Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

Tom Watson runs for the gap, specifically yet another ugly little employment law story at the Sun. Readers will know that they’re like that among themselves and there’s something of a press tradition of not mentioning the names. On this occasion it’s Our Boys Go In Editor “Tom” “Newton” “Dunn” vs. their Whitehall editor Clodagh Hartley.

The other story is that Watson is suggesting that Trevor Kavanagh took the credit for publishing the Hutton whitewash ahead of time when Hartley was in fact responsible.

Sadly this just recalls Labour’s relationship with the Sun. A close reading of this explains all:

Kavanagh, who claimed he had been read the contents of the report over the telephone by an “impartial” source went on to tell the BBC “the source had nothing to gain financially or politically, no axe to grind, no vested interest”

Access to the document, no financial or political interest, someone who had Kavanagh (or Hartley)’s direct phone number = i.e. they were a civil servant operating with permission from their boss who was in contact with them, or to put it another way, a government press officer.

As is fairly well known, Alistair Campbell got powers to give the career COI officials orders in May 1997. His departure didn’t end that. The source was probably Godric Smith or Tom “Walter Mitty figure” Kelly. Kavanagh was lionised by the media establishment for having what was, in fact, the government’s line-to-take read out into his ear by a government press officer. It wasn’t as if the Blair governments were averse to racking up brownie points with Murdoch where possible, was it?

On the other hand, perhaps the most repellent of the Murdoch/Met cases was the Forest Gate raid of 2006, when the police launched a miniature Operation OVERLORD (or rather, MOTORMAN – I don’t think they used a boat) in Walthamstow in pursuit of a “chemical dirty bomb suicide vest” which was capable of attacking aircraft up to 5,000 feet overhead in their opinion, accidentally shot someone because their hand slipped, tore the building apart, found nothing, and satisfied themselves by having the News of the World smear the suspects as paedophiles, before spending ages trying to seize their savings. It wasn’t so much a police operation as a sort of wildly overdone high-camp mashup of 2000s tropes. News International columnist Andy Hayman was in charge, but perhaps we were spared worse:

The police always argue that (many things they do) are a matter of operations and politicians should not be involved. Well, I’m afraid I have a big argument with that.”

Citing the 2006 raid on a street in Forest Gate, he added: “At one stage the police were going to turn out all the residents of the street at 2am in the morning. John Reid was the home secretary and I was working with him.

“Andy Hayman, who was in charge, wanted to turn them out and I said to John Reid – no, you can’t do that. He said ‘John, it’s operational’. I said ‘S** operational, there are political considerations here’ – turning out a street of Asians at 2am with the allegations of a gas plot and we don’t know what the evidence is for that.”

So when did they start tapping Prescott’s phone?

It remains the case that Labour’s half of the twisted relationship with Murdoch was very different to the Tories’. It was transactional and contingent and that’s one of the reasons why it was so horrible at the time, but that also made it possible to leave. When you are one entity you cannot cooperate, said Montgomery. It’s also very hard to stop.

Production note: part of this post was originally a comment on Tom Watson’s blog and was never released from moderation. I might have been nice about this, but you know.

Con “WMD” Coughlin’s piece in the Torygraph is worthy of close reading. You’ll note that this:

Whitehall was caught off guard by the seriousness of the situation in Helmand province, where British troops were deployed in Nato’s reconstruction programme. Most Labour ministers supported the view of John Reid, the defence secretary at the time, that “we would be perfectly happy to leave in three years’ time without firing one shot because our mission is to protect the reconstruction”.

Intelligence assessments conducted in southern Afghanistan concluded that they would receive a hostile reception.

isn’t actually sourced to either General Richards, who is the ostensible subject of the piece, or to Sandy Gall’s book mentioned later in it. Also, the piece contains extensive quotes from Richards that turn out to have been dug out of Gall’s book, when a over-rapid look at the piece might give you the impression Coughlin spoke to Richards.

Reid’s remark has gone down in the annals of stupidity, but the notion that “most Labour ministers” agreed with him isn’t sourced to anyone at all. In fact, the policy was repeatedly re-debated and altered, as I blogged here over the winter of 2005-2006, which doesn’t suggest everyone agreed on it. Further, it’s news that “intelligence assessments” accurately forecast what would happen – especially as any assessment carried out before the deployment would have been an assessment of the original plan, not the plan as it was radically altered in the field.

I suspect Coughlin is talking the secret services’ book here, and they are fighting the real enemy – the uniformed services’ Defence Intelligence Staff, which would have been responsible for such an assessment. Further, DIS was notoriously right about Iraq (if you believe Brian Jones’ telling) and this is inexcusable to the spooks (who weren’t) or Coughlin (who wasn’t, and who culpably published their nonsense).

