Terror-Bonding or Cynical Manipulation?

My take last night on a new twist in the cynical media operations of the so-called caliphate with a hostage ‘reporting’ from the embattled town of Kobani on Syria’s border.

“British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted by jihadists alongside American journalist James Foley, was featured in a new propaganda video posted Monday night reporting from inside the besieged town of Kobani. He scornfully rejects Western media coverage of the battle for the Syrian border town, saying the militants of the Islamic State are not on the retreat and are now just mopping up…

The video then homes in on a healthy-looking Cantlie, who is dressed in black—like an ISIS fighter—in contrast to the orange jumpsuit of a prisoner he was seen wearing in five episodes of jihadist propaganda films called ‘Lend Me Your Ears.’ His hair has grown out and his skin color is less pale, suggesting that the previous videos were shot several weeks ago, around the time ISIS beheaded Foley and another American reporter, Steven Sotloff.

In the “Lend Me Your Ears” series, the British freelance photojournalist emphasizes that he is a prisoner of the Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, and doesn’t know whether he will live or die. But in Monday night’s five-and-a-half minute clip, titled “Inside Ayn al-Islam” (the Arabic name for Kobani is Ayn al-Arab), the 43-year-old Cantlie makes no reference to his captivity, raising questions about whether he has crossed the line and is now a willing propagandist for the jihadists behind the camera.”

You can read the full article here.

I quote also a British security official saying: “The video is troubling. Was this filmed under duress? Volunteered and suggested? Is this Stockholm Syndrome? Does it cross a line? Is he playing them?”

Old Cold War Stuff

The Guardian’s Martin Kettle writes about the public release of official files (heavily redacted) of British intelligence’s surveillance of historians Christopher Hill, AJP Taylor and Eric Hobsbawm saying the monitoring of the academics shows how deeply penetrated academia was by the Cold War.

The penetration wasn’t all one way. He surely should have noted why Communist Party-linked Oxbridge academics prompted the concern (rightly) of the prosaic minds of MI5: and it can be summed up in four names, Philby, Burgess, Maclean and Blunt. Also, my own expose a decade ago with David Rose of the HVA Stasi’s recruitment targeting of UK academics provides some more context. Although it does strike me as a bit mad to target the three for so long.

On a side note: I remember literary scholar Q.D. Leavis hurling the door open to me for a tutorial at a her home in Cambridge the day after art historian Anthony Blunt was exposed as the “fourth man” and waving The Times in my face angrily and saying: “Of course, he was the fourth man. Look at his weak chin — a chin of a traitor.”

Bring Back UK Sedition Law

Listening to a recent posted video of the crude Anjem Choudary calling for the forceful overthrow of the established political order in the UK it is hard not to conclude that the 2010 abolition of the old sedition laws rather than their updating was foolish.

 

 

How About Sacking UK Border Agency Officials and Penalizing the Airlines?

What is happening at Heathrow airport – from the airlines to the UK Border Agency? A 15-year-old girl, Yusra Hussien, apparently accompanied by a 17-year-old flies off from Heathrow to Istanbul (not entirely clear whether they went on a direct flight) and no one questions them and checks with their parents first? Here is a link to an ITV report about the case. But this is the second time we know of where a youngster flew off from Heathrow to join ISIS without an eyebrow being raised at the airport.

The other case concerns Ibrahim Kamara, a 19-year-old from Brighton. He traveled on his 15-year-old brother’s passport and not a question raised. One way to get people to sit up at Heathrow would be to sack some of the top Border Agency officials at the airport and to fine the airlines involved colossal amounts – or if there is no law on the books to allow that to happen to pass one.

Here We Go Again

Reading today’s Daily Telegraph on the David Miranda detention and it is easy to be cast back to other misguided UK government efforts to stop leaks and block embarrassing information from seeing the light of day.

It is taking on digital echoes of the Peter Wright affair when the UK government and the security services opened themselves up to derision with farcical efforts to block the publication of Wright’s book detailing MI6 and MI5 dirty tricks, illegal surveillance and a plot to bring down the Wilson government. They couldn’t stop publication abroad and it was easy to purchase the book.

National security was claimed as the issue too back then but it quickly became clear what was at stake was the reputation of the British security services.

Now we have a Prime Minister sanctioning the destruction of hard drives held by the Guardian newspaper containing the material former NSA contractor Edward Snowden stole — as if that will stop the information leaking out. As the Guardian made clear they have duplicates and presumably Greenwald and Snowden do, too, (probably so have the Russians and Chinese by now!).  Possibly the NSA should destroy their hard drives as the information is so sensitive – after all Snowden has demonstrated the puzzle palace’s own computer system isn’t secure.

And then the Telegraph gets a UK government source today hazarding absurdly that David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Greenwald, was detained for his own good as he was carrying sensitive documents and could have been kidnapped by terrorists. Is security at Heathrow Airport so bad?

