Revealed: rebranded D-Notice committee issued two notices over Skripal affair

Spinwatch can reveal that the Skripal affair has resulted in the issuing of not one but two ‘D-Notices’ to the British media, which are marked private and confidential. We can also disclose the contents of both notices, which have been obtained from a reliable source.

That two notices were issued has been confirmed by the ‘D-Notice’ Committee. The Committee, which is jointly staffed by government officials and mainstream media representatives has recently changed its name to the ‘Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA) Committee’. The use of the word ‘advisory’ is no doubt a bid to discourage the public from thinking that this is a censorship committee. However, the DSMA-Notices (as they are now officially called) are one of the miracles of British state censorship. They are a mechanism whereby the British state simply ‘advises’ the mainstream media what not to publish, in ‘notices’ with no legal force. The media then voluntarily comply.

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Does the UK’s case against Russia stack up?

When a former Russian spy and his daughter were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury, it wasn’t long before investigators started looking at the Kremlin with suspicion.

The pair were identified as Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The British government said they had been poisoned with a military grade nerve agent called Novichok, originally developed in Russia.

Over the following weeks, as the victims remained in hospital, Britain’s relationship with Russia began to fall apart. Diplomats from both countries have now been expelled and all planned high-level contact is suspended.

The stakes could not be higher. With Russia denying any involvement in the attack, the stability of global politics hangs in the balance.

But how strong is the UK’s evidence against Russia? And what do the experts think?

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Update to briefing note ‘Doubts about Novichoks’

In view of the seriousness of the rapidly worsening relations between the West and Russia, and the quickly evolving military events in the Middle East, especially Syria, we have taken the step to publish relevant evidence-based analysis with respect to the Skripal incident of 4 March 2018. This update to our earlier briefing note covers new material that has become available. We welcome comments and corrections which can be sent to piers.robinson@sheffield.ac.uk or provided in the Comments section below.

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Novichok used in spy poisoning, chemical weapons watchdog confirms OPCW says analysis of samples confirms UK findings about nerve agent used in Salisbury attack

A tent is secured over the bench in Salisbury where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found critically ill. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
The international chemical weapons watchdog has backed the UK’s findings on the identity of the chemical used to poison the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

The findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be a major relief to the UK, which has said novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, was used in the attack.

The executive summary released by the OPCW does not mention novichok by name, but states: “The results of the analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirms the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people.”

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Salisbury poisoning: UK experts cannot prove novichok nerve agent used on Skripals came from Russia, MoD says

‘We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions’

Giant fissure opens in Hawaii volcano, flinging lava bombs into sky
Accusations and recriminations between Britain and Russia are set to escalate with the news that scientists at the Porton Down military research facility have been unable to establish exactly where the novichok nerve agent used to carry out the Skripal attack was manufactured.

The admission comes the day before Moscow convenes an emergency meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague in which it is expected to demand access to samples from the Salisbury poisoning for analysis by Russian scientists.

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‘Pure’ Novichok used in Skripal attack, watchdog confirms

London (CNN)The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the UK’s findings that Novichok was used to target the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

While the statement from the OPCW does not specifically name Novichok, it says technical experts “confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people.”
The UK government says its scientists have identified the agent as a military-grade Novichok nerve agent.

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The scientist who developed “Novichok”: “Doses ranged from 20 grams to several kilos”

The Bell was able to find and speak with Vladimir Uglev, one of the scientists who was involved in developing the nerve agent referred to as “Novichok”. According to British authorities, a nerve agent from the “Novichok” series was used to poison former Rusian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Vladimir Uglev, formerly a scientist with Volsk branch of GOSNIIOKHT (“State Scientific-Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology”), which developed and tested production of new lethal substances since 1972, spoke for the first time about his work as early as the 1990s. He left the institute in 1994 and is now retired.

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The Fraught Cold War History of Novichok

The attack on former spy Sergei Skripal thrust the nerve agent Novichok into the spotlight. For many, it was the first time they had heard of the poison, but it has long been a bone of contention between Moscow and the West.

No problem, says Andrew Weber, I can show you the pictures. The weapons expert, formerly a high-ranking official in the U.S. Defense Department, is sitting in a Berlin hotel. He swipes through his smartphone and quickly finds the photos.

One image depicts a reactor constructed of metal, inside of which the deadly chemical agent was produced. Another shows devices lined up in the basement that look not unlike gas masks designed for dogs. Still another is of an elongated, four-story complex that is light beige in color. The area around the structure is undeveloped and there is trash and scrap metal strewn on the ground.

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Are ‘Novichok’ Poisons Real? – May’s Claims Fall Apart

The British government claims that ‘Novichok’ poisons, developed 30 years ago in the Soviet Union, affected a British double agent. But such substances may not exist at all. The British government further says that the Russian government is responsible for the incident and has announced penalties against the country.

A comparable incidents happened in 2001 in the United States. Envelopes with Anthrax spores were sent to various politicians. Some people died. The White House told the FBI to blame al-Qaeda but the Anthrax turned out to be from a U.S. chemical-biological weapon laboratory. The case is still unsolved.

