14 May 2007
against International Terrorism,
defending our Values
and our Civilization.
Western anti-terror legislation does not allow the state to be considered in any way culpable for terrorist activities. As far as our elected representatives are concerned, terrorism is a problem of loosely associated groups of reactionary fanatics “attacking our freedoms”. The assumption, never explicitly stated for then it would be revealed, and easily and permanently ridiculed, is that the state is innocent, immune to indulging in such barbaric practices. Written into the rule of law itself, this assumption posits the state as a paternal Fuhrer, a God figure whom we must all entrust our lives and liberties to.
Yet whichever way you look at it, international terrorism has its origins in the state itself. There are many ways of understanding this, but perhaps the most pertinent for our purposes is contemporary history. We don’t need to go very far back either. Only twenty odd years, to the era of the Cold War, when we were also getting Trigger-Happy trying to defend the “Free World” from the “Evil Empire” of International Communism, as Ronald Reagan put it so aptly.
The “strategy of tension” denotes a highly secretive series of interconnected covert operations conducted jointly by the CIA and MI6 largely in Western Europe during the this period. Well-documented by several respected historians, confirmed by official inquiries, and corroborated by former intelligence officials, the “strategy of tension” is one of those unsavoury moments in contemporary history that we don’t learn about in school, or even university.
My favourite book on the subject, and the most authoritative in my view, is Dr. Daniele Ganser’s NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe (2004). Published in the UK as part of the “Contemporary Security Studies” series of London-based academic press Routledge, Ganser’s study is the first major historical work to bring the “strategy of tension” into the mainstream of scholarship.
During the Cold War, indeed through to the late 1980s, the United States, United Kingdom, and Western European governments and secret services, participated in a sophisticated NATO-backed operation to engineer terrorist attacks inside Western Europe, to be blamed on the Soviet Union. The objective was to galvanize public opinion against leftwing policies and parties, and ultimately to mobilize popular support for purportedly anti-Soviet policies at home and abroad – most of which were really designed to legitimize brutal military interventions against nationalist independence movements in the “Third World”.
Ganser was a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, before he moved to Basel University to teach history. Citing the transcripts of European parliamentary inquiries; the few secret documents that have been declassified; interviews with government, military and intelligence officials; and so on, Ganser shows how intimately the British were involved.
In fact, it wasn’t even an American idea – it was very much ours. The strategy of tension began on the order of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who in July 1940 called for the establishment of a secret army to “set Europe ablaze by assisting resistance movements and carrying out subversive operations in enemy held territory.” (p. 40) By 4th October 1945, the British Chiefs of Staff and the Special Operations branch of MI6 directed the creation of what Ganser describes as a “skeleton network” capable of expansion either in war or to service clandestine operations abroad: “Priority was given in carrying out these tasks to countries likely to be overrun in the earliest stages of any conflict with the Soviet Union, but not as yet under Soviet domination.” (p. 41) In the ensuing years, Col. Gubbins’ Special Operations branch of MI6 cooperated closely with Frank Wisner’s CIA covert action department Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) on White House orders, and in turn coordinated US and UK Special Forces, to establish stay-behind secret armies across western Europe. (p. 42)
Among the documents Ganser brings to attention is the classified Field Manual 30-31, with appendices FM 30-31A and FM 30-31B, authored by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to train thousands of stay-behind officers around the world. The field manual was published in the 1987 parliamentary report of the Italian parliamentary investigation into the terrorist activities of “P2”, the CIA-MI6 sponsored Italian anti-communist network. As Ganser observes: “FM 30-31 instructs the secret soldiers to carry out acts of violence in times of peace and then blame them on the Communist enemy in order to create a situation of fear and alertness. Alternatively, the secret soldiers are instructed to infiltrate the left-wing movements and then urge them to use violence.” In the manual’s own words:
“There may be times when Host Country Governments show passivity or indecision in the face of Communist subversion and according to the interpretation of the US secret services do not react with sufficient effectiveness… US army intelligence must have the means of launching special operations which will convince Host Country Governments and public opinion of the reality of the insurgent danger. To reach this aim US army intelligence should seek to penetrate the insurgency by means of agents on special assignment, with the task of forming special action groups among the most radical elements of the insurgency… In case it has not been possible to successfully infiltrate such agents into the leadership of the rebels it can be useful to instrumentalise extreme leftist organizations for one’s own ends in order to achieve the above described targets… These special operations must remain strictly secret. Only those persons which are acting against the revolutionary uprising shall know of the involvement of the US Army…” (p. 234-297)
The existence of this secret operation exploded into public controversy when in August 1990 upon the admissions in parliament by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, the existence of ‘Gladio’ was exposed as a secret sub-section of Italian military-intelligence services, responsible for domestic bombings blamed on Italian Communists. Ganser documents in intricate detail how a subversive network created by elements of western intelligence services – particularly that of the US and UK - orchestrated devastating waves of terrorist attacks blamed on the Soviet Union, not only in Italy, but also in Spain, Germany, France, Turkey, Greece, i.e. throughout western Europe. Despite a number of European parliamentary inquiries; an European Union resolution on the Gladio phenomenon; NATO’s close-doors admissions to European ambassadors; confirmations of the international operation from senior CIA officials; and other damning documentary evidence; NATO, the CIA and MI6 have together consistently declined to release their secret files on the matter.
