Wednesday 16 October 2013

David Cameron's witch hunt against truth and openness

If David Cameron ever had any grip on reality, it is becoming increasingly clear that he has completely lost it now.

On the 16th October 2013 he gave an absolutely ludicrous answer to a question requesting an assessment of whether the Guardian's Edward Snowden leaks have damaged national security, which was delivered by Cameron's fellow Tory MP Liam Fox (remember him? - the disgraced former defence secretary that had to resign after letting his "friend" jet around the world with him and sit in on top-secret meetings). Cameron's answer would have been bad enough had it been a spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff answer, but it wasn't. The Prime Minister's Questions process is that the PM is warned well in advance what his questions are going to be, in order to prepare his answers, which means that his response to Fox's Guardian question was entirely pre-conceived.

The fact that the question came from one of Cameron's former ministers (who would probably still be a cabinet minister if it wasn't for his own outright contempt for national security), suggests that the question was actually fed to Cameron so that he could make the statement that he did.

Here's what Cameron said.
"The plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security and in many ways the Guardian themselves admitted that when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and cabinet secretary to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files ... so they know that what they're dealing with is dangerous for national security. I think it's up to select committees in this house if they want to examine this issue and make further recommendations."
I'm just going to run through a few of the errors in this statement:

The first and most obvious point is that there would clearly absolutely no need for an investigation into whether the Guardian have damaged national security if it is "a plain fact that what has happened has damaged national security" as David Cameron claimed. If it was actually so clear cut that the Prime Minister could describe it as a "plain fact", then any investigation would quite clearly be a waste of parliamentary time, and a waste of taxpayer's money wouldn't it? Why not just declare the Guardian a terrorist organisation and shut them down if the facts are already so plain?

The use of the word "fact" is problematic on more levels too. If an investigation does take place, then surely an announcement that it is "a plain fact" that the Guardian damaged national security from the Prime Minister in front of the politicians charged with conducting the investigation into whether the Guardian damaged national security, is seriously prejudicial. It is now extremely unlikely that parliament could conduct an unbiased investigation, given that the Prime Minister has already announced their verdict before any investigation has even been launched.

The next problem with Cameron's use of the word "fact" is that it is unsupported by any empirical evidence. For anyone with a scientific or analytic mind, a statement unsupported by empirical evidence is not a "plain fact" it is quite clearly an opinion. This is far from the first time that a high ranking Tory has misleadingly dressed up their own opinion as fact, however it is surely one of the most high profile.

The only thing that Cameron offered to support his claim that it is a "plain fact" that the Guardian have damaged national security is an absurd narrative about how he bullied them into destroying their hard drives means that they "admitted" their guilt. This is such a ludicrous attempt to spin the story that only the most credulous of die-hard Tory loyalists could possibly be taken in by it. Cameron didn't send his cabinet secretary to "politely ask" the Guardian to destroy the files, he sent him to threaten them with legal action if they didn't hand the files over to the government, to which the Guardian response was to destroy them, because they knew they had more copies of the information overseas.

It is also interesting to note how Cameron repeatedly chunters on about the importance of "the free press" when it comes to defending the financial interests of foreign press barons like Rupert Murdoch and Jonathan Harmsworth, but when it comes to the freedom of the press to report on the massive anti-democratic state surveillance programme administered by GCHQ, which is financed and overseen by foreign spy agencies, he sees fit to personally intervene in a desperate attempt to bully the press into silence. The man is a disgusting hypocrite who will say anything in defence of his wealthy backers, then do exactly the opposite to protect the interests of the establishment.

In light of the fact that the Guardian retained copies of the Snowden information elsewhere, in countries which have more respect for the freedom of the press (Brazil and the United States!), the Guardian decision to destroy the UK copies of the files demonstrates not that they "admitted" their guilt, but that they openly defied Cameron's attempt to confiscate the files in order to find out exactly how damaging the leaked information could be. It seems that Cameron got personally involved because he was desperate to find out how much dirt the Guardian had on him. Just a few weeks later the UK government did manage to get hold of the leaked information by unlawfully detaining David Miranda at Heathrow Airport and confiscating his personal property.

