4 August 2016

Interview with Al Jazeera Inside Story on Chilcot Report

Following my coverage of the insights and obfuscations of the Iraq inquiry report produced under the purview of Sir John Chilcot - who previously distinguished himself on the Butler inquiry that whitewashed the fiasco on fabricated intelligence on Saddam's WMD - I was called onto Al Jazeera's Inside Story to participate in an extended expert panel interview about the Chilcot report.

Watch it here.

6 July 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Most Labour MPs against Corbyn are stained with the blood of Iraq

In this exclusive investigative analysis for Middle East Eye (MEE), I analyse the voting records on war of the rebel MPs who want Corbyn out, and find that nearly a 100% of them were opposed to the Chilcot inquiry ever taking place. Read the analysis here.

Below is the full data used:

24 February 2016

Exclusive interview with The Guardian on how to survive a global collapse

So I did this exclusive interview for a feature article inspired by Ubisoft's new console game, Tom Clancy's The Division, with The Guardian. My interviewer, Guardian games and tech editor Keith Stuart, did a fantastic job of covering serious risks with funny, yet probing, questions.

It's a tongue-in-cheek conversation, but it does cover some real issues. 

The most important of which is that if you want to survive the apocalypse (any apocalypse), remember, you have to share the baked beans - not hoard them all for yourself. Yes, really.

Here's the interview... And if you enjoy that, check out my exclusive report for VICE on the risk of collapse from a global pandemic.

How to survive a global disaster: a handy guide

On 22 June, 2001, Tara O’Toole and Thomas Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies, organised a war game like no other. The two researchers, working with an array of bodies such as the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, set out to simulate the effects of a biological attack on the US. The project was called Operation Dark Winter.

What they discovered was that the country was ill prepared to cope. Within two weeks there would be enormous civilian casualties, a catastrophic breakdown in essential institutions, and mass civil unrest. Food supplies, electricity and transport infrastructures would all collapse.

In short, the world would get medieval on America’s ass. And the same thing would happen all over the globe.

These days we’re spoiled for choice in terms of potential catastrophes. Natural and ecological disasters, nuclear weapons, terrorism, experimental technological accidents (“Oops, we’ve accidentally created Skynet”) – they’re all in the game. In 2008 a group of experts met at an Oxford University conference and suggested that there was a 19% chance of a global catastrophic event before 2100 (with super intelligent AI and molecular nanotechnology weapons at the top of the threat list). It was just a bit of fun, and they added plenty of caveats to that figure, but still, something to think about, eh?

With all this in mind, the Guardian spoke to the academic and author Nafeez Ahmed, who has studied global crises and mass violence, and recently advised Ubisoft on the authenticity of its post-pandemic video game, The Division. We asked him, in the event that society collapses, what should we do. Here’s what he suggested.

1. Don’t hole up alone with hundreds of tins of baked beans

“There’s a survivalist response which is ‘I’m going to hide away all by myself’,” says Ahmed. “You’re probably not going to survive like that – you have to cooperate with other people. This may not be obvious at first because you may see others as a potential threat, but the moment you become a loner, you’re likely to lose simply because you’re now part of a dog-eat-dog environment. The more people who band together, the more likely you are to be able to rebuild something like a society. So I’d say share those baked beans. In fact, you don’t even have to stick to baked beans.”

2. You need to go rural … but not too rural

You were probably expecting this, but let’s make it clear anyway. Cities are wonderful when everything is functioning but, as The Walking Dead made clear, they’re lethal when there’s no order, electricity or infrastructure. “If you stayed in the city, you’d be in more danger, there’s no doubt about that,” says Ahmed. “Generally speaking, when academics have run these scenarios on predictive models, cities are found to be extremely vulnerable simply because there are so many supply chains that are interdependent, and so many people there with you who are also dependent on these supply chains. People will be competing with each other for these scarce resources, which creates violence.”

However, the other extreme – total isolation – may also not be a good idea, for the reason given above. You need a group of differently skilled people who can work cooperatively in order to build your own supply chains and flourish. So, we’re talking ... small market town? “Yes,” says Ahmed, not altogether seriously. “Ideally you’d want to be somewhere in Kent.”

3. You need access to running water and agricultural land

In the event of a major global catastrophe, we’re going to have to face the very real possibility that Waitrose will be closed. Within the first few days, roads will be clogged and supermarkets looted, so you’ll be forced to generate your own supplies. “In a scenario such as a pandemic, you need to be somewhere you can access running water and/or other sources of energy,” says Ahmed. This isn’t just for sustenance – fast running water can also be harnessed to provide power – as long as you thought to buy a small-scale hydroelectric generator. The problem is, most of us don’t spend our weekends buying up on personal energy solutions – just in case. “If we’re talking about a sudden collapse, then the chances are you won’t have a solar power generator to hand,” confirms Ahmed. But at least if you’re near water you can drink it.

