First Recorded Successful Novichok Synthesis was in 2017 – By Iran, in Cooperation with the OPCW

The line that novichoks can only be produced by Russia is now proven to be a complete lie. As I previously proved by referencing their publications, in 2013 the OPCW scientific advisory committee note the evidence was sparse that novichoks had ever been successfully produced, and in 2016 that was still the line being published by Porton Down in 2016. You can find the hard evidence of all that here.

I have now been sent the vital information that in 2017, Iranian scientists set out to study whether novichoks really could be produced from commercially available ingredients. Iran succeeded in synthesising a number of novichoks. Iran did this in full cooperation with the OPCW and immediately reported the results to the OPCW so they could be added to the chemical weapons database.

This makes complete nonsense of the Theresa May’s “of a type developed by Russia” line, used to parliament and the UN Security Council. This explains why Porton Down have refused to cave in to governmental pressure to say the nerve agent was Russian. If Iran can make a novichok, so can a significant number of states.

While Iran acted absolutely responsibly in cooperating with the OPCW, there are a handful of rogue states operating outwith the rule of international law, like Israel and North Korea, which refuse to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, join the OPCW or destroy their chemical weapons stocks. Russia has cooperated in the OPCW destruction of all its chemical weapons stocks, completed last year, which included regular OPCW inspection of all the sites alleged to have been in the original “novichok” programme. Why nobody is even looking at the rogue states outwith the OPCW is a genuine puzzle.

Extraordinarily, only yesterday the Guardian was still carrying an article which claimed “only the Russian state” could make a novichok. Despite the lying propaganda regurgitated by virtually ever corporate and state “journalist”, in truth is it is now proven beyond dispute that “of a type developed by Russia” has zero evidential value and is a politician’s weasel phrase designed deliberately to mislead the public. The public should ask why.

ty th Che

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On Not Being Refuted 226

Several million people have now read my articles on the lack of evidence of Russian government guilt for the Salisbury attack. That’s over 300,000 unique visitors on this little blog alone so far, and it has been repeated on hundreds of sites all over the internet. My own tweets on the subject have been retweeted over 12,500 times and received 8 million impressions. I know that journalists from every mainstream media outlet you can mention have seen the material, because of numerous tweets from them none of which address any of the facts, but instead call me a “Conspiracy nutter” or variants of that, some very rude.

Yet what I wrote has not been refuted. It would be very easy to refute were it not true. The government would just have to say “Porton Down have stated that they have definitely identified the nerve agent as made in Russia”. They have not said that. Most extraordinarily, not one mainstream media “journalist” has asked a minister the question: “You keep using this phrase the nerve agent is “of a type developed by Russia”. Are you able to confirm it was actually made in Russia?” .

There is no excuse for this. Literally hundreds of mainstream media “journalists” have slavishly reproduced the propaganda phrase “of a type developed by Russia” without a single one of them every querying this rather odd wording, or why it is the government always uses that precise wording again and again and again.

It goes without saying that not a single mainstream media “journalist” has reported that fact either that until recently Porton Down believed that “novichoks” had probably never actually been synthesised successfully and that the OPCW has never banned them on the grounds that there was no evidence of their physical existence.

Finally I wish to repeat these important facts:

1) Israel has major undeclared stocks of chemical weapons
2) Israel is one of a handful of countries, including North Korea, not to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and commit to destroy its chemical weapons
3) Israel is not a member of the OPCW and refuses to declare its chemical weapon stocks to the OPCW.

These are also facts you will never, ever see reported in mainstream media and entirely predictably the corporate lickspittles of the mainstream media have been out in force on socal media justifying their refusal to act on any of the information I have given on the grounds I am an “anti-semite”. A more extreme example of using any criticism of Israel to allege anti-semitism is hard to conceive.

The contribution of Jewish people to human development in fields including science, literature, music, art and commerce has been simply magnificent and utterly disproportionate to their numbers. The genocidal policy of Israel towards the Palestinians these last seventy years, and its rogue state status as regard chemical and nuclear wmds is a completely different question, for which I in no way blame the generality of Jewish people. In fact my position on this is the opposite of a BDS position. I actually want Israel to join OPCW, be a full member and cooperate in the destruction of its chemical weapon stocks.

I think I might now have a vodka. Of a type developed by Russia. Made in Warrington.

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Of A Type Developed By Liars 655

I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation. The Russians were allegedly researching, in the “Novichok” programme a generation of nerve agents which could be produced from commercially available precursors such as insecticides and fertilisers. This substance is a “novichok” in that sense. It is of that type. Just as I am typing on a laptop of a type developed by the United States, though this one was made in China.

To anybody with a Whitehall background this has been obvious for several days. The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was used by Theresa May in parliament, used by the UK at the UN Security Council, used by Boris Johnson on the BBC yesterday and, most tellingly of all, “of a type developed by Russia” is the precise phrase used in the joint communique issued by the UK, USA, France and Germany yesterday:

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

When the same extremely careful phrasing is never deviated from, you know it is the result of a very delicate Whitehall compromise. My FCO source, like me, remembers the extreme pressure put on FCO staff and other civil servants to sign off the dirty dossier on Iraqi WMD, some of which pressure I recount in my memoir Murder in Samarkand. She volunteered the comparison to what is happening now, particularly at Porton Down, with no prompting from me.

Separately I have written to the media office at OPCW to ask them to confirm that there has never been any physical evidence of the existence of Russian Novichoks, and the programme of inspection and destruction of Russian chemical weapons was completed last year.

Did you know these interesting facts?

OPCW inspectors have had full access to all known Russian chemical weapons facilities for over a decade – including those identified by the “Novichok” alleged whistleblower Mirzayanov – and last year OPCW inspectors completed the destruction of the last of 40,000 tonnes of Russian chemical weapons

By contrast the programme of destruction of US chemical weapons stocks still has five years to run

Israel has extensive stocks of chemical weapons but has always refused to declare any of them to the OPCW. Israel is not a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention nor a member of the OPCW. Israel signed in 1993 but refused to ratify as this would mean inspection and destruction of its chemical weapons. Israel undoubtedly has as much technical capacity as any state to synthesise “Novichoks”.

Until this week, the near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research programme which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesising and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.

Porton Down is still not certain it is the Russians who have apparently synthesised a “Novichok”. Hence “Of a type developed by Russia”. Note developed, not made, produced or manufactured.

It is very carefully worded propaganda. Of a type developed by liars.


This post prompted another old colleague to get in touch. On the bright side, the FCO have persuaded Boris he has to let the OPCW investigate a sample. But not just yet. The expectation is the inquiry committee will be chaired by a Chinese delegate. The Boris plan is to get the OPCW also to sign up to the “as developed by Russia” formula, and diplomacy to this end is being undertaken in Beijing right now.

I don’t suppose there is any sign of the BBC doing any actual journalism on this?

Erratum – I originally typed “nerve gas” and not “nerve agent” in the first line – purely my error.

