Friday, November 28, 2008 

Green and a very suddenly established police state.

The arrest of Damian Green is understandably raising major questions about how much the government knew and when it knew it, but far more pertinent from my perspective is both what it tells us about the power of the police in today's Britain and how some of those who have given the police such power react when they find themselves under scrutiny.

As long as it turns out that both the police and the government are telling the truth, in that ministers were not informed of what was taking place until it was taking place, then this is not something that is yet truly unprecedented. Extraordinary and deeply troubling yes, but not unprecedented. Examples from decades past have already been regurgitated to show that leaks and governments both knowing and not knowing are hardly new: Churchill in the late 30s, Sarah Tisdall and Clive Ponting in the 80s, right up to Katherine Gun and David Keogh and Leo O'Connor this decade. Keogh and O'Connor's case was especially politically lead, with utterly disgraceful evidence given against them by government officials.

More analogous to Green's arrest though was the 6am raid on the home of the fragrant Ruth Turner, which the Labour party complained bitterly about. Noses were put out of joint throughout Whitehall over the police investigation into cash for honours, which many thought heavy-handed, even while the rest of the country smirked. It's with Turner in mind that we ought to, for now, accept both the accounts of the Metropolitan police and the government that there was no warning given to ministers over what was going to happen until it happened. We have to assume not that just one side is lying, that but both sides are lying, which would in itself suggest open collusion between the two sides. However friendly some of the discussions between government and the police are, for the Met to suddenly start acting as Labour's personal leak stopping organisation takes a lot of swallowing.

The other point that suggests that open governmental knowledge of the arrest is unlikely is that there is absolutely nothing to be politically gained by having a front-bench opposition spokesman subjected to a stay in the cells of Knacker of the Yard. As soon as it became news the fingers were being pointed and the knives were sharpened. The government might be stupid, venal and corrupt, but is it really that stupid, venal and corrupt? I would hazard not. Are, on the other hand, the police either so full of themselves or flushed with power that they now think that arresting MPs for passing on leaked information to the newspapers is something which they can both brazenly do and ultimately get away with? I would hazard yes. Until some substantial evidence emerges of government knowledge, other than that the Speaker of the House knew and that Boris Johnson knew, or that ministers must have known because Diane Abbott/Michael Howard/etc/etc say so, the latter seems the more reasonable assumption to go with.

In actuality, none of the above examples regarding leakers or arrests really fits properly to the arrest of Green. The one case which is very similar was coincidentally settled today: that involving Sally Murrer of the Milton Keynes Citizen and Mark Kearney, a police officer who was a local source of Murrer's, as well as also for a time being her lover. Kearney and Murrer were charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office, the same charge on which Green was arrested on suspicion of. Like Green, the stories which Kearney supplied Murrer with were relatively inconsequential, concerning a drug dealer and a local footballer, as well as one about an inmate at Woodhill prison boasting about becoming a suicide bomber, which was not actually printed. These charges however seemed to be the cover for getting at Kearney over his knowledge of the bugging of the MP Sadiq Khan when he visited an old friend from his school days, Babar Ahmed at Woodhill prison, of which there was a highly unsatisfactory government inquiry into. Thankfully for both Murrer and Kearney, the judge has concluded that because of the inanity of the stories which Kearney supplied Murrer with, there was no justification for bugging Kearney or Murrer, which directly breached Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, the right to freedom of expression. Tabloid newspapers condemning the HRA for introducing a privacy law via the back-door should take note.

Similarly then, would the police have acted in such a heavy-handed, arrogant way against Green if this really was just about the leaking to him of documents about illegal immigrants working in the security industry, an illegal immigrant working in the House of Commons, a memo from Jacqui Smith concerning how crime is likely to rise during a recession and a document which speculated on the MPs which would oppose 42 day detention? All we have to go on is that a civil servant was suspended from the Home Office 10 days ago and also arrested, and that a complaint to the police was made by the Cabinet Office. Is it possible that Green has been supplied with something far more explosive, perhaps potentially involving the police, which he was yet to share with the media, hence the heavy-handedness and the involvement of what was Special Branch, even if this was strictly being dealt with under common law? We simply don't know. What we do know is that no one is talking about why the police might have acted as they have, simply how they have acted as they have.

