Monthly Archives: August 2020


Assange Travesty Continues

The travesty that is Julian Assange’s extradition hearing resumes fully on 7 September at the Old Bailey. I shall be abandoning my own legal team and going down to London to cover it again in full, for an expected three weeks. How this is going to work at the Old Bailey, I do not know. Covid restrictions presumably mean that the numbers in the public gallery will be tiny. As of now, there is no arrangement for Julian’s friends and family in place. It looks like 4am queuing is in prospect.

By 7 September it will be six months since I applied to resume my membership of the National Union of Journalists. I STILL have not the slightest idea who objected, or what the grounds were for objection. I have not heard from the NUJ for months. A senior official of an international journalists’ organisation has told us that he inquired, and learnt that the NUJ national executive has considered my application and set up a sub-committee to report. But if so, why is this secret, why have I not been informed, and why am I not allowed to know what the objection is? I find this all very sinister. At this stage it is not paranoid to wonder whose hand is behind this.

The practical effect of this is that without NUJ membership I cannot access a Press card, and avail myself of whatever media arrangements are in place for the Assange hearing (just as I was kept out of most of the Salmond trial). I have now reached the stage where I would like to take legal action against the NUJ, but the finances are beyond me. I am not going to ask you to donate because we are going to need all our resources for the contempt case against me, which the Crown drags out.

I shall be writing next week about my own case and that hearing earlier this week. I would just note now that the “virtual hearing” is entirely unsatisfactory and unfair on defendants. There was at least one occasion when my QC agreed with a suggestion of the judge when I would have instructed them not to had I been, as I should normally have been, seated near them in court and able to instruct.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Identity and the Saxe Coburg Gothas

I came across this excellent heat map representation of a large opinion poll on support for the monarchy, sampling 22,000 people all across the UK, taken in 2018 by focaldata.

Red tones indicate net disapproval of the monarchy and green tones indicate net approval. It is worth noting the quite astonishing, and detailed, degree of correlation with this heat map of the Brexit referendum. Annoyingly I cannot find the actual datasets for the focaldata survey.

Among other things, that rather puts to bed the notion of a significant left wing Brexit vote. Brexit voters are indeed mostly highly traditional British Nationalists who love the Queen.

All of which underlines the obvious point that Scotland has a very different political culture to England. It also ought to cast some doubt on the triangulation methodology so favoured by gradualists. I find that speaking to SNP branches is no different to speaking to any other Yes group, in that abolition of the monarchy is overwhelmingly popular, and virtually nobody at meetings is a monarchist. I have never detected any generational difference in this. Scottish Republicanism tends to link in with views on much more radical land reform, which is so desperately needed. A campaign for a Scottish Republic would have majority support. Yet we are told that openly to advocate a Scottish Republic would alienate voters. No it would not, most people would support, and you are not going to convert a great many diehard monarchists to Independence anyway.

I strongly suspect that this extends to other areas, particularly foreign policy. I simply do not believe there is a large well of support in Scotland for UK neo-con foreign policy, nor that it is necessary to support UK foreign policy to maximise support for Independence. Neither Russia nor China is the enemy of the Scottish people. The problem is, that those with the finances to commission opinion polls have every interest in keeping support for such opinions hidden. I have always found the argument that people will only vote for Independence if they think nothing will change rather amusing; if nothing will change, why vote for it?

Anyway, while on the subject of British nationalism, I have a unifying solution to the culture wars question of singing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia at the Proms. Rule Britannia has no musical virtues and in my view should never be sung or played anywhere; it is a horrible bit of doggerel laced with ugly baroque frills. Land of Hope and Glory however is sung to a genuinely great piece of music. The answer is perhaps something like this:

The truly wonderful Patrick Fyffe is no longer with us, but George Logan is and for £20 I’ll slip on a frock and do it myself.

In childhood we always watched the Last Night of the Proms with my mother, and enjoyed it greatly. In those days there was no doubt at all that the patriotic singing was taken with a huge dose of irony. Britain had decolonised almost entirely in a remarkably swift quarter century, and there was a presumption the process would be completed. The state was properly social democratic; all utilities were in public ownership as were all the largest industries. All public provision really was provided by the state, not through profit making private agencies. You could not only go to university for nothing, you were paid to go. Post Suez Crisis, the idea the UK would ever invade anywhere else again seemed wildly improbable, and more importantly, nobody wanted to invade anywhere.

There were still American dictated blights, like the Chagos Islands, but very few were conscious of it. Public discourse was left wing. TV had A J P Taylor, not David Starkey, and Bertrand Russell popped up regularly. The BBC showed Ken Loach and “The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black Black Oil”.

In these circumstances, some singing of “Wider still and wider Shall thy bounds be set” seemed harmless, given that the exact opposite had plainly been in full train. The promenaders were determinedly silly. One year there was a large banner saying “Eat prunes they make you go”, which we children thought hilarious and became a joke in our house.

I suppose that it was Thatcher and the Falklands War that changed all that, and made British nationalism start to be sinister again, even though most of the promenaders themselves remained the same knowing sceptics. Blair then took it to another level, with his promotion of “liberal interventionism”, the doctrine that bombing BAME people is good for them. That was and is a direct and unreconstructed revival of “liberal imperialism” of a kind that Elgar would recognise and support. Suddenly the Last Night of the Proms went down another notch in the irony scale and up another notch on the jingoism scale, as Blair started to invade countries left, right and centre.

Now with Brexit, Johnson and Farage there seems to be a point of no return where British nationalism is too toxic to be adopted ironically. I am not sure the Last Night of the Proms will survive Scottish Independence. Would they still mark the Imperial nostalgia with the old butcher’s apron from Imperial days? I think it is probably time, absent Patrick Fyffe, or me in a frock, to put this grand old lady to rest.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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What Have We Become?

My friend and mentor the much-missed Gordon Wilson used to run Radio Free Scotland, a pirate radio station supporting Independence. It was broadcast entirely illegally, a crime the state took very seriously in the 1950’s. Some of the others involved were of the group that liberated the Stone of Scone temporarily from Westminster Abbey. That was a serious crime too. One of the most enjoyable evenings of my life, one I remember 40 years later, was a boozy dinner with this whole group at Gordon and Edith’s home in Broughty Ferry.

At the time, the state’s arguments against “pirate radio” included national security and interference with emergency services. The entirely illegal Radio Free Scotland actually gave its address as SNP HQ!

This criminal tendency did not prevent Gordon from becoming leader of the SNP and a very respectable solicitor. So how did the SNP morph from being a party that had a very elastic attitude to obeying the laws which suppressed Scotland, to being a party whose leadership cheerleaders are today, in their scores, defending on social media the imprisonment of a working class, ethnic minority Independence activist for organising an entirely peaceful and successful pro-Independence demonstration that passed off entirely without incident?

A party in government naturally has a different perspective to a party of protest. But how those in authority deal with protest, and particularly protest which does not conform to the neat template authorities may wish to confine it to, is a fascinating study. It is the difference between authoritarian government and liberal government, on a continuum. But broadly speaking deprivation of liberty for peaceful protest is acknowledged as the hallmark of a very authoritarian government.

Thus the Extinction Rebellion protests, which deliberately made no effort to conform to regulation around protests and which were deliberately designed to cause maximum disruption to ordinary traffic in London, resulted so far in no prosecutions pushing for imprisonment for protesting or blocking streets unless criminal damage was involved, and even then I am struggling to find examples of imprisonment. Friends of mine who deliberately participated in avowedly illegal Extinction Rebellion protests have been tried and received small fines.

Similarly, a great number of the Black Lives Matters protests, in the UK and elsewhere, were illegal in the sense of not being pre-planned and following police and council regulation. Some caused deliberate damage to statues etc. Again, I am not aware of any cases of people being imprisoned for organising Black Lives Matters demonstrations.

As a young man, I took part in the Occupation of the site of the Torness nuclear power station which disrupted its build substantially. Again, nobody was imprisoned. Looking at my own history, I gave speeches to illegal gatherings at Occupy London, both at St Paul’s and at Parliament square. When the Occupy movement took over universities to protest against tuition fees, I spoke to an illegal occupation at Cambridge university. The university hired security staff to prevent my speech, so the students gathered and sat in the foyer and I gave my talk from the public pavement outside the building, over the heads of a row of security staff, projecting through the double doors of the foyer. Again, nobody got imprisoned.

People do however get imprisoned for organising “illegal” demonstrations. Not in western democracies so much, and I think I have demonstrated until now not normally in Scotland nor England in recent times. But I have witnessed people get imprisoned for “illegal” political demonstration, in Uzbekistan and in then dictatorship Nigeria. It happens quite often in China. Alexei Navalny himself has been imprisoned before in Russia for organising demonstrations without a permit, as have many other opposition groups. Bureaucratic violation is the entirely common tactic against the opposition in Russia, where demonstrations are allowed but there is often some “hitch” with the paperwork.

