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Posts Tagged ‘terrorism

UK “citizens” to be known as “suspects” from July 1st

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From The Independent

Civil liberties campaigners have condemned as “chilling” UK government plans to replace the term “citizen” with “suspect” on all passports and driving licences from July 1st.

The amendment was one among a number of changes approved by MPs last week as part of the controversial Coroners and Justice Reform Bill, which will also increase data sharing between government departments, and allow some inquests to be held in secret.

A Home Office spokeswoman, who asked not to be named, told the Independent that staff will be working around the clock to ensure that the changes are implemented smoothly. UK passport and driving licence holders will be asked to begin handing in their documents within the next few weeks.

The Home Office insists that the change enjoys broad public support, and merely formalises a policy that the government has been operating in practice for several years.

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of the British public. This vital amendment clarifies our relationship with the people we are working so hard to protect, and will enable us to streamline our intelligence-gathering activities. Those raising questions clearly do not understand the nature of the threat we are facing.”

Update – 2nd April 2009 – As readers may have deduced, this article is somewhat less than wholly accurate, but perhaps it’s just a matter of time…

Written by Richard Wilson

April 1, 2009 at 11:00 am

Roger Darlington reviews Don’t Get Fooled Again

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From Roger Darlington’s website.

…a highly readable book which represents a refreshing gale of common sense and rationality. Wilson critiques a wide range of contemporary nonsense including:

  • Pseudo-news such as the testimony of a certain ‘Nurse Nayirah’ in 1990 that Iraqi troops occupying Kuwait had removed babies from incubators or the insistence of American and British politicians that Saddam’s Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction;
  • Pseudo-science such as the efforts to show that smoking does not cause cancer or that white asbestos poses no measurable risk to health or that Trofim Lysenko in the pre-war Soviet Union had revolutionary techniques to transform agriculture or that South African President Thambo Mbeki was right in insisting that the HIV virus does not cause AIDS;
  • Conspiracy theories such as the assertion by ex British agent David Shayler that the London bombings of July 2007 were not the act of terrorists;
  • Relativism which, in its most radical form, asserts that there are no objective facts, only competing strands of subjective opinion, and even in ‘milder’ forms like cultural relativism rejects logic and evidence as ‘western’ or ‘imperialist’ modes of thinking;
  • Religious fundamentalism which requires belivers to accept on faith the absolute truth of a prescribed list of written beliefs even when the relevant texts are obscure, contradictory or contrary to evidence;
  • The justifications given for torture by democratic states like the USA and for terrorism given by extremist groups who likewise believe that the ends justify the means.

Wilson helpfully identifies some of the many factors that permit and indeed encourage such acts of irrationality including wishful thinking, over-idealisation, demonising perceived enemies, moral exclusion, and groupthink. In a spirited defence of rationality, he asserts: “The basic principles of logic, consistency, evidence, and ‘inductive reasoning’ are common to every human society and present in all belief systems”.

George Monbiot on another misuse of UK government’s “sweeping powers”

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From The Guardian

The villagers have marched, demonstrated, and sent in letters and petitions. Some people tried to stop the company from cutting down trees by standing in the way. Their campaign was entirely peaceful. But the power company discovered that it was legally empowered to shut the protests down.

Using the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it obtained an injunction against the villagers and anyone else who might protest. This forbids them from “coming to, remaining on, trespassing or conducting any demonstrations, or protesting or other activities” on land near the lake. If anyone breaks this injunction they could spend five years in prison.

The act, parliament was told, was meant to protect women from stalkers. But as soon as it came on to the statute books, it was used to stop peaceful protest. To obtain an injunction, a company needs to show only that someone feels “alarmed or distressed” by the protesters, a requirement so vague that it can mean almost anything. Was this an accident of sloppy drafting? No. Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden, the solicitor who specialises in using this law against protesters, boasts that his company “assisted in the drafting of the … Protection from Harassment Act 1997″. In 2005 parliament was duped again, when a new clause, undebated in either chamber, was slipped into the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. It peps up the 1997 act, which can now be used to ban protest of any kind.

Mr Lawson-Cruttenden, who represented RWE npower, brags that the purpose of obtaining injunctions under the act is “the criminalisation of civil disobedience”. One advantage of this approach is that very low standards of proof are required: “hearsay evidence … is admissable in civil courts”. The injunctions he obtains criminalise all further activity, even though, as he admits, “any allegations made remain untested and unproven”.

