Category Archives: UK

These Stasi-style outrages show just how low Britain’s spies will stoop

Zoe Williams writes for The Guardian:

Krauze‘[...] The alternative explanation for these Stasi-style outrages (which may be rare, or may only be rarely discovered) is that once you start spying on somebody, it is incredibly difficult to stop. It doesn’t really have anything to do with politics – you could be trailing a communist agitator or an environmentalist, a potential jihadist or a suspected white supremacist. Once you’ve started, the piece of evidence that comprehensively proves innocence doesn’t exist. All that exists is absence, the lack of definitive proof of guilt. One more push might be all it takes.

Just one more project … one more pregnancy … one more quick decade. It is imperative to look at the “snooper’s charter”, or draft communications bill, in this light: politicians fall over themselves to frame it in terms of balance between privacy and security. All normal people agree on this, they say: people like privacy well enough, but are prepared to sacrifice a bit of it (or a bit of somebody else’s) for peace of mind. But the assurance we need, more than balance, is that an authority invading someone’s privacy will be able to exercise restraint; and that is the bit that proves such a challenge.’

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MI5 spied on leading British historians for decades, secret files reveal

Richard Norton-Taylor reports for The Guardian:

Secret files on Eric Hobsbawm‘MI5 amassed hundreds of records on Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill, two of Britain’s leading historians who were both once members of the Communist party, secret files have revealed.

The scholars were subjected to persistent surveillance for decades as MI5 and police special branch officers tapped and recorded their telephone calls, intercepted their private correspondence and monitored their contacts, the files show. Some of the surveillance gave MI5 more details about their targets’ personal lives than any threat to national security.

The files, released at the National Archives on Friday, reveal the extent to which MI5, including its most senior officers, secretly kept tabs on the personal and professional activities of communists and suspected communists, a task it began before the cold war. The papers also show that MI5 opened personal files on the popular Oxford historian AJP Taylor, the writer Iris Murdoch, and the moral philosopher Mary Warnock after they and Hill signed a letter supporting a march against the nuclear bomb in 1959.’

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Ottawa Killings: Who Wins?

The Forgotten Coup: How America and Britain crushed the government of their ‘ally’, Australia

John Pilger writes:

whitlam1.jpg‘Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.

Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”. Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished Royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.

Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.

Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.’

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UK police use loophole to hack phones and email

Dominic Kennedy reports for The Times:

‘Police are hacking into hundreds of people’s voicemails, text messages and emails without their knowledge, The Times has discovered.

Forces are using a loophole in surveillance laws that allows them to see stored messages without obtaining a warrant from the home secretary.

Civil liberties campaigners reacted with concern to the disclosure that police were snooping on personal messages so often, without any external monitoring and with few safeguards.

Surveillance laws protect the public from having live phone messages, texts and emails accessed by police unless a warrant is granted by the home secretary.’

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The age of loneliness is killing us

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

File:Thoma Loneliness.jpg‘What do we call this time? It’s not the information age: the collapse of popular education movements left a void filled by marketing andconspiracy theories. Like the stone age, iron age and space age, the digital age says plenty about our artefacts but little about society. The anthropocene, in which humans exert a major impact on the biosphere, fails to distinguish this century from the previous 20. What clear social change marks out our time from those that precede it? To me it’s obvious. This is the Age of Loneliness.’

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The great British money launderette

Jim Armitage reports for The Independent:

‘Front companies in the UK are at the heart of an investigation into one of Europe’s biggest money-laundering operations, allegedly forming part of a conspiracy to make $20bn (£12.5bn) of dirty money look legitimate. The funds are believed to have come from major criminals and corrupt officials around the world wanting to make their ill-gotten cash appear “clean”, so they can spend it without suspicion.

At least 19 UK-based front companies are under suspicion. The scandal highlights how lax corporate rules have made this country an attractive destination for global organised crime. The secrecy company directors are entitled to under UK law is also hindering attempts to identify the “Mr Bigs” behind the scam.

An investigation by The Independent and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an NGO, has identified dozens of firms in a global web spreading from Birmingham to Belize.’

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Building a super-prison for children is a terrible idea

Frances Crook writes for The Guardian:

‘The Ministry of Justice has come up with the idea of building a super-prison for children as young as 12, at the core of which will be a regime of punishment and physical restraint. The jail will house around 300 boys and a handful of girls, and includes a planned unit for babies in case the girls get pregnant.

No one, but no one, supports this bizarre proposal, except for the companies that would profit from building the £85m complex. The government has refused to publish the rules or any details about what it is euphemistically calling a “secure college”. Next week the House of Lords will scrutinise the legislation and consider an amendment suggesting the whole idea be put on hold until more details are published.’

