21 April 2014

How do they do that………...

Last weekend I had the rare experience of reading the Sunday Telegraph and in one of its many sections it carried a review of a recent book by Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker titled 'Smile for the Camera - the double life of Cyril Smith'. Reading the review reminded me of a piece on a recent Jeremy Vine show where JV, in reference to the same book, wondered how people like Smith got away with their behaviour when it would seem that all too many people knew what he was up to.

Vine then broadcast an interview with a retired police officer who had investigated Smith in the 1980s and was clearly convinced that Smith should have been charged and tried. But, as with Savile, the story took a darker turn because, before this officer's report considered for action, two 'senior officers from another force' turned up and, in effect, confiscated all the relevant material, witness statements, investigation reports, evidence etc etc. These two officers then made it clear that the two investigating officers were to forget all about Smith and his unpleasant peccadilloes. As a consequence, the findings of the investigation never saw the light of day and Smith went on his merry way.

And I am left to wonder how this process works. How does what was clearly a thorough investigation which provides substantial evidence of serious wrongdoing end up being buried? What is the mechanism whereby senior police officers from another force are empowered to cross administrative boundaries to quash an investigation? What is the link between people like Smith and Savile and senior police officers and officers involved with Hillsborough and officers involved with Stephen Lawrence? Is there a common threat of interest that ties these unsavoury individuals together, and if there is, what is that thread?

And when Jeremy Vine asks 'how did they get away with it', it would seem that it was all too easy,  because people who knew simply looked the other way. And they may have looked the other way because, on some level, they knew that people like Savile and Smith and Jaconelli (see Savile/Jaconelli/Corrigan paedophile ring: NYP cover-up continues - Whitby | Real Whitby | Whitby News | North Yorkshire | Whitby | Real Whitby | Whitby News | North Yorkshire) had access to a network of associates who could make things go away.

17 April 2014

Who's glad its vlad?

Putin's sabre rattling in the Ukraine seems to be sending shudders through those parts of eastern Europe which once belonged solidly to the USSR. Clearly governments are beginning to wonder just how far Putin will go in his determined effort to reassert Russia's claim to once again being a global super-power. The annexation of the Crimea is probably only the start of Putin's project.

In the 1980s, Gorbachev introduced Glasnost and Perestroika and that period of transparency allowed him to face up to reality and accept that, at that time, the USSR could not out-spend the USA when it came to defence. He gave up the struggle and that led directly to the break up of the old Soviet Union.  Without command from the centre, elements of the USSR gravitated towards Europe, seeing better opportunities in an alignment with the west rather than with Moscow. At the same time, defence spending came under serious scrutiny because, without an obvious threat from the USSR, how could billions of dollars/pounds/euros be spent on defence?  As a consequence, we've had 20 years of inventing enemies (mainly terrorists of one sort or another) in order to keep our defence contractor's heads above water until, that is, the arrival of Putin and his sabre.

So who's 'glad its vlad'? Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Airbus Group, United Technologies Corporation, Finmeccanica and L-3 Communications would be a good start as these were the top 10 arms manufacturers in the world in 2012. Current events in the Ukraine may be worrying for some of us but they usher in a time of plenty for those businesses that thrive on conflict and instability.

7 November 2013

Spying vs Hacking

It goes to show how little attention I pay to current affairs when three people who run the UK's government sponsored hacking programmes, aka MI6/MI5/GCHQ, appear in public to chat to a Parliamentary committee and I haven't heard of any of them. Messers Lobban, Sawers & Parker, all appear (gasps!) together (gosh!) and reassure our parliamentarians (phew!) that all is well with the world and that our privacy is safe in their hands. And, one assumes, in the hands of whomsoever they choose to share our privacy with.

And it made me think. We live in a democracy, albeit a limited one, and these three individuals represent huge, publicly funded organisations which hack into everyone's mail, emails, chat lines, twitter feeds and anything else they can gain access to, yet none of them are facing the sort of inquisition faced by Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks or Glenn Mulcaire.

Now, don't get me wrong, I haven't suddenly developed a soft spot for News International but I am moved to wonder how it is that the activities of Coulson, Brooks and Mulcaire can attract such a judicial response when the hacking represented by Lobban, Sawers and Parker is carried on at an industrial scale, equally without public sanction, yet the governmental hackers face absolutely no challenge.

