UN Tapping

A former senior cabinet member in the UK administration says she saw evidence of surveillance carried out by the UK secret service against Kofi Annan – Secretary General of the United Nations. If this is to be believed then it would be in line with the whistle blower case of Mrs Katharine Gun – who said she saw an email detailing covert surveillance against UN delegations by the US (and UK?) intelligence services.

In the run up to the illegal Iraqi invasion – there was a mad frenzy of cajoling, corruption and clobbering to build both a military coalition and it seemed more importantly, a diplomatic coalition. To this end it seems, surveillance of the UN Secretary General’s office and the delegations of strategic members was regarded by the US and UK administrations as very important.

One might imagine that the UN secretariat in New York would be a hotbed of spying and covert operations. The spy agencies of every member nation would be actively snooping on everyone else. That conjures up cold war paranoia, of secret deals and clandestine meetings in dark alleys. These revelations are increasingly fueling this feeling.

There is no democracy in the world that allows the invasion of privacy of any entity, private or public without explicit and compelling grounds. Such grounds are not based on personal or political interest. It is always based on public and national interest. So what possible grounds could have been sufficiently compelling to get the UK spying on the UN. Surely the UN is not a hostile entity to the US and UK national interest.

But the UN has said if these allegations are substantiated, they would be illegal (the spying not the allegations!). Sure they would contravene UN regulations and damage the contract of trust between members. But regulations are one thing, enforcement and penalising the offending party is quite something else. In the diplomatic horsemarket that is the UN, it doesn’t bear romanticising that laws would be upheld – certainly not against the US and the UK – both permanent Security council members and both extremely influential in the circles that matter.

In the end, some muffled apology may be made, embarrassing blushes and radio silence on the issue but no real questions will be asked and fewer answers provided.

Blessed are the Whistle blowers

Conscience is a funny thing – its quiet persistence has changed the world, the lack of attention to its call has doomed many. The very thought of a good conscience and acceding to its dictate evokes admiration and respect amongst one’s peers. Yet there exists today a multitude of people who face daily prosecution for acting according to their conscience.

Katharine Gun – a civil servant albeit a little one within the highest echelons of the UK military command – GCHQ, is a prisoner of conscience. She defied the Official Secrets Act to bring to the public view an email allegedly from the US intelligence services detailing covert (read dirty tricks) against certain UN delegations in early 2003 for the purpose of ‘persuading’ support for the US led ‘coalition’ invasion of Iraq. The operations included wire taps and other surveillance. The email came into her possession and she read it. Troubled by the implications of information therein she contacted the Observer who published the story.

After months of investigation the case finally went to trial. To the relief of Mrs Gun and all her supporters the case collapsed – because the prosecution had no evidence to present. Clearly this was politically motivated, there was an email – that is presentable evidence. The actions, actors and others involved in the dirty tricks, perhaps shedding light on the UK involvment in such operations – all this is possible evidence and testimony.

There is no denial of the facts that the email existed, nor any official denial of the dirty tricks spoken of.

Its called a leak – when the information ‘flow’ is deliberately disrupted and sensitive information goes via unintended channels to unintended recipients. The plumbing in this case is the highly secretive network of the security apparatus of the UK and the US. An apparatus which has protected and permitted the state and its powerful few in their deception of the many. An apparatus that considers itself beyond the scrutiny of the very public whose interests it supposedly protects.

As whistle blowers go, she is typical – unassuming and dedicated to her profession (in this case, she is a translator). Not particularly political (although she had strong anti war sentiments – these were more humanitarian than political), she however does possess impeccable civic responsibility. She believes in the right of the people to know and she did something about it.

Nothing but her conscience separated her from others who would have seen the same email . Undoubtedly others too read its contents, understood the significance of it, the implications of such actions by those with the ‘noble’ cause of removing Saddam. Perhaps they were blinded by the dogma of the secret services. Perhaps they thought that it was their duty to stop such information from reaching the public domain. Perhaps they just didn’t care enough. Whatever the reasons, they would do well to remember that they are servants of the people and in the end it is the civil society to which their primary allegiance must lay.

So , blessed are the whistle blowers, for in their forthrightness lies the discovery of truth and truth is the sword of justice.

Civilian Casualties

‘Iraq attack kills three US troops’ – BBC News Online.

‘Iraq GIs killed’ – The Sun.

Since the end of the US led , British supported war in Iraq, a total of forty seven American service personnel have been killed in attacks by ‘remnants of the old regime’, ‘members of the defunct Ba’ath party’ or ‘guerrilla forces loyal to Saddam Hussein’.

Whilst American and to a lesser extent other allied lives in Iraq are meticulously accounted for, there are no accurate figures for Iraqi, neither military nor indeed civilian, casualties for either the war or the time since.