The imprisonment of Manni Singh is inexcusable. The demonstration he organised was joyous, massive and caused zero damage and zero violence. Over 100,000 people took part coming from all over Scotland in an absolutely determined effort to express their desire for Scottish Independence. The large majority, however, were Glaswegians and represented a significant chunk of the population of the city. It was very much a family occasion.

I spoke at the event, as at the identical demonstration the previous year, and was in touch with Manni throughout the organisational period. Manni is very much an auto-didact in politics. There are aspects of his eclectic beliefs, including for example a fondness for the work of Douglas Murray, which are pretty well the opposite of my own beliefs. But Manni is a good man and, as I have frequently explained on these pages, I have never chosen my friends on the grounds they agree with me about everything. It is also true that Manni has since fallen out with All Under One Banner and its current leadership. Personally I like, as in actively enjoy the company of, all of those involved and have been saddened at my inability to bring them back together. None of which should bear any relation to jailing Manni for organising a political demonstration, but all of which has been thrown up as chaff on social media to obscure the issue.

The 2018 AUOB march was massively successful. I was the first speaker, and I have never had such an exhilarating political experience, not even when addressing the massive Stop the War rallies in London. The 2018 Glasgow march introduced AUOB as a massive political force in Scotland, and particularly in Glasgow.

Tens of thousands of SNP members take part in AUOB demonstrations. I have marched on them beside Joanna Cherry, Chris Law, Ivan McKee, and other SNP worthies. But behind the scenes, all is not the harmony that it may seem. Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon are extremely wary of any part of the Yes Movement they do not control. Nicola Sturgeon has been invited again and again to speak at AUOB demonstrations, and has always refused. Even when promised by AUOB that she could choose the other speakers, and ne’er-do-wells like Tommy Sheridan and myself would be rigorously kept away (to which I had agreed).

The official explanation is that as First Minister, Nicola has to represent the entire nation so may not take part in partisan political events. Yet strangely, that did not stop her attending and speaking to either anti-Brexit demonstrations or gay rights events. That an SNP leader can speak at political events but not for Scottish Independence is, ahem, counter-intuitive.

I suspect Nicola finds the company at anti-Brexit demonstrations more to her taste than she would the company at an AUOB march.

What happened with Manni is that Glasgow City Council looked to try to change the start date of the demonstration and bring it forward from 1.30pm to 11am. This was explicitly to reduce the size of the demonstration – there is no doubt about this, they directly said so, and Manni was keeping me informed in real time. And this is the simple truth – the move to hamper the demonstration and limit its size was absolutely initiated, led and followed through by the SNP group on Glasgow City Council. The SNP Glasgow city councillors are very much directed by the Sturgeon inner coterie, particularly commissars Mhairi Hunter and Rhiannon Spear. The SNP was looking to hamper the impact of AUOB in Glasgow, for its own political reasons.

The AUOB marches attract Independence supporters from all over Scotland. People come down by ferry and coach from the Highlands and Islands. I have met people on them who travelled all through the night. At the time Glasgow Council decided to bring forward the start time, it was already too late; coaches, ferries and advance train and bus tickets were already booked. We are talking about a march that took nearly three hours to pass any one spot. The chaos and disorder from trying to change the starting time would be greater than the disciplined march proceeding as planned by the organisers. That is the decision Manni took. He started the demo 150 minutes after the Council approved time.

I knew of all these problems in real time, and I made a point of speaking with the senior policeman in charge of the march. Amusingly, I recall they really were “Gold Command” or some such TV thriller designation. “Gold Command” was entirely happy and had no complaints. It had been a peaceful, orderly and very good humoured event. I was told directly.

It was the SNP group on Glasgow City Council who insisted that council officers report Manni Singh to the police and demand action against him. It was not an initiative by the Police, who had been quite happy with the demonstration.

This is a photo of an “illegal” demo in Minsk:

This is a photo of an “illegal” demo in Russia

This is a photo of an “illegal” demo in Hong Kong

This is a photo of an “illegal” demo in Barcelona

and here is a photo of the “illegal” demo in Glasgow organised by Manni Singh:

Have we seen protests from the SNP leadership about the jailing of Manni Singh? No. Yet we have seen vociferous protests from them about the restriction of demos in Russia, Belarus and Hong Kong. What we have seen, throughout Twitter and Facebook and below the line at every Scottish newspaper and pro-Independence website, is dozens and dozens of SNP Sturgeon loyalists lining up to justify the jailing of Manni Singh, indeed in some instances to salivate over the jailing of Manni Singh.

I am not going to post individual examples, but you can find them very easily if you Google search for Manni Singh on Twitter, look through the replies to this tweet from Angus Brendan McNeil, or look through this thread in the National.

It is a simple fact that, on Twitter in particular, the SNP loyalists who are tweeting that Manni Singh should be jailed for “breaking the law” are exactly the same accounts that massively retweeted Dani Garavelli’s articles denying the innocence of Alex Salmond. They also bear an extremely high correlation with those whose primary focus is on issues of sexual or gender identity, in which I include the broad range of feminism, sexual identity and gender rights.

What has happened to the SNP? It has become very comfortable with authoritarianism. It has a claque which operates both on social media and at party conference, which pursues Clinton style identity politics allied to neo-con policy. They have adopted a focus on foreign policy which accords entirely with the NATO agenda. You hear a very great deal from the party leadership about the rights of people in Belarus, Russia and Hong Kong. Yemen, not so much, and Palestine is entirely off the agenda. In fact, among the claque, enthusiastic support for the Israeli Defence Force appears to be a badge of honour.

If you look through the Twitter replies to Angus Brendan MacNeil above, you will see a prominent member of the online claque call Angus Brendan a “Tory” for opposing Glasgow City Council over the jailing of Manni. These are precisely the same people who are ardently pushing for the Hate Crime Bill and criminal enforcement of politically correct speech in Scotland. I have seen them attack great Independence supporters like Brian Cox and Elaine C Smith for pointing out the dangers of the Hate Speech Bill for the arts.

Those who cannot see the jailing of Manni, the Hate Crime Bill, and dare I say the prosecution of me for reporting the defence evidence in the Salmond trial, as symptoms of a serious underlying problem with civil liberties in Scotland today, are closing their eyes. There is a nasty intolerance about the claque running the SNP.

The reasons for jailing Manni being put forward by loyalists all over social media – he started the demo late, he didn’t have insurance, there were not enough licensed bouncers as stewards, he didn’t fill the right road closure form – are PRECISELY the reasons authorities and their loyalists put forward for banning all the protests pictured above. It is what Putin’s supporters say about Navalny.

The vast majority, 99.5%, of SNP members remain very decent and humane people who just want to see Scotland a normal free country. A very great number are realising that something is badly wrong in the party, even if opinion polls are great. Power is not an end in itself. It is only of value if you do good with it.

At the moment, power in Scotland is being abused.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Manni Singh Jailed for Organising Peaceful Independence Demonstration

My good friend Manni Singh has been jailed for 72 days – an incredibly draconian sentence – for organising an entirely peaceful political demonstration at which I was a speaker, on which there were zero incidents of violence or damage.

The harsh sentence is completely out of line with any recent treatment of peaceful protestors, for example from the Occupy movement or Extinction Rebellion.

People attended the Glasgow All Under One Banner march from all over Scotland. Singh made all the correct applications to hold it to Glasgow City Council. His application was for simply a repeat of the highly successful and peaceful event a year previously. As I reported at the time, it was the SNP group who control Glasgow City Council who ordered the start time be moved forward from 1.30pm until 11am, specifically in order to reduce the numbers on this pro-Independence march. 100,000 people attend AUOB marches from all over Scotland, including the Highlands and Islands, so an 11am start is simply not practical.

Manni went ahead with the original start time in close cooperation with the police. There were no problems whatsoever. Glasgow City Council is not only SNP controlled, it is controlled by a group specifically close to Nicola Sturgeon. It was the SNP on Glasgow City Council who pushed the police to arrest Manni Singh and initiated his jailing, as confirmed here in this tweet from NEC national executive member and Glasgow City Councillor Rhiannon Spear.

Many prominent SNP supporters – including the brilliant writer Paul Kavanagh – are baffled by the SNP’s hostility to the AUOB marches. As Paul wrote at the time of the Glasgow demonstration:

Yet Nicola Sturgeon, who was happy to attend an anti-Brexit march in London, not only didn’t attend the Glasgow event, she didn’t even tweet a supportive message afterwards. Other SNP figures went on social media to criticise the march for taking place. Because apparently demonstrating that there is indeed mass support for independence in Scotland in the face of anti-independence parties and press which insist there is not is a waste of time that could better be spent sticking SNP leaflets through doors, leaflets that invariably get stuck in a bin without being read.

In fact, the last time that the SNP officially supported a mass participation independence event was the rally at Calton Hill back in 2013. That’s simply not good enough. But worse than that, the SNP led council in Glasgow became embroiled in a dispute with the march organisers, and now Manny Singh of All Under One Banner has been charged with an offence under the Civil Government Act. None of this is a good look for the SNP.

