Wednesday, March 10, 2010 

Eliza Manningham-Bullshitter.

Becoming a member of the security services is a little like converting to Islam - once you're in, you're in for life, unless you decide to turn whistleblower, ala, Peter Wright or David Shayler, although in the case of the latter it seems to have done little to help his state of mind. Most though stay a spook for the rest of their life, and even after retirement continue to deny reports about the antics of agents which are known to be true, and in the case of Eliza Manningham-Buller, continue to be at the very least economical with the truth.

According to the previous head of MI5, "the Americans were very keen that people like us did not discover what they were doing". Really? How then does that square with the "seven paragraphs" which very clearly show that the Americans were at the least indulging in "cruel and unusual punishment" when interviewing Binyam Mohamed, and which they were more than prepared to share with their friends in 5/6 back in 2002? How is Buller's claim not contradicted directly by the evidence of Craig Murray, who sent back evidence in 2002 and 03 that showed the CIA was using evidence obtained from the torture of dissidents and others in Uzbekistan, and which the government and security services already knew about in any case? Previously MI5/6 have claimed that they didn't properly realise that the US policy of mistreatment had extended as far as it had until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, although they knew about the "ghost sites", which even then was stretching the realms of feasibility. Now Manningham-Buller claims that she didn't know why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been so talkative until after her retirement when she discovered that he had been "waterboarded" 160 times.

If you were to believe Manningham-Buller, you'd also have to accept that the same people who are meant to be keeping us safe are also some of the most gullible and least inquisitive individuals around. There's plenty of things that you can call the security services, but those that rise to the top are not idiots, nor are they easily led or deceived. Did she really ask her underlings why KSM was talking and not even have an inkling that it might have something to do with the fact that the US was subjecting him to simulated drowning on a frighteningly regular basis? That's of course if this whole recollected conversation actually took place at all, which is itself unlikely. Why else after all were certain "high-value" detainees disappearing if they weren't being taken to "black sites", which MI5 and 6 have said they knew about? Then there's the little matter of Guantanamo Bay, established in December 2001, and where from the very beginning there were allegations of mistreatment. The only reasonable conclusion that can be reached is that Eliza Manningham-Buller is lying, and lying in a feeble attempt to protect both herself and MI5. Then again, why should we be surprised? When lying is what you do for a living, why stop when you retire?

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Friday, February 26, 2010 

Paragraph 168 and all that.

It's been a week of non-denial denials, as well as some especially flagrant lies in the shape of Gordon Brown's curious failure to remember unleashing "the forces of hell" against his chancellor after he made the mistake of being too honest with an interviewer. Kindly, they've saved the best until last, with the trifecta of prime minister, home secretary and foreign secretary all uniting in defending those poor, unable to answer back protectors of the realm in the security services:

"We totally reject any suggestion that the security services have a systemic problem in respecting human rights. We wholly reject too that they have any interest in suppressing or withholding information from ministers or the courts."

"It is the nature of the work of the intelligence services that they cannot defend themselves against many of the allegations that have been made. But I can - and I have every confidence that their work does not undermine the principles and values that are the best guarantee of our future security."

It's instructive that all three of these statements, in response to the full disclosure of paragraph 168 of the "seven paragraphs" ruling, only talk in the present tense. Is anyone actually suggesting that the security services now have a systemic problem in respecting human rights? It's been clear that both MI5 and 6 have somewhat changed their ways as a result of the allegations made against them involving both complicity in torture and rendition, helped along by the fact that to a certain extent the CIA has also moderated its behaviour. Alan Johnson's second sentence is worded equally carefully - while Lord Neuberger suggests that David Miliband was misled by MI5 when he issued the public interest immunity certificates put before the court, the main allegation made by Neuberger is that MI5 lied to the Intelligence and Security Committee when they told it in March 2005 that "they operated a culture that respected human rights and that coercive interrogation techniques were alien to the Services' general ethics, methodology and training" while they also "denied that [they] knew of any ill-treatment of detainees interviewed by them whilst detained by or on behalf of the [US] Government". The ISC contains no serving ministers, and no one has claimed that the security services have suppressed or withheld evidence from the courts.

Likewise, as asinine as Brown's claim is that the security services cannot defend themselves, somewhat contradicted by Jonathan Evans' moon-lighting as a Telegraph columnist, why shouldn't he have "every confidence" that their work doesn't undermine "the principles and values" that keep us safe? After all, the new guidelines under which MI5 and 6 are meant to work, which explicitly forbid any complicity in mistreatment have been in place now for some time, and there's been no indication as yet that they aren't being followed. We aren't talking about the here and now however, we're talking about what the security services did, which Brown, Miliband and Johnson strangely don't seem to want to discuss. It would be nice, for instance, for Miliband to comment on whether he was misled by MI5 as Neuberger suggests he was, something which he inexplicably declined to mention in an otherwise lengthy tête-a-tête with a BBC journalist.

