dangerous precedent, he said.  The virus of a unilateral approach could spread… the Council alone should decide the means to maintain or restore international security.  NATO’s attempt to enter the twenty-first century in the uniform of an international gendarme set a dangerous precedent.

He was of course absolutely right.  Liberal interventionism and the right to protect were extremely foolish and dangerous doctrines.  When propagated by useful idiots, even at their most high-minded they were never more that a repetition of the old imperialist “civilizing mission” of military attack to eradicate barbarous practices.  In fact they were brutally utilized as an excuse for resource grab and personal enrichment.

The Robert Coopers of this world have been hoist with their own petard, because it was always inevitable that others would use the same excuse in areas where they had power, to do what the US and its satellites were doing where they could.  If you promulgate that might is right, you cannot complain when someone punches you.

But that does not make Russia’s actions in the Ukraine right – rather it makes Lavrov a complete hypocrite.  As Lavrov said to the Security Council,  “the Council alone should decide the means to maintain or restore international security”, and the security council voted by 13 to 1 against the Crimea referendum.  It is beyond argument that the man is massively hypocritical.

The truth is that the western powers and Russia are both vicious in the field of foreign relations and have little real care for ordinary people and their rights. Russian actions in military occupation of Crimea (far beyond keeping an agreed number of troops stationed in agreed bases) are indeed illegitimate and illegal.

Let me add two more hypocrisies in the Russian position.  It is an offence carrying up to 22 years in jail to advocate the secession of any part of Russia.  There is no sign of any referendum on self-determination for the people of Chechnya and Dagestan.  I do not believe that in a genuinely democratic vote, there is any political proposition which would ever get 97% of the vote.  You couldn’t get 97% of any group of people to vote for free ice cream.  Interestingly enough, Putin is claiming in the Crimea precisely the same percentage – 97% – that Hitler claimed in his Plebiscite in Austria to ratify the Anschluss.

The other thing I thought wonderfully ironic is that I saw two representatives of the “international observer group” on Russia Today this morning, one Polish and one Hungarian, and both were from fully paid up genuine fascist organisations.  The Hungarian has been saying it is most unfortunate that the BNP couldn’t make it.

For the other side of this coin – western hypocrisy – see here.





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Vanishing Plane

If the missing Malaysian plane landed, it must have done so with the collusion of at least one government.  The broadcast media is full this morning of ludicrous speculation that the plane has been landed in Afghanistan by the Taliban (the Uighurs having apparently gone out of fashion temporarily as Muslim scapegoats).  They are trying to tell us that a Boeing 777 could hedge hop under military radar for thousands of miles with nobody noticing.

What on earth is the interest of the media in propagating this absolute guff?  South East Asia is highly militarized.  Radar is hardly cutting edge technology.  The idea that a very large plane could overfly China, India or Pakistan without anybody being alerted is an absolute nonsense.  Other countries in the region, such as Burma, Indonesia and the ex-Soviet countries, also have effective airspace surveillance.

If the plane indeed took the “northern corridor” it must have had government connivance.  Otherwise, it took the southern corridor into the open sea and has gone down there.  That last is by far the more likely scenario, and either progressive malfunction of some kind, or crew or staff suicide, the most likely causes.

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The Wrong Referendum, The Wrong Saviour

I am not opposed to self determination for the people of Crimea; I am opposed to this referendum.  Nobody can seriously argue there has been a chance for a campaign in which different viewpoints can be freely argued, with some equality of media access and freedom from fear and intimidation.

Hitler invaded Austria on 12 March 1938.  The Anschluss was confirmed in a plebiscite on 10 April, just 28 days later, by a majority of 99.7%.  Putin has done it in less than half of the time, and I have no doubt will produce a similar result in the vote.  The point is not whether or not the vote reflects the will of the people – the point is whether the will of the people has been affected by military demonstration, fear, hysterically induced national psychosis and above all an absence of space for debate or alternative viewpoints.

