The government has stepped up its lies about immunity in the Sacoolas case to a breathtaking degree. I genuinely am astounded by the sheer audacity of the lies now being told, including a staggeringly mendacious FCO-briefed BBC article yesterday stating that “23,000 individuals in the UK have diplomatic immunity” and that it extends to “drivers and cooks”. This follows up the breathtaking FCO statement to Sky News that RAF Croughton “is regarded as an annex to the US Embassy in London” – a total falsehood.
What I cannot understand is why. The entire incident is extremely strange. On the face of it, Harry Dunn’s death was a tragic accident caused by somebody who had not long been in the UK driving on the wrong side of the road. This dreadful mistake is forgivable, as Harry’s very sensible parents have said; there seems little reason to believe the justice system would have been more harsh. There was no conceivable need to run away. That is what they cannot forgive.
Make no mistake; the spiriting of the Sacoolas family out of the UK was a considered act by the US Government and, in the case of a manslaughter in an allied state, the decision not to waive immunity would have been taken right at the top of the State Department. Make no mistake about it either, the FCO would have been informed and complicit in the decision and has only pretended to protest after massive public pressure, got up by Harry’s admirable family a full three weeks after the incident had been, the government would have hoped, successfully buried.
But why? It should be stated that it is the norm to waive diplomatic immunity in serious cases between allied or friendly developed states, where each has confidence in the other’s justice system. Unless the accident did not happen as stated, or there is a Chris Huhne type blame switch involved (Trump yesterday very carefully made the point that cameras had confirmed the identity of the driver – I was not sure why he brought this up when nobody had questioned it), it is very hard to understand why diplomatic immunity has been insisted on in this case. Assuming that Anne Sacoolas was the driver and the incident was as described, the only explanation I can think of is that it was hoped by getting them out the country to avoid all publicity and scrutiny of Jonathon Sacoolas’ real job, which is to spy on British citizens communications’ for GCHQ, who face legal impediments in doing so.
I would like to be able to say that if that cover-up is the plan, it has backfired, except that the media has unanimously censored all reporting of what Sacoolas actually does in the UK. Which is quite extraordinary given the massive but (deliberately) wildly misleading coverage of this case. I wish there were many more places than here you could come to learn the truth, but there are not. In which context, it is worth noting that both Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post have joined the DSMA Notice Committee and become willing tools of the UK security services.
After I pointed out that Sacoolas does not appear on the Diplomatic List, does not hold diplomatic rank and is not accredited to a diplomatic mission, and therefore cannot be a “diplomatic agent” under the Vienna Convention, the FCO first admitted this and claimed his immunity stemmed from a separate bilateral agreement, as reported by Sky News.
Having negotiated many international agreements in my time in the FCO, I know that they need to be given effect in UK domestic law, usually by Order in Council. I therefore searched for legislation giving the Secretary of State authority to grant immunity from criminal prosecution under bilateral agreements for spy bases, and I could find nothing. The legal basis for granting immunities under the Vienna Convention is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, which enacted it into UK legislation. The legal basis for granting military immunity under Status of Forces Agreements, or for NATO personnel, is clear and set out in the Visiting Forces Act of 1952.
I could find nothing that would give legal powers to a Secretary of State to grant immunity to US spies on military bases working on communications interception of UK citizens. No legislation was passed to give legal effect in the UK to the reputed bilateral agreements which cover this.
I therefore wrote to the FCO asking for a copy of the bilateral agreement under which Sacoolas has immunity, and a copy of the UK legislation giving the authority to grant the immunity to the Secretary of State. I have not received any reply, but apparently it concentrated minds because the FCO has now switched to make an aggressive – and nonsensical – assertion that Sacoolas is a diplomat in terms of the Vienna Convention.
Not only that, the FCO’s admission to Mark Stephens, reported in that original article by Sky News, that Sacoolas was not a diplomat under the Vienna Convention has been expunged from history. The Sky News defence correspondent Alistair Bunkall had tweeted a reply to me copying this report, as evidence there was no DSMA notice controlling the reporting of the Sacoolas case.