The other defence of the security services, and with it the ISC, is that they weren't lying in 2005 when they told the committee the lines stated above as they didn't then apparently know about all the additional documents and information which were only found at a later date once the courts were involved. This is errant nonsense of the most obfuscatory kind. Two years later the ISC was told by Eliza Manningham-Buller (or Bullshitter, as only I call her), then head of MI5, that it was "regrettable that assurances regarding proper treatment of detainees were not sought from the Americans" in Binyam Mohamed's case, despite knowing full well, as the seven paragraphs show, that he was already being tortured before "Witness B" went to interview him. These documents were withheld for the very reason that they directly contradicted what MI5 had told and continued to tell the committee, right up until it was no longer legally possible to pretend otherwise. Miliband, Brown and Johnson are defending the indefensible, and they know it. The only question remains is whether ministers themselves were kept in the dark by the security services in a similar fashion until plausible deniability was no longer an option. The only way we'll find that out is through a judicial inquiry, something that both ministers and the security services will resist with every fibre of their being.

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Friday, February 12, 2010 

The seven paragraphs fallout continues.

It's not very often that you see the British state act in such apparent unison as it has over the last couple of days. It's reminiscent of the behaviour of a dog or a child that knows it's done something wrong but carries on acting belligerently regardless, hoping that by doing so you'll concentrate on the reaction rather than the initial offence. In what was almost certainly a carefully choreographed move, we've had the home and foreign secretaries both writing to newspapers to complain bitterly that they dared to report what their chief legal Rottweiler almost ordered a judge not to write in his ruling, while over in the Telegraph Jonathan Evans himself makes a rare appearance in customary obfuscatory spook fashion, suggesting that not only this could all be part of a propaganda war but that also we seem to be indulging in "conspiracy theories and caricature".

You could be forgiven for thinking that the government and intelligence agencies were worried by such unpleasant but also undeniable insights into how they have in the recent past operated against their own citizens and residents. Surely though, it must all be part of an over active imagination. Clearly, slurs and "ludicrous lies" are being told about the organisations that are working as we speak to keep us safe from those who would do every single one of us harm. When Jonathan Evans says, "[W]e did not practise mistreatment or torture then and do not do so now, nor do we collude in torture or encourage others to torture on our behalf", then who are we to disagree?

It doesn't seem to matter that at every single step of the way, from the first investigations into what has become known as "extraordinary rendition", which were the work of newspapers and investigative journalists, not as Evans seems to claim, "taken from our own records", all the way now up to the allegations made in parliament by David Davis concerning the almost outsourcing of torture in the case of Rangzieb Ahmed, that both the government and the security services have denied being involved either in torture or being complicit in its use. Try to spot the difference between what Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs committee back in 2005 and the denials of everything that have poured forth today:

Q 23. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea.

I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic.

Since then we've learned of the use of Diego Garcia for rendition, the cases of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who were rendered to Guantanamo after MI6 told the CIA that they were carrying bomb parts when they weren't, of the over 100 different flights which passed through this country which were involved in the rendition programme and of the handing over to the Americans of Iraqi prisoners, who were swiftly taken to Bagram airbase, home of an especially notorious "black site" prison.

At the very heart of this is the continued refusal to accept that the security services knew almost from the very beginning that the US was mistreating prisoners held under the auspices of the "war on terror". In one of the few revealing documents given to the Intelligence and Security Committee in their otherwise worthless investigations into rendition and prisoner mistreatment was a memo from the 11th of January 2001, issued to both MI5 and MI6 officers telling them that they "could not engage in inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners" but they also had no obligation to stop it from happening. This was after one officer had reported back that the detainee he had interviewed had been tortured by US personnel. Despite this, the ISC completely believed the story it was told by both government and the intelligence agencies that they didn't realise properly what the US was doing until the Abu Ghraib scandal came to light, a point repeated by Jonathan Evans today, that it was "slow to detect the emerging pattern". It had detected it all right, it just did nothing about it until it blew up in the Americans' faces, hoping like they did that they could get away with. Likewise, the ISC considered the fact that MI5 had provided questions to the Americans which were subsequently used while Binyam Mohamed was tortured in Morocco as "regrettable", as was the fact that it hadn't sought assurances that he wouldn't be mistreated. As the seven paragraphs have now made clear, MI5 knew full well that Mohamed was already being tortured, yet it still did nothing to help him and sent on the questions for him to be asked regardless. What is that if not active complicity in torture?

