Archive for the ‘John Reid’ Category

Well, that was grim, wasn’t it? I refer, of course, to the new government. Having read through the coalition agreement, I’m almost convinced by Charlie and Jamie‘s argument that it’s really not that bad. Almost. I’m not particularly worried by the supposed 55% thing either, for reasons well explained here – it’s fairly obviously an attempt to self-bind, a costly signal of commitment to cement the deal, and it’s probably content-free.

On the other hand, there’s the NAMELESS DREAD. It’s pre-rational, emotional, Lovecraftesque…political. And look at some of the gargoyles and Queen’s bad bargains in the government. Also, Vince Cable at the Mandelsonministerium is a reasonably good idea, but couldn’t we have got at least one real job? Obviously, the Tories couldn’t have worn a Liberal foreign secretary for ideological reasons.

What went wrong with this post? I think the key unexamined assumption was that the Labour Party could be treated as a united actor for negotiating purposes; I didn’t take into account that significant numbers of backbench MPs wouldn’t support a coalition or wouldn’t support an electoral reform bill. I still believe that significant numbers of Tory backbenchers will rebel, but the coalition whips have more leverage over them with the Liberals as a reserve pool. Obviously, it’s telling that the Labour whipping operation would pick this moment, rather than – say – March 2003, to break down.

It’s also telling just who was lobbying the Labour backbenches; David Blunkett, John Reid, and Charles Clarke! The three monkeys of Blairite authoritarianism, a sort of negative triumvirate of failed home secretaries. Because, after all, as I said about identity cards back in 2004, we are going to win. That is, in fact, the only good thing here; the achievement of NO2ID and Phil Booth is that all political parties except one went into the 2010 general election pledged to abolish the National Identity Scheme. And, crucially, the civil service gets it – I hear that IPS is actively looking at contingency plans as to what to do with its officials when the NIS shuts down, how to cancel the contracts, disposing of office space and kit, that kind of stuff.

Hilariously, my dad spent quite a lot of time trying to get the IPS to give him an identity card, in order to demonstrate various flaws in the process – he was eventually issued one after the intervention of the chief of identity cards. He’s now trying to decide whether to sell it on EBay or frame it. Does anyone have suggestions as to what to do with an British National Identity Card?

So, no ID cards, no NIR, no ContactPoint. Home Office junior ministers have swung from people like Phil Woolas to Lynne Featherstone. I should be delighted. But then, yes, nameless dread. I agree that it wasn’t so long ago that it looked like we’d get Dave from PR with a majority of 100, so I should be pleased that the damage control exercise has been a success. But, no. Perhaps I should concentrate on MySociety stuff; perhaps I should concentrate on London politics. I have no idea if I’m going to stay a Liberal member.

One thing that will be happening is a new blog patterned on Boriswatch that will be covering our Stable and Principled new government, especially the unstable and unprincipled bits. Check out our statistical model of coalition survival, which is currently showing them sticking it out for the full five years…yup, nameless dread all right.


Via Kings of War, an Anglo-Australian spat of sorts.

The British Army has the reputation of being good at counterinsurgency, and in 2003 and 2004 there was lots of fairly snide criticism of the United States by British commanders saying that Americans didn’t understand counterinsurgency [and] were taking too kinetic an approach,” said Kilcullen, who described the British attitude as, “‘Look at us, we’re on the street in our soft caps and everyone loves us.’”

Marston, who was until recently a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst — the British Army’s rough equivalent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. — said that “as an American working in the British system for the last five years” in 2003, he watched the British “act as if they were the best in [counterinsurgency] in the world.” But the British performance on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields since then has not backed up such strident talk, according to Kilcullen and Marston. “It would be fair to say that in 2006 the British Army was defeated in the field in southern Iraq,” Kilcullen said, adding that there were numerous “incidents” in Afghanistan that further undercut the British claims of superiority in counterinsurgency.

“They’ve been embarrassed by their performance in southern Iraq,” Marston said. Meanwhile, the Taliban “almost destroyed” the British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade in Afghanistan. In some places, he said, “they just held on.”

The first thing I’d say would be to check out “Ajay” (you really need to get your own blog, mate) in the comments. As he points out, they didn’t “almost destroy” 16AAB or anything close to it. He also points out that the whole discourse of “failure” in southern Iraq is based on the belief that something different occurred in north-central Iraq.

