Britain’s surveillance state

An editorial in the New York Times says: Edward Snowden exposed the extent of mass surveillance conducted not just by the United States but also by allies like Britain. Now, a committee of the British Parliament has proposed legal reforms to Britain’s intelligence agencies that are mostly cosmetic and would do little to protect individual privacy.

In a report published on March 12, the Intelligence and Security Committee acknowledged that agencies like MI5 collect, sift through and examine millions of communications. Most of this is legal, the committee said, and justified by national security. It proposed a new law that would tell people more about the kind of information the government collects about them but would not meaningfully limit mass surveillance. That is hardly sufficient for a system that needs strong new checks and balances.

Separately, a legal filing by the British government made public on Wednesday showed that its intelligence agencies maintain the right to hack into the computers, phones and other devices owned not just by suspected terrorists and criminals but also people who “are not intelligence targets in their own right.” The filing was published by Privacy International, one of several advocacy groups that have challenged government surveillance in court. [Continue reading…]

Infographic: The Countries Importing The Most Drones | Statista
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Nine British medics enter ISIS stronghold to work in hospitals

The Observer reports: Nine young British medical students have travelled illegally to Syria and are believed to be working in hospitals in Islamic State-controlled areas, the Observer can reveal. Their families were mounting a desperate effort on Saturday at the Turkish-Syrian border to persuade them to come home.

The group of four women and five men crossed the border last week, apparently keeping their plans secret from relatives until just before entering Syria, when one woman sent her sister a brief message and a smiling selfie.

“We all assume that they are in Tel Abyad now, which is under Isis control. The conflict out there is fierce, so medical help must be needed,” Turkish opposition politician Mehmet Ali Ediboglu told the Observer, shortly after meeting the families.

“They have been cheated, brainwashed. That is what I, and their relatives, think.”

Both he and the students’ parents were convinced that the young medics wanted to work with Isis, Ediboglu said, but they were also certain that the group did not plan to take up arms. “Let’s not forget about the fact that they are doctors; they went there to help, not to fight. So this case is a little bit different.”

The Home Office said that the medics would not automatically face prosecution under anti-terror laws if they tried to return to the UK, as long as they could prove they had not been fighting. [Continue reading…]

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UK energy minister backs divestment from ‘very risky’ coal assets

The Guardian reports: Pension and insurance funds should consider urgent divestment from “very risky” coal assets and then gradually retreat from oil and gas, Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, has warned.

Throwing his weight behind the Guardian’s “Keep it in the ground” campaign, he said an analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) which suggested 82% of coal reserves must remain untouched if temperature increases are to be kept below 2C – the widely accepted threshold for dangerous climate change – was “realistic”.

Davey said it was not up to an energy minister to tell fund managers how to run their businesses, but added that it was vital to introduce regulatory transparency that would drive investors from fossil fuels to renewables. [Continue reading…]

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The mysterious internet mishap that sent data for the UK’s nuclear program to Ukraine

Quartz reports: The information superhighway got diverted last week when a Ukrainian internet service provider hijacked routes used by data heading for websites in the United Kingdom, according to a company that monitors and optimizes internet performance. The action could be a mere glitch — or something more sinister in an era of geopolitical cyber conflicts.

The issue at hand is the way disparate computer networks merge into the internet. The networks announce to one another which internet users — more technically, which IP addresses — they serve so that data can be routed accordingly; a US internet service provider might tell the world it can give you access to the Library of Congress, while one in Germany would say that it can reach BMW’s main website.

Dyn, the company that noted the incident, keeps an eye on network traffic patterns. Doug Madory, the company’s director of internet analysis, spotted something strange: Vega, a Ukranian internet service provider, had announced it was serving numerous IP addresses in the United Kingdom. Advertising the wrong addresses is called “route hijacking,” and it is often a quickly-corrected mistake — for instance, an employee of an internet service provider makes a typo while typing into a router. In this case, the affected addresses included those operated by defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Thales, the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment, and the Royal Mail. [Continue reading…]

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Substance used to poison Litvinenko could only have come from Russia — inquiry

The Guardian reports: The rare radioactive substance used to poison Alexander Litvinenko in London could only have come from Russia, a world-leading expert has told the inquiry into the former spy’s murder.

