Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beware the spooky servants of the secret state!

The Guardian publication of stories based on leaked information from the former NSA apparatchik, and the unlawful arrest and detention of David Miranda by officials at Heathrow Airport is beginning to become a huge cause cel├Ębre, and as is so often the case in these examples, the involvement of ministers and their shadowy servants begins to become clearer!

It now becomes clear that this grubby exercise in the abuse of power goes right up to the Prime Minister, and involves the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Secretary!

The Guardian has been publishing articles which no doubt have the potential to be very embarrassing to ministers and officials, but as far as is yet known, the Guardian hasn't published anything that comes remotely close to containing information which might be of value to terrorists.

Nevertheless, there is clearly something very, very fishy going on here, because the number of people involved in seeking to put pressure on the Guardian, (and the arrest and harassment of David Miranda must now be seen clearly in that light) is growing in stature and sensitivity by the day!

What started off with a ".. What us.?" kind of response from the Home Office, and an insouciant early fob-off "...These are matters for the Police..." has now become a matter where it is clear that this is a case which comes directly out of M.I.6 Central, and where the police have just been used as convenient dummies to carry out the executive orders of the Secret State.

As more facts become known, the more this whole case smells more and more of political bullying designed to bring pressure on a responsible and respected newspaper, and designed to protect the reputations of Officials and to try and show their US counterparts that they know how to play hardball.

Theresa May would have garnered more credibility and credence if when asked, she had come straight out and told the truth, instead of indulging in weasel words and seeking to assert that this was just a minor administrative exercise carried out by the police and not involving ministers.

As it turns out, senior politicos and civil servants have been engaged in this up to their necks from the start, and that just adds to its 'spooky' quality.

Senior Whitehall sources confirmed to The Independent Newspaper the Prime Minister’s central role in trying to limit revelations about UK and US intelligence operations contained in information the whistleblower received from the National Security Agency.

David Cameron instructed the Cabinet Secretary to contact The Guardian to spell out the serious consequences that could follow if it failed to hand over classified material from the NSA whistleblower and US fugitive.

Nick Clegg backed the decision to send top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood to urge The Guardian to destroy classified data received from Edward Snowden because it was “preferable” to taking legal action.

This is all bollocks, actually. If the Guardian had information that was somehow obtained in a compromising way, why did the secret state just not simply exercise a search warrant or issue a production order or an injunction?

I can understand that the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger didn't want to get into expensive litigation at this stage, he doesn't have to because the information concerned will be happily resting in secure servers in other parts of the world where British spooks can't get their grubby hands on it, so he doesn't need to protect it in his office. The spooks know this as well, so all this smashing up hard drives was a theatrical exercise in state bullying, just saving the face of the GCHQ toadies.

Mr Clegg agreed to the move on the understanding that destruction of the material would not impinge on the The Guardian's ability to publish articles. The Deputy Prime Minister was "keen to protect" the newspaper's freedom to publish while safeguarding national security, his spokesman said.

What utter cobblers, Clegg knows damn well that this was just an exercise in state arm twisting, like the school bully trying to look big in the playground.

What makes it even more grubby is that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, confirmed she had been briefed in advance of the detention, she won't say how far in advance she was briefed, but insisted it was the police who had made the decision to stop and question Mr Miranda on his way through Heathrow from Berlin.

Now this is where it begins to become a bit legally technical.

If Ms May was briefed in advance of the detention, it means that the decision to pull Miranda on his way through LHR had already been made. The request would have come from spook control through the Met Police liaison unit to officers on the ground. They would have been briefed as to their target and possibly told why the spooks wanted him stopped.

They, the police, would almost certainly, not have had any information or reason to stop Miranda, they do not get involved on a day-to-day basis on such issues, nor would they have had any reason to need to know about Miranda and his journey, until they were told to detain him.

So the trail gets even murkier. The police now knew that someone, somewhere, wanted to have a long chat to Miranda, so they now had a 'reasonable cause to suspect him' . It doesn't matter what they might have suspected him or what for, but he was now an object of suspicion. When police engage with such people, certain civil liberties immediately come into play when they are arrested, like the right to remain silent, the right to a solicitor, etc. All this talk about Miranda not being arrested is all so much tosh and weasel words. As soon as his forward momentum was prevented and hands were laid on him or his ability to do what he wanted was removed from him, he was under arrest, pure and simple, and his rights as an arrested man came into operation.