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British Military Experts contradict Theresa May

Gary Aitkenhead is the Head of the Military Laboratory for Science and Technology of Porton Down (United Kingdom). On 3 April 2018, he declared speaking for himself and on behalf of his colleagues, that his services identified that the substance used on Sergei and Yulia Skripal was an agent belonging to the Novichok programme but made it clear that they had never determined where it was made.

He declared in an exclusive interview given to Sky News on 3 April 2018:

“We were able to identify this substance as a Novichok and to establish that it is an nerve-poisoning agent of military grade (…) We were not been able to establish the exact source but we provided scientific reports to the government which led it to other sources before reaching the conclusions that it has today”.

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Doubts about “Novichoks”

The following briefing note is developed from ongoing research and investigation into the use of chemical and biological weapons during the 2011-present war in Syria conducted by members of the Working Group on Syria, Media and Propaganda. The note reflects work in progress. However, the substantive questions raised need answering, especially given the seriousness of the political crisis that is now developing. We welcome comments and corrections.

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Despite fingering Russia in U.K. spy poisoning, experts say some agents could have gone missing in post-Soviet chaos

MOSCOW/AMSTERDAM – The British government says Russia is to blame for poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent, and most chemical weapons specialists agree.

But they also say an alternative explanation cannot be ruled out: that the nerve agent got into the hands of people not acting for the Russian state.

The Soviet Union’s chemical weapons program was in such disarray in the aftermath of the Cold War that some toxic substances and know-how could have gotten into the hands of criminals, say people who dealt with the program at the time.

While nerve agents degrade over time, if the precursor ingredients for the nerve agent were smuggled out back then, stored in proper conditions and mixed recently, they could still be deadly in a small-scale attack.

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U.S. and Uzbeks Agree on Chemical Arms Plant Cleanup (1999)

The United States and Uzbekistan have quietly negotiated and are expected to sign a bilateral agreement today to provide American aid in dismantling and decontaminating one of the former Soviet Union’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities, according to Defense Department and Uzbek officials.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon informed Congress that it intends to spend up to $6 million under its Cooperative Threat Reduction program to demilitarize the so-called Chemical Research Institute, in Nukus, Uzbekistan. Soviet defectors and American officials say the Nukus plant was the major research and testing site for a new class of secret, highly lethal chemical weapons called ”Novichok,” which in Russian means ”new guy.”

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Stakeknife: Spy linked to 18 murders, BBC Panorama finds

The British spy Stakeknife – described by an Army general as “our golden egg” – is now the subject of a £35m criminal inquiry called Operation Kenova.

The inquiry has been triggered by a classified report which Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC has told Panorama “made for very disturbing and chilling reading”.

What Stakeknife actually did has been wreathed in speculation since he was identified in 2003 as Belfast bricklayer Freddie Scappaticci.
The one stand-out fact, however, has not been in doubt: for over a decade Scappaticci maintained his cover in the IRA by interrogating fellow British agents to the point where they confessed and were then shot.
One British spy was preparing other British spies for execution.
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Stakeknife linked to up to 50 murders
And there were a lot of executions: 30 shot as spies by the IRA’s so-called Nutting Squad which, I am told, Scappaticci eventually came to head.
Panorama has learned that Scappaticci is linked to at least 18 of those “executions”.
‘Draconian injunction’
Not all the victims would have been registered agents like him who produced the best intelligence.
Some were akin to “informers” – people with close access to IRA members, or who passed on what they saw and heard to the security forces.
A few were innocent of the IRA’s charge of spying.
Still, the spectacle of one British agent heading an IRA unit dedicated to rooting out and shooting other British spies is so extraordinary that I’ve often wondered how exactly the state benefitted by the intelligence services having tolerated this for the whole of the 1980s.
The obvious person to ask is Scappaticci himself – but a draconian injunction stops journalists from approaching him, even to the point of making any enquiries about where he now lives or what he does.
The Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, Jon Boutcher (left), is leading the investigation with the delegated authority of the PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton
Image caption