Last week, stung by bad publicity, npower backed down. The villagers had just started to celebrate when they made a shocking discovery: they now feature on an official list of domestic extremists.

Echoes of Sally Murrer case as senior UK opposition politician arrested by counter-terrorism police

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In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the extent to which government demands for “sweeping new powers”, ostensibly to protect public security, often lead to those powers being used in ways far beyond those originally intended. One among many recent examples was the use of anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in the UK.

Now counter-terrorism police have arrested the Conservative shadow Home Office minister Damian Green, after he published documents recently released by a government whistle-blower. Green was charged with “aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in public office”.

Following his release on bail, Damian Green said:

“I was astonished to have spent more than nine hours under arrest for doing my job. I emphatically deny that I have done anything wrong. I have many times made public information that the government wanted to keep secret, information that the public has a right to know.

“In a democracy, opposition politicians have a duty to hold the government to account. I was elected to the House of Commons precisely to do that and I certainly intend to continue doing so.”

Interestingly, this charge closely resembles the spurious case brought against the local journalist Sally Murrer, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the police whistleblower Mark Kearney. According to the Press Gazette, Murrer was charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring Kearney to commit the offence of “misconduct in a public office”.

Weapons of Mass Derision

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Gordon Brown’s controversial use of the “Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act” to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain was taken by many here in the UK as further evidence that ‘sweeping powers’ given to the government ostensibly to fight terrorism will inevitably being used for other purposes.

But the move has also triggered an outpouring of mass derision among Icelanders, with 12% of the population of the country signing an online petition, and hundreds putting together their own quirky photographic protests, many of them with a distinctively Icelandic feel.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that mockery is a vital tool in the fight against fearmongering politicians who seek to enhance their own powers or evade scrutiny by exploiting public anxieties over terrorism.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 24, 2008 at 10:46 pm

More on Lord West’s distinguished ministerial career…

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From The Guardian, 15 November 2007:

At 8.20 yesterday morning, Lord Admiral Alan West of Spithead, Gordon Brown’s chief security minister, seemed pretty clear in his own mind.

Did he think the police needed more than 28 days to question terrorist suspects?

“I want to have absolute evidence that we actually need longer than 28 days,” the former first sea lord told the BBC.

“I want to be totally convinced because I am not going to go and push for something that actually affects the liberty of the individual unless there is a real necessity for it. I still need to be fully convinced that we absolutely need more than 28 days and I also need to be convinced what is the best way of doing that.”

But less than an hour later, following a breakfast with the prime minister, West had changed tack.

Sounding just as certain as he had barely 45 minutes before, he declared he was “personally convinced” that the 28-day limit needed extending.

“I personally, absolutely believe that within the next two or three years we will require more than that for one of those complex plots. So I am convinced that is the case.”

Written by Richard Wilson

October 17, 2008 at 1:00 am

“Another great plot is building up again” claims UK terrorism minister

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Lord West: Be afraid

Amid the UK government’s heavy defeat in the House of Lords over its demand for “sweeping new powers” to lock people up without charge, the terrorism minister Lord West has claimed – without offering any evidence – that “another great plot is building up again, which we are monitoring“.

According to West, who was in charge of the government’s attempt to get the 42-day detention proposals through the House of Lords, “The [terrorist] threat is huge. It dipped slightly and is now rising again … There are large complex plots. We unravelled one, which caused damage to al-Qaida and the plots faded slightly”. But West claims that another malicious conspiracy has now been discovered.

In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I argue that conspiracy theories are not the exclusive preserve of dodgy balding men in smoky pubs – dodgy balding men in government sometimes fall for them too.

Strictly speaking, anyone who postulates a secretive, evil plot on the basis of weak or non-existent evidence, is putting forward a conspiracy theory. Recent examples of state-sponsored conspiracy theories include the UK and US governments’ bogus claim that Iraq was harbouring “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, and the suggestion, which we now know was made on the basis of a torture-tainted confession, that the Iraqi regime had offered chemical weapons training to senior members of Al Qaeda.

Given this track record, it seems prudent to treat Lord West’s new – yet decidedly vague – assertions with a heavy dose of scepticism.

Terror Alert Level: Comfortably numb