Thursday, October 02, 2014 

Moazzam Begg and the incompetence of MI5.

The release of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, 5 days before he was due to stand trial on terrorism charges, once again raises questions about the relationship between the police, Crown Prosecution Service and the intelligence agencies.  It also makes clear how political pressure is being put on banks to close the accounts of charities which have links, however tenuous, with those active on the ground in Syria.

Worth setting out from the start is Begg and Cage, the group he represents, were not completely honest about what he was doing in Syria.  In a lengthy piece for Cage prior to his arrest but after his passport had been confiscated, he maintained his visits were mainly aimed at gathering further evidence of US/UK complicity in torture, "accumulating testimony and information for a report on the situation of the current prisoners as well as the accounts of those who had been detained and tortured in the past."  There's no reason to doubt Begg on this count.  He did also however, as he was going to argue in his defence had the case proceeded to trial, train young men in how to "defend civilians against war crimes by the Assad regime", something apparently made clear by the titles of "electronic documents" he was also charged with being in possession of.

Begg's defence was set to argue that just as the UK government was providing non-lethal aid to the rebels, he was doing much the same only in a personal capacity.  Whether this would have won over a jury is open to question: it certainly didn't save Mashudur Choudhury, who was found guilty of preparing acts of terrorism in Syria despite his failure to so much as join up with a rebel group once out there.

Quite where the involvement of MI5 began is similarly indefinable.  Begg writes of a meeting with an officer where both sides had lawyers present, at the end of which it was made clear MI5 did not object to his travelling to Syria and would not stand in his way.  It seems difficult to believe the investigation by West Midlands police into Begg didn't involve collaboration with MI5 in some way, even if they didn't instigate it.  If as seems likely it was this meeting with Begg that belatedly led to his being released, why was it not communicated to the police and CPS sooner?  Why also did it then take a further two months before the case was dropped after the intelligence was communicated?

Predictably, this has seen claims made that Begg's release is more about behind the scenes efforts to free Alan Henning than it is the undermining of the evidence against Begg.  Quite how dropping the charges against Begg will make Islamic State more amenable isn't explained; far more likely is the Times' story has been planted to spare MI5's blushes.

As for whether Cage itself will receive an apology now that its outreach director has been freed remains to be seen.  Barclays closed Cage's bank account earlier in the year due to its association with Begg, as did the Co-op Bank.  At the heart of the issue remains the government's contradictory approach to Syria, still not cleared up by the joining of the attacks on Islamic State: it supports the rebels, but considers anyone who travels to the country a potential terrorist.  Little wonder the police and CPS themselves appear to be confused.

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Thursday, November 07, 2013 

The illusion of oversight.

It would be an exaggeration to say today's first ever public session with the heads of the intelligence agencies was a waste of time.  Finally getting MI5, MI6 and GCHQ to answer questions from a committee in front of the cameras is itself an achievement; not so long ago Andrew Parker and Sir John Sawers' predecessors were refusing to give evidence to any other parliamentary committee, and would only do so to the Intelligence and Security panel in closed session.

Apart from their showing up though, there wasn't much else to recommend them having bothered taking time out of their schedules.  A flavour of just how little we were likely to learn was in the ludicrous "security" measures that were taken: journalists weren't allowed to take their phones in, for who knows what reason, while the session was broadcast with a two minute delay just in case any information believed too sensitive was discussed or mentioned.  Considering it was unlikely Parker, Sawers or GCHQ's Sir Ian Lobban were suddenly going to detail exactly how it is we combat cyber espionage, or listen in to the communications between al-Qaida leaders, this presumably was meant to be in case a committee member quoted too liberally from the Edward Snowden revelations, or rather, to give the impression such sensitive material could be discussed.  All but needless to say, it wasn't.

There were at least a few minor points, mainly from Parker, which we weren't entirely aware of before.  He put an actual number on the plots which have been foiled since 7/7, saying there had 34, one or two of which had the potential to be mass casualty attacks, presumably a reference to the "liquid bombs" plot and the cell disrupted in Operation Crevice.  Seeing as we've heard from 3 different heads of MI5 now, including Parker, who have repeated the claim there are around 30 plots on-going at any one time, with 2,000 individuals involved in one way or another, these two figures don't exactly tally.  Is MI5 in fact more successful than it's letting on, or are the extremists less competent or committed than is routinely imagined? This discrepancy wasn't remarked on however, unsurprisingly.  Parker's other point of interest was, despite the whining from Labour earlier in the week, they don't regard the replacement of control orders with TPIMs as having had any adverse effect on security.

The rest of the session was dedicated almost entirely to questions that we either already know the answers to, or which the agencies themselves have responded to in one way or another.  Sawers gave the same response when asked if MI6 would ever work with foreign agencies who use torture that he has previously, saying that if he was concerned someone could be mistreated he'd get ministerial approval, and if he was certain there would be, authorisation would never be forthcoming.  This approach was presumably not in operation when two of Gaddafi's opponents were rendered back to the dictator's most notorious jail courtesy of MI6 with Jack Straw's signature, but none of the committee were crass enough to raise the issue. Sawers was also pleased the Justice and Security bill was passed, "as this meant they could "now defend themselves" in such cases, rather than say ensure such embarrassing details as the seven paragraphs never become public again.

You see, secrecy isn't to prevent the services being embarrassed or privacy concerns from becoming known, it's only to ensure those who want to do us harm aren't aware of how we prevent them from doing so, as "nosy" Parker made clear. The idea that GCHQ has been reading everyone's emails and listening in to phone calls just isn't true, said Lobban in response to some very carefully worded questions. Snowden's revelations of course didn't say that they did, as such a thing would be impossible, rather that Tempora has meant they can hoover up all that information. Lobban claimed that their approach was to get to the needle without upsetting the haystack, which was a wonderfully revealing analogy: GCHQ can apparently do the undoable! Or, err, they can't and don't.

Thus we moved on to the ordained Guardian bashing section. Sawers growled that the paper is "not particularly well placed to make [that] judgement" on what would and wouldn't affect national security, echoing the position chairman Malcolm Rifkind had already reached. Sawers added that "our adversaries had been rubbing their hands with glee ... al-Qaida are lapping it up", yet when the three were asked for specific examples of the damage done, they naturally refused to compound it by setting some out.  Lobban said they had "intelligence on specific terrorist groups discussing what they now perceive to be vulnerable communications methods", which rather suggests that, err, they haven't made any such shift yet, and that they might have been rather slapdash in the first place.  All three would expand on the damage done, but only in a closed session, meaning us proles will never be able to judge whether or not the three were telling the truth. Their point was also slightly undermined when they accepted that the ISC had not been kept informed of how their capabilities had developed, learning along with the rest of us from the Guardian, but this too would now be remedied in a closed session. No one suggested that this was perhaps a little late, nor does it inspire confidence they will be more up front in the future.