After all, even accepting the American claims of success (well, the ones that aren’t completely deranged), Baghdad is still a war zone, disagreeable, infrastructure-challenged, dangerous, criminalised, ruled in name by a wildly corrupt sectarian government swinging between US and Iranian influence and in fact by whoever has the upper hand in any given street. Kirkuk and Baqubah are much the same but worse. And the improvement, such as it is, has been achieved by paying off both sets of enemies. Basra after the British move out to the airport is – corrupt, criminal, afflicted by tribal/sectarian violence, and governed by a chaotic sectarian authority. (Also, it never got as bad as Baghdad in the first place.)

But the meta-discourse of the Iraq war works like this: “fighting on” is a sufficient substitute for winning. Anyone who leaves must have been defeated, if they are not actually traitors. Therefore, the same endstate is defeat in Basra but victory in Baghdad. Who, after all, could swear to distinguish these guys – ex-NOIA now on our payroll – from ex-Sadrist or Fadhila men operating as Basra police so long as we (through the agency of the Iraqi government) pay them?

Another point here is precisely what tactics Kilcullen thinks the British Army should have adopted in Afghanistan in 2006. After all, his Iraq policy was to deploy lots of small units into permanent positions all over Iraqi cities, matched with units of Iraqi police and ex-insurgent countergangs, thus in order to gain intelligence, deliver economic relief, and exclude the insurgents from contact with the people, spreading out from reasonably secure areas in a classical counterinsurgency. When 16AAB went to Helmand, they sent individual infantry platoons out to as many villages as possible, there to set up an Afghan government presence, deliver economic relief, and exclude the Taliban. Can anyone see the similarities? No-one was willing to use the C-word at the time, but it’s pretty clear what was intended.

The point is well made over at Abu Muqawama; doing this implies being fairly confident that your outposts will be able to look after themselves against any force the enemy is likely to bring up. Among other things, the US Army in and around Baghdad was operating in a large city, so the gaps between units weren’t too big; this just isn’t the case in Afghanistan. The result was that the Taliban counter-attacked powerfully, trying hard to destroy the outposts and forcing the British Army to fight hard to hold on to them. The counterinsurgency policy broke down because the counterinsurgents were busy resisting insurgent assaults on their camps, and the fighting tended to kill, displace, and enrage the people who lived around the “platoon houses”.

Similarly, “Joint Security Stations” implanted in Musa Qala and Sangin would have been constantly under attack, and constantly firing back, producing the same scene of an empty bazaar shredded by gunfire. Which is precisely the result the Taliban were after. Further, it seems that the local force element is excluded by high-level political considerations.

I am currently reading Antonio Giustozzi’s Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop – The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. I’ll review it more fully when I’ve finished reading it – now there’s an idea – but here’s something that stands out for reasons of pure partisan rage. John Reid has been mocked plenty for saying that he thought the 16th Air Assault Brigade would complete its mission in Afghanistan without firing a shot (of course, he didn’t – he said he hoped it would), but I hadn’t fully appreciated the utter blundering stupidity with which he approached starting a war on two fronts.

Like practically everyone, I’d always assumed the eruption of violence starting in June, 2006 was associated with the deployment itself – that the Americans had believed that this ungoverned space was essentially neutral, until the Paras actually located in the middle of it and found it was teeming with the enemy. Giustozzi provides a mass of evidence that in fact, the tempo of Taliban operations had gone off the charts in January, 2006, with a huge surge in attacks on international and Afghan government forces, a wave of school-burning, and an increase in platoon and larger raids on defended targets rather than IEDs, rockets, and bomb outrages. He argues, with considerable strength, that this should be understood as an attempt to launch the third stage of a Maoist revolutionary war, the general offensive that starts a widespread uprising and eventually overwhelms the state.

Put it another way, Reid sent the army straight into the teeth of the Taliban’s Big Push, with an official concept of operations that didn’t mention counter-insurgency or even combat. I think his current obscurity is well earned. In Giustozzi’s terms, interestingly enough, the strategy General Richards adopted was actually not as crazy as it sounded. He argues that the bulk (40-50%) of Taliban forces come from local communities who are in an alliance of convenience with the movement, having been angered by unfavourable turns in tribal politics, the diminishing strength and authority of tribes in general, the behaviour of government forces, an unfulfilled desire for minimal state functions like local policing and arbitration, or some combination of these.

In this view, the spread of government influence into the villages was precisely the worst thing that could happen to the movement; the local elders who treated with the Taliban one day might treat with the government the next. Hence the aggression and tenacity of the assaults on British camps in Sangin and elsewhere – it was necessary to demonstrate that the movement was determined not to be edged out. As Tony Blair might have put it, they decided to pay the blood price in the hope of wearing out the British, provoking intense fighting among the civil population, and preventing the British from installing a rival authority. Giustozzi also suggests the ultimate leadership was being pressed by its Gulf-based moneymen and Pakistani allies to do something dramatic – a feeling yer man well knew.