Norman Dombey, emeritus professor of theoretical physics at the University of Sussex, said the polonium was produced at a closed nuclear facility in the city of Sarov, 450 miles south-east of Moscow. Its Soviet-era Avangard plant was the only place in the world with a polonium “production line”, he said.

“In my opinion, the Russian state, or its agents, was responsible for the poisoning,” Dombey said.

Litvinenko died after drinking a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium-210, during a meeting in November 2006 at a Mayfair hotel. Two Russians – Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun – have been charged with his murder. The Kremlin has insisted that the polonium involved did not come from Russia. [Continue reading…]

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The East India Company: The original corporate raiders

William Dalrymple writes: One of the very first Indian words to enter the English language was the Hindustani slang for plunder: “loot”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word was rarely heard outside the plains of north India until the late 18th century, when it suddenly became a common term across Britain. To understand how and why it took root and flourished in so distant a landscape, one need only visit Powis Castle.

The last hereditary Welsh prince, Owain Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, built Powis castle as a craggy fort in the 13th century; the estate was his reward for abandoning Wales to the rule of the English monarchy. But its most spectacular treasures date from a much later period of English conquest and appropriation: Powis is simply awash with loot from India, room after room of imperial plunder, extracted by the East India Company in the 18th century.

There are more Mughal artefacts stacked in this private house in the Welsh countryside than are on display at any one place in India – even the National Museum in Delhi. The riches include hookahs of burnished gold inlaid with empurpled ebony; superbly inscribed spinels and jewelled daggers; gleaming rubies the colour of pigeon’s blood and scatterings of lizard-green emeralds. There are talwars set with yellow topaz, ornaments of jade and ivory; silken hangings, statues of Hindu gods and coats of elephant armour.

Such is the dazzle of these treasures that, as a visitor last summer, I nearly missed the huge framed canvas that explains how they came to be here. The picture hangs in the shadows at the top of a dark, oak-panelled staircase. It is not a masterpiece, but it does repay close study. An effete Indian prince, wearing cloth of gold, sits high on his throne under a silken canopy. On his left stand scimitar and spear carrying officers from his own army; to his right, a group of powdered and periwigged Georgian gentlemen. The prince is eagerly thrusting a scroll into the hands of a statesmanlike, slightly overweight Englishman in a red frock coat.

The painting shows a scene from August 1765, when the young Mughal emperor Shah Alam, exiled from Delhi and defeated by East India Company troops, was forced into what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation. The scroll is an order to dismiss his own Mughal revenue officials in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, and replace them with a set of English traders appointed by Robert Clive – the new governor of Bengal – and the directors of the EIC, who the document describes as “the high and mighty, the noblest of exalted nobles, the chief of illustrious warriors, our faithful servants and sincere well-wishers, worthy of our royal favours, the English Company”. The collecting of Mughal taxes was henceforth subcontracted to a powerful multinational corporation – whose revenue-collecting operations were protected by its own private army.

It was at this moment that the East India Company (EIC) ceased to be a conventional corporation, trading and silks and spices, and became something much more unusual. Within a few years, 250 company clerks backed by the military force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers had become the effective rulers of Bengal. An international corporation was transforming itself into an aggressive colonial power. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s jihadis in search of identity

Kenan Malik writes: What is striking about the stories of wannabe jihadis is their diversity. There is no “typical” recruit, no single path to jihadism.

Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”

Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.

There are hundreds of stories such as these, from all over Europe. What they tell us is that, shocking though it may seem, there is nothing unusual in the story of the runaway Tower Hamlets schoolgirls. And that what Emwazi has in common with other European recruits is not so much his harassment as his college education.