There were also some great big pork pies in amongst the dull stuff.  Parker, quite incredibly, said that MI5 "was not arguing for more intrusion and more and more powers", even going so far as to say they had turned down "disproportionate" offers in the past.  Really?  Did MI5 really tell Blair and then Brown they didn't want 90 days or 42 days detention?  Eliza Manningham-Buller might have said she didn't believe it was necessary, but that's not the same thing.  As for the data and communications bill we know full well all three agencies have been lobbying hard for, and which would have enshrined in law the powers the Guardian revealed GCHQ already has, we heard absolutely nothing about it.

The committee, with the possible exception of Lord Butler who asked a couple of the more searching questions, completely flunked the opportunity to get any real nuggets of information out of the three.  No one thought to ask why it was the Americans have funded GCHQ to the tune of £100m over the past three years, or what GCHQ meant when they boasted to the NSA that the "legal framework" here was a "unique selling point".  We also didn't hear why it was that only the prime minister and relevant secretaries knew about Tempora, with the national security council and other senior ministers not being informed.  If we're being charitable, perhaps two out of the Guardian's ten questions were somewhat addressed.  The rest were clearly far too pointed.
 

The real purpose of today was to present the illusion of oversight.  All three intelligence chiefs thought the current regime worked quite well, as indeed it does, for them at least.  When the head of the committee asking the questions makes clear the media simply doesn't have the knowledge to make a decision on what might damage national security, and so shouldn't publish anything without first consulting the very people they're about to expose, it's abundantly clear the entire system is a joke.  Even with its expanded powers, the ISC is a fig leaf, and whether the secret state likes it or not, it's one that goes on shrinking.  The sooner we have a regulator that's worthy of the name, the sooner the public concern about privacy and civil liberties will subside.  Sadly, that seems as far away as ever.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013 

Hip, hip hooray!

Can we have three cheers for the Intelligence and Security Committee?  Having postponed the hearing where the heads of MI5 and MI6 would have been questioned for the first time in public as it was "too busy" trying to get to the bottom of the Woolwich murder and the ability of GCHQ to get access to almost any data that it feels like, it's managed to come to a firm conclusion on whether or not the access GCHQ has had to the NSA's Prism programme broke the law.

Could you possibly believe that it didn't (PDF)?  Indeed, it was fairly obvious that it didn't when dear old Bill Hague stood up in parliament and inferred, for that was as far as he went, that everything GCHQ did was signed off by either him or another minister.  It was up to the Graun to inform us that everything was legal and hunky dory as GCHQ's Tempora programme, similar to that of Prism, is operated on the basis of certificates and warrants that are renewed every six months, taking advantage of the wide discretion given in paragraph 4, section 8 of the RIPA act 2000.

Of course, the ISC doesn't specifically state this is how the system operates, as that might make clear just how wide open it makes it for potential abuse.  It merely alludes to it, with the line that "a warrant for interception, signed by a Minister, was already in place".  Meekly, it does make the point that even though written just over a decade ago, RIPA is clearly out of date, as "it is proper to consider further whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate".

Which is only a slight understatement.  RIPA was never written with the intention of giving the security services access to what is likely thousands of terabytes worth of data, which can then be stored for up to 30 days. In part, this is was what the communications bill was meant to address: ministers and the security services just didn't think it was relevant to let us know that they already had access to the exact metadata that was to be collected through it (Tempora collect the data itself as well), under a system that is legal even if it stretches RIPA to absolute breaking point.

In a way, the revelations via Edward Snowden and the Graun have actually played into the securocrats' hands.  Now it's apparent that GCHQ can get access to whatever it wants anyway and it's all perfectly legitimate, what's the point of opposing a bill that will simply update it for a modern age?  Thanks also to the D-Notice and much of the media deciding that the security services are above suspicion, there's been hardly any outcry here at all about the impact on privacy, in complete contrast to how the news of snooping under Prism has been received in mainland Europe.  Moreover, we've got a generation growing up now used to sharing their lives online, apparently perfectly happy with the premise that if you've got nothing to hide you've nothing to fear, where movies actively celebrate how wonderful and beyond reproach Google is.  To say this doesn't bode well for a future where the internet is only going to become even more integral to everyday life no longer seems vaguely paranoid; instead, it looks set to become a fundamental challenge to civil liberties.

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Monday, July 01, 2013 

Not much intelligence etc.

The Intelligence and Security Committee wants to be taken seriously.  We know this because in its previous incarnation it was regarded as a bit of a joke, producing reports so ridiculously censored that its existence was a waste of everyone's time.  It was lied to repeatedly by the intelligence agencies, and when it wasn't being lied to it was more than happy to change the very meaning of words in order to clear those it was meant to be monitoring of any involvement in little things like extraordinary rendition.

When it then postpones the very first occasion on which it was meant to be questioning the heads of the security services because "it's too busy", meaning that it almost certainly won't be rescheduled until October once the summer recess is done and the party conferences are over, first you smell a rat and second it makes a mockery of the new powers it's received.  As the Graun almost incredulously reports, surely Thursday would have been a great opportunity to question those who normally prefer the shadows, both on whether more could have been done to prevent the murder of Lee Rigby (extremely dubious, although there's plenty they could have asked about MI5's involvement with Michael Adebolajo and his family) and on the revelations about GCHQ's spying on the G20 meetings and alleged tapping of the country's main fibre optic cables via Project Tempora.

Frankly, who knows whether it was the committee or the agencies that decided they simply couldn't be quizzed on TV when interest would have been high.  No, far better to let everything calm down, the accusations against GCHQ to be pushed to the back of minds, and then allow John Sawers and Andrew Parker to be extremely lightly grilled at some point in the future.  Taking into account that the trial of Adebolajo and Adebowale has been set for the 18th of November, it wouldn't surprise if the heads either refused to answer questions on the Woolwich murder in light of the trial, or if the session was pushed even further back.  Regardless of the reality, the ISC is hardly convincing that it is up to the job it's been set, and that's just the way that the spooks like it.

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Monday, June 24, 2013 

So it goes.

You don't really need me to tell you that there's a hilarious irony at work in the merry dance Edward Snowden is leading both the US authorities and journalists in. Thanks to his leaks we know that both the NSA and our own GCHQ believe that they have mastered the internet, working close to hand in glove with the world's major internet firms, even able to tap into the fibre optic cables that link the UK with the rest of the world. Can they manage to keep track of just one man though, despite his arriving in Moscow on a plane? The answer is a big fat nope.

