Steven Pifer writes: Russia’s military occupation of Ukrainian territory on the Crimean peninsula constitutes a blatant violation of the commitments that Moscow undertook in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine. The United States and United Kingdom, the other two signatories, now have an obligation to support Ukraine and penalize Russia.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine found itself holding the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, including some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads that had been designed to attack the United States. Working in a trilateral dialogue with Ukrainian and Russian negotiators, American diplomats helped to broker a deal —the January 1994 Trilateral Statement — under which Ukraine agreed to transfer all of the strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for elimination and to dismantle all of the strategic delivery systems on its territory.
Kiev did this on the condition that it receive security guarantees or assurances. The Budapest Memorandum, signed on December 5, 1994, by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom (the latter three being the depositary states of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, that is, the states that receive the accession documents of other countries that join the treaty) laid out a set of assurances for Ukraine. These included commitments to respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and existing borders; to refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and independence; and to refrain from economic coercion against Ukraine. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Britain is drawing up plans to ensure that any EU action against Russia over Ukraine will exempt the City of London, according to a secret government document photographed in Downing Street.
As David Cameron said Britain and its EU partners would put pressure on Moscow after it assumed control of Crimea, a government document drawn up for a meeting of senior ministers said that “London’s financial centre” should not be closed to Russians. It did say that visa restrictions and travel bans could be imposed on Russian officials.
The picture of the document was taken by the freelance photographer Steve Back, who specialises in spotting secret documents carried openly by officials entering Downing Street. The document was in the hands of an unnamed official attending a meeting of the national security council (NSC) called by the prime minister to discuss the Ukrainian crisis. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: A British man once held at Guantanamo Bay turned human rights campaigner told a court in London on Saturday he would plead not guilty to providing training and funding terrorism in Syria, police said.
Moazzam Begg, 45, who was released without charge from the U.S. military prison in Cuba in 2005, was detained at his home in Birmingham in central England last week and charged with terrorism offences dated between October 2012 and April 2013.
He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court on Saturday and was remanded in custody to appear at London’s Old Bailey criminal court on March 14.
It is the first time he has ever faced any charges.
Begg was held by the U.S. government at Bagram detention center in Afghanistan, then Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, for nearly three years after being arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 suspected of being a member of al-Qaeda.
After his release, he founded Cage, a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of people detained during counter-terrorism operations.
Cage accused British authorities of “retraumatising” Begg by refusing to grant him bail, saying this was part of a campaign to criminalize legitimate activism. [Continue reading...]
The Toronto Star reports: The arrest in Birmingham of Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and outspoken critic of Britain’s counterterrorism policies, has sparked a debate about foreign support for Syria’s conflict and accusations that the activist’s detention was politically motivated.
Begg, a 45-year-old British citizen who spent more than three years in Guantanamo before being released in 2005 without charge, was one of four people arrested in a terrorism sweep by West Midlands police Tuesday on suspicion of facilitating terrorism overseas.
Although it is rare to identify detained suspects who are not charged, West Midlands police confirmed Begg’s arrest to local media due to “high public interest.”
“All four arrests are connected,” Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards told The Guardian, referring to Begg and a 36-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman and her son, aged 20, who were also taken into custody. “They were all preplanned and intelligence-led. There was no immediate risk to public safety.”
He added: “We continue to urge anyone planning to travel to Syria to read the advice issued by the Foreign Office.”
Begg, who was reportedly also questioned on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp, is the high-profile director of the London-based organization CAGE.
Through his advocacy work, he has met with foreign ministers, deputy prime ministers and Britain’s Lord Chancellor. According to a cable released through WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg once commended Begg as an ally in the sensitive task of settling Guantanamo detainees whom the Pentagon has cleared for release.
Begg has found himself targeted by Western security services in the past and recently had his passport confiscated. In 2011, he was barred from boarding a direct flight from London to Toronto, where he was scheduled to give a speech. He was told he was being turned back in case the flight was rerouted to the U.S. [Continue reading...]
BBC News reports: The government is attempting to block all online extremist videos that help to radicalise impressionable young men.
The Home Office is in talks with internet companies to refuse access to violent films that are hosted abroad.
The plans have been drawn up by James Brokenshire, the ex-security minister who was promoted to immigration minister after the resignation of Conservative colleague Mark Harper.
Ministers are keen to tackle the threat from jihadists in Syria.
One minister told the BBC that about 2,000 Europeans are thought to be fighting in Syria, including at least 200 known to the British security services. [Continue reading...]
