Category Archives: UK

British army sets up new brigade “for information age”

Jonathan Beale writes for BBC News:

[…] The Army says it’s learnt valuable lessons from Afghanistan – not least that it can’t win wars using pure military force alone.

The brigade will be made up of warriors who don’t just carry weapons, but who are also skilled in using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and the dark arts of “psyops” – psychological operations.

They will try to influence local populations and change behaviour through what the Army calls traditional and unconventional means.’


Chief constable warns against “drift towards police state” in Britain

Vikram Dodd reported in December for The Guardian:

Police officers ‘The battle against extremism could lead to a “drift towards a police state” in which officers are turned into “thought police”, one of Britain’s most senior chief constables has warned.

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, said police were being left to decide what is acceptable free speech as the efforts against radicalisation and a severe threat of terrorist attack intensify.

It is politicians, academics and others in civil society who have to define what counts as extremist ideas, he says.’


Give frontline police Tasers to help fight terror threat, says UK’s federation leader

Vikram Dodd reports for The Guardian:

A Greater Manchester police officer holds a Taser stun gun‘Steve White, who chairs the Police Federation, said the availability of Tasers needed to be expanded because of evidence of terrorists’ plans to kill officers, who are traditionally unarmed.

[…] Tasers have been linked to at least 10 deaths in England and Wales over the past decade. In 2013, the factory worker Jordan Lee Begley, 23, died two hours after a Greater Manchester officer targeted him with a stun gun at his home after police were called to reports of an argument.

Police Federation leaders will vote next month on a proposal that every uniformed frontline officer should be offered training in the use of Tasers. Some may choose not to carry one.’


Intervention in civil wars ‘far more likely in oil-rich nations’

Tom Bawden reports for The Independent:

According to academics from the Universities of Portsmouth, Warwick and Essex, foreign intervention in a civil war is 100 times more likely when the afflicted country has high oil reserves than if it has none. The research is the first to confirm the role of oil as a dominant motivating factor in conflict, suggesting hydrocarbons were a major reason for the military intervention in Libya, by a coalition which included the UK, and the current US campaign against Isis in northern Iraq.

It suggests we are set for a period of low intervention because the falling oil price makes it a less valuable asset to protect. “We found clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil wars erupt,” said one of the report authors, Dr Petros Sekeris, of the University of Portsmouth. “Military intervention is expensive and risky. No country joins another country’s civil war without balancing the cost against their own strategic interests.”’


Axe fell on playing field day after Olympic torch visit

BBC News reports:

‘Former education secretary Michael Gove overruled advice to stop a school playing field being developed on the day after the Olympic torch travelled through the borough, the BBC has learned.

In 2012 the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel rejected a plan for a Barratt Homes development on the playing field of Elliott School in Putney. It was the day the Olympic torch was travelling through Wandsworth. But the then education secretary overruled the advice.’


Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Compare and Contrast: Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez‘Hugo Chávez was elected President of Venezuela four times from 1998 through 2012 and was admired and supported by a large majority of that country’s citizens, largely due to his policies that helped the poor. King Abdullah was the dictator and tyrant who ran one of the most repressive regimes on the planet.

The effusive praise being heaped on the brutal Saudi despot by western media and political figures has been nothing short of nauseating; the UK Government, which arouses itself on a daily basis by issuing self-consciously eloquent lectures to the world about democracy, actually ordered flags flown all day at half-mast to honor this repulsive monarch. My Intercept colleague Murtaza Hussain has an excellent article about this whole spectacle, along with a real obituary, here.’


Saudi King Abdullah: Britain mourns a tyrant

Nigel Morris reports for The Independent:

Martin Rowson cartoon‘The Government face demands to reassess Britain’s relationship with the Saudi Arabian regime amid fury over the reverential tributes paid to King Abdullah following his death.

Flags were lowered across England and Wales in tribute to the late monarch after an instruction from Whitehall, while both Prince Charles and David Cameron will join foreign dignitaries in Saudi Arabia today to pay their respects to his memory.