Scappaticci was recruited by a section within military intelligence called the Force Research Unit, or FRU.
I’m told the Army have assessed his intelligence as having saved some 180 lives.
Can Scappaticci’s intelligence have been so valuable that the sacrifice of other agents was a price worth paying to maintain his cover?
It’s not quite that simple.
Had the cavalry been sent in every time Scappaticci tipped off his handlers about who was at risk, he himself wouldn’t have lasted long.
Yet protecting him also meant the murders he knew about – or was even involved in – were never properly investigated, driving a “coach and horses” through the criminal justice system, according to Mr McGrory.
Barra McGrory
Image caption
Barra McGrory said the report made for “disturbing and chilling reading”
Also, the Army’s assessment that Stakeknife saved 180 lives doesn’t translate to the number of actual lives saved as a direct consequence of actioning Stakeknife’s intelligence by, for example, interdicting an IRA unit on active service.
I understand that figure of 180 is partly the army’s guesstimate of lives that would have been lost had Stakeknife’s intelligence not led to arrests and the recovery of weapons.
Of course Stakeknife also contributed significantly to “building a picture” of the IRA, an insight much valued by the intelligence services.
An ex-FRU operative with access to his intelligence told me: “He knew all of the main players and picked up a tremendous amount of peripheral information.
“As the [IRA] campaign changed and the political side became more important again he was highly placed to comment on that.”
‘Cunning and resilience’
No doubt, but it’s hard to quantify “picture building” in terms of actual lives saved.
One thing is for sure: leading a double life at the heart of an IRA unit with a Gestapo-like hold over its rank and file would have required cunning – and resilience.
Especially since Scappaticci told his army handlers he disliked gratuitous violence.
He seems to have managed the violence bit though, even when it was close to home.
I’m told that in January 1988, Scappaticci sent a young boy up to the home of Anthony McKiernan, asking him to call by to see Scappaticci.
The Scappaticcis and McKiernans were friends – children from both families had sleepovers.
That was the last McKiernan’s wife and children saw of him. Accused by Scappaticci’s Nutting Squad of being a spy – something the family strongly deny – some 24 hours later, he was shot in the head.
Bond films
Unsurprisingly, Scappaticci’s ex-IRA comrades paint a less flattering picture than his handlers.
They say he was a prodigious consumer of pornography, loved James Bond movies and – although he was on the IRA’s Belfast Brigade staff – was never a “true republican.”
That might explain why, after Scappaticci was released from detention without trial in December 1975, he drifted away from the republican movement and got involved in a building trade VAT scam.
There were family holidays in Florida.
But then he was arrested by the police and agreed to work for the fraud squad as an informer.
His former IRA comrades also speak of a man with an intimidating manner, handy with his fists and a large ego who liked to be at the centre of things.
His appointment to the IRA’s Nutting Squad – a job most IRA members ran a mile from – certainly gave him that opportunity.
It provided Scappaticci with unrivalled access to what the IRA high command were thinking and their war plans.
Freddie Scappaticci
Image caption
Mr Scappaticci left Northern Ireland when identified by the media as Stakeknife, in 2003
It also gave him access to the names of new IRA recruits on the pretext of vetting them, plus details of IRA operations on the pretext of debriefing IRA members released from police custody to establish whether they gave away too much to their interrogators.
That explains why military intelligence was so eager to recruit Scappaticci when, in September 1979, he graduated to the FRU from spying for the fraud squad.
He got an agent number – 6126 – and a codename. Stakeknife.
His luck ran out in January 1990 after police agent Sandy Lynch was rescued from the clutches of the nutting squad.
The police thought Lynch was about to be shot, Scappaticci having got him to confess. The ordinary CID who did not know Scappaticci was a spy found a thumb print in the house where Lynch had been held.
Scappaticci fled to Dublin. However, a senior police officer who was in the know advised the FRU to get Scappaticci to concoct an alibi for his thumbprint.
It worked. On his return to Belfast in the autumn of 1992, Scappaticci was arrested and then released without charge.
Sidelined
His handlers hoped he could return to spying. But by now the IRA were suspicious and removed him from the security unit.
With Scappaticci’s access to IRA secrets gone, the FRU formally stood him down as an agent in 1995.
How did he escape the same treatment at the hands of the IRA that he had helped mete out to others?
Probably because the sight of his body dumped on a roadside would have provoked a slew of questions about those IRA leaders who appointed him to protect the IRA from spies like him – and who also ignored warnings from their more sceptical comrades along the border that “Scap” was not to be trusted.
That did not stop the IRA in Belfast from putting Scap in his place.
After being sidelined, he agreed to help the staunchly republican Braniff family clear the name of a brother, Anthony, who was shot as a spy in 1981. He was eventually exonerated by the IRA.
But when Scappaticci spoke up for Anthony at a private meeting of republicans, to his embarrassment, the IRA’s most senior man in Belfast, Sean “Spike” Murray suddenly appeared and slapped him down.
When Scap was eventually outed as Stakeknife by a former FRU operative in 2003, he was spirited to England where MI5 told him the IRA knew he had been a spy.
Stakeknife’s gamble
He rejected MI5’s offer of protective custody, flew straight back to Belfast and sought a meeting with the IRA.
He gambled on not being shot because he calculated the IRA now had every reason to support a denial that he was a spy – even though he knew they didn’t believe him.
His gamble was based on the fact that the IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein were now engaged in the peace process.
Scappaticci calculated that were the IRA to admit they’d long suspected he was a spy, it would undermine the official line that they’d fought the British to an honourable draw.
Any such admission would provoke the rank and file into questioning whether the IRA had been pushed into peace, paralysed by the penetration of agents like him.
His gamble paid off.
After meeting two of the most senior representatives of the IRA leadership, Martin “Duckster” Lynch and Padraic Wilson, I’m told Scappaticci and the IRA came to an understanding: Scappaticci would issue a firm denial which the IRA would not contest.
To this day, that’s been the IRA’s official position – even though, as they say in Belfast, the dogs in the street know it’s nonsense.
Once again, Agent 6126 had relied on his wits and native cunning.
Whether the 71-year-old Scappaticci now outwits the 50 detectives trawling over everything he did, what his handlers allowed him to do, and what the IRA leaders authorised him to do, is another question.
You might say he’s the spy who knows too much – because he knows the answers to all these questions.