Leaving aside the issue of government officials being empowered to determine what constitutes an “extremist video,” the idea that such videos are driving force behind radicalization is dubious to begin with. How does the British government propose to insulate impressionable young men from the radicalizing effect of simply watching the news? And how long before news reporting itself gets overseen by a new Ministry of Information?
Henry Porter writes: There are two striking images of modern Britain in this week’s news. The first is the story that crime in Britain is at a 32-year low, which confirms evidence in statistical trends that, like most western countries, we are becoming a more orderly and law-abiding society.
The second is provided by the police, which, while suffering a thoroughly deserved collapse in their own reputation, seeks to draw a picture of chaos and misrule that demands ever harsher and more invasive policing techniques. Five years after the financial crash, the police are making the case for deploying water cannon to deal with expected “austerity riots”, when it is blindingly obvious that Britain has passed through a very difficult period without widespread disorder (the riots that began in Tottenham two years ago were mostly a failure of policing, not a response to economic conditions) and, moreover, the economy and employment have both picked up.
But the far more worrying development is the unscrutinised rollout of the police automated numberplate recognition system (ANPR) for tracking vehicles, which, according to Nick Hopkins’ report, currently stores 17bn images in its archive and is set to increase its capacity by 2018 to read and store 50-75 million separate vehicle sightings a day.
This is a very powerful surveillance system and the important thing to remember is that the decision to cover Britain’s motorways and town centres with cameras that track the movements of innocent citizens is that it was never debated by parliament. [Continue reading...]
The Independent reports: A devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, has been presented to the International Criminal Court, and could result in some of Britain’s leading defence figures facing prosecution for “systematic” war crimes.
General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the British Army; former defence secretary Geoff Hoon; and former defence minister Adam Ingram are among those named in the report, entitled “The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008″.
The damning dossier draws on cases of more than 400 Iraqis, representing “thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
They range from “hooding” prisoners to burning, electric shocks, threats to kill and “cultural and religious humiliation”. Other forms of alleged abuse include sexual assault, mock executions, threats of rape, death, and torture.
The formal complaint to the ICC, lodged yesterday, is the cumulation of several years’ work by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). It calls for an investigation into the alleged war crimes, under Article 15 of the Rome Statute.
The dossier, seen by The Independent on Sunday, is the most detailed ever submitted to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor on war crimes allegedly committed by British forces in Iraq. The court has already acknowledged that there was little doubt that war crimes were committed. [Continue reading...]
Calder Walton writes: Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 [Britain's domestic counterintelligence and security agency] was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi (“National Military Organization,” or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for “Freedom Fighters of Israel”), which the British also termed the “Stern Gang,” after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years — blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state — legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5′s involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.
MI5′s involvement in dealing with Zionist terrorism offers a striking new interpretation of the history of the early Cold War. For the entire duration of the Cold War, the overwhelming priority for the intelligence services of Britain and other Western powers would lie with counterespionage, but as we can now see, in the crucial transition period from World War to Cold War, MI5 was instead primarily concerned with counterterrorism.
As World War II came to a close, MI5 received a stream of intelligence reports warning that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were not just planning violence in the Mandate of Palestine, but were also plotting to launch attacks inside Britain. In April 1945 an urgent cable from MI5′s outfit in the Middle East, SIME, warned that Victory in Europe (VE-Day) would be a D-Day for Jewish terrorists in the Middle East. Then, in the spring and summer of 1946, coinciding with a sharp escalation of anti-British violence in Palestine, MI5 received apparently reliable reports from SIME that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were planning to send five terrorist “cells” to London, “to work on IRA lines.” To use their own words, the terrorists intended to “beat the dog in his own kennel.” The SIME reports were derived from the interrogation of captured Irgun and Stern Gang fighters, from local police agents in Palestine, and from liaisons with official Zionist political groups like the Jewish Agency. They stated that among the targets for assassination were Britain’s foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was regarded as the main obstacle to the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the prime minister himself. MI5′s new director-general, Sir Percy Sillitoe, was so alarmed that in August 1946 he personally briefed the prime minister on the situation, warning him that an assassination campaign in Britain had to be considered a real possibility, and that his own name was known to be on a Stern Gang hit list.