Further, does this quote sound convincing to you? For an American general, he sounds a lot like a British journalist trying to sound tough.

Sir David also recounts a heated argument between Brigadier Ed Butler, the first British commander in Helmand, and an US general who took exception to him. “I nearly punched that damn Limey’s [Butler’s] lights out, he was so arrogant,” the US general said.

OK, so “Not All That” Foxy Liam Fox is in trouble.

“He is an odd bloke,” said one fellow minister. “He has fingers in so many pies that you kind of think one of them will land him in trouble somewhere along the line.”

Another Tory MP said Fox’s tendency to name-drop and brag about his close friendships with Republicans in the US, media magnates such as David and Frederick Barclay (owners of the Daily Telegraph), and his endless globe-trotting, even before he entered the cabinet, has made many bristle and help explain why he has plenty of enemies in the Tory party and in Whitehall. “I think you either roll with the bluster or find it repellent,” said a Tory MP.

Ah, one of them. Anyway. Part of the problem is this famous meeting where his bestie Adam Werritty just happened to turn up. What was on offer? Well, a product called Cellcrypt, whose makers were trying to sell it to the MoD to stop evilly-disposed persons from eavesdropping on British soldiers’ phone calls back to the UK. (Note: this is going to be long. Technical summary: voice encryption apps for GSM-style mobile networks can guarantee that your call will not be overheard, but not that your presence cannot be monitored, and not necessarily that the parties to your calls cannot be identified.)

Back in the early days of Iraq, the CPA permitted one mobile phone operator in each of its three zones to set up. The British zone, CPA-South/Multinational Division South-East, let the Kuwaiti national telco, MTC (now Zain and busy running Mo Ibrahim’s old Celtel business into the ground) set up there with a partner some of us may have heard of. It’s from Newbury and it’s not a pub or an estate agency and its logo is a big red comma…funny how Vodafone never talked that particular investment up, innit? Anyway. Later the Iraqi government did a major tender for permanent licences and Orascom got most of it, but that’s another story.

One thing that did happen was that soldiers took their mobiles with them to Iraq, and some of them pretty soon realised that buying a local SIM card in the bazaar was much cheaper than making roaming calls back to the UK. Either way, lots of +44 numbers started showing up in their VLR, the big database that keeps track of where phones are in a GSM network so it can route incoming calls.

Pretty soon someone who – presumably – worked for the MTC-Voda affiliate and whose purposes were not entirely aligned with Iraq The Model realised that you could use the VLR to follow the Brits (and the Yanks and the Danes and the Dutchmen and Kiwis and all sorts of contractors) around. Not only that, you could ring up their families in the UK and make threats with the benefit of apparently supernatural knowledge.

This obviously wasn’t ideal. Efforts were made to mitigate the problem; soldiers were discouraged from using local GSM networks, more computers and public phones were made available. The eventual solution, though, was to get some nice new ruggedised small-cell systems from companies like Private Mobile Networks Ltd., which basically pack a small base station and a base station controller and a satellite backhaul terminal into a tough plastic box of a suitably military colour. You open it up, unfold the antenna, turn on the power, and complete some configuration options. It logs into the mobile operator who’s providing service to you via the satellite link.

Now, because radio signals like all radiation lose intensity with the inverse square of the distance, you’ll be vastly louder than everyone else. So any mobile phone nearby will roam onto your private mobile network and will be in the UK for mobile phone purposes, a bit like the shipping container that’s technically in Egypt at the end of Four Lions. And none of this will touch any other mobile network that might be operating in your area. Obviously you can also use these powers for evil, by snarfing up everyone else’s traffic, and don’t for a moment think this isn’t also done by so-called IMSI catchers.

You’re not meant to do this, normally, because you probably don’t have a licence to use the GSM, GSM/PCS, or UMTS frequencies. But, as the founder of PMN Ltd. told a colleague of mine, the answer to that is “we’ve got bigger tanks”.

So, where were we? Well, the problem with trying to do…something…with Cellcrypt is that it doesn’t actually solve this problem, because the problem wasn’t originally that the other side could listen to the content of voice calls. Like all telecoms interception stories, it was about the traffic analysis, not the content. Actually, they probably could listen in as well because some of the Iraqi and Afghan operators may not have been using up-to-date or even *any* air interface encryption.

But if you’re going to fix this with an encryption app like Cellcrypt, you’ve got to make sure that every soldier (and sailor and diplomat and journo and MoD civilian) installs it, it works on all the phones, and you absolutely can’t make calls without it. Also, you’ve got to make sure all the people they talk to install it.

And the enemy can still follow you because the phones are still registering in the VLRs!

So, there’s not much point relying on OTA voice encryption to solve a problem that’s got nothing to do with the voice bearer channel. However, bringing your own small cell network certainly does solve the problem, elegantly, and without needing to worry about what kind of phones people bring along or buy locally.

