Thursday 11 June 2009


The following appears in the current issue, no 57, of Lobster (£3 from 214 Westbourne Hill Avenue, Hull HU5 3JB) which will be the last in hard-copy format. The issue features a piece on pre-emptive war by Paul Todd, one of the authors of the book I reviewed, a wrap of recent material on the JFK, RFK and Wallace assassinations, a deconstruction of Martin Jacques and Marzism Today's part in the rise of the New Labour Thatcherism, and two amusing pieces, one by Anthony Frewin reminding us that Richard Nixon never confessed anything to David Frost and another drowning in the morass of D. Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories, about which I will eventually write here as well. Lobster will continue in some format on the web, so please keep posted.

Spies, Lies, and the War On Terror
by Paul Todd, Jonathan Bloch, and Patrick Fitzgerald
Zedbooks, £14.99, ISBN 9781842778319

This book is published as the debate rages in America about whether or not the activities of the Bush regime, specifically the torture of various combat detainees and suspects rendered from various parts of the world, should be subject to some sort of investigation, if not a truth and reconciliation commission. The larger issues, involving the systematic bending of the tasks of the intelligence community to create enough of an excuse for war, but also concerning both the morality and legality of such aggressive war, lie dormant behind the sexier images of torture and Abu Ghraib. But the odd thing is that, in America's public debate, 'the facts' of the past eight years remain contentious, and debatable, whereas, as this book clearly illustrates, they are part of a policy continuum, whose boundaries had been set out clearly in the decades before 9/11, and, on a broader scale, whose basic premises continue to threaten civil liberties in the West.

The strength of this book is the way it considers a spectrum of issues, and draws the lines which connect them. It starts by examining the threat of 'Islamism', not in the wake of 9/11 but tracing it back to its roots in the Carter administration's support for Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. The simple point, that the US and Britain now find themselves just as mired in that country as the Russians did three decades ago, barely needs to be stated. That the architects of an earlier alliance of 'creative destruction', in the brilliant terms of neo-con apparatchick Michael Ledeen, the makers of Iran Contra, should be setting the agenda for the second President Bush came as no surprise, but that there was such a continuum through the Clinton years perhaps should. Depending now on a Sunni 'arc of moderation' has simply inflamed the area further, with Pakistan, rapidly destablising, at the fulcrum of this divide.

Having set out broadly the strategies responsible for creating this mess, and made clear that those responsible remain detemined to make it worse in the interests of promoting their concept of American (and British) ascendancy, the book sets out briefly but comprehensively the nature of the alternative intelligence (and media) structures created to massage the facts into justifications for enacting those plans. Bush, Chaney, and Rumsfeld devised their own intelligence apparatus, not only to produce the desired results, but also to wage a propaganda war on their own population.

Of course, this material that has been out there for years, but what is interesting in this new look at it is the way it is put into the context of an overall approach to the 'threat of Islamism'. Besides revealing the smoke and mirros behind this essential charade, the book's examination of other key long-term links, such as those between the Project for the New American Century and Benjamin Netanyahu's first Israeli government, whose focus continues into the second Natanyahu era, indicate the absurdity of believing the present policies of the West have any desire, much less possibility, of actually achieving a 'solution' in the Middle East.

That Richard Perle was passing information to the Israelis from Senator 'Scoop' Jackson's office, where Paul Wolfowitz also worked, in the early 1970s, simply reinforces the idea that we are seeing a continuum of policy, a 'long war' whose modus operandi, as the authors make clear, we've seen before. The phony intelligence estimates of the Soviet threat, produced in the 1970s by the so-called Team B, were drafted largely by Wolfowitz. The neo-con movement was experienced at phony excuses for military chest-thumping thirty years ago; they simply got better with practice.

After a discussion of the eroding of civil liberties during this 'war on terror', the authors move to a specific discussion of Europe. The US used the 9/11 'attack' to invoke Article 5 of the NATO charter, and create a platform from which to launch many of its covert operations. One question the authors do not address is the parallel between the way the Pentagon in the US sought to control intelligence, and thus create a policy-making platform for itself, and the way NATO has become an autonomous policy-making body, rather than a mutual defense treaty. They do trace another parallel, in the way the European Union has morphed from a trade and travel agreement into a vast non-elected form of government. They trace in great detail the growing and most worrying aspect of control acquired by unelected bodies, bureaucrats, and indeed failed or disgraced politicians from member countries. Though we look to Europe to protect human rights through its courts, the amount of intelligence currently shared automatically by its members is staggering, and puts projects like the introduction of ID cards in this country into an even more-worrying perspective.

Early in the days of 'axis of evil' and 'war on terror' those of us who alluded to George Orwell and his notion of perpetual war were derided, while the David Frums of the world inhabit the BBC's analysis programmes. If one were to further draw connections to the paranoid work of Philip K Dick in today's electro-magnetic world, one would be similarly marginalised. Yet, as this book concludes, 'calls are monitored, travel circumscribed, and torture is again being routinized (sic). All this is done in the name of security in the War on Terror.'

What was most worrying about the recent G20 protests in London was the way the police have been encouraged to distance themselves from the citizenry, whether protestors or passersby, and consider them uniformly as threats. This is the enduring legacy of the war on terror, and it begins, and ends, with the twisting of intelligence to suit the purposes of bureaucrats with power. This is the chilling warning this book provides.

Between the time I wrote that, and its appearance, I attended the book's launch, where a number of speakers elaborated on the issues raised by Spies, Lies. Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, who wrote The Political Police in Britain some thirty years ago, was the most forceful, pointing out that what was an exceptional situation when he wrote that book has become permanent, everday reality, and with chips in automobiles, medical records, and fingerprinted passports, it can only get worse, as the EU is way ahead of Britain in pioneering the one-card-fits-all model. He pointed out the uses of terror; when police raided the 'ricin factory' in Harringey, they never notified public health authorities, to prepare for a possible emergency; when it turned out there was never any ricin, the news was not released for three years. He pointed out two ironies: that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have perfected the means of surveillance we always accused them of using to cripple liberty, and that the prime use of torture has not been to gain information but to systematically generation further justifications for additional state control and power. In the face of governments harnessing what he called a 'digital tsunami' terrorism doesn't threaten our way of life, but the reaction to terrorism certainly does.

Since then, as well, Barack Obama has made a stirring speech implying a new American position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, his promise to shut down Guantanemo has proven to be riddled with loop-holes, and we've just learned Obama's government plans to 'resettle' some 17 Uighurs, Chinese muslims sold for bounty money to US forces happy to accept any warm bodies as trophies in the war on terror, to the Pacific island of Palau. Palau appears to have discovered some 200 million good reasons for risking the wrath of China and accepting them, but according to the State Department, the gift of such monies was purely coincidential. Really. The rest of the Guantanemo prisoners, who have had done to them things we hung Japanese for back in 1945, remain in limbo. It's hard to determine exactly where Obama's priorities lie, but it seems clear that the progress of the machine seems to be beyond the control of anyone, no matter how stirring their oratory.

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