The Irgun and the Stern Gang’s wartime track record ensured that MI5 took these warnings seriously. In November 1944 the Stern Gang had assassinated the British minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, while he was returning to his rented villa after a luncheon engagement in Cairo. Moyne’s murder was followed by an escalation of violence in Palestine, with incidents against the British and Irgun and Stern Gang fighters being followed by bloody reprisals. In mid-June 1946, after the Irgun launched a wave of attacks, bombing five trains and 10 of the 11 bridges connecting Palestine to neighboring states, London’s restraint finally broke. British forces conducted mass arrests across Palestine (codenamed Operation Agatha), culminating on June 29 — a day known as “Black Sabbath” because it was a Saturday — with the detention of more than 2,700 Zionist leaders and minor officials, as well as officers of the official Jewish defense force (Haganah) and its crack commandos (Palmach). None of the important Irgun or Stern Gang leaders was caught in the dragnet, and its result was merely to goad them into even more violent counteractions. On July 22, the Irgun dealt a devastating blow, codenamed Operation Chick, to the heart of British rule in Palestine when it bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the offices of British officialdom in the Mandate, as well as serving as the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine.
The bombing was planned by the leader of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, later to be the sixth prime minister of Israel and the joint winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. On the morning of July 22, six young Irgun members entered the hotel disguised as Arabs, carrying milk churns packed with 500 pounds of explosives. At 12:37 p.m. the bombs exploded, ripping the facade from the southwest corner of the building. This caused the collapse of several floors in the hotel, resulting in the deaths of 91 people. In terms of fatalities, the King David Hotel bombing was one of the worst terrorist atrocities inflicted on the British in the twentieth century. It was also a direct attack on British intelligence and counterterrorist efforts in Palestine: both MI5 and SIS — the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6 — had stations in the hotel. [Continue reading...]
The Press Association reports: Hate crimes against Muslims have soared in the UK this year, figures show.
Hundreds of anti-Muslim offences were carried out across the country in 2013, with Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan police, recording 500 Islamophobic crimes.
Many forces reported a surge in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes after the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London, in May.
But the figures could be much higher as nearly half of the 43 forces in England and Wales did not reveal how many hate crimes had targeted Muslims. Some forces admitted they did not always record the faith of a religious hate-crime victim.
Freedom of Information requests were sent by the Press Association to every police force in England and Wales. Of the 43 forces, 24 provided figures on the number of anti-Muslim crimes and incidents recorded.
Tell Mama, a group which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it had dealt with 840 cases since April, with the number expected to rise to more than 1,000 by the end of March. This compared with 582 anti-Muslim cases it dealt with from March 2012 to March 2013. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: MI6 officers were under no obligation to report breaches of the Geneva conventions and turned a “blind eye” to the torture of detainees in foreign jails, according to the report into Britain’s involvement in the rendition of terror suspects.
Even when individual MI6 and MI5 officers expressed concerns about the abuse of detainees they did not pass on their thoughts for fear of offending the US, Britain’s closest intelligence partner.
British officials were reluctant to question sleep deprivation, hooding, and waterboarding for “fear of damaging liaison relationships” – an unmistakable reference to the CIA.
This is the message of the 115-page report by a panel led by Sir Peter Gibson, the former appeal court judge, into Britain’s involvement in the extra-judicial abduction of terror suspects who were flown in secret to prisons where they were ill treated. [Continue reading...]
Salon talks to Richard Rodriguez about his new book, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography:
Let me read a line to you from late in the book, and if you could explain it a little bit. You say, “After September 11, critical division in America feels and sounds like religious division.” Where are you going with that?
Well, it seems to me that there are two aspects of that. One of them is that I think that increasingly the left has conceded organized religion to the political right. This has been a catastrophe on the left.
I’m old enough to remember the black Civil Rights movement, which was as I understood it a movement of the left and insofar as it was challenging the orthodoxy of conservatives in the American South. White conservatism. And here was a group of protestant ministers leading processions, which were really religious processions through the small towns and the suburbs of the South. We shall overcome. Well, we have forgotten just how disruptive religion can be to the status quo. How challenging it is to the status quo. I also talk about Cesar Chavez, who is, who was embraced by the political left in his time but he was obviously a challenge to organized labor, the teamsters and to large farmers in the central valley.
So somehow we had decided on the left that religion belongs to Fox Television, or it belongs to some kind of right-wing fanaticism in the Middle East and we have given it up, and it has made us a really empty — that is, it has made the left really empty. I’ll point to one easy instance. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And what America heard was really a sermon. It was as though slavery and Jim Crow could not be described as a simple political narrative; racism was a moral offense, not simply an illegality. And with his vision of a time “when all of God’s children” in America would be free, he described the nation within a religious parable of redemption.
