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

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“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

———-

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… 😉

The gatekeeper-in-chief strikes again…

In an earlier post, I asked whether the BBC Trust would investigate the axing of Ilan Ziv’s “Jerusalem – An Archeological Mystery Story”.

The answer, but of course, is no..

Dear Mr Sucksmith

Decision not to broadcast ‘Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story’ in April 2013

Thank you for writing to the BBC Trust about the BBC’s decision not to broadcast Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story in April 2013. I am very sorry that you feel the BBC has not given you a proper response to your complaint.

The Trust is the last stage of the complaints process and everyone who works within the Trust Unit is outside the day-to-day operations of the BBC. We review the complaints that come to us to assess whether they should be put before the BBC’s Trustees for them to reach a final decision. If you want to find out more about how the complaints system works – and in particular about how the BBC Trust fits in – this is the web link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/complaints_framework/

There are two committees which decide complaints: the Editorial Standards Committee and the Complaints and Appeals Board. The Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) hears complaints about specific broadcasts, where there is a significant risk that one of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines has been breached. The Complaints and Appeals Board (CAB) hears general complaints which may relate to programme output, or may be about any other part of the BBC’s operations (for example, complaints about TV Licence collection).

I should explain that the Trust does not take every appeal that comes to it. In deciding which ones should be considered by the Trustees, we look at the merits of the complaint and only ones that stand a reasonable chance of success are passed to Trustees. The Trust acts in the interests of all licence fee payers and it would not be proportionate to spend a good deal of time and money on cases that do not stand a realistic prospect of success. The link that I have given above gives more information about this.

I have read the correspondence that has already passed between you and the BBC.

I am sorry to send a disappointing response but I do not believe your appeal should be put in front of the Trustees. I have attached a summary of your appeal as well as the reasons behind my decision with this letter. As this Annex may be drawn on when the Committee minutes are written, the writing style is formal. While I regret the impersonal feel of this, I hope you will appreciate it allows the Trust to work efficiently.

If you disagree with my decision and would like the Trustees to review it, please reply with your reasons by 30 September 2013 to the Complaints Adviser at trust.editorial@bbc.co.uk or at the above address. Please send your reasons by this deadline in one document if possible.

Correspondence that is received after this date may not be considered as part of your request for a review of the decision. If, exceptionally, you need more time please write giving your reasons as soon as possible.

If you do ask the Trustees to review this decision, I will place that letter as well as your original letter of appeal and this letter before Trustees. Your previous correspondence will also be available to them. They will look at that request in their October meeting. Their decision is likely to be finalised at the following meeting and will be given to you shortly afterwards.

If the Trustees agree that your case has no reasonable prospect of success then it will close. If the Trustees disagree with my decision, then your case will be given to an Independent Editorial Adviser to investigate and we will contact you with an updated time line.

Yours sincerely

Leanne Buckle

Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser

Annex

Decision to withdraw programme about Jerusalem

According to the General Complaints Procedure, the Trust will only consider an appeal if it raises “a matter of substance”. This will ordinarily mean that in the opinion of the Trust there is a reasonable prospect that the appeal will be upheld. In deciding whether an appeal raises a matter of substance, the Trust may consider (in fairness to the interests of all licence fee payers in general) whether it is appropriate, proportionate and cost-effective to consider the appeal.

Background

The complainant had contacted the BBC after it decided to withdraw the programme Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery from broadcast. He had sought information about the editorial reasoning for not broadcasting the programme and who had taken the decision.

“em>Ilan Ziv’s film was originally acquired earlier this year to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. Acquisitions are often prepared for transmission close to broadcast and it was only at this point that it was decided that the film did not fit the season editorially and was not shown. We would like to assure you that this was an internal decision and there was no political pressure involved in the decision to suspend this programme. We’re sorry for any disappointment caused but please be assured we are talking to the director about future plans for the film, the outcome of which will be published on the BBC’s FAQ website: http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ in due course.”

When the complainant pressed for further information, he was told:

…we are not in a position to discuss the specific details at present. As we have said, we are talking to the director about future plans for the film and we will publish the outcome on our FAQ website at http://faq.external.bbc.co.uk/ once these plans are decided. In the meantime we regret there is no more we can add.