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British hostage John Cantlie says ‘third Gulf war coming’ in latest ISIS propaganda video

Josie Ensor reports for The Telegraph:

British hostage John Cantlie held by Islamic State militants at an undisclosed location‘The Islamic State has released the latest propaganda video delivered by captured British journalist John Cantlie, in which he warns of a “third Gulf war”.

In the fourth video from the Lend Me Your Ears video series posted online by the jihadists, the abducted photojournalist said media rhetoric was whipping up support for a “full-blown war” and that Isil was prepared.

Mr Cantlie warned that Isil has “grown exponentially until not even the US military, the policemen of the world, are able to contain them”.

He said the media had learnt nothing from previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the mujahideen were happy to “sit back and watch them (the West) waste trillions more (dollars) to avoid the spectre of another 9/11.”’

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Amid Ebola, ISIS and Ukraine, Britain’s Preppers Ready Themselves for Black Swan Events

Shane Croucher reports for the International Business Times:

Steve Hart's Every Day Carry kit‘The walls of society are falling down. After months of geopolitical crises tearing through every region, the global economy has seized up and there are supply shortages of everything: food, water, energy. News comes through that riots are breaking out across the UK. What would you do?

John Bland knows exactly what he would do because he is a “prepper”. Preppers are, as the nickname suggests, prepared. To them the collapse of society is not probable, but it is still possible. So they prepare for it in all ways, from boning up on survival skills to having fully stocked bunkers.’

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Privacy Group Targets British Spyware Company over Bahrain Surveillance

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Privacy Group Targets British Spyware Company over Bahrain Surveillance‘The rights group Privacy International asked the British government this morning to investigate a surveillance company for enabling spying on Bahraini activists in the U.K.

The company in question, Gamma Group, is a U.K.-based firm that provides surveillance software and other “lawful intercept” technology to governments around the world. Among their products was FinFisher software, which lets spies remotely monitor a computer they’ve infected — accessing files, web traffic, Skype calls and more. Privacy International asked the U.K.’s National Crime Agency to investigate the company.

“Companies like Gamma have been enabling repressive states’ unlawful conduct, but then seeking to suggest that they bear no responsibility for the products that they supply,” said Adriana Edmeades, Privacy International’s legal officer.’

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British parliament passes non-binding motion to recognize Palestinian state

Anshel Pfeffer reports for Haaretz:

‘The British parliament voted Monday in favor of a non-binding motion to recognize the state of Palestine, in a majority vote of 274-12.

The vote, which followed a debate that lasted nearly five hours, has no practical significance since it does not oblige the British government to change its current policy of recognizing Palestine only after a peace deal is reached between Israel and the Palestinians. The vote passed thanks to the Labour Party’s mobilization, as well as the Conservative Party’s virtual absence from the vote.

Outside the Palace of Westminster over the course of the debate, a small group of Pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a banner saying “Time to start giving back what we had no right to take” – a reference to the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which the British government committed itself to establishing a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine. Inside, many of the speakers in the debate, in which over 50 members of parliament asked to participate, mentioned the Balfour Declaration as well, and with it what they saw as Britain’s special responsibility to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.’

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The Daily Mash: How satire website written by ‘weirdos in pyjamas’ became internet sensation

Adam Sherwin writes for The Independent:

‘“UKIP MP strangely familiar”. “Anything bends if you f**k about with it enough, says Apple.” “Non-smokers have no way to signal that sex is over.” Those are just a typical day’s headlines from The Daily Mash, the British satirical website that has become a surprise dotcom money-spinner – even if Nigella Lawson failed to see the joke.

Launched by a pair of disillusioned newspaper journalists in 2007, who spotted a gap for a domestic parody news website inspired by the success of The Onion in the US, The Daily Mash has grown from a source of online distraction for office workers into a thriving business, complete with a lucrative merchandise sideline.’

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Edward Snowden: State surveillance in Britain has no limits

Carole Cadwalladr reports for The Guardian:

 Edward Snowden‘The UK authorities are operating a surveillance system where “anything goes” and their interceptions are more intrusive to people’s privacy than has been seen in the US, Edward Snowden said.

Speaking via Skype at the Observer Ideas festival, held in central London, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency specialist, said there were “really no limits” to the GCHQ’s surveillance capabilities.’

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Three of UK’s big four mobile phone networks providing customer data to police forces

James Ball reports for The Guardian:

‘Three of the UK’s four big mobile phone networks have made customers’ call records available at the click of a mouse to police forces through automated systems, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

EE, Vodafone and Three operate automated systems that hand over customer data “like a cash machine”,as one phone company employee described it.

Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a transparency watchdog, said: “If companies are providing communications data to law enforcement on automatic pilot, it’s as good as giving police direct access [to individual phone bills].”