Here is a photo of Nicola Sturgeon on that anti-Brexit march in London.

The vicious jailing of Manni Singh shows you just the kind of oppressive society Scotland is becoming under the Sturgeon government. The fact that diehard Independence supporters like Elaine C Smith and Brian Cox have had to come out and oppose the oppressive hate crime bill should tell you something. AUOB is a genuine grassroots, working class Independence organisation. That Independence is the genuine aim of the SNP careerists who try to sabotage it I very much doubt.

The jailing of Manni Singh for a peaceful demonstration should be a wake up call to all those who believe that the Scottish establishment will not jail me for publishing the truth about the trial of Alex Salmond. Precisely the same people are behind the political persecution of me as behind the jailing of Manni. That is why I am extremely keen that you should follow my trial, and dial in to listen to the hearing tomorrow morning. Please read my article from earlier today.

Manni was given the alternative of a curfew sentence which he refused because of his employment as a taxi driver.

You can see my account of the demonstration for which Manni has been imprisoned.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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The Great Cover-Up

The greatest cover-up in modern Scottish history is underway. I am not permitted to say more at present. I will however venture to say that this is massively bigger than just the attempt to imprison me, that most of these documents are also being withheld from the Holyrood Inquiry.

In stating they are banning Alex Salmond’s solicitors also from releasing any of the documents, the Crown is admitting their existence.

I have made a redaction to avoid any further accusation of jigsaw identification.

I am EXTREMELY keen for you to follow tomorrow’s procedural hearing where the question of what evidence is permitted will be addressed. That’s tomorrow, 9.45am British Summer Time. The dial in instructions are here.

Dial (+44)-207 660 8149
Access code 137 161 9904

I really do not know why it is a telephone system and not internet, obviously it is the court and not me. Please do listen in. I realise nothing much happened at the last two procedural hearings, but this should be very different. I am very anxious indeed that the powers that be should not get the impression that public interest is waning.

Please do go to the linked page and check their instructions about what you are and are not allowed to do.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

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Preparing for my Trial

The Crown Office is objecting to the appearance of, and trying to block from court, ALL of my witnesses and ALL of our proposed evidence for my defence at my trial for Contempt of Court. Today I have to complete the first draft of my own witness statement. We understand the Lord Advocate may object to the hearing of my own evidence also.

I shall write more on this tomorrow. Today is very busy.

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Made in the First Minister’s Office

The first piece of evidence came out at the Holyrood Inquiry today which I have known for the last year but had not been allowed to tell you.

The drafting of the new complaints procedure so that it could be used to fit up Alex Salmond was NOT a unionist scheme hatched in Whitehall and implemented by Leslie Evans, a UK civil servant. I have seen fellow SNP members give themselve false comfort with the idea it was Whitehall and not Nicola; I have tried gently to explain they are wrong, without ever being able to produce the evidence, although I had it.

This is the first morsel of a very great deal of evidence that is going to come out.

The adoption of a new complaints procedure that permitted retrospective complaints against former ministers was in fact cooked up between Leslie Evans and Nicola Sturgeon. LONDON ADVISED AGAINST IT. The Cabinet Office strongly advised that it would be “unwise” to allow retrospective action against ex-ministers. Nicola and Evans decided to plough ahead and implement the policy against London’s advice. They must have had a strong motive for that. Evans denied today that the policy was designed against Alex Salmond. I certainly do not believe her, and there is much more to come.

This is the evidence of Leslie Evans that confirmed this today. As I say, I had known this a long while but was not able to reveal it as I was pledged to confidence. The emails before the committee show indisputably in writing the Cabinet Office advice against the retrospective complaints policy. This is the first piece in a jigsaw, but it is a key piece. I have seen enough other pieces, too, to have no doubt at all of the final picture.

I cannot tell you how desperately I wish all of this was not true. I cannot tell you how desperately I wish the plot against Alex Salmond had indeed all been made in Whitehall. I cannot tell you how much I have hated the fact that my knowledge of Nicola’s plot against Alex has alienated me from so many fellow SNP members I worked alongside during the 2014 campaign. I do hope that scales are at least beginning now to drop from some eyes.

Put this together with Nicola’s insistence there can be no Independence without a referendum, and there must be no referendum without Westminster permission and a S30 order. Put this together with Nicola’s insistence that even discussion of Independence is off the agenda until after Covid and its economic consequences are past. Put this together with the NEC blocking of Joanna Cherry – which Sturgeon and Murrell were definitely behind. Put this together, if I may, with the attempt to jail me for writing this blog.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

Subscriptions to keep this blog going are gratefully received.

Choose subscription amount from dropdown box:

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Paypal address for one-off donations: [email protected]

Alternatively by bank transfer or standing order:

Account name
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Account number 3 2 1 5 0 9 6 2
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Bank address Natwest, PO Box 414, 38 Strand, London, WC2H 5JB

Subscriptions are still preferred to donations as I can’t run the blog without some certainty of future income, but I understand why some people prefer not to commit to that.

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Belarus

There is a misperception in western media that Lukashenko is Putin’s man. That is not true; Putin views him as an exasperating and rather dim legacy. There is also a misperception in the west that Lukashenko really lost the recent election. That is not true. He almost certainly won, though the margin is much exaggerated by the official result. Minsk is not Belarus, just as London is not the UK. Most of Belarus is pretty backward and heavily influenced by the state machinery. Dictators have all kinds of means at their disposal to make themselves popular. That is why the odd election or plebiscite does not mean that somebody is not a dictator. Lukashenko is a dictator, as I have been saying for nigh on twenty years.

My analysis is that Lukashenko probably won handily, with over 60% of the vote. But it was by no means a free and fair election. The media is heavily biased (remember you can also say that of the UK), and the weak opposition candidate was only there because, one way or the other, all the important opposition figures are prevented from standing.

The West is trying to engineer popular opinion in Belarus towards a “colour revolution”, fairly obviously. But they are on a sticky wicket. Western Ukraine was genuinely enthusiastic to move towards the west and the EU, in the hope of attaining a consumer lifestyle. Outside of central Minsk, there is very little such sentiment in Belarus. Most important of all, Belarus means “White Russia”, and the White Russians very strongly identify themselves as culturally Russian. We will not see a colour revolution in Belarus. The West is trying, however.

Unlike many of my readers, I see nothing outrageous in this. Attempting to influence the political direction of another country to your favour is a key aim of diplomacy, and always has been. I was a rather good exponent of it on behalf of the UK government for a couple of decades. The BBC World Service has always been FCO funded and its entire existence has been based on this attempt to influence, by pumping out propaganda in scores of languages, from its very inception. The British Council is not spending millions promoting British culture abroad from a pure love of Shakespeare. Government funding is given to NGO’s that aim to influence media and society. Future leaders are identified and brought on training and degree courses to wed them to pro-British sympathies.

I do not have any trouble with any of that. It is part of what diplomacy is. It is of course amusing when the British state works itself into a frenzy over Russia carrying out exactly the same type of activity that the British do on a much larger scale. But it is all part of an age old game. If I were Ambassador to Belarus now, I would have no moral qualms about turning up to support an anti-Lukashenko demo. It is all part of the job.

There is of course a murkier aspect of all this, where activities are hidden rather than open. The British state funded Integrity Initiative’s work in secretly paying foreign media journalists, or creating thousands of false social media identities to push a narrative (the latter also undertaken by MOD and GCHQ among others), is more dubious. So is MI6’s more traditional work of simply suborning politicians, civil servants and generals with large bundles of cash. But again, I can’t get too worked up about it. It is the dirtier end of the game, but time-honoured, with understood boundaries. Again, my major objection is when the UK gets ludicrously sanctimonious about Russia doing precisely what the UK does on a far larger scale.

But then we get into a far darker area, of assassinations, false flag shootings and bombings and false incrimination. Here a line is crossed, lives are destroyed and violent conflict precipitated. Here I am not prepared to say that time honoured international practice makes these acts acceptable. This line was crossed in the Ukraine; for reasons given above I do not think that the tinder exists to trigger the striking of such a spark in Belarus.

I should be very happy to see Lukashenko go. Term limits on the executive should be a factor in any decent democracy. Once you have the levers of power, it is not difficult to maintain personal popularity for many decades, barring external shock; popularity is not the same as democratic legitimacy. I should state very plainly, as I have before, that I think it was absolutely wrong of Putin to outstay his two terms, irrespective of constitutional sophistry and irrespective of popular support.

The ideal would be for Lukashenko to go and for there to be fresh elections, as opposed to the Venezuelan tactic of the West just announcing a President who has never won an election. The best result for the people of Belarus and for international stability would be the election of a reform minded but broadly pro-Russian candidate. Putin has used the crisis to re-assert the “union” of Russia and Belarus – signed 20 years ago this is a single market and free trade area. Few would doubt, crucially including few Belarussians, that the future of Belarus lies with integration with Russia rather than the EU.