Nick Clegg is close to getting somewhere when he suggests that ministers themselves must have known about this policy of non-involvement but also non-condemnation of ill-treatment. This though is where things start getting truly murky: the Guardian has previously reported that Tony Blair knew, but not until after the Abu Ghraib scandal. This would tie in with the claims of the security services that they couldn't possibly have known about the US policy of mistreatment until then. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that the ministers didn't know, or at least only had an inkling and that the security services had kept it a secret from them up until it was no longer possible to. It's plausible and would also explain just why the security services keep up the ridiculous pretence that they didn't know until then, hence also why both were so outraged when Lord Neuberger claimed that MI5 was unaccountable even to the politicians supposedly in charged, having got far too close to the actuality.

Is that letting them off the hook somewhat, if it turns out to be the case? Certainly. We've known for years about the antics of the intelligence agencies, and especially how in the past they reacted to Labour governments, as well as their infiltration of completely harmless leftist organisations throughout the 70s and 80s, and for the current generation to forget about those scandals is unforgivable. Did even they though imagine that they would become complicit in torture in such a way? They're responsible and accountable, but it could well be that the security services remained even more out of control than us "conspiracy theorists and caricaturists" imagined.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010 

Scum-watch: Whose side are you on?

BenSix has already had a go at the esteemed Con Coughlin for his response to yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal concerning the seven paragraphs, but there's another contender for the prize title of "worst journalist in Britain" in the form of whoever wrote today's Sun leader column:

IN Afghanistan, our troops fight al-Qaeda. Here, the battle against the terrorists is undermined by judges.

Except they're not fighting al-Qaida, they're fighting the Taliban and various other insurgents, but who's being picky?

How, pray tell, is the battle against terrorists being undermined by judges? Yesterday's ruling should in practice affect absolutely nothing, as MI5 and MI6 are meant to have already changed their rules when it comes to handling British detainees held by other authorities. Or have they?

That is the ludicrous position we are in after yesterday's ruling over ex-Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed claims America's CIA tortured him.

America shared information about Mohamed's interrogation with Britain on terms of strict secrecy.

As a refugee here, he used our courts to force details to be released.

The Sun has belittled Mohamed's account of his torture in the past, as well as said that it didn't want him back, along with other various degrees of heartlessness about his treatment. Unfortunately, considering that the American judge Gladys Kessler backed his account of how he was tortured and rendered (PDF), it now seems to be fact rather than anything approaching fiction. It's true that Mohamed is only a resident here rather than a citizen, but that should have no bearing on his access to the courts, especially when it was our security services that were actively involved in his detention. As for this idea of strict secrecy, or the "control principle", as David Miliband described it, when such information contains details which make clear that even residents of this country are being mistreated and that we are complicit in that mistreatment, it stops being need to know and starts becoming an issue of legality, of our international and indeed national obligations.

The liberal judges who backed him have damaged relations with our greatest ally.

If America now decides we cannot be trusted with security secrets, we will be at greater risk from al-Qaeda.

Yes, the statement from the White House that they were "deeply disappointed" with the ruling is bound to set our relations with "our greatest ally" back years. The Americans don't care a fig about this for the simple reason that they've already willingly released far worse information about what they did at the time; they're just for once prepared to go along with Miliband's attempts to block publication most likely as some obscure favour. Even if the Americans suddenly decided to stop sharing intelligence, which they won't, as we give them just as much as they give us, it's still pooled with other intelligence agencies which would. The idea that this will make us less safe, because we've finally found that our security services are liars and blackguards is absurd. If anything, it's likely to make us safer, not less.

The ruling is also a purely political gesture. Mohamed's claims have already been aired in the US.

A purely political gesture? If the Sun really believes that uncovering the true nature of what our security services have been involving themselves is just a "political gesture", then it's even more jaded and dismissive of any abuses of power than ever before. Mohamed's claims were aired in the US which is exactly why there was no "secrecy" and therefore they could be released, and why the arguments made the paper and the government are so bogus.

Our security services deserve support. The war on terror is not a game of lawn tennis.

Yes, they do, don't they? Because being complicit in torture isn't counter-productive at all, and doesn't undermine our values in the slightest. If only we could truly let rip against these jihadists, then maybe the war on terror really would become a game of lawn tennis. It's the liberals and the mad judges that are holding us back!

Whose side are you on, your Lordships?

You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010 

The seven paragraphs.

