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Intelligence, counter-terrorism and trust

Richard Tonkin suggested we publish this speech by the UK Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans: "Its absorbing reading, going into the grooming by Al Qaeda of children to recruit in Britain, the threat of terrorists trained in Somalia, and the intelligence organisations call for media co-operation."

Address to the Society of Editors by the  'A Matter of Trust' conference, Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Manchester, 5 November 2007

It is fairly unusual for the head of MI5 to speak at a media-focused event. But the issue of trust is highly relevant to the world of intelligence. All the more so as we tackle the most immediate and acute peacetime threat in the 98-year history of my Service.

Public trust is becoming an increasingly important issue for many organisations, both private and public. My Service is no exception, and we need to ensure that our work is sufficiently understood. Although our operations must remain secret for them to be successful, we have a responsibility to keep the public informed about the threats they face and what we are doing to counter them.

So today, I would like to talk to you about the threat to our national security as we see it, about the challenges which this poses to MI5 and the UK and about how, with the help and trust of the public, we can counter it.

As I am sure you are aware, the main national security threat that we face today is from Al Qaida and its associated groups.

Extremist ideology

But before we look at the violent manifestation of that threat in the UK, we need to remember where this comes from. The violence directed against us is the product of a much wider extremist ideology, whose basic tenets are inimical to the tolerance and liberty which form the basis of our democracy. So although the most visible manifestations of this problem are the attacks and attempted attacks we have suffered in recent years, the root of the problem is ideological.

Why? Because the ideology underlying Al Qaida and other violent groups is extreme. It does not accept the legitimacy of other viewpoints. It is intolerant, and it believes in a form of government which is explicitly anti-democratic. And the more that this ideology spreads in our communities, the harder it will be to maintain the kind of society that the vast majority of us wish to live in.

You may recall that in her speech this time last year, my predecessor, Eliza Manningham-Buller, pointed out that this country was facing an increasing threat from Al Qaida-inspired terrorism. When she spoke, MI5 had identified around 1,600 individuals who we believed posed a direct threat to national security and public safety, because of their support for terrorism. That figure today would be at least 2,000. This growth, which has driven the increasingly strong and coordinated government response, is partly because our coverage of the extremist networks is now more thorough. But it is also because there remains a steady flow of new recruits to the extremist cause.

And it is important that we recognise an uncomfortable truth: terrorist attacks we have seen against the UK are not simply random plots by disparate and fragmented groups. The majority of these attacks, successful or otherwise, have taken place because Al Qaida has a clear determination to mount terrorist attacks against the United Kingdom. This remains the case today, and there is no sign of it reducing.

So although MI5 and the police are investigating plots, and thwarting them, on a continuing basis, we do not view them in isolation. Al Qaida is conducting a deliberate campaign against us. It is the expression of a hostility towards the UK which existed long before September 11, 2001. It is evident in the wills and letters left behind by actual and would-be bombers. And it regularly forms part of Al Qaida's broadcast messages.

This campaign is dynamic, and since my predecessor spoke last year, we have seen it evolve even further.

As a country, we are rightly concerned to protect children from exploitation in other areas. We need to do the same in relation to violent extremism. As I speak, terrorists are methodically and intentionally targeting young people and children in this country. They are radicalising, indoctrinating and grooming young, vulnerable people to carry out acts of terrorism. This year, we have seen individuals as young as 15 and 16 implicated in terrorist-related activity.

The nature of the threat

Another development in the last 12 months has been the extent to which the conspiracies here are being driven from an increasing range of overseas countries.

Over the last five years much of the command, control and inspiration for attack planning in the UK has derived from Al Qaida's remaining core leadership in the tribal areas of Pakistan - often using young British citizens to mount the actual attack. But worryingly, we have more recently seen similar processes emerging elsewhere.

For instance, there is no doubt now that Al Qaida in Iraq aspires to promote terrorist attacks outside Iraq. There is no doubt that there is training activity and terrorist planning in East Africa - particularly in Somalia - which is focused on the UK. And there is no doubt that the extension of what one might call the 'Al Qaida franchise' to other groups in other countries - notably in Algeria - has created a significant upsurge in terrorist violence in these countries. It is no coincidence that the first suicide bombing in Algeria followed the creation of the new 'Al Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb.'

This sort of extension of the Al Qaida brand to new parts of the Middle East and beyond poses a further threat to us in this country because it provides Al Qaida with access to new centres of support which it can motivate and exploit, including in its campaign against the UK.

Since 9/11, there have been a number of examples of serious Al Qaida-related terrorist activity in Europe. But in the last 12 months we have seen an increase in attack planning across the continent. This summer alone we saw many terrorist arrests, including those in Germany, Denmark and Austria. It is too early to assess with confidence what all this means but certainly, we can see that the threat from Al Qaida related terrorism goes well beyond the UK.