History’s greatest criticism of Putin will be his failure to diversify the Russian economic base and move it from raw commodity exporter to high value added economy. His aims for Belarus will be to ensure it fits neatly with the template of massive commodity exports controlled by a tight knit and highly wealthy oligarchy. Putin will have no interest in the economic reforms Belarus needs.

My expectation is that Lukashenko will hang on, reorienting the economy back towards Russia. Putin’s long term policy goal has always been the reintegration into Russia of majority Russophone areas of the old USSR. That has been his policy in Ukraine and Georgia. Belarus is a major prize. He will seek to bind Belarus in tighter, probably through increased energy subsidy (Putin’s economic arsenal is very limited). Getting rid of Lukashenko is going to move up Putin’s to do list; I give it three years. The current demonstrations in Minsk have no major economic or social effect, and will pass.

UPDATE 17 AUGUST

I just wrote the following in response to a comment below, and I think it usefully explains an important bit of my thinking: and not just on Belarus.

I think the difference between myself and many of my readers is that while we both recognise “western” government as plunder by the capitalist elite exploiting the working class and a fake democracy controlled by a media serving the elite, you and others seem to think that governments are a lot better just because they are anti-Western.
Whereas I believe that many anti-Western governments – Lukashenko, Assad and yes Putin – are also plunder by the capitalist elite exploiting the working class and a fake democracy controlled by a media serving the elite. Just organised a bit differently. And with a still worse approach to civil liberties.

——————————————

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The Russian Interference Report, Without Laughing

Now the madding crowd has moved on, I take a mature look at the report by the Intelligence and Security Committee on Russia. It is so flawed it is tempting simply to mock it. But in fact, it is extremely dangerous.

It calls expressly and repeatedly for the security services to be actively involved in “policing the democratic space” and castigates the security services for their unwillingness to interfere in democratic process. It calls for tough government action against social media companies who refuse to censor and remove from the internet material it believes to be inspired by foreign states. It specifically accepts the Integrity Initiative’s Christopher Donnelly and Ben Nimmo as examples of good identifiers of the material which should be banned – even though Nimmo is the man who stated that use of the phrase “Cui bono” is indicative of a Russian troll, and who accused scores of ordinary Scottish Independence supporters of being Russian trolls.

In order for you to assess the threat of a report which specifically calls on the social media companies to ban those individuals the British government identifies as Russian trolls, and which calls on the security services to act against those people, remember Ian.

Ian was identified by the British government as a Russian troll, on the word of Nimmo and Donnelly – exactly the “experts” on which this report relies. This report proposes Ian, and people like him, be banned from social media and subject to security service surveillance.

Listen to Ian:

In short the report is a real threat to democracy. Its evidence base is appalling, and that is what I shall look at first.

The ISC took evidence from just five “experts” outside the intelligence services. They were Anne Applebaum, Bill Browder, Christopher Donnelly, Edward Lucas and Christopher Steele. I do not quite know how to get over to you the full significance of this. It would be impossible to assemble a group of five witnesses with any pretence whatsoever to respectability (and some of them have an extremely tenuous link to respectability) that would be more far out, right wing and Russophobic. They are the extreme fringe of anti-Russian thinking. They are nowhere near the consensus among the academic, diplomatic and other genuinely expert communities on Russia.

There is simply no attempt at balance whatsoever. The best I can try to get over the extent of this would be to compare it to a hypothetical parliamentary inquiry into Old Firm rivalry where the only witnesses are Scott Brown, Neil Lennon, John Hartson, the Green Brigade, and a Cardinal. There is not any attempt from the ISC to interview any witness who is even remotely balanced or can give the view from the other side. Some might feel that a report entitled simply “Russia” which called zero actual Russians as witnesses is somewhat flawed.

To go through those witnesses.

Anne Applebaum is the most respectable of them. I should state that I know both Anne (whom I know as Ania) and her husband, Radek Sikorski MEP, slightly from my time as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Poland (1994-8). Anne is a right wing journalist who has worked at both the Spectator and the American Enterprise Institute, a Randian think tank. She identifies as Polish and shares the understandable visceral distrust of Russia felt by the Polish right. Her husband Radek Sikorski is a long term friend of Boris Johnson, member of the Bullingdon Club, also worked at the American Enterprise Institute and is a former Defence Minister of Poland. Radek’s persona as a politician is very much based around his hawkish stance on Russia. Both Anne and Radek have consistently argued for the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO and forward stationing of US troops and missiles towards Russia.

Bill Browder is a billionaire who made his money out of the Russian people from the fallout of Russia’s chaotic privatisation process. He achieved fame by portraying his highly corrupt accountant, Sergei Magnitskiy, as a human rights campaigner murdered by the Russian authorities. Browder’s account of events was found to be fundamentally false by the European Court of Human Rights, in a judgement which received zero truthful reporting in Western media. Here is an extract from the judgement of the ECHR:

The applicants argued that Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had not been based on a reasonable suspicion of a
crime and that the authorities had lacked impartiality as they had actually wanted to force him to
retract his allegations of corruption by State officials. The Government argued that there had been
ample evidence of tax evasion and that Mr Magnitskiy had been a flight risk.
The Court reiterated the general principles on arbitrary detention, which could arise if the
authorities had complied with the letter of the law but had acted with bad faith or deception. It
found no such elements in this case: the enquiry into alleged tax evasion which had led to
Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest had begun long before he had complained of fraud by officials. The decision
to arrest him had only been made after investigators had learned that he had previously applied for
a UK visa, had booked tickets to Kyiv, and had not been residing at his registered address.
Furthermore, the evidence against him, including witness testimony, had been enough to satisfy an
objective observer that he might have committed the offence in question. The list of reasons given
by the domestic court to justify his subsequent detention had been specific and sufficiently detailed.
The Court thus rejected the applicants’ complaint about Mr Magnitskiy’s arrest and subsequent
detention as being manifestly ill-founded.

The ECJ found that Magnitskiy indeed died as a result of the shortcomings of Russia’s brutal prison regime – very similar to that of the United States in this regard – but that he was properly in prison on viable criminal charges. The western media may ignore the fact that Browder’s activism is motivated entirely by a desire to hold on to his own vast ill-gotten wealth, and that the highest of courts has found his campaigning is based on a false narrative, but it is deeply, deeply shocking that the members of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who must know the truth, still give Browder credibility. There is no sense in which Browder is a respectable witness.

Christopher Donnelly was forced to step down as a person with significant control of fake charity “The Institute for Statecraft” after the Scottish Charity Regulator found that:

“There was no clear explanation as to why the salaries being paid to charity trustees were considered reasonable and necessary, and we had concern about the charity trustees’ decision-making process around these payments. We do not consider that this private benefit was incidental to the organisation’s activities that advanced its purposes”.

In other words, making money for its trustees, principally Christopher Donnelly, was a purpose of the Institute for Statecraft, not an incidental benefit. This is what the Charity Regulator also found about this fake charity:

The Charity Regulator also found that the Integrity Initiative, run by the Institute for Statecraft, was sending out party political tweets. All of this activity was of course carried out with taxpayers money, the Integrity Initiative being funded by the FCO, the MOD, and the security services.

The Integrity Initiative is a covert propaganda organisation designed to do precisely what the ISC report accuses Russia of doing – covertly influencing politics in both the UK and numerous other countries by state sponsored propaganda disguised as independent journalism or social media posts. Christopher Donnelly heads the Integrity Initiative. Its basic method of operation is secretly to pay mainstream media journalists around the world to pump out disguised British government propaganda, and to run hidden social media campaigns doing the same thing.

All of the “expert witnesses” before the committee feature in the leaked Integrity Initiative documents as part of Integrity Initiative activites. They are all engaged in doing precisely what they here accuse the Russians of doing. The best exposition, to the highest academic standards, of the fascinating leaked documents of the Integrity Initiative operation is by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and the Media. You can very happily spend an hour looking through their report.

So the UK UK was asking its own paid propagandists what they thought of the Russian propagandists. Every one of the witnesses makes their living from postulating the Russian threat. They therefore said the Russian threat is very big indeed.

Edward Lucas is a hilarious professional Russophobe. He is the go-to anti-Russia expert of the BBC, and can be guaranteed to say something stimulating, such as this:

Lucas actually uses #newcoldwar in his twitter profile, and is jolly keen on the idea.

Christopher Steele is a charlatan and con-man. He is by no means unique in trading on the glamour and reputation of MI6 to build up a consultancy business after an undistinguished career as a middle ranking MI6 officer.

When Steele produced, for a large sum of money, his famous “Pee dossier” on Donald Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, it was obvious to anyone with any professional background in intelligence analysis that it simply could not be genuine. It claimed to have a level of access into Russian security circles which is greater than the penetration ever secured by MI6 or the CIA. I immediately pointed out its deficiencies, but these were ignored by an establishment media desperate to explain away the Trump insurgency into their political space.