Campaigners and MPs said the officially sanctioned show of sympathy for the oil-rich nation’s ruling elite made a mockery of its dismal human rights record.’


Our ‘impartial’ broadcasters have become mouthpieces of the elite

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

‘When people say they have no politics, it means that their politics aligns with the status quo. None of us are unbiased, none removed from the question of power. We are social creatures who absorb the outlook and opinions of those with whom we associate, and unconciously echo them. Objectivity is impossible.

The illusion of neutrality is one of the reasons for the rotten state of journalism, as those who might have been expected to hold power to account drift thoughtlessly into its arms. But until I came across the scandal currently erupting in Canada, I hadn’t understood just how quickly standards are falling.’


Iraq War report delayed until after UK election

BBC News reports:

Sir John Chilcot‘[…] MPs have demanded that the report be published before voters go to the polls in May.

However, Nick Robinson said the process of giving witnesses time to respond to allegations against them, which began last autumn, cannot be completed in time for this to happen.

He said he expected Sir John to set out the reasons why the report could not be completed in time, a development first reported by the Guardian, on Wednesday.

Ministers had made it clear that the report would have to be finished by the end of February to allow enough debate on its contents before Parliament rises at the end of March ahead of the election.’


Tax Havens: The Attorney-General’s Offshore Office

Private Eye Issue 1383 reports:

jeremy wright.jpgBuildings occupied by the Ministry of Justice, including Britain’s tax tribunal, are – almost unbelievably – owned offshore in a Mediterranean tax haven, while the attorney-general works from a London office that is owned in a tax haven in the British West Indies, the Eye has discovered.

All this undermines the order from the Treasury, which followed the Mapeley Steps scandal exposed by Private Eye more than a decade ago, that UK government assets should not be transferred offshore.

Information obtained by the Eye on the ownership of UK property by offshore companies shows that, among several of its buildings up and down the country, the MoJ’s financial, tax and land tribunals centre in a leafy Bloomsbury square is actually owned in Gibraltar.’


UK journalists’ emails grabbed by GCHQ, reporters seen as ‘threat to secuity’

William Turvill reports for Press Gazette:

‘Material released by Edward Snowden reportedly shows that investigative journalists “who specialise in defence-related exposes” are of “specific concern” to GCHQ.

The Guardian today reports that “investigative journalists” are considered alongside terrorists and hackers in a hierarchy in a GCHQ “information security assessment”.

The newspaper also reports that the emails of its staff, as well as journalists from The Sun, BBC, Reuters, New York Times, Le Monde, NBC and the Washington Post, have been saved and made available to staff at the Government agency.’


The secret history of Special Brew

BBC Magazine reports:

Tins of Special Brew‘It was first brewed in honour of Winston Churchill. Today “Spesh” or, as it is often referred to in headlines, “tramp juice“, is most commonly associated with getting drunk incredibly cheaply. Now Special Brew – which at 9% ABV contains 4.5 units of alcohol per can – will become less potent in 2015. Brewer Carlsberg says that it will sign up to a UK government-led pledge that no drink should contain more than four units, a man’s maximum recommended daily intake.’


40% of British families ‘too poor to play a part in society’

Patrick Wintour reports for The Guardian:

Five- and ten-pound notesNearly four out of 10 households with children, or 8.1 million people, live below an income level regarded by the public as the minimum needed to participate in society, according to new research commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The number of those on less than the so-called minimum income threshold in 2012/13 was up by more than a third from 5.9 million in 2008/09, the charity says.

The research finds families headed by lone parents are under the greatest pressure, with 71% (2.3 million individuals) living below the required level, up from 65% (2.2 million).’


‘Complete rape’ of government by industry: NSA whistleblower on private contractors in intelligence

‘Kirk Wiebe, an NSA veteran and whistleblower, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about mass surveillance.’ (Going Underground)

Europe’s ‘Minority Report’ Raids on Future Terrorists

Christopher Dickey reports for The Daily Beast:

[…] Worry hardly begins to describe the concerns behind the arrests over the last two days. But the legal foundation for detaining suspects varies from country to country, and may create loopholes through which potential terrorist attacks similar to the ones in Paris can still be organized.