And it has to be admitted, their behaviour in this instance is even by the standards by which we are becoming accustomed little short of extraordinary. Yes, whistleblowers have been arrested and persecuted down the years for supplying us with information most certainly in the public interest, but for police to arrest an actual front bench opposition spokesman, hold him for 9 hours, raid his office in parliament, as well as his home, and take his personal effects is on a whole different level to what has come before. As others have pointed out, despite the involvement of anti-terror officers, this as yet does not have anything to do with actual anti-terrorism laws, but what those anti-terrorism laws, such as Section 44 have done is imbue the police with the confidence they need to be able to act almost with impunity. Even whilst we complain that they often can't seem to be bothered to keep actual small town stations open than more than a few hours at a time, or to attend burglaries, they find the time to monitor political demonstrations while recording footage of all those taking part, just for "their records". They, along with community support officers, have routinely stopped photographers from taking shots of almost anything, on the various grounds that either those doing so could be taking part in reconnaissance missions or that they could be taking pictures of children. When it comes to actual terror raids, such as the Forest Gate fiasco, those who dare to criticise the police, of which politicians themselves very rarely if ever do, find themselves under attack for impugning on those carrying out such a dangerous job. In the name of stopping knife crime, blanket searching of those deemed likely to be carrying one has been authorised, with the forms which officers have to fill in when they stop and search someone likely to be scrapped, with even the innocent who were stopped being photographed. Even the Conservatives, opposed to 42 days, appear to support giving the police other powers of surveillance, also likely to be abused just as every other new power has been and will be abused. It is however far too over the top to suggest that we are living in a police state. We are though an undoubted surveillance society, and New Labour, through both its anti-terror laws and authoritarian crime policies has put into place the building blocks of one.

It therefore takes some chutzpah for David Davis, whose stance I have deeply admired, to say he now believes we are living in a police state because one of his own has been raided. When other individuals have said similar things, such as one of the men wrongly arrested in connection with the Birmingham beheading plot, who said that this country was now a police state for Muslims, they have been shot down, especially by politicians. Politicians themselves after all have no one other than themselves to blame for the power the police now have and routinely wield. Only the Liberal Democrats have anything approaching a decent record on opposing the almost yearly measures brought in in reaction to tabloid demands. Like others, they don't believe that it could happen to them until it does, and when it does, they sure as hell don't like it up 'em. If you dislike it happening to you, then think how others who routinely undergo the same thing feel. Politicians have long imagined that they are above the law, but as today has shown, they clearly are not. It would be nice to think that once we truly get to the bottom of why Green has really been arrested, or why the police thought such a sledgehammer approach was appropriate, that it might make some of them think twice before inflicting yet more legalisation on us that further reduces the police's accountability while at the same time making them ever more powerful.

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Friday, February 22, 2008 

A pointless exercise in clearing everyone and questioning no one.

Reading Sir Christopher Rose's report (PDF) into the bugging of Sadiq Khan MP while he visited Babar Ahmed at Woodhill prison, you have to wonder what exactly the point of the whole exercise was. The findings may as well have been written by the police themselves; so unquestioning is Rose of the officers he interviewed who authorised the bugging, that he writes this in the 9th paragraph of the 18-page report:

I have borne in mind, in relation to all of those from whom I have obtained information, the possibility that serving some interest of their own might inspire a departure from candour and that none of them has been subject to the rigour of cross-examination such as a trial process would provide.

In other words they might have told me a complete cock and bull story, but nonetheless I've taken their comments in the spirit in which they were given. This is hardly the way to run any sort of investigation, let alone one into the bugging of an MP.