Looking at the plots themselves, we now see different levels of sophistication. Yes, we have seen unsophisticated attempts to kill and injure, but we have also seen complex, logistically effective plots, which require a high degree of expertise and accurate targeting. We have to pay equal attention to both the crude and the complex. Because the primitive can be just as deadly as the sophisticated.

And the prognosis for the medium term? I do not think that this problem has yet reached its peak. Speaking after the London and Glasgow attacks earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that: "our country - and all countries - have to confront a generation-long challenge to defeat...terrorist violence."

He is of course correct. And it means that the work of the intelligence and security agencies will not be enough. We will do our utmost to hold back the physical threat of attacks, but alone, this is merely containment. Long-term resolution requires identifying and addressing the root causes of the problem. This is not a job only for the intelligence agencies and police. It requires a collective effort in which Government, faith communities and wider civil society have an important part to play. And it starts with rejection of the violent extremist ideology across society - although issues of identity, relative deprivation and social integration also form important parts of the backdrop.

This will not, however, happen overnight. I have been directly engaged in work against this violent extremist threat for most of the last decade, and I believe that terrorism inspired by it is likely to dominate the work of my Service well into the future.

And here is an important point. We know that the strategic thinking of our enemies is long-term. But public discourse in the UK works to a much shorter timescale whether the electoral cycle or the media deadline. We cannot view this challenge in such timescales. If we only react tactically while our enemies plan strategically, we shall be hard put to win this. A key part of our strategy must be perseverance.

The limitations of intelligence

I mentioned earlier that the number of people we are seeing involved in terrorist-related activity in the UK has increased to at least 2,000. And we suspect that there are as many again that we don't yet know of.

This means that on a daily basis, my staff are under acute pressure to prioritise. As a Service, we have grown, and I am grateful for the financial settlement which the Government has recently announced, which means we can expand further and deliver greater assurance. But even then we will not be able to cover every potential threat. However many resources we put in, there will still be difficult judgments to make.

It is important to recognise too that intelligence will rarely provide a complete picture. It gives us pieces of a whole, which then require assessment and interpretation. It helps improve our chances of success. And as we have seen in more than 200 terrorist convictions in the UK since 9/11, it does save lives. But it will not in itself provide certainty.

There is, however, a further difficulty in relation to intelligence work against the current threat, and it is one that I think has led to a degree of misunderstanding about MI5's work.

The networks we investigate are not the hard-edged cells typical of some other terrorist groups. Even though it may only be a handful of people who actually carry out a violent attack, it is now rare to see extremist groups acting entirely in isolation.

So the deeper we investigate, the more we know about the networks. And the more we know, the greater the likelihood that, when an attack or attempted attack does occur, my Service will have some information on at least one of the perpetrators. And in a sense this is a benefit. Why? First, because it means we can move more swiftly from intelligence to arrests. It means we can provide an informed assessment for the police, emergency services and Government, of the context of an attack, the likely depth of the conspiracy, and most importantly, the potential leads to follow to ensure that culprits can be arrested. And second, it demonstrates how the counter-terrorist net that the British intelligence community and our liaison partners have strung across the globe is working.

But we cannot know everything. There will be instances when individuals come to the notice of the Security Service or the police but then subsequently carry out acts of terrorism. This is inevitable. Every decision to investigate someone entails a decision not to investigate someone else. Knowing of somebody is not the same as knowing all about somebody. And it would be perverse for my Service to avoid knowing of somebody for fear of being held to blame if they later become involved in an attack. I think we should be very careful to bear this in mind when talking about so-called 'intelligence failures.'

On a different note, this autumn saw an important day for my Service. On the 10th October, we took on the lead responsibility from the Police Service of Northern Ireland for national security work there. And I am pleased to confirm today that our new Northern Ireland headquarters will soon be opened by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This new building is a regional headquarters concerned with the broad spectrum of MI5's work. So although we will continue to investigate national security threats to Northern Ireland from there, the capabilities will also provide us with greater capacity in our overall work across the UK. Our Northern Ireland headquarters is now an important part of my Service's UK counter terrorism network.

Before moving on to talk about my Service's response to the international terrorist threat, I need to say one more thing. This year, yet again, there have been high levels of covert activity by foreign intelligence organisations in our country. Since the end of the Cold War we have seen no decrease in the numbers of undeclared Russian intelligence officers in the UK - at the Russian Embassy and associated organisations conducting covert activity in this country.

So despite the Cold War ending nearly two decades ago, my Service is still expending resources to defend the UK against unreconstructed attempts by Russia, China and others, to spy on us. A number of countries continue to devote considerable time and energy trying to steal our sensitive technology on civilian and military projects, and trying to obtain political and economic intelligence at our expense. They do not only use traditional methods to collect intelligence but increasingly deploy sophisticated technical attacks, using the internet to penetrate computer networks. It is a matter of some disappointment to me that I still have to devote significant amounts of equipment, money and staff to countering this threat. They are resources which I would far rather devote to countering the threat from international terrorism - a threat to the whole international community, not just the UK.

