Sea of whitewash: UK ‘defence export services organisation’ is “closed” in reorganisation

Posted in Britain, Corruption, Defence Defense, Saudi Arabia by Deputy city editor on July 9, 2007

Be careful what you wish for. A victory for the Campaign against the Arms Trade is deafened by the sound of shredders…

Another brilliant piece by Rob Evans and David Leigh in The Guardian revealing that: “The Treasury is planning to disband the government’s controversial arms sales department. The 450-strong defence export services organisation (Deso), based near Oxford Street in London, has long been the target of anti-corruption campaigners and opponents of the arms trade.”

After years as a government bag man on corrupt arms deals, Deso will cease to exist, not because of a sudden atack of scruples by ministers. The motive is more transparently that of making plenty of distance between ministers and “history” before investigators get any closer to the murky story of the Deso. It will soon be as if Deso had never been. Or so the government (and opposition) will be hoping.

It seems very unlikely, with the amount of shredding likely to be now underway, that the entire story will ever readily become known. Although in broad outline we already know of the alphabet of corrupt dealings by BAE and the British government, all over the world, from Arabia to Zimbabwe.

The ultimate alibi of the BAE executives is that it was all done ensemble with the government – both the former conservative and current labour ones. So, reason BAE, they cannot have committed a crime. What was done was sovereign, and nothing to do with them. And it was anyway all in the past. Thus the dust is being swept under a very thick carpet. The government will mumble about a department that no longer exists, and ministers will say that what is important is the way forward.

American criminal investigators may uncover some insalubrious facts, although The Guardian is pretty well on top of this. But even the most ambitious federal prosecutors might have difficulty prying lose the inside stories of arms deals in which BAE and the British government got up to some jolly scrapes, to say the least. Sadly, my fantasy of one day observing BAE Systems executives drgged to the USA in handcuffs, is unlikely to be fulfilled. Neither is the chance that dictators still in office will have their bank accounts investigated, or that stolen sums might be restored to national treasuries.

Is this the end of special treatment for BAE Systems? How will it finance commissions on its Eurofighter deal with the Saudis, if ministers refuse to sign the checks? I notice the first “private” A380 has been odered: is this part of the Eurofighter deal? Will the MoD now procure weapons on the basis of its requirements for its own troops, or as part of an export drive, lubricated by corruption? Why is it so difficult to imagine that this leopard will readily change its spots?

Delusional journalism (Matthew Parris edition)

“I can talk up a storm on the folly of George W. Bush or the evil that is Osama bin Laden” boasts Matthew Parris in his Saturday, July 7 column in The Times.

But Parris is volunteering for more hazardous columnising today. He is arguing that “the tide is turning against” Islamic terrorism. His evidence for this is “observation, hearsay and personal hunch.”

Parris declares: “We’re winning the battle – dare I utter the appalling cliché – of hearts and minds.”

Is it fair to describe this as delusional journalism? Are there metrics to substantiate this thesis? What sort of analysis are we dealing with here? A gnostic one contrasting the foolishness of George Bush with the evil of bin Laden. In which case, which “we” is winning? I propose the winner, insofar as Matthew is concerned, is foolishness.

Or I may misjudge him. Perhaps this is this one of these columns in which the gentle reader, guided by the observations and hunches of our fearless and cheekily revisionist columnist, finally sees through the falsity of received dogma. As the scoop of interpretation is revealed, the reader may rejoice that we are winning the war on terrorism after all. This perhaps is actually a redemptive column. The sort of thing to expect from an ernest vicar.

Yet Parris’s opinion is founded on nothing substantial at all. It exists detached completely from reality. Indeed it appears to have coincided with the most lethal car bombing so far, a siege to the death in Islamabad, the Glasgow doctors’ plot and no end whatsoever to the quotidian global horrors, albeit they have so far spared the Groucho club.

Compare Parris, purveyor of hunch, with some other journalism on offer. Because relative to the competition, Parris is writing tosh. Read the New Yorker on the poppy eradication program in Afghanistan, or Iraq Slogger, and in particular look at Le Monde Diplomatique, if you want a paradigm-shifting story about the changing nature of this thing called terror.