A good place for Rose to have started his inquiry might have been to talk to the
former detective sergeant Mark Kearney, now facing what appear to be highly trumped up charges for "aiding and abetting gross misconduct in a public office". This is related to how Kearney was a source for local Milton Keynes Citizen journalist Sally Murrer, but the police themselves admit that no money passed between their hands. The Citizen is so dirt poor that its journalists are currently out on strike over pay and conditions; it simply couldn't afford the cheque-book journalism of the nationals. Kearney was just the sort of source those local journalists who get out of their offices on occasion have always had. The charges are supposedly based on stories Kearney told Murrer about a drug dealer and a footballer, but that now seems like the excuse for getting rid of him after he objected to bugging an MP. Kearney has since suffered a nervous breakdown because of the charges, while Murrer, a respected journalist, had her phone bugged, her home raided and was strip-searched after being arrested.

It's therefore rather surprising to read that Rose, who refers to Kearney as "X" in the report, hasn't talked to him. His reasons are as follows:

With regard to the former police officer, identified in the media, awaiting Crown Court trial on serious charges, to whom I shall refer as X, I have taken into account a further factor in addition to those referred to in the last paragraph. He is entitled to a fair trial. It would be highly unfortunate if the conduct of my inquiry were to have, or could be claimed to have, an adverse impact on that right.

Seeing as he's not been charged in relation with the bugging of Khan, how could talking to him possibly have an adverse impact on his right to a fair trial?

I have a statement from the then Deputy Governor of Woodhill (Mr Robert Davis) to whose office X had regular access and with whom Prison Intelligence Officers from Thames Valley Police (TVP) including X, had daily contact. I am also aware that, representing TVP, between mid-2004 and January 2007, X attended a total of about 17 regular meetings, every two or three months, of the ACPO Prison Intelligence Working Group chaired by Commander Sawyer of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). Those meetings were attended by, among others of varying ranks from Detective Constable upwards, Detective Superintendent McKinney, Head of the Counter-Terrorism Prisons Intelligence Unit and Detective Superintendent Report of Investigation Deal, Head of the Prison Advisers Section. Furthermore, Detective Superintendent McKinney, in the course of reviewing technical capability at Woodhill Prison, met X and other officers from TVP Prison Intelligence Unit on 3 September 2006, which was only a few weeks after Mr Khan’s last visit to Babar Ahmad in late June. At none of the many meetings which I have identified did X express to anyone concerns of any kind as to how counter-terrorism surveillance in prison was being carried out by him or anyone else. Nor did X take the less formal opportunities of access to Mr Davis to express any such concerns. Nor did he express such concerns to either of his two colleagues in TVP Prison Intelligence Unit based at Woodhill. In the light of these matters, I concluded that it was neither necessary nor appropriate for me either to seek information from X at this time or to delay this report until the criminal proceedings against him have been completed.

Rose doesn't mention if there were minutes taken of any of these meetings, which would show whether Kearney actually had raised his concerns. Instead it seems that he's simply taken the words of the officers at face value that he didn't ask questions about the righteousness of bugging an MP. The latest Private Eye (No. 1204) suggests that a Special Branch detective superintendent specifically thanked Kearney at one of these meetings for bugging Khan. This would presumably be McKinney. Rose has therefore dismissed any need to talk to Kearney, either because it might prejudice his trial but also because his superiors would be in trouble if they admitted that they had knowingly bugged an MP, and they told him that Kearney hadn't said anything to them about it. Brilliant!

Khan, in his statement to the inquiry, has quite reasonably expressed his exasperation and anger that the those authorising the bugging of Ahmed didn't know who he was, stating "[I]t beggars belief that [the police and prison authorities] did not know who I was". This isn't just someone with an ego throwing their weight around when they're not recognised; as Khan states, he visited Ahmed in 2004 on a legal visit before he dropped his work as a solicitor and became the Labour parliamentary candidate for Tooting. Khan was well known to the Met especially: for one, he was the National Black Police Association's solicitor, while he performed the same role for detective superintendent Ali Dizaei, who "Sir" Ian Blair was found guilty of overseeing the bugging of. Since the bugging, the police have quite openly said they knew of Khan, even allegedly describing him as a "subversive", presumably because he worked for Liberty. That they hadn't followed his move from lawyer to member of parliament is hardly likely.