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Bothered By Midgies 366

In 13 years of running my blog I have never been exposed to such a tirade of abuse as I have for refusing to accept without evidence that Russia is the only possible culprit for the Salisbury attack. The abuse has mostly been on twitter, and much of the most venomous stuff has come from corporate and state media “journalists”. I suppose I am a standing rebuke to them for merely being stenographers to power and never doing any actual research, but that hardly explains the visceral levels of hatred exhibited.

Today they are all terrifically happy and sharing amongst themselves a lengthy twitter thread by a Blairite and chemist called Clyde Davis in which they all say I am “owned” and my article disproven. There are two remarkable things about this thread.

The first remarkable thing is the remarkably high percentage of those who are sharing it with commendations who are mainstream media journalists. Last I saw was George Monbiot five minutes ago, but there are dozens. I suppose it is important to them as validating their decision to support uncritically the government line without doing any actual journalism.

The second remarkable thing is that the thread they are all sharing misses out almost all my side of the conversation. An objective observer might think that made it hard to say who “won” the argument. To be fair, that is probably not deliberate but appears to be a result of how twitter does threading. Here I reconstruct by paste the thread with my responses. It may give a better idea of whether Mr Davis completely “destroys” my article, as the “professional” journalists are all claiming. And as Mr Davies is critiquing my article, perhaps you might refresh yourself on that first here.

Neither my reply nor Davies’ rejoinder are included in the thread which the mainstream “journalists” are circulating. Note that Davies responds to being challenged, with a riposte which is untrue. The OPCW have never changed their position on the physical existence of “novichoks” from the position I gave and referenced in my article. By contrast, Mr Davies gives no reference for his claim the OPCW has changed its mind. Personally I find it problematic that somebody like Mr Davies who blusters so loud on scientific method, responds to a challenge to his position with an apparent invention.

It is indeed true that Porton Down (which here means the British government), however, have changed their position since 2016 when, as I again demonstrated in my article with references, they said there was no evidence for the physical existence of “novichoks”. Now apparently they have said not only do they have one, but it is indubitably Russian. If a “novichok” is indeed in the possession of Porton Down, of course scientists, like diplomats and the others involved, will change their position on the existence of Novichoks. As will I. But that, in any sense, that will prove it is of Russian manufacture is a totally different question.

Then along came the man who really did put me to shame. A Mr Kevin Smyth who completely demolished Davis with a simple polite question:

That part of the exchange is also missing from the thread being circulated so gleefully at the moment.

So what does Davies tell us in this article delivered by twitter which “demolishes” my article.

1) Davies acknowledges that until recently Porton Down and OPCW doubted the physical existence of “novichoks”. He says they have now changed their minds. [Porton Down has indeed undergone a remarkable change of mind in the last week , but the OPCW has yet to see the evidence].
2) Davis states that chemists can tell if a compound corresponds to one of the “novichoks” described by Mirzyanov, but Davis specifically accepts that does not prove Russian manufacture.
3) Davis nevertheless states strongly it is Russia because he believes Russia has form and motive.

Nothing here can remotely be said to be conclusive. The question that puzzles me, is why are so many mainstream media journalists gleefully seizing on this series of tweets as a destruction of the need for sceptical inquiry? A possible answer:

1) Davies by claiming credentials as a chemist conforms to the corporate media urge for an appeal to authority. He validates the government line and he is a chemist. He can throw in the names of chemicals and molecular diagrams. That kind of thing impresses journalists. That he explicitly admits the chemistry cannot prove Russia did it, is apparently irrelevant.
2) Davies thus provides a smokescreen of respectability by which they can continue to advance their careers by cutting and pasting the government line without question.

In fact, all of Davies’ “chemistry” in this exchange sets out to prove something which was never disputed – that chemists are able to identify whether or not a substance is one of the “novichok” compounds described by Mirzyanov. But as he published the formulae two decades ago, and has been living in the USA, and as the US dismantled and studied the Nukus plant, and as Porton Down had never seen any evidence the Russians actually succeeded in synthesising “novichoks, this in no way adds up to evidence of Russian manufacture. As Davies, to his credit, finally acknowledged when confronted by an interlocutor for whom he did not have automatic hatred.

I can’t say the midgies bother me that much. But they are interesting to study.

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The Novichok Story Is Indeed Another Iraqi WMD Scam 524

As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.

In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry

Yet now, the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin. Given Dr Black’s publication, it is plain that claim cannot be true.

The world’s international chemical weapons experts share Dr Black’s opinion. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a UN body based in the Hague. In 2013 this was the report of its Scientific Advisory Board, which included US, French, German and Russian government representatives and on which Dr Black was the UK representative:

[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)

OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013

Indeed the OPCW was so sceptical of the viability of “novichoks” that it decided – with US and UK agreement – not to add them nor their alleged precursors to its banned list. In short, the scientific community broadly accepts Mirzayanov was working on “novichoks” but doubts he succeeded.

Given that the OPCW has taken the view the evidence for the existence of “Novichoks” is dubious, if the UK actually has a sample of one it is extremely important the UK presents that sample to the OPCW. Indeed the UK has a binding treaty obligation to present that sample to OPCW. Russa has – unreported by the corporate media – entered a demand at the OPCW that Britain submit a sample of the Salisbury material for international analysis.

Yet Britain refuses to submit it to the OPCW.


A second part of May’s accusation is that “Novichoks” could only be made in certain military installations. But that is also demonstrably untrue. If they exist at all, Novichoks were allegedly designed to be able to be made at bench level in any commercial chemical facility – that was a major point of them. The only real evidence for the existence of Novichoks was the testimony of the ex-Soviet scientist Mizayanov. And this is what Mirzayanov actually wrote.

One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides.

Vil S. Mirzayanov, “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” in Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen Roland Lajoie, and Michael Krepon, Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects, Stimson Report No. 17, October 1995, p. 21.

It is a scientific impossibility for Porton Down to have been able to test for Russian novichoks if they have never possessed a Russian sample to compare them to. They can analyse a sample as conforming to a Mirzayanov formula, but as he published those to the world twenty years ago, that is no proof of Russian origin. If Porton Down can synthesise it, so can many others, not just the Russians.

And finally – Mirzayanov is an Uzbek name and the novichok programme, assuming it existed, was in the Soviet Union but far away from modern Russia, at Nukus in modern Uzbekistan. I have visited the Nukus chemical weapons site myself. It was dismantled and made safe and all the stocks destroyed and the equipment removed by the American government, as I recall finishing while I was Ambassador there. There has in fact never been any evidence that any “novichok” ever existed in Russia itself.

To summarise:

1) Porton Down has acknowledged in publications it has never seen any Russian “novichoks”. The UK government has absolutely no “fingerprint” information such as impurities that can safely attribute this substance to Russia.
2) Until now, neither Porton Down nor the world’s experts at the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were convinced “Novichoks” even exist.
3) The UK is refusing to provide a sample to the OPCW.
4) “Novichoks” were specifically designed to be able to be manufactured from common ingredients on any scientific bench. The Americans dismantled and studied the facility that allegedly developed them. It is completely untrue only the Russians could make them, if anybody can.
5) The “Novichok” programme was in Uzbekistan not in Russia. Its legacy was inherited by the Americans during their alliance with Karimov, not by the Russians.

With a great many thanks to sources who cannot be named at this moment.