What does seem to be the case is that his plan to catch a flight to Cuba today was an elaborate ruse, one that seems to have worked perfectly. While the hacks and no doubt others were all waiting for him to board the Aeroflot plane, it seems likely he was already slipping away. Who knows where he is, but it wouldn't surprise if, despite his apparent request for asylum in Ecuador, he now turned up in Iceland, the original safe haven he had in mind.

Almost needless to say, Snowden's escape, through authoritarian nations no less, has been enraging the right people. The Hong Kong authorities claim the warrant they were sent for Snowden's arrest was bodged, something denied by the Americans, while Russia is now essentially being threatened lest it dares allow him to leave. Considering the act recently passed in Congress that targets Russian officials alleged to have abused human rights, something deemed not necessary when dealing with far more oppressive nations, it wouldn't exactly be a surprise if they also decide to turn a blind eye to Snowden's departure, seven Russian fugitives returned by the US in recent years or not.

And we should be clear about this: while Snowden is not a soldier and so if repatriated couldn't be treated in the same way as Bradley Manning has under the court martial system, you can guarantee he wouldn't have a much better time of it. The United States hasn't been able to point to a single intelligence source who has suffered as a result of Manning's leaks, despite Wikileaks posting the raw files up for anyone to download. The best they could manage is the utterly ludicrous "aiding the enemy" charge, as though Osama bin Laden discovering what US ambassadors really thought about their hosts in some way helped al-Qaida.

Snowden, by contrast, has only passed on files that have exposed how personal information is increasingly being sucked up by the intelligence agencies, with either no oversight whatsoever or the most minimal conceivable.  Even if GCHQ was exaggerating in the documents Snowden leaked to Graun on Project Tempora, and the fact that they've also had a source in MI5 comment suggesting that it's fairly accurate what they can do, then it seems they've already got access to all the metadata they could ever need.  If they can also access the content of messages for three days, then they've already got powers which go beyond what the security services have been asking for in the Data Communications Act.  The idea that foreign intelligences agencies didn't already know about this, and have their own systems either in development or already in use is laughable.  Only if they didn't is it possible that Snowden's leaks have damaged national security either here or in the US.

Not that our leading politicians have commented.  While the Graun's latest story on Friday gained slightly more media attention than their previous expose of GCHQ's spying on the G20, for the most part the silence has continued.  Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee Malcolm Rifkind said that he expected GCHQ would provide a written report in response "within a day or so", and that it again seems will be that.  We might at some point in the future get a truncated, redacted report from the ISC which reassures that everything was in fact in order and we don't have anything to be worried about.  So it goes.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013 

The "treachery" of the Graun and the silence of the rest of the media.

On Monday, the Graun ran an extraordinary story.  Detailing how GCHQ had spied on delegates at two G20 summits in London in 2009, it made clear how even those regarded as allies had had their emails intercepted, with agents having gone to the extent of setting up internet cafes so as to make the process easier.  Justified on the grounds of defending "economic well-being", a clause included in the Intelligence Services Act 1994, it was really something far more mundane: an attempt to gain any sort of advantage in the negotiations.

Considering how much the right-wing press love Gordon Brown, you might have thought that the Graun's revelations would have had a significant impact.  But no.  With the exception of a couple of follow-ups, it seems most of the rest of the media wasn't interested.  Nor were they taken with the Graun's live Q&A session with their source for all the stories on the NSA, Prism and GCHQ, Edward Snowden.  With the exception of an attack piece in the Mail by Stephen Glover, where the man who was one of the founders of the Independent now writes up what Paul Dacre tells him to, nor has there been any real criticism of the paper for what Glover calls "treachery".  Roy Greenslade wonders why.

The most obvious answer, it seems, is that the D-Notice committee issued a polite note to editors after the first tranche of stories were given wide coverage.  While, as always, there had not yet been any contravention of the committee's guidelines, the "intelligence services are concerned that further developments of this same theme may begin to jeopardize both national security and possibly UK personnel".  How this could be the case when all the revelations have done is alerted the average citizen to just how far surveillance of the internet and phone calls has gone, with little in the way of oversight, and how GCHQ and the NSA work together is unclear.  If ever there was an example of the warning off of editors from publishing anything else, quite clearly this it.

All the same, as Dominic Ponsford writes, this doesn't explain why the media didn't bother to follow up the Graun's stories.  Once the Graun had breached the order, which is voluntary, the information was in the public domain and so there was no reason for the rest of the media to continue to abide by the order, as indeed happened once the news of Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan became public.  It also can't be that the Graun is now viewed as beyond the pale, else the original reports on the NSA wouldn't have been covered in the detail that they were.

It's more, as we've seen, that the security services are the one part of the state that tends to get a free pass from both right and left.  Where the left tends to have a blind side when it comes to the NHS and the right often seems to think the police can do no wrong (although even that's changed in recent times with the likes of the Mail deciding the police have become just another part of the PC (groan) state), both seem to be overwhelmed by how "keeping us safe" trumps civil liberties and basic accountability every time.  William Hague in the Commons didn't even attempt to seriously engage with the questions about how GCHQ worked with the NSA on Prism, he just said everything was hunky dory, and that was enough for both politicians and the press.  It is, as Greenslade writes, remarkable that the press that makes so much of its independence from the state and raises hell at the threat of regulation finds so little to worry about when it comes to the darkest reaches of government.

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Monday, June 10, 2013 

Through the prism.

Whenever the security services are criticised, we always get the same boilerplate response.  They do amazing work keeping us safe; they have to get it right every time while our enemies only have to be lucky once; we can't possibly be told of everything they're doing to protect us so they often prevent attacks we never even hear about it; and so on.  To which the obvious answer is: well, no shit.  The point surely is that with great power comes great responsibility.  As with the police or any other state service, they have to be held to account, even if everything can't be disclosed for very good reasons.

For all the claims from politicians that our intelligence agencies are some of the most open in the world, they simply don't have regulators worthy of the name.  The Intelligence and Security Committee has yet to prove it is up to the task, even with its boosted powers, such were the lies it was told about our involvement in rendition, and indeed the whitewash which the committee itself applied.  Nor are the commissioners any better, while the previous reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, was practically a creature of the security servicesHis replacement David Anderson does at least seem slightly more worthy of the description independent.  It also doesn't inspire confidence that the latest chairman of the ISC, Malcolm Rifkind, also chairs LEK, which provides consultancy to arms manufacturers.