Fifty years later, our technocratic, secular president gave a speech at the Lincoln memorial, honoring the memory of the speech Dr. King had given. And nothing President Obama said can we remember these few weeks later; his words were dwarfed by our memory of the soaring religious oratory of fifty years ago. And what’s happened to us — and I would include myself in the cultural left — what has happened to us is we have almost no language to talk about the dream life of America, to talk about the soul of America, to talk about the mystery of being alive at this point in our lives, this point in our national history. That’s what we’ve lost in giving it to Fox Television.
So here’s the flip side of that. You write about the “New Atheism” emerging from England, catching on here. How is it new and why does it seem like a dead end to you?
It seems to me that the New Atheism — particularly its recent gaudy English manifestations — has a distinctly neo-colonial aspect. (As Cary Grant remarked: Americans are suckers for the accent!) On the one hand, the New Atheist, with his plummy Oxbridge tones, tries to convince Americans that God is dead at a time when London is alive with Hinduism and Islam. (The empiric nightmare: The colonials have turned on their masters and transformed the imperial city with their prayers and their growing families, even while Europe disappears into materialistic sterility.) Christopher Hitchens, most notably, before his death titled his atheist handbook as a deliberate affront to Islam: “God Is Not Great.” At the same time, he traveled the airwaves of America urging us to war in Iraq — and to maintain borders that the Foreign Office had drawn in the sand. With his atheism, he became a darling of the left. With his advocacy of the Iraq misadventure, he became a darling of the right. [Continue reading...]
As an Englishman in America who is frequently reminded that Americans are indeed suckers for the accent I retain, let me add a cultural footnote whose validity I can’t document but about which I am nevertheless convinced.
It’s on the origin of American crassness: it comes from England. Bad taste — we invented it.
From the English perspective, civilization has always been something that came from somewhere else.
The Washington Post reports: Living in self-imposed exile in Russia, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden may be safely beyond the reach of Western powers. But dismayed by the continued airing of transatlantic intelligence, British authorities are taking full aim at a messenger shedding light on his secret files here — the small but mighty Guardian newspaper.
The pressures coming to bear on the Guardian, observers say, are testing the limits of press freedoms in one of the world’s most open societies. Although Britain is famously home to a fierce pack of news media outlets — including the tabloid hounds of old Fleet Street — it also has no enshrined constitutional right to free speech.
The Guardian, in fact, has slipped into the single largest crack in the free speech laws that are on the books here — the dissemination of state secrets protecting queen and country in the British homeland.
A feisty, London-based news outlet with a print circulation just shy of 200,000 — albeit with a far bigger footprint online with readers in the many millions — the Guardian, along with The Washington Post, was the first to publish reports based on classified data spirited out of the United States by Snowden. In the months since, the Guardian has continued to make officials here exceedingly nervous by exposing the joint operations of U.S. and British intelligence — particularly their cooperation in data collection and snooping programs involving British citizens and close allies on the European continent.
In response, the Guardian is being called to account by British authorities for jeopardizing national security. The Guardian’s top editor, Alan Rusbridger, is being forced to appear before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to explain the news outlet’s actions. The move comes after British officials ordered the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian’s London headquarters, even as top ministers have taken to the airwaves to denounce the newspaper. Scotland Yard has also suggested it may be investigating the paper for possible breaches of British law.
The government treatment of the Guardian is highlighting the very different way Britons tend to view free speech, a liberty that here is seen through the prism of the public good and privacy laws as much as the right to open expression.
Nevertheless, the actions against the paper have led to growing concern in Britain and beyond. Frank La Rue, the U.N. special rapporteur on free expression, has denounced the Guardian’s treatment as “unacceptable in a democratic society.” The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, a Paris-based trade association, will send a delegation of “concerned” publishers and editors from five continents to London in January on a “U.K. press freedom mission.” [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: Israel should avoid taking any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers at the weekend, Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.
Urging world leaders to give the interim deal a chance, Hague said it was important to try to understand those who opposed the agreement. But he urged Israel and others to confine their criticism to rhetoric.
“We would discourage anybody in the world, including Israel, from taking any steps that would undermine this agreement and we will make that very clear to all concerned,” Hague told parliament.
The Guardian reports: The phone, internet and email records of UK citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing have been analysed and stored by America’s National Security Agency under a secret deal that was approved by British intelligence officials, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
In the first explicit confirmation that UK citizens have been caught up in US mass surveillance programs, an NSA memo describes how in 2007 an agreement was reached that allowed the agency to “unmask” and hold on to personal data about Britons that had previously been off limits.