Please Also Read My follow-up to this article: “Bothered by Midgies”

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Russian to Judgement 425

The same people who assured you that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s now assure you Russian “novochok” nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil. As with the Iraqi WMD dossier, it is essential to comb the evidence very finely. A vital missing word from Theresa May’s statement yesterday was “only”. She did not state that the nerve agent used was manufactured ONLY by Russia. She rather stated this group of nerve agents had been “developed by” Russia. Antibiotics were first developed by a Scotsman, but that is not evidence that all antibiotics are today administered by Scots.

The “novochok” group of nerve agents – a very loose term simply for a collection of new nerve agents the Soviet Union were developing fifty years ago – will almost certainly have been analysed and reproduced by Porton Down. That is entirely what Porton Down is there for. It used to make chemical and biological weapons as weapons, and today it still does make them in small quantities in order to research defences and antidotes. After the fall of the Soviet Union Russian chemists made a lot of information available on these nerve agents. And one country which has always manufactured very similar persistent nerve agents is Israel. This Foreign Policy magazine (a very establishment US publication) article on Israel‘s chemical and biological weapon capability is very interesting indeed. I will return to Israel later in this article.

Incidentally, novachok is not a specific substance but a class of new nerve agents. Sources agree they were designed to be persistent, and of an order of magnitude stronger than sarin or VX. That is rather hard to square with the fact that thankfully nobody has died and those possibly in contact just have to wash their clothes.

From Putin’s point of view, to assassinate Skripal now seems to have very little motivation. If the Russians have waited eight years to do this, they could have waited until after their World Cup. The Russians have never killed a swapped spy before. Just as diplomats, British and otherwise, are the most ardent upholders of the principle of diplomatic immunity, so security service personnel everywhere are the least likely to wish to destroy a system which can be a key aspect of their own personal security; quite literally spy swaps are their “Get Out of Jail Free” card. You don’t undermine that system – probably terminally – without very good reason.

It is worth noting that the “wicked” Russians gave Skripal a far lighter jail sentence than an American equivalent would have received. If a member of US Military Intelligence had sold, for cash to the Russians, the names of hundreds of US agents and officers operating abroad, the Americans would at the very least jail the person for life, and I strongly suspect would execute them. Skripal just received a jail sentence of 18 years, which is hard to square with the narrative of implacable vindictiveness against him. If the Russians had wanted to make an example, that was the time.

It is much more probable that the reason for this assassination attempt refers to something recent or current, than to spying twenty years ago. Were I the British police, I would inquire very closely into Orbis Intelligence.

There is no doubt that Skripal was feeding secrets to MI6 at the time that Christopher Steele was an MI6 officer in Moscow, and at the the time that Pablo Miller, another member of Orbis Intelligence, was also an MI6 officer in Russia and directly recruiting agents. It is widely reported on the web and in US media that it was Miller who first recruited Skripal. My own ex-MI6 sources tell me that is not quite true as Skripal was “walk-in”, but that Miller certainly was involved in running Skripal for a while. Sadly Pablo Miller’s LinkedIn profile has recently been deleted, but it is again widely alleged on the web that it showed him as a consultant for Orbis Intelligence and a consultant to the FCO and – wait for it – with an address in Salisbury. If anyone can recover that Linkedin entry do get in touch, though British Government agencies will have been active in the internet scrubbing.

It was of course Christopher Steele and Orbis Intelligence who produced for the Clinton camp the sensationalist dossier on Trump links with Russia – including the story of Trump paying to be urinated on by Russian prostitutes – that is a key part of the “Russiagate” affair gripping the US political classes. The extraordinary thing about this is that the Orbis dossier is obvious nonsense which anybody with a professional background can completely demolish, as I did here. Steele’s motive was, like Skripal’s in selling his secrets, cash pure and simple. Steele is a charlatan who knocked up a series of allegations that are either wildly improbable, or would need a high level source access he could not possibly get in today’s Russia, or both. He told the Democrats what they wish to hear and his audience – who had and still have no motivation to look at it critically – paid him highly for it.

I do not know for certain that Pablo Miller helped knock together the Steele dossier on Trump, but it seems very probable given he also served for MI6 in Russia and was working for Orbis. And it seems to me even more probable that Sergei Skripal contributed to the Orbis Intelligence dossier on Trump. Steele and Miller cannot go into Russia and run sources any more, and never would have had access as good as their dossier claims, even in their MI6 days. The dossier was knocked up for huge wodges of cash from whatever they could cobble together. Who better to lend a little corroborative verisimilitude in these circumstances than their old source Skripal?

Skripal was at hand in the UK, and allegedly even close to Miller in Salisbury. He could add in the proper acronym for a Russian committee here or the name of a Russian official there, to make it seem like Steele was providing hard intelligence. Indeed, Skripal’s outdated knowledge might explain some of the dossier’s more glaring errors.

But the problem with double agents like Skripal, who give intelligence for money, is that they can easily become triple agents and you never know when a better offer is going to come along. When Steele produced his dodgy dossier, he had no idea it would ever become so prominent and subject to so much scrutiny. Steele is fortunate in that the US Establishment is strongly motivated not to scrutinise his work closely as their one aim is to “get” Trump. But with the stakes very high, having a very loose cannon as one of the dossier’s authors might be most inconvenient both for Orbis and for the Clinton camp.

If I was the police, I would look closely at Orbis Intelligence.

To return to Israel. Israel has the nerve agents. Israel has Mossad which is extremely skilled at foreign assassinations. Theresa May claimed Russian propensity to assassinate abroad as a specific reason to believe Russia did it. Well Mossad has an even greater propensity to assassinate abroad. And while I am struggling to see a Russian motive for damaging its own international reputation so grieviously, Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grieviously. Russian action in Syria has undermined the Israeli position in Syria and Lebanon in a fundamental way, and Israel has every motive for damaging Russia’s international position by an attack aiming to leave the blame on Russia.

Both the Orbis and Israeli theories are speculations. But they are no more a speculation, and no more a conspiracy theory, than the idea that Vladimir Putin secretly sent agents to Salisbury to attack Skripal with a secret nerve agent. I can see absolutely no reason to believe that is a more valid speculation than the others at this point.

I am alarmed by the security, spying and armaments industries’ frenetic efforts to stoke Russophobia and heat up the new cold war. I am especially alarmed at the stream of cold war warrior “experts” dominating the news cycles. I write as someone who believes that agents of the Russian state did assassinate Litvinenko, and that the Russian security services carried out at least some of the apartment bombings that provided the pretext for the brutal assault on Chechnya. I believe the Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of Georgia is illegal. On the other hand, in Syria Russia has saved the Middle East from domination by a new wave of US and Saudi sponsored extreme jihadists.

The naive view of the world as “goodies” and “baddies”, with our own ruling class as the good guys, is for the birds. I witnessed personally in Uzbekistan the willingness of the UK and US security services to accept and validate intelligence they knew to be false in order to pursue their policy objectives. We should be extremely sceptical of their current anti-Russian narrative. There are many possible suspects in this attack.