O2, by contrast, is the only major phone network requiring staff to review all police information requests, the company said.’

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Russell Brand: BBC “validating UKIP’s ideas” with Clacton by-election coverage

From Pol Pot to ISIS: “Anything that flies on everything that moves”

John Pilger writes:

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”.  As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.’

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Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout

Aditya Chakrabortty writes for The Guardian:

daniel pudles for Aditya Chakrabortty‘[...] Politicians and pundits talk about welfare as if it’s solely cash given to people. Hardly ever discussed is corporate welfare: the grants and subsidies, the contracts and cut-price loans that government hands over to business. Yet some of our biggest companies and industries operate a business model that depends on them extracting money from the British taxpayer. The operators of our supposedly privatised train services are kept afloat by billions in public money. Or take the firm created by billionaire Jeff Bezos: last year it emerged that Amazon had paid less in corporation tax to the UK than it had received in government grants.

The bill for corporate welfare is huge – and largely hidden. We know a lot about the people who claim social welfare: we know how much each benefit costs the public, the government sets strict rules for eligibility – and we even have detailed estimates for how much cheating goes on. Between them, Whitehall, academia and NGOs have churned out enough surveys on social welfare claimants to fill a wing of the Bodleian library. But corporate welfare? The government has itself acknowledged: “There is no definitive source of data about spending on subsidies to businesses in the UK.” The numbers are scattered across government publications and there is not even any agreement on what counts as a corporate handout.’

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The UK’s big supermarkets sowed the seeds of their own decline

Deborah Orr reports for The Guardian:

‘If Britain’s big supermarkets fondly imagined that they’d come roaring back to health once the recession ended, then they’ve been sorely disappointed. Instead, as the new Sainsbury’s chief executive, Mike Coupe, put it: “The reality is that the market has changed more rapidly in the last three to six months than I’ve seen in my 30 years in the industry.”

And Sainsbury’s isn’t even the company most in trouble. Tesco has been caught cooking its books in order to make its fall in profits look slightly less vertiginous. The conventional wisdom is that this is all because shoppers are flocking to Aldi and Lidl. Maybe that’s part of it. But figures from August confirm that the big four – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – still have a market share of nearly 75%. Between them, Aldi and Lidl have 8.4%. The real difference is that, with their pared-down approach, those two sell at a decent profit.

The success of Aldi and Lidl does mean something, of course. But I suspect that Britain’s changing grocery habits are the consequence of much more than mere bargain hunting. As a society, we are a bit different post-recession. I think a lot of people’s lives and priorities have changed.’

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One in ten world leaders studied in the UK

Pan European Networks reports:

‘One in ten current world leaders have studied in the UK, according to research by the British Council.

The analysis found that of heads of state who have studied at universities abroad, the proportion of UK alumni rises even higher to 31% – a close second to those who’ve studied in the USA (34%). But when measured as a proportion of total students in each country, analysis suggests that the UK is ten times more likely to produce a world leader than the USA – UK universities produces one world leader per 50,000 graduates, whereas the US produces one per 500,000.’

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National Crime Agency director general: UK snooping powers are too weak

Vikram Dodd reports for The Guardian:

Keith Bristow‘Britons must accept a greater loss of digital freedoms in return for greater safety from serious criminals and terrorists in the internet age, according to the country’s top law enforcement officer.

Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, said in an interview with the Guardian that it would be necessary to win public consent for new powers to monitor data about emails and phone calls.

Warning that the biggest threats to public safety are migrating to the internet and that crime fighters are scrambling to keep up, the NCA boss said he accepted he had not done a good enough job explaining to the public why the greater powers were necessary.’

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Chinese investors surged into EU at height of debt crisis

Jamil Anderlini reports for the Financial Times:

‘As investors fled Europe in the worst days of its sovereign debt crisis, China-based companies moved in the other direction and surged in, with cash flowing from China into some of the hardest-hit countries of the eurozone periphery.

In 2010, the total stock of Chinese direct investment in the EU was just over €6.1bn – less than what was held by India, Iceland or Nigeria. By the end of 2012, Chinese investment stock had quadrupled, to nearly €27bn, according to figures compiled by Deutsche Bank.

The buying spree, analysts say, was nothing short of a transformation of the model of Chinese outbound investment. It is expected to increase steadily over the next decade.’

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UK police must disclose how often they have spied on journalists

Alex Spence reports for The Times:

Embedded image permalink‘Police chiefs have been ordered to reveal how many times they have used broad surveillance powers to spy on journalists.

The Interception of Communications Commissioner has issued a directive to all chief constables as part of an inquiry into whether the authorities are abusing their powers by using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) to uncover confidential sources.