How the Security Service is responding

So what, then, is the Security Service doing in response to the current threats?

I am very pleased to be speaking to you today in Manchester. Making my first public speech outside London is indicative of the direction in which MI5 is moving. We are a national Security Service, and the nature of the threat is now such that we must be present nationally. My Service has eight offices across Great Britain providing invaluable daily contact with police counter terrorist units and regional authorities. I intend that this presence will continue to grow. By 2011, we expect to have 4000 staff, and 25% of them will work outside of our London headquarters.

The difficulty here, of course, will be to ensure we get not just more people, but more of the right people. It is important for us to have a diverse workforce. Without this breadth of experience, attitude and perspective, we will not be as effective as we can be. And I am encouraged by the numbers of black and minority ethnic recruits joining us. But I am concerned that we are seeing fewer female applicants to the Service than we did during the 1990s - this is a paradox, considering that two of the last three Directors General were women. So we are now exploring ways to remedy this.

The Service does not just investigate threats. We also work, with others, to advise on reducing the vulnerability of our national infrastructure to terrorism. In February, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure was established. CPNI - in which my Service plays a key role - is responsible for providing advice to business and Government on how to protect against terrorism.

The advice it provides, with the full authority of the Service, is wide-ranging. Whilst physical security remains a key part, protective security also means, for example, securing your IT systems or ensuring you know your staff and can trust them. Working in close partnership with colleagues in the private sector, Government and law enforcement, CPNI provides information on the threat, helping national infrastructure organisations identify their vulnerabilities and put in place proportionate security measures - physical, electronic and personnel. The level of direct contact and cooperation between CPNI and these organisations is higher than anything which has gone before. I welcome it.

More than ever before, we work on an integrated basis with our sister agencies, GCHQ and SIS, so that the particular skills of each agency are focused on the same threat. Their assistance and the intelligence they have provided to us have been invaluable to our operations, giving us coverage beyond our traditional strengths.

The same applies increasingly with the police. Speaking earlier this year, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command, said:

"..the most important change in counter terrorism in the UK in recent years has been the development of the relationship between the police and the Security Service.. it is no exaggeration to say that joint working between the police and MI5 has become recognised as a beacon of good practice."

It is the vision and leadership of senior police officers like DAC Clarke that gives me confidence that this relationship will continue to flourish.

But it is here, finally, that I come to the issue of trust and the public. MI5 and the police cannot function without the assistance which we receive directly from members of the public.

My Service is grateful for all the offers of information that we receive on a daily basis. But we also need to maintain the wider trust and support of everyone in this country. In tackling this public threat, we are most effective when we are working with the grain of public opinion, not against it.

And as a necessarily secret organisation, we are, I believe, as open to the public as we can be. I will continue to make MI5 as visible as possible. It is right that the public should understand the way we work, and the thinking behind the wider counter terrorist strategy. And this is where you, the media, have a vital role.

The role of the media

I know that journalists today are working under an immense demand to deliver ever-greater volumes of news. And in the pressure-cooker of the 24-hour newsroom, it is, I am sure, difficult to draw out and explain all the nuances and complexities of a situation. So much as I might have gritted my teeth at some of the more colourful headlines, I am of course aware of what drives them.

But we must take particular care where there is the potential to compromise an operation, or worse, public safety. When this happens, generally due to a leak - the key consideration must be the consequences.

The first question must be whether the public interest in publication is greater than the possible consequences of for example, risking the life of one of our agents who has given us sensitive information, or alerting terrorists that they are under observation. I am, on the whole, impressed with the media's sense of responsibility and its understanding of our concerns. And as the demand for news increases, we cannot afford to let this understanding fall away. Because there is no contract between the security and intelligence agencies and the media. There is no memorandum of understanding between us. It is a matter of trust.

We must also pay close attention to our use of language. It is easy to forget, in talking of actions, aims and approaches, how what is said affects what is done. Yet you will be as conscious as I am of the consequences of words. And we are tackling a threat which finds its roots in ideology, so words really do matter. This is not political correctness. We cannot create hard and fast rules but we must recognise the extremist message for what it is. Anything which enables it to claim to be representative of Islam; anything which gives a spurious legitimacy to its twisting of theology will only play into its hands.

One of Al Qaida's key aims is to provoke divisions within and between communities, and we have seen their own media department - to which they attach great importance - seeking to do this. So we've got to be sure that what is said neither explicitly nor implicitly makes this easier for them. The terrorists may be indiscriminate in their violence against us, but we should not be so in our response to them.

The issue of trust is nothing new to our Service. For nearly 100 years we have been gathering information secretly, and we have always relied on the willingness of others to provide us with the leads which can save lives. For as long as we have passed this intelligence to others for their use, we have trusted them to use it responsibly.