“There’s also the need to grow your own food,” says Ahmed. “Again you’re better off doing that with a group of people on a large area of land where you can apportion labour. That’s not going to work as well in an urban environment.”

4. Establish communications

“If you wanted to forge a community and be resilient, you may not necessarily have to communicate with the wider world,” says Ahmed. “However, you may need to know what’s going on. The thing is, in a catastrophic scenario, you don’t know what communications are going to be up and running.”

The basic method of acquiring information will be a wind-up or solar-powered radio. However, to actually communicate with the outside world, or with members of your community, you may be back to walkie-talkies, two-way radios or even a citizen band radio – the problem there being that, in the event of a major catastrophe, you’ll only be able to communicate with 1970s truckers. All of these will require electricity, so unless you’ve stockpiled batteries or fuel for a traditional generator you may be stuck. However, we’re now seeing both solar and hydrogen-powered generators – and, of course, there’s the nano membrane toilet which sorts both your power and sanitation issues in one go.

What about the internet? According to Peter Taphouse and Matthew Bloch of UK-based server-hosting company, Bytemark, there’s a possibility that many of the tens of thousands of separate networks (or Autonomous Systems) and data centres that make up the backbone of the internet could survive the collapse of civilisation if they had access to local power. However, the content networks and transit providers – big companies such as BT, Sky, Virgin, NTT, Cogent – would be vulnerable to societal collapse. Sure, Google has nice offices and all, but people are less likely to go to work if the city is a death zone of marauding looter gangs. So even though the net is designed as a nonlinear decentralised system, it could be that only military frameworks would reliably survive – and they’re not accessible from your local coffee shop.

Your best option, then, may be to set up your own community computer network – and the most sensible technology would be Wi-Fi, as the components are easily available. “You could loot a PC World for broadband routers and then hit a garage or supermarket for some Pringles cans,” says Bloch. “With those, you can probably build a reasonable network across a scorched suburb.”

Why a Pringle can? Well, it can be used to create a cantenna which would be capable of boosting a Wi-Fi signal from your computer. “Some students in Kansas made a cantenna that transmitted over 100 miles a few years ago,” says Bloch. He suggests using a cheap Raspberry Pi as the combined communications hub and router (although a basic netbook may be a good alternative). “I ran an old Pi off four AA batteries for four hours just to play a video game a while back, and that was wasting power on bluetooth and speakers. They can shift a lot of traffic, and run little servers, so I imagine you could run tiny hubs off a car battery for 1-2 weeks at a time.

“If you ran an old-school email network off those, it’d be quite handy and expandable piece by piece as you contacted neighbouring villages, cleared the zombies out, etc. I guess that’s the nice thing about the internet: the oldest protocols still adapt to this situation. I think some people really want to see this happen, just so they can prove it.”

In the Fallout series of post-apocalyptic role-playing games, survivors are able to utilise an old closed network called PoseidoNet, which has survived the nuclear war – there are terminals placed throughout the world. So could we, in real life, somehow access corporate, academic or even military networks to communicate?

“Basically Fallout seems about 80% accurate to me,” says Bloch.

5. Don’t necessarily trust the government or law enforcement

All major governments have contingency plans in place to ensure their survival after a global disaster. In 2007, for example, George Bush signed into place the National Security Presidential Directive, which claims the power to execute certain orders in the event of a catastrophic emergency – President Obama also signed a National Preparedness executive order in 2012. The thing is, most of those preparations are classified – we won’t know what they are until it happens. What we can be fairly certain of, however, is that it will involve the suspension of constitutional government and the instalment of martial law. To some degree.

“Based on the continuity of government plans we have in the US and western europe, there’s no doubt that you would have a visible force presence on the streets to try and maintain order,” says Ahmed. “There would be all sorts of things necessary in a pandemic scenario – the need to quarantine, the need to contain the spread of the virus.

“Whatever the situation, there’s also going to be more of a need, as infrastructures fail, for people on the ground to establish and maintain order. We saw this during the Olympics when the security contractor effectively collapsed and the army had to come in. It showed the need to maintain discipline, and it also showed that the army is trained to respond to a situation where systems start to break down.”

But here’s a slightly paranoid question: what if it has been decided by contingency planners that civilians are somewhat surplus to requirements? What if the security personnel aren’t actually on our side?

“Never 100% always trust the military – especially when they’re in your own territory,” says Ahmed.

Instead, we should be using our fledgling communication networks to gather public support and ask questions. “The fact is, we have democracy for a reason – there are checks and balances,” says Ahmed. “The government has said that they need to have these continuity operations and we’ve said, ‘okay I guess we need those’ – we’ve given our consent by not really complaining about it. But at the same time, we know that’s not the way we want the country to run.