The Strategy of Tension simply isn’t part of our historical consciousness. Very few historians of the Cold War are fully conversant with it, let alone academics working in international relations and political science. This is despite the fact that it played an instrumental role in physically constructing a threat, projected into the USSR, which did not ultimately exist. Ipso facto, the Strategy of Tension belongs to the waste-bin of history.
The immense fear and chaos generated by the impact of the Operation Gladio phenomenon throughout western Europe was instrumental in legitimizing the interventionist policies of the Anglo-American alliance in the South, throughout the Cold War period. Although the Soviet Union was supposed to be the real threat and source of terror, and thus the ultimate object of the over 70 military interventions conducted since 1945 [see William Blum’s Killing Hope (London: Zed, 1995)] the Soviet threat was in fact actively exaggerated ideologically – and even physically constructed through clandestine operations – to mobilize the comprehensive militarization of western societies. This does not mean that many government officials did not believe their own propaganda. But we now know that there was a secretive sub-section of the Western intelligence community, known only to very few members of elected governments, that was involved in this.
The number of people who were killed across the “Third World” as a consequence of this militarization process is shocking, its implications genuinely difficult to absorb. According to Dr. J. W. Smith, a US development economist who runs the Institute for Economic Democracy in Arizona, in our glorious self-evidently noble fight to defend the “Free World” from imminent Soviet attacks, invasions, and general inconceivably irrational hell-bent pure evilness, Western states:
“… were responsible for violently killing 12 to 15 million people since WW II and causing the death of hundreds of millions more as their economies were destroyed or those countries were denied the right to restructure to care for their people. Unknown as it is, and recognizing that this has been standard practice throughout colonialism, that is the record of the Western imperial centers of capital from 1945 to 1990” [Smith, Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century (2003)]
12 to 15 million people from 1945 to 1990.
I have to repeat these figures to myself to absorb their implications.
Repeat these figures to yourself.
Six million Jews in the Second World War, and now 12 to 15 million innocents in the post-WWII period. The former in the name of German lebensraum. The latter in the name of the free market.
Yet as a society, as a Civilization, we are oblivious, utterly blind, to our historic complicity in the systematic destruction of "Other" societies who fail to conform to our (deluded) self-image of universal prosperity.
It is a blindness with which we remain afflicted.
Consider Blair’s rendition of the “War on Terror” in early 2007, as “a clash not between civilizations”, but rather “about civilization.” The War on Terror is therefore a continuation of “the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace the modern world and those who reject its existence.”
And what is this "progress", this "modernity" that should be embraced? The "progress" that slaughtered millions of men, women and children across continents, in Nicaragua, El Salvador, in Somalia, Rwanda, in Kenya, Malaya, in Oman, Iraq, etc. etc. (in no particular order and with significant omissions)?
If this is modernity then I must be a backward, semi-feudal ignoramus. Along with most of the population of the entire world. But then, who cares what the world says? Bush, Blair, and their enlightened ilk are no doubt the modern civilized ones. As long as they do what they think is right. Right???
13 May 2007
Finally. Blair’s going. But why now? And what has Blair left us behind?