By John Ware
Reporter, BBC Panorama
11 April 2017
Find this story at 11 April 2017

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Stakeknife: double agent in IRA ‘was given alibi by senior British officials’

Panorama documentary claims agent who leaked secrets to British army is
linked to 18 murders in 1980s and 90s

One of Britain’s most important agents inside the IRA has been linked to
18 murders and was provided with an alibi by a senior police officer to
avoid getting him arrested during the Troubles, it has emerged.
Army whistleblower to testify on IRA double agent Stakeknife
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The Guardian can also reveal that the informer codenamed “Stakeknife”
reported directly to the late Martin McGuinness in the 1980s and 90s
when the man who would become Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister
was the IRA’s northern commander and army council member.

Stakeknife, whose real name is believed to be Freddie Scappaticci, was
the IRA’s chief spycatcher, briefing McGuinness, all the while betraying
some of the most important secrets to the British army.

Further light is shone on the career of Stakeknife in the BBC Panorama
documentary titled The Spy in the IRA to be broadcast on Tuesday night.

The programme focuses on Scappaticci’s role as head of the IRA’s
so-called “nutting squad”, whose task was to smoke out, interrogate and
in most cases kill members suspected of being informers.

Panorama claims to have linked Stakeknife directly to 18 murders of IRA
members accused of being agents, with Scappaticci’s unit responsible for
30 deaths overall.

In the film, a retired Royal Ulster Constabulary DI, Tim McGregor,
claims that a superior officer in the force thwarted his and his
colleagues’ efforts to arrest Scappaticci. McGregor and fellow RUC
officers wanted to question Scappaticci after a forensic investigation
found his thumbprint in a Belfast house where the police believed one of
their agents was about to be shot by the IRA.

The programme alleges that an army report stated a senior police officer
told Scappaticci’s handlers about the pending arrest and an alibi was
concocted by them to prevent Stakeknife being taken into custody.

McGregor tells Panorama that without that alibi Scappaticci would have
been arrested and charged in connection with the other informer’s
abduction.
IRA informer accuses police of abandoning him to die
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Northern Ireland’s director of public prosecutions, Barra McGrory, who
was once a solicitor for the president of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams,
described any move to “allow” certain informers to die in order to
promote and protect Stakeknife within IRA’s ranks as having “driven a
coach and horses” through the criminal justice system.

McGrory refused to comment on allegations aired in the programme over
the retirement of the deputy director of public prosecutions after
reviewing her decision in 2007 not to prosecute Scappaticci over claims
he committed perjury in court. The Belfast-born son of Italian
immigrants denied in court he was Stakeknife.

The then senior DPP lawyer, now deputy DPP, who made that decision was
Pamela Aitchison but her former boss McGrory tells the programme he
could not discuss “personnel issues”.

A former RUC assistant chief constable, Raymond White, also declines to
state how many of his agents or informers he lost while Scappaticci led
the IRA’s internal security unit.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower who first exposed the existence of
Stakeknife back in 2003 accused the agent’s associates of “turning a
blind eye” to the corruption of the criminal justice system.

Ian Hurst, a former military intelligence operative for the army’s Force
Research Unit, told the Guardian: “The political class created this and
other similar intelligence problems. That said, they needed and relied
upon weak-minded or selfish people in sensitive positions to facilitate
cover-ups.

“The aim of the state cover-up was to degrade the available evidence and
make it almost impossible to portion blame upon culpable individuals.
The state succeeded on both points,” he said.
‘Stakeknife’: police spy in IRA to be investigated over murders
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The “Stakeknife” scandal is being investigated by an independent police
team led by former counter-terrorism detective John Boutcher, now chief
constable of Bedfordshire. Boutcher’s Operation Kenova has a budget of
£30m but has so far been unable to interview Ian Hurst, the man who
first made public the existence of Stakeknife.

A Ministry of Defence court injunction still bars Hurst from talking to
police officers about his knowledge of Stakeknife from his time as a FRU
officer.

Another military intelligence officer who operated in the region when
Stakeknife was being managed as a high-grade agent, compared the IRA
relationship between Scappaticci and McGuinness respectively to that of
the “operation manager” and the “managing director” in terms of deciding
on the approach to suspected spies and their fate once unmasked.

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent
Tuesday 11 April 2017 06.02 BST
Find this story at 11 April 2017

Copyright The Guardian

Met police accused of using hackers to access protesters’ emails

Exclusive: Watchdog investigates claim that secretive unit worked with Indian police to obtain campaigners’ passwords

An anonymous letter claimed the Scotland Yard unit accessed activists’ email accounts for ‘a number of years’.

The police watchdog is investigating allegations that a secretive Scotland Yard unit used hackers to illegally access the private emails of hundreds of political campaigners and journalists.

The allegations were made by an anonymous individual who says the unit worked with Indian police, who in turn used hackers to illegally obtain the passwords of the email accounts of the campaigners, and some reporters and press photographers.

Met presses undercover police inquiry to examine fewer officers
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The person, who says he or she previously worked for the intelligence unit that monitors the activities of political campaigners, detailed their concerns in a letter to the Green party peer Jenny Jones. The peer passed on the allegations to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is investigating.

Hacked passwords were passed to the Metropolitan police unit, according to the writer of the letter, which then regularly checked the emails of the campaigners and the media to gather information. The letter to Jones listed the passwords of environmental campaigners, four of whom were from Greenpeace. Several confirmed they matched the ones they had used to open their emails.