And of course trust has to be earned. That is why I place such importance on the ethos of the Service, which has always been to uphold high standards of probity and respect for what we now call human rights.

However, the relationship of mutual trust which we have with the public is now paramount. All of our experience suggests that there is a great deal of public support for the work that the Service does. I have seen this through positive messages to our website and heard it through words of support passed on by Whitehall and private sector colleagues. It is also evident through the number of people who have responded to our recruitment campaigns. We are grateful for this. This relationship is important, and we cannot take it for granted. It can be easily upset by words or actions.

But it is central to our success. I am sure that in the future, there will be more attempts to bully and cow our country; more attempts to harm and injure us; more attempts to drive division into our communities.

So our Service will continue to put all its efforts into protecting this country. And though our work is an essential part of the struggle against violent extremism, on its own it is not enough. This struggle relies not only on good intelligence and law enforcement, but also on the determination and perseverance of us all to resist extremism and to protect a decent, tolerant and open society.

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Too tough for our own good

In today's Age, Waleed Ali presents a - to my mind - thoroughly measured response to Jonathan Evans' address to the Society of Editors. Starting thus:

It is fair to say he had no intention of easing himself gently into public discourse. Rather, he crashed into it with a sensational portrait of the challenging counter-terrorism landscape confronting Britain...

he continues:

[C]onsider the British response to Evans' revelations. Of the major quality dailies, only The Daily Telegraph ran the story on page one the next day. The Guardian and The Times chose to lead with financial stories, and The Independent was more concerned with the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. Very little of the subsequent commentary has been panic-stricken, while much of it has been, to varying degrees, sceptical. Even the conservative press noted the convenience of Evans' timing: the comments came the day before the Queen's Speech to Parliament, in which a new Terror Bill would be introduced seeking to extend the period for which terror suspects can be held without charge in Britain from 28 days to somewhere in the order of 56. That bill is now being debated.

The conservative Tory opposition, meanwhile, chose to emphasise the importance of a cautious approach to counter-terrorism. Shadow home secretary David Davis argued that "we must avoid an indiscriminate response that would drive young Muslims into the arms of fanatics and destroy the trust of local communities". Accordingly, the Tories are opposing the new Terror Bill on the basis that nothing in Evans' speech justifies the tougher measures.

Is such a response even conceivable in Australian politics? The bare facts are that almost every counter-terrorism proposal the Howard Government has imagined has passed in to law with little substantive amendment, and with bipartisan support. In response to the most recent suite of changes in 2005, the then Beazley opposition appeared to complain they were not tough enough, and began talking about giving police the power to lock down entire suburbs without judicial approval. Overwhelmingly, Labor has fallen into step with the Government to avoid being wedged on the issue — something a conservative opposition in Britain seems to have managed to avoid. The apparently irresistible imperative in the Australian counter-terrorism debate seems to be towards greater belligerence. Anything less commits one of the great political sins of our age: to risk being branded as soft on terror.

The result has been a stifling political orthodoxy on terrorism in Australia. When Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty suggested, in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, that Australia was now a greater terrorist target because of its involvement in the invasion of Iraq, John Howard told him in no uncertain terms to shut up. Keelty's analysis violated the central pillar of faith in our political dogma: that terrorism has nothing whatsoever to do with our conduct, so that we can never, under any circumstances, exacerbate the threat by anything we do. This narrative, that terrorists are motivated by nothing other than their incomprehensibly evil psychosis, delivers us inescapably to the most belligerent response. Where terrorism has no reason, no cause and no context, it remains for us only to capture and kill its practitioners. If this means torturing (sometimes innocent) suspects, we acquiesce, even if we must redefine torture to soothe our consciences. The Bush administration has done this most clearly, but our own Attorney-General is comfortable with sleep deprivation.

Moreover, this orthodoxy shows no sign of relenting. Even as the Howard Government stumbled from one disaster to another in the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef, Labor found itself incapable of vocal opposition except in retrospect. The Government's position, that it is "better to be safe than sorry" — as though putting innocent people in solitary confinement before deporting them on flimsy pretexts has no potential to lead to greater radicalisation — went unchallenged in principle. In the recent leaders' debate, both Howard and Kevin Rudd keenly advertised their "hardline" approach to terrorism. No other political option exists.

It's a shame, because a substantial body of research suggests such exclusively hardline approaches to counter-terrorism only amplify the terror threat in the long term, especially if these policies are perceived to be discriminatory in their application. The IRA thrived on increased support after Northern Ireland introduced internment without trial in 1971, a measure directed principally at Catholics. Indeed, aggressive counter-terrorism responses catalysed the IRA's transition from political protest to violent activism. The French in Algeria had a similar story to tell as did Spain in its struggles with terrorism through the 1980s, and as does the Sri Lankan Government in its current conflict with Tamil groups.