Since then the dossier has simply fallen apart. Steele has been successfully sued by people named in the dossier. The lawyer Michael Cohen has shown that he was definitively not in Prague on the date Steele claimed he was meeting Russian hackers there, and indeed has never been to Prague. Most telling of all, it turns out that most of the content of the dossier was simply a compilation of the gossip of the Russian emigre community in Washington by Igor Danchenko, formerly a junior staff member at the Brookings Institute, a liberal foreign policy thinktank.

The silence of the media on the unravelling of the Steele Dossier has been so remarkable it has drawn comment in unexpected quarters:

Having seen the quality of the input, it is unsurprising that the report is a case of “rubbish in, rubbish out”. So let us now, with rubber gloves and a peg on the nose, pick through the rubbish.

To start at para 1, the tone is immediately set of paranoid antagonism to Russia. There is no attempt at balance whatsoever; anti-Russian statement is built on anti-Russian statement until we are supposed to be carried away by the stream of rhetoric to accept each succeeding proposition as it is piled up. Like this one:

The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 demonstrated that Russia under President Putin had moved from potential partner to established threat.

Did it really? Accepting for the sake of argument that the official British explanation of Litvinenko’s death is true and it was a murder by the Russian state, does that show that Russia is an “established threat”? It would certainly be an appalling abuse of human rights and show Russia is a threat to Russian dissidents, but would it really show Russia is an “established threat” to you and me? Plenty of other countries murder their opponents abroad, notably the USA, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Uzbekistan, countries the UK government is proud to call allies. The UK kills opponents abroad continually, in drone strikes, including deliberately by drone killing its own citizens and even killing young British children. I can condemn all such murders equally. But why should we be carried away by the anti-Russian rhetoric into finding it uniquely reprehensible, only when Russia does it?

I could go through every single para of the report, but life is too short. I will however pick out places where the logic is far less convincing than the rhetoric is impressive. From Para 3:

its lack of strong independent public bodies and the fusion of government and business allow it to leverage all its intelligence, military and economic power at the same time to pose an all-encompassing security threat.

Really? Is Russia really that unified? In fact, this is a startling over-simplification. The extreme oligarchic structure which resulted from the wholesale looting of assets in the western-inspired and western-overseen chaos of Russian privatisation has resulted in a state which is indeed not a healthy democracy. But neither is it a monolith with no dissent and no conflicting interests, and Putin has continually to balance the desires and goals of different oligarchs and factions. Not many Russians would recognise the portrayal here of a super efficient and coherent state and business machine.

Besides, even if it were true, Russia would still only have one fifth of the population of the European Union and an economy the size of Spain. The attempt to pump up Russia as a massive threatening superpower is simply nonsense. What Russia does have is the ability to take decisive politico-military action, on a small scale in limited theatres, such as Crimea or Syria. It does so with success because it has a leader who is better at the game of international realpolitik that his western contemporaries. That is not a value judgement: I personally believe Putin is right in Syria and wrong in Crimea. But to blame Russia for the decrepit state of current western diplomacy is a stretch.

By para 4 the report is surfing along on a surreal wave of nonsense:

The security threat posed by Russia is difficult for the West to manage as, in our view and that of many others, it appears fundamentally nihilistic.

Really? Nihilistic? Now the report has already stated that Russia is a remarkably monolithic and unified state apparatus, controlled presumably by President Putin. I can think of many adjectives to describe Putin, some of them not very pleasant – calculating, machiavellian and devious would be amongst them. But he is the absolute opposite of nihilist. He has a clearly defined view of Russia’s interests – and that view identifies Russian interests far too closely with himself and other oligarchs – and sets out diligently and consistently to advance those interests.

So you can define clear Russian policy goals in the international sphere. These include the consolidation of Russian influence in the former Soviet Union and, where possible, the re-integration of contiguous Russian majority speaking territory into Russia, as seen in Georgia and Ukraine. They include the reduction of democratic space for political dissent at home. They include the countering of American influence abroad, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia. These are serious, hard-headed policies. The very last word I would use to describe them is nihilistic. The Russian oligarch class are as unquestioningly materialist as any class in any society, ever. They are not nihilists.

I can only imagine that the committee picked up on the word “nihilist” from one of the crazed flights of fancy of Edward Lucas.

Para 4 then blunders on into still stranger territory:

It is also seemingly fed by paranoia, believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.

What could give them that idea?

But what is really strange is the lack of self awareness; a report built entirely upon paranoia about the Russian threat accuses Russia of paranoia about the western threat.

The next few paragraphs make repeated reference to the “Salisbury attacks” and simply take for granted the narrative that Russia was responsible for these. This I am not prepared to do. Clearly some kind of spy subterfuge took place in Salisbury involving both the UK and Russia, but there are too many obvious lies in the official UK government account. I still have seen no answers to my ten outstanding questions, while the attribution of the poison gets ever shakier, with new revelations from that cesspool of corruption, the bureaucracy of the OPCW.

Paras 13 to 20, on cyber warfare, again show that complete lack of self-awareness. They attribute a number of cyber hacks to Russia and the GRU, as though we did not know from Wikileaks Vault 7 leaks that the CIA specifically has a programme, “Umbrage” for leaving behind fake evidence of a Russian hack. But more tellingly, they quote GCHQ as their source of information.

Now it is a simple truth that hacking Russian communications, including military, political, security, research and commercial communications, has been a core part of GCHQ tasking from its establishment. Assuming at least some of the attributions to Russia on cyber warfare are correct, the synthetic outrage at Russia doing what we have been doing to Russia on a far, far larger scale for decades, is laughable. Even more so when paras 20 to 24 talk of the need for the MOD and GCHQ to expand their offensive cyber warfare as though this were a retaliatory measure.

From para 27 onwards the committee is talking about broadcast and new media disinformation campaigns. Here it stops pretending it knows any secret intelligence and states its information is open source, as at footnote 24 where the sources are frothing mad Edward Lucas and fake charity purveyor Christopher Donnelly, telling us how terrible Russian troll campaigns are.

Yet again, there is a total lack of self awareness. The committee fails to note that Donnelly himself has been spending millions of UK taxpayers’ money (at least that which did not go into his own pocket) running absolutely, precisely the same kind of covert campaign of hidden influence propaganda that they are accusing Russia of running. They accuse Russia Today of bias as though the BBC did not have its own state propaganda bias. Yet again, the lack of self-awareness is stunning.

Now we start to reach the stage where all this sanctimonious hypocrisy become really dangerous. Before you read this next few paras of the report, I would remind you that the repression of every bad regime everywhere has always been, in the eyes of the repressive security service, defensive. It is always to protect the truth, to prevent the spread of the lies and disaffection of evil foreign influence. That was the justification of the Cheka, the Gestapo, the Stasi and every South American dictator. They were all protecting the people from foreign lies. Now read this from the committee, and consider what it really means:

33. Whilst we understand the nervousness around any suggestion that the intelligence
and security Agencies might be involved in democratic processes – certainly a fear that is
writ large in other countries – that cannot apply when it comes to the protection of those
processes. And without seeking in any way to imply that DCMS is not capable, or that the
Electoral Commission is not a staunch defender of democracy, it is a question of scale and
access. DCMS is a small Whitehall policy department and the Electoral Commission is an
arm’s length body; neither is in the central position required to tackle a major hostile state
threat to our democracy. Protecting our democratic discourse and processes from hostile
foreign interference is a central responsibility of Government, and should be a ministerial
priority.
34. In our opinion, the operational role must sit primarily with MI5, in line with its
statutory responsibility for “the protection of national security and, in particular, its
protection against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage, from the activities of
agents of foreign powers and from actions intended to overthrow or undermine
parliamentary democracy … ”.38 The policy role should sit with the Office for Security and
Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) – primarily due to its ten years of experience in countering the
terrorist threat and its position working closely with MI5 within the central Government
machinery. This would also have the advantage that the relationship built with social media
companies to encourage them to co-operate in dealing with terrorist use of social media
could be brought to bear against the hostile state threat; indeed, it is not clear to us why the
Government is not already doing this.
35. With that said, we note that – as with so many other issues currently – it is the social
media companies which hold the key and yet are failing to play their part. The Government must
now seek to establish a protocol with the social media companies to ensure that they take
covert hostile state use of their platforms seriously, and have clear timescales within which
they commit to removing such material. Government should ‘name and shame’ those which fail to
act. Such a protocol could, usefully, be expanded to encompass the other areas in which action
is required from the social media companies, since this issue is not unique to Hostile State
Activity. This matter is, in our view, urgent and we expect the Government to report on progress
in this area as soon as possible.