Mainstream media has been obviously pro-allies, pro-US in the war and post war reporting. The portrayal of the US army as anything other than a liberation force is anathema, a force that went into Iraq from a purely moral standing – to do the right thing and depose a tyrant and his bloody horde. Oil, strategic regional control, imperial objectives and defiance of international law are all non-issues – dreamt up by conspiracy theorists and anarchists to not even be dignified by debate by the very people who we elect to represent our views.

With the shortage of objective international observers on the ground typically present at most international conflicts, those interested in the Iraqi casualty statistics must find them somewhere else. The American and British governments have refused to provide any statistics for Iraqi casualties, infrastructure and property damage, internal displacements or any other yardsticks for measuring the impact of conflict on the Iraqi population. Why is this?

Withholding the truth is often worse than misrepresenting it. Not only does it give the impression of arrogance by those withholding it – as though somehow those demanding it are not able to understand; it raises the spectre of speculation – it means that those demanding the truth can let their imaginations run wild and make up pretty much what they like. But misrepresentation and withholding of truth to shape public opinion – propaganda – is a long recognised military and political strategy. One we have seen no shortage of in the events leading to this war and since.

American forces Central Command press reports sometimes provide a basis for estimating Iraqi military casualties during the war in a purely military raids – most of which have ceased since the official end of the war. More importantly, civilian casualties since the end of the war are not recorded officially, if they are the officials are not providing the information.

The deaths of Iraqi civilians in post war Iraq is hardly, if ever, reported in the mainstream media. This is not because there aren’t any – there are. But true to type, the mainstream media, including the more ‘liberal’ publications are not concerned about these lives. Such news does not sell newspapers. Furthermore, it seems there is an institutional subjugation of press responsibility – something often pointed out by true journalists like Pilger and Fisk – where editors and journalists ‘just know’ what not to cover – they have special radar that tells them what rocks the establishment boat and what does not. There is no need for government pressure on such editors to abandon stories or misrepresent the truth; it seems this is just the way it is taught in journalism school.

So for those interested in the Iraqi civilian costs of the post war occupation, we must turn to our ‘on the ground’ correspondents like Fisk, who report what they see in its entirety, who provide impassioned opinions on the suffering that the Iraqis are going through. Yes there is physical suffering – the hospitals are understaffed, barely equipped; there is shortage of bare essentials; there is barely a civil infrastructure to provide any kind of social service. All of these conditions existed when Saddam was in charge (incidentally, these conditions were caused then, as they are now, by the US and Britain through their mostly unilateral support and enforcement of genocidal sanctions against the people of Iraq). But the Iraqi people have had time and bitter experience to come up with ways to manage the physical suffering. What is far more painful is the occupation by a foreign power that is uninvited and unwelcome. Sure they got rid of Saddam and his henchmen (there is little point here to labour the fact that they sustained, armed and encouraged him in his regime for over 35 years), but they are also running roadblocks, stopping and searching civilians, raiding homes, killing civilians with impunity. The fear of enslavement at the hands of the self styled liberators is something the Iraqis have deeply rooted in their consciousness; unfortunately it is not an unjustified fear. There is nothing the US and Britain can say or do to make this fear go away – mainly because their plan does not involve leaving the Iraqis to independently determine their future, having control of the world’s second largest known oil reserves have seen to that.

Reading an article by Robert Fisk on the alleged killing of Saddam’s two murderous sons, he mentions the shooting at a US roadblock of a car that failed to stop – it was riddled with bullets until it exploded killing its two occupants – both male, both burnt to a crisp. US troops left the scene, with the car burning offering no aid to their victims. Mainstream media would never call it murder – but it is. Those men could have been brothers, they were someone’s sons, maybe someone’s’ fathers and husbands. But we will never know, they were so badly burnt, they could not be identified. They join the unknown but growing number of Iraqi civilian casualties that the world does not want to know or care anything about.

The new US commander in Iraq – General John Abizaid – has acknowledged a guerrilla style resistance to the American led occupation of Iraq. For now it is reported as ‘guerrilla forces loyal to Saddam Hussein’, is it so far fetched that people would actually fight to liberate their country from foreign occupation? Would Americans or Britons not employ every means necessary to eject a foreign occupying force from the streets of New York or London? Would they not fight till the last to preserve their sovereignty and liberty? Yet it seems when it is done by the Iraqis (or Palestinians for that matter) it is categorised (and reported) as terrorism. In this new war on terrorism in which those who oppose are terrorists, no civilian casualties of US aggression will be accounted for. They simply do not matter.

This article was originally written 26 July2003.