Reading the seven paragraphs that have finally been released detailing the CIA's treatment of Binyam Mohamed after today's ruling by the Court of Appeal, it's initially difficult to know quite why the government was so determined that they should remain secret. They tell us absolutely nothing that we didn't already know: that the US was systematically mistreating almost anyone that came into their custody in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; that this was just the start of the torture regime which Binyam Mohamed found himself under; that the CIA, despite the claims of our security services, had been letting them know just what they were doing to individuals connected to this country; and that despite knowing full well that what the CIA was doing to Mohamed at this early stage would breach our obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights, as found during the 1970s when the "five techniques" were outlawed in Northern Ireland, they did absolutely nothing to intervene to stop his mistreatment.

Why then did they appeal, time and again until finally giving up at some point last week to stop these already widely known facts from entering into the public domain? The claims, repeated ad nauseam today that this was all about the "control" principle, that one country does not publish intelligence provided by another without its express permission is wholly unconvincing. Even if it does annoy the CIA and the US that more of their dirty secrets are being thoroughly examined and released by the courts of another country, it's nothing as to what they themselves have already admitted that they did and authorised, such as the Bybee memos and the waterboarding of the few top al-Qaida members whom they managed to capture. Indeed, the only reason why the Court of Appeal decided that seven paragraphs could today be published was that far more gruesome evidence of the torture which Mohamed underwent was released by a US court in a judgement in November of last year. Lord Neuberger quotes from it in his section of today's ruling (paragraph 126):

[Mr Mohamed's] trauma lasted for two long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time. He was forced to listen to piercingly loud music and the screams of other prisoners while locked in a pitch-black cell. All the while, he was forced to inculpate himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.


At page 58, she said that "[t]he [US] Government does not challenge or deny the accuracy of [Mr Mohamed's] story of brutal treatment" and repeated that point at pages 62 and 64. On pages 61-2, she said that his "persistence in telling his story" and "very vigorous… and very public ... pursu[ance of] his claims in the British courts" indicated that his evidence was true and "demonstrates his willingness to test the truth of his version of events in both the courts of law and the court of public opinion". In the passage just quoted from page 70 of her Opinion, she referred to Mr Mohamed's "lengthy prior torture" as an established fact.

Compared to the seven paragraphs we have today, it doesn't really get much more damning.

Fortunately, the government, through its staggeringly inept attempts to stop even the slightest criticism of the security services from being made by those mad, unelected, unaccountable judges, has completely given the game away. Having seen the draft judgement, as is usual, the government's QC Jonathan Sumption was presumably ordered to complain about the withering remarks by Lord Neuberger in paragraph 168, which is distinctly unusual. Even more unusual is that Neuberger acquiesced, and withdrew his comments. Worth quoting in full is Sumption's objections:

The Master of the Rolls's observations, to whichever service they relate, are likely to receive more public attention than any other part of the judgments. They will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole ('it appears likely that there were others'); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service's information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Neuberger, whether through acute analysis or just searing condemnation, got far too close to the reality of how the security services were acting post-9/11. From repeated accounts of MI5 and 6 officers visiting those held in by either the CIA or the Pakistanis, we already knew that despite being told of how they were being mistreated nothing was done, and that even on some occasions there was total complicity, with questions from the UK authorities being asked while the detainees were undergoing stress techniques and worse. They clearly, as Neuberger identified, had no problem with operating within a culture where human rights were not respected. Most pointedly, he also noted that the security services had deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee. "Deliberately misled" is mild; they lied and lied and lied, all the way up to the very top.

That is though what the security services do for a living - they lie to people, they mislead and they abuse. For a judge to say that the Intelligence and Security Committee is useless, which is what he was more than implying, is far too damaging. For one to imply that the assurances given by MI5 to politicians are worthless, because of their "culture of suppression", is even worse. As Ian Cobain notes in his annotations on the letter sent by Sumption, the courts are in danger of dismissing the reassurances of politicians based on information from MI5 because of its continued pattern of deception. If they'll lie to the politicians that represent them, then it therefore follows that they'll lie to everyone. They therefore then have to be made accountable to someone, and that someone would likely have to be a fully independent, judicial committee, not a parliamentary select committee packed with ex-ministers.

Despite then already being fully aware that the information in the seven paragraphs was already well known, the real reason for wanting them to remain secret was because they show just how out of control our supposedly fully accountable and enlightened defenders of British security actually were and indeed remain. They show that they'll lie not just to the public, but to politicians as well. And despite knowing this, those self-same politicians are far more interested in protecting their own hides than in shining a light on the agencies that colluded in the torture of both British citizens and residents. The sad thing is that they succeeded on the principle, but not on this particularly case, thanks to the same United States which supported the government's attempt to stop the paragraphs being published. That must hurt, but not as much as a fully damning judgement with an unexpurgated paragraph 168 would have done.