Yet this article, held up by Bunkall as evidence of a free media, was within 24 hours totally rewritten to remove the FCO’s admission that Sacoolas was not on the diplomatic list, and replace it with the new FCO attack line of strong assertion that Sacoolas is covered by the Vienna Convention, and to highlight Dominic Raab’s entirely insincere and pretend effort to request Sacoolas’ return. The story has in effect been completely rewritten by the FCO. This is what the same page, the same url, Bunkall tweeted out looks like now:
Pretty well all that remains of the original – accurate – story is the url, now totally at odds with the content https://news.sky.com/story/husband-of-us-woman-granted-diplomatic-immunity-not-registered-diplomat-11830734. There is no acknowledgement that the story has been changed, and the original is strangely not available even on the wayback machine. If Bunkall has not tweeted it, it would be difficult to prove this brief moment of reporting the truth had never existed. The irony of Bunkall’s tweeting a now completely censored report as evidence of press freedom is stunning.
Forgive me but I here must insert my original post on Sacoolas to make plain the actual legal position:
There is no Jonathan Sacoolas on the official Diplomatic list. Neither Sacoolas nor his wife has any right to claim diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention.
Article 31 of the Vienna Convention states that:
A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state
Article 37 extends this privilege to family members living in his household. A “diplomatic agent” is defined in article 2(d).
The “members of the diplomatic staff” are the members of the staff of the mission having diplomatic rank;
Jonathan Sacoolas does not hold, and has never held, a diplomatic rank. He has never been a member of staff of a diplomatic mission. (All those with diplomatic rank appear in the diplomatic list, see above link. That list also includes some attaches who do not have diplomatic rank (depending on the type of attache), but there is nobody with diplomatic rank not in the list).
Jonathan Sacoolas does not have, and has never had, any entitlement to diplomatic immunity in international law. Sacoolas works as an NSA technical officer at the communications interceptions post at “RAF Croughton”. His role is support to the interception of communications from British citizens. As I explained in Murder in Samarkand, the NSA and GCHQ share all intelligence reports, but each faces legal constraints on mass spying on its own citizens. So the NSA has staff here fronting the spying on British citizens, while GCHQ has staff in the US fronting the spying on US citizens, and the polite fiction is that the results are transmitted back over the Atlantic to the US or UK respectively, before being “shared” with the partner intelligence agency.
None of which has anything to do with diplomacy, and Sacoolas must be the subject of a DSMA notice given that all mainstream media are referring to him constantly as a “diplomat”, when they all know that is not true. The irony is of course that if Sacoolas actually was a real diplomat, the US would very probably have waived the diplomatic immunity of his wife, as the issues around his presence and function would be much less sensitive.
The UK has no Vienna Convention obligation to acknowledge the “immunity” of Sacoolas’ wife, contrary to all reporting to date. What does apparently exist between the UK and US is a secret, bilateral agreement to treat GCHQ and NSA staff as if they had diplomatic immunity. That is not at all the same thing as Vienna Convention protection under international law. I cannot conceive the grief of Harry Dunn’s parents, but I do hope that they are not deceived by the pretence at intervention in this case by Johnson and Raab.
I am not at all convinced, as a matter of law, that the government has the power to grant, by bilateral treaty or otherwise, immunity from criminal prosecution to foreign nationals, plainly outside the provisions of the Vienna Convention. This should be tested by the courts.
With this in mind, let us examine the claims made by the FCO to the media in response. From that Sky News report we have:
This is utter nonsense. It is simply untrue. RAF Croughton is not an annex to the US Embassy. The FCO has invented this lie to counter the fact that, to qualify for diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, Sacoolas must be attached to a diplomatic mission. RAF Croughton is not a diplomatic mission. A RAF base cannot be a US Embassy.
That RAF Croughton is an annex of the US Embassy can be immediately disproved. An Embassy is the sovereign territory of the nation which owns it. Within Embassy premises, the law which applies is the law of the Embassy’s state, not the host state. That is not the case in RAF Croughton. That RAF Croughton is not an Annex of the US Embassy can be instantly proven beyond any doubt or argument by the fact that the bye-laws applicable within it are promulgated by the UK Secretary of State for Defence.