There is no reasonable claim that Putin’s swift plebiscite is necessary because of an imminent threat of violence against Russians in Crimea.  There is absolutely no reason that a referendum could not have been held at the end of this year, in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, after everybody had a chance to campaign and express their position.  Putin has proved that force majeure is powerful in international politics, and there is every reason to believe that he could have finessed international acceptance of such a referendum in due course.  Germany, in particular, is much more interested in its own energy supplies than in the rights of Ukraine.  In twenty years in diplomacy, I never saw a single instance of Germany having any interest in rights other than its own national self-interest.  It is very likely such a genuine referendum would have gone in Russia’s favour.  But the disadvantages of open debate about the merits and demerits of Putin’s Russia, and his own self-image as the man of military prowess, led Putin to take the more violent course.

The vote yesterday in the Security Council should give every Putinista pause.  Not even China voted with Russia.  The Africans and South Americans voted solidly against.  That is not because they are prisoners or puppets of the United States – they are not.  Neither did they take the easy road of abstention.  The truth is that what Putin is doing in Crimea is outrageous.

What happens now is going to be interesting.  I greatly fear that Putin is looking to stir up as much disorder in Ukraine’s Eastern provinces as possible, perhaps with the aim of promoting civil war in which Russia can covertly intervene, rather than open invasion, but I do not put the latter past him.  Against that, I am quite sure Russia did not expect the extreme diplomatic isolation, in fact humiliation, it suffered at the UN yesterday.  I am hopeful Russia may step back from the brink.

The EU I expect to do nothing.  Sanctions will target a few individuals who are not too close to Putin and don’t keep too many of their interests in the West.  I don’t think Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovic need lose too much sleep, that Harrods need worry or that we will see any flats seized at One Hyde Park.  (It is among my dearest wishes one day to see One Hyde Park given out for council housing.)  Neither do I expect to see the United States do anything effective; its levers are limited.  I doubt we have seen the last of Mr Putin’s adventurism.

Human society is not perfectible, which does not mean we should not try.  I believe western democracy, particularly in its social democratic European manifestation from approximately 1945 to 2000, achieved a high level of happiness for its ordinary people and an encouraging level of equality.  For approximately 20 years unfortunately we have witnessed a capitalism more raw and unabated than ever before, and massively growing levels of wealth inequality, a reduction in state provision for the needy, a distortion of state activity further to line the pockets of the rich, ever increasing corruption among the elite and growing levels of social immobility and exclusion, a narrowing of the options presented by major political parties until there is not a cigarette paper between them and their neo-conservative agendas, and a related narrowing by the mainstream media of the accepted bounds of public debate, with orchestrated ridicule of opinions outside those bounds.  Democracy, as a system offering real choice to informed electors, has ceased to function in the West leading to enormous political alienation.  On the international scene the West has retreated from the concept of international law and, heady with the temporary unipolar US military dominance, adopted aggressive might is right polices and a return of the practices of both formal and informal imperialism.

But every single one of those things is true of Putin’s Russia, and in fact it is much worse.  Wealth inequality is even more extreme.  Toleration of dissent and of different lifestyles even less evident, the space for debate even more constricted, the contempt for international law still more pronounced.  Putin’s own desire for imperialist sphere of influence politics leads him into conflict with aggressive designs of the west, as for example in Syria and Iran. The consequence can be an accidental good, in that Putin has thwarted western military plans. But that is not in any sense from a desire for public good, and if Putin can himself get away with military force he does.  His conflicts of interest  with the west have deluded a surprising number of people here into believing that Putin in some ways represents an ideological alternative.  He does not.  He represents a capitalism still more raw, an oligarchy still more corrupt, a wealth gap still greater and growing still quicker, a debate still more circumscribed.  It speaks to the extreme political failure of the western political system, and the degree of the alienation of which I spoke, that so many strive to see something beautiful in the ugly features of Putinism.


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Theresa May’s Threats

The problem with not being independent is that Scotland would continue to be ruled by people like Theresa May. Her threat to close the border is a patent bluff, and motivated by racism.  Her fear is that “Buried deep in Alex Salmond’s white paper is the admission that, just like the last Labour government, a separate Scotland would pursue a looser immigration policy.”

It is neither hidden nor an admission.  Scotland welcomes immigrants who contribute to its economy and its culture.  Scotland doesn’t have a politics of pandering to racists. That is one of the things which so many Scots want to get away from.