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Mohammed Bin Salman: The Truth Behind The Reformist Facade 285

There was a revealing coincidence of timing yesterday. Philip Hammond made a speech in which he pleaded with the EU to allow the UK continued free access to their financial services markets, on the basis of mutually recognised standards. At the same time, Theresa May met the Saudi Crown Prince in Downing Street and discussed specific legal reductions of those standards in the City of London, to allow for the stock exchange flotation of part of Saudi state oil giant Aramco.

It is symbolic because the toxic addiction of the ruling classes to Saudi cash has been lowering British standards of basic decency for generations. The most blatant example was when Tony Blair as Prime Minister intervened directly in the justice system to prevent the pursuit of corruption charges against the stench-ridden arms dealers of BAE, on grounds of “national security”. The myths about the impartiality of British justice have seldom been so comprehensively exposed. Where there is really dirty money, Blair is seldom far away.

The use of British supplied weapons by the Saudis to maim and kill children in Yemen on an industrial scale has penetrated public consciousness despite the best efforts of mainstream media to sideline it, and Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right to highlight the involvement not just of arms manufacturers but of the British military. The government and royal fawning has been accompanied by an extraordinary deluge of pro-Saudi propaganda from the mainstream media this last two days for Saudi Arabia and its “reforming” Crown Prince.

There is no doubt that Mohammed Bin Salman has shown a ruthless genius in internal power consolidation in Saudi Arabia, with rivals arrested, shaken down or dying by accident. That he is seeking to end corruption appears less probable than that he is seeking to monopolise its proceeds and thus concentrate power, but time will give a clearer picture. There is no evidence whatsoever that Saudi Arabia is stopping its funding of Wahabbist jihadism across the Middle East and South Asia; indeed it has been stepped up by him, as has the bombing of Yemen.

Bin Salman may have a slightly different take on religion to those previously controlling Saudi Arabia, but in fact he is a much more dangerous fanatic. He is an extreme Sunni sectarian, driven by a visceral hatred of Shia Muslims. This is expressed in an aggressive foreign policy, causing a further destabilisation of the Middle East which threatens to tip over into catastrophe, as Bin Salman seeks to turn up the heat against Iran in proxy conflict in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere. That he is doing so in active and functional alliance with Israel is the world’s worst kept diplomatic secret. Saudi/Israeli cooperation in Lebanon and Syria is to my mind the most dangerous global flashpoint at present.

But despite his fawning reception in London, Bin Salman is not having it all his own way. I returned from Doha two weeks ago and in Qatar, Bin Salman has seriously overreached. Angry at Doha’s lack of hostility to Iran, including revenue sharing agreement on cross-border fields, Saudi Arabia has blockaded the small Emirate of Qatar for six months now. The excuse given to the West – that Qatar funds jihadist terrorism – is perhaps the worst example of the pot calling the kettle black in History. But the Saudi demands, including the permanent closure of Al Jazeera, expulsion of Arab dissidents and removal of a Turkish military base, reveal an altogether different agenda.

Qatar has proved much more resilient than anybody expected. The blockade has caused some economic damage but it has been survivable, and the effect has been entirely counter-productive for Bin Salman. Qatar has become closer economically to Iran and has developed new port facilities which reduce import reliance on Saudi Arabia and its satraps. The Saudis had massed troops on the border and threatened invasion, but the Qataris vowed to fight.

Then something remarkable happened which the world mainstream media has almost entirely ignored. Despite Saudi sponsored adverts all over US media portraying named senior Qataris as terrorist sponsors, and despite strong Israeli pro-Saudi lobbying, Donald Trump suddenly called Bin Salman to heel. With Saudi troops massed on the Qatari border, on 30 January the United States signed an agreement with Qatar “to deter and confront any threat to Qatar’s territorial integrity”. This was a massive slap in the face to Bin Salman from Donald Trump, and a result of Tillerson recognising the real threat to the world from Bin Salman’s extreme ambition.

I can only conjecture this received none of the publicity it deserved from the corporate media because it went against the prevailing narrative that Trump can never, in any circumstance, do anything strikingly good, and because it was a blow to Israel. The uber-hawk Clinton would certainly not have crossed Saudi Arabia and Israel in this way. It is an important sign that there is more to Tillerson’s Middle Eastern diplomacy than the stupid decision, motivated by US domestic politics, to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The elite loves Saudi money all around the world. But the UK is unique in allowing that to blind them absolutely to human rights abuses, the appalling bombing of Yemen, and the extreme dangers posed by Bin Salman’s hyperactive regional aggression towards Shia Muslims. We should be used to seeing Tories kowtowing to money by now. But this week makes me still more sick than usual.

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The Elephant In The Room 285

Nerve agents including Sarin and VX are manufactured by the British Government in Porton Down, just 8 miles from where Sergei Skripal was attacked. The official British government story is that these nerve agents are only manufactured “To help develop effective medical countermeasures and to test systems”.

The UK media universally accepted that the production of polonium by Russia was conclusive evidence that Vladimir Putin was personally responsible for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. In the case of Skripal, po-faced articles like this hilarious one in the Guardian speculate about where the nerve agent could possibly have come from – while totally failing to mention the fact that incident took place only eight miles from the largest stock of nerve agent in western Europe.

The investigation comprises multiple strands. Among them is whether there is any more of the nerve agent in the UK, and where it came from.

Chemical weapons experts said it was almost impossible to make nerve agents without training. “This needs expertise and a special place to make it or you will kill yourself. It’s only a small amount, but you don’t make this in your kitchen,” one said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the UK’s chemical, biological and nuclear regiment, said: “This is pretty significant. Nerve agents such as sarin and VX need to be made in a laboratory. It is not an insufficient task. Not even the so-called Islamic State could do it.”

Falling over themselves in the rush to ramp up the Russophobia, the Guardian quotes

“One former senior Foreign Office adviser suggested the Kremlin was taking advantage of the UK’s lack of allies in the US and EU. He said the British government was in a “weaker position” than in 2006 when two Kremlin assassins poisoned the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko with a radioactive cup of tea.

The adviser said the use of nerve agent suggested a state operation…”

It certainly does. But the elephant in the room is – which state?

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Skripal is no Litvinenko 283

There is a major difference between Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal, which is not being reflected in the media. Litvinenko was a good man who attempted to expose abuses of power within Russia, in defence of the rights of Russians. Skripal is a traitor who sold the identities of Russian agents abroad to the UK, in exchange for hard cash. This may very well have caused the deaths of some of those Russian agents operating in conflict zones. If this is indeed a poisoning, there are a great many people who may want Mr Skripal dead – nor in this murky world should we overlook the fact that he must have known interesting things about his MI6 handlers. “Litvinenko II” is rather too pat and obvious, and could be a false flag set-up.

I certainly hope that Skripal, his companion, and anybody else affected, recover fully from whatever has attacked them. But I moved long ago past a world view where my country are the “goodies” and Russians are the “baddies”, and instead I reached an understanding that those in power oppress the people, universally. The idea that the elaborate spy games between world intelligence agencies are a battle between right and wrong, is for the story books. They are all wrong, all part of a system where power over people is controlled for the benefit of the wealthy, and battles are over hard resources, whichever “side” you are on.