Reading Syed Saleem Shahzad in Le Monde Diplomatique, who has met many so-called terrorists, you are not likely to confuse his authority with that of Matthew Parris. It is in fact a contrast between two utterly different schools of journalism. One is revelatory, insightful, based on solid reporting. Parris is based on a hunch, a deadline and a fat check.

Syed’s article begins to describe the geography of a story rather than attempt to be the last word. But it is that rare thing in terrorism studies: an article with some intellectual coherence. Instead of triggering a bullshit detector, it has the smell of verissimilitude, as we say in the copy-tasting room, where we spit most of the stories out into a pot in the floor, and swallow only a few.

Syed writes of the struggles within islam itself and his story not only provides the outline of a sensible way of considering this problem, but additionally contains the uncomfortable reminder that this is not just about the comfort of Parris and his metropolitan friends. Almost all the victims of this war – or more properly, a series of armed conficts between state and non-state actors – are themselves muslims. I think this is much more interesting than Matthew’s wishful theories on hearts and minds. Compared to Parris’s theory that “we” are winning, Syed offers a different dimension of journalism, in which a complicated problem can be seen for what it is.

The on-line summary at Le Monde Diplo hardly does justice to Syed’s reporting.

Deux stratégies islamistes qui s’opposent – two opposing Islamist strategies

Al-Qaida contre les talibans – something genuinely fascinating – the old firm has broken up.

De la Somalie à l’Afghanistan, de l’Irak au Liban, en passant par la Palestine (lire « Comment le monde a enterré la Palestine »), se dessine un arc du chaos caractérisé par l’affaiblissement des Etats et le rôle croissant de groupes armés disposant d’un armement efficace (notamment roquettes et fusées) et échappant à tout contrôle centralisé. Pour les Etats-Unis, ces zones sont devenues le terrain principal de la « troisième guerre mondiale », de la « guerre contre le terrorisme ». Cette vision nourrit la stratégie de l’organisation Al-Qaida, engagée dans une lutte à mort contre « les croisés et les juifs ». Pourtant, sur le terrain, ces discours simplistes ne recouvrent pas une réalité bien plus contradictoire. En Irak, on assiste à une mobilisation d’une partie de la résistance sunnite contre les dérives d’Al-Qaida qui s’est lancée dans un sanglant combat contre les chiites, n’hésitant pas à s’en prendre à leurs lieux de culte. En Afghanistan, de violents incidents ont opposé les talibans aux combattants étrangers d’Al-Qaida, les premiers privilégiant une stratégie nationale (et la recherche d’un modus vivendi avec le pouvoir pakistanais) et les seconds appelant au renversement des régimes musulmans en place, dénoncés comme « impies ».

An arc of chaos is described by the map of Somalia to Afhagnistan, Iraq to the Lebanon, passing through Palestine. This is characterised by the weaknening of states and the growing role of armed groups outside of all effective centralised control and armed with effective weapons, notably rockets and explosives. For the United States these zones have become the principle battleground of the third world war or of the war against terrorism. This vision has in fact nourished, fed into the startegy of al-Qaida which is engaged in its own struggle to the death against christians and jews. Meanwhile on the ground, these simplistic discourses do not capture the reality which is much more conflicted. In Iraq one part of the sunni resistance is mobilising against Al-Qaida who have launched themselves in bloody fighting with the shiia… In Afghanistan there have been violent clashes between the taliban and the foreign fighters of al-Qaida, the Taliban primarily nationalists seeking a strategy including a modus vivendi with the Pakistani power next door; al-Qaida calling for the overthrow of Islamic regimes already in power which they denouce as impious.


Compared to this, Parris is not even starting to understand what he is writing about. One must mention in passing that more than 150 people were killed in one Iraqi city in terrorist attacks on the very day that Parris’s column appeared, although none of them will have been known to Parris.

In the campaign to purge delusion from the media on the subject of terrorism, one cannot help notice today’s Sunday Telegraph with its splash warning of a 15-year fight against terror. This is an intriguing new benchmark – one previously undisclosed, I believe. We have been warned that this is generational. But 15 years sound rather specific. A target!

Admiral Sir Alan West, a former first sea lord, now a war counsellor to Grodon Brown, choses a Tory paper to predict that the war on terror will take a decade and a half to win, and went on to make similar points on Sky News. So this was entirely manufactured news.