When William Hague then says the law abiding have nothing to fear from GCHQ potentially having access to almost every piece of information an individual has shared with the majority of the internet giants via the US National Security Agency's Prism programme, you ought to know that the opposite is the case.  The old trope about those who have nothing to hide having nothing to be concerned about is so hoary that it shouldn't really need to be answered, but it ought to be even more ridiculous in a sad age of "revenge porn" and when so many share their most intimate secrets online.  Almost every single person has something in their past that they wouldn't want to become common knowledge, or which they would only ever share with their closest friends and family.  I most certainly have.

Whether or not it is the case that GHCQ have been using Prism as a way of getting around our more stringent laws on data interception isn't clear.  Certainly, that there were 197 such requests last year makes apparent that it's useful for something, although whether or not they gained access to information they otherwise hadn't been able to get hold of with the authorisation of a secretary of state or court order we can't know.  The inference from Hague in the Commons today was that these requests are also authorised either by him or another minister, hence why he and Cameron have both said that everything GCHQ does takes place under a legal framework.

He did at least recognise there might well need to be a change in the law, taking the point from David Blunkett of all people that while ministerial approval might still be required, it is not legally required.  This rather misses the point that we shouldn't be using what another intelligence service is accessing without oversight when it goes beyond what our own laws currently stipulate is permissible.  The proposed communications bill, which the joint committee said went too far, only proposes that the information that a message or action has been sent (metadata) be kept by ISPs, not the actual content itself.  Prism, by contrast, sucks in everything, and it seems with a certain amount of connivance from the likes of Facebook and Google, despite their claims to the contrary.

You don't have to be Alex Jones to be worried that while this data collection might currently be used to (in the main) protect us, it wouldn't take much for it to be used for mass surveillance, and indeed probably already is in any number of authoritarian states.  It should also concern us that contrary to the assurances from politicians, the tide is in fact towards ensuring the security services are further beyond proper scrutiny.  The justice and security bill that ensures there won't be a repeat of the "seven paragraphs" case has become law, the Gibson inquiry's report (what there is of it) is still yet to be published, while the Chilcot inquiry also seems to be stuck in limbo.  The communications data bill will eventually get passed in some form or another, precisely because the securocrats have too much influence and power for it not to be.  Just as we have an independent commission to monitor the police, so we should have a genuinely independent one for the intelligence agencies.  What we'll continue to have instead is the stonewalling and obfuscation that Hague in the main delivered to parliament today, along with the usual toadying from the majority on all sides.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012 

Yet another post on Abu Qatada.

Well, who could have predicted thatAbu Qatada winning his latest appeal against deportation to Jordan?  This has never happened before!  Oh, except it hasTwice, in fact.  And when even a keyboard monkey like me with no real legal knowledge whatsoever could pick holes in Theresa May's trumping of how this time Qatada really was as good as on a plane, it suggests both she and her predecessors have been receiving incredibly bad advice for quite some time.

The judgment by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (PDF) is essentially a rehash of the ECHR's decision earlier in the year, that Qatada doesn't personally face the prospect of mistreatment or torture, but he does face the prospect of a trial where the main evidence against him is confessions from men who almost certainly were tortured.  Regardless of the change to the Jordanian constitution to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence obtained via torture, Mr Justice Mitting and his team reached the conclusion that, based on expert evidence from Jordanians who gave written and in person testimony, the statements that incriminate Qatada may well be used against him, and that the burden of proof is likely to fall on the witnesses to prove they were tortured, rather than for the prosecution to prove that they weren't.  As the torture happened over a decade ago and the Jordanian courts previously rejected the notion that torture took place, the likelihood of them being able to do so, even in front of three civilian court judges, is dubious in the extreme.  Barring a further change to the Jordanian code of criminal procedure or a definitive ruling from one of two courts on the ambiguities in the code, Qatada is staying here.

Unless that is May manages to convince the Court of Appeal that SIAC is being unreasonable in its demands of the Jordanians, something that seems highly unlikely considering SIAC has come to effectively the same conclusion as the ECHR did.  In the meantime, ol' bird nest face is free for 8 hours a day, if your definition of free is being tagged, followed by security officers the moment you step out of your front door and being denied access to pretty much everything that makes life pleasurable.

If all this seems a bit much for someone whose motivations have often seemed opaque, then SIAC also obtained new information on the nature of the evidence against Qatada.  To say some of it is thin is an understatement: all that links Qatada to the "Reform and Challenge" case is that one of the defendants says he suggested the targets and then congratulated him afterwards; in addition, three of the defendants had copies of a book by Qatada.

The evidence against him for the Millennium plot isn't much thicker: Qatada gave one of the defendants money, although not ostensibly towards the plot, gifting him 800 Jordanian dinars with which he bought a computer, while the defendant admitted discussing the "issue of jihad" with Qatada, although not specifically about any plot.  Another defendant claimed Qatada had given a further $5,000 to the same man, while the money he had been promised to marry the first defendant's sister never arrived.  Otherwise, the evidence again amounts to possession of books by Qatada, and the discovery of messages between the two men.  SIAC additionally comments on this that "[T]he record of the evidence produced at the trial does not clearly support the prosecutor’s case", although it's presumed that in the case file there will be statements from investigators that will.

All is likely to depend on whether the Jordanians are prepared to move further, or whether a case comes before either court that irons out the disagreement between the experts consulted by the commission.  SIAC accepted that the Jordanians had moved significantly from their initial position, and also noted their awareness of how this was a potential opportunity for them to show they were capable of trying a man notorious internationally with scrupulous fairness.  If SIAC was making its decision on that basis alone, as indeed had the ECHR, Qatada would be long gone.

In a different world, this entire case might be seen as showing the best of the British state.  Despite the contempt often shown towards the Human Rights Act and the ECHR by politicians from both main parties, successive governments have abided by the decisions made in line with it, refusing to countenance ignoring the rule of law in this specific case, and have gone so far as to push Jordan towards making genuine judicial reforms.  Pushing any authoritarian state in the direction of respecting basic human rights is something to be proud of, regardless of the circumstances.

Unfortunately, we're stuck with this world, and it's one where judges are traduced by tabloid newspapers for doing their job.  By all means criticise the judiciary if they get basic decisions wrong, or apply the wrong tests when they sentence someone, but not when they've delivered a judgment as in-depth and cogently argued as Mitting has.  