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Assange Judge’s Husband Runs Security Firm With Ex Head of MI6

“Security Intelligence Consultancy” SC Strategy Ltd has only three directors. One is the husband of the judge in yesterday’s Assange ruling. One is the former Head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, who is synonymous with crooked security operations and personally wrote the notorious dossier of lies on Iraqi WMD, thus causing the subsequent deaths of millions of people. One is Lord Carlile, who was notably close to protected Establishment paedophiles Greville Janner and Cyril Smith. Is the British Establishment not endlessly fascinating?

The corporate media has published no information about “Lady” Arbuthnot’s background and sinister links at all, despite the fact it is uniformly carrying her jibes at Assange as a major story. There can be no clearer example of the fact that it is the corporate media which, deliberately and systematically, spreads fake news, while bloggers get out the actual facts via social media.

Directors of SC Strategy Ltd from Companies House Register

To anyone to whom British corruption is not axiomatic, it appears pretty rum that the judge in the Assange case is married to a government parliamentarian and close to the security services.

“Lady” Arbuthnot’s Husband

There is some interesting background in the Mirror here. The taxpayer paid £1,200 in restaurant bills for “Lady” Arbuthnot and her husband in one long weekend jaunt to Turkey alone.

If anybody thinks the Assange case had anything to do with justice, they are very mistaken. Please read my analysis of “Lady” Arbuthnot’s judgement here.

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All Pretence is Over in Persecution of Assange

The “judge” who dismissed Assange’s case yesterday was “Lady Arbuthnot of Edrom”, wife to Tory peer, former Tory junior Defence Minister and government whip Lord James Arbuthnot. Not to mention Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. Arbuthnot was naturally Eton educated, the son of Major Sir John Sinclair Wemyss Arbuthnot. Of course Lady Arbuthnot’s children were all sent to Eton too.

At the first hearing, I was stunned by reports of completely inappropriate comments by Lady Arbuthnot, including responding to representations about Assange’s health by the comment that medical care is available in Wandsworth prison. As the official charade is that Assange is wanted for nothing but jumping bail, for which a custodial sentence is rare, that callous attempt at gallows humour was redolent of Arbuthnot’s Tory mindset. She also remarked – and repeats it in yesterday’s judgement – that Assange has access to fresh air through the Embassy’s balcony. That is simply untrue. The “balcony” floor is 3 feet by 20 inches and gives no opportunity to exercise. Julian does not have access to it. He is confined to a small area within the Embassy, which still has to function. The balcony is off the Ambassador’s office. He has been given access to it on average about twice a year. But “Lady” Arbuthnot showed a very selective attitude to getting at the truth.

The truth is that just last week the evidence was published which inarguably proves that the questioning for sexual allegations was only ever a charade to secure Assange in custody for deportation to the US, to face charges for publishing the USA’s dirty secrets. In 2013 Sweden wished to drop the investigation and the arrest warrant, and was subject to strong persuasion from the Crown Prosecution Service to maintain the warrant. This included emails from the CPS telling the Swedes “Don’t you dare” drop the case, and most tellingly of all “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.” That last exposes the entire pretence in just one sentence.

It is worth noting it was not the servile UK corporate media, but the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi and the Italian newspaper Le Repubblica which obtained these emails through dogged freedom of information requests and High Court proceedings. These revealed the quite stunning truth that the CPS had systematically destroyed most of the highly incriminating correspondence, with only accidental copies of a few emails surviving to be produced in response to the FOI request.

The CPS emails devastate the official charade, which is precisely that this is just a normal extradition case. Furthermore it is admitted at para 43 of “Lady” Arbuthnot’s judgement that the Crown Prosecution Service actively referred the Swedish authorities to Wikileaks activities in the United States as a reason not to drop the arrest warrant, a fact which the UK mainstream media has still never reported and which obviates “Lady” Arbuthnot’s trite observation that there is no evidence that Sweden would have extradited Assange to the USA.

Perhaps most stunning of all “Lady” Arbuthnot opines at para 44 that “I cannot determine from the extracts of correspondence whether the lawyer in the extradition unit acted inappropriately” in preventng the Swedes from dropping the case and referring them to Wikileaks activities vis a vis the USA. Whereas in fact:

a) It provides irrefutable proof that this was never about the frankly unbelievable Swedish sexual allegations, which were always just a pretext for getting Assange into custody over Wikileaks’ publications

b) The reason she only has “extracts” of the correspondence is that the Crown Prosecution Service, as openly admitted in the High Court, tried to destroy all this correspondence, itself an illegal act. Arbuthnot gives them the benefit of their illegality, against all legal principle.

“Lady” Arbuthnot takes it upon herself to contradict the judgement of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, every one of whose members is a much more eminent lawyer than “Lady” Arbuthnot. The UK had of course every opportunity to raise the points made by Lady Arbuthnot in its appeal to the UN, which appeal also failed. “Lady” Arbuthnot’s attempt to undermine a judgement by going back and disputing the actual facts of the case, with no opportunity to answer, is, to say the least, a creative piece of judicial process. But as with her failure to pursue the CPS’ destruction of evidence, it is just an example of her most obvious bias.

“Lady” Arbuthnot set out with one clear and evident purpose, to assist the Crown.

“Lady” Arbuthnot has perhaps performed an unwitting public service by the brazen nature of her partiality, which exposes beyond refutation the charade of legal process behind the effort to arrest Assange, in reality over the publication of USA secrets. The second half of Para 57 of the judgement sets out how, following his arrest for “jumping bail”, the American extradition request on espionage charges will be handled.

I should like to conclude that “Lady” Arbuthnot is a disgrace to the English justice system, but I fear she is rather typical of it. This intellectually corrupt, openly biased, callous Tory shill is rather a disgrace to humanity itself.

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Scared of my Own Thoughts 347

In Doha last week I watched on TV an utterly contemptible speech by Theresa May in which she grasped for ideas to shore up the increasingly eroded Establishment control of the political zeitgeist. Yet more pressure would be put on the social media companies to curtail the circulation of unauthorised truths as “fake news”. Disrespectful questioning of the political class will be a new crime of “intimidation of candidates”. The government would look for new ways to boost the unwanted and failing purveyors of the official line by some potential aid to newspapers and their paid liars.

In short I did not merely disagree with what she was saying, I found it an extraordinary example of Orwellian doublespeak in which she even referenced John Stuart Mill and her commitment to freedom of speech as she outlined plans to restrict it further. I found myself viewing this dull, plodding agent of repression as representing a political philosophy which is completely alien to me.

I had a similar epiphany the week before watching the gathering at Davos. I have often been sceptical of the philosophy and motivation of the neo-liberal elite, but I have never before looked at them and seen them as the enemy. Yet after the super wealthy were rewarded for the financial collapse of 2008, by the largest diversion of ordinary people’s money to the rich in human history, as bailouts and QE, the steady but unspectacular economic growth of the ensuing decade has resulted in no significant real wage increases for the working person across the entire developed world, while the wealth of the 1% has more than doubled. There has been a curious but matching phenomenon whereby even the “third sector” representatives at Davos – the heads of universities and charities or the senior presenters from the BBC, for example – are themselves on over £300,000 a year and completely divorced from the lifestyle of working people, due to the abandonment of their institutions to corporate philosophy.