There are many reasons one can guess as to why, but perhaps one of the biggest – yet least talked about – is the “cash for peerages” criminal investigation, which has been getting rather close to home, too close perhaps for Blair’s comfort.
After the arrest and questioning by police in July last year of Lord Levy, Blair’s chief fundraiser, the Independent ran a piece whose title got straight to the point: “Levy arrest lays trail that leads all the way to Blair”. For anyone who needs reminding, the criminal investigation began in March 2006 after revelations that Blair had “nominated four businessmen for peerages who had also given donations in the form of loans, which did not have to be declared.” The loans totalled as much as 4 million pounds. The peerages were scrutinised and blocked by an anti-sleaze committee, all but one which voluntarily withdrew.
When Lord Levy was re-arrested at the end of January this year on suspicion of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice (and later bailed), following the arrest of Ruth Turner, director of government relations at Downing Street, things were really looking bad. So bad that some senior Ministers got together a group of senior Labour MPs – “men in grey suits” – from the backbenches to “urge the Prime Minister to quit”. At that time Blair was adamant that he would not resign while the police inquiry was still ongoing.
The inquiry ended on 23 April this year when police handed a 213-page file to the Crown Prosecution Service for deliberation. “The decision on whether to recommend charges will be taken after consultations with Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, and an old friend of the Prime Minister.” The scope of Lord Goldsmith’s interference in the CPS’ “deliberations” is impossible to discern. But there is no doubt that the Attorney-General is advocating on behalf of his “old friend”.
Just like he did with the Iraq War 2003, where he regressed from his own doubts over the war to advise that the war would be “unequivocally” legal even without a new UN resolution. For many, this in itself is sufficient evidence that our own Attorney-General suffers from a politicized contempt for the rule of law. But it doesn’t end there, because he also “breached his Government’s own freedom of information laws by refusing to make public how he came to the controversial conclusion that war with Iraq would be legal.” Only after a complaint from the Independent to the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office was he forced to release some information about how he reached his decision in the 10 days running up to the war. But even so, information commissioner Richard Thomas “held back from making Lord Goldsmith publish further documents, including minutes, e-mails and memos, that would show exactly what political or other pressures were in play.”
Notice the manner in which, under Blair, purportedly independent institutions designed to hold the government to account, in practice act as damage control organs of the state in times of political crisis. The CPS, the ICO, even the Office of the Attorney-General, all of them fundamentally compromised and caught up in a web of financial shenanigans.
In any case, the Attorney-General’s distinctly partial advice over the Iraq War – dubbed blatantly illegal by people as far apart on the political spectrum as then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (although he took his bloody time about it) and full-time neoconservative fanatic (part-time Pentagon adviser) Richard Perle – was ultimately a stamp of official approval cajoled by Blair to convince British Army chiefs they wouldn’t be prosecuted for war crimes if they went to war. Because Blair had already decided he was “solidly behind” the US invasion plans with or without compliance with international law and the United Nations.
But supposedly we should all be reassured, because in his heart-rending resignation speech, Blair told us: “Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right.” For once, Blair’s probably telling the truth. I mean, Richard Perle put it well when he said: “I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”
At least now we know that people like Blair and Perle think that violating international law to go to war on the basis of fabricated pretexts about WMD, and then on top of that manipulating public offices to support such a violation, is very much “the right thing.” Even Hitler thought he was “right” when he committed the Holocaust to annihilate the Jews (among other groups) whom he saw as a parasitical entity plaguing the German national body. Deluded fanatical violent extremists always think they’re “right”, no matter what. That’s precisely what defines them as deluded fanatical violent extremists.
Perhaps, then, in the global “struggle against violent extremism”, we need to start looking not simply at the Khans and Tanweers of the world, but perhaps more urgently at Western state practices. Given Blair’s record as a war criminal culpable in part in the Protracted Holocaust in Iraq, a Holocaust that has been directly linked to the escalation of the threat of terrorism in the UK by our very own Foreign Office and military strategists, we really do need to start struggling against the violent extremists who run and manipulate the state.
What do I mean by the Protracted Holocaust in Iraq? There is an unfortunate tendency within Western political science, international relations and journalism, to view events like the 2003 Iraq war in historical isolation. There are quite painful cultural reasons for this, largely to do with exposing the extent of our complicity in modern genocidal episodes that issue forth directly from the way our advanced “Civilization” goes about securing its undoubtedly legitimate interests.