The complainant had initially escalated is complaint to the BBC Trust on 3 June 2013. The Trust Unit considered that BBC Audience Services ought to give more information and, on 18 July, he was sent the following response:

Ilan Ziv’s film about the archaeology and history of Jerusalem and surrounding areas was acquired by the BBC for transmission during a BBC Four archaeology season. It was found during the re-versioning of the film to 60 minutes in length that it covered broader issues and for that reason, it was decided to withdraw it from this particular season. The BBC is now working with the film maker on a new version of the film and will issue a further statement once that process is complete.

Appeal

The complainant remained dissatisfied. He appealed to the Trust and stated:

…the circumstances surrounding the original axing need to be adequately explained. And of course, the more the BBC Executive procrastinates, the greater the impression they have something to hide. To re-iterate: I am seeking a full explanation of what was meant by the phrase “does not fit editorially”. This will obviously entail reference to the specific editorial criteria that the programme was considered against, and the reasons why these criteria were not considered to have been met. I think it would also be useful to know HOW these decisions were made, and by WHOM.

The Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser (the Adviser) carefully read the correspondence which had passed between the complainant and the BBC, and she acknowledged the strength of the complainant’s feelings. She noted that the Executive said that the programme had been acquired to supplement BBC Four’s season exploring the history of archaeology. She noted that the most recent response from the BBC had elaborated on its first reply and had explained that it was only when the film was being shortened prior to transmission that it emerged the film covered broader issues than had initially been understood and it was subsequently withdrawn from the series about archaeology.

The Adviser noted that the complainant had been told the film would be shown at a later point and had been given a webpage that would be updated once a new date had been confirmed. The Adviser considered Trustees would be likely to conclude that the complainant had been given a reasoned and reasonable response on this point and did not believe it had a reasonable prospect of success, therefore she did not consider it should be put before Trustees.

The Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser understood that the complainant felt frustrated that the BBC had not given further details about the decision. However, she considered there was no obligation on the BBC to do this. She noted that the Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC drew a distinction between the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC Executive Board, led by the Director-General. “The direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output” was specifically defined in the Charter (paragraph 38, (1) (b)) as a duty that was the responsibility of the Executive Board, and one in which the Trust did not get involved unless, for example, it related to a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards which did not apply in this case. Decisions relating to what programmes to include within a themed series fell within the “editorial and creative output” of the BBC and were the responsibility of the BBC Executive. The issue of how much detail to provide about the reasons for such decisions was also a matter for the Executive.

Therefore the Adviser considered that it was not appropriate for the appeal to be put before Trustees on this point. Therefore the Adviser considered the appeal did not have a reasonable prospect of success and should not be put before Trustees.

Fixing intelligence around the policy, JIC-style!

An exchange with Patrick Radden-Keefe, author of Chatter, dating back to 2007. As relevant as ever (imho) in light of the “intelligence” recently served up to persuade MPs and the public to support the bombing of Syria…

Dear Patrick,

Trust you’re well.

In your article, “The Long Intelligence Haul“, published at Slate, you argue that “The rush to war in Iraq… represented a false positive, in which analysts too readily connected dots and saw a threat where there was none”, and furthermore that “The weakness that got us into Iraq should be relatively easy to fix”.

I can see where you’re coming from here, but, in my view, this analysis – which you elucidate further in the rest of the article – is misconceived. In particular, your premise – that “analysts too readily connected dots” seems not to capture the essential dynamic, in my view, of the relationship between the intelligence agencies and government – at least, not in the UK. May I ask if you’ve read the transcripts of the Hutton Inquiry? The inquiry, justifiably in my view, took a real pasting in the UK press at the time, but one thing it did do was confirm that UK foreign policy is formulated by an elitist, anti-democratic clique, consisting of senior ministers, unelected policy aides and advisors, and the heads of the main UK intelligence agencies.