In short, as with Theresa May, I found myself looking at the inhabitants of Davos with utter contempt, as people whose philosophy and lifestyle I detest.

Then a couple of days ago I watched an uncritical BBC report of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria based entirely on film provided by the White Helmets, which plainly had zero evidential value. Given that the origins and motivations of the White Helmets are today known to anyone with an internet connection, the continued retailing of this repetitive propaganda is extraordinary. I felt contempt for the BBC journalists who were retailing it. In the last 24 hours Israel has carried out large scale bombing attacks on Syria which are undeniably illegal, and for once has acknowledged them brazenly. There has been very little media reporting of this. In a two sentence report on BBC News as I type, the second sentence was that the attack followed the downing of an Israel fighter, without mentioning that plane was itself illegally attacking Syria. The Israeli statement was given verbatim and no balancing view from Syria was given.

I am not comfortable with thoughts of contempt, disgust or hatred towards anyone. I have always held the view that people are entitled to their political views, and having different views to mine in no way makes you a bad person. I have been known to suggest that anyone who has all the same views as me must be in dubious mental health. I have tried to acknowledge common ground with people where it exists – for example I have always admired David Davis’ commitment to civil liberties. It is not the case that some of my best friends are Tories, but I do have Tory friends.

I was for most of my working life a fully paid up member of the Establishment, and reasonably comfortable with that. Even bad governments do some good. I was a Liberal and fairly well on board with the prescriptions of the party in the time of Charlie Kennedy. I am, I hope, a naturally friendly person and have always considered myself gentle and kind. It is certainly true my political views are driven more by empathy with the suffering than by rigid systems of thought.

I therefore am not comfortable being so stridently opposed to everything that is happening in the UK political mainstream. I am scared by the prospect of being the extremist nutter who mutters on about a worldview entirely at odds with the accepted narrative.

Yet I look at the world with disbelief. I see an economy that gives little opportunity for secure and fulfilling lives to millions of young people. I see the obscene lifestyle of the super rich. And I perceive that, contrary to neo-liberal propaganda, that is not the natural order of things but a direct result of the operation of institutions created by government and their use to channel the flow of wealth to a tiny minority.I marvel at the continuing Ponzi scheme of the UK property market. I see Africa plundered for its commodities and deliberately kept poor.

The panic-inducing correction in the world’s stock markets this week was triggered by news that unemployment was falling rapidly in the USA. That was “bad news” for the markets because it might result in workers getting better pay. There could not be a better illustration of the madness of the system. The world is suffering from a failure of imagination. Corporate ownership structure has developed in certain ways because of social conditions prevailing in the UK and Europe from the 16th century onwards. The development consists of the overlaid accretions of accumulated accidents of history. There is nothing natural or inevitable about current stock market models. The rational alternative – worker ownership of enterprises – is, however, not on any mainstream accepted political agenda.

Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell are doing their best within the awful constraints of the Labour Party they inherited, but their economic proposals are nowhere near the radical change required. In Scotland, the SNP have put in place some commendable but very modest social democratic measures to increase taxes on the wealthy. But the SNP appears to have been seized by crippling timidity on the subject of Independence. There are worrying signs that Sturgeon’s evident lack of serious intent to push for Independence, is finally damping down grassroots activism, including on social media. Meanwhile virtually the entire political class of Europe has united behind the vicious suppression of Catalonia, with peaceful campaigners facing lengthy years as political prisoners. Those events, more than any, crystallise my understanding that a “liberal” political Establishment no longer exists.

In conclusion, either I am barking mad or the world is becoming a much darker place. As the position of the vast majority of people as helots to the super wealthy is further consolidated, the manufacturing of consent by the control of information becomes ever more crucial to the elite. I have never desired to stand outside society barking unheeded warnings. You have probably gathered that the last few months I have been inclined to succumb to the fact that my own life would be more comfortable if I stopped barking. But I shall continue – please feel free to warn me when I get over-bitter.

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Thatcher – and Many Still Active Tories – Did Support Apartheid

I am delighted that Sir Patrick Wright, former head of the Diplomatic Service, has confirmed that Margaret Thatcher did support apartheid. There has been a polite media airbrushing of this aspect of Tory history. For the first two years of my life in the FCO I spent every single day trying to undermine Thatcher’s support for apartheid. As I published last year of the FCO’s new official history:

Salmon acquits Thatcher of actually supporting apartheid. I would dispute this. I was only a Second Secretary but the South Africa (Political) desk was just me, and I knew exactly what was happening. My own view was that Thatcher was a strong believer in apartheid, but reluctantly accepted that in the face of international opposition, especially from the United States, it would have to be dismantled. Her hatred of Mandela and of the ANC was absolute. It is an undeniable statement that Thatcher hated the ANC and was highly sympathetic towards the apartheid regime.

By contrast the Tory FCO junior ministers at the time, including Malcolm Rifkind and Lynda Chalker, shared the absolute disgust at apartheid that is felt by any decent human being. The Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe was somewhere between these two positions, but very anxious indeed not to anger Thatcher. South Africa was an issue in which Thatcher took an extreme interest and was very, very committed. Not in a good way.

British diplomats were almost banned from speaking to any black people at all. Thatcher favoured the Bantustan or Homelands policy, so an exception was made for Gatsha Buthelezi, the Zulu chief who was regarded as anti-ANC and prepared to oppose sanctions and be satisfied with a separate Zulu “homeland” for his Inkatha movement and essentially accept apartheid exclusions. That may be unfair on him, but it was the policy of the UK government to steer in that direction. Our Consulate General in Johannesburg was permitted to talk to black trades unionists, and that was our main angle in to the black resistance movement. These contacts were made by the excellent Tony Gooch and Stuart Gregson, and before them the equally excellent Terry Curran, then my immediate boss in London. Neither Terry nor Tony were “fast-track” public school diplomats. None of those talked to black South Africans at all.

I flew off the handle when I discovered, when dealing with the accounts of the Embassy in Pretoria/Capetown (a migratory capital), that the British Ambassador, Patrick Moberly, had entertained very few black people indeed in the Residence and the vast majority of Embassy social functions were whites only. In 1985 most of the black people who got in to the British Ambassador’s residence in South Africa were the servants. I recall distinctly the astonishment in the FCO that the quiet and mild-mannered young man at the side desk had suddenly lost his rag and got excited about something that seemed to them axiomatic. Black people as guests in the Residence in Pretoria? No, Craig, I was told, we speak with black people in Johannesburg. Different culture there.

Wright’s account collaborates mine both in general and in detail, eg on being banned from any contact with the ANC. Eventually we managed, as a tentative first step and unknown to No.10, to arrange a meeting, ostensibly by accident in the margins of a conference, between myself and a brilliant young man from the newly launched trades union federation named Cyril Ramaphosa. I wonder what happened to him? 🙂 I was the recipient of his justified ire at Tory government policy.

Tories who actively supported apartheid are still very influential in the Tory party, notably the St Andrews Federation of Conservative Students originating group, including Michael Forsyth. Even David Cameron’s contacts with South Africa in this period are a very murky part of his cv. It is important the Tories are not allowed off the hook on this. The moral taint should rightly be with them for generations.