The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.

What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted.

In the past, social disaffection may have led people to join movements for political change, from far-left groups to anti-racist campaigns. Today, such organisations often seem equally out of touch. What gives shape to contemporary disaffection is not progressive politics but the politics of identity.

Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS killer Mohammed Emwazi had link to 2005 London bomb plot

The Observer reports: Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State (Isis) extremist behind the beheading of western hostages, was able to flee Britain and the scrutiny of the security services, despite being a member of a terror cell that was known to have links to the failed 21/7 attacks on London in 2005, the Observer can reveal.

One leading member of Emwazi’s network had a telephone conversation on the day of the attacks with Hussein Osman, who was later jailed for life for placing an explosive at Shepherd’s Bush tube station.

The security services were also aware that associates of the 12-strong west London terror group had joined the four 21/7 bombers at a training camp in Cumbria a year before the attempt to bring carnage to London’s streets.

The revelations, contained in court documents seen by this newspaper, raise urgent questions over how Emwazi, who became known as “Jihadi John”, was able to evade surveillance, slip out of the country in 2013 using false papers and re-emerge in Syria a year later to become the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Not only was Emwazi a “person of interest” for MI5 as a member of a London jihadi cell set up in 2007 to recruit for al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate, but at least one member of his network had a connection with one of the most infamous crimes in British history.

The failed 21/7 attacks came a fortnight after four men blew themselves up on tubes and a bus, killing 52 people and injuring more than 700, the worst terrorist atrocity committed on British soil. [Continue reading…]

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Mohammed Emwazi was not a fine young man driven to murder

Shashank Joshi writes: Cage is a British organisation that “campaigns against state policies” towards “communities impacted by the war on terror”. It had been in contact with Emwazi until 2012. They portray him as an “extremely gentle, kind” and “beautiful young man” – words that might lead one to question their judgment – radicalised under relentless and arbitrary pressure from the British government. In this version, Emwazi is a tragic victim crushed by the power of an overweening security state. The world sees a butcher; Cage sees a dupe. In case anyone was in danger of missing the point, Cage’s website broadcast a simpler message: “the state is the only terrorist”.

This narrative would be funny, were the charge not so serious. Cage’s account of Emwazi’s radicalisation is self-serving, disingenuous, and highly selective. They start the story in 2010, when Kuwait cancelled Emwazi’s visa – under British pressure, he alleges – and he was prevented from returning to the country of his birth. This is presented as unprovoked harassment, borne of MI5’s sadistic compulsion to target the Muslim community as a whole. There’s a reason that Cage have left out the backstory, which helps us understand why Emwazi was on the government’s radar in the first place.

In 2009, he had travelled to Tanzania to go on “safari”. He was refused entry, deported, and questioned by MI5, who reportedly accused him of seeking to join al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate al-Shabab. This is entirely plausible. Why? Because British court papers identify Emwazi as a member of a network of Islamist extremists connected to Somalia.

This network had been in contact with a 7/7 bomber, and one key member, Bilal Berjawi, had also tried to go on a “safari” earlier that year – eventually ending up fighting in Somalia, later dying in a drone strike. It’s also worth noting that Emwazi, in his incarnation as Jihadi John, was “obsessed with Somalia” and forced hostages to watch al-Shabab videos.

So if you think that Emwazi was really going on safari, I have a bridge to sell you. And some free travel advice: if you desperately want to see lions and elephants, my suggestion is that you opt for a reputable travel agency rather than a well-established jihadist network. [Continue reading…]

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Mohammed Emwazi triable in British courts for war crimes, say prosecutors

The Guardian reports: Prosecutors and detectives have been working on building a criminal case against Mohammed Emwazi, 26, for potential offences of war crimes and multiple counts of murder, the Guardian has learned.

The the Islamic State militant dubbed “Jihadi John” has featured in seven propaganda videos claiming responsibility for the beheadings of hostages from Britain, the US and other countries.