The real responsibility for this 7-year-long slog lies with the last government.  The decision to simply get rid of Qatada rather than attempt to prosecute him has never been explained adequately: we don't know whether there simply isn't enough evidence against him, whether the evidence is mainly phone intercepts, whether his involvement with MI5 goes too deep, whether it was made impossible by the rendering of Bisher al-Rawi who reported on Qatada to MI5, or whether deportation was felt to be the easiest option.  Where this government has failed has been to fall into the same trap as the previous one, of boasting to the media that the deportation is all but done and dusted, only to find it still hasn't got its legal arguments in order.

One suspects that Qatada will eventually get sent to Jordan, if only down to how successive governments have backed themselves into a corner.  Should further changes to the Jordanian law not be forthcoming, then Qatada's bail restrictions will have to be either loosened or dropped entirely.  The only other option is to impose a TPIM, and they can only last for two years.  Even at this late stage there's still time for a potential prosecution to be looked at, however embarrassing that might be either for the previous government or the security services.  It can't be any worse than the prospect of someone built up to be Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe mooching free around London.

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Monday, August 20, 2012 

The continuing triumph of the securocrats.

I recall that, many aeons ago, good ol' Nicholas Clegg asked for ideas on what could be included in a freedom bill. The end result, the Protection of Freedoms Act, is it must be said one of the coalition's very few decent achievements. The amount of time "terrorist suspects" can be detained prior to charge is now 14 days rather than the 28, just a slight reduction on the 90 Tony Blair tried to ram through parliament, the section 44 "anti-terrorist" power the police had that allowed them to search anyone they felt like has gone, as has the biometric data of more than 1m of those arrested but not charged with any offence by the police, although how certain we can be of the destruction of the information is another matter.

We are though still completely in the thrall of securocrats, as a quick glance at the Graun today records. As though the vast majority of the security checks at airports weren't pointless enough, the coalition looks to be resurrecting an old Labour proposal to install similar scanning technology at railway and tube stations. They quite obviously won't be put in place everywhere, and so won't stop those determined to cause carnage who'll be able to enter the system at quieter points, but they will no doubt cause misery at the major terminals. Still, can't be too careful, can you?

The government certainly can't, at least not with intelligence provided by other governments. Not content with ensuring that there will never be a repeat of the release of the seven paragraphs, a memo on Binyam Mohamed which showed we knew the Americans had been involved in "rendering" detainees to foreign climes where they were to be tortured despite our repeated denials, information that we failed to act upon when those detained included British residents, we now learn that the very application for a closed material procedure can also be kept secret if necessary, to of course, "protect national security". In other words, it seems likely that every such order will be kept secret, as by its very nature intelligence involves national security.

If you believe the Ministry of Justice (snigger), this will in fact make it more likely that such claims will go to trial rather than result in settlements, just that we won't be able to know of the documentation that was involved. Which just ever so slightly misses the point, as it's that documentation that established the truth in the first place, and which shows the depths to which our security services are on occasion prepared to plunge. With the cancellation of the Gibson inquiry, and no replacement on the horizon, the desperate need to learn the lessons of our complicity in torture during the first phase of the war on terror seems to have been forgotten.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012 

Abu Qatata, finally?

Credit where credit is due then: the government could have taken the advice of the head bangers on the Tory backbenchers (and head banger is the only way you can possibly describe Peter Bone, whose surname seems to be lacking something) or followed the wonderful example set (allegedly) by the French and Italians, and just stuck your friend and mine Abu Qatada on a plane to Jordan (the country, not the model, although they could perhaps be the ultimate odd couple in a sitcom: she's had more surgery than Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers combined; he's never had a shave).

Instead, if we're to believe Theresa May, our need to deport an unwanted extremist has struck a blow for human rights in general in the country. In practice, this doesn't look quite so clear cut. The European Court of Human Rights ruled Qatada couldn't be deported in the main because the evidence of his co-defendants, which would make up the majority of the case against him, was obtained as a result of torture. May states that as they have since been pardoned, and that whatever they say will no effect upon those pardons, "we can therefore have confidence that they would give truthful testimony". This is dubious in the extreme. Their pardons might not be affected, but this hardly means that an authoritarian state can't put pressure on them in other ways.

May also seems to contradict herself. She said in her statement that Qatada will be able to challenge the original statements made against him, then states "[I]ndeed, one of the more significant recent developments is the change to the Jordanian constitution last autumn that includes an explicit ban on the use of torture evidence". Presumably if there's an explicit ban on the use of torture evidence then Qatada won't need to challenge the original statements as they won't be admissible? And in any case, there are plenty of vile regimes that in their constitutions have explicit restrictions on certain practices that they nonetheless indulge in. As nit-picking as this might look, these are exactly the sort of doubts that should Qatada appeal again to the ECHR will have to be addressed and answered.

On the whole though it's difficult not to applaud. As there seems to be no chance whatsoever that the government will reconsider and instead decide now that Qatada should be prosecuted here, especially after it's gone to all this effort to persuade the Jordanians to in turn persuade the ECHR that they can be trusted to try him fairly, this is undoubtedly the second best option. It not only shows, as pointed out previously by Maajid Nawaz, that we will not succumb to the very thing that the government's counter-extremism strategy defines as being unacceptable, the undermining of the rule of law, it also indicates that when really pushed we can work with countries such as Jordan to help them improve their systems of government without then in turn selling them weapons as a reward. It does mean that it's doubtful we'll ever learn exactly how intertwined Qatada was with the security services, and there's plenty of reasons why we shouldn't believe that MI5 only had contact with him three or so times prior to 9/11, but if it means we are rid of one of the main reasons for why the tabloids so loathe the ECHR and in turn the Human Rights Act, although there are plenty of others, then it'll at least somewhat make up for it.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012 

Abu Qatada: same shit, different month.

One of the problems of doing much the same thing creatively over a long period is that you can fall into the trap of repeating yourself to the point where it not only turns off those who previously paid something approaching attention, it also leaves you thoroughly dispirited with how you can't seem to get out of the same old routine. While this is obviously not a problem for Liam Gallagher, and with slight modification seeming repetition can in fact launch an institution (see Private Eye, The Fall, George A. Romero), it's not quite the same with politics and commenting on it. I'd go so far to say that it's only in politics that quite so many otherwise dead subjects can be resurrected, whether because they never go away, or due to how they can be reanimated and gone over yet again, the same arguments rehashed and then ignored just as they were the last time.

So it is with Abu Qatada, the hirsute Islamic fanatic everyone loves to hate. It seems only last month that we were discussing why he should or shouldn't be deported for the umpteenth time, because it, err, was. It would be nice to think that the topic has been done to death: the government of whichever hue convinced of its righteousness in trying to deport him back to Jordan, with those few on the other side quietly pointing out that we could have avoided all this palaver had we attempted to put him on trial here in the first place, rather than sending him back into the welcoming arms of the authoritarian state he fled from. We did after all grant him asylum back in the care-free 90s, unconcerned as we were then of the phantom of exploding Muslims. Why, even those happy spooks in residence at Thames House believed they had him in their pocket, and that he wouldn't do anything to harm the state that had given him shelter.