Alain Bauer, one of France’s leading criminologists and an expert on counterterrorism, tells The Daily Beast that there’s widening recognition that surveillance tactics and strategies will have to change.

“Counterterrorism used to be like counternarcotics,” says Bauer. “You wait and you wait, and then you get another guy, with the idea that you are working your way eventually to the boss. But time, which was the ally of counterterrorism in the past, is now the enemy.” In the old days, suspects were followed from training camp to training camp, from connection to connection, as authorities mapped out whole networks. But the Internet allows connections to be made very quickly, and inspiration for attacks to take effect without any direct connection at all.’


David Cameron’s internet surveillance plans rival Syria, Russia and Iran

Cory Doctorow writes for The Guardian:

David Cameron at a computer‘What David Cameron thinks he’s saying is: “We will command all the software creators we can reach to introduce back doors into their tools for us.” There are enormous problems with this: there’s no back door that only lets good guys go through it. If your WhatsApp or Google Hangouts has a deliberately introduced flaw in it, then foreign spies, criminals, crooked police (such as those who fed sensitive information to the tabloids who were implicated in the phone-hacking scandal – and like the high-level police who secretly worked for organised crime for years) and criminals will eventually discover this vulnerability. They – and not just the security services – will be able to use it to intercept all of our communications, from the pictures of your kids in your bath you send to your parents to the trade secrets you send to co-workers.

But this is just for starters. David Cameron doesn’t understand technology very well, so he doesn’t actually know what he’s asking for. For his proposal to work, he will need to stop Britons from installing software that comes from software creators who are out of his jurisdiction. The best in secure communications are free/open-source projects, maintained by thousands of independent programmers around the world. They are widely available and, thanks to things like cryptographic signing, it is possible to download these packages from any server in the world (not just big ones like Github) and verify, with a high degree of confidence, that the software you’ve downloaded hasn’t been tampered with.

Cameron is not alone here. The regime he proposes is already in place in countries such as Syria, Russia, and Iran (for the record, none of these countries have had much luck with it). There are two means by which authoritarian governments have attempted to restrict the use of secure technology: by network filtering and by technology mandates.’


Europe’s answer to France terror ‘attack on free speech’ is greater Internet censorship

Zack Whittaker reports for ZDNet:

‘About half of Europe’s member states are pushing for greater online censorship powers in the wake of the terror attacks in France earlier this month.

In a joint statement, interior ministers from 11 European member states — including Germany, Poland, Spain, and the U.K. — expressed condemnation of the attacks, while stressing further cooperation between their law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Members of the European Union, along with a delegation from the U.S. government — including outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder — adopted, among other sentiments, a resolution to create a partnership of major Internet providers to report and remove material associated with extremism.’


GCHQ could be behind ‘super-spyware’ attack – Security expert on Regin, incredibly advanced virus

Cameron to discuss greater spying powers with UK security chiefs as calls to revive ‘snooper’s charter’ grow

Adam Withnall reports for The Independent:

David Cameron is to meet with UK security chiefs on Monday to discuss whether Britain will give greater powers to its police and spies in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

The Prime Minister said there were “things to learn” from the wave of violence that saw 17 killed across northern France from Wednesday to Friday – and he has faced pressure to revive the so-called “snooper’s charter” that would make it easier for GCHQ to monitor online communications.

The head of MI5, Andrew Parker, has warned that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning “mass casualty attacks” against Western targets, while former Royal Navy chief Lord West called for more money to be budgeted to the security service.’


Angry MPs challenge ‘stitch-up’ over delay of Chilcot report on war in Iraq

Jamie Doward and Chris Ames report for The Guardian:

Tony Blair and George Bush shake hands‘Furious MPs are planning a parliamentary debate to challenge an alleged “stitch-up” that could delay the report of the Iraq war inquiry until after the general election.

