The Servile State 115

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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115 thoughts on “The Servile State

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  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    While I agree with most of what you say, Craig, I suspect that the flareup between Feinstein and DCI Brennan is a pretext for getting rid of him for more unexpected but even more alarming worries, like the coup in Kiev, and the crash of that Malaysia airliner wherever.

  • axel

    Interesting use of words by the BBC. To conceal. The same is true when Carl Bildt’s foreign office in Sweden pronounce on world events. They have invented something called a “language rule”. The language rule is communicated by the foreign office to its civil servants and to embassies etc. It is is simply a phrase or brief description of how to phrase a certain event. Often you will find exactly that phrase in newspapers and TV reports.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    I’m not sure if we need Tim Berners Lee’s internet ‘Magna Carta’. The people of the UK seem to have given tacit consent to the industrial scale snooping through their deafening silence. I wonder if they will live to regret it?

  • craig Post author


    I fear the answer is that a battery hen doesn’t miss the fields, having never seen them

  • axel

    More about the use of “language rules” by the Swedish Foreign Office. As Assange was waiting in the Ecuadorian embassy to find out if he was given asylum or not a memo with a “language rule” was sent out to all relevant embassies. It is not known exactly what the memo said, but it is believed to have stressed that he was simply trying to escape Swedish justice and that Sweden had not yet received any request from US to extradite him. No more comments. It was an efficient method to quieten a lot of the media.

  • KingofWelshNoir


    Wow that’s a chilling take on it, and I suspect you are probably right.

    But there is another way of looking at it. If some animals are playing gaily in the jungle and you erect an electric fence around them, it will be a while before they notice it. Until they do, they will still think they are free.

  • Jives

    The fact that Feinstein only squealed when the spooks black games affected her directly is an act of great moral cowardice and hypocrisy.

  • John Goss

    I’m sure there’s something in a battery hen’s genes that tells it there is somewhere a lot better than this prison. But yes, a good point.

  • Ed

    Several things I’d mention – the first is that the US constitution explicitly prohibits unwarranted search and seizure. And Snowden has basically convinced all but the most fanatical Americans that NSA is violating this prohibition. So there’s a clear point of reference around which Americans can coalesce.

    Secondly, the US dissent is increasingly bipartisan. The liberal wing of the Democratic party has generally been strong on the right to privacy, as has the now more influential libertarian wing of the Republican party. Last week, in the huge CPAC freakshow, there was a very telling seminar where it became clear that a strongly conservative audience was unmistakeably pro-Snowden.

    Third point, on the Senate-CIA spying, I’m not sure that the Senate is necessarily more concerned about spying than torture. I would say they seem more concerned about spying on them than spying on the general public, which is itself not excuseable, but there’s a good number of senators, Feinstein included, who are very determined to know the truth about the CIA’s torture/rendition programs.

    FirstLook, the new media home for Glenn Greenwald, credits Feinstein specifically on this point in the article below:

  • Ba'al Zevul(aka Gordon Bennett)

    Lazy, commercial journalism must bear part of the blame. Press handouts pasted into the programme or paper without any attempt to check them or chase them up. No-one has time to read them anyway, too busy writing amusing little thinkpieces. And the unarmed, disorganised citizenry is probably right in thinking, vaguely, that there’s nothing it can do about it anyway.

    I’m sorry to say things will have to get a lot worse before a majority realises what it has lost, and will go on losing.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    The public has long known about the CIA’s rendering and torture of suspects after 9/11.

    I even had an article posted about the rendering and torture of Abu Omar from Italy on cryptome in 2005, and I have written about the same happening in Sweden to two Muslim suspects right after the disasters – what helped set up Sweden’s Foreign Minister Anna Lindh for assassination.

    Making a big deal about the CIA being really heated up now by their official disclosure is just a pretext for the mess elsewhere, especially in Ukraine where the Agency’s coup can only help drag the USA into the growing civil war there.

    Brennan has to go now, like his predecessor General David Petraeus who tried to derail Obama’s re-election over trouble in Libya.

  • Ben

    “It seems few people care any longer.” The low information voter or LIV in the US is typical especially when the issue is muddied between ‘safety’ and liberty, then the default is to safety.

    When folks are fortunate enough to have a job to support a family, they are often expected to effectively perform the duties of two workers. If you are paid hourly, you may have to commute from one job to another, working well in excess of 40 hours to make ends meet. That leaves little time for examining the frogswamp of news, which has already been neutered by a daisy-chain of handlers, special interests and editors.

    Yes, there is some laziness going on with public apathy, but much of this is due to plain old exhaustion and cynicism.