Reacting though with weary resignation to Qatada's imminent release on "bail", if you can call a curfew of 22 hours bail, simply wouldn't suffice. We must instead go through the same cycle of outrage as last time, whether it's the Sun's take on the matter, with "evil Qatada sniggering at our humiliation and weakness", or the home secretary saying it "simply isn't acceptable" that he can't be deported, despite our diligence in attempting to ensure he won't be mistreated. It doesn't seem to matter that the danger from Qatada, such as it is, isn't that he will personally launch an attack: it's rather than he's provided theological guidance and motivation to jihadists in the past, and given the opportunity possibly will again. This makes the threat he poses under a 22 hour curfew, accompanied by surveillance, a tag and a ban on anyone visiting him who doesn't receive Home Office approval almost negligible. If anything he probably poses more of one where he currently is in HMP Long Lartin, where he can at least mix with the other detainees in the special immigration unit being held in similar circumstances to his (PDF), hardly improving the chances of any of the men having a change of heart over their extremist views.

It also doesn't matter that as Qatada's lawyer Gareth Pierce pointed out, he has been under both a control order and similar bail conditions previously, and on neither occasion was it found that he had breached those terms. He was taken back into custody the last time purely on the grounds of "national security reasons" which could not be disclosed, having embarrassed the government by shopping in broad daylight for kitchen roll and Diet Coke. Even if it turns out that the government can't reach agreement with Jordan over evidence potentially derived from torture being used against him, and the most likely outcome on that score seems to be Jordan dropping proceedings against him altogether, it hardly means he's going to be free to do whatever the hell he feels like: a TPIM, the coalition's replacement for control orders is only very slightly less rigorous.

There is a very obvious double standard at work here: regardless of what British citizens are accused of, we would refuse to send them to a country to face trial where the death penalty would definitively be sought should they be found guilty. Likewise, the outcry would be massive should the evidence they face be potentially tainted by or even be wholly the product of torture, as the ECHR has ruled in Qatada's case. You only have to look at the example of the Natwest Three, where a high profile and incredibly misleading PR campaign was launched on their behalf to see the difference when it's "our criminals" that are being sought. Despite all the scaremongering, they were back here within four years of their deportation. By comparison, and without being convicted of any crime here, Qatada was described today in parliament by the home secretary, however obliquely, as a terrorist.

As sympathetic as I am to the well articulated points of Michael White, who reasonably sets out why we have discharged our responsibilities to Qatada and indeed other non-citizens who attempt to avoid deportation to potential justice in a similar fashion, it remains the case that the whole venture has been doomed from the start. It's been a well established point of law for a long time now that you cannot deport someone back to a country where they will face the threat of mistreatment or a trial where the evidence is likely to be based on mistreatment; the House of Lords surprisingly overturned Qatada's successful court of appeal bid on that score, so it was always likely that his subsequent appeal to the European Court would succeed. Richard Norton-Taylor suggests that this whole course was supposedly chosen on the grounds that it would be easier than taking him through the courts, even though evidence of his extremist preaching, potentially amounting to inciting racial hatred, murder or terrorism is available.

Distasteful as it is that we should have dedicated such efforts and expense in protecting the rights of a man who would presumably like to see the imposition of Sharia law, this is exactly what makes us democracies. To steal wholesale from a comment posted by GuyStevenson on Eric Metcalfe's piece at the Graun, quoting
Aharon Barak, former head of the Supreme Court of Israel:

This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual's liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and its strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties.

It might save some time to remember this when we do have to put Qatada under that less strict regime. Except, of course, we won't.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012 

Any inquiry would be better than no inquiry.

Despite the reaction of most human rights groups, the decision to abandon the Gibson inquiry into alleged British collusion in the torture of rendered detainees is not one to welcome wholeheartedly. Ostensibly for the reason that a new police investigation will now begin into the allegations made by two Libyan men that they were abandoned by ministers and the security services to the mercies of the Gaddafi regime, delaying further the already much postponed hearing of evidence, you also can't help but detect other reasons below the surface.

The Leveson inquiry is after all, in spite of initial misgivings, managing to swiftly get on with its work, getting around the problem of some would be key witnesses having been arrested by going through its remit in stages. One assumes that the inquiry is also being careful not to call those that the police could still decide are of interest to their investigation, although some who have been questioned by the police such as Neil Wallis and Neville Thurlbeck have still appeared and simply not been asked questions specifically on phone hacking. While it would have been more difficult for the Gibson inquiry to sidestep this potential problem quite so nimbly, as there are undoubtedly fewer important figures they would be interested in speaking to who wouldn't in some way be caught up in the new investigation, it seems bizarre how one inquiry can seemingly manage to do it and another can't. True, there is a major difference between the regulation of the media and the work of the security services, yet had there been the inclination these problems surely could have been surmounted.

The other challenge was the totally justified boycott of the inquiry both by the major human rights groups and by some of those who have claimed they were the victims of the policies of both the last government and the security services. These crucial witnesses were said to have met with the government on Monday in a last attempt to come to an agreement on their returning to the fold. With no deal apparently forthcoming, it's reasonable to assume that this is the real main reason Gibson has now been dumped. Intriguing then is that this has been so well received - Liberty in their statement even raise the possibility that this "delay" will mean we might actually get a "proper independent judicial inquiry". This leads to the assumption that even if there wasn't a deal reached on Monday, there was at least a promise that an inquiry would soon be held which would go some way towards meeting the demands of the likes of Liberty.

If this is the case, it has to be hoped that this promise is worth more than some of those made by previous governments concerning the security services. Despite Gibson's fundamentally flawed, purposefully crippled nature, such an inquiry would still be better than no inquiry. If it takes the police and then the CPS around the same amount of time to investigate the claims of Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi as it did to decide that Witness B and the others involved in Binyam Mohamed's case should not face charges, then it's likely to be another two years at least before the new inquiry can even begin to start its work. This will then additionally depend on just who the justice and foreign office ministers are at that point - there's no guarantee that there'll be as sympathetic as both Ken Clarke and Alistair Burt appear to be at the moment, Cameron continuing to keep his pre-election pledge or not. Even then it's hardly certain that the inquiry will be any less secret or more open than the Gibson one was going to be; the green paper on justice does little to inspire confidence that the security services won't lobby hard to keep their past handiwork almost completely in the shadows.