A contrarian argument might have been that had the Taliban not been fighting so hard besieging Para platoons in their stronghold of northern Helmand, who knows what their general offensive might have achieved with more men and material concentrated on its target of Kandahar? But this is probably silly. It doesn’t take account of the benefit to the movement of having many, many villages chewed up by the fighting, or the unavailability of troops tied down in defending their perimeters, or the fact that while the soldiers were engaged in a succession of vicious mini-sieges out in the north, they were neither conducting anything that could be described as counter-insurgency or reconstruction there, nor were they doing any closer to home where it might have been possible to make a start.

ACPO is no longer tolerable as an organisation. It’s a freefloating lobby for ever-greater authoritarianism. Seriously.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.

‘If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,’ said Pugh. ‘You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won’t. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.’

Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database – the largest in Europe – but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. ‘The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,’ Pugh told The Observer….

The ID card scheme is on its last legs; note that the heart of it, the NIR, has been shunted back from 2004 to 2012, whatever pretendy-wee bollocks they rush out for face-saving purposes. But the control industry keeps rolling along.

Also note this:

‘Fingerprints, somehow, are far less contentious,’ he said. ‘We have children giving their fingerprints when they are borrowing books from a library.’

When we say that the efforts to push biometrics and RFID on schools are intended to soften up the public for more state surveillance, they call us paranoid extremists. And then, the head of biometrics at ACPO says that’s precisely what they are doing.

John Reid. Thank God we managed to avoid the nightmare; Prime Minister Reid. That really worried me in 2006-2007; Chris Lightfoot and I were planning to start a dedicated anti-Reid website at one point.

Anyway, Reid has been personally fingered by the coroner’s inquest into the death of RHA Captain James Philippson, as the Grauniad reports. Philippson was killed in Afghanistan in the bloody summer of 2006, taking part in a mission to recover a crashed drone. (I thought the point of drones was that they were expendable.) It turns out that his unit had not received their night vision goggles, Minimi light machine guns, M203 grenade launchers, combat body armour, or ballistic matting for their vehicles when they went into action. According to the Army inquiry, whose papers were produced in court:

“Critically,” it said, “the secretary of state, [then John Reid] had delayed announcing the Helmand deployment because he wanted to ensure that the campaign could be won, that the 3,150 manning cap was not exceeded, and that Britain’s Nato allies were also contributing.” The board’s report continues: “The immediate consequence was that the two-month delay effectively froze the [urgent operational requirement] process and resulted in the [Helmand Task Force] deploying without much of the mission essential equipment that it had requested.”

Having buggered about endlessly – first trying to send two battalions from 16AAB without their fire support (and what a disaster that would have been – one battalion plus with all the air support, logistics, sappers and artillery 16AAB, the RAF, and the Americans could muster came close to being overrun) and then sending the support and only one battalion – Reid’s managerialist crappery sporked the UOR process, under which urgently required equipment is obtained. No machine guns for you!

But what I want to know is this; Minimis and M203s are not new equipment in the British Army. Special Forces have had them for years; so have the Marines, and more have been issued for practically every major operation since 1991. Now, when 16AAB, 3 Cdo and 7th Armoured went to Iraq in 2003, the Army issued UORs for just these weapons and these articles of kit. We well know that the extra armour plates showed up too late for some men; however, the guns were indeed delivered on time, and the plates did eventually arrive.

So, if 16AAB got a boatload of shiny new guns, armour an stuff in 2003….what happened to them between returning to the UK in the autumn of 2003 and deploying to Afghanistan in 2006? It wouldn’t be the first time that equipment procured under a UOR was sold off as surplus in order to satisfy the MOD’s weird accounting procedures (the work of G. Brown) and then a second UOR generated to replace it a year or so down the track. Any information will be treated in the strictest confidence.

More mass biometric surveillance evil. Home Office wants to fingerprint guests at pubs as part of war on anti-social behaviour, torture dolphins parenting binge estates, etc. We’ve long been documenting the biometric and RFID vendors’ war on dancing, but this is a sinister new step. The government wants a monster database of everyone who’s gone to a pub. Who voted for this?