If the base were an annex to the US Embassy, the UK Secretary of State could not make bye-laws for it. There is no mention within the bye-laws covering security and management of and access to RAF Croughton of any area within it being part of the US Embassy. The claim is a simple and straightforward lie, and a rather desperate one.
Finally, if RAF Croughton were an annex to the US Embassy and if Mr Sacoolas were a diplomat, the cars of both he and his wife would have diplomatic CD plates. Mrs Sacoolas was not driving a diplomatic car – an obviously vital fact in this case, again omitted from all mainstream media reporting.
There are further lies in the Sky News report.
On the contrary, the Diplomatic List is a comprehensive record of every diplomat notified to the FCO as having diplomatic status by Diplomatic Note – and as specified in Article 10 of the Vienna Convention, a person must be so notified to become a “diplomatic agent”. There are no “diplomatic agents” not on the Diplomatic List.
I was in the Foreign Office for 20 years and a member of its Senior Management Structure for 6 years. It would be nice if you took my word for this, but you don’t have to – it is very neatly explained at the very start of the Diplomatic List:
The entire purpose of the list is to record those with diplomatic immunity and the legislation under which they get it. From page 127 to 137 it lists those who have diplomatic immunity not under the Diplomatic Privileges Act – which only covers national Embassies and High Commissions – but under other legislation as they work not for nations but for international agencies: and in every individual case the Diplomatic List names the specific legislation which confers the immunity.
The major purpose of the London Diplomatic List is to be a compendium of diplomatic status with a precise attribution of immunity and its source. As Sacoolas is not listed as a diplomat of the US Embassy in the Diplomatic List or the Consular List, he is not a “diplomatic agent” entitled to full diplomatic immunity. Full stop. As explained below, Sacoolas’ wife would only have diplomatic immunity while driving privately if he held a full diplomatic rank (in which case her car would have diplomatic CD plates, which it does not).
The FCO claim that the Diplomatic List only covers London is also ludicrous. The same government webpage gives you the full list of consulates, with their consuls, and even of honorary consuls, outside of London. It does not list Embassy annexes outside London because there are none and the concept does not exist in international law. Embassy outposts from the capital are consulates or consular offices.
The FCO is trying to convince you that their entire section of staff who work on diplomatic accreditations and constantly update the Diplomatic List, are wasting their time on an entirely pointless exercise producing futile and incomplete lists. I wonder how those employees’ morale is today.
But Raab’s FCO did not stop there with the lies. They then briefed the BBC to produce an article on diplomatic immunity so full of lies as to be truly astonishing. I am prepared to confess that I could not complete this blog entry for three days because I was genuinely emotionally upset by the realisation that the UK now has a government whose noted penchant for “aggressive” media and opinion management means it is prepared to employ the big lie on any occasion and subject.
The BBC article is plainly based entirely on an FCO briefing and written with the express and sole intention of obscuring the fact that Sacoolas is not a diplomat. It contains so many outrageous lies that I am afraid this article is going to get still longer. If you have had the patience to stick with me so far, please bear with me a bit further.
This is another quite extraordinary lie, as anybody can easily confirm simply by reading the Vienna Convention. As explained above, full diplomatic immunity is enjoyed only by “diplomatic agents” who must be persons “Having diplomatic rank”.
As very plainly set out in articles 37 of the Vienna Convention:
1.The members of the family of a diplomatic agent forming part of his household shall, if they are
not nationals of the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29 to 36.
2.Members of the administrative and technical staff of the mission, together with members of
their families forming part of their respective households, shall, if they are not nationals of or
permanently resident in the receiving State, enjoy the privileges and immunities specified in articles 29
to 35, except that the immunity from civil and administrative jurisdiction of the receiving State specified
in paragraph 1 of article 31 shall not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties. They
shall also enjoy the privileges specified in article 36, paragraph 1, in respect of articles imported at the
time of first installation.
3.Members of the service staff of the mission who are not nationals of or permanently resident in
the receiving State shall enjoy immunity in respect of acts performed in the course of their duties,
exemption from dues and taxes on the emoluments they receive by reason of their employment and the
exemption contained in article 33.