The Crown Prosecution Service on Friday confirmed it is working with detectives from Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command to prosecute Emwazi over the videos and other suspected crimes if he ever comes within Britain’s jurisdiction.

A former top prosecutor said Emwazi’s crimes would be triable in British courts if committed overseas in territory seized by Isis in Syria during the civil war there.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We are liaising with the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) on their assessment of the content of videos that have been posted online that appear to show the murder of hostages.”

Lord MacDonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, said the fact the offences took place in Syria would not prohibit a prosecution in a British court: “Since Victorian times it has been a criminal offence for British citizens to commit murder anywhere.” [Continue reading…]

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ISIS executioner, Mohammed Emwazi, was under watch by British intelligence

The New York Times reports: Mr. Emwazi was called “Jihadi John” by the foreign hostages he guarded, a number of whom he apparently beheaded in widely circulated videos. He was first identified on Thursday by The Washington Post website, and his name was confirmed by a senior British security official. The official said that the British government had identified Mr. Emwazi some time ago but had not disclosed his name for operational reasons. The identification was also confirmed in Washington by a senior United States military intelligence official.

Information is still vague about Mr. Emwazi, with Britain officially refusing to confirm that he is indeed “Jihadi John” because of what are described as continuing operations.

But Mr. Emwazi appears in 2011 court documents, obtained by the BBC, as a member of a network of extremists who funneled funds, equipment and recruits “from the United Kingdom to Somalia to undertake terrorism-related activity.”

Mr. Emwazi is alleged to be part of a group from West and North London, sometimes known as “the North London Boys,” with links to the Somalia-based terrorist group Al Shabab, organized by an individual who had returned to London in February 2007 and whose name was redacted in court documents.

Another person associated with that group was Bilal al-Berjawi, who was born in Lebanon but brought to West London as a baby. He fought in Somalia and rose through the ranks of Al Shabab and Al Qaeda in Africa before being killed in a drone strike in January 2012, according to Raffaello Pantucci, also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

Mr. Berjawi traveled to Kenya in February 2009, telling his family he was heading for a safari; he and a friend were detained in Nairobi and shipped back to London, but made it to Somalia in October that year.

The neighborhood group “is a tight community and it’s very probable that they knew each other and were part of the same crew,” Mr. Pantucci said.

So it is likely that Mr. Emwazi’s own safari a few months later in May, from Britain to Germany to Tanzania, using the name of Muhammad ibn Muazzam, set off alarms with the British security services, and that he had started on the road to radicalism even before his encounter with MI5 in 2009. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS ‘Jihadi John’ named as Mohammed Emwazi, portrayed as victim of UK counter-terrorism policies

British aid worker, Alan Henning, and his executioner, alleged to be British jihadist, Mohammed Emwazi.

British aid worker, Alan Henning, and his executioner, alleged to be British jihadist, Mohammed Emwazi.

The Washington Post reports: The world knows him as “Jihadi John,” the masked man with a British accent who has beheaded several hostages held by the Islamic State and who taunts audiences in videos circulated widely online.

But his real name, according to friends and others familiar with his case, is Mohammed Emwazi, a Briton from a well-to-do family who grew up in West London and graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. He is believed to have traveled to Syria around 2012 and to have later joined the Islamic State, the group whose barbarity he has come to symbolize.

“I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John,” said one of Emwazi’s close friends who identified him in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was like a brother to me. . . . I am sure it is him.”

A representative of a British human rights group who had been in contact with Emwazi before he left for Syria also said he believed Emwazi was Jihadi John, a moniker given to him by some of the hostages he once held.

“There was an extremely strong resemblance,” Asim Qureshi, research director at the rights group, CAGE, said after watching one of the videos. “This is making me feel fairly certain that this is the same person.” [Continue reading…]

Qureshi, in a statement on the CAGE website, portrays Emwazi as a victim of British counter-terrorism policies:

This case should trigger thinking about British domestic and foreign policy. What risk assessments, if any, have been made about British counter-terrorism policy and the key part it plays in radicalising individuals? How have the security services been allowed to get away with abusing British citizens without redress? Why are the long-standing grievances over Western interventions in the Muslim world been ignored?