The government endorsed Donnelly/Nimmo operation identified Ian above as a Russian agent. I have no doubt they would count this article as Russian disinformation. They would set MI5 on Ian and I, and ensure our posts would be banned from social media. Only such a corrupt mainstream media as we have in the UK would fail entirely to note – and they have failed entirely to note – the extreme and illiberal aspects of this report.

There is a real danger identified by the report. But it is not Russia, it is the McCarthyite witch-hunt the report seeks to promote, ironically based upon an entire sea of disinformation.

By paragraph 42 the committee has left reality entirely behind in favour of a tour of Clintonland.

42. It was only when Russia completed a ‘hack and leak’ operation against the
Democratic National Committee in the US – with the stolen emails being made public a
month after the EU referendum – that it appears that the Government belatedly realised the
level of threat which Russia could pose in this area, given that the risk thresholds in the
Kremlin had clearly shifted, describing the US ‘hack and leak’ as a “game changer”,46 and
admitting that “prior to what we saw in the States, [Russian interference] wasn’t generally
understood as a big threat to [electoral] processes”.

Contrary to the committee’s bland assertion, it is now well established that there never was any Russian hack of the DNC. Mueller failed entirely, after spending US $32million, to establish either a hack or Russian “collusion” with the Trump campaign. The only “evidence” there ever was for the Russian hack was an affirmation by the DNC’s security consultants, Crowdstrike, and this summer we learnt that Crowdstrike had never had any evidence of a Russian hack either. While those of us close to Wikileaks have been explaining for years it was a leak, not a hack. We were ignored by the media as it did not fit with the official disinformation campaign.

The committee query why the UK security services were not alerted by the DNC hack to take additional measures against Russia. The answer to that is very simple. The UK and US security services share all intelligence, so the UK security services were well aware from the US intelligence information that there was in fact no Russian hack. Unlike their US counterparts, they were not led by Clinton appointed loyalists prepared to perpetuate and act upon the lie to try to serve their political masters. On the other hand, the UK security services evidently did not feel it necessary to dampen the ardour of the committee on this point when it was about to propose a large increase in their powers and their budgets.

I had already blogged on paragraph 41 of the report and its accusation of Russian interference in the election campaign, founded entirely on a published article on Medium by witch-finder general, the Livingston unionist Ben Nimmo. That article states, among other things, that many Independence supporters on social media also support Russia on Ukraine, and therefore must be agents of Russian influence – as opposed to Scots who happen to support Russia over Ukraine. It notes that a number of people who support Scottish Independence appear not to have English as their first language, and some have trouble with definite and indefinite articles; therefore, Nimmo concludes they must be Russian trolls. As though we have no migrants who support Scottish Independence – and ignoring the fact Polish, Lithuanian, indeed the majority of languages in the world, also do not use definite and indefinite articles.

Let us remind ourselves of Ben Nimmo’s brilliant identification of top Russian trolls, nine out of ten of which turned out to be ordinary Scottish Independence supporters who simply tweeted things Nimmo does not like, while the tenth is a news aggregation bot which actually has the word “bot” in its name. That the committee takes this stuff seriously is a fact so eloquent in itself, I need hardly say more.

When we arrive at section 49 we finally reach material with which I can wholeheartedly agree. The UK, and the City of London in particular, was absolutely wrong to have welcomed in with open arms the Russian billionaires whose fortunes had been looted from the Russian people in the chaotic privatisation process, where assets were seized often by brute force, sometimes by bribery. There is no decent society in which the Deripaskas, the Usmanovs, the Lebvedevs, the Abramovics, should be accorded respect. Dirty money corrupts financial and political institutions. The committee is absolutely correct about that.

But have these people been living under a rock? UK politics and society have been a stinking morass of corruption for generations. Saudi money has worked in exactly the same way as Russian, and has had a bigger political influence, leading to a quite disgusting blind eye being turned to appalling human rights violations and military aggression against civilians. The same is true of all the Gulf states. London has been awash for over 40 years with Nigerian plutocrats, every single one of whose wealth has been corruptly looted. When I worked at the British High Commission in Lagos, the snobs’ estate agent Knight Frank and Rutley had an office there, staffed by expatriates, which did nothing but sell Surrey mansions and Docklands penthouses to crooks.

Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Angola, Sierra Leone, there is not a blood diamond or corruptly acquired oil barrel whose proceeds do not wash up in London. Four of the world’s top ten tax evasion bases are British colonies. The committee was right to describe the City of London as a “laundromat” for looted money, but wrong to ascribe that mainly to Russia. That is without considering the disgusting activities of our own UK and US billionaires, who control our media and ultimately our politics.

I can join in the committee’s condemnation of Russian oligarchs influence in British society, and especially their influence as donors on the Tory party. But remember Mandelson/Deripaska. The corruption has no ideological basis except selfishness. The financial interests of British, American, Russian, Saudi, French, Malaysian or any other billionaires are entirely intertwined, as is their political influence. It is the billionaires against the people. The nationality of the particular billionaire is irrelevant. I strongly recommend this report by Transparency International on the massive involvement of “respectable” British institutions in facilitating obviously corrupt transactions.

Does anybody seriously believe the influence of Russian billionaires is somehow more pernicious in the UK than the Saudis or any of the others I have mentioned? Of course nobody believes that; this report only achieves its aim by a blinkered focus on a singular anti-Russian racism. I am not going to expound on any more of the report, because there is a limit to how much racism I am prepared to wade through.

But before closing, I want to consider how enthusiasm for the new Cold War has swept up pretty well the entire political and media class. There are of course those who were enthusiasts for the last Cold War, the military and security services, the arms industry and bottom feeders like Christopher Steele and Christopher Donnelly, who make a surprisingly fat living from peddling the disinformation the state wishes to hear.

But the “Russia is the enemy” narrative has been taken up not just by the traditional right, but by those who would probably self-describe as liberal or social democrat, by supporters of Blair and Hillary.

Most of the explanation for this lies in the success of Blair and Clinton in diverting the “left” into the neo-con foreign policy agenda, through the doctrine of “liberal intervention”, which was the excuse for much Victorian imperialism. The notion is that if you only bomb and maim people in developing countries enough, they will develop democratic forms of government.

This thesis is at best unproven. But once you persuade people to accept one form of war, they seem to become enthusiasts for more of it, particularly those who work in media. It remains the most important single fact in British politics that, despite the fact almost everybody now acknowledges that it was a disaster, nobody ever lost their job for supporting the Iraq war. Quite a few lost their job for opposing it, Greg Dyke, Carne Ross, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Piers Morgan being among the examples. It is a simple matter of fact that the Iraq War’s biggest cheerleaders dominate the London political and media landscape, whereas there is no critic of the Iraq War in an important position of power.

But apart from the argument that we must oppose Russia because it is not a democracy (but not oppose Saudi Arabia because… well, because), something else is in play. The cosy liberal worldview has been shattered by a populist surge, as represented by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Both events are cataclysmic to the liberal mind and need to be explained.

For some reason, many mainstream liberals, especially the well-heeled ones who control the media and are columnists therein, are unable to acknowledge the truth. The truth is that our apparently comfortable modern society left a large number of people behind, who suffered loss of status from the ever-growing wealth gap and believed their opinions were not valued by an urban establishment they despised. These people revolted and had a right to revolt. That their discontent was seized upon and diverted by charlatans to unworthy political causes did not nullify the just causes of discontent. Loss of wages, job security and social status has bedeviled the disenfranchised at the same time that the plutocrats have been piling up personal wealth.

The upsurge of populism is a direct consequence of the vicious inequality of late stage capitalism, seasoned with racist attitudes to migrants which were themselves triggered by large waves of immigration the “liberal left” in fact caused with their obsessive pursuit of foreign invasion and destruction. That analysis, that the capitalist system they so wholeheartedly espouse and the wars for “freedom” they so ardently promote are the cause of the political setbacks they have encountered – is unpalatable to the media and political classes.

They therefore look for another cause for the raw political wounds of Trump and Brexit. Incredibly, they attempt to blame Putin for both. The notion that Russia, rather than deep disaffection of the less privileged classes, “caused” Trump, Brexit and even support for Scottish Independence is completely risible, yet uncritical acceptance of that analysis is fundamental to this report. It fits the mindset of the entire political and media establishment which is why it has been lauded, when it should be condemned as a real threat to the very political freedoms which it claims differentiate us from Russia.

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Sugar

It is being reported that enthusiastic Tory Party donors Tate and Lyle stand to be the sole beneficiary of the abolition of EU tariffs and quotas on raw cane sugar imports, to the tune of over £70 million a year. This is a good anti-Tory and anti-Brexit story, but deeper thought raises some extremely interesting ethical issues around agriculture, trade, the developing world and environmentalism. Let me just unpack a little of it for you to see and start thinking about. I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do have some interesting questions. I want you to indulge me if I start by going back over thirty years to recount an experience of my own.

I was in charge of agriculture and water in the British High Commission in Lagos back in 1986, and in that capacity paid several visits to the state owned Nigerian Sugar plantation and factory at Bacita, Kwara State.