“So the moment we shift into a state where suddenly the police and army, this unelected minority of people, have all the power, and where all the political processes are suspended then, yes, there is a justifiable level of skepticism. Populations need to be asking, when is this situation going to end? At what point is this temporary suspension of our normal consititution going to lead back to the normal way of things?

“This is a totally legitimate inquiry. You don’t necessarily have to be a conspiracy theorist to question authority. In the west, we know there is a certain degree of discipline and accountability that our militaries do have – there are rules of engagement. But we know from history that when you have this sort of situation, there is all sorts of scope for abuse.”

6. You may have to be self-sufficient for a long time

So you have your agricultural land, your solar powered generators and Raspberry Pi communications network, but the big question is: how long before civilised modern industrial society is rebuilt? Or in other words, how long before Netflix is working again?

“In a global pandemic scenario, you’re looking at a long time before everything is safe,” says Ahmed. “With influenza, for example, we’re talking about a lead time of several years before society can get to grips with it all. If you really wanted to stay safe, I think you’ll need to survive for a decade before civilisation sorts itself out.”

So, that’s years spent in a small farming community where there’s only an infinitesimal understanding of what’s going on in the real world? Sounds like your best preparation is to start listening to the Archers.

4 August 2015

9/11, conspiracy theory, and bullshit mongers

I get trolled a lot these days by people with all sorts of ideological beef. It gets old, fast.

9/11 and 7/7 conspiracy theorists who believe that governments "did" 9/11 and 7/7 criticise me for being too "establishment". On Twitter, arch 9/11 conspiracy wing nut accounts identified as Phil Greaves and Charles Frith have routinely called me a "shill" and a "stooge" of government. 

Ironically, right-wing pundits dislike my work on outfits like Quilliam and the Henry Jackson Society, etc. and call me a "conspiracy theorist." 

Some ostensible leftwingers accuses me of "conspiriology" for criticising Iraq Body Count, its links to pro-war governments, and systematic undercounting of the death toll. 

Some moronic Muslims with way too much time on their hands call me a stooge of the UK government's "Prevent" programme because I called out a bunch of extremists who threatened violence (long old story, see here and here).

A few complete idiots have even said that I'm a paid Rothschild propaganda merchant, which sadly is not true, but would be wonderful if possible! ;)

Others in the various "truth" movements have complained that I'm trying to maintain a "mainstream" profile and so I have to walk a "tightrope" of sorts that means I actually believe 9/11 was an inside job but won't say it for "tactical" reasons.

What's really funny is that some right-wing nut jobs have actually said precisely the same thing as the truthers.

I guess what's really amusing about all this, is that every single one of these dolts across the ideological spectrum are basically engaging in unsubstantiated theorising about lil' ol' me.

A few times, for instance, people have linked to this piece to claim that I'm a conspiracy theorist. They are especially shocked by the mere mention of anomalies in the collapses of the World Trade Center. 

Worse, what those people ignore is that my work is not, and never has been, about conspiracy theories - as readers of this blog, my reporting, my columns, and my books know. 

It's about justice. It's about the 9/11 families, some of whom I've met, and who were the first to take the lines of inquiry I'd identified and run with them in pressuring the Bush administration for an independent public inquiry.

These people ignore, for instance, that I referred in that post to a reputable magazine, Fire Engineering, representing US fire safety services. Their concern was (and remains) not the question of 'inside jobbism,' but simply, fire safety - a matter that could involve systemic negligence, or criminal negligence, at least: 

“Fire Engineering has good reason to believe that the ‘official Investigation’ blessed by FEMA… is a half-baked farce that may already have been commandeered by political forces whose primary interests, to put it mildly, lie far afield of full disclosure… Respected members of the fire protection engineering community are beginning to raise red flags, and a resonating [result] has emerged: The structural damage from the planes and the explosive ignition of jet fuel in themselves were not enough to bring down the towers….”

Several firefighters reported witnessing molten steel at the WTC site after the towers went down. What does this mean? The rest of the quote from that journal is worth noting: 

"Rather, theory has it, the subsequent contents fires attacking the questionably fireproofed lightweight trusses and load-bearing columns directly caused the collapses in an alarmingly short time... 
The frequency of published and unpublished reports raising questions about the steel fireproofing and other fire protection elements in the buildings, as well as their design and construction, is on the rise. The builders and owners of the World Trade Center property, the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey, a governmental agency that operates in an accountability vacuum beyond the reach of local fire and building codes, has denied charges that the buildings' fire protection or construction components were substandard but has refused to cooperate with requests for documentation supporting its contentions... The destruction and removal of evidence must stop completely."