Interestingly, though, with the scoop that this is no more than three five-year plans. Fifteen years is in fact a dramatic improvement since the forecast of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, our man in Kabul, last month that it would take 30 years to win the instant struggle. (Apparently, the largest British embassy in the world is being built in Kabul so Cowper-Coles may just have been making the case for a longer mortgage. His embassy should be a long way out of town, in a defensible position, is my advice.)

So more happy news on the war on terror. Within a fortnight of the Brown administration taking over, the time to win has been reduced by decades, from those now obsolete estimates of Cowper-Coles, to the really rather encouraging estimate of Admiral West.

Oh, but we mustn’t call it a “war on terror”. West says of the phrase: “I hate that expression. When I first heard it – I think it came over from the states – I thought it was totally the wrong thing.”

He continues, oddly, that,”it’s not like a war in that sense at all. It demeans the value of a war and it demeans the value of a lot of things.” Demeans the nobility of war, perhaps? What does he mean? That terrorists fight dirty?

Reading Parris, West and Syed Saleem Shahzad I am not sure how we will know when we have won the war on terror – perhaps there will be no more terrorists. West is right, however, that a new approach is badly needed to tackle it. But what is this to be? Be nicer to muslims? More bombs? Poppy eradication? Information war?

The fundamental problem is one that nobody dares acknowledge. The versions of democracy and justice on offer on our side are actually pretty unconvincing. Our example is frankly not so persuasive in the battle for hearts and minds. Maybe if there were no secret prisons, no torturers, elections were decided by voters and not lawyers, seats were not for sale in parliament, corrupt arms dealers were not operating in collusion with governments, for example, the “west” could offer some rentable values to the world.

Until then, it does sound as if the answers to the problem of terror are less likely to be found in the west than within islam itself.

We are all capable of writing real nonsense from time to time. It is odd how the war on terrorism brings out the worst in many journalists as well as most politicians.


A useful Wikipedia discussion of the expression “war on terror” can be found here.

I have previously written of delusional media here, questioning Channel 4 News’s theories on muslim alienation.


The slave trade/the arms trade: spot the difference

Posted in Corruption, Defence Defense by Deputy city editor on June 14, 2007

Over budget, overdue, useless – the Eurofighter

Tony Blair’s recent “apology” for Britain’s role in the slave trade will, one hopes, be followed in some distant future by another British prime minister apologising for his country’s role in the arms trade. Which is worse – selling slaves from Africa or selling weapons to Africa?

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in a speech on April 16, 1953

BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, is one of the biggest arms manufacturers in the world. Other than producing arms it also produces prostitutes for the use of Saudi princes, huge “commissions” for the use of African dictators, massive “consultancies” for those who do it favours, and colossal lies. When it is not behaving corruptly in Africa and the Middle East, it is corrupting politics in Britain.

The symbiotic relationship between BAE Systems and British politicians is part of a tapestry which supports my long-held thesis that Britain is among the most corrupt countries in the world, and unchallenged for hypocrisy.

You probably cannot buy a driving licence in the UK as you can in, say, Albania. But you can buy a seat in parliament. And you can pervert British and international law more or less at will – as demonstrated by the intervention of Blair’s lackey, the attorney general Lord Goldsmith, to derail the biggest of the corruption investigations against BAE.

BAE threatens journalists who try to uncover these corrupt practices although frequently does not have to. There are plenty of idiot hacks around like Jeremy Clarkson who produce thinly-disguised BAE propaganda (Clarkson has written admiringly of the Eurofighter – as did the BBC’s former defence correspondent before he went off to become a flack at NATO).

Fortunately The Guardian and The Sunday Times have not bent to the pressure. The Guardian indeed has been spectacular in its persistence.

All for nothing, it seemed. With the help of the British government, BAE has made away with (so far) a clean pair of heels.

Now here is an ironic development. It is reported in today’s Guardian that the American Justice Department may investigate BAE in connection with hundreds of millions washed through a Washington bank account controlled by the Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador, who used some of the funds to run a private Airbus A340.

Campaign against the Arms Trade – click image for link

What a beautiful thing it would be to see BAE’s executives dragged off in handcuffs to the United States. One can only hope that American justice will be revealed in all its savagery for the knighted plunderers.

Those connected to British politics have also benefitted. Mark Thatcher, half-witted son of the former prime minister, somehow made £12 million in the fall-out from BAE’s contracts with the Saudis. Oddly, he remains at large.