There is something almost atavistically horrible about this. It may just be that I drink too much beer, but pubs are traditionally where people go to conspire. The original Ranters convened in taverns in places like Kildwick, according to Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. Later, in the 18th century, groups of revolutionary sympathisers, Revolution-Men and followers of John Wilkes, met in pubs to evade the press censorship. One could go on. Crick and Watson burst into the Eagle in Cambridge to celebrate the discovery of DNA. I hear a lonesome whistle blow.

I wonder if the data from this scheme will be hooked into the DHS computer? John Reid is the most dangerous man in Britain. And if this had existed when he was still on the sauce, there wouldn’t have been enough hard drives in the world to hold his file.

Reid wants to change the law so you can be tortured if he says you’re evil enough. Not only that, he wants one of the people who the courts found innocent of preparing ricin in the great no-ricin no-plot tortured, presumably to get out of him why he didn’t prepare any ricin. This is an important point about the state without laws – once you open the door to rule by whim, you can’t assume that any principles hold, not even the notion that there is a difference between guilt and innocence.

John Reid is the most dangerous man in Britain.

Another data point for this thesis is here. The control bureaucrats are apparently trying to set up real-time interworking between the US Department of Homeland Security’s various databases and the Police National Computer. This, a week or so after the Americans legislated to explicitly permit torture and suspend Habeas Corpus. Where is the parliamentary scrutiny? Where is, as they say, the outrage? After all, even in the event that our turd-ridden, vomitous government was to fall tomorrow, who imagines that this will be reversed? It’s in the nature of information that once shared, it stays shared.

If you doubt Reid’s relevance to this, try out the following quote from one Robert Mocny, director of the USVISIT program at DHS:

“We cannot allow to impediment our progress the privacy rights of known criminals.”

The law is what I say it is, and you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists. Perhaps literally with them, in the cells. Joseph Sensibaugh, manager of biometric interoperability for the FBI, meanwhile opines that “It helps the Department of Homeland Security determine who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy,” targeting “suspected terrorists” and “remaining recidivist with alert populations”. Not to mention the president of Bolivia and a dead bluesman, apparently.

Why does it specifically have to be illiterate authoritarianism, by the way? What does that last phrase actually mean, anyone? Anyway. Enquiring minds want to know more. What was this “pilot project”? Whose records were given to the DHS? Will they be told? What are the safeguards? Where are the guarantees?

And what access will DHS have to the National Identity Register? Just think, if you had to present your ID card in Dewsbury…

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.

This is the full text of John Reid’s speech to the Labour Party Conference. In it, Reid states unequivocally that he does not believe that the State should be subject to law.

And let’s be clear. It cannot be right that the rights of an individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, life and limb of the British people. It’s wrong. Full stop. No ifs. No buts. It’s just plain wrong.

This appears to me to mean that, once the executive decides you are a suspected terrorist, you become an unperson and have no recourse against it. Let’s be clear in our turn. Far more important than democracy itself is the restriction of power. This is the central insight of all civilised polities. It is a principle that is besieged from every quarter, but specifically among the states that partake of the original.

How could it happen that Britain, the United States, and some Commonwealth countries – the states that share the great constitutional tradition of 1215 – have become the world leaders in returning to government by whim? It’s telling that there is no good way to express this particular feature of the last few years in English. German has the fine word Willkür, which connotes both whim but also a sort of contemptuous wielding of power, Willkürherrschaft. And that’s what the combination of Blair’s aspiration for a “command premiership” that would be “Bonapartist” rather than “feudal” with the war and the aggrandisement of the security bureaucrats has delivered. “Despotic government” was a term used by British imperial civil servants to differentiate those colonies that simply had a governor from those who had “representative government”, with an assembly of some sort, or “responsible government” where the government answered to it. But they expected that the governor would obey the law.

In fact, there is a better description for Reid. The word tyranny originally implied the usurpation of legitimate power. By that definition, Reid is a practising tyrant. This graph scares the shit out of me.

So Dave from PR’s got a vlog, then. Well, that’s only realistically going to be crap, isn’t it? It almost amounts to a definition of blogging that, if you issue a press release to the nationals before you start, that’s not it.

May I recommend, instead, one of many fine British blogs? Daniel “Dsquared” Davies on the disease of Crap Government IT, managerialism, and statis (it’s the new change). The Ministry on John Reid, Tony Blair and the word “radical”. Forceful and Moderate on the desperately shit nature of jobcentres – why do they have computers in them that are guaranteed not to have access to the majority of job adverts, and why should you be forced to use them?

Any one of these is certain to beat Dave’s efforts, and might even make you think. And if that happens to you, you’ll just have to read Chris Dillow.