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Zionist Censorship on Facebook

Facebook has refused to carry an advert for my book of early collected works, Zionism is Bullshit. At first it refused the ad on grounds of “profanity”. I then removed the title of the book from the advert (though it might still be dimly discerned on a small photo if you squint) and resubmitted, but approval was denied again. I then appealed, and this time the ad was refused because it “denigrates the religious views of others”. The text was standard book blurb and in no way did that.

If I were to claim that I owned your property because God gave it to my ancestors thousands of years ago, I would expect you to denigrate my view. To refuse criticism of zionism is ridiculous.
Facebook has just announced that it is employing 10,000 more people to be directly engaged in censorship – ostensibly to weed out “fake news”, which evidently includes disagreement with Israel. The main role will of course be the suppression of any alternative view to the neo-liberal propaganda spewed out by the corporate and state media.

Twitter is just as bad. Like 100,000 others I have received an email from Twitter making the ludicrous accusation I am tweeting Russian propaganda. I was “ghost banned” for a while by Twitter last year. There is a huge danger here. This website gets over 75% of its traffic through Twitter and Facebook. The wonderful widening of political debate through citizen access to the new media of the internet is going to be under real threat as Twitter and Facebook are turned into neo-liberal gatekeepers. This website and those like it can simply be starved of traffic.

Twitter and Facebook are of course now vast global corporations, and are stating to behave absolutely to type – or arguably worse. I was happily surprised when Amazon accepted Zionism is Bullshit for publication on their “print on demand” service. Plainly Facebook is more restrictive here than Amazon.

The development of non-corporate social media platforms with the saturation coverage of Facebook or Twitter is a daunting task. Some kind of consumer revolt against censorship by existing customers may be a more hopeful route. But action is essential if the social media gains of the last few years are to be maintained.

I have also brought out on Amazon a new edition of Murder in Samarkand as Random House discontinued it after buying up Mainstream. I give the link picture here because for some reason it does not appear in a search for Murder in Samarkand on Amazon.

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“Locked In” in Jaipur

Nadira is currently in Jaipur as her short film Locked In is in the official selection at the Rajasthan International Film Festival. It is showing on Tuesday at 11.44am in the Inox Crystal Palm Cinema, 22 Godam Circle, Jaipur. It is exactly a year since my appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival to talk about Sikunder Burnes and a number of people from Jaipur have followed this blog since, plus people will be out for this year’s Literary Festival which also starts tomorrow night. So I hope some people will get along and say hi to Nadira.

The trailer for Locked In has now been seen by 27,000 people, which is a remarkable achievement.

The subject of the mistreatment of asylum seekers locked into immigration detention centres, has come to increasing prominence. There was an excellent BBC documentary, and David Hare is taking up the subject of detention centre abuse as a key element in his latest super glossy BBC thriller series, Collateral.

Theresa May, having whilst Home Secretary refused entry to Yarls Wood Detention Centre to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, has now as Prime Minister denied entry to Diane Abbott, the shadow Home Secretary. The treatment of marginalised groups in modern Britain has become unconscionable, be they asylum seekers disabled benefit claimants or others. The success of the elite in promoting victim blaming through the corporate and state media, to blame such disadvantaged groups for the blighted economic prospects of ordinary workers, will be a subject of fascination to future historians. But to live through it is sickening. I am proud of Nadira for her choice of subject and approach to her first film.

I am not involved in the discussions over how the film will be released – there are several offers from sales agents – but I hope it will be released for general viewing in the near future.

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The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

The complete and unmitigated irrationality of the current epidemic of Russophobia does nothing to reduce its incredible virulence, as it continues to infect the entire political and media class. There is a zero chance that Russia will launch an attack on the UK, yet the entire corporate and state media is leading today with the “need” to spend billions against that most unlikely threat, as propounded by General Nutty McNutter.

Researching Sikunder Burnes gave me crucial insights into the recurrence of Russophobia as a key element of British politics for two centuries, despite the fact historians can demonstrate that at no stage in that period has Russia ever planned an attack on the UK, or seriously considered it as an option. But the current Russophobia has new elements.

We are currently in some sort of crisis of capitalism, as the concentration of wealth continues apace and the general population of western countries increasingly feel insecure, exploited and alienated. It is still very hard for voices that reject the neo-liberal establishment view to get a media platform, but Russia does provide comparatively small platforms in the West – like Russia Today and Radio Sputnik – which allow greater democratic freedom than western media in the range of views they invite to be expressed. So the ultra-wealthy, their politician servants and media lackeys view Russia as some kind of threat to the dominance of neo-liberalism .

There are a number of ironies to this, not least the very real deficiencies in Russia’s domestic democracy and media plurality, and the fact Russia has an even worse oligarchic capitalism than the West and has a 1% completely integrated with their Western counterparts. But despite these ironies, the Western 1% perceive Russia as some sort of threat to their dominance. This leads in to the intellectually risible attempts to prove that Russia somehow “fixed” Trump’s election, for which no solid evidence can ever be adduced as it did not happen; but nevertheless vast resources continue to be spent in trying.

The second cause of the extreme Russophobia is Putin’s masterly pursuit of his foreign policy objectives. He has two major objectives.

Putin’s first major objective is to bring majority Russian speaking regions of the Former Soviet Union into Russia. He has had some success with this in Georgia and Ukraine, to the embarrassment of NATO. I do not in fact support Putin in achieving this goal by military means. I have no objection to the re-arrangement of boundaries, but it should be done by democratic choice, and non ethnic Russian regions within Russia, such as in Dagestan, Chechnya and Tatarstan, should be given the same opportunity of choice to change boundaries.

But while I do not support Putin’s means, there is no doubt he has pursued them with some success, and more importantly he is shrewd enough to know when not to pursue them by military means, eg in the Baltic States. To claim that Putin’s very limited objective, to bring small Russian outlying regions within Russia, constitutes a threat to the UK or USA, is ludicrous.

Putin’s second foreign policy objective is to prevent the further destabilisation of the Middle East and to stymie the spread of jihadst Wahhabism. In this he has also been very successful, especially as regards stopping the US and Saudi backed jihadists in Syria, and in bringing Iran back into the international community. Again it is ludicrous to claim that this foreign policy success constitutes or denotes a military threat to the USA or UK. In the Middle East, I regard Putin’s policies as both lawful and helpful.

You do not have to be uncritical of Putin to understand that the Russian threat is a bogey and the current wave of Russophobia is completely unjustified.

The New Cold War is being foisted upon us whether we want it or not. But at least it is giving us a few laughs. There is an excellent example of the 100% evidence free “Russians fixed the US election and are undermining democracy” meme by Nick Cohen in yesterday’s Observer. He claims a Maltese Professor Mifsud is a Russian spy because he founded a “diplomatic academy” in London which had no money for computers and no laptops, because Mifsud once met Putin and Boris Johnson, and because of a meeting with George Papadopalous, which if it involved Russians in any way at all, Cohen does not tell us.

I really do urge you to read the Cohen piece carefully and analyse whether there is any reasonable case for branding the man a Russian spy.