The catastrophe that started in 2003 in Iraq is only the end-point of a continuum of genocidal catastrophe that began early in the twentieth century. The British state has conducted brutal military interventions in Iraq on and off for 90 years or so. Of course for legitimate interests. It continued to do so under the leadership of the United States since 1991. I discuss this Protracted Holocaust in Iraq in my book Behind the War on Terror (2003). Dr Gideon Polya, a retired senior biochemist at Le Trobe University working on a scientific analysis of global mortality, has put together a staggering overview of some of most reliable estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians who have died as a consequence of the direct and indirect impact of these interventions and occupations over a period of almost a century. Since 1950, 5.2 million, during the period in which the CIA and MI6 were fostering coups, installing and re-installing dictators until they finally got Saddam himself in power. Between 1991 and 2003, about 1.7 million from the UN sanctions regime. Add to this the figures for the 1991 Gulf War, at least 150,000. And after the 2003 war, as many as 650,000. That’s just under eight million up to now.
The blood of eight million Iraqi civilians on the hands of the Anglo-American axis since the early twentieth century, and still counting…
What does this say about “Civilization”? About the fruits of “liberal democracy” as it stands? About the wonders of “modernization” and “globalization”? Why is the progress of the West tied to the installation of metaphorical gas chambers in the East?
Blair can happily see himself as a leading participant in this genocidal continuum. He is in the same ranks as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and of course Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, among others. But if there’s anything that this brief glimpse of Anglo-American historical genocide in the Middle East reveals, it’s that Blair’s resignation means absolutely nothing whatsoever in the way of halting the genocidal march of the global system. Blair was one particularly clever cog in a machine that has yet to run its course.
11 May 2007
After the verdict of the crevice trial announced on 30th April, which convicted five British Muslim defendants of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks in the UK, the spotlight has been on MI5’s handling of connections between the crevice plotters and the alleged 7/7 bombers, Mohamed Sidique Khan and Shahzad Tanweer.
In an official statement on its website, the security service claims that Khan and Tanweer were “never identified during the fertiliser plot investigation because they were not involved in the planned attacks. Rather, they appeared as petty fraudsters in loose contact with members of the plot. There was no indication that they were involved in planning any kind of terrorist attack in the UK."
Thanks to the investigations of a number of British journalists, we now know that MI5 has been somewhat economical with the truth. Richard Watson of BBC Newsnight, Vikram Dodd at the Guardian, and David Leppard at the Sunday Times, among others have obtained evidence from security sources showing that Scotland Yard and MI5 had indeed identified Khan, by name, at latest around six months prior to 7/7, via his car registration. This is also confirmed by a Crown Prosecution Service document that came up in the course of the crevice trial.
Other interesting tidbits also surfaced in that trial about what was known about Khan. Contradicting the notion that he was only believed to be a petty criminal, the Crown also wanted to produce evidence at the beginning of the trial about Khan’s attendance at an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan, as early as 2003. In the words of the trial judge, the evidence was supposed to prove “that the purpose of the training camp was to plan and cause explosions in the UK.” At this time, Khan was already under surveillance, and indeed MI5 knew that he was “fully versed in how to make bombs” by the time he returned to the UK in summer that year (Sunday Times 22.1.06)
Intelligence leaks also suggest that Khan was directly involved in the fertiliser bomb plot. MI5 surveillance tapes obtained by journalists showed him contributing to attack plans with the fertiliser bomb plotters, and that he was involved in “late-stage” discussions about the plot, while repeatedly expressing his own desire to participate in al-Qaeda terrorist activity. (Sunday Times 14.5.06)
In fact, contradicting the British official narrative entirely, French security officials are insisting that the 7/7 suspects had “belonged to the same network as the Britons of Pakistani origin who were partially arrested in Great Britain in March 2004” in Operation Crevice. Out of the total number of terrorist suspects “identified by the British only eight were arrested and five escaped”, according to a senior French police officer in Liberation (14.7.05). Among the five suspects at large, say the French, was Mohamed Sidique Khan.