The letter said: “For a number of years the unit had been illegally accessing the email accounts of activists. This has largely been accomplished because of the contact that one of the officers had developed with counterparts in India who in turn were using hackers to obtain email passwords.”

Jones said: “There is more than enough to justify a full-scale criminal investigation into the activities of these police officers and referral to a public inquiry. I have urged the Independent Police Complaints Commission to act quickly to secure further evidence and to find out how many people were victims of this nasty practice.”

The letter also alleges that emails of reporters and photographers, including two working for the Guardian, were monitored. A spokesperson for the Guardian said: “Allegations that the Metropolitan police has accessed the email accounts of Guardian journalists are extremely concerning and we expect a full and thorough investigation into these claims.”

The IPCC has for several months been investigating claims that the national domestic extremism and disorder intelligence unit shredded a large number of documents over a number of days in May 2014.

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Last month the IPCC said it had uncovered evidence suggesting the documents had been destroyed despite a specific instruction that files should be preserved to be examined by a judge-led public inquiry into the undercover policing of political groups.

The letter claimed that the shredding “has been happening for some time and on a far greater scale than the IPCC seems to be aware of”. The author added that “the main reason for destroying these documents is that they reveal that [police] officers were engaged in illegal activities to obtain intelligence on protest groups”.

The letter to Jones lists 10 individuals, alongside specific passwords that they used to access their email accounts. Lawyers at Bindmans, who are representing Jones, contacted six on the list and, after outlining the allegations, asked them to volunteer their passwords.

Five of them gave the identical password that had been identified in the letter. The sixth gave a password that was almost the same. The remaining four on the list have yet to be approached or cannot be traced.

Colin Newman has for two decades volunteered to help organise mainly local Greenpeace protests which he says were publicised to the media. He used the password specified in the letter for his private email account between the late 1990s and last year.

Newman said he felt “angry and violated, especially for the recipients”. He added: “I am open about my actions as I make a stand and am personally responsible for those, but it is not fair and just that others are scrutinised.

“I am no threat. There is no justification for snooping in private accounts unless you have a reason to do so, and you have the authority to do that.”

He said he had been cautioned by the police once, for trespassing on the railway during a protest against coal about two years ago.

Another on the list was Cat Dorey who has worked for Greenpeace, both as an employee and a volunteer, since 2001. She said all the protests she had been involved in were non-violent.

The password specified in the letter sent to Jones had been used for emails that contained private information about her family and friends.

She said: “Even though Greenpeace UK staff, volunteers, and activists were always warned to assume someone was listening to our phone conversations or reading our emails, it still came as a shock to find out I was being watched by the police. It’s creepy to think of strangers reading my personal emails.”

In 2005, she was part of a group of Greenpeace protesters who were sentenced to 80 hours of community service after installing solar panels on the home of the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott, in a climate change demonstration.

According to the letter, the “most sensitive side of the work was monitoring the email accounts of radical journalists who reported on activist protests (as well as sympathetic photographers) including at least two employed by the Guardian newspaper”. None were named.

Investigators working for the IPCC have met Jones twice with her lawyer, Jules Carey, and have asked to interview the peer. An IPCC spokesperson said: “After requesting and receiving a referral by the Metropolitan police service, we have begun an independent investigation related to anonymous allegations concerning the accessing of personal data. We are still assessing the scope of the investigation and so we are not able to comment further.”

The letter’s writer said he or she had spoken out about the “serious abuse of power” because “over the years, the unit had evolved into an organisation that had little respect for the law, no regard for personal privacy, encouraged highly immoral activity and, I believe, is a disgrace”.

In recent years, the unit has monitored thousands of political activists, drawing on information gathered by undercover officers and informants as well as from open sources such as websites. Police chiefs say they need to keep track of a wide pool of activists to identify the small number who commit serious crime to promote their cause.

But the unit has come in for criticism after it was revealed to be compiling files on law-abiding campaigners, including John Catt, a 91-year-old pensioner with no criminal record as well as senior members of the Green party including the MP Caroline Lucas.

The Metropolitan police said the IPCC had made it “aware of anonymous allegations concerning the accessing of personal data, and requested the matters were referred to them by the MPS. This was done. The MPS is now aware that the IPCC are carrying out an independent investigation.”

Rob Evans
Tuesday 21 March 2017 16.35 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 22 March 2017 00.50 GMT

Find this story at 22 March 2017

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

The letter I received about alleged police hacking shows how at risk we all are

The whistleblower lists damning claims of spying on innocent individuals by a secretive Scotland Yard unit. It’s now vital that we hold the police to account
‘When the police act with impunity all of our private lives are put at risk’

As the only Green party peer I receive a lot of post to my office in the House of Lords. Rarely, though, do I open letters like the one that has been revealed. The anonymous writer alleged that there was a secretive unit within Scotland Yard that has used hackers to illegally access the emails of campaigners and journalists. It included a list of 10 people and the passwords to their email accounts.

As soon as I read the first sentence of the letter, I knew the content would be astonishing – and when some aspects of the letter were corroborated by lawyers and those on the list – I was convinced that we owed it to this brave whistleblower to hold the police to account.