A subsequent edition of the journal blamed "fire codes that had been too far relaxed when the city of New York revised them in 1968", a scandalous failure so damning, US authorities wanted to cover-up the failure.

A further edition noted the 9/11 Commission's whitewashing of the collapse issue on a range of questions regarding the emergency response that day: 

"In early August it was revealed by New York Newsday that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a month before the final 9/11 Commission Report, dispatched a strong memo lobbying the Commission for language that would cast a more favorable light on the city -and, by extension, on city management, past and present. With respect to the hottest hot-button issues surrounding the 9/11 response - radio inoperability, lack of police-fire cooperation and coordination, and the city's poor excuse for a new, 'integrated' incident management system - Bloomberg's wish was granted. The Commission's final report coats the three issues with a layer of political honey. 
City management had almost three years to circle the wagons to deflect obvious ineptitude and irresponsibility for which it could and should have been held accountable. Capitalizing on an accommodating and docile press, they've controlled critical information, dismissed many concerns of 9/11 families/survivors groups as grief-driven hysteria, and, with great cunning, used the firefighters who perished in the Towers for political cover..."

Does any of this automatically prove "inside job"? No. Are these fire safety experts "conspiracy theorists" because they reject the 9/11 Commission report as a whitewash designed to deflect high-level accountability, and very likely, entrenched corruption? No.

This material does, however, raise serious questions about corruption and cover-up for vested interests - issues which continue to undermine national security to this day. The manner in which the towers went down, if these fire safety experts are correct, has not yet been properly revealed to the public, despite the official investigations and explanations. Why?

Think about this, for instance. We now know that the US intelligence community had received multiple advanced warnings in the years and months preceding 9/11 that al-Qaeda was plotting to launch a major attack on several US targets, including possibly the World Trade Center. We also know from fire-fighters that there remain to this day serious unanswered questions about substandard fire safety at the WTC. In this context, a whole raft of questions becomes relevant. 

We know also that at least one eyewitness saw one of the 9/11 hijackers at the WTC weeks before the attack - most likely casing the joint. Why did the Bush administration destroy such a huge amount of forensic evidence from the WTC site? Were officials aware that the Port Authority had, according to these fire-fighters, ignored critical fire safety and building codes? Was the NIST investigation compromised by vested interests to avoid this issue coming to light? How did a 9/11 hijacker get through the WTC's security before the 9/11 attacks, and what was he doing there?

I'm on record as having stated several times that my stance on the WTC is not about conspiracy theory - I told a Channel 4 documentary on conspiracy theories some years ago that however the Twin Towers went down, no physical explanation proves an "inside job." Even if, and it's a big if indeed, it were proven beyond doubt that explosives were planted in the WTC, this in itself wouldn't prove that the US government perpetrated 9/11. There's a whole range of various scenarios consistent with this.

As I wrote in a comment on a separate blog post here, responding to a previous comment: 

"here, i'm not concerned with jumping the gun to look at the implications of molten steel being at Ground Zero. in fact, pinning down the implications are not so easy. perhaps jones is incorrect in his explanation about explosives. even if he was correct in suggesting explosives were used, establishing the chain of guilt to particular individuals in the US government is another thing entirely. 
there are several logical possibilities, and narrowing down which is more likely would itself be a complex task involving a criminal investigation. one might argue, for example, that al-qaeda planted the explosives (assuming jones is completely correct). one might argue further that al-qaeda did so with the help of corrupt elements with access to the wtc, who were bought off (al-qaeda after all has access to funding, and fbi whistleblowers like sibel edmonds have talked about the corrupt relationship between terrorists, mafia and intelligence operatives in certain cases). 
indeed, one might say many things. the point is, what you've done is closed off acceptance of a piece of empirical data because you've assumed that it has certain political implications, which you find abhorrent. what i'm saying is, your assumptions about the political implications are not necessarily true, and that even if they could be true, it's not scientific to be 'opposed' to empirical data simply on the basis that it doesn't fit one's standards of political convenience."

My position on 9/11 is pretty simple: I don't indulge in theory. I detest speculation. I particularly hate the very phrase "inside job," which is a meaningless bullshit euphemism for "I don't actually have cast iron proof of specifically who perpetrated this operation, or how it occurred, but IT WAS THE GOVERNMENT": a vague, amorphous cop-out typical of the conspiracy industry in general. 

In 2006 in the House of Lords, I was launching my book, The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (Duckworth) with the support of 7/7 survivors Rachel North and Prof. John Tulloch. When former MI5 officer David Shayler stood up at the event and declared that "9/11 was an inside job" and then proceeded to say the same about 7/7, I was so angry I told him there and then to his face in front of everyone present that his careless pronouncements were a disgraceful affront to the 9/11 and 7/7 families. He was shocked, sat down, and shut up. 