Khan seemed to surface everywhere. He came up again when MI5 was investigating the unimaginable series of plots (the dirty bomb project, the limousine gas project, etc.) hatched by Dhiren Barot, also convicted of plotting terrorist attacks in the UK. The Luton cell under Barot was, according to security officials, also linked to Khan. (ABC News, 14.7.05)
Given this extensive track record of apparent terrorist activities and connections in multiple plots linked by authorities to al-Qaeda, the stated reasons for why Khan was dropped just don’t add up. All the evidence available to MI5, according to the aforesaid intelligence leaks, shows that the security services knew that Khan did indeed have direct knowledge of, and was involved in, terrorist activity in the UK.
But the new evidence that has come to light after the crevice trial additionally shows that Khan was indeed under ongoing MI5 surveillance. A British security source told this author that Khan was monitored all the way through to May 2005. Further, a document disclosed by prosecution lawyers to the defence before the commencement of the crevice trial cited MI5 surveillance recordings of Tanweer “discussing bombings and using the internet to make such a bomb,” as late as “two weeks before” 7th July 2005. (Guardian, 3.5.07)
So why didn’t the security services pick up any further information about the 7/7 plot, especially considering that not only Khan and Tanweer, but all four London bombers had been “watched by intelligence officers a year before” the attacks according to security sources cited in the Mirror (3.11.05)? Indeed, MI5’s insistence that Khan was only viewed as peripheral has also been torpedoed by its own officers. Last year, British security sources told BBC News (30.3.06) that:
“… the security services had been so concerned about him [Sidique Khan] they had planned to put him under a higher level of investigation. MI5 officers assigned to investigate the lead bomber in the 7 July attacks were diverted to another anti-terrorist operation sources have now told BBC News. [emphasis added]”
Why was an assessment that Khan needed to be prioritized, by officers on the ground monitoring him, rejected by senior officers? Did it have something to do with the possibility, mentioned by Charles Shoebridge, a 12-year veteran Metropolitan Police detective and Royal Military Academy graduate, who told BBC Newshour (June 2006):
“The fact that that has been so consistently overlooked it would appear by the security service MI5, to me suggests really only one of two options. Either, a) we’ve got a level of incompetence that would be unusual even for the security services. But b) possibly, and this is a possibility, that this man Khan may even have been working as an informant for the security service. It is difficult otherwise to see how it can be that they’ve so covered his tracks in the interim.”
Indeed, the evidence in the public record suggests significant intelligence about the London bombings was obtained in advance, yet clearly it was not acted upon. In the year before 7/7, MI5 and MI6 had received just under a dozen credible warnings of an impending terrorist attack, many from foreign allied intelligence services, including vital clues as to date, target and even timing. The Americans flagged-up the London Underground as a prime target, the Saudis pinpointed July 2005 as the deadline for the attack, the Pakistanis pointed at UK-based extremist networks in which Khan participated, while the French and Spanish gave general warnings of an imminent strike. Many of these warnings emphasized the threat from cells allegedly linked to al-Muhajiroun. Yet MI5 continues to pretend that it received no warning whatsoever of the London bombings.
So why is MI5 being economical with the truth? The service’s increasing defensiveness, oversensitivity to criticism, and ritual denials of the evidence leaking from its own officers like water from a broken dam, bear witness to the validity of the questions that 7/7 survivors and families, journalists, investigators, opposition MPs and the public at large are asking. But we will never have the answers without an independent public inquiry.
1 May 2007
The Guardian has been particularly fast -- the whole text of the letter is available to read online here.
This is the beginning of the campaign. Just for the record, the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) needs to take significant credit for this development. Last year, myself and several other CAMPACC activists met regularly with human rights lawyer James Oury and briefed him on the need to develop an effective legal case, and general campaign, for an independent public inquiry into 7/7. Eventually we invited survivor Rachel North who then brought in the other survivors who want an inquiry. After that, we took a backseat so that the survivors could secure the unmitigated expert legal representation that they've been denied for so long.
So it's rather satisfying to see this pay-off. But of course this is only the start of what must be a prolonged and concerted campaign. The government will of course obfuscate, dodge and repeat parrot-fashion the same tired, cliched excuses ("not enough resources"; "diverting our attention away from guaranteeing day-to-day public safety"; blah blah). But the excuses are looking more and more lame, everyday, and they will continue to do as more information on how much the government really knew about 7/7 emerges in the coming weeks and months.
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