There is an atmosphere of fear and intimidation around the activities of the UK secret services fueled by David Cameron's witch hunt against the Guardian, the unlawful treatment of David Miranda and the new MI5 director's absurd claims that to discuss the activities of the secret services is to support terrorism.

Several politicians from either side of the political spectrum have been brave enough to stand up against what has been going on despite this atmosphere of intimidation. Here are some of the comments in the week preceding David Cameron's ludicrous answer.

Ken MacDonald (Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions)
"It seems very obvious that when it comes to surveillance and techniques of domestic spying, the law should be the master of technology. Anything else risks a spiraling out of control, an increasing subservience of democracy to the unaccountability of security power. This means, at the very least, that as technologies develop, parliament should consider afresh the rules that govern their use by state agencies ... Nothing could be more damaging to public support [for the secret services] than a notion that, in pursuing a broadening vocation, the spies somehow find themselves squinting through lenses not just at the villains, but at the rest of us too."
David Maclean (Tory peer and former Tory party chief whip)
"I do not want our national security apparatus operating in what seems to me to be outside the law or on the very edge of the law. Or if it is just within the law, certainly without parliament knowing. Many of us are happy to have certain information collected by the state but, by God, we've a right to know the parameters under which they are operating ... Doing a deal with American security services to share information they have lifted about Brits I think is something the British public, through parliament, should either stop or consent to."
Nick Brown (Labour MP and former Labour chief whip)
"The similarity between part 1 of the proposed data communications bill [Theresa May's Internet Snoopers' Charter] and the events Mr Snowden is describing as already taking place is uncanny ... It covers the same set of circumstances. The bill was trying to be permissive in that all material could be saved for a year. It now looks very much like this is what is happening anyway, with or without parliament's consent."
Paul Strasberger (Liberal Democrat peer and member of the Joint Intelligence Committee)
"You have to wonder why, even in the secret sessions, none of the witnesses mentioned Project Tempora … It was highly relevant to our work and I believe that deliberate failure to reveal it amounts to misleading parliament."
Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat MP and member of the Joint Intelligence Committee)
"Those of us on the committee were never told by any Home Office officials about the fact the data was already available ... In our report, we accused them of being misleading. It seems they were far more misleading than we could have realised at the time. Presumably, the home secretary knew that this was information they already had available, in which case she was not fully open with the committee. If she didn't know, that raises real questions about her role ... We know the cabinet was not briefed ... We have no idea who was. Was it just the prime minister? Was it a handful of others? Who made the decision not to tell other people? This is incredibly alarming. I hope we will be able to see proper debate and parliamentary scrutiny of this issue. We know that the security services play a very important role but they should operate with public consent."

Given all of these accusations that the GCHQ Tempora spy programme had not been authorised by parliament, that their activities had been deliberately hidden from parliamentary scrutiny, that the security services have already implemented Theresa May's snoopers' charter, even though the legislation has now been ditched, that the security services misled parliament, that Theresa May misled parliament (or is such a useless patsy that she doesn't even know what's going on in her own department) and that the security services are operating outside the law (or on the very edge it), it seems absolutely remarkable that David Cameron would be focusing his attention on the newspaper that revealed the information that made these complaints possible.

Instead of calling for an inquiry into whether the security services have acted unlawfully by misleading and bypassing parliament, he's busy calling for an inquiry into the conduct of the newspaper that exposed the truth. Instead of addressing the issues that the Snowden leaks have revealed about the anti-democratic behavior of the security services, David Cameron is intent on shooting the messenger that brought these deadly serious issues to light.

It seems that David Cameron would prefer it, not only if the public didn't know about the undemocratic and dishonest way in which the security services have conducted their business, he'd prefer it if the Joint Intelligence Committee (the people that are supposed to provide democratic oversight of the security services) were completely in the dark too.

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