The memo, published in a joint investigation by the Guardian and Britain’s Channel 4 News, says the material is being put in databases where it can be made available to other members of the US intelligence and military community.
Britain and the US are the main two partners in the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others. [Continue reading...]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Britain has a long tradition of a free, inquisitive press. That freedom, so essential to democratic accountability, is being challenged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Unlike the United States, Britain has no constitutional guarantee of press freedom. Parliamentary committees and the police are now exploiting that lack of protection to harass, intimidate and possibly prosecute The Guardian newspaper for its publication of information based on National Security Agency documents that were leaked by Edward Snowden. The New York Times has published similar material, believing that the public has a clear interest in learning about and debating the N.S.A.’s out-of-control spying on private communications. That interest is shared by the British public as well.
In the United States, some members of Congress have begun pushing for stronger privacy protections against unwarranted snooping. British parliamentarians have largely ducked their duty to ask tough questions of British intelligence agencies, which closely collaborate with the N.S.A., and have gone after The Guardian instead.
Alan Rusbridger, the newspaper’s editor, has been summoned to appear before a parliamentary committee next month to testify about The Guardian’s internal editorial decision-making regarding the Snowden information. Members of Parliament have also demanded information on the newspaper’s decision to make some of the leaked information available to other journalists, including those at The Times. That should be none of Parliament’s business. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives are pursuing a criminal investigation into The Guardian’s actions surrounding the Snowden leaks.
These alarming developments threaten the ability of British journalists to do their jobs effectively. Britain’s press has long lacked the freedoms enjoyed by American newspapers. Now it appears they are less free from government interference than journalists in Germany, where Der Spiegel has published material from the Snowden leaks without incurring government bullying.
The global debate now taking place about intelligence agencies collecting information on the phone calls, emails and Internet use of private citizens owes much to The Guardian’s intrepid journalism. In a free society, the price for printing uncomfortable truths should not be parliamentary and criminal inquisition.
The Guardian reports: Police sought to launch a secret operation to spy on the political activities of students at Cambridge University, a covertly recorded film reveals.
An officer monitoring political campaigners attempted to persuade an activist in his 20s to become an informant and feed him information about students and other protesters in return for money.
But instead the activist wore a hidden camera to record a meeting with the officer and expose the surveillance of undergraduates and others at the 800-year-old institution.
The officer, who is part of a covert unit, is filmed saying the police need informants like him to collect information about student protests as it is “impossible” to infiltrate their own officers into the university.
The Guardian is not disclosing the name of the Cambridgeshire officer and will call him Peter Smith. He asks the man who he is trying to recruit to target “student-union type stuff” and says that would be of interest because “the things they discuss can have an impact on community issues”. [Continue reading...]
Hugh Muir writes: The specifics of the Cambridge case will shock, but there is a now familiar narrative of how the secret snoopy state seeks to monitor the legitimate activity of those who might ask questions of it. This appears to be activity undertaken with little or no public consent or oversight. How much of this is going on? What are the guidelines? Are they adhered to by forces up and down the country? Is there central control? Who controls the information and how long is it kept? No doubt the Association of Chief Police Officers has rules but what do you know of the legislative framework? Who keeps the practice honest and ensures that the objective is the maintenance of law and order rather than the policing of irksome ideology? This week we learned of Green party London Assembly member Jenny Jones being monitored by Scotland Yard for attending legitimate left-leaning protest events. Are others so targeted? We don’t know. We should.
But this is also another example of the attempt by those in power to enlist citizens as agents of the state. In universities up and down the country there has been a considerable effort to cultivate assets capable of monitoring young Muslim students considered at risk of radicalisation. The government’s Prevent programme, and its deradicalisation arm Channel, has drawn on the university establishments themselves: lecturers and bureaucrats as surveillance assets. The result is predictable. Yesterday Ratna Lachman, director of the human rights group Just West Yorkshire, told a Society for Educational Studies seminar of fears that some universities have become “Islamophobic spaces” for those who now regard them as “extensions of the security arm of the state”.
The government orders landlords to report illegal immigrants; property owners as surveillance assets. GPs to check the legal status of those they might treat; medical staff as surveillance assets. As the state shrinks in size, as the prime minister says it will, it needs an army of narks to engage in surveillance and policing in a different sphere. Maybe that’s part of his big society. [Continue reading...]