But in Britain there remains a level of opposition to this which is absent here. Almost everyone — left and right — except the Government seems to want Ian Blair to resign as head of the Metropolitan Police over the de Menezes disaster, much as they did in the wake of the Forest Gate raids. Politicians openly discuss the fact that indiscriminate counter-terrorism is counter-productive, and so do intelligence and law enforcement officials. They are even prepared to take the politically delicate step of opposing tougher counter-terrorism measures.

The contrast is not stark in the extreme, but it is there, and it merits consideration. How is it, that even in the face of a terrorism threat of much greater scope, the British conversation manages to be more measured, subtle and restrained than the Australian one?

Perhaps the explanation is to be found in the very fact that the British terror threat is far greater, and that more devastating counter-terrorism mistakes, such as the death of de Menezes, have made more graphic to the population the potential dangers of over-zealousness. It is true that at some point, the problem must get serious enough that sense trumps the knee-jerk imperatives of politics. But this would not necessarily explain why the American approach is so different. After all, terrorism was frighteningly serious for the US on September 11. This has not prevented an unapologetically aggressive American response.

It is difficult to escape the thought that it has a lot to do with experience. The terrorism conversation in Britain has a decidedly more ordinary feel than it does here. This is the nation that saw the Blitz in World War II, against which, the threat of occasional terrorist attacks, such as the London bombings, seems positively paltry. Indeed, it is a threat they have confronted and managed before in the 1970s and 1980s with the IRA. And certainly, much contemporary British commentary is informed by that experience. Here, for example, is Simon Jenkins criticising the new Terror Bill in The Guardian: "The IRA succeeded in evading the police, killing large numbers of people and destroying property with grim regularity. It did so with the intention of changing policy and securing the release of murderers and criminals. What it did not do was curb British liberties."

For all who are deeply concerned by the Coalition's response to the so-called War on Terror, this article is essential reading. It is even more essential reading for all those who don't think that it matters.

Can we trust Big Brother?

Look at (into) his eyes:

A Story of Surveillance

Former Technician 'Turning In' AT&T Over NSA Program

(Washington Post, Nov 7)

"That was my 'aha!' moment," Klein said. "They're sending the entire Internet to the secret room."

The diagram showed splitters, glass prisms that split signals from each network into two identical copies. One fed into the secret room, the other proceeded to its destination, he said.

"This splitter was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style," he said. "The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T's customers but everybody's."

Australian Spooks Stuck With 2nd Hand US Intel?

Oh Robyn, that piece was pure gold.  Of course, never in Australia, eh?

The whole bloody thing is turning into a fiasco.  I know  I talk about Parkin too much, but I'm still amazed that the Australian media haven't arced up more on the obvious double-violation by ASIO in that  they undoubtedly used improperly held US intel to make their adverse security classification.  Quick refresher time

A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA [US Army's Counterintelligence Field Activity]] 's database. It's not clear why the Pentagon considered the protest worthy of attention--although organizer Parkin had previously been arrested while demonstrating at ExxonMobil headquarters (the charges were dropped). But there are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. A Pentagon memo obtained by NEWSWEEK shows that the deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that some TALON reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained.

 ... which ASIO took and gave to the Howard Cabinet.  Of course they're still fighting not to divulge - if the story has a chance to "break" before the election it will, coupled with the splendiforous NSA net-thieving (and they're probably sucking Australia's net-output in on the side, too) the Australian public is going to become extremely suspicious that this federal government might be allowing its citizens to be electronically monitored by Cheney.  Parkin demonstrated how corrupted the intelligence flow can become, the NSA are showing the magnitude on which such operations can be carried out.

As you will have read by now, Fraser and Whitlam have called for ministerial accountability for this growing litany of civil liberties violations.  I wish they'd also called on ASIO to 'fess up.  We need a case to be out in the open, and given that the timing of the last legal round of the Parkin hearings coincided with calls for a civil liberties election, I belief that a good dose of spy-paranoia could be the political straw that breaks Howard's electoral back.

It was so much easier in the seventies.  A short-wave with sideband would pick up a lot of phone traffic.  Now ASIO has to ask Cheney to run off a copy of what he gets from the NSA.  How much do you wanna bet?

Here's another though: if the NSA are giving Cheney all the AT&T traffic as unfiltered data, what might be done with such information if it was edited to maximise political power?  Do you wonder now if the understaffed AFP are actually physically monitoring chatrooms such as the one Haneef was in, or were they being passed second-hand information from the NSA/CIA?  If a similar situation as has demonstrably existed in the Parkin case, then the idea is not as "out there" as it may first appear.

It's not just ministerial accountability that Whitlam and Fraser should be calling for, but more so a level of accountability of our intelligence procedures thhat will enable us to know that their activities are being conducted in Australia's national interests, and not just one where it's in our national interest to help the Bush Administration.