Presumably the Snowden material does contain information useful to terrorists but the information is also useful for the British and American publics to gauge what is being done in the name of the “war on terror” and for them to assess whether the politicians and the security services have got the balance right between security and civil liberties. Clearly President Obama doesn’t think so with the tweaks and the inquiry he has ordered. But then, of course, he would have done that without the Snowden revelations. Really?

Ansar Al-Sharia Is Back

My latest piece in Newsweek/Daily Beast explores how  Libya has tapped local militias including the one blamed for the attack on the U.S. consulate—to patrol Tripoli and Benghazi amidst a spiraling crime wave.

“Libya’s leaders have given the go-ahead for revolutionary militias, including the powerful Islamist Nawasi brigade and Ansar al-Sharia—the militia blamed for the assault last September on the U.S. consulate—to combat drug dealers and a crime wave that is disrupting daily life in the capital and in the eastern city of Benghazi.” Read the full article here.

Britain – Closed For Business

Sunset over Tripoli

 

Tripoli

From the perspective of Tripoli, which hosts this week a huge construction and building trade fair that has attracted 427 foreign companies drawn from 26 countries, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague would seem to have a point when urging British businesses to “worker harder” to compete against overseas rivals for deals.

Of those 427 foreign companies participating in Libya Build 2012, not one – yes, you read that right – not a single one is from Britain. Not that the U.S. has distinguished itself either, the business of America is apparently not business, when it comes to Libya at the moment.

Hague’s comments about the need for British business to get stuck in – an updating of Norman Tebbit’s “get on yer bike” remark — hasn’t gone down well with British business.

Former CBI director general Lord Digby Jones, who served in the Brown government as a trade minister, lashed out Hague, complaining on BBC Radio 4 about the weakening of his former department, UK Trade & Investment. “To absolutely decimate that and cut it and then stand up and say ‘come on, get on and do it’, that’s a bit rich.”

But Libya Build 2012 organizers don’t blame the UK embassy in Tripoli or UK Trade & Investment for the non-show of British business. They say that British diplomats were highly supportive and that the 4-day exhibition was well marketed in the UK.

“I was surprised at the lack of take-up by British firms,” says Rania Mohamad, head of international sales for Libya Build 2012. “What we heard was that they were anxious about the security situation.”

Not that nervousness – and believe me it is misplaced when it comes to Tripoli – deterred the more robust Italians or French. There are 134 Italian companies here – from large construction concerns to small furniture businesses and environmental solutions firms.

According to Maria Carmela Ottaviano, head of special projects at the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, Italy’s trade promotion agency, Italian exhibitors were keen to maintain good commercial ties between Italy and Libya that were fostered by Silvio Berlusconi.

The Italians have two pavilions exclusively for their own use and were so over-subscribed that some exhibitors from Italy have had to take refuge in other pavilions – there are 35 pavilions in all covering 17,000 square meters.

A saleswoman for an Italian manufacturer of security doors told me that they had not done work in Libya before the toppling of Col. Gaddafi but that they were keen to test the waters. She praised the Italian promotion agency for playing a big role – from helping with transportation to visa facilitation and with translation services.

The French have not been shy either to explore opportunities in Libya’s new business environment, nor to remind Libyans of France’s support for their “Arab Spring.”

There are more than 40 French companies exhibiting as well as wheeling and dealing at Libya Build 2012.

“I am very surprised at the absence of British and American firms here,” said Audrey Corriger, an export specialist with Chambon, a manufacturer of factory tools for assembly-line woodcutting and wood-design. “We are hoping to find an importer for our machines,” she says. Chambon hasn’t worked in Libya before, although it has in other North African countries.

“We decided to test the waters,” she says. She admitted that they had wondered if this would be premature to be doing ahead of the assembly elections slated for June 19 but they decided “you can never promote too early.”

Chambon is hoping also to capitalize on French support for the rebels. “As Sarkozy was so supportive of the revolution, we hope this will benefit us.”

Apparently, however, David Cameron’s backing for the overthrow of Gaddafi didn’t strike British firms as a selling point.

Some 632 companies in all are taking part in Libya Build 2012. There are large contingents from Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and UAE, which is fielding 110 companies. Tiny Malta has its own pavilion where 40 companies are showcasing their products, from lifts and electromechanical systems, to construction materials and furniture and fittings.

“Maybe it was a bit far for the British to travel,” mused Corriger.

Murdoch Phone-Hacking Charges: Britain becomes America

It is normal to see outside courtrooms in the U.S. prosecutors and defendants, or their defense attorneys, battling it out in front of the media in a bid to swing public opinion, but it is highly unusual to see it in the UK. Today that all changed, highlighting the changing ways of the UK.

This morning the legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions held a press conference to announce that charges would be filed against the onetime News of the World editor and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, a close confidante of Rupert Murdoch, in connection with the police investigation into the phone-hacking scandal.