Propagandists have a habit of becoming the most devout believers in their own narrative, but I think it requires a particularly distorted mindset to portray Emwazi, given his alleged actions, as a victim.

In a press conference today, Qureshi described Emwazi as a “kind” and “gentle” young man.

In a video released today, Qureshi says: “The questions shouldn’t be about Jihadi John but they should be about what role our security services have played in alienating people in this society and turning them away from being able to find solutions to the problems they have.”

Moazzam Begg, CAGE’s director of outreach and a former detainee at Guantánamo, can also reasonably argue that he has been a victim of Britain’s counter-terrorism policy and what some see as its over-zealous security services.

Given Qureshi’s reasoning, are we to imagine that Begg or anyone else finding themselves in a similar position might be just as likely to follow in Emwazi’s footsteps and become another of ISIS’s executioners?

In fact, Begg has no illusions about ISIS: “You have no idea how dangerous these people are,” he wrote on Facebook in early 2014.

He also wrote:

“I saw muhajireen (foreigners), locked in cages, by Allah worse, than my Guantanamo cell.

“They beat people to make them confess…just like the Arab regimes, there is no difference.

“I have been to many places, Bosnia, Afghan… but never seen this kind of fitnah [turmoil] and such dangerous extremism and readiness for takfeer [excommunication].

“Syrians on the ground have started to hate foreigners because of them.

“ISIS have even detained and killed aid workers…brothers from UK who have taken convoys [have] been looted by ISIS, guns shoved in faces of brothers who have crossed Europe to bring aid.

“And what’s the basis of detaining the non-Muslim aid worker [Alan Henning] who came in as a guest of Muslims, under their protection? They’ve probably murdered him too, just like many Muslims they’ve done that to.”

The world is full of people who for multitudes of justifiable reasons regard themselves as victims, yet this doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for their own actions.

The Guardian adds: “Jihadi John” is one of a trio of Britons who held hostage Spanish, French, Danish, British and US nationals. The hostages were captured in northern Syria, some in Idlib province, others in Aleppo and a third group in and around Raqqa province, which has since become the main Syrian stronghold of Isis.

The jihadi cell that spawned Isis was initially strong in Idlib province, having taken root there in the summer of 2012. From there it spread to Aleppo, where hostages that had been captured at that point were held in one of two locations – under the eye hospital in the centre of the city or in a factory deep in an industrial zone on its northern outskirts.

By February last year, all the hostages, including Briton John Cantlie, who is one of two remaining western hostages, were moved to Raqqa.

It was in Raqqa that the hostages first became aware of the status that Emwazi had developed among Isis. One former hostage described him as “cold, sadistic and merciless”.

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Teenage girl leaves for ISIS, and others follow

The New York Times reports: Aqsa Mahmood’s family saw her as an intelligent and popular teenager who helped care for her three younger siblings and her grandparents at her home in Scotland. She listened to Coldplay, read Harry Potter novels and drank Irn Bru, a Scottish soft drink.

She aspired to be a pharmacist or a doctor, and they did not expect her to leave her home in Glasgow in November 2013 to go to Syria, where the authorities now say she is one of the most active recruiters of young British women to join the Islamic State.

The authorities are investigating possible links between Ms. Mahmood, who goes by the name Umm Layth (meaning Mother of the Lion), and the disappearance last week of three teenagers from London. They, too, are believed to have traveled to Syria to join the terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The apparent trend of studious, seemingly driven young women leaving home to join violent jihadists has become disturbingly familiar. [Continue reading…]

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The anti-Islamic far-right is spreading in Europe — and going mainstream

Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.

And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.