It will also mean it'll be nigh on a decade since much of the alleged collusion took place. Even if all the relevant documentation is made available, a very big if considering the problems that the Chilcot inquiry has had in that regard, the problem of failing memories can only combated when combined with exceptional detail, as the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday showcased. With even the report on the research conducted by the Gibson committee to be redacted, it's little wonder some are already suggesting that this may be a chance for truth lost forever. The longer it takes, the more likely those who authorised the collusion will get away it.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 

The man who knows too much.

There's something about Abu Qatada that truly terrifies the authorities in this country. Fast approaching the tenth anniversary of his initial arrest, he's spent the past decade either in Belmarsh, first under the notorious law introduced after 9/11 that allowed for the indefinite detention with charge of non-British citizens; at his home under a control order with a 14 or 22 hour curfew; and latterly, having been accused of trying to escape from this purgatory purely on the back of secret evidence which he couldn't challenge, held at Long Lartin. Unlike Babar Ahmed, who has now been held without charge awaiting deportation to America for the last 8 years and has had a high profile campaign calling for his trial in this country, hardly anyone has been prepared to speak up for the man also known as Omar Othman.

This is not exactly surprising. Having been described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe by a Spanish judge, something noted at the beginning of almost every report on the latest legal movement in his case, and as a spiritual leader to al-Qaida when that detail is overlooked, you don't tend to receive much in the way of positive press. His case certainly isn't helped by his proximity to those other notorious Islamists, Abu Hamza and Abu Bakri Mohammed, nor by the speeches and lectures he gave which were favourites among those who went on to take part in terrorist attacks. His interview with Panorama back in 2001, reposted today, is deeply ambiguous and can be taken by both critics and those (very few) speaking in his defence as being either evidence of his general extremist views or his limiting of what is permissible under certain circumstances. Far easier to interpret is a supposed statement from him published on jihadist forums in 2009, where he makes reference to meeting Bilal Abdullah, convicted of the Glasgow airport and Tiger Tiger failed bomb attacks:

"Dr. Bilal Abdullah is a true man of Islam from all points of views; for he is knowledgeable, proficient, and resolute. I was humbled when I heard him say to me: "I was very influenced by your taped lectures.'"

The prison service for its part denied that Qatada was managing to smuggle out or issue any such communiques, although how reliable that claim is when there's a whole interview that was conducted with him also online is debatable.

Nonetheless, described by the reliable Will McCants as one of the most influential jihadi ideologues and having played a huge role in the development of contemporary takfirism, what is clear is that he was in the past an important figure to many involved in extremist Islam. Entirely opaque by contrast is his past involvement with the security services. Along with Abu Bakri, there is much debate about just how far his dealings went with MI5. Bakri has always claimed that he had a deal, described either as a covenant of security or a covenant of peace, whereby as long as he and his groupings did not advocate attacks in this country itself they would be left relatively alone. The only documentation we have which describes Qatada's interactions with MI5 is in the first ruling by SIAC (PDF), where the officer records in the second of his interviews with Qatada that "he came the closest he had to offering to assist me in any investigation of Islamic extremism", following it up by saying he would ‘report anyone damaging the interests of this country’. The officer came away from the third interview believing he had intimated that he "expected him to use that influence, wherever he could, to control the hotheads and ensure terrorism remained off the streets of London and throughout the United Kingdom". According to SIAC there were no further meetings.

This seems doubtful, especially when we consider the highly related cases of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna. Al-Rawi had become friends with Qatada, and following 9/11 agreed to help MI5 keep tabs on him. When Qatada went into hiding after the passing of the indefinite detention bill, al-Rawi was one of the few who knew where he was, and attempted to arrange a meeting between the two, Qatada pulling out at the last minute. His usefulness apparently over, MI5 said he could leave the country and go to Gambia, only for them to pass on fabricated material to the CIA saying they had taken bomb parts along on the journey. The result was their incarceration in Guantanamo Bay for 4 years.

At best then, it seems reasonable to believe Qatada has information which would highly embarrass MI5 should he have to be tried in the UK. At worst, he could be able to sing like the proverbial canary: if his meetings went far beyond what has so far been disclosed, it could well make the previous accusations of Londonistan look tame. As Richard Norton-Taylor also points out, and as was highlighted by the search for relevant documents following the bid for compensation by those who claimed they had been rendered to Guantanamo Bay with the connivance of MI5 and SIS, it will also be both extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming. Only last week it was announced that no one would face prosecution over their role in that policy. Avoiding a repeat of even the chance of that unpleasantness starting all over again, with all it involves for the reputation of the security services must be high on the list of priorities.

Moreover, it seems incredible considering the amount of material available that a prosecution couldn't be brought against Qatada here. The aforementioned SIAC ruling mentions that "he is reliably reported as having made a speech at a gathering in the Four Feathers Mosque in which he gave a blessing to the killing of Jews", the kind of incitement to racial hatred, or even incitement to murder which enabled the conviction of Abu Hamza. Ahmed Faraz was recently successfully prosecuted and jailed for selling books which included Sayid Qutb's Milestones, albeit apparently in a special edition "developed specifically to promote extremist ideology". If such a case can be made which could potentially affect both freedom of speech and freedom of the press, why can't one be made against the man many seem to believe was directly connected with al-Qaida? It seems to only be Qatada and the also loathsome, if not anywhere near as potentially dangerous Anjem Choudary who seem to be able to escape the law here.

This is the light in which today's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Qatada cannot be deported to Jordan has to be seen. While dismissing the notion that he would be liable to face torture, the court accepting the dubious promise of an authoritarian state that it will refrain from mistreating this one particular special prisoner, they upheld his claim that any trial would not be fair as the evidence against him would be overwhelmingly based on the confessions of two men, both of whom were tortured. Despite the disagreements of consecutive courts, Qatada having gone through the full process of SIAC to the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords to finally the ECHR, the government must have always known it was unlikely that he would ever be deported, whether on the worthlessness of the memorandum of understanding or as, it has turned out, under the right to a fair trial of Article 6.

What then do they do with Qatada now? Any further appeal seems liable to fail. The most obvious response from the government would be to put him under a TPim, the replacement for control orders, but this can hardly hold up in the courts indefinitely. Sooner or later, the authorities are going to have to face up to the fact that the person they fear knows much about their shady dealings is going to have to be prosecuted. They ought to start preparing for that rather than continuing to try desperately to do anything other than the decent and right thing.

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Friday, January 13, 2012 

The establishment has it all sown up.