The list of allegations is lengthy. It includes illegal hacking of emails, using an Indian-based operation to do the dirty work, shredding documents and using sex as a tool of infiltration. And these revelations matter to all of us. None of us knows whether the police organised for our emails to be hacked, but all of us know the wide range of personal information that our emails contain. It might be medical conditions, family arguments, love lives or a whole range of drug- or alcohol-related misdemeanours.

When the police act with impunity, all of our private lives are put at risk. Whether you’re involved in a local campaign against library closures, a concerned citizen worried about air pollution or someone working for a charity – who’s to say that officers won’t be spying on the emails you send? The police put me on the domestic extremism database during the decade when I was on the Metropolitan Police Authority signing off their budgets and working closely with officers on the ground to fight crimes such as road crime and illegal trafficking. If someone in my position – no criminal record and on semi-friendly terms with the Met commissioner – can end up on the database, then you can too.

The truth is that without the bravery and professionalism of two serving police officers who have blown the whistle on state snooping I would know nothing about my files, and those of other campaigners, being shredded by the Domestic Extremism Unit. We would have had no suspicion that those files had been shredded to cover up the illegal hacking of personal and work e-mails by the police.

Please don’t fall for the old establishment lie that the problem is a few rotten apples. This alleged criminality is the result of a deliberate government policy of using the police and security services to suppress dissent and protest in order to protect company profits and the status quo. Such an approach inevitably leads to police officers overstepping the mark as they feel emboldened by those at the top levels of government and an immunity from prosecution provided by senior officers keen to please the people who decide their budgets.

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The police don’t always act as neutral agents of the law. We know that the Thatcher government’s determination to break the miners’ strike led to the Orgreave confrontation in 1984. There are still allegations about the links between the police and those running blacklisting databases that led to hundreds of construction workers being condemned to unemployment and poverty.

And don’t mistake this for a partisan attack on Conservative politicians. Theresa May has forced through the draconian Investigatory Powers Act, but the Labour party too has been timid at best in opposing this snoopers’ charter. Indeed it was the Blair government that left a legacy of draconian public order laws, and which broadly defined the anti-terrorism legislation upon which an edifice of modern surveillance powers has been constructed.

Many are unaware that joining an anti-fracking group, or going on a demonstration, could get you labelled a domestic extremist, photographed, questioned and followed for months or even years – without ever having been convicted of a crime.

It’s only by speaking out against these intrusions that we are able to challenge this rotten culture of impunity. After all, it was David Cameron who gave us the Hillsborough inquiry and Theresa May who set up the Pitchford inquiry into undercover officers. Politicians don’t always do things for good reasons, but they do respond to public pressure.

Change is possible, but in the meantime, we should be doing everything we can to make it hard for the police to spy on us. Use encryption, two-step email security and other precautions suggested by organisations such as Liberty. Don’t stop saying what you think, or working to make the world a better place, but do assume that the police will be working to protect the companies, banks or energy companies that you want to challenge.

It isn’t how things should be, but the evidence shows that is the way things are.

A campaign to get the police out of the lives of environmentalists and social justice campaigners is a good start, but it will fail unless it reaches out – starting by working with those in the Muslim community intimidated by Prevent.

Above all, we must convince the middle ground of society that everyone will be safer if the security services focused on what we all want them to do – stopping terrorists and serious criminals. This is not unreasonable, and the starting point is a change to the legislation so that it narrows the definition of terrorism to exclude the nonviolent, noisy and rebellious

Wednesday 22 March 2017 15.23 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 22 March 2017 17.29 GMT
Jenny Jones
Find this story at 22 March 2017

© 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Police Scotland confirms secret G8 file on notorious undercover police unit

POLICE Scotland has confirmed that a secret file was created on the activities of a disgraced undercover unit at the G8 summit at Gleneagles.

The “intelligence briefings” on the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, whose officers had sex with the protestors they spied on, will now be examined by a watchdog as part of its covert policing probe. Police Scotland said they would not comment on the contents of the file.

Two Met-based units – the Special Demonstration Squad and the NPOIU – were set up to keep tabs on so-called subversives and domestic extremists.

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A key strategy was to embed undercover officers in campaign groups, which included anti-racism organisations, and report back to handlers.

However, some of the tactics deployed by officers in the units, such as using the identities of dead babies and deceiving women into long-term sexual relationships before vanishing, have since been exposed.

The Pitchford Inquiry, set up by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, is examining undercover policing going back decades.

Although the judicial-led investigation does not apply to Scotland, NPOIU activity took place north of the border in the run up to the G8 summit in Scotland in 2005.

Mark “Stone” was a driver for campaigners at the G8, but was unmasked as undercover officer Mark Kennedy.

He later said in an interview: “My superior officer told me on more than one occasion, particularly during the G8 protests in Scotland in 2005, that information I was providing was going directly to Tony Blair’s desk.”

Ahead of the G8, the then Scottish Executive issued a Ministerial Certificate blocking the release of information connected with the summit. The blackout applied to all Scottish public authorities, including police forces, health bodies and the Government.

However, it can be revealed that the SNP Government quietly revoked the certificate in 2010, a decision that could result in information on the summit being released.