Cohen’s claim that Professor Mifsud is an academic charlatan may or may not be founded, but the accusation that he is a Russian spy is an appalling example of McCarthyist witch-hunting of which Cohen and his Editor should be deeply, deeply ashamed.

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PFI – A Cautionary Tale

Here is my personal experience of the great push for the public sector to use the Private Finance Initiative.

When I was Deputy High Commissioner in Accra, the British government was paying a very large sum to rent over 80 residential properties in a city where rents are very high for quality properties. However the British government owned a lot of land there, and it was an obvious saving to build our own residential compound.

We accordingly drew up plans and got quotes, which were submitted to the FCO with details of the very substantial savings from the medium term. The response was that we had to invite private sector bids for a PFI scheme. This amounted to no more than asking the companies who had already submitted construction bids to submit pre-financing and maintenance plans. Needless to say this increased costs very substantially.

But here is the kicker – in comparing the “build it ourselves” plan with the PFI plan, we were instructed to give an 8% cost advantage to the PFI scheme – the “public sector comparator” – to allow for the extra efficiency of the private sector. No matter we were comparing real costs to real costs, somehow magically an 8% saving would accrue from using the private sector, in a manner the Treasury refused to define. I simply shelved the whole scheme in disgust, but I understand this “efficiency saving” allowance was a standard feature of the PFI scam.

The vital thing to realise about PFI is that it was not the construction companies – such as Carillion – who stood to benefit most. It was the bankers and hedge funds who financed the schemes and stood to rake in decades of high and taxpayer guaranteed interest payments. The fundamental craziness of the entire scam is that in effect the public sector was still borrowing the money, but at significantly higher interest rates than if it had been financed the normal way through Treasury bonds.

As the scheme was at heart a massive diversion of taxpayers’ money to the bankers, it should come as no surprise that Gordon Brown was the driving force behind it. My personal experience of it, which I found disgusting, was during Brown’s tenure of the Treasury. Why Brown is still treated as some sort of guru by the media, when he has caused such immense and demonstrable harm, is an example of the desperation of the media to maintain the neo-liberal “consensus”.

There is no doubt that the people are stirring and increasingly unwilling to accept the gross and fast widening wealth gap in a society entirely skewed by its legislative organisation to the interests of the small number of the ultra wealthy. In the interests of self-preservation, the corporate and state media have been forced to allow the Overton window to drift very slightly left. Nationalisation and wealth taxation are no longer entirely taboo subjects, while Theresa May feels the need to make insincere promises to initiate token measures to restrain boardroom greed. But the blighted prospects of a generation, and the increasing financial struggles of the middle classes, have not yet produced a concomitant political reaction. I have never been so struck by the irrelevance of the witterings of the Westminster classes to the life experience of ordinary people.

It remains my view that Independence for Scotland – and for Catalonia – are part of the radical shake up of the political system required to make democracy meaningful again. The recent moves by the Scottish government on welfare protection, for example to ban the involvement of private companies in health assessments, gives me some comfort in that view. But the situation calls for a politics more radical than Corbyn or the SNP have yet dared to propose. Society now needs a fundamental redistribution of wealth. Parodoxically, the fact that so much wealth now consists in notional transactions rather than physical goods, makes this an easier task than when the classic philosophers first addressed it.

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Ecuador and Assange

It is for the government of Ecuador, not the UK, to determine who is an Ecuadorian citizen. It is for the government of Ecuador, not the UK, to determine who is an Ecuadorian diplomat.

It is not in the least unusual for Julian Assange to become an Ecuadorian citizen. Having been granted political asylum, and having lived for over five years under Ecuadorian jurisdiction, naturalisation is a perfectly normal step. There are a great many refugees in this country who are now naturalised UK citizens. Julian appears suitably proud of his new citizenship, and rightly so.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office appears to be putting out a story that it has refused to accredit Assange as an Ecuadorian diplomat. As the Guardian reports:
“Earlier this week the UK’s Foreign Office revealed that Ecuador had asked for Assange, who was born in Australia, to be accredited as a diplomat. The request was dismissed.”

I have no knowledge that the Ecuadorian government ever notified Assange as a member of diplomatic staff of its mission. But it has every right to appoint Assange, now an Ecuadorian citizen, as an Ecuadorian diplomat if it so chooses. Ecuador cannot tell the UK who may or may not be a British diplomat, and the converse applies.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – to which the UK and Ecuador are both party – is the governing international law and determines the obligations to respect diplomatic immunity. It is crystal clear (Article 4,1) that the need to obtain agreement in advance of the receiving state only applies to the Head of Mission – ie the Ecuadorian Ambassador. For other staff of the mission the sending state (in this case, Ecuador) “may freely appoint” the other members of the mission, (Article 7), subject to provisos in Articles 5,8,9 and 11. Plainly the only one of these which applies in the Assange case is Article 9. Julian Assange is persona non grata – unwelcome -to the UK government. That is a legitimate reply to notification, but comes following the appointment; it does not pre-empt the appointment.

Here is the key point. A member of staff below head of mission can already have entered the country before appointment, and their diplomatic immunity starts from the moment their appointment is notified, and NOT from the moment it is accepted. Article 39 (i) could not be plainer:

1.Every person entitled to privileges and immunities shall enjoy them from the moment he enters
the territory of the receiving State on proceeding to take up his post or, if already in its territory, from
the moment when his appointment is notified to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs or such other ministry
as may be agreed.

So to summarise.

There is no requirement for prior approval before arrival of staff below Ambassador, and it is just a notification regime (Article 10). If the FCO is telling the truth and Ecuador notified the UK of its appointment of Julian Assange as a member of diplomatic staff, the UK can only have refused by declaring Assange persona non grata. That does not remove his diplomatic immunity which started the moment he was notified. It continues until he has been given the chance to leave the country in “a reasonable time”. (Article 9.2, and 39.2).

The immunity of envoys has been universally regarded as essential to inter-state relations for thousands of years. The reasons why that immunity must start at notification are obvious if you think it through. The FCO bragging about refusing the alleged Ecuadorian request has been carried in virtually the entire neo-liberal media. Not one article, anywhere, has reflected anything approaching the applicable legal arguments. I am again left wondering whether mainstream media journalists are simply entirely incompetent, or deeply corrupt.

I suppose both.

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I have spent only eight days in the UK in around the last five months. Driving from Heathrow to Edinburgh yesterday, we listened to BBC Radio 4 for over seven hours. In continued reports and bulletins on the Cabinet reshuffle throughout the day, the numerous people invited to comment on it were, without a single exception, Conservative Party politicians or avowedly conservative political journalists and commentators. Neither Labour nor SNP were asked for their thoughts.

Tonight I watched the BBC News at Ten. Again much on the Conservative Party. Not one mention of Labour at all, and the only mention of the SNP was an attack piece by unionist shill Sarah Smith on waiting times in the Scottish NHS over the holiday period. To top it all off was an astonishingly tendentious piece on today’s air attacks by Israel on Damascus in support of their increasingly desperate jihadist allies.

Flying in to the UK today and tuning in to the state broadcaster is like arriving in any one party state.

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