A Load Of Tosh

I didn't make it past the first few paragraphs to note that the head of MI5 is avoiding the fact that they along with their US counterparts have done their best to inflame every goddamned potential enemy the West could have.

These guys take us for fools - what's even worse is that they take those who will do us harm for fools as well.

Amazing stuff - the guy has the hide to be blaming the mass broadsheets for disseminating the lies and mistruths that MI5 have a dangerous history of spreading themselves.

Which side is General Musharraf on?

The people he has arrested in the last few days besides judges and lawyers have included peace activists, teachers, artists — basically the kind of people who have done more than anybody else to push ahead his avowed agenda of moving Pakistan away from religious militancy.

On the night he declared the emergency, General Musharraf released 28 Taliban prisoners; according to news reports, one was serving a sentence of 24 years for transporting two suicide bombers’ jackets, the only fashion accessory allowed in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled areas. These are the kind of people who on their off days like to burn down video stores and harass barbers for giving shaves and head massages.

In what can be seen only as a reciprocal gesture, the Taliban released a group of army soldiers it had held hostage — according to the BBC, each soldier was given 500 rupees for good behaviour.

Why do General Musharraf and his army feel a sense of kinship with the very people they are supposed to be fighting against? Why are he and his army scared of liberal lawyers and teachers but happy to deal with Islamist Pashtuns in the tribal areas?

Supposedly the "War on Terror" is a fight for democracy. We have been supporting some leaders while hanging others. It seems to me that the West does not understand the politics of any Muslim nation. We should not give support to one and destroy others. It is for the Muslim nations to  choose their path and we should not interfere. We must have faith in the Muslim nations to choose what is best for them. We should offer humanitarian aid through the United Nations and spend the resources we spend on war, on strengthening  the United Nations. We should be building respect for international law and multilateral agreements. Not trying to pick winners in a world of chaos.

A site I don't trust

Sorry I'm clogging the thread, but this item just came up.  I've been suss that Debkafile might be a propaganda front since its dirty bomb scare triggered a radiological exercise on the streets of New York in August.  Intelligence agencies, after all, have to get their intelligence from somewhere, and I wouldn't be surprised if a Rendon Group style of operation was providing it through "appropriate" websites.

Have a look at this, while you're waiting for the Israeli announcement::

The inner cabinet meets Wed. Nov. 7, to discuss the shortened timeline estimate for Iran to attain a nuclear weapons capacity, based on new intelligence information. IDF intelligence chief Brig. Yossi Baidatz told the Knesset foreign affairs and security committee Tuesday that Iran would have this capacity by late 2009, whereas the previous estimate was 2010 or 2011.

Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi told a radio interviewer that the new timeline made 2008 the critical year for grappling once and for all with the Iranian program.

The new data was put before the ministers ahead of their meeting Wednesday. DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that American nuclear and intelligence experts agree on the timetable after poring over the new intelligence input. This includes materials gathered in the Israel attack of Syria’s nuclear installation on Sept. 6. They have reached three key conclusions:

1. That Iran is engaged in the secret production of plutonium for nuclear weapons as well as radioactive materials for a dirty bomb,[my bolding as a told-you-so) in parallel to its uranium enrichment projects. Israeli intelligence has believed this for three years, but until the operation in Syria there was no concrete evidence. This discovery is at the center of the current US-Israeli controversy with the International Atomic Energy Agency- IAEA, Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei.

If he accepts the evidence, it will be an admission that his vast inspection apparatus in Vienna, whose job it is to watch out for nuclear misdemeanors across the world, missed out twice – in Iran and then in Syria. Dr. ElBaradei might then face the suspicion that his work is governed by political rather than professional motivations.

Up until now, the nuclear watchdog’s chief has not sent inspectors to examine Israel’s findings at the two Syrian sites targeted. He evidently fears they will come back with evidence of plutonium-related nuclear activity.

2. The working premise followed by American and Israeli intelligence is that if Syria was on the road to manufacturing plutonium, Iran must be far more advanced on this course and must be presumed to have begun manufacturing enough waste for dirty bombs and very likely also the materials for a nuclear bomb.

This premise demands a radical reassessment by the United States and Iran’s Gulf and Middle East neighbors of their options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and essential restructuring of the Israel military’s functions to meet a possible radioactive attack by Iran or its terrorist proxies close closer at hand.

3. DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources report that these developments throw new light on the role of the Iranian heavy water plant at Arak, whose capacity to produce plutonium places it at the center of Iran’s nuclear program.

These fear factory speeches are utterly self-defeating

Simon Jenkins in today's Guardian

There can be only two results from this abuse of publicity. One is that the public demotes such scares to wolf-crying and treats them as background noise. The other is that, as all scare stories stereotype communities, the host nation distances itself from whatever group allegedly harbours the threat. The latter in turn retreats and denies the police the intelligence required for public safety. In other words, speeches such as those from the head of MI5 are wholly self-defeating.