Brooks was charged with concealing material from detectives, conspiring to remove boxes of archive records from News International headquarters, and hiding documents, computers and other electronic equipment from the police.

According to Alison Levitt, Principal Legal Advisor to the DPP,  “All these matters relate to the ongoing police investigation into allegations of phone hacking and corruption of public officials in relation to the News of the World and The Sun newspapers.”

Brooks’ husband, Charlie, her secretary and NI security officials are also being charged.

And then later in the day, Brooks and her husband had their turn. “We deplore this weak and unjust decision,” she said.

And This Is Justice?

One of the worst knock-on consequences of the Northern Ireland troubles was the erosion of some key civil liberties by successive UK governments, both in the province and later on the mainland.

The right for the accused to remain silent, for example, when questioned by police and during a trial without adverse inference being drawn – a right embedded in English common law since the 17th century – was shredded. First in Northern Ireland with the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 and then on the mainland with the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Then we had the broadcasting restrictions introduced in 1988 by the normally sound Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd that banned from the airwaves 11 Irish Republican and Loyalist organizations. The absurdity of that ban was highlighted day after day when radio and television companies circumvented the ban by having actors read transcripts of comments made by members of any of the 11 organizations.

Far from undermining Sinn Fein, for example, the ban was a PR disaster for the British government, especially when it came to overseas opinion. It had the reverse effect of its intention — instead of being a useful weapon against the IRA, it was turned by the likes of Danny Morrison and Gerry Adams into a propaganda tool for Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, and allowed the government to be painted as illiberal.

The same mistakes are being made now in the UK and in the U.S. and there seems no easing up the further we get away from 9/11 or the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005.

The Sunday Telegraph reports today that a handful of British police officers have lost their jobs in recent years when their security clearances were revoked by senior officers after checks were carried out because of fears of jihad “sleepers” in the ranks. The paper discloses the identity of one of the officers, who was suspected of being at a terror training camp in Pakistan in 2001.

According to the paper, Abdul Rahman had been a constable for about three years when MI5 warned that he might have visited a training camp in Pakistan. He resigned from the police force after losing an appeal against the revocation of his security clearance.

Obviously, it is disturbing to learn that al-Qaeda or any jihad group may be trying to place sleepers in the ranks of the British police, and vigilance is clearly needed to prevent this happening.

But far more concerning and corrosive is how this is being handled by the authorities, which, judging by the approach towards Rahman, have entailed severe breaches of natural justice and due process.

Rahman, a father of four, is suing for employment and racial discrimination and is seeking compensation from Scotland Yard. He admits he visited Pakistan – he was born in Bangladesh and raised in the UK – but claims he is entirely innocent and never attended a terror training camp, which would be a criminal offence under UK law.

He has never been charged with any criminal offences – nor even questioned or arrested under anti-terrorism legislation. After a five-year legal battle, according to the Telegraph, an Employment

Appeal Tribunal ruled that his case can’t be heard in public and should be held in secret and that Rahman and his lawyers can be banned from parts of the hearing.

Scotland Yard says that secrecy is needed to shroud the identity of sources and highly sensitive information. There is the hint that CIA sourcing may be involved – and as we know that agency never gets anything wrong!

A security-cleared “special advocate” will be appointed on Rahman’s behalf to listen to the closed-door evidence. What good that will do in terms of serving the former policeman’s interests is anyone’s guess. The special advocate will not be allowed to discuss what he or she hears with Rahman or his lawyers.

So, we have here national security once again overriding natural justice — another case of the authorities deciding when it comes to striking a balance between civil liberties and security to favor the latter.

Three weeks after 9/11, I wrote about the dangers of throwing out civil liberties in a column for the Washington Times.

The relevant passages are below:

“Some old rules about fighting terrorism, learned at bloody cost in Northern Ireland and during the Soviet-supported ‘wars of national liberation,’ need to be recalled and restated.

Veteran British antiterrorist experts say the first rule is to remember that terrorists feed on overreaction. Democratic societies that alter themselves by introducing draconian security measures that restrict civil liberties undermine the morale of their own people. Unleashing overly harsh retaliation garners sympathy for the terrorists, is counterproductive and risks making new enemies and inspiring more gunmen and bombers.

How do you defeat an elusive and fanatical enemy who fights in unconventional ways and doesn’t observe the Geneva Convention or worry about greater geostrategic constraints? And how do you do all of that without becoming like the foe you fight and closing your open society?

Some British politicians have reckoned they ignored those rules for too long in Northern Ireland. British prime ministers would march their troops to the top of the hill, only to have to march them down again. Pledges were made. Forecasts offered of victory. Threats thundered. And overreaction increased as successive governments implemented law-and-order measures that may have made life a little more difficult for the Irish Republican Army and occasionally foiled a plot, but which corroded the democracy and orderly society that the British saw themselves as defending.

Out went the right to jury trials in Northern Ireland; out also went the right of a defendant to remain silent, both fundamental principles in Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence.”