It can't be said it's a surprise that no one at either MI5 or SIS will face charges over complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed. When the Crown Prosecution Service only decided after the Ian Tomlinson inquest that Simon Harwood should face manslaughter charges, having previously felt that a jury was unlikely to convict due to the inadequacy of the post-mortem performed by Freddy Patel, it was always unlikely that in an even more complex case, where the security services would doubtless make onerous demands over secrecy that any officers would come appear before the beak.

Even more politically toxic was the investigation made clear that front line officers were operating under guidelines which had been drawn up after consultation at the very highest levels of both the security services and government. Despite having pleaded ignorance at every turn, or completely ignored much of the questioning, it seems that ministers were the ones authorising just what agents could and couldn't do, as has been suggested by the documents that came to light in Libya.

With the horse having well and truly bolted, the government now of course wants to ensure that any such unpleasantness in the future can never emerge in the same way. With that sown up, and the laughable Gibson inquiry apparently stuck in limbo as more investigations unlikely to lead to a prosecution take place, the chance of anyone being held to account diminishes with each passing month.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011 

More Clouseau than Smiley.

You can't exactly fault MI5 for having suspicions about Ekaterina Zatuliveter. Having seen the Americans flush out a whole batch of Russian "deep cover" agents (including Anna Chapman), so deep it seems that they barely did any spying at all, Zatuliveter must have seemed a no-brainer. She went to a university which according to MI5, the FSB has a "substantial" presence at. Beginning during this period, and continuing over the rest of the last decade, she had romances with a series of older men, all involved in either diplomacy, politics and lastly, in NATO. She worked for (and became the mistress of) an MP with a penchant for all things Russian, a man notorious for asking questions which could potentially be useful to them. Lastly, she met on a number of occasions someone known as "Boris", whom SIS claim was a Russian intelligence officer, although it seems she never took up invitations to meet him on a one-to-one basis.

Sadly for MI5, all this circumstantial evidence was simply unsubstantiated. In an extraordinary ruling (PDF), the Special Immigration Appeals Committee, with a former head of MI5 on the judging panel no less, has decided on the "balance of probabilities" that Zatuliveter was not and is not a Russian agent. Her decision to appeal against her removal from the UK on the grounds that her presence "was not conducive to the public good" was in itself perhaps a clue: not many spies once caught decide to fight to prove their innocence in a foreign nation when their duty is first and foremost to another state. It's also though a remarkable indictment of MI5, which it seems is still just as paranoid and stuck in the Cold War age as it ever was.

Take for instance the insistence of one witness from the security service that Zatuliveter's visit to see the Great Game, a play on Afghan culture and history was evidence of her spying, purely it seems on the basis that the name is taken from what Kipling described as the rivalry between Britain and Russia over the country. Or that Zatuliveter's diary, described so wonderfully as with a Klimt painting on the cover, was an incredibly elaborate fake. Indeed, even if it were genuine, it was their case that the entries did nothing to disprove their assessment of her as an agent. Siac agrees that it's a "very important document", in that the entries, first on the Dutch diplomat she was having a relationship with, and then later on Mike Hancock, are "of an immature, calculating, emotional and self-centred young woman – in our judgment, an
accurate characterization of the appellant then, and allowing for greater maturity, now".

According to MI5, Zatuliveter was tasked with seducing Hancock. If anything, it seems the opposite was the case. By chance, she came to be chaperoning the British delegation he was a part of when they visited St. Petersburg, whereupon it seems he broke out his old routine: inviting her for a coffee, then a meal, before finally asking whether she'd like to accompany him back to his hotel room, which she for now declined although they kept in contact. Although he offered her a traineeship at Strasbourg at this point, regardless of there not being a position available, it was only once she accepted his invitation to meet him in Moscow that she decided to "use" him to, as Siac quotes from her diary "to further her ambition to gain experience, at first hand, of Western European politics and, possibly, to get “a very good chance in life”. Regardless of her intentions, Siac are convinced both by the subsequent entries in the diary and from the witness statements of Zatuliveter's sister and her husband that the two genuinely fell in love, "however odd it might seem".

It wasn't until Zautuliveter received a place at Bradford University to do her masters that she first became Hancock's unpaid intern, although he also provided her with an allowance. The report and her diary both skirt around it, but it seems through the references to a "health problem" that he may well have made her pregnant. She later became Hancock's researcher when his previous one resigned, giving her full access, or as much as he ceded, to information which may have been of interest to the Russians. The curious case of "Boris" then commences: he met her by chance it seems at Temple tube station, where they exchanged business cards. He later emailed her to invite her to meet him. She agreed, only later to make what she described as a "lame" excuse, Hancock having told her not to go. Hancock himself confirms this, although Siac doesn't believe his explanation for why he told her not to. MI5 maintained that the fact he didn't renew this invitation is evidence she was already an agent, which seems counter-intuitive: why did he approach her in the first place, if he was who they say he is, unless he's thoroughly incompetent? Siac unsurprisingly concludes much the same.

Perhaps the entire case is explained by Zautuliveter's affair with Y, a NATO official working in Moscow, who she was introduced to at the Russian embassy. With her relationship with Hancock souring somewhat, she began swapping emails with him. Another piece of evidence MI5 relied upon was a exchange between the two while Zautuliveter was on a train, where she asked him if there was "anything interesting happening at NATO" and then whether "[Madeleine] Albright had said anything interesting". She explained this as being an attempt at showing off to him, and that she knew about Albright's meeting from Twitter, which again Siac accepts.

That, in essence, was MI5's entire miserable case. Zautuliveter repeatedly had relationships with older men in prominent positions, all of whom could provide information helpful to her home country, ergo she must have been doing it for that reason. Instead it simply seems she had a thing for older men, with whom she shared an interest in international politics, and in Hancock thought could help give her a better life, which he did. Yes, it was suspicious, but proper, rigorous investigation ought to have shown it was at best unlikely and at worst laughable. Siac for their part, perhaps prodded somewhat by Lander, rejects the similar criticisms made by Zautuliveter's lawyer. They also accept wholeheartedly that in her position as Hancock's researcher she had access to material which would have been interesting to the Russians, which seems dubious in itself, although the history of security services worldwide is full of inconsequential men and women who spied and never provided anything of real worth to their handlers.

All of which raises the obvious question: if MI5 can get something this wrong, who else has been wrongly accused, or where else are they failing? Or is this simply a consequence of the lack of resources being devoted to espionage as opposed to counter-terrorism? It's a case that is crying out for an investigation by an independent body, something which will most certainly not be provided by the hopelessly ineffective Intelligence and Security Committee.

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