Thankfully, it isn't just me making this assertion. The former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton said today that the Metropolitan police had no legal basis to detain David Miranda under the Terrorism Act of 2000. This has led to the usual and typical piece of ground shifting and denials from Theresa May, although she is no lawyer.

Amid a warning from Falconer that the authorities had "incompetently" used the wrong law to detain Miranda, Ms May said that the police had acted within the correct "framework", whatever the hell that means!

But  Ms May, seeking to hide behind the police coat tails, used highly cautious language and only endorsed the police action after being asked three times by Martha Kearney on Radio 4's The World at One about Falconer's claim that the Terrorism Act of 2000 provided no legal basis to detain Miranda.

In a Guardian interview today, Lord Falconer said the act makes clear that police can only detain someone under schedule 7 to the act to assess whether they are involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of terrorism.

He told the Guardian: "I am very clear that this does not apply, either on its terms or in its spirit, to Mr Miranda."

The former lord chancellor later told The World at One that the authorities should have used an injunction – rather than anti-terror laws – if it believed that Miranda was carrying documents that contained information that could help terrorists if it fell into the wrong hands.

Falconer said: "If the government are so concerned about this – and I can understand that they might be – use the powers competently and in accordance with the law. Don't use the wrong powers and don't use them incompetently."

Ms May initially declined to respond to Falconer's criticism. Asked by Kearney about his claim that the act provided no basis to detain Miranda, the home secretary criticised the Today programme presenter Evan Davis for suggesting earlier that the authorities were taking action to avoid embarrassment to the government. Like all politicos, she seeks to lay the blame elsewhere!

Asked for a second time about Falconer's claim, May said that the Met had decided they were acting legally. When she was asked for a third time about Falconer's claim, May finally endorsed the police action.

The home secretary said: "It is absolutely right it is the duty of government to protect the public. It is absolutely right if the police believe that somebody has in their possession highly sensitive stolen information that could help terrorists, that could lead to a loss of lives – it is right that the police should act. I believe that schedule 7 of this act enables the police to do that. It gives them the framework for that."

Here May betrays her lack of competent legal knowledge, because as Lord Falconer has said, the police do not have the powers to  act under section 7 under the circumstances outlined by the Home Secretary! They may have powers to act under other legislation, but then that has consequences because it protects the rights of suspects.

May also became the first member of the cabinet to respond to the disclosure that the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, demanded that the Guardian destroy hard drives containing leaked NSA documents or risk legal action.

"Are you saying if [the] government believes there is information that is a potential danger to national security, that could be helpful to terrorists, that is being held potentially insecurely, that could fall into the wrong hands that government should not act on that? I take a different view."
Well, if that's the case Ms May, in future do what Lord Falconer recommends and use the proper powers and act responsibly and stop trying to use these draconian powers to bully the newspaper.

Everything that now follows in this case becomes subject now to judicial enquiry and review. Included in such an enquiry must be searching questions as to the truth of the answers provided by the officials who were holding Mr Miranda. It is highly unlikely that they were all police officers. There may have been a Special Branch officer present just to pay lip service to the protocol that this was a police operation, but my guess is that most of the questioning came from the spooks.

A lawyer for Mr MIranda was sent to Heathrow.It is reported by Bindmans, the solicitors for Mr Miranda that; “He was persistently blocked by officials for a long period from gaining access to the room where the questioning was taking place. The detention lasted nine hours, the legal limit of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. He  finally gained access only during the last hour.”

The lawyer reported that Mr Miranda’s request for a pen or pencil to write down details of the questions he was asked was repeatedly refused. He says he was also unclear about just who was questioning him.

The Home Office claim the questioning was “a Met-led operation” and involved six people. 

Scotland Yard stated it could not comment on who may or may not have been involved.

Security sources contacted by The Independent admit MI6 officials could have been involved. Bindmans said this account did not surprise them. “It was unclear throughout just who exactly was doing the questioning,”

Government sources deny the Prime Minister was involved in “intimidation” of a Fleet Street editor. One source said “There was no injunction, no arrests. We just wanted to get these documents [in Snowden’s possession] back.”

So there we have it, I think this story have even more legs than we have yet realised and that it will develop like a mature cheese (it will get smellier and smellier) as the days pass. We must watch with interest the process of Bindmans' application for Judicial Review.

What this story proves yet again however, is that we all do well to be on our guard to be absolutely sure we know exactly what information about us government, whether here or in the US is garnering about us and our individual lives. We need to be vigilant because as we have seen, when it suits them, the spooks will always bend the law to its limits to get their own way.

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