Shhhh… don’t mention “Tempora”!

When my MP, Martin Horwood, refused (repeatedly) to put the relevant questions to the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee, there seemed no option but to cut out the middle-man… Viva democracy! 😉

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Dear Malcolm Rifkind,

This is a note directed to you in your capacity as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, a position that makes you accountable to the entire electorate.

I have a couple of questions, please:

1. The Daily Mail quotes you as follows: “In general, Snowden’s behaviour has been hugely irresponsible“. Could you explain why you prefaced this opinion with “in general”? Does this mean you believe *specific* aspects of Snowden’s behaviour haven’t been so irresponsible? If so, which bits?

2. The Guardian has revealed that GCHQ believes the UK’s regulatory regime to be a “selling point” to the NSA? A key part of this regulatory regime is obviously the committee you chair, the I&SC. How do you feel about this?

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your email dated 4 August 2013 to the Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, in his capacity as Chairman of the Intelligence. and Security ,Committee of Parliament (ISC). I am replying on his behalf.

As you will know, public comment on intelligence and national security issues, by its very nature, can rarely be detailed and specific. Sir Malcolm will have used “in general” simply to avoid confirming or denying any particular allegation raised by Mr Snowden. Sir Malcolm has also made clear that the unauthorised and irresponsible leaking of classified intelligence documents can provide information that would help those planning terrorist acts to avoid detection.

Turning to your second point, I will not comment on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the UK’s regulatory regime for its intelligence and security Agencies includes numerous safeguards, including the appointment of members of the judiciary as intelligence commissioners as well as the parliamentary oversight conducted by the ISC. This year, the Justice and Security Act strengthened and extended the powers and independence of the ISC. These reforms have given the ISC even greater authority to carry out oversight of the intelligence and security Agencies, including scrutiny of their operational activities.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks.

I’d like to submit a related query if I may, as follows:

Further to its recent investigations into the NSA’s “Prism” programme, can you confirm whether the ISC will also be investigating GCHQ’s “Tempora” programme?

For info, I asked my MP (Martin Horwood) to make this enquiry on my behalf some weeks back, but his office refuses to respond on the matter. I therefore have little choice but to submit the enquiry direct.

Best regards,

Joe

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

Thank you for your further email of 30 August 2013, asking an additional question about the investigations being carried out by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament (ISC).

I can only re-iterate that I will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ. However, the Committee has announced that it is considering further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, remains adequate. The Committee will therefore be examining further the complex interaction between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, and the policies and procedures that underpin them.

ISC Secretariat

Many thanks. I have two additional follow-ups, which I’m sure you’ll be only too willing to address given interactions like this are the lifeblood of democracy.

1. You say that you “will not comment specifically on leaked information supposedly attributed to GCHQ”. Why, then, did the ISC see fit to publically comment on GCHQ’s use of intelligence gained through “Prism” – another clandestine and highly controversial SIGINT programme, details of which were revealed by Edward Snowden? It would seem entirely inconsistent to comment on one programme (Prism), but not the other (Tempora).

2. You say that the ISC will be “considering whether the statutory framework governing access to private communications, including internet-based communications, is adequate”. Does not the intelligence watchdog within a democratic state have a more substantive responsibility to pass judgement on whether a heretofore clandestine mass surveillance programme is ethical/moral, as distinct from merely legal?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Joe Sucksmith

“Vietcong” – what’s in a word?

Recently, as I was doing a rare spot of ironing, I caught part of a TV discussion between John Simpson and a BBC anchor about, amongst other things, the US government decision to open negotiations with the Taliban. In the context of this discussion, Simpson mentioned the “Vietcong”, or “Viet Cong”, on several occasions, as an example of – inevitably – an “enemy” with whom the US was eventually forced to negotiate.

Recalling from my university days that the term “Viet Cong” was anything but neutral, I decided to write to Professor Ngo Vinh Long (of the University of Maine) to establish the facts concerning the term’s origins…

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Dear Professor Ngo Vinh Long,

Please excuse the unsolicited mail, but I wondered if you might be able to shed some light on the origins of the label “Vietcong”, which has entered the (western) vernacular as a descriptor for the Vietnamese who fought against the US during the “Vietnam war”?

My current understanding is that the label derives from a longer phrase “Viet Gian Cong San”, originally used by the US-backed Diem regime to tar all those within, or sympathetic to, the NLF as “communists”. But is this accurate?

With best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

Dear Mr Sucksmith,

The term Việt Cộng was invented by Colonel Nguyễn Văn Châu, director of the Central Psychological War Service of the South Vietnamese Armed forces from 1956 to 1962. I knew him personally because from 1959 to late 1962 I was also a military map maker, making 1/25,000 military maps of the entire South Vietnam and parts of Cambodia and Laos. At that time there was also a “Communist Denunciation Campaign” (Phong trào Tố Cộng) and Colonel Châu intentionally coined the term as a homonym for “Diệt Cộng” (Annihilate the Communists) since the D and V are pronounced like a Y in Southern accent. He was very proud of this play on words and kept on repeating it to me and others many times.

Colonel Châu gave a detailed interview on this and other psychological warfare techniques that he and the Saigon regime used to Richard Dudman, known as the dean of American journalism (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 24, 1972.)

From what I know, I don’t think the term comes from Việt Gian Cộng Sản, which is certainly never used in any official documents from South Vietnam.

Regards,

Ngô Vĩnh

Dear Ngo Vinh,

Many thanks for the response, which I find fascinating. Perhaps I could ask a brief follow-up…

What term is used most often within Vietnamese literature to describe the South Vietnamese who resisted the US-backed Diem regime, and later invading US forces?

Joe

The term “quân kháng chiến” (resistance fighters) and “quân giải phóng” (liberation fighters) were used the most.

Ngô Vĩnh

Many thanks. Does it follow from this that most Vietnamese would consider the term “Viet Cong” to be essentially pejorative? Or just merely inaccurate?

Joe

Pejorative. The majority of the people fighting with the Front for the National Liberation of Vietnam did not consider themselves communists in anyway. They considered themselves nationalists or patriots. That was one of the reasons why Hanoi disbanded the PRG (Provisional Revolutionary Government, which composed of the “NLF” and other groups) almost immediately after “Liberation.”

Ngô Vĩnh

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So there you have it: “Viet Cong” – a pejorative term, coined by the propaganda wing of the US-backed Diem regime, and designed to characterise those resisting US-backed aggression as “communists”.

Small wonder its use is so widespread at the BBC… 😉