The man who ultimately authorised the bugging of Khan was none other than our old friend the head of the Metropolitan police's counter-terrorism unit, Andy Hayman. He presided over the Forest Gate debacle, while he was also the officer severely reprimanded by the second IPCC report into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. He resigned last December after other allegations were made that he had ran up expenses of £15,000 on police credit cards, and taken a female officer on foreign trips with him. He denies both. Rose writes this of what the bugging of Khan actually contained:

I called for the product of the monitoring on 21 May 2005 and 24 June 2006. It is obvious from the product that the conversation monitored on 21 May contained material plainly showing that Mr Khan was an MP. The record of monitoring on 24 June contains an express reference to him being an MP. It follows that those officers who monitored the visits and reviewed the detail of the product later had knowledge of that fact. There is nothing to suggest that any of these officers believed at the time that this fact was of any significance in relation to the surveillance.

This is important, as Rose goes on to record

That authorisation, subject to monthly review and three monthly renewal, effectively remained in force until December 2006. It was reviewed on 7 June by Mr Fuller and on 14 June 2005 by Mr Hayman. The record of that review indicates that information had been gained that a recently elected Member of Parliament had offered Babar Ahmad help to fight extradition but there is no indication that the Member of Parliament in question was Mr Khan. In relation to 24 June 2006, the authorisation was reviewed on 7 June 2006 by another Detective Constable, recommended to ACPO rank by Detective Superintendent McKinney, agreed to by Deputy Governor Davis and continued by Mr Hayman on 9 June 2006.

Hayman and all the other officers involved in authorising the surveillance would have presumably had the transcript of the first visit from the year previous where it was made obvious that Khan was an MP. Did they actually read it? If they had, they would surely have realised that Khan was the recently elected MP who had offered help to Ahmed to fight his extradition. There are a couple of other possibilities: that they were dealing with so many of these requests to bug terrorist suspects and those convicted alike that they were effectively just rubber-stamping them; or that they knew full well that Khan was an MP, were complicit in the bugging, and lied to Rose that they didn't know who he was.

Khan had submitted his request to visit Ahmed under the Approved Visitors Scheme for Category A prisoners prior to becoming an MP. This entailed him being visited by a detective constable from Special Branch, where he made clear that he had given up being a solicitor and was the Labour parliamentary candidate for Tooting. The DC recorded that Khan was "very affable and forthcoming". The report seems to consider that he was at fault for not thereafter informing the prison service that he was now an MP, where he didn't need to use the scheme at all. It seems if anything that the police and prison service took advantage of Khan's mistake, rather than it being his fault for not announcing himself properly.

Rose is quite right in concluding that the officers actually doing the bugging shouldn't have been expected to either know that Khan was an MP or of the Wilson doctrine, but those who authorised it certainly should have done. What they're relying on, apart from their denials that they knew that Khan was an MP, is that bugging as such isn't covered by the Wilson doctrine, which only deals with intercepts. Therefore, seeing as it was all done legitimately, this has been blown out of all proportion and MPs have been getting out of their prams for no good reason. At least, that seems to be the impression that the government wants to convey and that also the police want to remain. Rose also, despite the notable report in the Telegraph just over a week ago, says that there have been no requests to monitor legal visits to prisoners since 2005. As Spy Blog asks, what about prior to 2005?