What’s clear from the testimony is that the intelligence chiefs served up a threat assessment to suit the political needs of the UK government. And, of course, what the government desperately needed at the time was a document that hyped the threat from Iraq in order to soften up public opinion for military action that HAD ALREADY BEEN DECIDED UPON IN WASHINGTON. We know this latter point is accurate from the Downing Street Memo – a transcript from a meeting which took place in July of 2002, at which all the usual UK suspects were present, including the heads of the foreign intelligence agencies (GCHQ, MI6). We also know from further testimony submitted to Hutton – from, amongst others, Brian Jones (DIS) – that there was considerable concern within the lower ranks of the intelligence community about the way the government dossier was being drawn up, and, specifically, the prominence that was being afforded to particular pieces of intelligence (e.g. 45 minutes and uranium from Niger).

In other words, at the level of the individual analyst, it would appear that the dots were NOT in fact being connected – at least, not in a manner that portrayed Iraq as the clear and present threat that Blair and others would later claim. On the contrary, the picture painted by the evidence at Hutton
is one of senior managers – and ultimately the JIC – over-ruling the concerns of analysts lower down the hierarchy and cherry-picking intelligence to suit the needs of government.

Given that the heads of MI6 and GCHQ were present at the July 2002 meeting and intimately involved in the subsequent drafting of the dossier building the case for war against Iraq, the conclusion that the upper echelons of the intelligence agencies have become dangerously politicised seems inescapable. Your analysis seems to level blame at the level of individual analysts, yet in reality, it’s pretty clear that blame lies higher up, with ultimate responsibility falling upon the agency heads that make up the JIC. Being a structural problem, this politicisation of the upper echelons of the intelligence agencies is anything but “easy to fix”. Indeed, without wholesale (democratic) reform, it’s hard to see how any significant change might come about.

Best wishes,
Joe

Dear Joe:

Many thanks for your email, and please forgive the delayed reply. I couldn’t agree more with your point about politicization, but in glancing back at the article, I think that was actually part of the point I was aiming to make. Of course Iraq was an instance in which political masters ordered up the intelligence they wanted to buttress their aims and claims. I should have qualified the phrase “analysts too readily connected the dots” to make clear that analysts were effectively being told to do so by their bosses. But that’s precisely the “strong wind” that I quote Paul Pillar talking about. As for how hard or easy it will be to fix, the Iran story I cite does give me grounds for optimism, and I still believe that relative to the false-negative problem, the false-positive problem is less of a challenge. As you rightly point out, the political elite twisted and manipulated the classic bottom-up intelligence production arrangement, and having been badly burned, I think many in the intelligence community are working hard to restore the integrity of those procedures.

All best wishes,
Patrick

Dear Patrick,

Many thanks for your email.

Having re-read your article “The Long Intelligence Haul” in conjunction with your email, I do appreciate that we are, to a large extent, “singing from the same hymn-sheet” here. That said, I do detect an important, if somewhat nuanced, difference between our respective analyses. Paul Pillar’s “strong wind” does indeed seem an apt metaphor for what happened vis-a-vis Iraq, but only up to a point. As I see things, the real question is from WHERE this wind is emanating. I could be misinterpreting, but you (and Pillar) seem to be suggesting that the source of this “wind” is/was the politicians, who then leaned on intelligence chiefs, who then leaned on analysts. This is certainly how I read your statement below for example:

“…the political elite twisted and manipulated the classic bottom-up intelligence production arrangement.”

What I was attempting to suggest – obviously very badly! – was that this conception of events, whilst not inaccurate, doesn’t quite capture the real dynamics of the relationship between the intelligence agencies and politicians. The way I see things, the intelligence chiefs are themselves a PART OF THIS “POLITICAL ELITE” – both in practice and in terms of ideology (how they “see the world”). Put another way, the intelligence chiefs are not, in my view, accurately conceptualised as a separate entity being leaned on by politicans; rather, they are a part of the very same decision-making and policy-formulating elite, which clearly has major implications when thinking about potential reform. Indeed, short of ripping out the upper echelons of the intelligence agencies, it’s hard to see how any reform will actually achieve the desired goal of ensuring the agencies’ independence – both ideological and actual.

Of course, another issue that is relevant to reform in the UK (and this applies especially to British sigint) is the “two masters” dilemma – the fact that UK intelligence agencies are heavily reliant upon US intelligence. Indeed, GCHQ, as you are well aware, is almost completely integrated into a network ostensibly run by the NSA, and this poses an additional layer of complexity when it comes to consideration of potential reforms.