There is no way that independent Scotland will be forced out of the EU.  First, there are no grounds for the assumption that WENI will be the successor state and Scotland a legal new entity; the Czechs and Slovaks, for example, both inherited the entire treaty obligations of the former Czechoslovakia.  But even if Scotland did have to reapply – which I doubt strongly – Scotland already meets the acquis communitaire, by definition.  The Commission report establishing that would be prepared in the transitional period between the referendum and actual independence, and Scotland’s application and acceptance would be a same day process.  If Spain wanted to stop that – and many anti-Catalan Spanish politicians are intelligent enough to realize that extreme hostility to the Scots would provoke more, not less, Catalan nationalism – Spain does not have the political clout within the EU, and is in too dependent a position to isolate itself by a veto.

I worked for four years as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Warsaw specifically on Polish preparations for EU entry, and I know what I am talking about – indeed I have no doubt I know a great deal more about EU accession than Teresa May.  I also know that there is enormous sympathy for Scottish nationalism right across the EU’s international relations community, be it national politicians and diplomats or EU staff.  You would be surprised just how much ground has been quietly prepared by Scottish diplomats and civil servants in advance, sotto voce, in our spare time! With Scotland firmly committed to the EU, and the Conservative Party committed to a referendum on leaving, those who believe the EU’s sympathies lie more with May than with Scotland are deluded.

Actually nobody does really believe that, the propagandists of the mainstream media merely want you to believe it.


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Belated Self-Congratulation

In January, in the lengthy period when I was not posting this blog received its 5 millionth unique visitor.  That really is quite a lot of people.  Despite having been dark for most of the last twelve months, remarkably after just three weeks comeback it is back in the top 30 UK political blogs, and well on the way back to its former position of being the second most influential UK blog of any kind.

Interestingly this page has been seen by over four hundred thousand people.  Glancing through the locations of the last 100 to look at it, 90% of them were in Scotland.  I might therefore humbly claim to have a small impact on the referendum campaign.  I would stress I am extremely willing to speak at campaign meetings at any time, and will absolutely prioritise any such invites over the next six months.

I should express my enormous gratitude to all those who have helped keep this site going, designers, hosts, technicians and moderators, who have not only put in a huge amount of unpaid time but in some cases contributed from their own pockets to the costs over many years. I am not naming names as some specifically wish to be anonymous, but I am very well aware of who each one is – even though, in an extraordinary number of cases, we have never met in the non-virtual world!

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The Torture Cover-Up

It emerges from the USA that 9,000 documents proving direct involvement of the White House in cases of brutal torture are being withheld from the Senate Committee by the Obama administration.  This should surprise nobody, as Obama has done everything in his power to protect George W Bush and the many in the administration, diplomatic service and CIA involved in the whole secret web of torture and murder.  The entire programme was on a scale and of an order of brutality much greater than anything that has been yet understood by the public.  All of those foreign nationals rendered to Uzbekistan, for example, were killed during or following torture and buried in the desert.

It seems that Obama and the Republicans are combining to make sure that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the subject – which by all accounts will be damning enough – is never going to be made public in any way that reveals anything not already known.  The Republicans – and Fox News – have already united behind the extraordinary assertion that the CIA were entitled to spy on the Committee’s activity on its computers, because the physical computers had been provided by the CIA.

At least there is some traction for outrage in the United States.  In the UK, Downing Street dismissed the Gibson Inquiry as soon as it became clear that Gibson was not prepared to be a patsy like Lord Hutton.  I had some small part to play in that.  Gibson had instructed the Foreign Office that, in preparing my own evidence, I had to be given access to any document I had been able to see while I was Ambassador.  This caused huge alarm in the Foreign Office and security services as I knew precisely where the incriminating documents lie and how to find them in a way an outsider never could. Gibson’s insistence on my behalf put the wind up Downing Street and Cameron and Clegg decided to cancel the inquiry.  Similarly Downing Street is postponing the report of the Chilcot Inquiry until Chilcot – who is by no means as “difficult” as Gibson – produces a sufficiently anodyne report.  Even Chilcot’s ultra-Establishment panel of pro-war enthusiasts is having some difficulty with the demands on their intellectual integrity. In particular, Cameron is still refusing to let the Chilcot Committee see, let alone publish, the memos between Tony Blair and George Bush which make it absolutely clear the invasion was agreed long before has been admitted, and also cast some light on its true motives.  Cameron’s withholding of the invasion docs is a precise parallel to Obama’s withholding of the torture docs.  The complete media, political and public silence on this in the UK is terrifying in its implications.