  • Roderick Russell

    Re: Craig’s and KingofWelshNoir’s comments on why people accept the decline in democracy. Most people won’t see, or will chose not to see, the ring fence unless it is reported on.

    As a whistleblower once said about MI6: they are “running a spy in every newsroom.” The mainstream media is the key thing here, it is the vehicle that allows the political status quo to continue. If the big papers and TV stations deliver the same key messages, then the bulk of people will believe them. Not just those who would have fit George Orwell’s description of a “Prole”, but a fair few supposedly intelligent people as well. Control of the mainstream media really is crucial for those who want to remove our freedom.

  • fred

    It is still my humble opinion that the average man in the street has more to fear from the likes of facebook and google than he has from the security services. The NSA only has an interest in a small sector of society, the corporations are interested in it all. They are building huge databases listing everything about everybody in the world.

  • OEM

    I will disagree that the fall of Morsi was a ‘coup’. If we are to dwell on semantics, the full french phrase ‘coup d’etat’ literally refers to a sudden blow to the state. This has grown to be interpreted as a sudden deposition of a government,usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to depose the incumbent government and replace it with another body, civil or military. Now, the removal of Morsi if we are to dwell on the word ‘coup’ was not sudden, nor was it conducted by a small military body. Rather it was a long-term process which had popular support as the masses filled Tahir Square in the final days of Morsi’s presidency almost on a similar scale to the removal of Mubarak. You may argue that it was anarchic due to Morsi having being elected, or you may consider it as odious as other oustings from power which are undebatedly ‘coup d’etats’ but Morsi’s removal was far from a back room change of guard, rather it was a continuation of the 2011 revolution. Was it wrong, divisive? That’s a grey area for me, but I wouldn’t easily put it into the classification of a ‘coup d’etat’.

    And by the way I recognise the hypocrisy and the illegality of the actions of the ‘snooper state’ but personally I think its a more than sufficient price to pay to stop terrorism, which I consider an extremely bigger threat to personal freedom.

  • fred


    People interested in paying the price to stop terrorism were also interested in stopping legitimate dissent and government accountability.

  • mike

    When is a coup not a coup?

    Hmm, well, given the comments on this blog over the last couple of weeks, perhaps we’d better draw a veil over that one…

    Encryption is the answer, said Snowden the other day. The more data we encrypt, the more expensive it is for “them” to steal it.

  • Ed

    @OEM – Afraid I’d have to differ. I don’t disagree that events are to an extent a continuation of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, but a military installing itself in place of an elected leader, however unpopular they are, smacks of a military coup.

    And a military coup with significant popular support, since the days of Julius Caesar at least, I believe is still a coup.

  • fool

    Is there a hierarchy of descriptions for coup d’etat type events, with the more negative at the top:

    Military invasion
    Coup d’état
    Military ouster
    Popular uprising / revolution
    Palace Revolution

    Not sure where or how unmonitored / bent elections, parliamentary votes under duress or emergence of deep states would slot in.

  • Stuart


    In the BBC clip showing the interview with Tim Berners-Lee, they never once mentioned Edwards Snowden nor specifically asked him about the NSA/surveillances leaks.

    Actually, Jeni Tennison happens to work with Tim Berners-Lee in the Open Data Institute. All the more worrying that she could not bring herself to speak the truth.

  • conjunction

    Interesting point. I’m 64 and i can’t think of a time when the BBC has been so servile, perhaps not at least since the mid sixties when they dropped TW3 because an election was coming up. In my mind the Hutton report and the BBC’s abject capitulation over Gilligan was a major turning point in British life. Blair changed the cultural climate in this country.

    it is interesting that for many years now there has been absolutely nothing on British television worth watching apart from sport. Whereas loads of brilliant series are being produced in the States, the opposite of the situation in the seventies and eighties.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “It will be ironic if the truth comes out through revelations by US senators outraged at being spied upon.”

    Perhaps ironic, but there theree are numerous examples of classified info about bodies/events/etc in the UK having been obtained and revealed not in the UK but by using the provisions of the American Freedom of Information Act.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!


    “The fact that Feinstein only squealed when the spooks black games affected her directly is an act of great moral cowardice and hypocrisy.”

    Over-egging the pudding: hypocrisy very likely, but in which was is it “moral cowardice”? In logic, a “moral coward” would have stayed silent also when her own Committee was being spied on.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “It is still my humble opinion that the average man in the street has more to fear from the likes of facebook and google than he has from the security services.”

    Intuitively, would tend to agree with that.

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