Regarding your discussion of the “false-negative” problem, I don’t disagree, but of course, ultimately, this is a problem that can only be alleviated, even resolved, by finding political solutions to the underlying causes of terrorism. Once politicians and intelligence agencies start recognising the root causes of terrorism, and once politicians start implementing policies that ensure people around the globe are not receptive to extremist rhetoric (of varying types), then the “false negative” problem disappears as there are simply no dots to connect. All a bit idealistic? Perhaps. There’s no doubt in my mind, however, that we need to start radically re-evaluating our theories and approaches towards securitisation, with a much greater emphasis upon excision (of problems) at root.

Anyways, apologies for rambling and thanks for reading.

Best wishes,
Joe

Martin Horwood digs himself deeper on Syria

Martin Horwood MP has released the following statement, explaining why he voted in favour of a Government motion designed to pave the way to quickfire US-UK bombing of Syria…

Horwood’s statement on the parliamentary vote on Syria, Thursday 29 August:

The evidence that the Syrian government was to blame for the chemical attack is overwhelming.

Unlike Iraq, we know the weapons exist because they have been used. No military expert has even suggested that the rebels have the capability to launch a simultaneous chemical attack on multiple neighbourhoods on a scale that hospitalised thousands and killed more than a thousand. We know the government has ample stocks of chemical weapons – they have boasted about this themselves – and that they have the capability of launching them. The launch areas were all in government-held areas. If it wasn’t done by the government, it must have been done with their active support. The target areas were all rebel-held or contested areas. There is clear intelligence that government troops were ordered to put on protective masks immediately before the attacks. And there were hundreds of independent accounts on social media within minutes identifying the targets and sources of the attacks and which Syrian armoured brigade was involved.

You don’t even have to believe the Americans this time. The evidence has been endorsed by our own Joint Intelligence Committee who found ‘no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.’ Shashank Joshi of the Royal united Services Institute, an eminent independent expert on Syria who has addressed my own LibDem parliamentary committee, said on the day: ‘The debate over Syria is now less over whether chemical weapons have been used – something that even pro-Assad states accept, and which looks likely to be confirmed by UN inspectors – but over the question of which level of the Syrian regime should be held culpable’.

We can’t guarantee that military action will help but logic suggests that a sufficiently serious strike against military or command capability will at least make him think twice before using chemical weapons a second time on this scale. Assad may be a psychopath but he’s not stupid – no military commander in the middle of a bitter civil war wants to risk important military assets if he doesn’t have to. And if the Americans can actually destroy or degrade the weapons stockpiles or launch capabilities themselves that would of course reduce the risk of them being used again.

These are some of the reasons I voted for the government motion. I’m bitterly disappointed that we bungled the vote (even though there was probably a parliamentary majority in favour of action with certain guarantees) and agreed to do nothing. That will please only Assad, Putin and any other brutal dictator who will today feel slightly more likely to get away with murder.

Martin Horwood MP

2 September 2013

Some immediate, and slightly desultory, thoughts on this…

1. The statement is dated 2 September, yet is being released today, i.e. some two weeks after it was (purportedly) drafted. Why is this? Could it possibly be that Martin realises he has made a monumental screw up by voting in favour of the motion, and is hoping that the release of such a statement the same day the UN releases its report might provide some kind of retrospective validation of his decision to vote in favour of bombing? If so, he should be aware that nobody’s fooled by such a crude propaganda ploy.

2. The first paragraph of the statement draws exclusively on information (or more accurately “speculation”) contained within the US intelligence assessment released on 30th August. Logically, therefore, none of this information could have influenced the way Martin voted on the 29th August. When he says, then, that “these are some of the reasons he voted for the government motion”, he is being at best slippery, and at worst deceitful. Again, nobody is fooled.

3. Of the various elements Martin has extracted from the 30th August US briefing, one jumps out more than most, namely his claim that “there is clear intelligence that government troops were ordered to put on protective masks immediately before the attacks”, which reads like a Government press release. The reality, of course, is that this is simply regurgitation of a US claim, which – naturally – is unsourced, and thus anything but “clear”.