The surveillance watchdog has been under pressure to act after revelations that the police obtained communications data relating to journalists on The Sun and The Mail on Sunday without permission from a judge or the newspapers knowledge.’

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90,000 animals were stolen from British farms last year – a rise of 24%

Emine Saner reports for The Guardian:

Livestock rustling - for sat features‘[...] Livestock thefts have increased on British farms during the past few years, and jumped again by 24% last year. According to figures from the insurance company NFU Mutual, which insures around three quarters of the UK’s farmers, around 90,000 animals were stolen last year – mostly sheep, though pigs and cattle have also been targeted – costing farmers £6.5m. The word rustling sounds almost quaint, with its connotations of centuries-old mischiefs, or wild west-style lawlessness, but it can be hugely damaging to many farmers’ livelihoods, has serious welfare issues for the animals taken and could have terrible consequences if diseases are spread. It can even affect the health of the customers who buy illegal meat.’

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Chris Grayling’s legal aid cuts ‘so unfair they are illegal’, rules High Court

Paul Peachey reports for The Independent:

‘Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice, acted illegally in trying to drive through multi-million pound legal aid cuts that could have led to the closure of hundreds of legal firms, a High Court Judge has ruled.

The Government has been told to halt its cost-cutting plans for legal aid payments for duty solicitors at police stations. Under the plans, the work currently carried out by 1,600 firms would be limited to 525 contracts, leading to closures and mergers of high-street legal firms attempting to make the new system pay.’

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These brutal new Tories are happy playing Ukip’s game

Polly Toynbee writes for The Guardian:

Conservative party activists in selfie with David CameronLet’s get this straight. The Conservative party or its leadership are not being reluctantly dragged rightwards. They are boldly going into the blue yonder, because that’s where their yearnings take them. Out of Europe is not just a policy, it’s a proxy for all they hate, from human rights to welfare. Outism is a romantic longing for all their little England could be, if only it were free of everything – possibly including voters.

The chancellor ratcheted rightwards with undisguised glee, welfare cuts his totemic message. Brazenly he reprised “All in it together” as yet again his £3.2bn cuts divided young from old and low-paid from the wealthier with a pensions bonanza for their heirs. Will voters think it “fair” to take an average of £300 and up to £1,300 from low-income households? Not idlers, but 7 million are “hardworking” families: abysmal low pay is why they need tax credits. Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research points to the inequality effect: with Osborne forecasting pay rising by 3.5-4.5% by 2018, this cut accelerates the divide. Hidden in here is a housing benefit cut that will cause evictions: already landlords refuse to let to tenants on housing benefit.’

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Brititsh Chancellor Osborne claims businesses must defend free market from unions and charities

Katie Allen reports for The Guardian:

George OsborneGeorge Osborne has urged businesses to raise their heads “above the parapet” and counter what he sees as an anti-free market movement led by trade unions and charities.

Speaking to business leaders at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention, Osborne said principles of enterprise and business as a force for widespread prosperity were “up for grabs” for the first time in his adult life.

Osborne told the audience at London’s Royal Albert Hall: “You have to get out there and put the business argument. Because there are plenty of pressure groups, plenty of trade unions and plenty of charities and the like, that will put the counter view.”‘

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Payday lenders should wipe out loans in wake of Wonga ruling, experts say

Lisa Bachelor reports for The Guardian:

Money Shop payday lendersThousands of people who have taken out payday loans from firms other than Wonga should also have their interest and charges wiped out, say consumer and legal experts.

This follows the announcement on Thursday that the payday lender was forced by the Financial Conduct Authority, the new City regulator to write off £220m of loans to 375,000 borrowers after the firm admitted those people should never have been given loans.

The company, which charges annualised interest rates of up to 5,853% a year and has been accused by MPs of “legal loan sharking”, said it would entirely wipe out loans to 330,000 people, and scrap interest and charges owed by a further 45,000 customers.’

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Cassetteboy: Cameron’s Conference Rap

Tony Blair named as one of top gay icons of past 30 years

Editor’s Note: Another award for Tony Blair when he should be serving a long jail sentence for war crimes. He may have done some good things for the LGBT community in Britain, but what about the LGBT community in places like Saudi Arabia and other dictatorships that Blair has cuddled up to for many years? Don’t they count? 

The Press Association reports:

Tony Blair has been recognised as one of the top gay icons of the past three decades, along with figures such as Boy George, Sir Ian McKellen and Barbra Streisand.

He has been given the accolade by Gay Times to mark its 30th anniversary.

Blair’s period as PM saw the lowering of the gay age of consent, bringing it into line with that for straight couples, as well as the introduction of civil partnerships.

Gay Times said Blair’s status as an ambassador of gay rights was undeniable.’

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