After being asked by this newspaper for the titles of all files produced by on the G8 in 2005, Police Scotland confirmed the names of 1168 files.

Forty-four were created by the former Fife Constabulary, whose patch included the Gleneagles hotel, while 1124 files were produced by Lothian and Borders police.

Many of the files are on routine policing matters, but one document is described as “intelligence briefings” on the “National Public Order Intelligence Unit”.

Other files include “stop the war coalition – regulatory board” and “indymedia”, which was a left-wing website at the time.

There was also correspondence with the security services on the “Senior Leadership Development Programme”, a funding request for a “special branch operation” in May 2005 and over a dozen files on the peaceful Make Poverty History march.

After the UK Government refused to extend the Pitchford Inquiry to Scotland, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland launched its own review of undercover policing.

A spokesperson for HMICS said: “As outlined in our terms of reference HMICS will examine the scale and extent of undercover police operations in Scotland conducted by the SDS and the NPOIU. As part of our scrutiny, we will review the authorisations for undercover deployments during the G8 Summit in Scotland in July 2005. HMICS are currently engaged in this process with the full cooperation of Police Scotland. With specific regard to the intelligence file, HMICS will ?examine this file for any information that may inform our review process.”

Donal O’Driscoll, a core participant in the Pitchford Inquiry who was spied on in Scotland, said: “We have long argued that the both the SDS and the NPOIU were active in Scotland, particularly around the 2005 G8. The existence of this file strengthens our case that there needs to be a full inquiry into the activities of spy cops in Scotland – and renders the exclusion of Scotland from the Pitchford Inquiry even more inexplicable.

“We continue to have no confidence in the HMICS review. Nevertheless, I’d expect them to at least make the effort to examine this and related briefings as part of the bare minimum they need to do. Not least because it is now beyond dispute there were multiple undercover police from the NPOIU and foreign police forces present at the G8 protests. However, only a full public inquiry can get to the truth as to what the police and the state had planned and co-ordinated when they interfered in legitimate democratic protest.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland does not routinely comment on covert policing or intelligence. We will not offer any comment on the contents of any specific files. Any inquiries relating to the NPOIU should be directed to the Met Police. Police Scotland will also fully and openly co-operate with the review of undercover policing to be carried out by HMICS.”

/ Paul Hutcheon, Investigations Editor / @paulhutcheon

Find this story at 25 March 2017
© Copyright 2017 Herald & Times Group

Donald Trump’s Muslim Laptop Ban Could Be a Protectionist Scheme

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security announced an unprecedented new restriction on travelers from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries on Tuesday.

The DHS restriction states “that all personal electronic devices larger than a cell phone or smart phone be placed in checked baggage at 10 airports where flights are departing for the United States.”

It’s a Muslim laptop ban.

The 10 airports are in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

American-based airlines do not fly directly to the United States from these airports, so these restrictions will not apply to them. The impact of this move will instead fall on nine airlines, including Gulf-based carriers that U.S. airlines have been asking President Trump to punish since the day after his election.

The U.S. carriers have long complained that Gulf carriers such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways are unfairly subsidized by their national governments.

Executives at Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines met with Trump in early February. The day before the meeting, a group representing these American airlines, called the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, distributed a slick video using Trump’s own words to argue against the subsidies.

With this new travel impediment, Trump may be throwing these executives a bone. The new restrictions appear to be targeting airports that serve as flight “hubs” for these airlines — such as Dubai International, which is the hub of Emirates. Airlines use these hub airports to transfer passengers between flights, delivering significant savings.

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, quickly rose to the defense of Trump’s DHS on Tuesday, calling the restrictions both “necessary and proportional to the threat”:

Ranking House Intel Dem Schiff backs new electronics ban on US-bound flights from 8 Muslim-maj countries – critics say measure is arbitrary pic.twitter.com/3zPwehf2ZW

— Jessica Schulberg (@jessicaschulb) March 21, 2017

In 2015, Schiff was one of 262 Members of the House who signed a letter protesting subsidies for the Gulf airlines. The letter is featured on the website of the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

Whatever the motivation, the security justifications are unclear at best. The Guardian interviewed a number of top technologists about the new policy on Tuesday, and they were puzzled. “If you assume the attacker is interested in turning a laptop into a bomb, it would work just as well in the cargo hold,” Nicholas Weaver, who is a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, told the paper.

“From a technological perspective, nothing has changed between the last dozen years and today. That is, there are no new technological breakthroughs that make this threat any more serious today,” Bruce Schneier, a top technologist at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, told the Guardian. “And there is certainly nothing technological that would limit this newfound threat to a handful of Middle Eastern airlines.”

The United Kingdom enacted similar restrictions hours after the United States, but with two puzzling differences. The U.K. ban includes 14 airlines, including six based in the U.K. And it does not include airports in Qatar or the UAE — which are the epicenter of the subsidies dispute. Canada is reportedly weighing its own restrictions.