4. Martin writes: “You don’t even have to believe the Americans this time. The evidence has been endorsed by our own Joint Intelligence Committee who found ‘no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.’” A couple of important points about this. First off, note the phraseology: the US intel “has been endorsed” by our own. This implies that the US intel came first, and the JIC assessment second. In fact, it was the other way around. Indeed, UK parliamentarians voted solely on the strength of a JIC assessment that Martin himself referred to pejoratively as “evidence” (his inverted commas) in his Echo “House Notes” of 02 September. Second, the JIC should be trusted approximately as far as it can be thrown. Let’s not forget that this is a committee that, we now know beyond doubt, exists to fix intelligence around policy. Remember those comedy claims of Iraqi WMD that could be deployed within 45 minutes? Well, they were incorporated into a document constructed and signed off by the JIC. The JIC, then, is not an entity deserving of trust; on the contrary, it is an entity deserving of a healthy level of mistrust.

5. “Assad may be a psychopath but he’s not stupid…”, Martin writes. Well, “stupid” enough, it would seem (by Martin’s reckoning at least) to unleash a chemical weapons attack that would provide the necessary pretext for US “intervention”, just when the UN inspectors are in town. Hmmmm.

6. “And if the Americans can actually destroy or degrade the weapons stockpiles or launch capabilities themselves that would of course reduce the risk of them being used again”, Martin writes. The sheer idiocy of this statement is gob-smacking. So let’s get this straight: the US is going to reduce the risk posed by chemical weapons by dropping bombs on them, quite possibly spreading the chemical weapons and creating a disaster? Well crank this little beauty up! Of course, unsaid (or possibly not undertood) by Martin is that any US bombing would most certainly degrade the Syrian Government’s ability to wage war against the opposition more generally, tipping the military balance in favour of the opposition (a-la Libya)… which of course is precisely the point.

To conclude…

The reality, much to Martin Horwood’s chagrin, is that the “no” vote in the UK parliament stalled the planned US-UK bombing and created the necessary time and space for a peaceful alternative to emerge, namely the Russian plan to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons via UN-mediated inspection. And while it’s true that such a plan isn’t likely to halt the bloodshed in Syria, UK citizens can take heart from the fact that their relentless lobbying has managed to stop the world’s principal rogue state – the US – from once more riding rough-shod over international law in pursuit of its (barely concealed) geostrategic interests.

Martin Horwood’s Syria moment

A letter to the Gloucestershire Echo, further to MP Martin Horwood’s decision to support UK involvement in the illegal bombing of Syria…

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Dear Sir,

In his “House notes” of 02 Sept, Martin Horwood suggests that the 285 MPs who opposed the Government’s motion on Syria were either pacifists (by which he means naifs), Little Englanders (by which he means xenophobes) or, well, Labour (who, by definition it would seem, could only possibly be motivated by a desire to damage the coalition).

Absent from this analysis is an appreciation that a great many MPs and constituents opposed the motion because they understand that the drive to bomb Syria has little, if anything, to do with deterring the use of chemical weapons, and everything to do with securing key strategic interests (the removal of a recalcitrant leader allied to Iran and Hizbollah and the shoring up of Israel’s regional hegemony); and furthermore that, to this policy end, “intelligence” is once more being cherry-picked, spun and – in parts – almost certainly fabricated (bless those “Israeli intercepts”, which, lo and behold, “cannot be disclosed”!).

Though not an MP when parliament infamously voted in favour of illegally invading Iraq back in 2003, Martin Horwood has always claimed that he strongly opposed the invasion at the time. Indeed, as recently as 13 June, Martin was making a speech in parliament lamenting the fact that weapons inspectors had not been given more time and chastising the Government of the day for “tactically deploying” arguments and cases to support their “real political objectives”.

The Syria vote therefore represented a golden opportunity for Martin to “walk the walk”; to demonstrate he’d understood the scale and significance of the intelligence deception in the run up to Iraq; and to prove to increasingly sceptical voters that his opposition to the Iraq war has been genuine, and not merely a “tactical deployment”.

He blew it. Big time.