Seeing as Jacqui Smith has since said that the law and guidelines covering bugging will be reviewed and that all visits by MPs to constituents must be confidential, is that the end of the matter? Well, no. The report is simply inadequate. As David Davis said, Rose concluded that there was "no useful purpose" in explaining the series of police authorisations, which on the contrary would have opened up why junior officials knew that Khan was an MP yet those authorising it claimed not to. Not to interview Kearney is frankly astonishing. It was also completely beyond the inquiry's remit to ask exactly why it was necessary to bug Ahmed in the first place. He's never faced any charges in this country, but is continuing to bring a civil case against the Met, alleging he was assaulted during his original arrest; something attested to by photos showing his injuries, but the officers were cleared by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Was that the real reason why he was bugged, or was it at the request of the US? The report shows that almost 20 people, mostly with names of Middle Eastern origin were on his visitor list, but that hardly on its own justifies the continuing bugging of everyone who visits him on the grounds of "ascertaining the extent of Babar Ahmad’s terrorist activities and contacts within the United Kingdom." It also does nothing about the situation that Kearney himself and Murrer are still in; if every police officer were being charged purely for being a local newspaper journalist's source, there'd be even less on the streets than there currently are. If this isn't a whitewash, it's hardly got anywhere near to the bottom of just a small section of our fast expanding surveillance society.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Tabloid-watch: Reporting sensational crime details, blatant stupidity and empty smears.

Today was undoubtedly another glorious day for the country's tabloids. If there's one thing apart from a missing white blonde girl that's always going to fill the front pages, it's a murdered white blonde young woman, especially if said white blonde young woman was an aspiring model who left behind a handy cache of material of her posing in a range of different clothing. Add to that how the trial of the man accused of the murder has heard that he admits to having sex with Sally Anne Bowman's corpse, which he just happened to come upon by chance, and you're guaranteed that it's going to be the story of number one interest on the day in question.

What you don't have to do is then rub everyone's face in it. That, however, was the modus operandi of the Daily Star. The PCC code on reporting on cases intruding into grief is suitably vague, but it does say the following:

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.

Here then is the Daily Star's front page:

It's the sort of headline you'd expect from a sex scandal where the person in question is boasting about what he's done and given an interview to that effect. Why bother being sensitive to others' feelings however when you can instead use a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Without wanting to get into a debate on whether if something similar had happened to a middle-aged non-photogenic woman it would be making the news in such a fashion, there was this further smirk inducing evidence given to the trial:

When Dixie was arrested, nine months after the murder, police found a digital camera among his possessions. On it, they found a video file showing a pornographic film being played on a television, while a man records himself masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail bearing a photograph of Bowman.

Police later discovered a copy of the Daily Mail of March 22 2006 which had a "sticky substance" on the front page featuring Bowman.

It's true then: the accusation that the use of photographs of "pretty young dead girls" is intended to boost the one-handed sale seems to be based in something approaching fact. How then did the Daily Mail itself report this free and rather impressive plug for its journalistic content?

Police raided several properties in Horley, Surrey, and Croydon where he had been staying.

They recovered a video of Dixie performing a lewd sex act on the six-month anniversary of the model's death, the court heard.

Well, I don't suppose "the Daily Mail: the newspaper of choice for masturbating necrophiliacs" would quite hit their target market. That report incidentally only contained the one photograph of Bowman. Among the other coverage was one which had two, and this one, which went for a whole three.

Moving on, the Express splashed on how there'd been yet another suicide in the supposed cursed town of Bridgend. I think Merk from Daily Mail Watch can take the reins from here:

BBC: Death ‘not connected’ to suicides.

icWales: …police today stressed the death was not connected to the spate of suicides

Times: did not appear to be linked to the seven suicides.

Telegraph: The death is not linked to other recent sudden deaths in the area.

Daily Mail (heh): police have ruled out that the latest death is linked to the previous incidents.

Express : There were renewed fears last night of an internet death cult in the town after it emerged that Miss Fuller had visited a social networking website just hours before she died.

See where I’m going with this? Now are you ready for the revelation about the ‘Internet Cult’ from the Express? Here goes:

The teenager, the second girl to die in the spate of suicides, was a member of Bebo and Facebook. Many of the previous victims had posted profiles on such sites.

This, my friends is the self acclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’.

I rest my case.