Golly Gee, trust us please!

There was a time when 'British justice, British policing' was the envy of the world.  Today police can pump a person full of bullets and not even face a court or tribunal, and the whole of the 'justice structure' lies in an attempt to hide the facts.

You can now be held for --14, 28 -- days, without charge and there is no rights  to an explanation, no recourse that that person can take.

The 'terrorists', with the enthusiastic help of the authorities, have won.  The much vaunted freedom of the British, that democracy is supposed  to bestow, has long gone and those that sensible people ought to fear are home grown and come in uniforms.

Who would have ever thought that democracies would capitulate without a shot being fired, without a whimper?


(Tonight I am off to the lecture: Democracy, popular consent and the waging of war,   6:30, Sydney university.  just getting in form!   SMH Opinion  has Democracy's strength lies in safety in numbers, by  professor Allan Stam,  a Yank, speaking tonight. This promises to be fun!)

dear love was a better cuddly name. Trust us, we're spies

Agree with you Peter yet again. 28 days just passed in parliament (and Tony wanted it 56 days). But we do have that effectively here anyway, hidden in the ASIO Bill. Look at the Senate discussion about it. Revolving door permanent detention for interrogation of anyone, not necessarily even guilty in any way, but who may know something over the age of 16.

And TRUST. The people trust us. They trust us. We work for them. We protect. We’re warm and cuddly. We won't hurt you (. . . unless absolutely necessary for what we want, then we torture or blow you up).

Very bilious to read such tripe from Mr Evans. I wonder who wrote it. Perhaps should have a health warning.

I must say a very unimaginative name. I much prefer Captain Scarlett and Dearlove. Mr Evans …an occupied nation's name.

He was trained in the classics and would well know about Grecian chariot attacks in political need. Put on the Board a few days before 911. Splat goes the chariot.

Trust. So should we who are Brits trust our own MI5? Interesting question. Trust them in what way precisely? To continue to justify and promote whatever the agenda for war and as such providing living examples of such activity? Does the evidence publicly available support that?

Dear Mr Evans was there for the IRA infiltration and Steakknife activity, his portfolio, in the 80s and 90s. Do we trust him based upon that? look up Steakknife and decide for yourselves. Eerie parallel. Perhaps this is Mullahknife. Can just see him hand up, "pick me sir, I have a clever trick that worked in Ireland". America pulling the plug worked in Ireland.

Dear Mr Evans was there in the second closeted meeting with Kelly, picture it: when Kelly was angry about being deceived and made threats … After which Kelly went off, made plans for the next week, sent of planning emails about returning to Iraq, emailed Judith warwhore Miller, and then was murdered. It was then covered up by Government in the Hutton "enquiry" stooging job. . All this is based upon public evidence now available.

Do we trust him and his covert domestic agency, based upon that?

He was part of the group who produced and assessed the Iraq weapons of mass destruction and presented it as fact to the government. Now we know these were fabricated and lies.

Do we trust him based upon that?

He was part of the group who investigated the 7/7 bombing, with "intelligence" closely linked to the alleged Khan instigator. The investigators failed to arrest the fifth member of the group, McDaid, an SBS commando trained in bombing techniques and noted as the main one pushing for violence by Hutchinson's (the computer nerd who helped the group and first alerted local authorities to McDaid) testimony, but not arrested/detained prosecuted. Was he a plant? Was Hutchinson? The latter has DVDs of McDaid. Why a bomb expert? Did he train them? Why push for violence if a plant? Were they set up as patsies for the event by McDaid? No connecting trains ran that morning did they? Stuff up that wouldn't last proper scrutiny unless agency involved. Was McDaid SteakKnife for Islamic terrorism boogeyman? Come clean Mr Evans about 7/7.

We won't trust you after that but we will happily charge you and your lot.

Was McDaid, or some other McDaid, that fluent speaker of so many languages, then sent to Basra to dress up as Mahdi members with the bombing gear? Sure we'll trust you. The Shiites of Basra didn't after that. The world has internet photos of those terrorist agents , do they match any other photos?

Is the Islamic "threat" is Steakknife all over again, with infiltrators organising huge terrorism attacks in order to implant fear and vilification, and justify violent government suppression, with the same bloodied hands upon each trigger. McDaid is an Irish name isn't it? where is Steakknife now? Supposedly Italy. Like Isaacs was, the man Menenez was mistaken for when executed.

How would any one trust such agents, the tools of such a Government ? One can expect more convenient bombings and arrests as each piece of legislation that removes our rights is ready for voting and each war needed for CFR etc aims arises.

I wonder if it is any coincidence that it is our three governments: UK US and Australian, that have applied the same legislation almost in lockstep since 911 and fought the same wars. Not Canada, not NZ. We three.

I wonder if terrorism would disappear if occupations and oppression and covert agencies did.