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British army creates social-media brigade

The Daily Beast reports: The British army is creating a special force of Facebook warriors, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age.

The 77th Brigade, to be based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the army. It will formally come into being in April.

The brigade will be responsible for what is described as non-lethal warfare. Both the Israeli and US army already engage heavily in psychological operations.

Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative.

The 77th will include regulars and reservists and recruitment will begin in the spring. Soldiers with journalism skills and familiarity with social media are among those being sought. [Continue reading…]

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CIA interrogations took place on British territory of Diego Garcia, senior Bush administration official says

Vice News reports: Interrogations of US prisoners took place at a CIA black site on the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia, a senior Bush administration official has told VICE News.

The island was used as a “transit location” for the US government’s “nefarious activities” post-9/11 when other places were too full, dangerous, insecure, or unavailable, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.

There was no permanent detention facility such as the CIA facility in Poland, he told VICE News in a wide-ranging interview. His intelligence sources indicated to him that the island was however home to “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time.” [Continue reading…]

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Russian bombers disrupt civil aviation over Britain after Litvinenko murder inquiry opens

bear-typhoon

Reuters reports: Britain summoned the Russian ambassador on Thursday and asked him to explain why two Russian “Bear” long-range bombers had flown over the English Channel the previous day, forcing British authorities to reroute civil aircraft.

A British government source told Reuters the incident, which forced Britain to scramble Typhoon interceptor jets, was viewed as “a significant escalation” and marked a change in strategy since Russian aircraft had previously largely confined themselves to flying close to Scotland.

“It was very dangerous. Civil aircraft flying to the UK had to be rerouted,” the source said. “The Russians were flying with their transponders turned off so could only be seen on military radar. They haven’t flown this far south before.”

The Foreign Office said it had summoned Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to account for the incident, saying the episode was part of an increasing pattern of “out of area operations” by Russian aircraft.

“The Russian planes caused disruption to civil aviation. That is why we summoned the Russian Ambassador today to account for the incident,” it said in a statement.

Last year, NATO conducted more than 100 interceptions of Russian aircraft, about three times as many as in 2013, amid increased tensions between the West and Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Observers said a possible explanation of the timing ofWednesday’s flypast was the start this week of a public inquiry in London into the 2006 killing of a former Russian intelligence officer, Alexander Litvinenko, by radioactive poisoning.

The UK has charged two former KGB agents with the murder. A lawyer for Litvinenko’s widow has claimed in court that the assassination was ordered by Vladimir Putin.

“This may be timed with the Litvinenko court case as a signal of displeasure,” Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network, and an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said. “But it fits with a wider posture of a more assertive Russian demonstration of a growing capability to defend and assert its interests as it sees fit.”

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MI5 says rendition of Libyan opposition leaders strengthened al Qaeda

The Guardian reports: A secret UK-Libyan rendition programme in which two Libyan opposition leaders were kidnapped and flown to Tripoli along with their families had the effect of strengthening al-Qaida, according to an assessment by the UK security service, MI5.

Prior to their kidnap, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi had ensured that their organisation, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), focused on the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi, the classified assessment says. Once handed over to the Gaddafi regime, their places at the head of the LIFG were taken by others who wanted to bring the group closer to al-Qaida.

The two men were seized in Thailand and Hong Kong in March 2004 with the assistance of the UK’s intelligence service MI6, and were “rendered” to Tripoli along with Belhaj’s pregnant wife and Saadi’s wife and four children, the youngest a girl aged six.

In an assessment made 11 months later, MI5 concluded that the capture of the pair had cast the group “into a state of disarray”, adding: “While these senior-ranking members have always jealously guarded the independence of the LIFG, providing it with a clear command structure and set goals, the group is now coming under pressure from outside influences.

“In particular, reporting indicates that members including Abu Laith al-Libi and Abdallah al-Ghaffar may be pushing the group towards a more pan-Islamic agenda inspired by AQ [al-Qaida].” [Continue reading…]

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