I loved Bacita. Nigeria in the 1980’s was a disheartening place. A ridiculously over-valued Naira allowed the elites who could access the official exchange rate to live lives of sumptuous luxury and buy up top end properties all over London (the nobs’ estate agent, Knight Frank and Rutley, opened a Lagos office staffed by British expats to sell Holland Park mansions and Dockland penthouses). The overvaluation destroyed Nigerian agriculture, as imported food became cheaper than local. In a decade, Nigeria went from being the world’s largest exporter of palm oil to the world’s largest importer of palm oil, and hundreds of thousands of acres of palm oil, coconut, cocoa, pineapple, lime and other plantations withered away and closed down.

To import, you needed an import license and these were a principal source of corruption in probably the most corrupt country in the world. The most valuable of all were the sugar and rice import licenses, controlling the import of a daily staple to a country then of 200 million people. The duopoly right to import sugar to the whole of Nigeria was given to just two Northern families, Dangote and Dantata, well connected to the military regimes. They became billionaires several times over. I was most amused in 2014 to see Aliko Dangote being fawned over at Davos as an example of a great African entrepreneur.

The Dantatas and Dangotes had unlimited access to Nigeria’s oil dollars at the official exchange rate – which was an amazing three to four times more favourable than the real or black market rate. So not only did they have the duopoly on a diet staple, but the system worked like this. For the sake of example let’s say sugar was a dollar a kilo. They could exchange a naira for a dollar at the official one to one exchange rate and buy the kilo of sugar. They could then, given their duopoly position, sell that kilo of sugar to the public for eight nairas, worth two dollars in the real world. They could then exchange that eight nairas at the official rate for eight dollars. Making a 800% markup if you start from the first dollar, or a 3,200% markup if you start with the real value of the first Naira they bought that first dollar with.

I am not trying to recreate the actual sugar price or exchange rates in 1986. I am using notional values to show how the system worked and how the Dangote family originally became, as loudly proclaimed at Davos, the richest in Africa.

So in 1980’s Nigeria, it may appear that the situation for their domestic sugar industry could not have been worse. But it could, and it was the European Union that made it much, much worse. Dantata and Dangote were able to buy beet sugar from the European Union typically at around 70% of the cost of its production. The EU was dumping massive volumes of export subsidised sugar on to Africa as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, destroying much of African sugar production in the process.

One of the abhorrent things about today’s politics is that Brexit has made any sensible discussion of the EU impossible. It ought to be perfectly possible to discuss things the EU has historically done wrong without being labeled a Trump-loving Farage supporter, but that is not how public discourse is going. The EU’s record on effectively dumping did improve substantially with successive reforms to the CAP.

The general problem has not gone away, however. In 2000 I recall the USA dumped vast amounts of subsidised chicken on Ghana while I was working there, putting numerous good quality Ghanaian producers out of business. Africa remains subject to the whims of western politicians seeking to subsidise their farmers either for reasons of food security, or because the Idaho soya bean farmer suddenly became a key voting demographic.

The Common Agricultural Policy was designed to encourage food security and reduce price volatility in Europe. In original concept that functioned through large scale over-production of staples, taxpayer subsidised, and food stability in the rest of the world was not part of the remit.

Despite all of the odds, the Nigerian Sugar Company in Bacita kept going through the 1980’s, employing tens of thousands of people a year and producing some 20 to 30,000 tonnes of refined sugar (out of a nominal capacity of 60,000 tonnes). I loved spending time there. I admired the tenacity of the workforce who struggled every day to maintain both field production and factory with almost no available cash. I marveled at the ancient, massively wrought, crushing, boiling and refining equipment all manufactured in Glasgow or Motherwell, and chatted with the blacksmiths who hammered replacement parts using old matchets as raw material. I would sit with the cane cutters enjoying a drink of fresh cane juice, as the burning prior to cutting drew black feathers across the vivid red of the setting sun. I loved the fact that the entire plant and town were powered by using cane waste as fuel.

You have to understand that Nigeria in the 1980’s had massive societal problems, and honest endeavour and agro-industry were not exactly its hallmarks. Bacita was my haven. I should point out that Bacita had never employed either slave or imported labour, lest you feel my nostalgia for a sugar plantation was misplaced.

I tried very hard to persuade both DFID and the Commonwealth Development Corporation to help update the plant, but both said that the EU dumping policy made Nigerian sugar unsustainable. Bacita somehow limped on another two decades until it closed in 2006. It closed because the international donor community insisted it was privatised.

Once put into the hands of a wealthy owner, international aid was finally forthcoming and the African Development Bank put an amazing 60 million dollars into expanding field production. This was entirely wasted as the new owner decided it was most cost effective to take advantage of tariff advantages of raw versus processed sugar. They simply shut down the field operation, making 10,000 people redundant, and ran the processing plant on imported raw sugar. That lasted a couple of years and then they lost interest and the whole thing went bust. The joys of privatisation.

Sugar is fascinating, because temperate beet sugar is the original and most striking example of industrial selective breeding of a crop deliberately to provide import substitution in temperate countries of a tropical food. Modern sugar beet typically contains 15 to 20% sugar. At the end of the 18th century, when serious breeding started, it was around 8 to 12%, similar to sweet potato today. Industrial scale production of sugar from sugar beet started around 1820.

Contrary to popular belief, sugar beet in a temperate climate can in fact yield more sugar per hectare than sugar cane in the tropics, because of its shorter growth season. Nitrogen fertiliser inputs for the two are comparable. Cane sugar production costs are substantially cheaper than beet sugar, but higher yield in the field is not the reason. Nor is cheaper labour as large a factor as you might think, given the mechanisation of the beet industry.

The reasons cane sugar is cheaper are more complex – for example, sugar beet factories in the UK typically run 100 days a year, whereas a sugar cane factory factory is almost a year round operation, thus giving a better return on the capital employed. The UNFAO argues that in a liberalised market some beet production would be competitive, particularly major scale producers in France and Germany. I am dubious; the general rule that without protection cane sugar is more financially viable, by a wide margin, is not in doubt.

As the UK leaves the EU, the EU quotas and tariff barriers that kept out cane sugar are vanishing and Tate & Lyle are now free to import raw cane sugar for processing. This is where that £71 million tariff reduction comes in. This could theoretically be an advantage of Brexit – sugar ought to get cheaper. But actually, it won’t. You see, Tate & Lyle are the only refiner of raw cane sugar in the UK. They have a monopoly, and the capital costs are a significant bar to market entry. So what will happen is that Tate & Lyle profits will go up, very substantially.

The British sugar market is dominated by British Sugar, who produce beet sugar, and Tate & Lyle, who finish in the UK imported “raw” cane sugar. In theory, Tate & Lyle should now be in a position to put British Sugar out of business and end UK beet production. That will not happen. What will happen is the duopoly will continue to fix the price, with Tate & Lyle simply making mega profits.

As you will have realised, this is all predicated on the fact that the UK intends to maintain high tariffs on the import of fully processed sugar from abroad, to maintain the protection of the processing operations of both British Sugar and Tate & Lyle. The only reason it makes any sense for Tate & Lyle to import raw sugar from Brazil or Pakistan and process it here, is that fully processed sugar from Brazil or Pakistan is subject to a deliberately prohibitive tariff.

This means that extra bulk is being transported across the sea for no good reason. It also keeps the most profitable part of the entire value adding process in the developed world and not in the developing world. I visited a sugar factory in Pakistan last year, where it is a massive industry, and access for their refined sugar to the UK market could be a major economic boost.

It is of course not just sugar; this system of protection aimed at keeping developing countries as raw material exporters and keeping the high value processes in the developed world applies to many commodities. If we take the case of cocoa, my friend President Nana Akuffo Addo of Ghana states that Ghana loses over half of the value of its cocoa by exporting beans rather than processed cake and butter, or still better chocolate.

President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, says Ghana no longer wants to be dependent on the production and export of raw materials, including cocoa beans.

According to President Akufo-Addo, Ghana intends to process more and more of its cocoa, with the aim of producing more chocolate, “because we believe there can be no future prosperity for the Ghanaian people, in the short, medium or long term, if we continue to maintain economic structures that are dependent on the production and export of raw materials.”

He, thus, reiterated the commitment of his Government “to add value to our raw materials, industrialise and enhance agricultural productivity. This is the best way we can put Ghana at the high end of the value chain in the global market place, and create jobs for the teeming masses of Ghanaians”.

That the UK in leaving the EU is lifting the barriers to raw sugar import but not to processed sugar import, is indeed a sign that the Tory government is favoring the interests of its donor Tate & Lyle above the interests of the developing world (who still cannot send us more valuable processed sugar), the interests of the consumer (who will not get cheaper sugar from the tariff reduction) and the interests of beet farmers (who will have competition from cheaper imported raw sugar). It really is a spectacularly bad policy decision designed solely to benefit Tate & Lyle, and nobody else.