Would be a lot cheaper too. Man do we all need a huge clean sweep!


I no longer wonder at what inspired "V" when one sees what they have got away with so far. Bio is the real WMD group. And we can't even contain horse flu…


The whole thing is obviously a bloody mess, and the Coalition's intelligence agencies are obviously in more than a quandary.  We're being asked for trust when the only evidence we're given steers us in the opposite direction, and it's evidence provided by politicians that's doing this job.

How much of the "terrorist threat to Australia" is actually paranoia that Australia is being used as a preparation for attacks on Britain?  Haneef certainly, and now that Evans has raised problems with Somalia that have been kept fairly quiet here, the suspicion arises that the stemming of the flow of Somali refugees might be for the same purpose.  The denial in the US press that such a situation existed here pertaining implementation of bombing attacks on America was a bit of a giveaway, too.

What if all this bullshit we've been enduring has been predominantly for the purposes of eliminating possibilities that might occur in other countries?  And what if genuine intelligence fears are being mangled by the pollies?

The only time we hear anything is when an operation is botched.  What we then learn is not a basis for faith.

Have a look at David Marr's interpretation of ASIO's approach to Parkin in the SMH today.  Their argument that any disclosure of information is counterproductive to their activities has fallen on it face.  Here we have a bloke who might well have been planning further Halliburton protests in the US who has been treated like a potential dirty bomber, and ASIO have grounds to be very red-faced.  Why they don't simply divulge the political tampering to exonerate themselves is beyond me.  It might even restore some faith that intelligence organisations are capable of distancing themselves from political pressure.

The fact that O'Sullivan was promoted to his current position just after the rescue of Doug Wood suggest that in Australia it would be impossible.  O'Sullivan trotted out the "Operation Lightning success story" to the US through Fox and then became head spook.  Bush trotted out Operation Lightning as a WOT success story, though by then Wood had lost his usefulness through his blatant opportunism.  Right from the get-go it appears that the Wood situation, like the Parkin situation, like the Haneef situation, like the Hicks situation, have been international exercises in propaganda.  Notes on Doug Wood, written as the story unfolded, can be found here.

And what about the dirty bomb thing?  Liam Fox is drumming it up in the UK, Homeland Security are thrashing it home in the US, and the idea is still fictional.  Sure, you could imagine a Somali refugee might be an al Qaeda "sleeping" here with a view to detonating in London in, say, five years time, but so could anybody.

Trust, at the moment, looks like leading to a lockdown of western society for our own protection, on the say-so of authorities who don't appear qualified, with the support of politicians hanging onto power any way they can.  Trust. No Worries.

What ASIO Say They're MeantTo Be Doing

Right there on the cover of their home page:

ASIO's main role is to gather information and produce intelligence that will enable it to warn the government about activities or situations that might endanger Australia's national security. The ASIO Act defines "security" as the protection of Australia and its people from espionage, sabotage, politically motivated violence, the promotion of communal violence, attacks on Australia's defence system, and acts of foreign interference.

It was a good idea. Sad that they've become such a political tool in the hands of the Liberals. Sadder still that they've become a local branch of the CIA and MI5.

"Foreign interference" is apparently what drives the organisation nowadays.

David Roffey, your reasoning regarding the speech is spot on. That it was ever uttered suggests either ignorance or contrivance, and surely the Director General of MI5 could not possibly be so ignorant?  The fact that Evans' edicts have such an obvious influence (through their passage via ASIO to our ministers) on Australian politics is cause for grave concern.

ASIO, ASIS and trust

This reads as a demand for the British people to trust their security services.  Why would that be necessary at all, one wonders, if they were doing their work within boundaries determined by democratic rights and the rule of law?  Oh, they're not?

As to trust between Australians and our Federal security agencies: I was horrified by the Bali bombing bit no less horrified at the tragic innocence of the Australians who chose to holiday in Bali at the time.  Did they know nothing about Indonesia?  But then it emerged, gradually as I recall, that there was knowledge of the high possibility and an expectation of such an attack within Australian security agencies.  I don't remember now...was their a DFAT travel advisory about the risks of travel to Bali? 

The best defence against an attack on democracy is to strengthen the institutions of inclusive democracy. 

(Thanks to M.K. for bringing the spell check button to my notice!).

Other Threats

As you are well aware one of the gravest threats to the health of the industrialised democracy is cars.

You will be well aware of the extremist ideology behind this threat.  That future generations should be robbed for our convenience.  That the poor should subsidise the rich.  That the health of children and the amenity of communities should be sacrificed to a machine.

You will be well aware that those behind this threat are influential and well funded.  

In countries like our own it is well known that the threat is driven by overseas interests.

etc etc ad nauseam

How is this stuff reported with a straight face.

These are the people who shoot someone because they are dressed inappropriately for the climate.  State sanctioned violence like that doesn't get called terrorism.  I wonder why. 

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