Now I respect Shayler because he blew the whistle on MI5 operations in Libya involving the use of al-Qaeda linked terrorist to try to blow up Gaddafi, and clearly his experiences of harassment and pressure by the security service since then while under threat of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act took its toll on his health. But this was obviously way out of his area of expertise.

The fact is that the sword of the "gap" cuts both ways. When people say, for instance, that there's insufficient evidence to incriminate Mohamed Sidique Khan and the other bombers in the 7/7 attacks (which I strongly disagree with by the way, although I'd also say it's absolutely true that the limited evidence released in the public record so far would unlikely stand in a court of law), they fail to realise that the same standard means they can't jump up and down, and incriminate the state beyond doubt either. 

Indeed, my message to conspiracy theorists is simple: what happened to 'innocent til proven guilty'? Why is every tiny snippet of evidence identifying a govt role in something dastardly automatic super-proof of full-on govt control or everything? Why is the govt always guilty? Do you really even believe that mantra, 'innocent til proven guilty', or does it only apply to suspected extremists and terrorists?

In much the same way that critics of the official narrative have identified holes in the government's claims about its perpetrators, there is not a single alternative conspiracy theory of 9/11 blaming the state that does not itself contain holes and gaps. If you're going to point out the holes, gaps and anomalies in what the government says - and rightly so - have the balls to admit the holes in your own claims.

I also have a message for incompetence theorists: the general capacity of the state to indulge in bureaucratic stupidity doesn't provide a catch-all super-theory to vindicate your blind faith in the eternal innocence of government. Yes, you do actually need to ask specific questions about specific things to find out why governments do what they do... and guess what! Peeps in power DO CONSPIRE!! [SHOCK!!! HORROR!!! DISBELIEF!!!]

I do argue that much of what we've been told about 9/11 is inconsistent, incoherent bullshit. Based on my years of work on this issue, which have contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner's Inquest, I argue that certain things can be proven as fact: US intelligence, and several other intelligence agencies including Britain, did receive abundant, precise advanced warning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks; numerous standard emergency response procedures on 9/11 did collapse; the US relationship with states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan directly correlates with high-level blocks on intelligence investigations into terror networks (including al-Qaeda) subsidised by those regimes; for decades, long after the Cold War, elements of the US military intelligence community continued to use al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups for short-sighted geopolitical purposes linked to rolling back Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe; the 9/11 attacks likely received significant direct state-sponsorship in the form of logistical and financial support from key US allies (including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan), which US authorities have systematically attempted to conceal from public understanding; etc. etc.

And historical precedent heightens the urgency of these questions: particularly, for instance, the revelations from Swiss historian Daniele Ganser in his Routledge study, NATO's Secret Armies, which documents the fact that in the 1980s, the CIA and MI6 fostered secret right-wing networks in Europe which carried out terrorist attacks that were blamed on the Soviet Union. 

Does this grim history of state-sponsored self-terror decades ago have relevance for understanding the West's self-defeating relationship with Islamist terrorism today? Does it throw light on why Western governments have allied with Islamist militants and their state-sponsors in the Gulf and Turkey, despite knowing full well that such militant networks plan to attack Western civilians? Does it explain the unaccountable tendency of US and UK intelligence agencies to work with despotic regimes as well as terrorist and criminal networks to pursue short-sighted geopolitical goals?

I don't know, but only an idiot would insist such questions are irrelevant. Posing these questions does not entail an endorsement of a particular conspiracy theory - but rather a recognition that there is much that we don't know. 

So sure, conspiracies happen. Corruption is endemic. But the problem with "conspiracy theory" as a mode of analysis is that it seeks to collapse such facts into an overarching meta-theory without recognising the complexity of the real-world, and specifically the hidden complexity of the world of intelligence agencies. I've had people in the 9/11 truth movement, for instance, tell me that applying Occam's razor (the well-known principle of seeking the simplest explanation possible involving the least assumptions) means that the most scientific explanation of such facts is that the government did 9/11, because it's the simplest and avoids the least assumptions.

What they fail to understand, often because they know nothing about the social sciences, is that the social world doesn't adhere to Occam's razor. Humans and their institutions are hugely complex. There are likely to be multiple, interacting, overlapping and even contradictory actions and causes explaining these facts. That doesn't mean that the government or state is not in some way responsible for these facts. The problem is that responsibility can often occur in convoluted ways, that don't fit easily into the binary categories of "conspiracy" and "incompetence." Complicity and conspiracy in relation to one set of facts does not automatically imply complicity and conspiracy in another, or in all of them. 