A cross-party coalition has demanded that parliament’s backbench committee allocate half a day to discussing the continuing delay in publishing the Chilcot inquiry’s findings, which are expected to include severe criticism of the UK’s decision to join the US-led invasion in 2003.’


How generalised suspicion destroys society

Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet writes for Open Democracy:

Flickr/OliBac. Some rights reserved.[…] Since the revelations of Edward Snowden in June 2013, no one can ignore the alarming extent of mass surveillance. We know that the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the British security services are routinely collecting, processing and storing huge quantities of digital communications. The British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) mass-surveillance system “Tempora” has been recently declared perfectly legal. Yet its legitimacy and modus operandi are still highly dubious – and ultimately dangerous especially when members of the executive do not understand the process and its technicalities. These surveillance programmes are enabled by a culture of fear and suspicion, which mutually reinforce each other. Surveillance fosters suspicion and suspicion in return supports the logic of maximisation of surveillance. These practices of surveillance and the underlying logic of anticipation have turned suspicion into legitimate, “actionable” intelligence.’


Press freedom after the Charlie Hebdo massacre: Interview with Norman Solomon

Editor’s Note: The interview with Norman Solomon begins at 1:12 and lasts until 12:30.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was a strike against free speech. So why is the response more surveillance?

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

charlie hebdo pencil‘As politicians drape themselves in the flag of free speech and freedom of the press in response to the tragic murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, they’ve also quickly moved to stifle the same rights they claim to love. Government officials on both sides of the Atlantic are now renewing their efforts to stop NSA reform as they support free speech-chilling surveillance laws that will affect millions of citizens that have never been accused of terrorism.

This is an entirely predictable response – as civil liberties advocates noted shortly after Wednesday’s tragic attack, the threat of terrorism has led to draconian laws all over the world over the last decade – but this time around, the speed and breadth by which politicians praised free speech out of one side of their mouths, while moving to curtail rights out of the other, has been quite breathtaking.’


Who Should Be Blamed For Muslim Terrorism?

Andrew Vltchek writes for CounterPunch:

A hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have a pair of Muslim men enter a cafe or a public transportation vehicle, and then blow themselves up, killing dozens. Or to massacre the staff of a satirical magazine in Paris! Things like that were simply not done.

When you read the memoirs of Edward Said, or talk to old men and women in East Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the great part of Palestinian society used to be absolutely secular and moderate. It cared about life, culture, and even fashion, more than about religious dogmas.

The same could be said about many other Muslim societies, including those of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Old photos speak for themselves. That is why it is so important to study old images again and again, carefully.

Islam is not only a religion; it is also an enormous culture, one of the greatest on Earth, which has enriched our humanity with some of the paramount scientific and architectural achievements, and with countless discoveries in the field of medicine. Muslims have written stunning poetry, and composed beautiful music. But above all, they developed some of the earliest social structures in the world, including enormous public hospitals and the first universities on earth, like The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.

The idea of ‘social’ was natural to many Muslim politicians, and had the West not brutally interfered, by overthrowing left-wing governments and putting on the throne fascist allies of London, Washington and Paris; almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular leaders.’


21st-century censorship: Governments around the world are using stealthy strategies to manipulate the media

Philip Bennett and Moises Naim report for Columbia Review of Journalism:

Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism. The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”

It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.

Illustrating this point is a curious fact: Censorship is flourishing in the information age. In theory, new technologies make it more difficult, and ultimately impossible, for governments to control the flow of information. Some have argued that the birth of the internet foreshadowed the death of censorship. In 1993, John Gilmore, an internet pioneer, told Time, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Today, many governments are routing around the liberating effects of the internet. Like entrepreneurs, they are relying on innovation and imitation. In countries such as Hungary, Ecuador, Turkey, and Kenya, officials are mimicking autocracies like Russia, Iran, or China by redacting critical news and building state media brands. They are also creating more subtle tools to complement the blunt instruments of attacking journalists.