Finally then to the Scum, which has an amazing exclusive on the bugging of Sadiq Khan, the headline shouting "MP first probed by MI5 over 9/11":

BUGGING scandal MP Sadiq Khan was first probed by security services over his association with a 9/11 terrorist, The Sun can reveal.

And just what was this association?

Security sources told yesterday how 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui asked lawyer Mr Khan to represent him after being accused of being the ‘20th hijacker’.

Oh. It gets better though:

The Labour whip was not allowed to see Moussaoui and was barred from seeing court papers in the run-up to the trial.

Yet by the tone of the article it feels like you're supposed to think that Khan is somehow tarred or condemned for so much as thinking of being Moussaoui's legal representative.

Human rights lawyer Mr Khan, 37, who says he loathes terror groups, was the only practising Muslim on Moussaoui’s team. It brought him to the attention of MI5 and MI6.

One security source said last night: “It is hardly surprising he came to the attention of security services in view of the people he was associated with.”

Who says, eh? Must be a traitor. It's quite right too. Dare to consider legally defending a "terrorist suspect" and you too will find yourself being bugged by MI5, although his supposed labelling as a "subversive" by Scotland Yard might be because he represented and defended black and Asian officers in discrimination cases, as well as bringing actions against the police. Still, so much for even the thought of confidentiality between a lawyer and his client; that's been thrown out of the window now that the sky's dark.

Last year it was revealed that five members of his family belonged to fundamental group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It's not entirely clear here whether they're referring to Khan or to Babar Ahmed, but I can't find any articles from a relatively quick search that back up this especially lurid allegation. Indeed, Khan has spoken out against Hizb ut-Tahrir on a number of occasions, the following, in a Fabian speech, particularly strong:
Let me be quite clear. Hizb-ut-Tahrir quite deliberately have the same effect on race relations as their mirror image, the BNP. They encourage hatred and their preaching is used by the BNP to foster fear of Islam.

Calling your family racists doesn't appear to be the number one way to keep good relations with them.

Mr Straw is believed to have told officials that he thought someone was trying to “smear” Mr Khan.

Well, the Sun's certainly decided that if others are going to have a go, it may as well join in.

As Private Eye points out today, surely of even more interest than the fact that the police are now bugging MPs daring to visit childhood friends in prison, is that Ahmed has now been held without charge in jail in this country for three and a half years, awaiting deportation, even while his alleged accomplices in America have been released without charge., the site that Ahmed allegedly ran, and which can be accessed via the Wayback Machine was certainly radical: its sub-title was for "jihad and the mujahideen", but whether he broke any applicable laws while the site was still up in this country is most certainly questionable. That injustice however is of little consequence to a newspaper determined to defend the police and the security services over almost anything, however how troubling.

Slightly related: PDF attacks the puritan spin machine.

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Monday, February 04, 2008 

We still need the Wilson doctrine.

In light of the revelations that the Labour MP Sadiq Khan was bugged (claims in the Daily Mail tomorrow and on Newsnight right now that he's been bugged for years and while he was working for Liberty, supposedly considered a "subversive" by some within Scotland Yard) while visiting his constituent and friend Babar Ahmed at Woodhill prison, some are asking why the Wilson doctrine is still in place, with MPs considered above us mere mortals, especially with the report released last week that showed 250,000 requests for various intercepts within a 9-month period.

While some have pointed out that there's a reason why it's known as the Wilson doctrine
, due to his own paranoia (somewhat justified) that the security services were out to get him, the number one reason why it should stay in place is that it protects both radical and maverick MPs from the attention of those so often and historically opposed to them. Of course, in this day and age radical and MP when put together seem to be an oxymoron, but we also ought to be aware that under an even less scrupulous government than this one, collaboration between politicians and security services would certainly not rule out spying on the opposition.

If the Wilson doctrine were to be even slightly modified or abandoned, there needs to judicial oversight, as Unity eloquently outlines. That this is still left to either politicians or a police officer is archaic and and clearly in need of urgent reform.

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