My position is that to this day, there remains vastly insufficient disclosure in the public record to draw firm conclusions. Even inferences that can reasonably be drawn are subject to the caveat that, further disclosure might reveal a context that puts what was previously known in a completely different light. And worse, there's a huge amount of disinformation put out by all sorts - right-wing nuts, conspiracy nuts, MI5 nuts, CIA nuts... lots of nuts. It's often difficult to filter out information in the public record that is actually reliable from information that is compromised.

This is going to be seen as inadequate to a lot of people. 

That's fine. I think it's important for me, in any case, to put this out to clarify where I'm coming from, as this is going to be the first and last time you see me comment on this issue of "theory." 

I see my job as a journalist and academic to identify and investigate facts, and to ask questions. If you have an issue with what I've written or reported, that's cool - but it'll help if you get to the point and address the facts. If I'm wrong on the facts, prove it, and I'll be happy to be corrected. If I've not taken sufficient account of certain facts, tell me and I'll listen. If you're aware of issues where there is chronic lack disclosure requiring investigation, tell me and if I've got the bandwidth and the relevant base-knowledge, I'll investigate if doing so is in the public interest and it might produce some answers. 

Facts and anomalies legitimise asking hard questions, and venturing into places that power and its supporters would rather you didn't. They don't, however, legitimise jumping to conclusions that can't be supported. Throughout my work, as my regular readers will know, I do my best to avoid jumping to conclusions. That's not me being 'tactical': for me, it's a simple sense of humility, and a recognition that disclosing what is true fundamentally requires an openness to receiving that which you just don't know - rather than a firm, fixed belief that you know it all.

So, I'll try my best to get those answers, based on facts. Where it looks like there are only questions and lots of walls, I'll ask the questions and confront the walls, even and especially the ones that are deeply uncomfortable and unsettling for both "incompetence" and "conspiracy" theorists. And I'll do my best to follow that wherever it appears to lead, whichever ideological apple-cart gets upset in the process. 

But if you want to sell me your pet theory that either incriminates your pet enemy or absolves your pet idol (or even your actual pet), you're in the wrong place.

15 July 2015

But, but, bin Laden died in 2001, didn't he??!

Image from OffGuardian, 'How many times can one man die?'

Last month, I broke an exclusive in-depth investigation into the real story behind the bin Laden raid, based entirely on open sources available in the public record, including some pioneering journalistic investigations by others, official records, and declassified documents. 

My piece concluded that both the official history of the bin Laden raid and events leading up to it, as well as the alternative story put out by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, were flawed. While I identified a great deal of important corroboration and confirmation for Hersh's account, I also uncovered a wide-range of credible evidence demonstrating that certain critical details of that account were also false.

On the one hand: Hersh's general story is backed up by at least three other credible independent accounts from different intelligence sources.

On the other hand: Bin Laden, I found, was not under "house arrest" in Abbottabad - but lived there of his own accord, with freedom of movement, under the protection of the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI), with the financial largess of the Saudi government. The CIA knew that bin Laden was being protected by Pakistan's ISI as early as 2004, and that he was in Abbottabad as early as 2005 - and continued to receive precise intelligence on his likely location at the Abbottabad compound through to 2008. Yet the CIA chose not to take action against bin Laden or his state benefactors for as long as 6 years.

Around the same time that bin Laden moved into his safehouse in Abbottabad, the Bush administration tapped Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then a senior Saudi government official, to accelerate financial support to extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East - including al-Qaeda affiliated groups - to undermine Bashar al-Assad in Syria and counter Iranian Shi'ite influence in the region. That strategy was continued under the Obama administration, and continues to this day in the context of the support for Syrian rebel groups, which are now dominated by Islamist and al-Qaeda factions.

The operation to assassinate bin Laden was not conducted by the US alone. In the months prior to the raid, bin Laden was meeting several militant groups and leaders across northwest Pakistan, and his movements were tracked by Saudi, Pakistani and Afghan intelligence agencies, who were sharing the intelligence with the US intelligence community and the CIA. The key official involved from the Saudi side in the plan was none other than Prince Bandar. 

In the same period, according to al-Qaeda documents obtained from the Abbottabad compound after the raid, British intelligence sent a proposal to bin Laden through al-Qaeda intermediaries linked to Libya, offering to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in return for al-Qaeda's cooperation in refraining from targeting British interests. Bin Laden essentially rejected the offer. Days later, bin Laden was reportedly assassinated by Navy Seals. 

Publicised details of the raid, however, were deeply contradictory, and the Pentagon took unprecedented steps to ensure that official records regarding the raid remain top secret, and inaccessible to Freedom of Information Act requests.

I've had a few people raise questions about my story - now the third major alternative account of the bin Laden raid - due to early reports suggesting that bin Laden had in fact died long before 2011. 

My piece does address this issue indirectly, though it's buried some way deep in the piece and easy to miss given the length.