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The Servile State

I just watched a feature on BBC News about the call of Tim Berners Lee for a Bill of Rights to protect internet freedom, and astonishingly they managed not to mention NSA, GHCQ or government surveillance at any point.  They had an “expert” named Jenni Thomson who opined that “it is not as if anyone is looking over your shoulder all the time”, and went on to say the collection of data by facebook and google is the problem, and then was led by the BBC interviewer to the nice uncontroversial subject of education in schools for children on how to stay safe on the internet.

I had rather tended to think of the BBC’s rabid anti-independence propaganda in Scotland as an aberration, a legacy of the fact that so many in senior positions in public institutions throughout Scotland got there as Labour placemen.  Then a couple of months ago I was in Ghana watching coverage on BBC World TV and listening to BBC World Service radio, specifically relating to Egypt and the trial of President Morsi.  I suddenly noted that in all circumstances the BBC journalists and presenters were tangling themselves in knots not to refer to the military coup as a coup.  We had the “ousting”, “overthrow”, most often “removal from power following popular demonstrations”.   Occasionally BBC staff would mention it was a military “intervention”.  But they tied themselves up in knots not to say coup, even though that is precisely what happened and often was the most natural word.  Occasionally they would grind to a halt looking for an alternative.  I once heard “following the military ummm err ummm ouster of President Morsi.”

Now I understand the US government decided not to use the word “coup” because that would automatically bring in sanctions under existing legislation, so the Obama administration decided to pretend it was not a coup.  It is perhaps surprising there is no other get-out in the legislation for coups like the Egyptian military one achieved by the US and Israel, but that is a different question.  But that the BBC should follow so servilely this policy of distortion of truth ought to be shocking.

It seems few people care any longer.  There is actually rather more concern for liberty among the population at large in the US than in the UK.  Snowden’s revelations have brought almost no reaction against GCHQ’s actions in the UK, compared to some fairly strong outrage in the US.  Even the revelation here that 1.4 million people hade their webcam chats spied on by GCHQ, many of them involving sex, caused barely a ripple.  I am fairly confident that would have caused more concern in the US.  The notion of liberty appears to have been lost for now in the mental scheme of the citizenry of the UK.

There is now a great scandal in the States about the CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee as that committee compiled its report into torture and extraordinary rendition.  Even the dreadful warmonger and fanatical Zionist Dianne Feinstein is outraged by this.  Predictably, Senators are much more concerned about having their computers hacked than about people being dispatched all round the world for terrible torture on a massive scale.  The CIA’s actions have probably made it more likely that a report will eventually be published which gives more of the truth about extraordinary rendition and American torture, though I suspect that the Obama administration will make sure most of it remains buried.  There is however a chance that more will be admitted, and particularly that there will be revelations of the collusion of other governments, including our own.

In the UK, this precise matter continues to be hushed up, and there seems very little concern about that.  The Gibson Inquiry was to establish the truth, and it was simply cancelled.  Our politicians even went so far as to institute secret courts, precisely so the guilt of Blair, Straw and a host of senior spies and civil servants over torture could be kept hidden.  It will be ironic if the truth comes out through revelations by US senators outraged at being spied upon.




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The information on Lockerbie published in today’s Daily Mail from an Iranian defector, matches precisely what I was shown in a secret intelligence report in the FCO just around the time of the first Iraq war – that a Syrian terrorist group was responsible acting on behalf of Iran.  It was decided that this would be kept under wraps because the West needed Iran and Syria’s quiescence in the attack on Iraq.

I was at the time Head of Maritime Section in the FCO’s Aviation and Maritime Department. I was shown the report by the Head of the Aviation Section, who was deeply troubled by it.

The UK authorities have known for over 20 years that Megrahi was innocent.  The key witness, a Maltese shopkeeper named Tony Gauci, was paid a total of US $7 million for his evidence by the CIA, and was able to adopt a life of luxury that continues to this day. The initial $2 million payment has become public knowledge but that was only the first instalment.  This was not an over-eagerness to convict the man the CIA believed responsible; this was a deliberate perversion of justice to move the spotlight from Iran and Syria to clear the way diplomatically for war in Iraq.