If the state was subject to the same sanctions and constraints that the state seeks to impose on its subjects, then I would be less concerned. But the state is not and, like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, I do fear for our freedoms, even if Lobban, Sawers and Parker do not.

25 October 2013

Would you trust Britain...............

Recently, whilst on holiday in Portugal, I struck up a conversation with two German women who were eating in the same fish restaurant as myself. The restaurant was interesting but far more interesting was the conversation, when it turned to politics and, in particular, the ongoing Edward Snowdon revelations.

What caught me off-guard was the annoyance and anger that these two Germans expressed about Britain's part in spying on Germans, and Germany, on behalf of the United States. Since that conversation, it has become evident that Britain has been spying on anyone and everyone: the Germans; Belgians; French and, quite probably, any individual, country or organisation of interest to Britain or, more particularly, the USA.

Its also strange how random conversations can offer insight into the activities of government. A few months back I was sitting in a Cafe Nero talking with friends about the impact of the digital revolution on photography. I'm very much an analogue person when it comes to photography and digital has been a money-pit for the last 10 or more years. Yes, digital does allow the creation of very glossy images but they are further and further away from any form of reality, certainly far away from the 'reality' of analogue imagery.

During this conversation, a passerby, lets call her Suzie, joined in the discussion, because they were also analogue and they enjoyed talking about the strengths and weaknesses of analogue as opposed to digital. At the end of our conversation, which, by that time, had strayed into the territory of Edward Snowdon and the security of digital information, Suzie recounted a tale where, in the 1980s, she visited an address in Bude, Cornwall. The address, at that time was GPO, Bude, Cornwall and it was the home  of some sort of listening station which was involved, not with satellites, but with undersea cables.

That caused me to have a look at Google Maps and its relatively easy to find the GCHQ Bude listening station, which is the installation that everyone knows about - lots of satellite dishes and large fences. But not too far away, at 50.797825,-4.539392, is a less well known installation which is a Cable&Wireless operation just inland from Widemouth Bay. And Widemouth Bay, I understand, is where a number of the transatlantic data cables come ashore.

It doesn't take much of a leap to see that, were the British government to put a clamp around these cables, all the information that flows through them, to and from Europe, would be available to HM Government and its friends and associates. (See this: The Creepy, Long-Standing Practice of Undersea Cable Tapping - Olga Khazan - The Atlantic)

But have a look at this map Submarine Cable Map and you'll understand that Widemouth Bay isn't the only UK location where the Government could put its ear to the wall. I would imagine that this idea occurred to them years ago and they've been listening in to everyone's conversations wherever and whenever possible and its only been Edward Snowdon's revelations that brought this to the attention of the wider public.

And think about the sort of information that the government might obtain. Not just emails, which are a relatively recent development, but telephone calls across Europe from financial centres to clients, from businesses to suppliers, from potential clients to potential investors. Forget the terrorists for a minute, there's lots of juicy info that the government could use to disadvantage the UK's competitors and provide serious advantage to, for example, the City of London.

Then Cameron says that he shares EU concerns over US phone tapping. You have to laugh.

11 October 2013

More about Milliband (Ralph).....

The Daily Mail's attempted character assassination of Ralph Milliband has caused others to consider some of the facts and the banner (above) is taken from 'Political Scrapbook'.

In the 1930's, many of the rich and famous in Britain thought that Hitler was quite sexy and Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail's owner, seems to have been amongst that group. By comparison, a few years later, when Britain had been fighting for survival against Hitler's European territorial ambitions, Ralph Milliband was in the front line of the D-Day landings.

Today, I wonder what Ralph would have made of the sell-off of Royal Mail. I suspect that he would have opposed the sell-off in principle because the Royal Mail is, or was, an asset of the State, paid for over years by taxpayers. But if he was required to consider the sell-off itself, what would he have made of selling it off at less than 2/3rds of its 'value'. I suspect that he would have seen that as further evidence of the dominance of 'capital' over the interests of the voter/taxpayer.

And again, I'm sure that the Daily Mail will herald the sell-off of Royal Mail as a perfect example of untrammelled free-market capitalism in action. Evidence of a sort that the Daily Mail isn't really interested, as Ralph was, in the whole of Britain, but only in the interests of the rather smaller community of 'capital' and their rather particular and exclusive interests.