Here I'm going to make some brief comments about this issue, to clarify the relationship between my story, and the idea that bin Laden died much earlier due to ill health.
Indeed, judging by the numerous previous reports of bin Laden's death, it's fair to say that he died something like nine times, if not more.

Many of these reports of bin Laden's premature death are contradictory. There's the Pakistan Observer piece claiming the al-Qaeda terror chief died in Afghanistan in December 2001 due to a lung complication. Another report cited Taliban sources claiming he had died around the same time due to kidney failure.

In October 2002, Israeli intelligence reportedly concluded that bin Laden had died in Afghanistan.

In 2005, Senator Harry Reid was told bin Laden died in Pakistan in October, due to the earthquakes. Well he either died in Afghanistan in 2001, or he died years later due to earthquakes.

The next year a leaked confidential French intelligence report claimed he had just died in Pakistan in August of typhoid fever. The intelligence was based on information from Saudi intelligence officials who "are now convinced that Osama bin Laden is dead." Ironically, then French President Jacques Chirac denied that the info was "confirmed" but admitted the confidential foreign intelligence service report did exist, and complained about it being leaked to the press. 

So bin Laden either died in 2001 of kidney failure in Afghanistan, or he died in earthquakes in Pakistan in October 2005, or he died in Pakistan in 2006 of typhoid fever. 

Then in 2007, Benazir Bhutto claimed that actually bin Laden had died, but that he had been murdered by Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed. So by that account, bin Laden had not died of ill-health or earthquakes, but had been murdered by an al-Qaeda colleague (Bhutto did not in fact specify a date for when bin Laden was supposedly murdered). So either bin Laden died of ill-health three times, or he was murdered. 

Bhutto, herself a veritable fount of corruption who enriched her family at the expense of the Pakistani people, was married to President Asif Zardari aka "Mr Ten Percent" (so named in Pakistan due to his reputation for taking a cut of everything), who also claimed in 2009 that bin Laden was dead, and that the ISI had heard nothing about him.

In fact, one of those who began first putting out these inconsistent death stories was Zardari's corrupt predecessor Gen. Musharraf. As I document in my piece, a classified report to the 9/11 Commission identified Musharraf as harbouring bin Laden in Pakistan, and deliberately spreading disinformation about his death to deflect attention from the ISI's (and likely CIA's) complicity in doing so. That report, snippets of which were leaked to the press in 2004, also noted that Musharraf himself had personally approved bin Laden's kidney treatments out of a military hospital in Peshawar.

The ill-informed have jumped to rather silly conclusions based on these multiple death reports. James Corbett, for instance, who produces video reports for Sibel Edmonds' Boiling Frogs Post, claimed shortly after the 2011 raid that these reports prove there was an "informed consensus" among people in the know that bin Laden had died long before 2011.

But this is clearly misleading. The multiple death reports, far from constituting an "informed consensus", offered no consensus at all, but rather a series of mutually inconsistent claims which could not all be true. It's not just that certain details were different - they were fundamentally different. 

Corbett's supposed "informed consensus" basically is that bin Laden experienced multiple deaths, from 2001 onwards, every few years or so, of lung complications, typhoid fever, kidney failure, general ill-health, and murder.

You only die once. So looking at the multiple death reports, clearly only one (if any) can be true. Which means, obviously, that ALL the rest are disinformation. It is therefore incontrovertible that intelligence agencies were putting out disinformation on bin Laden's death before 2011. Which agencies? Seemingly, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both of whom were claiming that bin Laden had died - and spreading this narrative through Western intelligence leaks.

Taking all the evidence in the public record together, it seems far more plausible to me to infer that those claiming bin Laden had died shortly after 9/11 were lying to protect him. The number and inconsistencies in the reports of his death before 2011 provide a strong indicator of disinformation.

Whether bin Laden was indeed killed in Abbottobad or not, is impossible to prove one way or another. Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous. In my INSURGEintelligence report, "The bin Laden death mythology", I've inferred that he was for the sake of argument, given all the evidence available including credible third party sources showed that bin Laden was active and sighted in Pakistan before May 2011 - but have made clear that the true story is being suppressed for reasons unknown, and currently unknowable.

I should note that the multiple sightings of bin Laden evident from the US military intelligence files known as the 'Afghan War Logs' released by Wikileaks, plus multiple news accounts citing militant and intel sources (all contradicting the White House version of events I should add), strengthen my case and show that claims that bin Laden definitely died in 2001 contradict much other evidence in the public record.

The idea that we can trust the public claims of Bhutto or Musharraf, or the Saudis or US officials, who all  orchestrated the pretence of not knowing where bin Laden was and whether he was alive, is absurd. These are the very institutions complicit in protecting bin Laden. Suddenly we think their contradictory stories about his premature death must all be correct? 