It will of course be argued, probably correctly, that now Syria and Iran are the western targets, it is in the interests of the CIA for the true story to come out,  (minus of course their involvement in perverting the course of justice).  That is why we now hear it was Syria and Iran.  But it so happens that is in fact the truth.  Even the security services and government can tell the truth, when the moment comes that the truth rather than a deceit happens to be a tactical advantage to them.


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Alarm at Russian expansion had at this time caused a flurry of British intelligence activity.  Russia was fighting a tremendous spirit of resistance in its newly conquered territories in the Caucasus, and in a secret service operation Palmerston sent a British ship, the Vixen, into the Black Sea in 1836 to run arms to Chechen resistance fighters there.  It caused a diplomatic incident when the ship was intercepted by Russian forces, but Palmerston sent an assurance to Russian foreign minister Count Nesselrode that the British government had no knowledge of the venture – just as Nesselrode was to assure Palmerston two years later that the Russian government had not authorised Witkiewicz’ mission to Kabul.  Both men were highly accomplished liars.

I am still working very hard indeed on Sikunder Burnes: Master of the Great Game and I thought you might enjoy that paragraph as a little teaser, given its contemporary relevance.  The world hasn’t really changed that much in the intervening 180 years.

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The Propaganda of Death

The terrible loss of life in the Malaysian air crash is tragic.  But the attempt to ramp up a terrorism scare is ghoulish.  We even had both the BBC and Sky speculating that it was the Uighurs.  Now the suppression of Uighur culture and religion by the Chinese had been a great and long-term evil, and the West has been only too eager to shoehorn their story into the “Islamic terrorism” story.  There is of course an enormous security industry, both government and private, which makes a very fat living out of “combating Islamic terrorism”, and a media  which make a fat living out of helping to ramp it.  Their spreading of fear has been extraordinarily successful given that Islamic terrorism is an extraordinarily low level threat and people throughout the Western world are vastly more likely to drown in their own bath than be killed by an Islamic terrorist.  Indeed you are about 1,000 times more likely to be killed by a member of your own family than by an Islamic terrorist, though the risk of either is extremely slim.

The media uncritically trotted out the story that it was Uighur terrorists who were responsible for the dreadful knife attack at a Chinese railway station – with no evidence except that the Chinese government say so.  Only when they impugn the Uighurs does the western media drop its wary disbelief of statements from the Chinese government.

There is no evidence at all that the Malaysian plane was brought down by terrorists.  The Air France plane crash in 2009, for example, was caused by ice crystals in the pitot tubes giving incorrect air speed readings to the autopilot – this was because the plane had been incorrectly cleaned with a pressure hose rather than damp cloths.  Most air crashes are caused by faulty maintenance procedures. [A number of people have since commented that pilot error is a more frequent cause.  They may be right – but Uighur terrorists it ain’t].

The two people on board with false passports were routed on to Amsterdam, and the obvious explanation is that they were illegal immigrants who had bought stolen passports.  This is very common indeed.  I know from my own diplomatic experience that passports frequently have to be replaced by tourists who no longer have them.  I also know (and I do not refer to the specific individuals referred here) that very frequently indeed the person who has “lost” the passport has sold it.  At tourist hotspots likely people are often approached to sell their passport, (about US$600 is the going rate for an EU passport) and then declare it stolen and apply for a new one.  It is a scam you encounter frequently in backpacking destinations, Thailand being a key example.

It is a peculiar kind of terrorism which does not seek to claim “credit” or publicise what has been done..  No suicide videos have emerged.  That the Uighurs would attack a plane from a state of their fellow Muslims is a ludicrous claim.  Do not be taken in by the Ministry of Fear and its media lackeys.

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Stating the Obvious

One of the ironies of the Ukraine situation which has drawn no comment I can find is that the Ukrainians have been lectured on democracy by Baroness Ashton, who heads EU foreign policy despite never having been elected to anything.  A distinction she shares with Baroness Amos, now in charge of beating the drum for a war on Syria at the UN.  Amos was closely involved as a minister with the UK invasion of Sierra Leone, and shortly after resigning from office became a Director of Sierra Leone’s rutile mine, the single most profitable mine in the world.

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