So “diplomatic agents” “having diplomatic rank” – which, remember, Sacoolas does not have – hold full immunity as do their families.
“Administrative and technical staff” have immunity from prosecution only while performing acts “in the course of their duties”. That is while actually engaged in work for their governments, not outwith their working time. Their families also have exactly the same immunity, and as the families do not have any official duties to be engaged in, in practice their immunity is only civil ie from taxation.
In the case of another spy, Shai Masot, not on the diplomatic list, when challenged as to his diplomatic status the FCO claimed he was not a “diplomatic agent” but only “technical and administrative staff”. As an NSA communications interception expert Sacoolas could arguably be “technical and administrative staff” if it were true that RAF Croughton were an annex of the US Embassy – but that plainly is not true.
However even were Sacoolas covered by immunity as “technical and administrative work” he and his family would only be covered for events that happened in the direct course of his work, and very, very plainly Anne Sacoolas would not have had diplomatic immunity when she hit Harry Dunn. She only had immunity if Sacoolas is a full blown “diplomatic agent” – which he isn’t. We are yet to be told what “diplomatic rank” he allegedly holds. So for the BBC to try to obscure the case with cooks and gardeners – who as “service staff” have even less immunity and their families none at all – is deliberate obfuscation.
This is an utterly tendentious claim. As explained above, the only people with practical diplomatic immunity outside their actual work are full blown diplomats, and there are just over 3,000 of them, all captured in the Diplomatic List. The BBC report attempts to make out that categories such as “international organisations” account for significant parts of this alleged horde of diplomats, but as noted above those from international organisations entitled to diplomatic immunity are all in the London Diplomatic List pp 127 to 137 and amount to just 220 people. It is also worth remembering that the majority of family members who have immunity are children.
There is a much larger number of military personnel who enjoy immunity under the Visiting Forces Act – a total disgrace, in my view – but this is not diplomatic immunity and it is not claimed Sacoolas has it. I have no idea where the ridiculous 23,000 figure for diplomatic immunity originates. Dominic Raab’s arse seems the best bet.
The Johnson/Raab PR strategy here is plain – to drown investigation of Sacoolas’ extremely dodgy claim to political asylum in a sea of tens of thousands of fictitious holders of dodgy political asylum. The government has decided to make us overlook Sacoolas by pretending that there are 23,000 obscure foreigners roaming our country as “diplomats”, each of whom has the license to burgle your home, piss on your floor, kill your daughter and rape your son without facing any possible criminal prosecution or comeback. If this were true, it would be a catastrophic and alarming state of affairs. Thankfully it is a great morass of fiction the government has created within which to try and bury Sacoolas.
This fake “diplomatic immunity” needs to be challenged in court, but I am not sure anyone except Harry Dunn’s family has the locus to do this. Their son was killed by the wife of a spy and to avoid political embarrassment about his activities, the government has falsely connived at a status of diplomatic immunity and then pretended to be trying to get Mrs Sacoolas back. That is an awful lot to take in for people in a terrible state of grief. After losing a son, the cognitive dissonance involved in uncovering state secrets, and learning that the state is malevolent and senior ministerial office holders are liars, is a huge hurdle to surmount. The Dunn family have first to summon the will to fight it, and then to avoid the attempts to hug them in the suffocating embrace of an establishment lawyer – believe me the powers that be will be covertly thrusting one at them – who will advise them they are most likely to make progress if they rock no boats.
The only people I know of who effectively enjoy secret diplomatic immunity are spies from CIA/NSA like Jonathon Sacoolas or from Mossad like Shai Masot. There are not any other categories of pretend diplomats having immunity, and the elaborate charade to pretend that there are is a nonsense. It must not distract from the fact that the claim that the government can grant US and Israeli intelligence agencies diplomatic immunity at will is a lie. The government is acting illegally here. There is no legislation that covers Raab in allowing Mrs Sacoolas to kill – albeit accidentally – with impunity.
I pray both the government and Mrs Sacoolas will be brought to account. I hope Mr and Mrs Dunn find what peace they can with their loss, and are able to remember with due warmth the eighteen wonderful years that I am sure they had with their son.
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