As a result, the internet’s promise of open access to independent and diverse sources of information is a reality mostly for the minority of humanity living in mature democracies.’


Politicians Only Love Journalists When They’re Dead

Luke O’Neill writes for The Daily Beast:

[…] Like much of the rhetoric that comes attached to freedom of speech, the “Voltaire” quote is meant as a robust championing of sobriety and fairness. The speaker conjures up centuries of collective sagacity, aligning oneself with an eternal, inarguable good. Certainly no one can argue with that. No one wants to align with less freedom at a time like this. At least not publicly.

This has been in no short supply this week, with many saying that, yes, while much of the material published by Charlie Hebdo was indeed offensive, perhaps racist, and certainly well over the line of propriety,  the very fact that they were in operation despite those disagreeable qualities is what makes freedom of speech so important in the first place.

Embedded within the protections of freedom of speech, however, is also the freedom to exaggerate, to manipulate, to grandstand, and this is exactly what much of the world’s political reaction to this tragedy amounts to. It is grandstanding for a right rarely protected unless under immediate attack.’


British government gives £100m to MI5 and MI6 to thwart lone wolf terrorists

Nigel Morris reports for The Independent:

‘The security services will be given all the resources they need to combat the terror threat, Chancellor George Osborne pledged today.

He was responding to a warning from Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, that the danger from Islamist extremists was growing rapidly and that it was almost inevitable an attack would eventually succeed.

Mr Osborne promised that MI5 and MI6 would get “the support they need” in terms of resources and powers, because protecting the country is “the national priority”.’


Shameless opportunist MI5 chief seeks new powers after Paris magazine attack

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

‘The head of MI5, Andrew Parker, has called for new powers to help fight Islamist extremism, warning of a dangerous imbalance between increasing numbers of terrorist plots against the UK and a drop in the capabilities of intelligence services to snoop on communications.

Parker described the Paris attack as “a terrible reminder of the intentions of those who wish us harm” and said he had spoken to his French counterparts to offer help.

Speaking to an invited audience at MI5 headquarters, he said the threat level to Britain had worsened and Islamist extremist groups in Syria and Iraq were directly trying to orchestrate attacks on the UK. An attack on the UK was “highly likely” and MI5 could not give a guarantee it would be able to stop it, he said.

“Strikingly, working with our partners, we have stopped three UK terrorist plots in recent months alone,” he said. “Deaths would certainly have resulted otherwise. Although we and our partners try our utmost, we know that we cannot hope to stop everything.”’


Charlie Hebdo murders are no excuse for killing online freedom

David Meyer writes for Gigaaom:

‘There’s been a predictable split in the reactions to Wednesday’s slaughter of the staff of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, along with others including police who were trying to protect them. On the one hand, hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in France and across Europe in defiance against those behind this attack on free speech…

… while others have taken a decidedly different tack, using the outrage as a justification for the rolling-back of online civil liberties. This approach was taken by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph, and by the Sun in an editorial arguing that “intelligence is our best defense… yet liberals still fret over the perceived assault on civil liberties of spooks analyzing emails.”’


Tony Blair ‘could face war crimes charges’ over Iraq War

Christopher Hope reports for The Telegraph:

Tony Blair‘Tony Blair could face war crimes charges as a result of the Iraq war inquiry report, the House of Lords has been told.

Lord Dykes of Harrow Weald, a Liberal Democrat peer, claimed that the publication of the inquiry by Sir John Chilcot was being delayed “to prolong the agony” of the former Labour Prime Minister.

Lord Hurd – who as Douglas Hurd was Conservative foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995 – said the delay was now “becoming a scandal”.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, disclosed for the first time that talks over the publication of the gist of conversations between Mr Blair and George W Bush, the former US president, were now completed.

These talks have held up the publication of the report. But he said that if the report is not published by the end of February, it will be delayed until after the general election.’