And the military surely understand this, as by the time of the famous meeting, they’d already started deploying them. Also, back when this was a big problem, 19 year-old riflemen usually didn’t have the sort of phones that would run a big hefty application like Cellcrypt, which also uses the mobile data link and therefore would give them four figure phone bills.

To sum up, Werritty was helping someone market gear that the MoD didn’t need, that was hopelessly unfit for purpose, wouldn’t actually do what the MoD wanted, and would cost individual soldiers a fortune, by providing privileged access to the Secretary of State for Defence.

I have recently been reading David McKittrick (et al)’s Making Sense of the Troubles. An interesting point, which I wasn’t aware of before, is their contention that the late 70s and Roy Mason’s tenure as Northern Ireland secretary was an important turning point. In fact, you could make an interesting comparison with Iraq in 2007-2008.

Mason’s policy was to forget about further top-level negotiations, after the collapse of the Sunningdale agreement, and focus on security and economic issues in the hope that progress from the bottom up would bring the conflict parties back to the negotiating table on better terms. In fact, during his tenure, there was a dramatic drop in the rate of killings that was never reversed. This is the hub of McKittrick’s argument – having surged in 1971 and peaked in 1972-3, levels of violence stayed very high until 1977 and then dropped to a new, much lower average level.

The British government in this period tried various expedients. The military used more special forces, and integrated their intelligence systems and those of the police and security services. Overall, there was a deliberate effort to project the whole war as a law-enforcement problem (very much a theme of US and Iraqi government propaganda during the “surge”), and to launch as many criminal prosecutions as possible. They tried hard to recruit informers and to make use of supergrasses.

McKittrick and his co-authors argue that there was a sort of cycle-of-recruitment effect at work – terrorism caused recruitment into the loyalist terrorist organisations, whose violence caused further IRA recruitment, which led to more military intervention and more loyalist violence. They further argue that this cycle was broken or at least slowed down in the late 1970s – whether the government was succeeding in providing security or not, it at least reduced the demand for unofficial, privatised violence. The government also tried hard to recruit potential paramilitaries into its own forces, and demonstrated that it was willing to use force against loyalists as well as republicans (they argue that the failure of the 1977 loyalist strike was important). This is all quite familiar.

However, the drop in violence was an over-determined event. There was a major change in the IRA leadership and strategy, which emphasised holding out for the long term and eventually led to an increased emphasis on the ballot box. (The parallel with the Sadr movement stands out.) There was a major protest movement demanding peace, which is another way of saying that the people were unwilling to tolerate so much violence any more.

Although this turning point meant much less violence, it didn’t solve anything in and of itself. And it involved quite a lot of state violence in itself – especially during interrogations. This Musings on Iraq roundup is telling – rather than gunbattles and mass bombings, the war continues with a low-level assassination campaign. In Northern Ireland, the best any security solution could ever do in the absence of a political solution was to hold the levels of violence down around the post-77 average, with a very significant cost to society as a whole.

This post brings several things to mind. Apparently, eastern Libya was a hugely overrepresented area among the international jihadis who went to Iraq and there exploded. Clearly, this means that you can’t assume that they’re fighting for democracy, whiskey, sexy.

However, it’s also very likely that this represented a deliberate policy on the part of the Libyan government to channel its dissidents into particular ideologies that its new friends also perceived as the enemy, and then to ship them out of the country and hope they would explode somewhere else. Making jihadis – repressing all other forms of dissidence, while not trying too hard to stop them recruiting or leaving the country – had the side benefit that it validated their claim to be a bastion of stability assailed by Islamic extremism. They could produce the extremists, after all. And it further allowed them to avoid burning all their bridges with the other side. If it became expedient to make friends with the terrorists again, they could produce the bloody shirts – the martyrdom videos – and demonstrate that they had been useful.

Of course, Gadhafi didn’t have to be an evil genius to come up with this plan – he was essentially copying Saudi Arabia’s homework, and depending on how you look at the relationship between the Egyptian regime and the Brothers, perhaps sneaking a look at the neighbours’ as well. Giddens may have thought they were going to be a new Norway, but the real plan was more like Saudi 2.0, probably right down to the hereditary government.

Another lesson from this is that they’re probably not going to give up easily.

earth-shattering kaboom

Really excellent piece on the Al-Qa’Qaa munitions complex, its looting during the US invasion of Iraq, and the role of the estimated 40,000 tonnes of assorted explosives that went missing in the Iraqi insurgency and the civil war. Also, strategic geography – that area was on the demographic frontier between Sunni and Shia, on the suburban fringe of Baghdad, and near the end of the road from the western borders. Combine that with the explosives, and you can see why it was the crucible of the war and also part of the reason why things quietened down so quickly after mid-2007 – get a grip there and the Americans and the Iraqi government had gone quite a long way already.