For its part, Emirates responded by inviting customers to sample its in-flight entertainment in lieu of tablets and laptops — by repurposing an old advertisement featuring Jennifer Anniston:

Let us entertain you. pic.twitter.com/FKqayqUdQ7

— Emirates airline (@emirates) March 21, 2017

Zaid Jilani
March 21 2017, 7:51 p.m.
Find this story at 21 March 2017

Copyright https://theintercept.com/

The Many Mysteries of the Muslim Laptop Ban

A new Homeland Security rule will ban electronics on flights from airports in Muslim-majority countries. Is this protectionism or prudence? Well, it’s complicated.

Travelers from eight different Muslim-majority nations will no longer be allowed to carry laptops, tablets, or certain other electronic devices with them in the cabin on flights inbound to the U.S., according to new rules that take effect on Tuesday. The U.K. was quick to announce that it would follow suit with a Muslim laptop ban of its own.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration say that the new rules reflect a potential threat of terrorists smuggling explosive devices on board planes using portable electronic devices—iPads, Kindles, and the like. The DHS guidance cites a 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia as one recent incident that could be linked to a laptop bomb. The U.S. rules affect last-point-of-departure airports from 10 airports—some of them the busiest hubs in the Middle East—from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul to the UAE.

Behind the order, though, lies a long history of conflict between America’s big three carriers—Delta, United, and American—and their peers in the Gulf. Critics spied an ulterior motive behind the Trump administration’s new rule: a protectionist measure for U.S. carriers promised by President Donald Trump.

Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman floated this notion in the Washington Post, suggesting that the financial security of United, American, and Delta might be behind the new counterterrorism measures. The U.S. airlines have grumbled for years that their counterparts from the Gulf—specifically Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways—benefit unfairly from government subsidies. Those carriers have recently expanded their service to U.S. cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C. (as any Washington Wizards fan can tell you, since Etihad is a major advertiser in the Verizon Center).

Back in February, the chief executives of United, American, and Delta sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson complaining about the “massive subsidization of three state-owned Gulf carriers … and the significant harm this subsidized competition is causing to U.S. airlines and U.S. jobs.” In a meeting with the executives shortly thereafter, Trump promised “phenomenal” tax relief, broad deregulation, and other forms of support to the industry.

It’s not yet clear whether this laptop travel ban applies exclusively to all inbound flights from Muslim-majority airports or just those from Gulf carriers. If the latter, that would be a boon to U.S. operators. International business-class travelers—and there are a lot of them circulating between the U.S. and the Middle East—are bound to prefer flights that allow them to work on the plane. During a 14-hour nonstop haul from Dubai to Dulles, passengers are likely to appreciate all the electronic conveniences and entertainment they can carry.

But a one-sided ban would also be a plain violation of trade rules. Global airline carriers have been duking it out over national subsidies for years. In September, the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union had been illegally propping up Airbus to the tune of $22 billion, a decision that the Washington Post described as “the most expensive dispute in international history.”

A U.K. electronics ban in the Gulf would bite the hand that feeds British Airways.
The Financial Times reports that the rule applies only to non-U.S. carriers: Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, Kuwait Airways, Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir, and Royal Air Maroc. Several of these state-owned airlines have indeed enjoyed massive subsidies from their governments. But there’s nothing in the guidance released by Homeland Security that specifies those carriers or otherwise exempts U.S. domestic airlines from the electronics ban. DHS is specific only about the 10 affected airports.

According to CNN, domestic carriers are not affected by the ruling because they do not operate any direct flights to the U.S. from those airports. A travel engine search corroborates and complicates that explanation. Delta runs flights from Cairo to Washington, D.C., that are operated by Air France, for example. British Airways operates American Airlines flights from Istanbul to New York. Both Delta and United operate inbound flights by other carriers—Lufthansa, KLM, and so on—from the restricted airports.

Homeland Security has not responded to a request for clarification. Across the pond, an electronics ban is even more more complicated, since Qatar Airways has increased its ownership stake in the parent company for British Airways to 20 percent after Brexit. A U.K. electronics ban in the Gulf would bite the hand that feeds British Airways.

These bans may be motivated by urgent and legitimate national security concerns. Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a Democrat, says that the electronics ban is justified. There is a debate to be had even if the threat is real, though. The tradeoff between travel security and convenience is an enormous drag on productivity (not to mention a cost for airports and airlines). The new rules may sidestep that debate. If an electronics ban applies solely to Gulf carriers, exempting domestic airlines, then it’s pretty plainly a protectionist measure, of the kind that Trump has explicitly promised to deliver for U.S. airlines.

The risk, of course, is that Gulf states could respond in kind—meaning that no one gets to binge on Netflix on international flights. Trade battles have a way of escalating quickly. After the European Union restricted hormone-treated beef from America in 1999, the Clinton administration retaliated with a 100 percent tariff on Roquefort from France. The Bush administration escalated the conflict—totally arbitrarily!—with a 300 percent duty on Roquefort in 2003. The ensuing cheese war lasted nearly through the Obama administration.

Depriving Americans of imported fromage is one thing; taking screens away from their toddlers could represent a whole other degree of inconvenience. Whether or not the Trump administration is pushing protectionist trade policies under the guise of national security, it seems likely that international flights are going to feel a whole hell of a lot longer.

KRISTON CAPPS @kristoncapps Mar 21, 2017 10 Comments

Find this story at 21 March 2017

Copyright 2017 The Atlantic Monthly Group.