As a sort of defence, it has to be said that BAE makes some truly dreadful weapons. The Eurofighter is the classic example – years late, scores of millions over budget, essentially useless. The Tornado before it was another dire aircraft. I suppose it is arguable that the essential uselessness of the Royal Air Force is a good thing as it inhibits Blair and his regime from even more reckless and destructive military adventures.

Even the SA-80 rifle produced by BAE was a lemon that British special forces still refuse to use. BAE’s weapons may well be more dangerous to those who are equipped with them than to anyone who is a target.

The immorality of selling arms to tyrants and dictators is justified by those who say that if we didn’t do it, someone else would. That’s amazingly exactly the same logic adduced to support the continuation of the slave trade.

Update: According to today’s Guardian Prince Bandar did nothing so undignified as to spend his billion pounds buying his own Airbus. BAE bought it for him. And still pays the running costs.

Missiles for the new ice age

Posted in Defence Defense by Deputy city editor on June 5, 2007

Saskatchewan antimissile system – does Bush’s work better?

Laurent Zecchini, defence correspondent of Le Monde on special assignment, produces an extraordinary report June 5. (Le Monde is available by subscription so sadly this link will soon expire.)

Reporting from Alaska and Washington, he has teased out some intriguing nuances on the state of American missile defence and the role that Europe is expected to play (and pay) in it.

As a scene setter for a new cold war, Zecchini’s piece is chilling enough, starting in the silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, a community of some 1,200 souls which by 2009 will house some 40 “hit to kill” missiles manufactured by Boeing, designed according to the official line to shoot down and deter the threat of missiles fired from rogue states (Iran and North Korea being in the forefront of American minds – although Pakistan may now not be far behind, if it is at all).

After smelling the metal in Alaska, Zecchini lands an intriguing interview in Washington with the “patron” of the Missile Defense Agency, General Henry Obering.

What follows is my own translation of one of many beefy passages in Zecchini’s story, when Obering first recites the official mantra that the sites in the Czech Republic and Poland are needed to intercept potential Iranian missles but then becomes more nuanced.

“Technically, it’s true we could destroy these Iranian missiles with our interceptors in Alaska, in the middle of the north Atlantic. But what we couldn’t do is protect our troops based in Europe, or those of our allies and European friends.”

So the Americans do not need missiles in Europe to protect themselves from the Mullahs. Their hit and kill missiles in Aaska would be just as good.

What we are being told is: these missiles are for European defence. Which raises an interesting question. Who is expected to pay for them? European taxpayers, obviously. What we have here, though nobody dares say it, is a giant defence procurement boondoggle, to feed the insatiable maw of the defence contractors. European missile defence is going to be big bucks for somebody.

Le Monde’s man posits that what is evolving here is a global antimissile network with sites in Alaska (Fort Greely), Colorado (the “Mountain,” headquarters of North American Air Defence Command), Poland, the Czech Republic, Norway (Vardo), Greenland (Thule) and the United Kingdom (Fylingdales). This would be integrated with the Aegis, already supplied to Japan for its own defence against North Korea (and possibly China though one must not say so) plus of course all the early warning systems such as the satellites with the launch detectors and the computer networks that are supposed to produce the famous hit to kill, when the time comes.General Obering, says Zecchini, denies this although without much enthusiam. (One might expect Israel with its own antimissile systems to be involved in this somehow, too.)

“It’s not a project to defend the entire world, we couldn’t afford that. The missile defence is just one element of deterrence. It is not a global pax Americana but simply a network of countries concerned by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

It can be understand why Putin is annoyed and why this project would appear provocative. How is he to know how far this network would grow? If it becomes large enough it could potentially degrade the capabilities of Russia’s existing missile systems, which under any level-headed analysis is a loss of deterrance for the Russians. Nobody should be surprised that they are prickly and threatening to deploy new theatre nuclear weapons.

In the end, though, I think the question is a matter of business more than global strategy, which is merely the figleaf to cover an orgy of spending that will keep rogue corporations fat and happy for ever – or at least until one of their costly toys goes wrong and blows up the world.

At Boeing and the other contractors and subcontractors, antimissile defence is like Christmas every day. As Werner von Braun might have said: “Who cares whether the missiles shoot down other missiles or not. Send money quick.”