Now this is where I do not know the answers.

A couple of years ago I would have written with arrogant certitude that the correct policy would be to lift all tariffs on import of fully processed sugar, thus greatly benefiting the consumer while opening opportunities for value added in the developing world. But how do the food miles involved factor into climate change? On top of which, has the effect of covid-19 given a warning that the EU’s original ideas of food security and local production had more value than we had lately thought?

Now those are some really meaty questions. There is no reason my views are any more valuable than yours, and indeed, I do not know the answers.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Clive Ponting, Hero

Clive Ponting, doyen of British whistleblowers, anti-imperialist historian and campaigner for Scottish independence has died at his home in Kelso, age 74.

Clive came closer than anybody else to saving British society and industry from the horrors of Thatcherism. There is a danger in history of believing that everything that happened was inevitable. In fact Thatcher’s government after two years in office was extremely unpopular just before the Falklands War. Conservative party support was at 23% in the opinion polls, well behind both Labour and the Liberal/Social Democratic Party. Thatcher’s later popularity was entirely unexpected and based on a tidal wave of jingoism as a result of a short, successful war with Argentina. Without the Falklands War the privatisation of water, rail gas and electricity and the destruction of 90% of British heavy industry may either not have happened or have been short-lived.

The Argentinian dictator Leopoldo Galtieri was as obnoxious as Thatcher, and also a desperately unpopular leader looking to unleash a wave of nationalist support. The Falkland Islands are one of the UK’s most pointless surviving colonies, though unlike most at least are not a tax haven. After Galtieri sent his forces on April 2 1982 to occupy the Falklands, the United States were leading international efforts to broker a compromise agreement, when all possibility of a peaceful resolution was destroyed by the UK sinking the battleship General Belgrano.

It is worth noting that the Argentinians had occupied the Falklands without one single British casualty. On 2 May 1982 when an advanced British nuclear submarine sunk the old second world war cruiser Belgrano, killing 323 Argentinians in the most horrible of fashions, not a single British person had been hurt in the Falklands War.

The claim that the ancient Belgrano was a serious military threat was always spurious. Clive Ponting, a Principal level civil servant in the MOD, blew the whistle on the fact that it was not, as claimed, heading towards the Falkland Islands when it was destroyed, but was in fact steaming away. The truth of the matter is that the decision was never a military one, but was a murderous political decision, to make inevitable the war the Tories wanted so badly to revive their political fortunes. As we have seen with Brexit, imperialist hubris and sheer atavism are very easy to awaken in British nationalist society, steeped in tales of Empire and World War.

Clive Ponting’s revelation put a temporary dent in support for the war but it could not ultimately make any difference to the vast surge of Tory popularity from the easy military victory which ensued. That popularity was used by Thatcher to go on to destroy her “enemies within” – industrial workers – and change British society fundamentally to one based unquestioningly on the notion that the only human motive is private greed.

However Clive Ponting achieved something vital; when he was tried under the Official Secrets Act for his leak, which he heroically avowed, the jury accepted his public interest defence and acquitted him, against the clear direction of the judge. He had made the official secrets act a dead letter. When I blew the whistle on torture and extraordinary rendition, in circumstances very similar to Clive, I too was plainly in breach of the official secrets act. From first hand accounts of friends who were at senior level meetings in the FCO with Jack Straw, I know that the only reason I am not in jail now is that Straw and Goldsmith feared a “Ponting verdict” – that a jury would refuse to convict me for doing good. I believe the same is true of Katharine Gun.

Of course, New Labour were never going to accept that kind of limitation on power, and they instituted secret courts for national security cases, with no juries and where the security services can introduce “intelligence evidence” that the defendant themself is not permitted to see. Clive, Katharine or myself would be quickly in jail, without a jury, if we did our whistleblowing today. And of course the state currently believes it has found another way to jail me without the intervention of a jury. So I fear Clive’s achievement has not outlived him, but his name deserves to be remembered with great honour.

In recent years, Clive became a fairly frequent below the line commenter on this blog, modestly identifying only as “Clive P” and bringing his government experience and academic research into the discussion. Like me, he came to believe that the only way to free British society from ingrained imperialist thought would be to break up the UK itself. Having retired to Kelso he became a strong supporter of Scottish Independence.

I am mortified we never met. We emailed each other quite frequently, and a couple of planned meetings fell through because one or the other of us was unwell. He had to cancel a planned talk on Independence at Doune the Rabbit Hole as his health deteriorated. In June he contacted me aware that his health was failing. He had things he wished to say before he left us, on what he had learnt from his experiences and on the authoritarian tendencies in the British state. I discussed this with Alex Salmond and we all agreed the Alex Salmond Show would be the best venue for this. Clive asked that we wait a few weeks until he had recovered strength from his latest rounds of chemotherapy. Sadly that strength never came back. He deserves to sleep well after a good life lived.

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Stinking Tory Corruption

I wrote a furious article about the £250 million PPE contract inexplicably awarded to the “family office” Ayanda Capital, an investment house for private wealth tax avoidance. We now learn £150 million of face masks delivered are unusable as they do not meet the required standards.

The Times today reports the NHS year’s supply of top level “FFP2” masks for surgical and similar use – 43 million of them – delvered by Ayanda failed regulatory testing. This was entirely predictable. As I wrote on 8 July:

The normal public procurement tendering process has pre-qualification criteria which companies have to meet. These will normally include so many years of experience in the specific sector, employment of suitably qualified staff, possession of the required physical infrastructure and a measure of financial stability. This is perhaps obvious – otherwise you or I could simply stick in a bid to build the HS2 railway that is £10 billion cheaper than anybody else, win the contract then go and look for a builder.

Ayanda Capital would fail every single test in normal procurement criteria to supply PPE to the NHS. I can see no evidence that anybody in the company had ever seen PPE except when visiting the dentist. They appear to have no medical expertise, no established medical procurement network, no quality control inspection ability, no overseas shipment agents, no warehousing or logistics facilities. We have of course seen this before from these crooked Tories with their “emergency procurement”, with the “ferry company” with no ferries. But this – a quarter of a billion pounds – is on a whole different level.

I understand that normal procurement chains were struggling, but I would still trust any of the UK’s numerous long established and globally successful medical supply companies to go out and get the right kind of medical supplies, of the right quality, and arrange their supply and delivery, rather than throw an incredible sum of taxpayers’ cash at the first couple of City wide boys who said they can do it. From a company with a very dodgy balance sheet.

Plainly Ayanda Capital had no pretence of every having the expertise to undertake this kind of procurement. The excellent piece of investigative journalism (and what a delight it is to be able for once to say that) by the Times’ Billy Kenber reveals something still more horrifying. He says the deal was put together by a “government adviser” who is also an “adviser” to Ayanda Capital.

So there you have the answer to how this obscure and completely inappropriate company landed this massive contract; simple network corruption, with a Tory “adviser” taking a cut from both ends. It speaks volumes of how Johnson’s Tories view government; an opportunity for self-enrichment through getting their hands on the state purse. Covid-19 may seem a disaster to us, to them it is an opportunity. Procurement regulations are suspended. Massive contracts are thrown around with no checks and no competition. Public health functions like test and trace are thrown to new start-up companies owned by their their mates instead of being run by the established public infrastructure in councils and the NHS. It is a big, money-making Tory Bonanza.

We do not just need a public inquiry. We need people to go to prison. All those involved in the Ayanda Capital PPE contract would be a good start.

UPDATE 8:58am

I have just seen this absolutely astonishing thread from Jolyon Maugham at 6.25am this morning. It really is mind-blowing. Not only did the “adviser”, named as Andrew Mills, set this all up, he himself established an intermediary company in the transaction to cream off a fortune.
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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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Assange Legal Farce Continues

There has simply never been a broadcast report in the UK on Assange as fair as this one from Sky News Australia.

https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6177251758001

nor is it conceivable that there ever could be.

I have reported already on the US changing the indictment after the defence’s opening statement had been heard and defence written evidence submitted. The latest legal twist in this Kafkaesque saga is that Julian may be released and instantly re-arrested under the new indictment.

The USA and the Crown continue to argue that the charges remain the same, even if the indictment has changed. This is like being halfway through a trial for the murder of Stephanie, the defence having demolished the prosecution case, and they suddenly change the allegation from murdering Stephanie to murdering Peter, but say it makes no difference as it is still the same charge of murder. As I have catalogued the relentless cruelty and the contortions of reason in this case, a little bit of me keeps saying “they cannot get away with this”. But so far, they always do.

If anyone can figure a way to embed the Sky News video…

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Unlike our adversaries including the Integrity Initiative, the 77th Brigade, Bellingcat, the Atlantic Council and hundreds of other warmongering propaganda operations, this blog has no source of state, corporate or institutional finance whatsoever. It runs entirely on voluntary subscriptions from its readers – many of whom do not necessarily agree with the every article, but welcome the alternative voice, insider information and debate.

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