2 October 2013

Life imitates art......

Last evening I decided to watch an episode from Series 1 of 'The Thick of It'. Peter Capaldi does a great turn as the spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker and I was left wondering just how close to reality was the representation. Astonishingly, it is really close because, having watched Episode 4, I switched over to BBC2 and dropped into the middle of an amazing exchange on Newsnight between Alastair Campbell and Jon Staefel of the Daily Mail. Having just watched 'Malcolm Tucker' I can only say that watching Campbell and Staefel going at it was a bizarre, almost hallucinogenic experience.

But behind the thrust and parry of Campbell and Staefel lay the more serious issue of the Daily Mail's proxy attack on David Milliband by attacking Milliband's father who the Mail claims 'hated Britain'. Now its pretty clear that the Daily Mail see's itself as the house paper of the Tory party and, given that the Tories are holding their conference at present, the Mail's attack on Milliband senior and, by implication, junior is clearly undertaken at the behest of the Tory Central Office. What is interesting is that the Tories have so little ammunition to fire at Milliband that they are forced to attack his father.

And that brings me to Ralph Milliband, about whom I knew next to nothing until the Daily Mail caused me to do a little research. That research suggests that Ralph Milliband was a very interesting, capable and passionate individual who was also a prominent Marxist, and that may be the Daily Mail's problem.

Ralph Milliband grew up in a time when there was real political debate and wrote extensively and passionately about the conflicts that he saw between society on the one hand and 'capital' and the State on the other. So, I must thank the Daily Mail for bringing Ralph Milliband to my attention. I think that I'll get a copy of Ralph's last book, 'Socialism for a Sceptical Age' which was published in 1994, the same year that he died.

Needless to say, I won't be reading the Daily Mail.

1 September 2013

The State and its enemies

A story which surfaced only briefly a couple of months ago, illustrates the challenges that any voter faces when trying to assess the truth or otherwise of statements made by organisations of, or which represent, the state.

In 1986 a London organisation called 'London Greenpeace' (as opposed to 'Greenpeace' - the international organisation) started to campaign against McDonalds (the fast food chain) and distributed leaflets criticising McDonalds across a range of issues. In 1990, McDonalds instigated a libel action against five individuals associated with the leaflets, three of whom apologised and two who did not. This led to the longest running libel case in English history (McDonalds vs Steel & Morris).

Whilst McDonalds won a judgement in the English Courts (1997), Steel & Morris sued the Metropolitan Police for disclosing confidential information to McDonald's investigators. Steel & Morris received £10,000 and an apology. A later judgement in the European Court of Human Rights decided that Steel & Morris' Human Rights had been breached in the original trial and ordered that the UK Government pay Steel & Morris £57,000 in compensation. (This judgement did not relate to the decision in the original trial but simply to the challenges that Steel & Morris faced in mounting their defence.)

Whilst McDonalds might have managed to claim some sort of victory, the consequences of the McLibel trial were far worse for them than for the defendants. The trial gave the case worldwide media exposure and caused McDonalds immense damage - damage which McDonalds brought upon themselves.

However, what was never disclosed throughout the original trial nor during Steel & Morris' action against the Metropolitan Police was the alleged involvement of the Metropolitan Police in writing the original leaflet. It is now claimed that an undercover police officer, then known as 'Bob Robinson', infiltrated the London Greenpeace group and co-wrote the original leaflet, something which should have made the Metropolitan Police a co-defendant in the trial. Further, whilst the Metropolitan Police were allegedly involved as an 'agent provocateur', they were also supplying confidential information to McDonalds to assist their case.

If all of this is true, then did the Metropolitan Police simply decide that London Greenpeace were guilty of something and, to prove their case, manufacture a 'crime' and encourage them to commit it? And then, throughout the longest libel trial in English legal history, say nothing.

The MacLibel 2 went out on the streets with nothing more incendiary than a leaflet and it took 20 years of their lives. Almost 30 years later, with our privacy breached by government at every level, what would make you or I a suspect in today's febrile political environment? Is it enough just to think that our government might be wrong to make ourselves 'enemies of the state'? What happens if anyone has the temerity to put it in an email?