Equally, that does not mean that we should blithely assume that the Obama administration's narrative of the bin Laden raid in May 2011 is correct - which, judging by the dozens of times the White House story changed, is deeply problematic. But the purpose of my report was precisely to take a step back and look holistically at the totality of available evidence now in the public record, to determine as best as possible what actually happened. 

And the totality of the evidence builds up a compelling and consistent picture that bin Laden was, indeed, being protected by US allies long after 9/11, that the US intelligence community knew this but did nothing about it, that they not only 'did nothing' but actually mobilised al-Qaeda for geopolitical purposes using the Saudi-Pakistan nexus, and that throughout this period under US-Saudi-Pakistani protection, bin Laden continued to orchestrate al-Qaeda terror operations with significant freedom of movement in Pakistan, under the noses of multiple intelligence agencies.

My assessment, therefore, is that it's much more likely that the reports of bin Laden's premature deaths by murder, kidney failure, lung problems, etc. etc. were little more than disinformation, which to this day deflect from and confuse public understanding of how the US continued to work with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence to protect bin Laden and mobilise al-Qaeda for dubious geopolitical purposes.

I might be wrong, of course. But my story is, I think, the most comprehensive, careful and properly documented account to date. And close analysis of claims that bin Laden died in 2001 onwards tends to vindicate my reporting, rather than not.

7 July 2015

INSURGE exclusive on risk of civilisation collapse by 2040 goes viral, global

On 19th June, INSURGEintelligence ran an exclusive story on a new scientific model supported by a UK government Task Force, which shows that on a business-as-usual trajectory, industrial civilisation as we know it is likely to collapse within three decades, due to a global food crisis triggered by climate change and energy depletion.

The story made the front-page of The Independent website, and credited Insurge Intelligence with breaking it. From there, the story was picked up by some major publications across the globe, reaching most English-speaking audiences as a result. Outlets that covered my story included The Week, USA Today, the Boston-based Global Post, News Corp's news.com.au in Australia, Discovery News, the popular climate news blog of Obama's favourite think-tank the Center for American Progress, and The Metro (London's Murdoch-owned daily newspaper).

The Independent's piece on the story did particularly well, going viral on social media. 

Altogether, the story hit mainstream audiences across the UK, US, and Australia, and was even picked up by some mainstream foreign-language publications too.

This outcome is testament, once again, to the power of independent crowdfunded journalism to break stories that the mainstream would otherwise not even know about, let alone cover. 

28 May 2015

Reporting breakthrough: INSURGE's Pentagon-ISIS exclusive makes national headlines in Germany

Last week, my crowdfunded investigative journalism project, INSURGEintelligence, was able to break into the mainstream a story about startling assertions contained in a just released declassified Pentagon intelligence report, confirming that the West, the Gulf states and Turkey had, essentially, created ISIS through their support for Islamist militant rebels in Syria.

The Pentagon report was among a batch of documents obtained under a Freedom of Information lawsuit by Judicial Watch. The implications of this particular document from the US Defense Intelligence Agency, however, had been systematically overlooked or misconstrued by mainstream reporters. 

As far as I'm aware, the only journalist to have first noticed those implications was Brad Hoff, managing editor of Levant Report.

My INSURGE report, published here, consists of an in-depth analysis of the document itself, along with interviews with two British intelligence experts familiar with the region, and the Syria question in particular - and contextualisation against my own previous reporting and analysis of the ISIS question.

In the week since publication, the story has received nearly 60,000 views. It has been endorsed by a number of leading intelligence experts and whistleblowers, including: retired FBI Special Agent and TIME Person of the Year, Coleen Rowley; former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake; former US military analyst Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers; among others.

But most heartening of all, the story has now fully broken into the mainstream in Germany, making national headlines across several leading daily newspapers and widely-read political magazines, including Junge Welt, Die Welt, News.de, General Anzeiger, FOCUS Online, WAZ (Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung), Hamburger Abendblatt,Ostthuringer Zeitung, and even the German TV news channel, n-TV

INSURGEintelligence has in one week, and with a shoestring budget, managed to inform millions of people about the hidden dimensions of the current crisis in the Middle East. 

This is the power of crowdfunded investigative journalism. My supporters via patreon.com made this possible. So did the brave, independent outlet, Levant Report, where Brad Hoff first quietly dropped news of the document. 

Of course, while heartening, we're only scratching the surface of possibility here. With more supporters and a modestly more robust budget, we can, and will, do more. I am still working right now to break this story in the mainstream of English-language media.

With your support, at every level, we can - and will - do more. There's a new model of people-powered watchdog journalism emerging, and we're leading the way. Join us.

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