Also, October, 2004:

Sanger, still waiting for the editors of the Times to publish his exclusive, discovered that the story was leaking on Sunday. The article went out the next morning: “Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished from Site in Iraq.” Shortly after the newspaper hit the streets, Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove swept into the media area of Air Force One and started shouting at Sanger. “Rove came and screamed at me in front of all the other reporters,” he says. “Declared that this had been invented by the Kerry campaign.” Apparently, the report had hit a nerve.

Ah.

Well, this looks pretty ugly. I have a question. We know that unofficial, non-doctrinal training material was being circulated around the joint services intelligence centre in Chicksands in 2003-2005 – there’s an interesting quote about it in the Guardian piece here:

Any public inquiry into the activities of the JFIT would be expected to examine the extent to which it was supervised by military lawyers. It is now known that at least some of the training material used by F Branch at Chicksands between 2003 and 2005 escaped the scrutiny of the training centre’s in-house lawyer, Brigadier David Yates, who told the Mousa inquiry that he did not “have the capacity” to check it.

This is important because, as the piece also points out, most of the interrogators were reservists. They would have gone first of all to the Chilwell mobilisation centre to do fitness tests, draw additional kit, get their vaccinations, complete their admin, and to do refresher courses on things like first aid, marksmanship, and anti-terrorist precautions. Then, later, they would have gone for a period of pre-deployment training, which would concentrate on preparing for their specific role in Iraq, before finally shipping out via South Cerney and RAF Brize Norton. It would make sense if the reservist intelligence people were sent to their trade’s headquarters, which for most of them would also be their unit’s peacetime depot, for their specialised pre-deployment course. (I think I have the process right, but several readers can correct me.)

Now, we also know that the Americans began with the torture in 2002, and that Major-General Geoffrey Miller was transferred from Guantanamo to Iraq with his infamous directive to “Gitmo-ize” the detention camps in the summer of 2003. So, where did this documentation come from?

I don’t quite know what to make of this:


Q What other sites, remember any particular internet sites you looked at?

A When I was doing research about MPs, I looked at one called theyworkforyou.com and I think another one was called publicwhips [publicwhip.org.uk].

Q So, have you carried out any research to … about Stephen Timms.

A Yeah, on … I looked up, I found, I Googled him, I found out he had a website, I found a page about him on theyworkforyou.com … if you follow that link it shows information about how he voted on different things related to the Iraq war and the build up towards it. I found out that … he very strongly agreed with the invasion of Iraq and they said very strongly because they worked out all his votes for everything related to that and it came up to something like 99.9% support or something like that.

Q How does that make you feel?

A That made me feel angry because the whole Iraq war is just based on lies and he just voted strongly for everything as though he had no mercy. As though he felt no doubts that what he was doing was right, even though it was such an arrogant thing to do and I just felt like if he could treat the Iraqi people so mercilessly, then why should I show him any mercy?

Q What, what makes you think that it’s your place to go and stab him?..

brief Iraq post

Weird news from Iraq – apparently one of Sadr’s conditions for returning to Iraqi politics is that Allawi and the SIIC are included. There’s a turn-up for you. It does sound like the Iranians are the main actors here, and the point of including Allawi is to get minimal consent from the Sunni. Some day there’s going to be a good book written on the politics between the US and Iran during the Iraq War.

Two things: brief piece about the Toyota Hilux, preferred transport to the world guerrilla, and a fatwa against mobile money transfer. You know you’ve made it when you’ve been fatwa’d.

More seriously, this huge Guardian piece on Iranian policy in Iraq is well worth reading. It’s interesting, to say the least, that the people Sadr wanted to see as guarantors of Iranian good faith were Hezbollah – it would seem they’ve got a foreign policy these days. Also, there’s a sort of disguised alliance between the Iranians and the US. The Americans fought hard to stabilise al-Maliki’s government and to build it up as a credible force. It’s hard to imagine they really want rid of him now.

And there’s this:

It is understood that the full withdrawal of all US troops after a security agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington at the end of 2011 was also sought by Sheikh Nasrallah.

“Maliki told them he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year,” a source said….US officials have strongly suggested they would scale back their involvement in Iraq if the Sadrists, who have been a key foe throughout the years of war, were to emerge as a significant player in any government.

But it’s their policy to leave:

On the 2011 December withdrawal date, the official said: “Any follow-up engagement with Iraq in relation to troops would be at the request of the government of Iraq. There are no plans to keep troops after December 2011. We are drawing down and all will be out of Iraq.”

The piece seems to be heavily influenced by sources in Al Baathi Allawi’s entourage. You do wonder if Allawi was only fetched out of the deep freeze in order to press Maliki into making a deal with the Sadrists.





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