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Monday, August 10, 2009 

Protesting too much about collusion.

One of the more cutting criticisms made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last week was that while the head of MI5 had no problems in talking to the media, he seemed to regard it as an unacceptable chore to have to appear in front of a few jumped-up parliamentarians. Yesterday the head of MI6, "Sir" John Scarlett appeared on a Radio 4 documentary into the Secret Intelligence Service, where he naturally denied that MI6 had ever so much as hurt a hair on anyone's head, or more or less the equivalent, as Spy Blog sets out.

This would of course be the same MI6 that passed on information to the CIA regarding Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna which resulted in their arrest in Gambia and subsequent rendition to Guantanamo Bay, and indeed the same MI6 which along with MI5 interviewed Binyam Mohamed while he was being detained in Pakistan, where we now know he was being tortured. The Intelligence and Security Committee noted even in their whitewash report into rendition that MI6 had likely given information to the Americans which was subsequently used in his mistreatment whilst in Morocco. We've since learned that "Witness B", an MI5 officer, also visited Morocco on a couple of occasions while Mohamed was being held there, even further heightening suspicions of direct collusion in his torture.

Those two others who declined to appear before the JCHR were David Miliband and Alan Johnson, who also seem to prefer talking to the media than having to face the chore of sitting before a committee with something approaching independence. Their article in the Sunday Telegraph, responding to the report's claims was one of those wonderful pieces of writing which condemns everything, states the obvious whilst not contradicting any of the specific allegations of collusion. It's the lady protesting too much: no one said, as they do, that the security and intelligence services operate without control and oversight; indeed, it's been quite clear that ministers have known from the very beginning just what the intelligence services have been getting up to, they've just denied and denied and denied it until finally forced to admit to specific allegations, like that two men were rendered through Diego Garcia despite previously repeatedly denying it. They've in fact just admitted that they are personally accountable for what MI5 and MI6 officers get up, so we'll know who should be prosecuted should collusion be revealed, and it's difficult to believe that at some point it won't be.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009 

Torture? Look at this fucking great fish!

You perhaps would have thought, what with it being the silly season and all, that a hard news story such as the most authoritative so far inquiry into British state complicity with torture post 9/11 might have made a few waves. Fat chance. The only thing making waves, or rather no longer making them, is a dead fish. Front page of the Graun, pretty much a given, considering the paper's own contribution to the inquiry by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PDF), was the best it could manage.

Admittedly, it might be because it doesn't tell those of us who have been following the long and winding road from complicity in rendition with the Americans to complicity in torture in Pakistan much that we don't already know. It also doesn't specifically say that we have been complicit: such investigation was outside its remit, and besides, both David Miliband and the home secretary declined to give evidence to the committee, as did Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5. Andrew Dismore, trying to shame the MI5 director into meeting his committee even pointed out to Evans that back in January he gave an interview to a select band of hacks. If he can give an insight into the current workings of the security service to the hoi polloi in Fleet Street, surely he can spare a few minutes to say something to parliamentarians? Alas, no. Evans it seems is only answerable to the toothless Intelligence and Security Committee, where his evidence can be conveniently censored and redacted, and considering their report into rendition, which was a complete whitewash, it's no surprise why the service favours them.

Thankfully, the committee's conclusions pull few punches. Complicity in torture would be a direct breach of our international human rights obligations; despite the need for co-operation between foreign intelligence agencies, there must be mechanisms for ensuring accountability; ministers are determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, and the fact they can do so confirms the system for ministerial accountability for security and intelligence matters is woefully deficient; the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee must be debated to ensure it is subject to frequent scrutiny and that it should be established as a proper parliamentary committee, with an independent secretariat; the government should immediately publish all versions of the guidance given to intelligence officers in relation to the detention and interviewing of detainees overseas; the government should follow the Obama administration and publish all relevant legal opinions provided to ministers; and lastly, the only way to restore confidence in the intelligence services is an independent inquiry into the numerous allegations of complicity in torture, which should make recommendations about improving the accountability of the security services as well as removing any scope for impunity.

Some coverage of these conclusions might well have helped towards that inquiry, one which this government at least is certain not to hold; it's doubtful also that Cameron, especially with the neo-conservatives among his front bench, is likely to piss off the security services as soon as he ascends to power. What it comes down to is that no one really cares: some of those making the allegations are after all convicted terrorists; oh, and probably the fact that all of them have brown or darker skin helps too. We will though remain in judgement of Guantanamo Bay and the explicit involvement of the CIA in torture, even when we ourselves are just as up to our necks in it.

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